Monday, September 22, 2008

CFBA Tour-Faking Grace by Tamara Leigh


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Faking Grace

Multnomah Books (August 19, 2008)

by

Tamara Leigh



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

After Tamara Leigh earned a Master’s Degree in Speech and Language Pathology, she and her husband decided to start a family, with plans for Tamara to continue in her career once she became a mother.

When the blessing of children proved elusive, Tamara became convicted to find a way to work out of her home in order to raise the children she and her husband longed to have. She turned to writing, at which she had only ever dreamed of being successful, and began attending church. Shortly thereafter, her agent called with news of Bantam Books’ offer of a four-book contract. That same day, Tamara’s pregnancy was confirmed. Within the next year, she gave up her speech pathology career, committed her life to Christ, her first child was born, and her first historical romance novel was released.

As Tamara continued to write for the secular market, publishing three more novels with HarperCollins and Dorchester, she infused her growing Christian beliefs into her writing. But it was not enough, and though her novels earned awards and were national bestsellers, she knew her stories were lacking. After struggling with the certainty that her writing was not honoring God as it should, she made the decision to write books that not only reveal Christianity to non-believers, but serve as an inspiration for those who have accepted Christ as their Savior. Her inspirational romances are peopled with characters in varying stages of Christian faith, from mature believers to new believers to non-believers on the threshold of awakening.

Tamara Leigh enjoys time with her family, volunteer work, faux painting, and reading. She lives near Nashville, Tennessee with her husband, David, and two sons, Skyler and Maxen.

Two of her latest books are Splitting Harriet and Perfecting Kate.


ABOUT THE BOOK

All she wants is a job. All she needs is religion. How hard can it be?

Maizy Grace Stewart dreams of a career as an investigative journalist, but her last job ended in disaster when her compassion cost her employer a juicy headline. A part-time gig at a Nashville newspaper might be her big break.

A second job at Steeple Side Christian Resources could help pay the bills, but Steeple Side only hires committed Christians. Maizy is sure she can fake it with her Five-Step Program to Authentic Christian Faith–a plan of action that includes changing her first name to Grace, buying Jesus-themed accessories, and learning “Christian Speak.” If only Jack Prentiss, Steeple Side’s managing editor and two-day-stubbled, blue-jean-wearing British hottie wasn’t determined to prove her a fraud.

When Maizy’s boss at the newspaper decides that she should investigate–and expose–any skeletons in Steeple Side’s closet, she must decide whether to deliver the dirt and secure her career or lean on her newfound faith, change the direction of her life, and pray that her Steeple Side colleagues–and Jack–will show her grace.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Faking Grace, go HERE

“Tamara Leigh takes her experienced romance hand and delights readers with Chick-Lit that sparkles and characters who come alive.” - Kristin Billerbeck, author of The Trophy Wives Club

“A delightful, charming book! Faking Grace has romance, truth, and a dollop of insanity, making Tamara Leigh a permanent addition to my list of favorite authors. Enjoy!”
- Ginger Garrett, author of In the Shadow of Lions and Beauty Secrets of the Bible

“Tamara Leigh does a fabulous job looking at the faults, the love, the hypocrisy, and the grace of Christians in a way that’s entertaining and fun. Maizy Grace is a crazy character I couldn’t help but like. I loved this book and highly recommend it!”
- Camy Tang, author of Sushi for One? and Only Uni

Monday, September 15, 2008

Non-FIRST Blog Tour-When Answers Aren't Enough by Matt Rogers


It's the 15th, time for the Non~FIRST blog tour!(Join our alliance! Click the button!) Every 15th, we will featuring an author and his/her latest non~fiction book's FIRST chapter!





The feature author is:


and his/her book:



Zondervan (April 1, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Matt Rogers is copastor of New Life Christian Fellowship at Virginia Tech. Eight hundred students call it home.

FROM THE BACK COVER:

On April 16, 2007, the campus of Virginia Tech experienced a collective nightmare when thirty-three students were killed in the worst massacre in modern U.S. history. Following that horrendous event, Virginia Tech campus pastor Matt Rogers found himself asking and being asked, “Where is God in all of this?” The cliché-ridden, pat answers rang hollow.
In this book, Matt approaches the pain of the world with personal perspective—dealing with his hurting community as well as standing over the hospital bed of his own father—and goes beyond answers, beyond theodicy, beyond the mere intellectual. When Answers Aren’t Enough drives deeper, to the heart of our longing, in search of a God we can experience as good when life isn’t.


Product Details

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (April 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310286816
ISBN-13: 978-0310286813


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


A Heavy,
Sinking Sadness


Embracing the World That Is

One


Lately I’ve been walking in the evenings. I tend to do that when stuck on a question. Maybe I’m trying to walk it off. On days when I have time, I drive out to Pandapas Pond in Jefferson National Forest to be in nature. Once there, I set off through the woods or slowly stroll along the water’s edge, deep in thought or prayer.

Most days, because of time, I have to settle for the streets around my home. I can quickly climb to the top of Lee Street, turn around, and look out over Blacksburg, the Blue Ridge backlit by the setting sun. From there, I can see much of Virginia Tech. The stately bell tower of Burruss Hall rises proudly above the rest.

On nights like tonight, when I get a late start and the sun is already down, I head for campus. At its center, separating the academic and residential sides of the school, sits the Drill Field, a wide-open grassy space named for the exercises that the Corps of Cadets practices to perfection there. After dark, old iron lampposts, painted black, blanket the ground in overlapping circles of light.

It was here on the Drill Field, the day after the shootings, that students placed thirty-two slabs of gray limestone rock — Hokie stones, as they’re called — in a semicircle in front of Burruss Hall, to commemorate the lives of loved ones lost. Thousands of mourners descended on the place, bearing with them a flood of condolences, a mix of bouquets, balloons, and poster-board sympathies. They came sniffling, clinging to tissues and to one another, and lifting their sunglasses to wipe tears from their tired, red eyes. The world came as well, vicariously through television, watching us, kneeling with us in grief.

I also came, revisiting the stones day after day, and sometimes at night, drawn to them by a need to connect with the dead whom I never knew. Always there was something new here, some trinket that had been added. At times the items seemed odd: a baseball for every victim, an American flag by every stone, though some of the dead were international students.

People took their time passing by this spot. There was no need to rush; there were no classes to attend. It would be days, dark and long, before there would be any distractions from the pain. For a time, there was no world beyond this place.

By day, soft chatter could be heard around the memorial. After sunset, no one spoke a word. During daylight, masses huddled near the stones, peering over shoulders to read the notes left there. At night, however, mourners passed by in a single-file line, waiting their turn, patient with the people in front who wished to pause at every name.

The masses have since receded. The Drill Field now is vacant (except for these stones) and silent. The semester has ended, most of the students are gone, and only the sounds of insects disturb the stillness of the summer evening air. If I close my eyes and take in the quiet, I can almost imagine nothing happened here.

Almost. Except for the stone reminders that lie at my feet. On one is written a simple, anguished note.

Jeremy,

We love you.

Mom and Dad


These stones are more than rocks. Each is all that remains of a son, a daughter, a husband who will never come home again. I picture my mom and dad, heartbroken, kneeling by a stone for me, had I been among the dead. Moreover, I imagine myself by a stone for my dad, had he not survived his fall.

This is a summer of mourning. I am grieving the world as it is. And I am asking, “If I embrace the world as it is, in all its sadness — if I refuse to bury my head in the sand, pretending all is well, but rather think and speak of the world as it actually is — can I, then, still know God as good? Can my experience of him be more consistent than my circumstances, which alternate between good and bad?”

Is this too much to expect?

Before I can know, I must face the world at its worst.

CFBA Tour-Isolation by Travis Thrasher


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Isolation

FaithWords (September 12, 2008)

by

Travis Thrasher



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

It was during third grade after a teacher encouraged him in his writing and as he read through The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis that Travis decided he wanted to be a writer. The dream never left him, and allowed him to fulfill that dream of writing fulltime in 2007.

Travis Thrasher is the author of numerous works of fiction, including his most personal and perhaps his deepest work, Sky Blue, that was published in summer of 2007. This year he has to novels published, Out of the Devil’s Mouth, and a supernatural thriller, Isolation.

Travis is married to Sharon and they are the proud parents of Kylie, born in November, 2006, and Hailey, a Shih-Tzu that looks like an Ewok. They live in suburban Chicago.


ABOUT THE BOOK

Trapped

Exhausted

Terrified

. . . Alone

When a missionary family moves into a secluded mansion in the mountains of North Carolina, they think they are escaping their nightmares. But when a snowstorm hits and they are trapped inside their new home, their worst fears become reality. As they fight to stay alive, they will be tested in ways they never imagined. Can their love for one another and their faith in God save them from the dangers lurking here?

A masterfully written story that will grip you from its mysterious beginning to its chilling end.

From Publishers Weekly:

"In this dark chiller, Thrasher (Sky Blue; The Promise Remains) demonstrates a considerable talent for the horror genre. Like Stephen King, Thrasher pits flawed but likable characters against evil forces that at first seem escapable but gradually take on a terrifying ubiquity.

The Miller family has recently returned to suburban Chicago after a harrowing experience on the mission field. Hoping to get away from the busyness of suburban living, they travel to the mountains of North Carolina for an extended stay in an enormous, remote lodge where husband and father Jim plans to write a book while trying to reconnect with his family.

When a snowstorm isolates them further and spiritual attacks make them feel they are losing their minds, both Jim and his wife, Stephanie, begin to wonder if God can rescue them and their two young children. Aside from sharing too many plot points with The Shining, this novel hits very few false notes and should appeal to fans of Christian fiction, the horror genre and all who enjoy well-crafted and suspenseful stories."

If you would like to read the first chapter of Isolation, go HERE

Friday, September 12, 2008

FIRST Blog Tour-There's a Spaceship in My Tree by Robert West





It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!



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











Today's Wild Card author is:





and his book:



There’s a Spaceship in My Tree!

Zonderkidz (April 1, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Rob West doesn't just write about tree ships. He sometimes retreats to write in the flying ship he built in his own back yard--it's the only place he can escape his wife, three sons (and their cronies), two dogs, three cats, two doves . . . and, when she chooses to drop in out of the sky, a duck!



Visit the author's website.



Product Details:



List Price: $4.99

Reading level: Ages 9-12

Paperback: 144 pages

Publisher: Zonderkidz (April 1, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0310714257



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:





Chapter One



Alien



Beamer was an alien. He wasn’t a ten-legged slime bag with fourteen eyes, unless, of course, you believed his big sister. Still, Beamer was an alien — no question about it. He didn’t belong here. He couldn’t even breathe here.



His mom said it was just the humidity. Sure! Methane was more like it! When they found his shriveled, oxygen-deprived body, they’d be sorry.



Now he’d been sent to some place called a cellar — clearly an alien environment. Nobody in California had a cellar.



Beyond the small pool of murky light at the foot of the steps, a heavy gloom spread out across the room like a fog bank. He stepped down from the last creaking step. “Hey!” he yelped, recoiling back up the step. “What is this stuff?”



He kneeled down to test the floor with his fingers. Weird, man . . . spongy, like maybe it wasn’t a floor at all but something alive, like a tongue for something with a digestive system!



Dust was what it really was — several years’ buildup. Beamer stepped down again hesitantly, sending a puff of it into the air. The wind outside picked up, rattling the high, grime-coated windows. The structure above him creaked and groaned like a cranky old woman.



Then something scritched and scratched. He turned . . . and froze!



It was huge, with tentacles attached to a disgustingly bloated body. Not a second too soon, Beamer dived to the floor to avoid a twisted tentacle reaching over his head.



Now, point-blank in front of him, was a large bin of shiny, black rocks — no doubt the shrunken, dehydrated remains of creatures the beast had already devoured.



Beamer scooted back frantically on all fours. At the same moment, a high whining sound came from behind. He lurched to his feet and whirled around, bumping into a cart, which sped rapidly away. Suddenly he was pelted in the face by a strangely filmy object. A moment later he was wrestling with an entire barrage of filmy, flimsy, smelly things.



Aiiii! Germ warfare! his mind screamed.



There was a screech. “Yiiiii!” Beamer yelped, as a small creature flashed by. It leapt to a table and fled through a break in a window.



Beamer shot up the steps like a missile and blew through a door into a short hallway. He slammed the door behind him and leaned against the opposite wall, breathing heavily.



“Mother!” A shrill voice from upstairs brought him spinning around in panic. “Did you know they’ve got a vacuum laundry chute up here?” The voice continued. “Shoots clothes down to the basement like spit wads!”



Beamer’s mother stood in the entryway wearing tattered, cut-off overalls and a tool belt. “Well, at least something works around here. Beamer!” she exclaimed in amazement, “What are you wearing on your ear?”



“Huh?” Beamer removed a pair of girl’s underwear from his left ear — Vacuum laundry chute? Whoever heard of a vacuum laundry chute? — and threw them down disgustedly.



“Hey, Mom!” the shrill voice called again. “I can’t find my pink Nikes.” It was Beamer’s big sister, Erin. At fourteen going on fifteen, she was God’s self-proclaimed gift to the ninth grade. Of course, that was back in Katunga Beach. Middleton was a whole new ball game.



That’s what this alien world was called — Middleton — a middle-sized city in a middle-sized state, smack dab in the middle of Middle America — a thousand miles from the nearest beach!



Only a week ago, Beamer was hanging out in a cool, high-rolling suburb of L.A. on the cutting edge of the early teen set. Now he was carting boxes around a broken-down house in a prehistoric neighborhood on an ancient street probably named for somebody’s dog. Murphy Street. It certainly wasn’t Shadow Beach Lane.



Beamer scrunched up his nose. The house even smelled old — as in fossilized. The discovery of an electrical outlet had been a great relief. He wasn’t sure Xbox came in a windup version.



He banged through the screen door onto the front porch and picked up another carton. His mother was standing there, holding a scraggly plant in a pig-shaped pot.



The lady realtor who had given it to her was bustling toward her car, her mouth on auto-speak. “If you run into anything unusual,” she called, “don’t panic. I’m sure it’s not dangerous. The previous residents were . . . uh . . . different — scientists or rock singers or something — but harmless. Anyway, just call if you have a question.”



“I will,” Beamer’s mother responded absently, still looking in bewilderment at the ugly pot.



Beamer looked at the ramshackle porch swing and the peeling paint around the windows. Rock singers in this dive? Who did she think she was kidding? Then again, that same lady had managed to sell this overgrown pile of bricks to his otherwise genetically superior parents.



Beamer MacIntyre shifted the box in his arms, pried open the screen door with his pinkie, and spun through into the house. The antique door immediately fell off its hinges. Mrs. MacIntyre, or Dr. Mac, as her kiddie patients called her, groaned and pulled a screwdriver from her tool belt.



Beamer trudged slowly up the staircase with his load. “Move, you dunderhead,” his sister growled as she pounded down past him like an avalanche. “Mother, isn’t this place air-conditioned? I’m about to die!”



“It’s the humidity, honey,” her mother answered. “You’ll get used to it.”



“Mo-o-o-o-ommm!” Erin wailed, charging into the crate-littered living room. “D’you mean there’s no air-conditioning?!”



“No, I mean you’ll get used to the humidity,” Dr. Mac replied. “Air-conditioning is being installed — one for upstairs and one for downstairs. Your father is out arranging things now. Last I heard the downstairs one will be working tomorrow.”



“What about the upstairs one?” Erin asked with a shrill note of panic.



“Uhm . . . not for a couple of weeks, I’m afraid.”



“Weeks!!! So I’m supposed to wake up every morning with my hair dripping? That does it; I can’t start school — not ’til the air conditioner’s working.”



“Calm down, honey,” her mother said. “Your hair always looks just fine. I’m more concerned about whether that oversized octopus of a coal-burning, water-heating furnace in the basement will keep us warm in winter.”



Octopus? Furnace?! Beamer cast a glance down at the basement door, his cheeks picking up a definite reddish glow. Oh great! So I had a battle with a furnace! What were those little black things then? At least nobody saw me . . . I hope.



“Now go finish unpacking. I’m sure your shoes will show up,” Dr. Mac said, turning her daughter around and pointing her back up the steps. “Go on.”



Erin groaned and lumbered up the staircase, then accelerated past Beamer to the top. She triumphantly stuck her tongue out at him and yanked open a door.



Beamer finally reached the second floor. Straight ahead was a wide but short hallway with two doors on the left and one on the right that opened into bedrooms. Immediately to the right of the staircase was a short, narrow hallway that led to the upstairs bathroom and a spare bedroom beyond. He kicked open the door to his room — the second one on the left — and promptly tripped over something in the doorway. “Oomph!” he gasped as he and the box’s contents simultaneously thudded to the floor.



Groaning, he propped himself up to see the spilled items strewn, like a comet’s tail, across the floor toward the tall, twin front windows. Through a window he noticed clouds gathering above the rooftops. Back in L.A. we had rain programmed down to just one season a year. Here I am, two time zones and half a continent away from home. “Marooned in Middle America,” he moaned out loud. “I’d rather be on Mars.”



Suddenly a blood-curdling scream shook the windows. It sounded like his big sister was in trouble, which meant it also sounded like fun. He charged into the hallway and saw a door that he hadn’t noticed before that was nestled in that narrow hall next to the main staircase. The door was now open, revealing a narrow set of steps going up. He careened up the stairs and saw Erin standing off to the side, frozen in place, eyes glazed over like she’d been zapped with a stun gun.



“Hey, Erin, what’s the matter?” he taunted her. “See an itsy-bitsy — ” Then he saw it. “Awesome!” he gasped.



Their nine-year-old brother, Michael, clattered up the stairs on his hands and feet like a cocker spaniel, followed by their mom, who was tightly gripping a vicious-looking broom. They too caught Erin’s freeze-dried expression and tracked along her sight line.





FIRST Blog Tour-First Place 4 Health by Carole Lewis





It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!



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











Today's Wild Card author is:





and her book:



First Place 4 Health

Regal Books (June 15, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:






Carole Lewis is the national director of First Place 4 Health, the Christ centered health and weight loss program. A warm, transparent and humorous communicator, Carole is a popular speaker at workshops, seminars and conferences around the country. She and her husband, Johnny, have three adult children (one deceased), eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.



Visit the author's blog.



Product Details:



List Price: $19.99

Hardcover: 224 pages

Publisher: Regal Books (June 15, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0830745238



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:





Chapter One



Get on the Bus





One of my favorite authors and speakers, Patsy Clairmont, tells the story of when her son was about six years old. Because they lived out in the country, she walked her son to the bus stop every morning. One day, early in the school year, before she got back to the house, she heard the footsteps of her son running up behind her.





“What in the world are you doing?” she said to him. “The school bus will be here any minute.”





“I’m quitting school,” he said, looking her straight in the eye.





“You can’t quit school,” she replied. “You’re only in first grade. Why do you want to quit?”





“Well, it’s too long, too hard and too boring,” he said.





“Son, that’s life,” said Patsy. “Get on the bus.”





* * *



Have you ever wanted to give up?





There’s a worthy goal ahead, but to reach the goal takes time, effort and focus. When you run into obstacles, your first inclination might be to quit. That’s when the best thing you can do is square your shoulders, set your lunch kit firmly under your arm and get on the bus—in other words, take one simple step toward your goal.





If you’re reading this book, chances are good that you have a worthy goal in mind—you want your life and health to change for the better. Maybe you haven’t fully articulated the goal, but you know that you can’t stay the same. You know that something has to change in your life because parts of your life—perhaps all parts—aren’t what they could be right now.





What’s the most obvious part of your life that needs to change—is it your weight?





Being overweight is an obvious catalyst that invites you to open the door to positive change. It’s easy to admit to a struggle with weight when the mirrors, the scale and the clothes closets in your house don’t lie. Being overweight is noticeable—to you and to others. You can’t ignore it. It never lets you forget its presence.





• Maybe you feel the extra weight in your heart and lungs. It’s difficult to climb stairs. It’s difficult or impossible to play with your kids or grandchildren. You dread your annual physical checkup because you already know what the doctor is going to tell you.





• Perhaps buying clothes is distressing and embarrassing for you. You see the clothes you’d like to wear, but nothing fits or feels right. You dread wearing shorts. You detest wearing a swimsuit, and you might even refuse to participate in any activity that requires your wearing a swimsuit.





• Maybe you sense a subtle discrimination at work. You are passed over for a promotion and wonder if it has anything to do with your weight. Maybe your sales would be higher if you looked fit. Maybe you’d get more respect if you weren’t packing on the pounds.





• You dread social events, such as a class reunion, where you’re with people who haven’t seen you for a while. You hear people say good things to others, but no positive comments come your way. Maybe people give you pointed stares. Maybe they even joke that your spouse’s cooking must be really good.





• Weight affects your pocketbook. Your grocery bill is higher. Your life insurance premiums are elevated. You spend more on medical deductibles. Maybe you have paid a lot of money for weight-loss programs and related books.





• You fear the severe repercussions of being overweight. One of your grandmothers suffers from diabetes. An uncle died of heart disease. Another had a stroke. You’re about the same age and condition as they were when their bodies became diseased. What will be your fate?





The reasons why you are overweight are numerous. You may have struggled with weight forever. You’ve always been the “fat kid,” the one picked last in gym class, the girl without a date at prom or the tubby guy who’s always good for a joke. You blame the weight on your genes, the way you were raised or the fact that your mother always cooked with butter. But it doesn’t matter—in the end you’re overweight because you’ve always been that way.





Some people struggle with weight only after a major life change—the pounds came on after marriage, after reaching a certain age, during pregnancy. You remember what it was like to be fit, but that was definitely yesterday’s body. You see pictures of yourself taken a few years ago, before you gained weight, and wonder if you’ll ever look like that again.





Some of us wrestle with weight because, in our most honest moments, we know it acts as a cocoon. If this is your reason, perhaps you gained weight because something terrible happened years ago. Maybe your father died when you were young and you’re still grieving his loss; you were date raped as a teenager and it has taken years to overcome the tragedy; you went through an ugly divorce and are still scarred and wounded. The extra pounds feel like a protection. You believe your weight hides you from a hurtful world. Food is a refuge that always seems to make you feel better.





Some people struggle with weight because age or other health conditions hinder ease of movement. If this is your story, you long to be fit and healthy, but most mornings when you wake up you simply feel miserable. It’s hard to get off the couch, much less walk around the block.





Others struggle with weight because life moves too fast. You’ve got to work all day and pick up the kids after soccer practice and get dinner on the table and make phone calls for the committee after dinner and on and on and on—how can you possibly take time to focus on your health?





Whatever the reasons, you know one thing for sure: The pounds are there, and you wish they weren’t. You long for a better life—a vibrant, healthy life. Deep down you long to be the kind of person whose life is characterized by balance and satisfaction.





You can glimpse the better goal of being fit and well, but to reach that goal, you know it will take time, effort and focus. Obstacles will come up—they’ve come up every other time you’ve tried to lose weight, and when this happens, the temptation is always to quit. You know that you need to take one simple step at a time toward your target. But how do you do that?





The Place to Begin





There is hope for your future weight loss, and it’s found in a place you may have never imagined. The easy thing would be for me to give you another diet to follow. But statistics tell us that 95 percent of people who lose weight gain it back again.1 The simple fact is that another diet is not the solution you’re looking for.





I repeat: If all you’re looking for is a quick way to lose weight, then this book will disappoint you. That’s not what First Place 4 Health is all about. Besides, I won’t give you a quick fix that will take the pounds off only to have them come back on a short time later.





I want to give you a lasting solution that addresses not only the number you see on a scale but also your whole person—spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. It’s the plan that helps you lead the life you were meant to live—a good life filled with hope, purpose and health.





If that kind of life is something that interests you, I want to let you in on a little secret. The hope for your future weight loss begins with this simple fact:





God is good.





That’s where the First Place 4 Health program begins. Does that statement sound so simple that you feel like dismissing it? “God is good” is one of the most far-reaching principles of the Bible, and it affects your life in ways that you may never have imagined. Let’s take that one fact and unpack it a bit.





Imagine for a moment that you lived a few thousand years ago. You’re in a community of people loved by God, but you have all made mistakes over a long period of time, and you find yourself conquered, captured and carted off to Babylon by order of King Nebuchadnezzar.





In this new land, nothing feels the same and nothing looks the same. Obstacles are all around you. You’re a stranger in a strange land. But you get a letter from one of your “pastors”—the prophet Jeremiah—and the letter lays out the very words of God.





In the letter, God says that He knows everything there is to know about you, including the events of your life that have led you to this place of exile. God knows the mistakes you have made, but He offers you His grace. The Lord declares these simple yet profound words:





I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jer. 29:11).





That’s the simple fact: God has good plans for you, plans to give you a hope and a future. In other words—God is good.





God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Even though He wrote those words through the prophet Jeremiah, to a specific group of people at a specific place and time, His righteous character is still the same toward us today. Whenever we turn to the Lord and ask for His help, He extends His hand of grace to us.





Nahum 1:7 repeats that thought:





The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble.



He cares for those who trust in Him.





That’s the real answer to your goal of losing weight and becoming healthy. Start with the fact that God is good. He cares for you. The answer you’re looking for encompasses not just taking off pounds, but also living the life of purpose and hope you were meant to live. This is the life God calls you to live. And that life is well within your grasp. This book will show you what it’s all about.





Do the Next Right Thing





To begin learning about this new, healthier lifestyle, you need to start right where you are. That means taking whatever positive step is right in front of you; or, in other words, “do the next right thing.”





I want to share with you part of a letter I received from one of our First Place 4 Health group leaders. She has chosen to show up to life every day. She takes small steps. She makes ordinary decisions for positive change. But she is walking the path of balance that leads to total health.





I have battled depression most of my life. When I became a Christian, that battle did not go away. In 1990, when I weighed 220 pounds, I prayed that God would deliver me from my addiction to food. One week later, I learned about First Place. (First Place has been a lifesaver for me. I have been a First Place leader off and on since 1991.)





When my mother came to live with us, and I became her full-time caregiver, I dropped out of First Place and my weight went up to 273 pounds. I am disabled and live with chronic pain on a daily basis. During this time there were days when I only got out of bed to take care of my mother’s most basic needs.





When she went home to be with the Lord in 2002, I chose to have gastric bypass surgery the next year instead of returning to First Place. I lost 90 pounds the first year and then stopped. I have since realized that there’s no magic cure for weight gain. Even with gastric bypass surgery, the answer is to eat less and exercise more.





I wanted so badly to start leading First Place again, but since I’d had weight-loss surgery, I felt that I couldn’t justify leading the class. I prayed and sought the Lord and called your office and was encouraged to share with the class and go forward. I have done that now for the last two years.





All of this leads up to why I am writing. I have battled depression since I was a very young girl. God has helped me so much since becoming a Christian, but it is a battle every day, and some days I lose the fight. One of my First Place assistants brought a copy of the April 2007 First Place Newsletter to class for each of our members. That newsletter has changed my life.





We all have Aha! moments in life when one word or one Scripture reaches us and the light bulb turns on. For me it was one line from that newsletter. “When there are times when all I can do is the next right thing, then I do the next right thing.” Wow! I thought. Maybe I can do that. So I typed up this saying and placed it on my bathroom mirror. The very next day I woke up in great pain, not knowing how to begin doing all the things



I needed to do, and with no energy and no desire to do anything. Then I remembered the saying—Do the next right thing. I read it out loud, and I read it again. And then, I did the next right thing. All day that day, if I got confused or overwhelmed or sad, I went back to the bathroom and read that statement and then did the next right thing.





My husband can’t believe the things I have gotten accomplished. My house is cleaner; my laundry is done (folded and put away); I go to bed earlier and get up earlier. I have started swimming at the YWCA. I have become interested in reading and doing crafts again. Previously, I just wanted to stay in bed until noon; but now I tell myself to just get up and do the next right thing.





The words “Do the next right thing” have completely changed my life. Do I still battle depression? Yes. Maybe I will for the rest of my life unless the Lord chooses to heal me. Am I still in constant pain? Oh, yes. I need surgery, and maybe now I will find the courage to go ahead with that. But I don’t have to worry about that—I just have to do the next right thing.





In the pages ahead, you will see more specifically what taking positive steps looks like. Together we will examine the model of the foursided person and explore what it means to live a balanced life mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. You are invited to make foundational shifts toward positive habits that will help you along your new journey. Through the power of God, you can decide to live a healthier life, and you can experience lasting positive change.





When I think of a person who has succeeded in this area, I think of my friend Deborah, a woman in my First Place 4 Health group.





Deborah had a number of strikes against her. At 5'8", she weighed more than 200 pounds. She had been in an emotionally and physically abusive marriage and was in the process of getting a divorce. She had custody of her two preteen girls and was tired a lot. After suffering from chronic depression for years, Deborah was on several medications.





When Deborah came to her first meeting, all she did was sit. She sat through an entire 12-week session and didn’t lose a pound. She signed up for another 12-week session. She came and sat, and didn’t lose a pound.





So she signed up for a third 12-week session. On the day the session was to start, she sent me this email: “Carole, please take my name off the roll. I’m just dragging the group down.”





I knew that Deborah wasn’t doing her Bible study. I knew that she had not learned the food plan. I knew that she was convinced that all she was able to do was sit. And I knew that she had reached the point where the pain of not changing was forcing her to move beyond the lies and make a choice. Her choice was that she needed to make a choice.





I replied to her email message with one line: Deborah—just come today.





That day, when Deborah arrived, I hugged her, and she started crying.





That was her moment of choice. From that moment on, she started responding to the program. She began doing her Bible study and memorizing verses. She started walking around her neighborhood with her girls. She started eating according to the Live It plan.





Soon, she had lost 60 pounds.





Previously hidden aspects of Deborah’s personality began to shine through. She was fun! We learned that she was a talented photographer. In fact, in March 2006, she went to Israel with a tour group arranged by First Place 4 Health. She took pictures for the group and walked up and down the rocky terrain. I had never seen her like that—so vibrant and full of action. She had just been so squashed down all of her life.





“Deborah,” I said, a while ago, “tell me what finally happened for you to make a choice.”





“Carole,” she said, “you believed in me. You believed that I could do it. Nobody ever believed in me before.”





What she said is true. I believed in her. And I believe in you. I believe that you can do it. Even if no one has ever believed in you before, know that someone believes in you now. With God’s help, you can change. It’s your choice. And you have the power to do it.





As you take your next steps toward positive change, keep in mind that you must choose to change before change will begin.





First Place 4 Health is not a diet; it’s a lifestyle shift.





People often believe that if they can just get on the right diet, all their weight problems will be solved. That’s an easy mistake to make, because the latest, greatest diets are always marketed as the solution we need. Yet First Place 4 Health is much more than a diet; it’s a change in how to approach life. The good thing about the First Place 4 Health food plan is that it’s not restrictive like a diet would be. We invite you to explore all the wonderful world of food choices the Lord has provided.





• First Place 4 Health is not about rigid rules; it’s about helpful invitations. We used to stress commitments—which is a good concept. We wanted people to be dedicated to pursuing health. But we have found that people sometimes looked at commitments as laws, and if laws were broken, then guilt and rigidity set in. Instead, we are inviting you to make a number of positive changes in your life. No one does them all perfectly, all of the time. So relax. There isn’t just one way to live a healthy life. Develop the plan that works best for you, and give yourself grace to make mistakes and adjustments along the way.





• Get involved at your own pace. When it comes to living a healthy, balanced life, success will look different for different people. Some people lose 100 pounds the first year they’re involved in First Place 4 Health. Other people lose 20 pounds and keep it off for 20 years. For others, success is found in not gaining any more weight. You are welcome in First Place 4 Health regardless of where you are with your current level of health. We encourage you to do no more than what you are ready for. Yet we do encourage you to take a first positive step as soon as possible.





• Your invitation starts right now. Any change requires some sort of adjustment. Your invitation is to jump in to this new life today. Just begin. Get on the bus. Make the choice to give yourself wholeheartedly to this new season in your life—a season that will hopefully stretch into a lifetime of healthy living. Have fun exploring new ways to grow in your faith and in your understanding of health. Develop new friendships by getting involved in something good for you. Don’t be satisfied with standing on the outside—come on in! Be courageous and take the next step in living a balanced life.





What Keeps You Going?





The formula for lasting change:





A worthy goal reached through time + effort + focus





When obstacles to meeting your goal come up, your first inclination may be to quit. That’s when you take the next step toward your goal— just one simple step at a time.





It helps to have a clear idea of what a worthy goal looks like. You may not have articulated more than the words “to lose weight.” While this is a worthy goal, it usually breaks down when obstacles come up, because you need a greater understanding of the motivation behind your goal. When you remember why it is that you wanted to lose weight in the first place, that knowledge keeps you heading toward your goal.





People lose weight for all sorts of reasons. The Bible provides the foundational motivation, and it’s as simple as this: God is interested in your health. The motivations are shown in two passages of Scripture.



Check out Romans 12:1-2:





Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.





In other words, you are urged to present your body—your actual flesh and blood and bone and skin—to God as an act of worship. How you take care of your body is a reflection of what you think about God. It’s honoring to the Lord to take care of the body He has given you.





When your body is presented to God, He invites you to use your life in service to Him.





Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body (1 Cor. 6:19-20).





The benefit here is yours. To live for the Lord God of All is an incredible privilege. God’s invitation is to an abundant life full of purpose and hope. A foundational motivation for weight loss and total lifestyle change is to give your body to God.





It seems strange to think about it, but if you have accepted Christ as your Savior, then you have the actual Spirit of God living inside your body. It doesn’t make you a god. It means that your body houses the spirit of God, and that He works in your life by faith.





So what are the foundational motivations for losing weight and living a life of balance?





First, God wants you to. God is interested in your health.





Second, when your life is in balance, it’s much easier to be a leader in your family and a role model for your children and spouse. It’s difficult to lead people where you have never been yourself. Many children are overweight and need encouragement from their parents. Many of the weight problems of our children would evaporate if we led by example.





I’ve experienced this truth in my own life. When I first started to exercise, my oldest granddaughter, Cara, loved to walk or jog with me. Would she have done it on her own? No way! Yet in a heartbeat, she came with me at my invitation. Children love being with their family members.





Third, weight loss can also expose the true needs in our hearts. I’m talking specifically to those of you who need emotional healing. A weight gain is often a symptom of a deeper issue. For instance, women and men who have been emotionally or sexually abused often attempt to hide their pain by eating.





But whatever motivation is speaking to your heart, just take a moment now to get on the bus.





In the space on the following pages, jot down some ideas about the reasons you want to lose weight. It can be very beneficial to see your goals on paper. When obstacles come (and they will), you can refer back to this to gain encouragement.





Sometimes it helps to record a positive goal as well as its negative extrapolation of what might happen if you don’t do anything. Sometimes it can help to imagine your life in 5, 10 or 15 years. What will happen if something changes? What will happen if nothing changes?



Take some time to think through the following declarations.





I want to lose weight because . . .





I want to lose weight so that I can . . .





and be a good example to . . .





If I lose weight, then in the future I can see myself . . .





If I don’t lose weight, then in the future I can see myself . . .





There is no correct way to word your goal. What matters is that you know your goal, remind yourself of it often and keep in mind that your goal is reachable. With God’s help, you can do it.





Congratulations! You’re on Your Way





God never promised us that life would be rosy and without difficulty. Instead, the Lord promises to carry us through any situation and trial. God already knows your goals. He knows that you desire a better life filled with purpose, health and hope. And He knows the obstacles you will encounter that tempt you to quit the journey. Don’t give up! You can make it!





Remember, you have already taken the first step by reading this chapter. And it wasn’t that hard. Now you’re on the bus! You’re on your way to a whole new you.





Checklist for Success





• Acknowledge the truth that God is good and that He offers you a hope-filled plan for your life and future. Your success begins with this simple fact.





• Run from quick fixes—they never provide you with the lasting change you need. First Place 4 Health is a lifestyle change that affects your whole person—mentally, spiritually, emotionally, physically. It will take time, but it’s worth it.





• Accept the invitation to give your life to God. He is interested in everything about you—including your physical health.





• Write down the specific reasons why you want to become healthy. Refer back to your declarations often for motivation. Remind yourself why not doing anything isn’t an option.





• Start today. Obstacles and excuses will come up, but quitting isn’t the answer. Do the next right thing!





Note



1. This statistic is frequently cited in weight-loss journals and health-related articles, for example: http://preventdisease.com/fitness/weightloss/articles/carbs.html (accessed January 23, 2007).



CFBA Tour-In the Shadow of Lions by Ginger Garrett


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

In The Shadow Of Lions

David C. Cook; 1 edition (September 2008)

by

Ginger Garrett



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ginger Garrett is the critically acclaimed author of Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther, which was recognized as one of the top five novels of 2006 by the ECPA, and Dark Hour. An expert in ancient women's history, Ginger creates novels and nonfiction resources that explore the lives of historical women.

Her newest release is Beauty Secrets of the Bible, (September 11, Thomas Nelson) based on the historical research that began in her work on Chosen. The book explores the connections between beauty and spirituality, offering women both historical insights and scientific proofs that reveal powerful, natural beauty secrets.

A frequent radio guest on stations across the country, including NPR and Billy Graham's The Hour of Decision, Ginger is also a popular television guest. Her appearances include Harvest Television, Friends & Neighbors, and Babbie's House. Ginger frequently serves as a co-host on the inspirational cable program Deeper Living.

In 2007, Ginger was nominated for the Georgia Author of the Year Award for her novel Dark Hour. When she's not writing, you may spy Ginger hunting for vintage jewelry at thrift stores, running (slowly) in 5k and 10k races, or just trying to chase down one of her errant sheepdogs. A native Texan, she now resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.


ABOUT THE BOOK



"I am the first writer, The Scribe. My books lie open before the Throne, and someday will be the only witness of your people and their time in this world."

So begins the narration of one such angel in this sweeping historical tale set during the reign of England's Henry VIII. It is the story of two women, their guardian angels, and a mysterious, subversive book ... a book that outrages some, inspires others, and launches the Protestant Reformation.

The devout Anne Boleyn catches the eye of a powerful king and uses her influence to champion an English translation of the Bible. Meanwhile, Rose, a broken, suicidal woman of the streets, is moved to seek God when she witnesses Thomas More's public displays of Christian charity, ignorant of his secret life spent eradicating the Bible, persecuting anyone who dares read it.

Historic figures come alive in this thrilling story of heroes and villains, saints and sinners, angels and mortals ... and the sacred book that will inspire you anew. Fans of Francine Rivers and Karen Kingsbury will love Ginger's intriguing combination of rich character development, artful settings, and inspiring historical insights.

If you would like to read an excerpt from In The Shadow Of Lions, go HERE

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

FIRST Blog Tour-There's a Spaceship in My Tree! by Robert West



It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!

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





Today's Wild Card author is:


and his book:


There’s a Spaceship in My Tree!

Zonderkidz (April 1, 2008)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Rob West doesn't just write about tree ships. He sometimes retreats to write in the flying ship he built in his own back yard--it's the only place he can escape his wife, three sons (and their cronies), two dogs, three cats, two doves . . . and, when she chooses to drop in out of the sky, a duck!

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $4.99
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Zonderkidz (April 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714257

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Chapter One

Alien

Beamer was an alien. He wasn’t a ten-legged slime bag with fourteen eyes, unless, of course, you believed his big sister. Still, Beamer was an alien — no question about it. He didn’t belong here. He couldn’t even breathe here.

His mom said it was just the humidity. Sure! Methane was more like it! When they found his shriveled, oxygen-deprived body, they’d be sorry.

Now he’d been sent to some place called a cellar — clearly an alien environment. Nobody in California had a cellar.

Beyond the small pool of murky light at the foot of the steps, a heavy gloom spread out across the room like a fog bank. He stepped down from the last creaking step. “Hey!” he yelped, recoiling back up the step. “What is this stuff?”

He kneeled down to test the floor with his fingers. Weird, man . . . spongy, like maybe it wasn’t a floor at all but something alive, like a tongue for something with a digestive system!

Dust was what it really was — several years’ buildup. Beamer stepped down again hesitantly, sending a puff of it into the air. The wind outside picked up, rattling the high, grime-coated windows. The structure above him creaked and groaned like a cranky old woman.

Then something scritched and scratched. He turned . . . and froze!

It was huge, with tentacles attached to a disgustingly bloated body. Not a second too soon, Beamer dived to the floor to avoid a twisted tentacle reaching over his head.

Now, point-blank in front of him, was a large bin of shiny, black rocks — no doubt the shrunken, dehydrated remains of creatures the beast had already devoured.

Beamer scooted back frantically on all fours. At the same moment, a high whining sound came from behind. He lurched to his feet and whirled around, bumping into a cart, which sped rapidly away. Suddenly he was pelted in the face by a strangely filmy object. A moment later he was wrestling with an entire barrage of filmy, flimsy, smelly things.

Aiiii! Germ warfare! his mind screamed.

There was a screech. “Yiiiii!” Beamer yelped, as a small creature flashed by. It leapt to a table and fled through a break in a window.

Beamer shot up the steps like a missile and blew through a door into a short hallway. He slammed the door behind him and leaned against the opposite wall, breathing heavily.

“Mother!” A shrill voice from upstairs brought him spinning around in panic. “Did you know they’ve got a vacuum laundry chute up here?” The voice continued. “Shoots clothes down to the basement like spit wads!”

Beamer’s mother stood in the entryway wearing tattered, cut-off overalls and a tool belt. “Well, at least something works around here. Beamer!” she exclaimed in amazement, “What are you wearing on your ear?”

“Huh?” Beamer removed a pair of girl’s underwear from his left ear — Vacuum laundry chute? Whoever heard of a vacuum laundry chute? — and threw them down disgustedly.

“Hey, Mom!” the shrill voice called again. “I can’t find my pink Nikes.” It was Beamer’s big sister, Erin. At fourteen going on fifteen, she was God’s self-proclaimed gift to the ninth grade. Of course, that was back in Katunga Beach. Middleton was a whole new ball game.

That’s what this alien world was called — Middleton — a middle-sized city in a middle-sized state, smack dab in the middle of Middle America — a thousand miles from the nearest beach!

Only a week ago, Beamer was hanging out in a cool, high-rolling suburb of L.A. on the cutting edge of the early teen set. Now he was carting boxes around a broken-down house in a prehistoric neighborhood on an ancient street probably named for somebody’s dog. Murphy Street. It certainly wasn’t Shadow Beach Lane.

Beamer scrunched up his nose. The house even smelled old — as in fossilized. The discovery of an electrical outlet had been a great relief. He wasn’t sure Xbox came in a windup version.

He banged through the screen door onto the front porch and picked up another carton. His mother was standing there, holding a scraggly plant in a pig-shaped pot.

The lady realtor who had given it to her was bustling toward her car, her mouth on auto-speak. “If you run into anything unusual,” she called, “don’t panic. I’m sure it’s not dangerous. The previous residents were . . . uh . . . different — scientists or rock singers or something — but harmless. Anyway, just call if you have a question.”

“I will,” Beamer’s mother responded absently, still looking in bewilderment at the ugly pot.

Beamer looked at the ramshackle porch swing and the peeling paint around the windows. Rock singers in this dive? Who did she think she was kidding? Then again, that same lady had managed to sell this overgrown pile of bricks to his otherwise genetically superior parents.

Beamer MacIntyre shifted the box in his arms, pried open the screen door with his pinkie, and spun through into the house. The antique door immediately fell off its hinges. Mrs. MacIntyre, or Dr. Mac, as her kiddie patients called her, groaned and pulled a screwdriver from her tool belt.

Beamer trudged slowly up the staircase with his load. “Move, you dunderhead,” his sister growled as she pounded down past him like an avalanche. “Mother, isn’t this place air-conditioned? I’m about to die!”

“It’s the humidity, honey,” her mother answered. “You’ll get used to it.”

“Mo-o-o-o-ommm!” Erin wailed, charging into the crate-littered living room. “D’you mean there’s no air-conditioning?!”

“No, I mean you’ll get used to the humidity,” Dr. Mac replied. “Air-conditioning is being installed — one for upstairs and one for downstairs. Your father is out arranging things now. Last I heard the downstairs one will be working tomorrow.”

“What about the upstairs one?” Erin asked with a shrill note of panic.

“Uhm . . . not for a couple of weeks, I’m afraid.”

“Weeks!!! So I’m supposed to wake up every morning with my hair dripping? That does it; I can’t start school — not ’til the air conditioner’s working.”

“Calm down, honey,” her mother said. “Your hair always looks just fine. I’m more concerned about whether that oversized octopus of a coal-burning, water-heating furnace in the basement will keep us warm in winter.”

Octopus? Furnace?! Beamer cast a glance down at the basement door, his cheeks picking up a definite reddish glow. Oh great! So I had a battle with a furnace! What were those little black things then? At least nobody saw me . . . I hope.

“Now go finish unpacking. I’m sure your shoes will show up,” Dr. Mac said, turning her daughter around and pointing her back up the steps. “Go on.”

Erin groaned and lumbered up the staircase, then accelerated past Beamer to the top. She triumphantly stuck her tongue out at him and yanked open a door.

Beamer finally reached the second floor. Straight ahead was a wide but short hallway with two doors on the left and one on the right that opened into bedrooms. Immediately to the right of the staircase was a short, narrow hallway that led to the upstairs bathroom and a spare bedroom beyond. He kicked open the door to his room — the second one on the left — and promptly tripped over something in the doorway. “Oomph!” he gasped as he and the box’s contents simultaneously thudded to the floor.

Groaning, he propped himself up to see the spilled items strewn, like a comet’s tail, across the floor toward the tall, twin front windows. Through a window he noticed clouds gathering above the rooftops. Back in L.A. we had rain programmed down to just one season a year. Here I am, two time zones and half a continent away from home. “Marooned in Middle America,” he moaned out loud. “I’d rather be on Mars.”

Suddenly a blood-curdling scream shook the windows. It sounded like his big sister was in trouble, which meant it also sounded like fun. He charged into the hallway and saw a door that he hadn’t noticed before that was nestled in that narrow hall next to the main staircase. The door was now open, revealing a narrow set of steps going up. He careened up the stairs and saw Erin standing off to the side, frozen in place, eyes glazed over like she’d been zapped with a stun gun.

“Hey, Erin, what’s the matter?” he taunted her. “See an itsy-bitsy — ” Then he saw it. “Awesome!” he gasped.

Their nine-year-old brother, Michael, clattered up the stairs on his hands and feet like a cocker spaniel, followed by their mom, who was tightly gripping a vicious-looking broom. They too caught Erin’s freeze-dried expression and tracked along her sight line.


Monday, September 08, 2008

FIRST Tour-Loving Cee Cee Johnson by Linda Leigh Hargrove





It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!



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











Today's Wild Card author is:





and her book:



Loving Cee Cee Johnson

Moody Publishers (September 1, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Linda Leigh Hargrove blends suspense, humor, and faith into compelling stories about race and class in America. Her writings include two novels: The Making of Isaac Hunt (June 2007) and Loving Cee Cee Johnson (September 2008). The former environmental engineer currently resides in North Carolina with her husband and three sons where she occasionally designs a Web site.



Visit the author's website.



Product Details:



List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: Moody Publishers (September 1, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0802462707



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:





Chapter One



Prologue





Brother was screaming. He had come from the front of our trailer, running faster than the time the black snake chased him down the lane. He hid behind some of the bushes at the edge of the woods next to Fat Anne’s doublewide.



I could see his little body shaking from where I sat with my older sister Tabby on our back step. He was a fast little rabbit for a six year old but he wasn’t very smart. Daddy was sure to find his little tail hiding right there at the edge. He had run and hid in the bushes before and it was always because a beating was coming.



Tabby wiped the back of her hand across her Kool-Aid smile. I could see the red marks on her dark skin even in the shade. They curled like single cherry quotation marks on either side of her mouth. She had already finished two glassfuls. The greedy alligator!



She leaned forward and wagged her finger at the dusty boy in the brush. “He gonna get it this time. We need to teach him how to hide better.”



I giggled. The rumble of the sound mixing with the tinkle of ice in my half empty Kool-Aid glass. I was drinking it slowly, savoring it, letting the frosty droplets that covered the bottom of the glass drop on my bare knees.



“Brother, come back here,” Mama yelled through an open window. She called him Brother. Well, we all did. Not Junior. Not Quincy, Jr. Just Brother. I thought that was funny.



I was smiling about her calling him Brother when the music started. It was sudden like and way too loud. Daddy’s music. Some slow sensual tune. One of the 45s he’d bought from the records Miss Emily sold in the back of her grocery store downtown. Sade, Barry White, Earth Wind and Fire.



Mama yelled again. “Oh, no! No, Quincy!”



Then there were sounds of crashing, breaking. And then a shriek.



I closed my eyes but it didn’t stop my mind from replaying the bloody memories from the last time daddy beat her.



“Tabby, Cee Cee,” she yelled to us through a window. “Girls! Find Brother. Run. Hide!”



Hide! My mind raced but I didn’t, couldn’t move. Hide? Tabby yanked me up.



“My glass! What about my glass?” It was my favorite, a Ball canning jar from grandmamma. I looked to Tabby’s, a broken shell on the bottom step.



Tabby gritted her teeth and barked at me, “Come on!” She yanked harder on my arm. I let my glass slip from the fingers. Tabby was big for twelve and, it seemed, at least twelve times as strong as me.



Brother was already running when we reached him; Tabby grabbed his arm anyway. The movement snapped his little round head back.



“Tree house,” Tabby panted.



I wrenched myself free. “We gotta tell somebody.”



“No!” Tabby reached for me again.



“Miss Dusty. I’ll tell her and meet y’all at the tree house.”



“No!”



“But, mama …”



“I’ll go to the grader for Mr. Abraham after I get y’all to the tree house. Now come on.”



The cucumber grader was on the other side of Thirty Foot Road. That was too far away. Anything could happen to mama by the time Tabby got back with the big white man.



“No,” I screamed back over my shoulder.



Miss Dusty was a better bet. I could see Miss Dusty’s old Ford pickup in back of her trailer halfway down the dirt lane that ran along the edge of the woods.



“I’ll meet you there.” I looked back to see Tabby crouched with Brother behind a big pine. She was breathing hard. Hate in her eyes.



“Cee Cee, you better come straight to the tree house. You hear me!”



Miss Dusty was my classmate Violet’s mama. The mother of five was always working. In fact, I was surprised, but grateful, to see her truck that day. She was forever willing to help mama and us when we needed it. Though mama only took her help grudgingly, saying the word trash under her breath.



Violet met me at the door. The sun slanted in across her bright yellow hair, her light blue eyes. She looked like a fairy princess, except that is for the black eye. It wasn’t fresh; just a puffy yellow half moon under her left eye, but I still winced when I saw it.



“Mama’s not here,” she said in response to my question.



I looked at the truck and saw for the first time that the one of the rear tires was gone. The metal parts of the wheel were sitting up on cinder blocks.



“Broke down as usual.”



The TV was blaring behind her but I could hear her daddy snoring, kids yelling and throwing mess around.



“Y’all’s phone working,” I asked.



She stepped out onto their cinderblock steps and closed the door carefully behind her. I couldn’t see why since half the screen hung from the frame.



“Naw. Why? What you need it for?”



Suddenly I was embarrassed or maybe just not certain what she could do to help mama. My mother’s screams made me jump.



I took off running for home. Violet followed. She stumbled into me when I stopped, beyond words at the sight of my father making a fire in the trash barrel behind our trailer. Mama sat on the bottom back step.



By the way she was crying I could tell daddy wasn’t just taking out the trash.



He reached into a cardboard box at his feet, pulled out a large brown envelope, and tossed it in the fire.



Mama’s book.



Tears filled my eyes. My mother had been typing on it almost every night for months. Grown folks business, she told tell me whenever I asked to read it. Now it was gone.



“Good God A’mighty,” Violet whispered and covered her mouth.



“What?” I followed her gaze.



Violet had seen what I didn’t at first. Daddy had a gun. As he turned the evil thing, barely bigger than his hand, it glinted like fresh tar in the sun. He pointed it toward mama and pulled something else from the box on the ground.



My Jesus statue.



I had recited the Twenty-third Psalm flawlessly for the VBS lady and received the all nine inches of sanctified plastic at First Baptist VBS on Freeman Street. That meddling white-Negro church, as daddy called it.



More things from VBS went into the fire. Tabby’s Noah’s Arc drawings and Brother’s David slingshot. Then three tiny New Testaments. All consumed by the flames.



I didn’t hear Tabby and Brother coming through the bushes. Neither did I hear Violet leave. I used my sleeve to wipe at my tears, choking on the smells from the trash barrel. Thick smoke climbed into the air.



Nearby pine trees had begun to drop their needles from the heat. What else had daddy put in the fire?



“Where’d Violet go?”



“Cee Cee,” Tabby hissed, shaking me like she did when it was time to get up for school.



“He’s burning it all, Tabby.”



“Come on, I gotta get y’all to the tree house.”



I followed numbly, thinking of mama’s bare feet among the broken pieces of grandmamma’s canning jar and Jesus in the fire with mama’s novel and all our VBS treasures.



CFBA Tour-Wounded: A Love Story by Claudia Mair Burney


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Wounded: A Love Story

David C. Cook (September 2008)

by

Claudia Mair Burney


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Claudia is the author of the popular Ragamuffin Diva blog and the David C. Cook novel Zora and Nicky: A novel in Black And White. She is also the author of Death, Deceit, and Some Smooth Jazz, and the Amanda Bell Brown Mysteries and the Exorsistah series for teens. Her work has appeared in Discipleship Journal magazine, The One Year Life Verse Devotional Bible, and Justice in the Burbs.

She lives in Michigan with her husband, five of their seven children, and a quirky dwarf rabbit.


ABOUT THE BOOK

SHE HAD A VISION OF CHRIST PLACING TWO PERFECT RED ROSES IN HER HANDS...AND THEN SHE WAS WOUNDED!

If a miracle happened to you, wouldn't you tell everyone? What if they thought you were crazy?

Gina Merritt, poor in health and rich in faith is the last person to expect a miracle to happen to her. As she sits in a pew on Ash Wednesday with throbbing pain in her knees and a raging migraine, she turns her concentration elsewhere and silently prays, "Share with me, Jesus."

Instantly she has a holy vision of the Son of God kneeling before her. As tears fill her eyes, Christ kisses Gina's hands, leaving two perfect red roses. When the vision fades, Gina's hands are bleeding.

Anthony Priest, the junkie sitting beside her, instinctively touches Gina when she cries out, but she flees in shock and pain. A prizewinning journalist before drugs destroyed his career, Anthony is stunned that he is suddenly overcome with a sense of well-being and he instantly knows that he is cured of his addiction. Wanting an explanation, Anthony follows Gina home.

Is it a miracle, or just a religious delusion? It seems like everyone who knows of the mysterious stigmata has an opinion, and it's not always favorable. Putting aside their difference and their mutual distrust, Gina and Anthony embark on a search for answers. Along the way they encounter an uncertain evangelical pastor, a gentle Catholic priest, a certifiable religious zealot, and a transvestite drug dealer, all of whom lend their voices to the tale. It's a quest for truth, sanity, and grace…and an unexpected love story.

If you would like to read an excerpt from Wounded: A Love Story, go HERE

Friday, September 05, 2008

FIRST Wild Card Tour-Trespassers Will Be Baptized by Elizabeth Hancock





It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!



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











Today's Wild Card author is:





and her book:



Trespassers Will Be Baptized

Center Street (June 4, 2008)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Elizabeth Hancock was born to a Southern Baptist minister and choir soprano in Central Kentucky. She abandoned her Bluegrass roots to attend Harvard University, and in 1998, became the first-ever Miss Massachusetts with a Southern accent. She earned her J.D. from Georgetown in 2005, and now practices law in Virginia.



Visit the author's Website.







Product Details:



List Price: $21.99

Hardcover: 288 pages

Publisher: Center Street (June 4, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1599957086



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:





Chapter One



Waiting Invocation



In east- central Kentucky, where I grew up, yard sales were spiritual affairs. People laid the holiest parts of their pasts on the altar: china patterns in small, paltry sets, for which incompleteness was a mark of shame (the marriage clearly hadn’t lasted long enough for the set to be finished); self- help books (not deemed subversive until after they’d spent at least two weeks on the best- seller list); wine and cordial sets (reason for purging them: self- explanatory). On the first Saturday in July 1982, when my grandmother



Mimi’s new street held its annual Public Cleansing of the Sinful, the Embarrassing, the Tacky, and the Used- Up (officially known as the Town- Wide Community Yard Sale), Momma and Aunt Kit turned Mimi’s front yard into a veritable mecca of the Bluegrass. Their own daddy had passed away some ten years before, and Mimi had finally remarried. Her new husband’s house was smaller, so lots of old had to pass away, for pennies on the dollar, before the new could come. My sister, cousins, and I sat on the edge of the driveway, in awe of Momma and Kit. Wearing their signature yard sale day uniforms— Bermudas over bathing suits and halos of giant aluminum rollers— they gave off an aura that made piles of warped Tupperware seem magnetic. No other yard on the block was doing as much business. But it wasn’t our mothers’ entrepreneurship that had us concerned. All up and down the block, kids our age were cashing in on the yard sales, too. Each time a grown- up entered a driveway, she had to practically trip over a teetering, scrap- wood refreshment “stand” staffed by some barefoot child who looked like a pitiful, melting toad out in the sun. A pitiful, melting, moneymaking little toad. My sister and I knew we could do better. Meg and I took a few of Mimi’s empty moving cartons from the garage and set to work on our own stand. We set it up right at the driveway’s edge— almost in the road— where it couldn’t be missed. And sure enough, no one passing by missed a glance at what we were offering, spelled out in blood- red tempera paint:





Baptisms: 25 Cents.



And below it, in tiny print:



But if you do not have any money, it is free.



















Lesson 1



Kindness



ACID- WASHED SAMARITANS



For a true Kentucky girl, it is possible to baptize out the sin, but not the Blue. And for that reason, no worse punishment can be devised for her than imprisonment in a televisionless guest bedroom in the middle of March Madness. Cold- turkey withdrawal from basketball is the most cruel and unusual penance that can be inflicted upon anyone in the Bluegrass. Age doesn’t matter, we’re all like those crack cocaine babies— addicted from the first jump ball. In fact, when I was a kid, Wildcat basketball was the only such addiction respected— no, encouraged— by the Southern Baptist Church, where being in attendance at services was held in greater esteem than being in God’s graces. If your house burned to the ground on a Saturday, well, you’d better get your rear end in the pew on Sunday morning and thank the Lord for sparing your life. Your wife died? Sorry, but you’d best show up immediately and let the Women’s League fuss over you, or else they’d take offense. But if it was Sunday and the Game was on, well, that was different. God made the Wildcats, and the Wildcats glorified Him through their goal- shattering, soul- shattering play. If your church held a Kentucky Wildcat basketball player— current or former— on its membership roll, and you managed to secure his autographed jersey for your trophy case (typically signed with the citation to the athlete’s favorite Bible verse), then you had officially acquired the Holy Grail of missions tools. Who knew how many stadiumfuls of souls that jersey might draw to the Lord’s side?



And yet my mother refused to respect the almighty force of Kentucky Basketball. It was for that reason that I silently prayed for her soul, even as I wrote in my Bible notebook and cursed her name during that one afternoon of cruelest isolation. I was almost nine years old and I was in trouble. But more than that, I was worried. I really hoped God would forgive my mother for making me miss the game. It only made me madder when I saw my little sister, out like a light on the guest twin bed next to mine. This was the one talent that always made me jealous of Meg— she could escape into sleep from anything, anytime, anywhere, and it took her less than a minute. A punishment like the guest- room prison didn’t have to be a punishment for her. She didn’t have to endure the slow burn of sunlight lowering slat- by- slat through the mini blinds and rusty bike wheels going on a last ride for the evening. Most maddening of all, she didn’t have to trudge through some dumb paperback from the preteen section of the Tucker’s Mill Elementary library (hand- chosen by Momma, who taught sixth grade at the time). I hated preteen books. As I noted in my Bible notebook, if Jesus could read one, He would proclaim that “thou art the most asinine things ever written.” They certainly weren’t made for girls like me who understood the meaning of asinine (which was taught to me by my father, by way of one of his sermons).



All the girls in those books knew how to do was sit around and whine about how ugly and fat they were and how nobody liked them. I had the good sense to know that I was beautiful even without a bra (and in the church, I was even holy- royal). Still, were I to grow up to be such a whiner, Momma would have no one but herself and Judy Blume to thank.



So, partly out of frustration with Ramona Forever, and partly because I was tired of taking my punishment alone, I threw the book against the far wall, right above Meg’s head. With a groan, she half opened one eye. Her round face was puffy with sleep and red on one side; the word shepherd from the embroidery on her pillowcase had embedded itself into her cheek. “You woke me up, you . . . you . . . booger!” Meg shouted, still drugged in sleep. (I made note of the hesitation in her speech, the self- correction her bleary mind had made before she settled on what put- down name she was going to call me. This was a cautious, practiced art in Baptist childhood— would- be “cursing” had to be manipulated so that it wouldn’t burn Jesus’s ears, but would still offend your target to the maximum extent possible. Meg had mostly learned the art from our neighbor kid Joey Stinson, a true master. Just weeks before she and I landed in that guest room, Meg had come home in frantic tears from the Stinsons’ backyard. She’d finally admitted, after Momma calmed her down, that “Joey called me a



mitch!”) I was usually ready to counter booger with something related to diarrhea (putting my holy dignity aside by necessity, in emergency circumstances), but I knew that in this case, starting a fight might result in an extended sentence. If we could just stay quiet— please, Lord— we might be released in time to see the last quarter of the game.



“You know what’s a worse name than booger?” I asked, eyes wide as I could make them. “Beazus. A girl in that book Momma made me read is really named Beazus. Can you believe that? I don’t know if her parents are crazy Pentecostals or what.”



It worked. Meg fell back on the bed and laughed. Thank goodness she was only six, and I had two and a half years of cleverness on her. Normally, Meg never joked about names. She thought her own first name, Margaret, was an old- lady name, and she was correct. My mother and father named us Elizabeth and Margaret because they wanted us to sound dignified when we were older. Momma always told us it was our Christian duty to live up to those names. And on that March Sunday in 1986, I was convinced I was doing a good job of that, despite the misunderstandings of my elders. Elizabeth was the name of the most dignified movie star ever to walk the earth, and I was convinced I was following in her footsteps. True, my parents couldn’t afford to make me one of the Kentucky “horse kids,” so any hopes of National Velvet II were out of the question. But to my credit, I took ballet and could do one- handed cartwheels, and my mother painted my nails with real woman’s polish (not the kiddy Tinkerbell brand that Meg could drink without dying).



I was certain it was only by God’s graces that Meg still had years of growing up to do, because as a six- year- old Meg was not dignified. Ever since the first traces of spring warmth appeared that March, she’d taken to wearing an old pair of our neighbor Teddy Frank’s swimming trunks as regular shorts. She just wore them day after day until Sunday morning, when Momma had to take them off with Meg kicking and screaming. Often I wondered just how the same sanctified, holy- born DNA could flow through her veins as mine. But once in a great while, Meg had a thought of pure theological genius. And there in the guest room, in our darkest hour of faith, one of those inspired questions hit her: “If Jesus is going to punish us anyway, why does Momma get to do it, too?” Meg asked. She walked her feet up the wall and picked her nose— the yogi- style meditative pose of the Christian child of the South. “I don’t know,” I told her. “I think it’s because she knows



He really won’t do anything to us, because He knows we weren’t wrong. But I prayed to Him that I was sorry, just in case.” “Me, too. But I was falling asleep and I don’t know if I got it in time to count.” I turned over and stared out the window, out to the sidewalk where the Stinson kids were coming home from the new indoor pool at the Catholic rec center. Mrs. Stinson had a popped pool fl oat in one hand and was dragging one of her kids by the other. The kid was squalling up a storm, rubbing a rear end that had been recently slapped. I let out a little giggle, the kind you always giggled as a child whenever you saw another child get spanked in public. You didn’t know where such a laugh came from or what ungodly force put it there at that time, but it came up anyway like a big embarrassing burp and was tough to swallow back.



I stared at that poor, persecuted Stinson child, and I thought about how Momma had dragged me home by the arm like that, just that morning. I thought about how I would have preferred a spanking to the jail sentence. I thought, deep in that still- undeveloped part of my little heart that was born to question older people, about whether or not I deserved punishment at all. For as my Bible notebook would proclaim, and as I would tell the Lord face- to- face if I had the chance, Mrs. Mounts was the one who really started it. Mrs. Joetta Mounts had taken over teaching both my Sunday School class and my GA group in January. GA stands for “Girls in Action,” and in the Southern Baptist Church it can best be described as Girl Scouts Gone Holy. A girl was eligible to start attending GA troop meetings when she began the first grade. The goal of the program was to instill the Southern Baptist Convention’s focus on world missions in the population of six- year- old girls, and let them grow in Christ’s charity from there. We earned a badge for each level of missions study we completed, up through the sixth grade, and these were displayed on a pageant- style sash worn each year at a recognition program. When a girl became a teenager, she was eligible to promote into the Acteens program (Eagle Scouts at the Seraphim Level). You did not get cookies to sell in the GAs, but one year I remember sampling the putrid porridge of the pagan Shuma- something tribe of Liberia. The Mounts GA group met in a little room in the back of the church that had a crooked rainbow painted on the wall, and a scary- looking Noah with a great big head and feet that looked like mashed potatoes. Week after week, we sat there and listened to fat Mrs. Mounts tell us how much we were helping the missions effort when we dressed up like Ethiopians and sang in front of the church. I felt like I was lying when I nodded, as if I believed Mrs. Mounts, but to question what she said aloud might be sassing, and I didn’t know which was the worse sin, lying or back talk. (When there were two sins at once, though, I thought it was written in the Word that the older person got to pick which one counted, so I didn’t talk back.)



At the time, Meg was not really old enough to be in GAs. She had an off- birthday and was too young to be in the big girl class by a weekend, but she was too old to be put in the baby nursery. Mrs. Mounts just let her sit and color at first, but she took the coloring book away when Meg started giving all the Bible people red eyes. (Meg wasn’t that old at the time, but she was smart enough to make the connection between superpowers and laser eyes. If the Lord could turn water into wine, by gosh, Meg knew He was entitled to laser eyes, too, and she aimed to give them to Him.) But after the coloring book was snatched, Meg just had to sit and be quiet like the rest of us.



She still managed the occasional brush with holysuperheroism, mostly when prayer circle time rolled around. Prayer circle always turned into sort of a contest by the end, where everyone competed to see who was in most need of divine help. Someone would start the bidding by asking for prayers for their momma’s bad headaches or their grandpa’s arthritis— a solid effort, but worth only a “that’s too bad” from Mrs. Mounts, at most. Someone else usually one- upped this by asking for prayers for their teenage cousin who got drunk on



Saturday night— again, a good effort, and sometimes rewarded by Mrs. Mounts making notes in her own personal prayer booklet, which looked a little like a meter maid’s notepad. It was then, when all eyes searched the room for a last- minute sniper of a bid, that Meg would make her move, simply and matter- of- factly: “Our Mimi is in a coma. That means she is part alive and sick and part dead.” It always came out sounding like a plea and a challenge rolled into one. And just how are you going to pray away that combo, lady? Mrs. Mounts never had an answer. Neither did any of our Sunday School teachers, or Daddy for that matter, when I’d ask him directly how we could force God’s hand in the matter. He said that we just had to pray about it. That that was what Great and Almighty Prayer was for. When he said this, it made me think of prayer as something more like a limp- wristed weakling, without laser eyes, and without even the upper- body strength to lift my feeble grandmother on into heaven. It scared me a little to think that this was my father’s hero.



The GA term ran from January to March, during the second half of Sunday services. At that last meeting of the year, that morning, Mrs. Mounts had promised us a movie and treats. Now, anyone who ever attended church as a child knows that any treat you were promised by a church leader would inevitably be a big disappointment. That is, unless you were a kid from the Shawneetown Mission next door and you only had rocks to play with. And if you felt even a teensy bit let down inside when you got the treat, you were supposed to feel ashamed for not being grateful that you were not a Shawneetown kid with only rocks to play with. Take Mrs. Mounts’s movie, for example. Right as I laid myself fl at- out on the cool classroom linoleum and watched her start to fumble with the VCR, I prayed with all my heart that it would be E.T. Deep down, though, I knew I had to prepare fake joy for the grainy David and Goliath cartoon it would, and did, turn out to be. And Lord, even though I knew being ungrateful was a sin, I just couldn’t repent fast enough for that treat. It was what it always was— purple- colored water with no sugar and a cup of peanuts with no salt. Like I said, I had no call to be surprised. My father has always maintained that the treats Southern Baptists give out at church are tied right to the heart of the religion. And the religion, he says, is all about trapdoors. “There are people in our church who think the earth is covered in trapdoors,” he told me once after a particularly heartwrenching choir party in which we were actually given milk and slices of wheat bread, “and each of those doors is baited with the sweetest things in life. They think once you reach out and try to take those good things off the door, Satan pushes a button somewhere and you go straight to the bottom.” “So Mrs. Mounts thinks there are trapdoors in the Sunday School room?” I asked him. “Mrs. Mounts thinks that if she puts sugar in your Kool- Aid, in two weeks you’ll be on crack cocaine.” “But can’t people just take the good thing off the trapdoor when they see it,” I wondered, “and not just stand there on it and wait to fall?” “Well, no,” he said. “The Southern Baptist philosophy rests largely on the principle that all God’s glorious, perfect children are also dumb as dirt.” Lying there on that church room floor, with the little brown flecks in the linoleum that made the tiles look like vomit, I thought about how dumb as dirt Mrs. Mounts’s cartoon movie was. But then, like a miracle, the real Savior intervened. It amazed me that a blessing could be disguised as Meg. She had been sawing logs over in the corner since the birth of David, and suddenly she was whispering in my ear. “I have a stomachache, Sissy. I’m not making it up, I promise.” I noticed that Meg had little flecks of crayon wax pressed



into her cheek, where it had lain against the floor.



“Okay, let’s go.” I sighed, pretending it was a chore to take her to the bathroom, because it usually was. Momma would never let us go to the bathroom alone, and sometimes, in restaurants, Meg would work herself into having to go just to see what the inside of a different bathroom looked like. That day, though, I was secretly relieved to get out of Mrs. Mounts’s “treat” of a movie. We walked up to Mrs. Mounts, who was asleep herself in a big rocking chair. I could see the reflection of the movie dancing across her big, frog- eyed glasses. The armbands of her short- sleeved knit shirt were squeezing the fat on the tops of her arms so tight that it looked painful. I wondered how she stayed asleep for the squeezing, but for some reason I was afraid to reach out and wake her up. Meg was not. “Good Lord!” Mrs. Mounts jumped, forgetting that she had said Good Lord. “I am afraid you caught me resting my eyes.” “Meg has a tummyache. Can I take her, ma’am?” I said as charmingly as possible. Mrs. Mounts just nodded and turned back to the movie, as if she was worried she might have missed something important.



We tiptoed out the door in our sock feet and then broke into a run as soon as we were in the mile- long hallway, and not just because Meg had to go. Something about a church hallway when no one was there to watch, shush, or boss us made it the free-est- feeling place in the world. Meg ran into the stall and left the door standing open, and I flopped down on that couch that was in the church ladies’ bathroom— as it is in all Baptist church ladies’ bathrooms— for Jesus- only- knows why. (I later concluded that the reason was obvious— Baptist churches don’t have confessionals, and the gossip has to be relayed somewhere.) Meg was moaning and making some awful noises, so I got down and dug in the big cardboard box full of castaway clothes that sat in the corner of the restroom. The GA Castaway Clothes Box was put there by Mrs. Mounts, and she said we were to fill it with old clothes for kids who “cannot afford them.” When the box was full, she was going to ship it away to the missionaries’ kids in Africa. I thought I might find something to wrap around my head and make Meg laugh. Instead, holy of holies, I found myself a miracle.



There, on top of the box, sat a pair of acid- washed Guess blue jeans, just like my cousin Suzanne in junior high had, and just like the pair I had begged Momma for in the middle of Value City the week before. She had said we could not afford them.



I felt the adrenaline— or was it pure, unadulterated Holy Spirit?—course through my body as I lifted the jeans from the box. Like a voice from above, Momma’s very words echoed through my head as I read the words Mrs. Mounts had printed on the side of the box— clothes, for children of missionaries of the word, who CANNOT AFFORD THEM.



Now, if anyone appreciated the sacrifice of the Baptist foreign missionaries, it was me. But the only missionary’s kid I’d ever met at the time was Micah Nichols, the fat- brat son of my daddy’s friend from seminary. I had to sit by Micah when my parents had the Nicholses over for supper one night, while Micah just bragged on and on about how the Southern Baptists paid for his family’s huge house down in Africa, and how they had a maid and could spend their money on whatever they wanted. He also said he didn’t have to go to school because his momma taught him at home, and the two of them just played all day with his millions of toys that were taken as “castaways” from sucker GAs like me. When I heard Meg groan again from the stall, right like a voice from the beyond, it reminded me of how Micah had laughed at her for saying the blessing with her eyes open, when she was just a toddler. Right then, I decided I could not let any of the spoiled missionary girls who Micah played with in Africa get their grubby little hands on a pair of brand- new acidwashed Guess jeans. God did not want the bratty little children to be blessed at all, and He was telling me, personally. If there was any doubt in my heart as to what I should do, it was erased when, through the large crack in the bathroom door that led out into the hallway, I spotted the glowing edge of the church trophy case, full of all the marvelous instruments of ministry. Mrs. Mounts herself had told me that when God called you to be a missionary to the downtrodden, one of the ways you knew it was Him was that He gave you special tools to minister. Now, fancy clothes may not seem like a very religious tool, but any child who grew up in east-central Kentucky and ever flipped on Channel Three would tell you differently. At age eight, I was convinced that the TV minister lady on Channel Three was the most famous and best lady missionary in the world. And as far as I was concerned, anyone could see it was all because of her beautiful clothes. Every Sunday night, I tuned in anxiously to see children line up all around her to feel of her furs and play with her fancy beads while she ministered the Word. My mother always said she was nothing but tacky trash and made me turn the channel, but sometimes I would sneak and watch because I was fascinated with the TV lady. I thought her huge, white poofy hair made her head look surrounded in light, like the picture of the angel on the King’s Way Baptist nursery wall. I could not imagine a more wonderful life than to look so glamorous, and to be a TV- star servant to the Lord at the same time. I told this to Mrs. Mounts once and she said, “Now, Emy, remember that Lottie Moon was a wonderful missionary as well, and she got by with next to no clothing or food.” (I wanted to tell Mrs. Mounts that Lottie Moon was no kind of missionary anymore because, as we learned in GAs, she was dead of starvation in China. But I bit my tongue.) I had never been so sure of anything in my life as I was that those jeans could give me the wonder- working power. I could just see my ministry— little poor, pitiful girls in my class at school like Pepsi Moffett would be drawn in by that triangle label on my back pocket.



“Where did you get Guess jeans?” Pepsi would say. “They were a blessing from the Lord,” I would say. “You, child, will be blessed, too, if you will come to church on Sunday.”



I lifted those beautiful, almost- white blue jeans from the box. For just a second, I felt a little twinge like I might be doing something wrong, but I decided it must be the Devil trying to talk me down from goodness. After all, I reasoned, if the TV lady was dressing fancy against the will of God, some- thing really awful would have happened to her and her clothes by then. Then (as if I needed the Lord’s additional confirmation) another amazing thing happened. I saw a ball of bright red vinyl sitting square in the middle of the castaway box, just like a burning bush. It was the very thing that Meg threw her Value City tantrum over, a red- and- black Michael Jackson jacket with zippers painted on the sleeves. Meg loved Michael Jackson, but Momma had looked at that jacket as if it were covered in bird doo and made Meg put it back. Momma had said we could not afford that jacket, either, even though Meg had snatched it from the bargain bin and it was only ninety nine cents. Now, I was certain that just when Meg was sick, walking straight through the Valley of the Shadow of Sunday School Cuisine, God had provided me with this jacket so that I could bestow it on her and lift her soul.



Sure enough, when I ran over to that stall, Meg lit up and jumped straight off the toilet seat. Her face was all red from having her head between her knees, and her pants were still wound up around her ankles, but her little blue eyes were dancing. She put the jacket on and started shaking her little bare butt all around the bathroom. But then the Devil started tugging at Meg’s soul, too. “Is it really okay if I take this, instead of the mission kids?” she asked me, as if I were the high- authority. I had to give her my high- authority answer, and I told her the truth as well as I knew it— that they didn’t even have Michael Jackson in Africa. “The kids down there would just throw that jacket in the garbage,” I told her, and I was proud of the wisdom that God had allowed to come out of my mouth.





The big church bell tolled, telling us it was the end of the church service, and of GAs and RAs and nursery. I was so thrilled to tell Momma about my new gift and how her own daughter was going to be a world- famous missionary that I nearly tore Meg’s arm off running through the swinging bathroom door.



Instead I knocked down Mrs. Mounts. She hoisted herself up quickly, making sure that her big wraparound skirt didn’t come open.



“Well, my goodness! We need to watch where we’re going!” she said.



Meg and I started to mumble that we were sorry, but Mrs.Mounts was already staring down at the castaway clothes in our arms. “Elizabeth Emerson,” she said, “aren’t those from the castaway box?” She pointed with her eyes at the denim wad under my arm. She didn’t say anything about Meg’s jacket, but it was talking loudly enough for itself. “Mrs. Mounts, it was a miracle . . . ,” I started to explain, but she shushed me. Daddy was right. Mrs. Mounts thought I was dumb as dirt, just like all God’s blessed children and just like her. She grabbed each of us by the hand and started for the choir room. Mrs. Mounts’s hands were covered in slimy lotion, and Meg pulled hers away and wiped it on her dress. I looked up at Mrs. Mounts’s face and was confused. I had seen her get angry in Sunday School before, like the time Davy Marsh spilled paint on her new shoes. She had tried to act like it was an accident and she didn’t mind, but her face had gotten as red as her puffy dyed hair. This time, though,



Mrs. Mounts was acting angry, but her face looked calm. Her lips were pursed up tight, the way I did mine when I thought of something inappropriate during church. Mrs. Mounts was not mad; she was excited. She just couldn’t wait to tattle on the preacher’s kids. And she thought we couldn’t tell. When we got to the choir room, Momma was practicing a solo with Mr. Eddie, the Minister of Music. Mrs. Mounts strode in smiling, just like she was the happiest she’d ever been in her life and Momma was her best friend.



“I just haaaaaaate to interrupt this beautiful singing,” Mrs. Mounts cooed, stretching out her Kentucky drawl to make it sound Georgia, the way she always did, “but I am afraid . . .”



I blocked out her voice because I couldn’t stand it, and I followed Meg over to the chalkboard to draw. I drew all the crosses and manger scenes I could sketch in a minute, so that Momma would look over and see that I was full of the Spirit, and that Mrs. Mounts was full of something else. But Momma didn’t look. She didn’t yell, either. She didn’t say we were sinful, or anything about Meg and me at all. She just waited until Mrs. Mounts left and said, “I cannot tell you how embarrassed I am.”



On the way home, our station wagon was silent as the grave. I told Momma about all the miracles that had guided me to the castaway box, but instead of shushing me like a dummy, she just told me she was not a dummy, and that Meg had better quit rolling her eyes. It was not worth the effort to keep trying. Even if I thought there was nothing to be embarrassed about, I knew there was nothing worse than making my mother feel embarrassed in front of church people. As I’ve said before, we were just as good as royalty on Southern Baptist Sundays. And right then, I felt as if I were Princess Diana and had pulled my dress up over my head during the Easter Pageant while the Queen Mother was up there in the choir loft.



“You are to give those clothes back,” Momma said. “You are to write a letter that says you are sorry and give it to Mrs. Mounts. And you will spend tonight’s Kentucky game in the guest bedroom, where you will look up the words thief, ornery, and ungrateful in the dictionary.”



And that was the end of that.





That night, Momma did eventually release Meg and me in time to see the last quarter of the ball game. The entire second half, in fact. But I stayed on in the guest room, on principle. I had to fulfill my Christian duty and transcribe a parable based on my experiences that morning, so that it could one day be used to guide the masses. It was called “The Revenge of the Gucci Ghost,” and it was the sad story of an obese church lady (who coincidentally fit Mrs. Mounts’s profile to the letter) who taught GAs, and who carried a massive Gucci handbag with her always. Even though, as my mother had told me repeatedly, “A family of four could eat for weeks on what one of those purses cost,” the woman in my story carried hers with pride. In fact, the day she bought it happened to be GA “Feed the Five Thousand Day,” when GA troops around the country collected donations for the missions hunger effort. This woman thought, perhaps, that she should donate to the hunger effort instead of buying the purse, but she reasoned that this could wait. After all, who knew how many ladies in town, starved for the Word, would approach her in admiration of her kid- leather, icon- stamped marvel. Then, with this foothold, her ministry to them could begin. So she bought the purse for five hundred dollars. And meanwhile, on the missions front in China, Lottie Moon was waiting for her plate of rice. But she, a missionary who thought of herself last, was last in the food line behind the hungry masses. And when Lottie finally got to the front, the server told her, “We are so sorry. There is no more food left to give you. We thought there would be, as we were to have a big donation from the King’s Way Baptist Church in Kentucky. But for some strange reason, the donation was exactly five hundred dollars short, so we couldn’t buy you any rice.” And that was the night that Lottie Moon died.



And as for the purse lady, her dreams were tortured for eternity with the rattling ghost of Lottie Moon, who moaned and wailed and asked the purse lady repeatedly why she didn’t just take a free purse from the castaway box. Amen. The End.





THE THREE FIND- ME- ABLIND-



PERSON MICE



If you are a wandering soul seeking a church home, the first thing any good recruiter will tell you is that Baptist church is free. When the offering plate is passed at you, it’s just a suggestion. (In fact, it might be wiser not to drop a big wad of money into it, because then people will wonder just what debt you are trying to settle up with Jesus.) This much is true. What they don’t tell you, though, is that there is a toll. And right as you enter the little breezeway that leads into the sanctuary, you’ll meet the collectors— the feather- crowned, sharp- toothed, Jungle Gardenia–scented breed known as the Southern Baptist Greeters. Before you can worship in peace, you’ll have to survive their cheek- pinching, church- program- slapping, casually- asking- where- were- you- last- Sunday gauntlet.



At King’s Way Baptist Church, the Greeters were always Gladys Cantrell, Betty Burnside, and Henrietta Crane. (And heaven help you if you volunteered to relieve any one of them from her post.) All three of them were real tight with Mrs. Mounts, and they were all about “fixing and doing” for the church. In fact, Daddy called them the Three “Find- Me- a- Blind- Person” Mice. They were best friends with one another, but in a funny way, Daddy said, on account of they were always trying to outdo one another with who could be the most



Christian. If one of them brought a bag of groceries to a shut-in (which is the secret church word for someone who is too pitiful to go to the grocery themselves), the other brought a station- wagon-ful. And the third— dear Lord, when she got wind of it the poor shut- in would find herself at the center of a kindness maelstrom, after which she’d emerge with twelve turkeys in her fridge (months before Thanksgiving, in the house where she was no longer able to use the stove), her hair and nails done, and a donated evening gown in her tiny closet (“just for a little something fancy!”). The outtakes of the Mice became legendary in short order. Soon rumors of what they were up to, of what gracious hell fires had burned behind their heavy- blushed, smiling cheeks, started to reach the level of myth. Just like you couldn’t always tell where the true kindness stopped and the competition kindness began, where the Mice were concerned it was hard to tell which tales of their exploits were true and which were just parables— legends passed down in whispers at church suppers, until the real story was so buried under mashed potatoes and fried chicken that it wasn’t recognizable anymore.



Momma was always quick to shush me whenever I asked her about the truth behind one or the other of the Mice rumors. She always gave me those you- know- better eyes and said that it was one of the “true tragedies of our church” that people would sooner gossip about the good than about the bad. That might be true, I always thought, but on the other hand, Mrs. Mounts herself was always talking about how the Bible passages came to be because they were passed down, passed down, and passed down. That meant that someone in those olden times was playing telephone tag, someone was encouraging the whispering at the church supper, and taking notes. And I bet no one called that person “Gossip.” No, she was “Scribe,” or “Witness,” and the nations rose up and praised her skill. Why, if they didn’t, the Bible itself might never have been written.



And that is why I felt comfortable, once or twice, repeating the only Mice story that was powerful enough to stick in my head. I could never remember who first told it to me, or why, and Daddy said he never heard of such a thing happening; that some teenage church nursery worker must have been pulling my leg. But he had laughed. In telling Daddy the story,



I’d given him a sermon that he’d never heard. And whether there was truth at the heart of it or not, that fact alone was enough to make my heart rejoice. I decided I’d keep repeating the legend of the day the Mice met Mrs. Monroe. The whole thing happened when I was in kindergarten, I thought. It all started when the old black man who sat in King’s Way’s back row, and who was always yelling out “Amen” in the middle of Daddy’s sermons, brought his little grandson Kevin to church with him, since Kevin was visiting his grandpa for the month of June. Well, “Glad, Bett, and Hen,” as the Mice called themselves, decided the little boy must need saving. First, Glad invited him to the RA group her husband taught, and his grandpa let him go. Glad showed up to sit in on the group that night, and also to give Kevin a Bible and a big handful of pamphlets. Well, before the class was over, in walked Bett with a sack of canned goods for the boy to take home. Right behind her came Hen, with a big bag of castaway clothes that her boy Joe wouldn’t wear anymore.



When it became clear that Bett’s frankincense and Hen’s myrrh had followed Glad’s gold, those three got all worked up into a frenzy, because not one of them wanted to come out seeming less gracious than the others. So, since his grandpa hadn’t arrived just yet to pick him up, they decided to drag Kevin into the beginning of their Women’s Missionary Union meeting, where they would introduce him together as their newest missions project. No sooner had they set up the poor child in front of the sanctuary, surrounded by his cans of Cream- of- Mushroom manna and used swaddling clothes, there came an almighty voice from above: “Where is the RA group? And what in the Devil is going on here?” Only it wasn’t from above, but from the back of the sanctuary. And not from the Holy Spirit, but from a tall black woman in a polka- dot dress, the same one Henrietta Crane happened to be wearing.



Her name was Mrs. Carl Monroe, the Women’s Missionary Union learned as she climbed a verbal Mount of Olives during her trip down the aisle to her boy. She was Christian. Her father was a fifth- generation minister up north— a fifth generation Baptist minister. Her husband held perhaps the only post higher than the pulpit in Southern Baptist doctrine that of assistant college basketball coach. And at that college, she herself was a graduate student, not of home economics or even education, but of physics.



When I pictured this story in my head, I thought of Henrietta Crane standing there, hulking over that poor boy who was just a mustard seed to her mountain, frozen in holy terror as



Mrs. Monroe came at her like Bobby Knight to an overstuffed referee. And I just bet none of the WMUers rushed to speak up in Hen’s defense. I bet they just stared down at the pinholes in their spectator pumps, wishing they would suddenly get large enough for them to crawl into and disappear. But when she reached the altar, Mrs. Monroe did not raise a chair, like Bobby Knight would have. She did not even raise her voice. Instead she knelt down by her child, whom Mrs. Crane had wrapped in a used and worn winter jacket. She took his hand and turned, as if to preach to the choir that was also the WMU and the Christmas Drive staff and the entire faculty of Sunday School teachers. She said, “Kevin, I am so proud of you for coming here and witnessing to these ladies. And look, you are even in costume to help them with some sort of dramatic presentation. Let me guess . . .” She put a finger to her chin and glared at Henrietta, who stood frozen to her post behind Kevin, her big hips jutting out round on either side of his head. (Now, I think, would be the opportune time to tell you that Mrs. Crane was the wife of the owner of Crane’s Bakery.)



“Hmmm . . . ,” Mrs. Monroe continued. “Now, we’ve got torn and shabby clothes, a mess of half- eaten food, and . . .” She put her hand on Mrs. Crane’s shoulder and looked straight into her eyes. “I know! You’re acting out the parable of Jonah. Jonah and the whale.” And as I have said, I was not there to bear witness, but I will bet that Mrs. Crane just did this little grin with eye bats that I have seen her do before. In fact, it is the same grin that Meg used to do when she pooped in her pants and thought no one could smell it. What did happen (or so I was told) is that Henrietta Crane fainted right as the Monroes left the building, and she had to be rushed to the hospital. She would later say that she just hadn’t been feeling well all day. Hadn’t been “in her right frame of mind” at all, not at all.



So, as I said, I have no proof that this parable of gossip is true. But I do know that, shortly after it started getting around, the Three Mice seemed to put a damper on their crusading.



For about a week.



A few Sundays later they were at it again, posed at the edge of the sanctuary with stacks of programs, just like it was their house and they were welcoming everyone else in for a dinner party. I bet they wouldn’t even let the Lord Jesus inside until He wiped His sandals.