My Ripped Pants and Your Shame by Julie Arduini

Spongebob Squarepants has played in our home for close to 20 years. Of all the crazy episodes out there, my husband and son say their favorite is the one where Spongebob rips his pants.

It’s comedy gold for those two. But real life? It’s one of those situations you pray never happens in public.

So, lucky me.

I’ve had them rip twice.

In church.

The first time wasn’t too long after I gave birth. I didn’t know it at the time but I was port-partum, obsessed with the fact my delivery ended up an emergency c-section. I felt an enormous failure, compacted by the fact nursing didn’t work and I wasn’t feeling the strong emotional connection I saw on commercials weekday afternoons.

I walked into church and my husband whispered in my ear that I had a rip in the back of my pants. It wasn’t huge, but he noticed. He promised to cover me, but the feel of failure and shame rose up like bile and I wanted out of there fast. As soon as we entered, we were in the car heading back home. I entertained the failure thought all the way home and for the rest of the day.

Week.

Month.

Year.

And that was the plan. Over the years I’ve learned that the true defeated one operates on a budget. His resources never renew, so he’s got to go with what works. Little pricks of failure and defeat thrown our way time and time again. It took me time and a lot of prayer, Bible reading and study to realize there’s only one defeated one.

JULIE

And it isn’t me.

So fast forward a couple decades and it’s been a tough season. Oh, I’ve been through worse, but it’s been a lot of small stuff pecking away at my confidence, resolve, and faith.

Imagine my surprise when I crossed my legs at church today, the material bunched up with my Salvation Army $2 pants when I made the move and heard a rip. I placed my hand under my leg and there was skin. Yep, ripped pants again.

For a second I thought about high-tailing it out of there. My contacts had a smudge on them so I couldn’t see right, I was tired, and it had been a tough week. Leaving? It made sense.

But I knew this time around if I left, I was going to admit defeat. And I’m not the defeated one

You know what? Neither are you.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve been at church and you feel it’s been too long, you should go for it and show up. If you woke up this morning with a hangover or next to a stranger and the shame is strong, shake it off and find your way to a Bible believing and reading church. Maybe you just lost your job or were served with divorce papers you never saw coming. Perhaps you’re the one that served them. Whatever your shame situation, I’m telling you, the goal is for you to sulk and isolate yourself.

I hope you do what I did the second time around. Like Spongebob, I laughed. Not loud at first, but I decided after that second I was staying. My family was serving around the building, so I texted and asked my husband if he had a coat. I texted my son so he and his girlfriend knew I wasn’t going to stand and join them in prayer because I was pretty sure most of my left thigh was exposed with more area to come. I laughed to myself as I thought about it. These were pants that were actually big on me so although my weight has been an issue for quite awhile, I wasn’t falling for the lie today. Even funnier, when I got home and got the pants off, I still had the Salvation Army tag on them. That made it even more hilarious.

Before I got home, a friend approached me and went to hug me and I squeaked, “Don’t touch me! I ripped my pants and this jacket is falling!” And I burst into laughter. When she laughed, I didn’t even feel a tinge of shame. She knows me. She gets it was a victory I came even with good pants on. To stay with ripped pants? It was a clear act of defiance against the true defeated one.

She knew my week and I knew hers. There were times we were bottomed out by our tears and laments that God, we love you, but can You show up for this already? Where’s that breakthrough?

Well, my breakthrough was literal. They were my pants. But they were a reminder that I am NOT defeated. And no matter what your clothes look like, what you’ve done, what you’ve said, if you put your trust in Your heavenly Father and our Living Christ, you aren’t defeated either.

***

What I loved about writing Match Made in Heaven is that the heroine is mad at God because life didn’t work out like she thought it would when she did all the right things. For the hero, He’s scared because He’s taken tentative steps back to faith after choosing many wrong things. I’d love for you to check out Dean and Beth’s story in MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN. The latest review says, “Beth with her lack of focus feels ‘not worthy, unlovable, and not good enough.’ Julie Arduini writes a compelling inspiring story about overcoming a childhood disease and poor self esteem with well developed characters, twist and turn plot, and a believable resolution. God’s got this. Always enjoy a story when I learn something new.

Julie Arduini
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The Differences (by Hannah Alexander)

Wyoming difference

We recently traveled to our former home, partially to meet with family and friends, but also to get an idea about the differences one of our characters from Wyoming would encounter for the first time in the Missouri Ozarks. Since the story we’re working on is about a wild horse this character tamed and transferred to Missouri, one of those differences would be, perhaps, a lack of wild horses in Missouri. The pair above is a stallion and his mare who would only let us get close enough for a telephoto lens. Love those horses.

 

There are plenty of lakes in Missouri, but I think there’s one hill that could legally be called a mountain. The picture above is of a mountain lake. All of Wyoming is higher in elevation than the highest point in Missouri. If we had a character from Wyoming wandering around Missouri, he would notice right away–for instance, if he had hit his head and lost his memory–that there were no mountains where he was wandering.

Another thing he might notice would be the Missouri River, wide and powerful. Wyoming has quite a few rivers, but there’s nothing in Wyoming as wide as the ol’ Missouri.

One of the first things he would notice in the atmosphere would be the humid air. I think there’s about ten percent humidity right now in our hometown in Wyoming. Missouri keeps a higher humidity because of the higher volume of rain.

All these are differences mean something to me–God created our world to be interesting and amazing and different. Wyoming has tons of snow every year, whereas Missouri has much more rain.

People are God’s crowning creation. The apple of His eye. Each person has been created specifically to be different from very other person. Even identical twins have unique differences from one another. I have been making more of an effort to keep that truth in mind when I interact with others. God loves the other person as much as He loves me. As I love others, therefore, I am loving God.

I mentioned last week that I was attending a girls’s class reunion this past weekend. We had 9 altogether. How we’ve changed over the years! And how dear each of my friends has become to me in that time. Two friends, Doris and Deb, are quilters. They bring what they’ve been working on to show us. I love quilt time! Each has her own unique skill, and you would know right away who did which quilt. Another friend, Tess, is my banker. She knows the ins and outs of the banking world, and keeps me  informed about my debt. Another friend, Linda, is an ultra extravert who meets people and helped me–the introvert–through high school. Each of the others has a special place in my heart, and they  all make me laugh and make me happy.

What a blessing we’ve been given by God–in one another! Yes, there are differences, but we are here to celebrate them. May you celebrate those differences in your friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers. Life is filled with mystery and excitement, and learning these differences in one another is yet another blessing–with the right attitude.

 

 

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Going Outside My Comfort Zone by Nancy J. Farrier

“What have I done?” My breath caught, and I closed my eyes thinking over the offer I made. What was I thinking? I’d offered to do something I didn’t even know how to do and had never done before. What if I failed? What if I disappointed others? I should have kept quiet instead of speaking up and doing what I clearly felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to do. 

So, what was this terrifying thing? Sewing. I had offered to help my granddaughter with a sewing project. Not only had I offered, but I went out on a limb and approached her with the idea. Why? Why would I do this?

At the first of the summer, my son and his family came to our house for a meal. My husband cooked out burgers. I set the table and had everything else ready. I put on some cute cat material cloth napkins my sister made for me. When we sat down to eat, my ten-year-old granddaughter was so taken with the napkins that she turned to her mother and said, “We should have some cloth napkins too.”

The comment passed with little note as the conversation ebbed and flowed. I’m not sure anyone else caught the importance of the statement like I did. I couldn’t seem to let go of the idea that I should help Tiffany make napkins for her mother. 

Anyone who knows me well, knows I abhor sewing. I like the idea of sewing, but have never had the gift. Not only do I break out in hives (figuratively) when I see a sewing machine, the sewing machines also scream in horror at the sight of me. They break down and never work right. I’ve even borrowed machines from friends who sew and love their machines, only to have those contraptions refuse to work for me. It’s very frustrating.

Still, the next time I had a chance, I talked with Tiffany and asked if she wanted to pick out material and make napkins for her mother’s birthday. We had until September to get the project done, so there wasn’t a huge hurry. 

I picked her up one day to take her shopping. She looked at so many patterns of fabric. We touched and tested and talked about colors. She finally picked a pink background with white butterflies, which I thought would be perfect for her mom. Then I procrastinated. And panicked. I watched videos, read blogs about making napkins. I finally bought material and made a few just to see if I could do it.

The day finally came. I picked up Tiffany and she chattered all the way to my house, about a forty-five-minute drive. In fact, she talked all day as we worked, cutting material, ironing, clipping and sewing. In the end my worries were groundless. We had plenty of time to not only make the napkins, but we also washed, ironed and folded them, and put them in a gift bag for her to give to her mom on her birthday.

It wasn’t easy for me to step out and do something outside my comfort zone, but I’ve thought of the lessons learned. I know I would gladly do it again.

Teaching—Deuteronomy 6:6-9 talks about teaching children about God and His statutes. We aren’t to sit them down for a lecture, although that can be one way to teach. We are told to talk of them when we are in the house or out for a walk, when we lie down or get up. In other words, we are to spend time with our children and grandchildren and part of that time will be spent imparting the importance of knowing God and Who He is. I believe weaving tidbits of truth into our everyday conversation with those we come in contact with, is a much better way to teach than a lecture that they tune out. 

Building Confidence—When God places something on my heart to do that is out of my comfort zone, being obedient builds my trust and confidence in Him and deepens our relationship. My relationship with my granddaughter was strengthened as well. She now has a new skill, one she is eager to try again. Learning something new may be hard but is well worth the effort. Titus 2:3 talks about the older women being, “teachers of good things” to the younger women. One of the best ways to teach godly behavior is to spend time being a godly example. I am not one all the time, but by reaching out and doing this project with my granddaughter, I believe I showed her an example of an older woman trusting God. She will be able to look back on that day and remember what it means to help someone else.

Blessing—I can’t begin to say how much I was blessed to spend the day with Tiffany. We had fun. We talked. We laughed. We worked together to make something that would bless her mother. I believe we also blessed God. Because He placed the idea on my heart, carrying through with the project was the right thing to do. I Peter 3: 8-9 tells us to have compassion for one another, to be tenderhearted, courteous and to be a blessing – so we may inherit a blessing. I certainly received a blessing that day as Tiffany and I worked together and again later when her mom opened the gift and was so delighted with the handmade napkins. 

Will I panic the next time I do something outside my comfort zone? Knowing me, it’s possible. However, each time I listen to the Spirit, I learn how much I can trust God. Then, stepping outside my comfort zone will be a little easier.

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An Open Door Leads to a Lesson

In our master bathroom we have a linen closet, which has a folding door with two panels. A few days ago the door was opened, which means it was sticking out slightly, as I walked by. I barely bumped the door, but somehow it was suddenly discombobulated. It all happened so quickly. I couldn’t believe that the door was no longer completely on the track and now appeared crooked. I tried to push the door back onto the track, but to no avail. It would not stay put. All my efforts were in vain, so I had to call for backup. Thankfully, my handy husband came to the rescue. He was able to get the door back on the track and standing straight again. This little incident might seem like an insignificant part of my day, but it taught me some things.

1 – Blindsided

First, sometimes things in life will go downhill fast, and we feel blindsided. But what appears to be the cause is actually just the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. In the case of the door, after we looked at it closely, we discovered that the track was bent and we just never realized it. So my bumping into the door wasn’t the actual problem, but it uncovered an issue that was already festering.

One example where this could happen in life is when dealing with people’s emotions. Let’s say someone was having a bad day and lashed out at another person for something they said. Well it wasn’t necessarily what the second person said that was the problem. But it pushed a button that was already tender.

It can be difficult to navigate situations like this. When we are blindsided, at first we might feel shocked. And the shock might paralyze us or cause us to have an adverse reaction. But hopefully we can recover quickly and handle the situation with grace.

2 – Proceed with Resolving the Situation

This brings me to the second thing I learned. With the problem of the door, I immediately tried to resolve the issue. We can do the same with problems in life. But we should always remember our source of Truth first – The Bible. Whatever we are facing, there is a Bible verse that can help guide us in the right direction.

In the case of someone’s emotions which I mentioned above, we could remember Philippians 4:5 (NLT), “Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do.” If we follow this rule in all of our actions, hopefully it will help alleviate the suffering.

Another example of things getting blown up out of nowhere – sometimes in the news we will see where people are falsely accused of things that they did not do. In those cases, we can remember one of my favorite Bible verses, Exodus 14:14 (NIV), “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

These are just some examples. Whatever you might have been blindsided by, I encourage you to find a Bible verse that will help direct your steps.

3 – Call for Back Up

Ultimately, there will be times in life when we cannot do the task at hand in our own strength, so we have to call in the troops. In the case of the door, I needed my husband’s help. In life situations, first and foremost, we should seek God’s help. We cannot face difficulties without Him. Thankfully we have the Holy Spirit with us every single moment of every single day. God is always there and always willing to help. At times it might also be appropriate to call upon friends, loved ones, and prayer warriors, depending on what obstacle you are facing. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to face it alone.

In the end, the door was fixed and all was well. No matter what you are facing today, God can fix it. There is no mountain too big for our Almighty God. And He loves His children more than we can ever imagine. So don’t think that He is too busy or unconcerned about your problems. He will be there the instant that you call on Him.

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Fortune Cookies

Have you ever experienced opening a fortune cookie and finding a message that seemed very appropriate to your situation?

A while back, I was in a Chinese restaurant. My dinner companion ate three fortune cookies and found three messages:

• “You can be lucky today regarding your romantic enterprise.”

• “Fun and excitement will soon be yours.”

• “Today is the day to make your move.”

Together, the three fortunes presented a very clear message, a very clear path forward for my dinner companion. My dinner companion might have considered the message very seriously and moved forward in his quest for romance—if it weren’t for the fact that he was four years old.

When a golfer hits a hole in one (puts the ball into the hole with only one strike of the ball), it is considered a remarkable achievement. But is it really? The European Tour has set up a “Chase the Ace” promotion in which it gives one of its professional golfers 500 chances in a row to hit a hole in one on the same hole. Several have tried and failed. Would it be so remarkable? Average golfers get a hole in one once in every 100,000 tee shots. Professional golfers on the European tour do it once in every 2500 tee shots. Skill will get the ball close to the hole but will not guarantee a hole in one. Consider that there are multiple variations in the golfer’s swing, minute differences in the placement of the ball, and vagaries of wind, green slope, and grass blades. It is impossible for a golfer to control all of these variables. The reality is that if a golfer drives enough balls toward a green, eventually he will get lucky and one ball will go in.

The same is true for fortune cookies, fortune tellers, and other forms of “magic.” If you make enough predictions, eventually one will turn out right—and that is the one that will be remembered, just as it is the lucky hole in one that the golfer remembers.

There is in the human mind a desire to have magical answers to the dilemmas if life, to have someone or something tell us exactly what to do—so that we will be absolved of the responsibility to make a decision.

The God of the Bible does give guidance, and sometimes it is clear, specific, and direct. But often God lays out the general realities of life, the principles of proper behavior, and leaves it to us to choose to do right or not. We want to know which option will bring success and prosperity. God is more interested in us choosing the option that is loving, just, and good. 

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It’s That Time Again!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found over the decades that some of the best friends I can have are those who know me best, knew me when I wasn’t as lovable as I am now, and still love me anyway. They love me, and one another, enough to travel long distances to see one another again.

Do you have friends like that in your life? Friends that, in a way, have actually been family to you? Of course, for me, that’s very important, because I’m an only child with no children. Most of the kids I grew up with had large farm families, and they still included me in their lives.

It’s time for us to have our annual weekend retreat, and the texts are increasing, emails flying, as we plan for more friends this year. I don’t have any idea how many will end up coming, but I know it will be amazing even if there are the original five.

If you do have friends like this, have you reached out to them in a while? Maybe send them a text, or a card, or email. Maybe–gasp!–give them a phone call.

I see these friends as part of the foundation of my life. Their acceptance means more to me than I can say, and I happen to know that my acceptance means a lot to them, too. I thank God for these friends. I hope you have friends for whom you can also thank God.

Have a wonderful weekend. I know I will!

 

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When You Win and Lose–Grace by Vicki Hinze

Vicki Hinze, When you Win and Lose, grace, Christians Read

During the course of a lifetime, we all win some and lose some.  That is the nature of competition and the nature of life.  Learn to do both—to win and to lose—with dignity, respecting yourself, others and the competition.

Have you ever heard someone awarded an honor for an achievement who lacked gratitude to those who helped that person gain the award?   Who boldly states they’d like to thank others but can’t because they’d made it all the way to the award by themselves?  Someone so full of themselves that they couldn’t spare a kind word for the countless others who guided and directed them to that point?

How about someone who lost railing on and on with a litany of complaints blaming others for their loss?

The absence of gratitude and the casting of blame are both reactions that are not only not endearing, they sour our opinion of the person, and that opinion remains sour for a very long time.

As a young writer, I witnessed both of those reactions, and I have to tell you, three decades have passed, and a lot of things have happened in those intervening years.  Yet my opinion on both those individuals is still colored by what I witnessed all those years ago.

I am not alone.  Think back through your life at the responses you’ve seen and experienced.  Have your reactions to those responses changed?  Probably not.

You see, in winning or losing we see a person at their best—the high—and their worst—the low.  If they can’t handle themselves appropriately then, they can’t do it at all.  We recognize that at core level because we’ve all experienced highs and lows in our own lives, or vicariously through someone close to us.

The lack of graciousness in the winner reminds us of everyone we’ve ever gone the extra mile to help who betrayed us, got what they wanted and then put us on ignore, or claimed credit for our efforts as though they had done it all and we had not contributed.  In other words, we were ignored, forgotten or betrayed.  There isn’t a person in the world with whom that will sit well.  Actually, it’s the behavior of the kind of people we try to avoid, and certainly try to avoid being.

The lack of graciousness in the loser reminds us of every time we were blamed for something we didn’t do, some wrong we were accused of committing that we actually didn’t commit and yet paid dearly for having done it.  It reminds us of every time we tried and failed and were berated for it.

It also reminds us of terms like “sore loser” and “sour grapes” and “unsportsman-like conduct.”

Once an opinion is formed in the minds of others who watch your response to winning or losing, it’s really hard to change that opinion.  If you are gracious in winning or losing, the opinion is far more apt to be favorable.

Now what others think of you is, as they say, none of your business.  What you think of yourself, however, is reflected back to you in the opinions of others.  If you respect yourself, you express and reflect it in your conduct.  If you don’t, you reflect that, too.

Whichever you choose to do, respect or disrespect, know that others take their cue from you, and they will treat you accordingly. So do what you will, but do it knowing that you are setting the tone, the bar, the standard for how you “show” others to treat you.

If you respect yourself, then respect others.  Behave with dignity toward yourself and toward everyone else.  Those with whom you agree and those with whom you disagree.

Remember:  Just because you have an opinion on everything doesn’t obligate you to express it.  Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

When things go wrong, and at some time, they will.  Seek first to understand, then take appropriate actions to assure a checks-and-balances system is in place to avoid future wrongs.  There is a right way to address a legitimate challenge and a wrong way.  Respect yourself and others, address it the right way.

An ancient philosopher once said, “What you do to others, you do to yourself.”

That became a universal truth because it is one.  There’ve been many iterations of it over the years, like: “When you set out to destroy another, dig two graves.  One for them, and one for you.” 

The lesson in that message is universal as well.  When you set out to harm another, the one most harmed is yourself. You’ve disrespected the other person.  You’ve disrespected yourself more, and guess what?  You might stay away from that other person, but you cannot escape yourself.  Every day, from that day forward for so long as you’re drawing breath, you’re doing so with your attempt to destroy staining your thoughts, your actions, and weighing on your conscience.

You might think you won’t.  But you will.  We all do.

Be gracious in your wins.  Give credit where credit is due.  Be humble and never forget those who helped you all the way.  Honor them by paying it forward, helping others as you were helped.

Be gracious in your losses.  There is no need to assign blame.  Respect the process, the effort.  Look at mistakes you might have made, but also look at what others did right.  Strive to be objective and keep an eye on how you might improve.

That’s respectful to you and to others.  And that respect is key not only to improving but also to creating fewer regrets that will haunt you as you move forward through life.

In life, we win some and lose some.  It is vital to our emotional well-being to learn to do both with respect for ourselves and others, and with dignity and grace.  Our own self-esteem and our rightful respect for others depend on it.

I leave you with this thought…

When all is said and done, what we’re left with in life is ourselves.  What we’ve said and done, and what we haven’t.  How we were treated and how we treated others is a big part of that.  Yes, we’ll all make mistakes and we’ll all do things we wish we hadn’t done or said.  We don’t expect perfection.  We do expect to leave life better than we found it.

To that end, remember this:

Always treat others with the grace you are going to need from others when you commit a wrong.  If you do, when you need grace, you’ll be far more apt to get it.

It’s all about grace.  Gratitude, dignity and respect.  For you.  For others.

Read the quote from the recently deceased Dr. Emily Clyburn.  She left it, it’s said, in a note on the bathroom mirror for her husband, who’d just won an election.  “When you win, brag gently.  When you lose, weep softly.”

 

Gratitude, dignity and respect. 

 

Grace.  And wisdom.

 

 Note to Readers:  I have two new clean read releases on the near horizon:  Bringing Home Christmas (heartwarming romance) and Deep Freeze (romantic suspense).  Both are available for preorder now on Amazon.com.

Vicki Hinze, Bringing Home Christmas , Deep Freeze, USA Today Bestselling Author

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Nora’s Review of: Far Side of the Sea by Kate Breslin

Nora St. Laurent reviews, Kate Breslin, Far Side of the Sea, Christians Read review

 

Far Side of the Sea, Kate Breslin, Nora St. Laurent reviews, Christians ReadFar Side of the Sea

By Kate Breslin

Published by Bethany House

Release Date: March 5th

ISBN: 978-0764233111

400 Pages

 

 

 

Genre: Historical Christian Fiction, Romance, Suspense Pigeons, WWI

 

 

About the Book: In spring 1918, Lieutenant Colin Mabry, a British soldier working with MI8 after suffering injuries on the front, receives a message by carrier pigeon. It is from Jewel Reyer, the woman he once loved and who saved his life–a woman he believed to be dead. Traveling to France to answer her urgent summons, he desperately hopes this mission will ease his guilt and restore the courage he lost on the battlefield.

Colin is stunned, however, to discover the message came from Jewel’s half sister, Johanna. Johanna, who works at a dovecote for French Army Intelligence, found Jewel’s diary and believes her sister is alive in the custody of a German agent. With spies everywhere, Colin is skeptical of Johanna, but as they travel across France and Spain, a tentative trust begins to grow between them.

When their pursuit leads them straight into the midst of a treacherous plot, danger and deception turn their search for answers into a battle for their lives.

NORA’S REVIEW: Readers meet Lieutenant, Colin Mabry caught in the middle of a re-occurring nightmare. He’s in Hastings, Britain, the year 1918. He’s thankful to be awakened by a knock on his door that stopped his dream. He was being summonsed to decode some messages.

He decodes the messages quickly then comes across one addressed to him, requesting a meeting alone with Jewel (a women saved his life and hasn’t seen in over a year).

Colin attends the meeting but it turns out not to be the women he was looking for. This woman’s name is Johanna Reyer not Jewel. Johanna explains why she is here in Jewel’s place. She seeks his help to find a missing person.

I learned so much when Johanna shows Colin the Chateau de Gall. “We call it LaMaison des Oiseaux. The birdhouse.” She then explains “we work with pigeons that bring messages from the Front lines….We send intelligence on to your British Army headquarters at Montreuil.”

How they used these courageous birds was mind boggling. Colin was fascinated (and so was I) about the dovecote; which can hold up to 250 pigeons.

Jo pleads her case and tells Colin how she found him. Colin is on board to help find Jewel after seeing and reading her diary. They travel together posing as husband and wife. Colin says to Joanna, “So you need me more than protection.” He watched her with an unreadable expression. Jo met his gaze with honesty. “You are the only one who can tell me for certain if the woman is my sister.”

Sparks start to fly in more ways than one as Colin’s higher ups want him to head home. He stays the course with Jo in hopes he’d meet Jewel again. Things get increasingly complicated as the plot thickens. The two posing as husband and wife are drawn closer to each other physically and emotionally, as they get further in the line of danger. Together they discover clues they only share among themselves. They begin to realize they could only trust each other. I liked Colin and Jo and the special moments they shared in Paris.

The author says, “As one who appreciates learning history thru stories, I strive for historical accuracy in my novels whenever possible, but there is time when taking literary license is necessary.” Then she states what she had to change and why. I like when authors do that.

This is a mysterious, suspenseful read with a tender romance taken place during WWI, filled with adventure, a natural faith message and lots of twists and turns I didn’t see coming. Some characters have to face their fears as the plot unfolds. I enjoy being entertained as I learned about aspects of WWI I had never heard of before. This makes for an enjoyable, fun read that would make a great book club pick. There is so much in here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Publisher.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

Nora St. Laurent

TBCN Where Book Fun Begins! http://www.bookfun.org

The Book Club Network blog http://www.psalm516.blogspot.com

Book Fun Magazine https://www.bookfun.org/page/past-issues-book-fun-mag

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My Refuge and My Fortress

A couple of weeks ago, I had an appointment in the afternoon. The appointment was not too far from home, but was far from work, since my job is fifty miles away from home. I considered asking my boss to leave work early, at two o’clock in the afternoon. But in the end, I decided instead to ask if I could work from home that day. This would allow me more time to get work done, since I didn’t have to worry about the commute to and from my place of employment.

That day on the interstate, there was a fiery crash, involving three tractor trailers. This accident occurred around 2:30 PM. And it occurred around the same area where I would have been at 2:30, if I had left work early as originally planned. Could I have been involved? It’s possible. I will never know for sure. But I thank God for His protection on that particular day, and every day. I have to wonder how many times He has protected each of us, without our knowing it.

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” – Psalm 91:2

This reminds me of the story in the Old Testament. The king of Aram did not like the prophet Elisha because Elisha was always one step ahead of him. When the king of Aram would plan to attack Israel, Elisha knew what he was up to and would warn the king of Israel. One day the king of Aram was fed up with Elisha and decided to go after him. But in 2 Kings 6: 14-17, it says:

Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city. When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

God helps us so much each and every day. I am convinced that there are so many things He does to protect us in our daily lives that we don’t even realize. Thinking about this helps me to worry less. I tend to worry a lot, about things that are important and things that I know are truly insignificant. But when we look around and see the hand of God on our lives, the worries don’t seem quite so troublesome anymore. And this makes me want to praise God for His goodness and for His divine protection!

“Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.” – Psalm 146:1-2

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Ripped Roads by Julie Arduini

I live in Ohio. Most months thanks to big temperature changes and precipitation, we have potholes. Some are so bad they could qualify as craters. I’ve lost more than one tire to the roads.

Last month we saw something new in our development. Paving trucks and crew. Street by street they ripped up the pavement and poured down the new. It wasn’t all completed in a day, so we found some roads blocked off. Other roads were ripped and uneven and we had to navigate it while the crews worked a different road, or, the same road, opposite side. Given this happened the first week of school, it was a big headache as buses and families had to figure out how to work around all the construction.

One day the flag person stopped my husband to wait while trucks moved through. The person admitted their work was a hassle, but then he said something profound. “Everyone hates us for a couple days, then they love us for thirty years.”

He’s right. Now that our development is completed, the roads are smooth, new, and still smell of fresh tar to remind you of a job well done. It was tough driving for a long time. Then it was annoying. Now, it’s great. Worth the trouble.

The crews are still working in the area. Around us remain ripped up roads. They are near our completed entrances, so not only are the streets uneven, there are orange signs that say “Bump” to give us a head’s up in case the lack of pavement didn’t already clue us in.

As I groaned driving today frustrated with another day with uneven pavement and in some cases, none of all, that flag person’s words came back to me. It is annoying. It isn’t fun. But in time, I’ll love the results.

Our lives come in seasons much like the natural seasons. If anyone told you a personal relationship with Jesus was all rainbows and candy, I wish I could meet that person. Because they lied and did such a disservice.

The Christian life is hard. I’ve had my seasons where the potholes were craters and I was certain my faith was bottoming out. Infertility. Miscarriage. Loss of parent. Financial hardships. Relationship struggles. We’ve all been there.

Then comes the time when the crews come. There’s no warning, but first thing in the morning there they are, trucks digging to the bottom of the road, lifting it up in chunks and clearing it away. It’s an ugly mess where my help isn’t needed. In fact, the crews wish I’d keep my distance.

For me, that’s the season where healing takes place. God loves me enough not to want me to stay the same. If I allow Him to come in, He’s going to dig deep to the root of my issues and not put a bandage on it. For me to experience true freedom, the old has got to go, so the new will come in. He has to direct the process. In the past it has been reading the Bible. Prayer. Small groups. Sermons. Bible study. Music. Counsel. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t the way I wanted to travel. It was bare. Rough. And took far longer than when the road was full of potholes.

—Julie Arduini

In time, the new pavement was laid down and it was a wonderful, smooth ride. It was almost easy to forget what the development went through to get the new streets. When we leave our little neighborhood and see their ripped roads, the memories come back. There’s also warnings with those “Bump” signs showing us uneven roads are ahead.

Once a healing takes place, it’s a beautiful feeling. I feel so free and on fire. The peace in my heart beats anything the world has to offer me. I’m still tender, but I bask in the position God’s put me in. I don’t just see answered prayer, I am a product of answered prayer. Yet, experience has taught me there will be surprises. Hiccups. Bumps in the road where I discover if lessons learned during construction will be applied. Because I don’t want the pot hole and ripped road seasons to be for nothing, I really work hard to use everything learned in the hard seasons for the future. For His glory and advancement of His Kingdom.

Where the eternal streets are paved with gold.

***

In Engaged, Trish Maxwell is under construction. Everyone in Speculator Falls remembers her as the girl who left the village and everyone empty handed. She’s back, and she has a lot of explaining to do. Join Trish as she surrenders her goals and finds freedom in God’s plan. Also available for Kobo, Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, Scribd, and more.

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The Love of Money is the Root of All Evil

Have you ever known someone who loved money?  I mean, truly loved money.  Loved hoarding it, stashing it, earning it at all costs, destroying people for it — that kind of love of money?

I’ve seen this recently after people’s death and those left fight over the inheritance and items…stuff.  It’s the saddest thing to me.  My family, praise God, never had that kind of greed in them.  No one ever expected inheritance and for the most part, the only one we received was in the love and consideration our relatives gave us in life.

However, some people truly don’t want love.  They want money and I have seen it rip apart families.  Siblings don’t talk to each other. Stepparents are pit against grown children, etc., etc. It’s often at the root of motives for murder. The movie, Judy, about the life of talented star Judy Garland, illustrates this point to a “T.” Judy can’t trust anyone.  Everyone around her is using her talent as a means to get rich.  She is collateral damage.

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I’ve been rich in this lifetime and not rich.  It’s certainly better to be rich.  But it’s vital to be rich in love.  Money?  You can make more money.  But it’s so true, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” Ecc. 5:10

It seems our country has this illness in spades.  Retail is going under because people would rather get things cheaper and faster online.  Our country’s homes are being sold to the highest bidder, regardless of which enemies of the state might be buying them up.  And Instagram is filled with aimless millennials each trying to show off their “swag” and designer clothes, but not actually enjoying their lives.

The answer is Jesus, of course.  Empty lives and vacant pursuits will not satisfy, but our love of money seems to be the battle for our very souls.  Unlike money, love and compassion soothe a weary soul and offer hope to the hopeless.  I’m praying for the soul of our nation and I hope you are too.

 

 

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It’s Fall by Tara Randel

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Technically, the calendar says autumn is here. I live in Florida, where it’s still in the nineties. I will admit that the nights and early mornings are a tad bit nicer, but the days? Crazy hot! So how do I tackle the heat and the wishing-for-cooler-weather blues? I decorate my house in everything fall; colored leaves, pumpkins, pumpkin scented candles, to name a few. And I turn down the thermostat to pretend that it’s cool outside. Which works, until I have to go somewhere.

Autumn has always been my favorite season of the year. When I was a kid growing up in New England, I looked forward to the temperature change, pulling out colorful sweaters to wear to school and wearing corduroy pants. (I’m sure some of you remember those!) I actually enjoyed raking leaves. Oh, the piles we jumped into, laughing and pulling sticks from our hair. The aroma of burning wood scented the air. I remember pumpkins on the door steps, hay stacks or bales in the yard for decoration. My friends and I out riding our bikes until it got dark. It was a special time.

As always, when I consider the seasons, I look at the beautiful creation of earth. I wanted to share this scripture today and hope it lifts your heart. When you read the words penned by the psalmist, you can’t help but praise the Lord who made this special place for us to live. I don’t know about you, but to me, rereading psalms is a reminder of how gracious God is.

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Psalm 104

Praise the Lord, my soul.

Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty.

The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
    and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.

He set the earth on its foundations;
it can never be moved.
You covered it with the watery depths as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
But at your rebuke the waters fled,
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
they flowed over the mountains,
they went down into the valleys,
to the place you assigned for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross;
never again will they cover the earth.

10 He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
it flows between the mountains.
11 They give water to all the beasts of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 The birds of the sky nest by the waters;
they sing among the branches.
13 He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
14 He makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to cultivate—
bringing forth food from the earth:
15 wine that gladdens human hearts,
oil to make their faces shine,
and bread that sustains their hearts.
16 The trees of the Lord are well watered,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 There the birds make their nests;
the stork has its home in the junipers.
18 The high mountains belong to the wild goats;
the crags are a refuge for the hyrax.

19 He made the moon to mark the seasons,
and the sun knows when to go down.
20 You bring darkness, it becomes night,
and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
21 The lions roar for their prey
and seek their food from God.
22 The sun rises, and they steal away;
they return and lie down in their dens.
23 Then people go out to their work,
to their labor until evening.

24 How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 There is the sea, vast and spacious,
teeming with creatures beyond number—
living things both large and small.
26 There the ships go to and fro,
and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.

27 All creatures look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
28 When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things.
29 When you hide your face,
they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust.
30 When you send your Spirit,
they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.

31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
32 he who looks at the earth, and it trembles,
who touches the mountains, and they smoke.

33 I will sing to the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
as I rejoice in the Lord.
35 But may sinners vanish from the earth
and the wicked be no more.

Praise the Lord, my soul.

Praise the Lord.

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So, my friends, enjoy the beginning of autumn. Remember how gracious God is when you breathe in the cool fall air, or kick leaves out of your way as you walk along a path. No matter the temperature outside, there is so much to be thankful for!

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Available now!

Tara Randel is an award-winning, USA Today bestselling author. Family values, a bit of mystery and of course, love and romance, are her favorite themes, because she believes love is the greatest gift of all. Look for her next Harlequin Heartwarming romance, ALWAYS THE ONE, available February 2020 .  For more information about her books, visit Tara at www.tararandel.com. Like her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/TaraRandelBooks. Sign up for Tara’s Newsletter and receive a link to download a free digital book.

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Put on Your Armor

At my job, there are a few ladies who get together for prayer meetings twice a week. They use a short break to gather outside (weather permitting) and pray. First they will ask if there are any specific prayer requests. Then they will read a short devotion. Next they join hands and pray. And at the end, they wrap up the prayer meeting with hugs.

These meetings always prove to be a special time for these ladies. One of the ladies told me that every time they start praying, they feel a gentle breeze, as though the Holy Spirit has arrived. And on one particular day, an older man driving a medical transport bus happened to see them, so he pulled over to join in. The ladies did not know him, but they welcomed their brother in Christ. It warms my heart to think about the way God’s love spread that day (and many other days).

I have gone to these prayer meetings a handful of times. However, they commonly fall at the same time as other business meetings on my calendar. So I cannot attend often. But unfortunately, on a few of the occasions when I did attend, there were subsequent and negative incidents that occurred.

On one particular day when I attended the prayer meeting, I later had a coworker misinterpret something I said and she got riled up about it. We were just going into a meeting, so I didn’t have a chance to say much else at the time. I tried to find her later to clear the air, but I was unable to locate her. So later that evening I sent her a text message, explaining what I truly meant in what I said. And I apologized for the miscommunication. Via the text she acted like it was nothing. (But in person it definitely appeared as something.) Nonetheless, we have since moved on from that incident and get along fine once again.

On another day when I went to one of the prayer meetings, towards the end when each of the ladies hugs one another, one of them looked at my stomach and asked me if I was expecting. In an attempt to laugh it off, I made a joke about being overweight. The lady did apologize at the time. I actually don’t know this lady very well because she is on a different team. And I don’t see her often, because our desks are on opposite ends of the building. So we haven’t had much opportunity to clear the air in this situation. But I did see her once this week and wished her a good morning.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that these incidents happened on the same days when I attended the prayer meeting. I believe they were attacks from the enemy. He knows we are working for the Kingdom of God and wants to steer us off that path. He will do whatever he can to get to us. Spiritual warfare is something we Christians need to be prepared for every single day. How do we prepare ourselves for spiritual warfare?
1 – Put on the Armor of God

Let’s take a look at Ephesians 6:10-17:

The Armor of God
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

In these verses, the Bible gives us detailed instructions on how we should dress ourselves spiritually every morning. This is something we do by faith as we prepare for whatever attacks the enemy might send our way.

Here are two excellent podcast episodes where Dr. Charles Stanley talks about putting on the armor of God:
https://www.intouch.org/listen/featured/dressed-for-the-battle-part-1
https://www.intouch.org/listen/featured/dressed-for-the-battle-part-2

2 – Be Alert

1 Peter 5:8-9 says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”

The first two words stand out to me – Be Alert! Unfortunately I think we often fall short on that part. When we are attacked, we usually point the finger at the person who was involved in the incident. This could be a family member, a friend, a coworker, or even a stranger. If someone upsets us or angers us, we tend to place the blame on them. But the truth is that we are forgetting who the true enemy. These other people are not our enemies. Strife comes from Satan because he knows it will cause us to build walls which ultimately weakens our faith and it weakens the Christian army as a whole. When we are united as one, we are much stronger. So when it comes to spiritual battles, we have to remember that we Christians are on the same team!

3 – Fight Back

When we recognize that the enemy has attacked us, we must fight back. Start by turning to the Lord. James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

If you are in the midst of a conflict with another person, it might be difficult to turn the situation around. But if we try to remember Proverbs 15:1, we will see the circumstances change: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

This is important with all relationships. But I believe the enemy loves to attack within our own families first. His number one goal is to destroy. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” So he would love to divide a household, or even extended family. But Ephesians 4:27 says, “Do not give the devil a foothold.” So when we see strife or conflict enter our lives, we cannot allow the enemy to have the upper hand. We must take a stand, seek the Lord’s help, and take action.

In this post, I have been generally talking about strife with other people. However, the points above can be applied to any spiritual battle we face. The enemy does not take vacations, so we can’t either. We must remain on guard at all times. Fortunately, we have our Almighty God on our side. So as long as we remain rooted in Him, the enemy doesn’t stand a chance!

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It Was a Dark and Stormy Conversation

(A Short Story)

“Harder was climbing out of a deep, dark well toward a distant, insistent ringing when his hand slipped under the pillow for his snub-nose 38 and he blasted the alarm clock, which was a replacement for the replacement for the replacement for the replacement for the replacement for the one given him by his grandfather Jeremias, into kingdom come.” 

The recitation was greeted by a stony silence.

“What do you think?” John Smyth asked.

His wife Ruby considered. “Definitely not your best work.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s repetitive and, well, silly.”

“I think I’m a better judge of writing than you are. After all, I’m the professional writer.”

“You’re not a professional writer. You’re just the editor of Grace magazine.”

“Still a professional.”

“And I’m a reader, I have common sense, and what you wrote doesn’t have much.”

“It’s supposed to be silly. It’s my entry for the contest,” John explained.

“What contest?”

“The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.”

“What?”

“The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. It’s named after the English novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton. In 1830 he published novel called Paul Clifford, which has the famous opening line, ‘It was a dark and stormy night.’”

“I always thought that was a great opening line.”

“It would have been if he had stopped there. But he didn’t. The full sentence is ‘It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.’”

“Oh.”

“Precisely. A classic example of not knowing when to quit.”

“There seems to be a lot of that going on.”

John scowled. “The point is that in 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University started a contest to see who could write the worst first line for a novel. The first year there were only three entries, but now they get thousands of entries every year.”

“So you were trying to write badly so you could enter the contest?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you succeeded.”

*****

“What’s that?” Ruby asked.

“It’s a notification from the English Department at San Jose State University about the winning entry in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.”

“And?”

“Here’s the winning entry: ‘Hoping to render the suspect unarmed but unharmed, Hermione pointed her pistol—given to her by her grandmother, for whom she had been named, on the grounds that “a girl should always be prepared for anything,” referring to the pistol, not the name—at the suspect, but found her hand was shaking, possibly due to an old volleyball injury, when the gun accidentally discharged a high-caliber round into the suspect’s shoulder and she saw, to her horror, that she had rendered him disarmed rather than unarmed and uttered a mild expletive: “Oops!”’”

“Yippee!” Ruby shouted. “I won!”

Disclaimer and Clarification: John Smyth is the protagonist in James R. Coggins’s four murder mysteries: Who’s Grace, Desolation Highway, Mountaintop Drive, and Springtime in Winnipeg. The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is real. John Smyth and his wife Ruby are not. They are fictional characters, and therefore they could not enter, let alone win, the contest.

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Cloud Shadow (by Hannah Alexander)

KODAK Digital Still Camera

“What’s in that field over there?” Mel exclaimed as we drove the wide open spaces where we had recently moved.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

He pointed toward a distant parcel of land where the clouds blocked the sun. “What is that?”

I was confused. “All I see is cloud shadow.”

“It’s what?”

I looked at him in awe, though I was driving so I couldn’t do much. “Are you kidding?”

“What on earth is cloud shadow?”

I think I slowed the car down a little, but it was nearly three years ago, so I don’t recall that clearly. “You know, when the clouds block the sun’s rays in a particular area?” He had to know this.

“They what?”

It occurred to me that my super intelligent husband, who was good at all things medical, was the most wonderful husband in the world, and…did I say super intelligent?…anyway, it occurred to me that I might know something he didn’t. How cool is that?

“Honey, you lived in the forests of the Ozarks for far too long. Out here in the wilderness, where there aren’t trees, you can see the shadows of the clouds on the earth in huge quantities.”

He sat staring out the window in awe. “That’s just shadow? From clouds?

I loved it. I, who had spent my first decade plus in desert lands, was actually able to teach him something new, since he had no memory of living anywhere but thick forest, where only trees and houses and people and other objects that were connected to the ground caused shadows. He never gave much thought to the fact that clouds cast shadows on the earth because he could never see them through the trees.

Now he takes pictures of cloud shadows because they are so fascinating to him.

Of course, I see them afresh now, too, since he does. It’s still amazing to him.

Writer that I am, I found that his sudden discovery of cloud shadows took on a deeper meaning for me: unseen shadows. Or maybe unacknowledged shadows.

I spoke to a young woman the other day from Peru who had not been raised in a Christian home as I had. She described her childhood to me, and her sense of missing something vital in her life until she found Christ. I can’t remember a time in my childhood when I wasn’t in church several times a week. However, I discovered talking to her that I have no idea what other people experience. I guess I thought everyone had already heard about Christ’s death and resurrection. But too many people live in the shadow of unbelief, not because they reject Christ as their savior, but because they were never offered the chance to know Him in the first place by another human being.

So many of us Christians cannot identify. As I’ve always known about cloud shadows because I grew up with them, Mel only recently discovered them. As we who have grown up in Christian homes take the truth for granted, others don’t know the truth.

This is where we come in. Even though we might not identify, we can share. We can show. We can reflect God’s love through our lives in our acts of kindness. This means I have to stop complaining about rude drivers when I’m on the road. Yikes!

There are people in our town here in Wyoming searching for that vital missing thing in their lives, even some who take part on our Bible studies who have not yet seen the truth of what we’re studying. They seek the answer in scary stuff like witchcraft and tarot cards and incantations. Others seek the answer through destructive relationships and drugs. They are seekers in danger of being tricked and led in the wrong direction. They need to know God’s love more completely through us. And they need our prayers, most certainly not our animosity.

Cloud shadows aren’t dangerous as far as I know. I love to watch them sail across a wilderness landscape. But there are shadows of evil affecting helpless people around us. They don’t have our protection. We need to share Him with them lovingly, whenever we see an opportunity, with kindness and prayer, not with judgment or revulsion.

Have you been shocked or surprised by the beliefs of some people in your sphere of influence lately? You’re probably going to see more as the world darkens. You might be their only hope. Put on the full Armor of God–which is Jesus Christ–and help them fight against the shadows of evil.

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