Nora’s Review of… The Last Year of the War

The Last Year of the War, Susan Meissner, Nora St. Laurent, Christians Read

 

 

THE LAST YEAR OF THE WAR

by Susan Meissner

Published by Berkley

ISBN:  978-0451492153

400 pages

 

Amazon

 

 

REVIEW: The first line grabbed and surprised me. It compelled me to read more, “I’ve a thief to thank for finding the one person I need to see before I die.”

This author masterfully blends two story lines. One in the past (1943) and the other in present time with main character Else Sontag searching for a long-lost friend named Mariko Inoue Hayashi. These teens meet after the attack on Pearl Harbor when both ladies’ families were tossed in an internment camp. Mariko was Japanese and Else’s family was from Germany. These two became fast friends as they learned to navigate this new life they were thrown into.

Most of this novel was told through the eyes of teenage Else and some in 90-year-old Else’s voice where her Dr. tells her she has Alzheimer’s. I liked Else’s spunk and attitude when she says, “I’ve named my diagnosis after a girl at my Junior High School in Daven port – Agnes Finster – who was forever taking things that didn’t belong to her out of lockers. My own Agnes will be the death of me” —“Agnes will swallow me whole, inch by inch. Every day a little more. She will become stronger and I will become weaker…. I will forget forever the important things. The things that matter.”

The urgency to find Mariko before she forgets – was real. She had something important to give her. Else sets out on a secret journey her family knows nothing about; using techniques she’s learned to keep her on track to the mission at hand should she forget.

Readers get a front row seat at Else’s house 1934 when their home was invaded by Everything changed after the attack on Pearl Harbor. “FBI agents on a mission to find dirt on her daddy and arrest him as being an enemy alien suspected of subversive crimes, against the United States of America…” 

Else and her family were abandoned, left to fend for themselves. I had never read anything about the internment camps, how America created them and who they put inside. Fear and panic seized the world after Pearl Harbor. Susan Meissner tells this first-person account through teenage Else’s eyes and understanding. Readers get a front row seat and sometimes walking in the shoes of this young lady and her family as they try to make sense of why the are being taken from the only home in Arizona, they’ve known for 15 years and then placed in a family camp with a fence and guards.

These were dark times and people did some pretty crazy fear driven things trying to get control. I’m not a history buff but this heart-wrenching tale helped me learn so much about this time period. People were left to put the pieces of their lives back together after the war ended. I love learning about history through this powerful, poignant historical fiction depicting things as they were through characters I cared about. This story and the situation will stay with me for a long time.

This makes for a fascinating read and one that would work well for book club. I highly recommend this novel. It’s a must read.

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! www.bookfun.org

The Book Club Network blog www.psalm516.blogspot.com

Book Fun Catalogue front page www.bookfun.org

 

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Keep Watch by Bridget A. Thomas

My husband and I lived in four different houses over the twelve years we have been married. The house we are in now my husband referred to once as our “forever home.” So hopefully that means we will stay put for a while! One of the several times we put our house up for sale was around the time the market suffered. So that particular house was up for sale for two years before we finally sold it. We both worked at the same place at the time, and our job was a good forty-five minute drive away. If you have ever put a house on the market with a realtor, then you probably know how it works. You can get a call at any given time when someone wants to see your house. This means every day when we left for work, we never knew if someone might want to see our house that particular day.

So every day for two years when we left for work in the morning, our house had to be in tiptop shape. Every day for two years we didn’t leave any garbage in the house. Every day for two years we made sure the bathrooms and kitchen were spotless. Every day for two years we sprayed a pleasant orange-scented air freshener as we walked out the door. Every day for two years we would hide our dirty laundry (literally!). Every day for two years we tried to make our house look Pinterest perfect.

We never knew the day or the hour that we might get a call from a realtor who wanted to show our house. So we always had to be ready. I was thinking about this recently and the parable that Jesus told in Matthew 25:1-13 (NLT) came to mind:

“Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. The five who were foolish didn’t take enough olive oil for their lamps, but the other five were wise enough to take along extra oil. When the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight they were roused by the shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom is coming! Come out and meet him!’

“All the bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. Then the five foolish ones asked the others, ‘Please give us some of your oil because our lamps are going out.’

“But the others replied, ‘We don’t have enough for all of us. Go to a shop and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were gone to buy oil, the bridegroom came. Then those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was locked. Later, when the other five bridesmaids returned, they stood outside, calling, ‘Lord! Lord! Open the door for us!’

“But he called back, ‘Believe me, I don’t know you!’

“So you, too, must keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of my return.”

The foolish bridesmaids make me think of three types of people: those who have heard the gospel but are not ready to take the next step, those who gave their lives to Jesus at one time but have now turned away from the Lord, and those who appear to be believers but in their hearts they are not sincere. Whatever the case may be, The Bible gives us a clear warning to be ready at all times.

And my heart breaks when I think of all the people who are not living for the Lord. I feel as though so many people are off track. Some people go to church every week, but when they walk out of the building, their life has nothing to do with God at all. In today’s culture we have to be on guard, now more than ever. There are more ways the enemy can trap us. For example, millions of people are constantly glued to video games, social media, devices, television, etc. This is a subtle, yet highly effective, tactic of the enemy to keep people distracted, to keep their focus off of the kingdom of God.

I heard it said recently that we are in a period of grace, but that grace will come to an end one day. We cannot take this lightly. We do not want to be locked out when the time comes. Just as my husband and I always had to be ready for someone who wanted to see our home, we all always have to be ready for Someone – Jesus. Like the wise bridesmaids, we should be prepared. Our hearts need to be in the right place. When we make Jesus the center of our lives, we can’t go wrong!

landscape nature sky sunset

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Handling Criticism by James R. Coggins

Anyone with a public profile, including writers, inevitably receives criticism from to time. How do we handle it?

I know criticism bothers some people greatly, but I have never had a great problem with it. Some of this has to do with my background.

I was trained as an academic, in a milieu where scholarly debate was considered a good thing, since questioning and debating are necessary tools in the search for truth. Proverbs 27:17 (NIV) says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” The idea is that as an iron file sharpens an iron tool, so criticism can grind the rough edges off a theory (or a person) and make it more correct. The process might be painful, but it is useful and helpful.

Of course, this comes with the condition that the scholarly debate sticks to the issues and does not become a personal attack. When one academic debate got out of hand, another professor (R.H. Tawney) cautioned, “An erring colleague is not an Amalekite to be smitten hip and thigh.”

My other learning experience in this area came when I was an editor with a denominational Christian magazine for nineteen years. That magazine had always had a robust Letters to the Editor section. We used to say that we counted on one of our columnists to fill two pages in the magazine, one with his column and the other with letters responding to his column. This columnist was an academic who usually addressed important issues and stimulated people to think. We thought the resulting debate often helped to clarify issues.

Several principles helped guide our practice as editors.

1. It was helpful to realize that we had no monopoly on truth, we were not always right, and it was a good thing to let others correct our mistakes. That iron sharpening iron thing again. Proverbs 27:6 (KJV) says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” The idea is that a friend will correct your mistakes by telling you the truth even if it hurts, whereas an enemy will gladly let you continue on in your error. Proverbs 11:14 (KJV) says, “In the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” In modern parlance, “Many heads are better than one.”

2. It was also helpful to remember that the magazine belonged to all of the members of the denomination. The editors controlled most of the content, so it was important to let the other owners of the paper also have their say. Something similar may be said of authors who write a book or an article and release it to the public. The author owns the copyright on what he or she wrote, but not on the resulting discussion.

3. We also found it helpful to consider that we were often right and that other people’s criticisms didn’t negate that fact. That is, we realized we needed to have confidence in what we were presenting and not be threatened by every criticism.

4. It was helpful to put criticism into perspective. By that time, our magazine had established an enviable track record. The reality was that we received far more praise than we did criticism (even though people tended to write more often when they were upset with something), and we learned to take the good with the bad.

5. Another editor offered this advice: “Never take yourself too seriously.” One of my favorite illustrations of this came very early, when I was co-editor of our high school newspaper. It was the 1960s, the era when radical, left-wing groups were springing up on university campuses all over North America to demand all kinds of changes. A friend of mine wrote a letter to the editor criticizing something I had written in the high school newspaper and signed it, “SCN (Students for a Cogginsless Newspaper).” I laughed and published the letter.

6. We also had to accept that ultimate truth belonged to God and that while we were privileged to have been given some aspects of the truth, God would judge all of our words in the end and reveal what was true. In the presence of God, a little humility is in order.

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When Christians Must Do Battle… by Kristin Writes Billerbeck

We all know what Jesus says about doing turning the other cheek when faced with a battle.  You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42

I can testify that I did this in my own battle — until I realized that I was enabling sinful behavior.  I was not merely turning the other cheek, I was allowing evil to prosper with my lack of action and forgiveness.  Have you ever been faced with that?  Where you must do battle — even when you’re conflict-averse — because it is the only way to do what’s right? 

God gave me a word to look up Winston Churchill.  Now, I didn’t know a lot about Winston Churchill.  I mean, I have heard it said that if we didn’t have him, we’d all be speaking German, but other than that?  I know he was a prime minister, a painter and the rest I’ve gleaned off of “The Queen” on Amazon Prime.  But I had a word that being Neville Chamberlain will prolong the war.  Being Winston Churchill will end it.

We always think the peacemaker is the innocent one.  The good one.  But Neville Chamberlain wanted to appease Adolf Hitler! That was never going to end well because Hitler wanted the total destruction of anyone who veered from his crazed, sociopathic view of a “perfect world.”  Neville wasn’t equipped to deal with evil.

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By nature, I’m a healer — an INFP on the Myers-Briggs.  I want everyone to come together and live in total harmony.  But God called me to do battle in this circumstance and it hasn’t been pretty.  I wanted to live in harmony, but not at the expense of someone’s soul.  And I believe that allowing someone to continue in the destruction of others and evil is at the expense of their soul.  So yes, we should forgive.  We should turn the other cheek, but when God calls us in love to do battle, we must rise up rather than allow evil to prosper.

Have you ever kept a “false peace” to avoid battle?  Have you ever had to rise up and do the right thing though it would cost you? Sometimes, we get pulled into a battle we want no part in — like Beth Moore being pulled into John MacArthur’s statement yesterday.  I imagine Beth Moore would have just like to have avoided the fray altogether and had a Starbucks yesterday.  But she didn’t.  She spoke out because it was necessary. That doesn’t mean she isn’t forgiving or looking for a fight.  It means she couldn’t allow a falsehood to stand as “God’s word.”

 

 

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Writing the Seasons by Tara Randel

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We’re in that fun time of the year when the weather is changing and we get outdoors more often. I love seeing so many Harvest festivals advertised, wishing I could attend every one. I’m sure you have them where you live, celebrations surrounding pumpkin patches or a farmers market. I’ve always wanted to try out a corn maze, which sounds challenging and lots of fun. Hiking or camping may not be considered exclusive fall activities, but with the crisp clean air making an appearance, why not get out on a trail for exercise, enjoying nature at its best? And while you’re at it, why not indulge in a picnic?

I don’t live near an apple orchard, but to me, the scent of apples always reminds me of fall. And pie. I really like pie. Football is popular right about now, so why not attend a game? Perhaps you prefer to stay inside and roast pumpkin seeds while you stroke up the fireplace for the first time this season. Or host a bond fire. My family has spent many happy hours sitting beside a fire pit, enjoying the cooler weather and precious time spent together, talking, roasting marshmallows and drinking hot cider.

As a writer, including the seasons is an integral part of any story. The mood of a character can be brought out by memories of a particular birthday, Christmas, or any holiday, that will have an emotional bearing on how they act, or react, to others in the book. I’ve done a series of Christmas-themed books and that particular holiday evokes all kinds of emotions, which is a treasure trove for writers and pure enjoyment for readers. That is one of the aspects of writing I enjoy so much, using the seasons to enhance the story. Everyone can relate, we all live through the different seasons, so my characters benefit from my memories or experiences.

In my latest book, Trusting Her Heart, the small mountain town of Golden holds its annual Oktoberfest celebration. The townspeople in the book all join in to volunteer, creating opportunities for all kinds of interactions. This is the first time the heroine, Serena, is involved in a group effort where she really feels like she belongs. She works with friends who have become like family, and is also thrown together with the hero, which is tricky since she is keeping a huge secret.

The hero, Logan, has a wonderful heart-to-heart with his grandmother, with the Oktoberfest activities in the background. He left town for personal reasons years ago but is back for a job, which throws him into all the traditions he remembered from growing up in Golden. But is it enough to make him stay? He’s also falling for Serena, which makes his decisions even more difficult to make.

Using the Oktoberfest celebration enabled me to work in scenes that showed different aspects of my characters, and as an added bonus, it was fun to write.

I hope you enjoy the autumn season, get your fill of everything pumpkin related and I encourage you to try something new, like attending a festival or two. Serena and Logan stepped out of their comfort zones and, as you’ll find out in the book, where glad they did.

9781335510808

Can a love built on lies…

…survive the truth?

Serena Stanhope fears her dark past might ruin the life she’s built as a successful shop owner. Especially when handsome Logan Masterson suddenly arrives in town asking questions about her background. He seems to have his own secrets, but the pair share an instant connection and Serena finds herself falling for Logan. He could destroy everything—or he could be the chance at love she thought she’d never have…

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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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WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR? By Yvonne Lehmann

I’m loving… loving my neighbors!

An expert in religious law questioned Jesus, seemingly testing him, about how to live. Instead of telling the expert, Jesus asked what the law says. The expert responded with the correct reply which included “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10: 27 NLT).

Then, the expert asked, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus responded with the story of the Good Samaritan which concludes with one who loves his neighbor is one who shows mercy. Throughout the Bible there are references and admonitions about loving our neighbors and tells us who they are.

So, how do we love our neighbors? We may love those we’ve never seen and know nothing about, through prayer or charitable donations. Some of us have sponsored children from other countries and come to know and love them. We may love those closer to us when a need is made known or when a congratulatory word is applicable. Maybe even a smile will do it.

Yes, we can love our neighbors from a distance. My contact with many neighbors has often been greeting them if they’re outside when I walk around the neighborhood, a short friendly conversation, and even getting to know a few who have children playing outside, a dog, or when they’re working in the yard. You get to know a little more when they have a yard sale.

I have lived where a neighbor would have a drop-in at Christmastime, another might have a jewelry party (or another kind), or even an occasional block party. What we’re doing in our neighborhood has developed and grown since one person decided to make a list of neighbors.

We had experienced a couple of outside get-togethers, and afterwards a neighbor-man knocked on doors and asked if we’d like to be on a list. He typed the names, along with physical and email addresses. When someone moved away or moved in, he made changes on the list and brought them to us.

Then… after a truck break-in, a neighbor emailed us all which led to a few having a meeting with police about safety and the police saying they would drive through our neighborhood at random times. The email writer took the initiative to plan a summer back yard get-together. I responded that my son (he and I are housemates) was recuperating from prostate cancer surgery and if he felt like it, we would attend. About 20 neighbors attended. Of course, they asked my son how he was and he’d say the usual, “fine” or “all right.”

Next… after a few neighbors getting to know each other better, stopping to talk when anyone’s outside, led to several possibilities including a fall get-together. That was held last week in a neighbor’s back yard and about 30 attended. Those who wanted to, brought a dish of food. Our “business” session included our planning a late October joint yard sale. Stemming from our earlier talks, we decided on a Christmas Progressive Dinner. I opted for the dessert part since I want to be last and have Santa (if my son will do it) give all a copy of my new book release of articles written by 47 authors, Remembering  Christmas.

My son mumbled to me, “Why does everyone keep asking how I’m feeling?” I laughed and reminded him that all some of them knew about him was his cancer surgery. So, I suggested we print short bios of all neighbors who are willing to participate. We will get to know more, including whether they’re retired (and from what), any expertise, anyone expecting a baby, where they work, where they’re from (since we are in the mountains of western North Carolina, we get a lot of Floridians who move here or visit for a season).

Of course there are a few neighbors who haven’t come to the get-togethers. That provides opportunity to approach them and instead of asking questions, just let them know we missed them and they’re welcome. One of my neighbors who is very friendly with me, was reluctant to attend the get-togethers, so I asked if she’d come and help with desserts at Christmastime. She was delighted. Some just need a little more encouragement than others. And if some never want to come or participate, that’s good to know too.

Perhaps some neighborhoods aren’t conducive to this, but just a block party can be fun and informative. However, I feel so blessed to be getting to know these people and greet them by name. It’s a good feeling for conversation to go from “How are you?” and answer “Fine” to asking more pertinent questions, or talking about more personal things whether it’s about a  house or yard or family or a recipe.

And of course, these kind of things can be done with various groups, not just in neighborhoods. And we can even form our own groups of people who have common, or uncommon, interests.

So… who is my neighbor? Well, aside from being anyone and everyone, it’s people with names with who are sort of like family (should be) and it feels good. Knowing and accepting all the differences and being able to ask advice, or give it, or ask more than “How are you?” feels like I’m beginning to know my neighbors. And love them.

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A Loving Father

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Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Recently a friend shared with me a YouTube video in which Billy Graham’s daughter, Ruth Graham, was interviewed by Glenn Beck. In the video, Ruth talks about a failed marriage. She was a bit hasty in this relationship and her parents advised her not to marry the man. But she married him anyway. Immediately she realized she had made a mistake. She wound up leaving him and headed home. It was a two day drive, which meant she had a lot of time to fret along the way. Many fears and questions ran through her head regarding what her parents might say to her.

But when Ruth arrived home, her father (Billy Graham) was standing outside, he hugged her, and he said, “Welcome home.” There was no condemnation. He didn’t say I told you so. He wasn’t angry or upset about her mistake. There was only love and grace. And Ruth said that grace changed her life.

What a beautiful picture of the love between a father and child. (Or any relationship.) What an awesome representation of the love of Jesus. And what a stunning reminder of how our Heavenly Father loves us.

This made me think of the story of the lost son, or who many people refer to as the prodigal son, found in Luke 15: 11-24:

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

This is the way that God loves each of us. No matter what we have done and no matter where we have been, He still longs for us to return home to Him. Don’t be afraid to take that step into the arms of God. He is there ready and waiting for you with love.

And I pray that you and I always show others this kind of love, the love of Jesus. In John 13:34-35, Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” As followers of Jesus, we have a responsibility. So I pray that we each can love others with this same love, just as Jesus commanded. Every day we encounter people who are hurting, people who have made mistakes, and people who are lost. May we seek to extend this same grace and love to all those around us.

If you would like to see the entire Ruth Graham interview, here is the link.


Now available on Amazon! Giving God Your Whole Heart: The Path to True Fulfillment by Bridget A. Thomas. This book touches on numerous things which are essential in our Christian walk. Yet due to our busy lives, we tend to push God to the back burner. In this book I will show you how to seek the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul. As a result, you will find true fulfillment in life.

Cover Design - Giving God Your Whole Heart

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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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