Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Horse Dreams by Dandi Daley Mackall

The only thing Ellie James loves more than horses and daydreaming, is daydreaming about horses.  Fourth grader, Ellie, has a great imagination and like a lot of kids her age, she daydreams of owning her own horse...a beautiful black stallion show horse.  She daydreams of winning trophies in the horse show.  Ellie's trouble in school begins as she's once again caught daydreaming by her teacher during class.  Ellie's friend, Colt, who knows sign language (that's how they communicate with Ellie's hearing impaired little brother) clues her into what she's missed as the teacher calls on Ellie in class.  Ellie has to decide what her science report is going to be - she decides it's going to be about horses...exactly how to convince her parents to let her have a horse of her own.  In her report, she is to show three scientific ways to do this.  She chooses: begging, crying and praying.  Since she's already tried the first two methods to no avail, she dives deeper into praying.  Ellie's been praying for a horse every night for as long as she can remember!  Through the course of this story, Ellie learns that God often answers our prayers in ways different from our expectations....and when we recognize the answer to our prayer, it is always sweet!  This is a lovely story of how one little girl through prayer and faith is richly rewarded.  There is also bonus material at the end of the book that includes a Horse Talk glossary, as well as the sign language alphabet...this is a must read for an elementary aged animal lover!

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes from Tyndale House.


Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris

The author has an engaging writing style, and by drawing on his and his family's own life experiences and shortcomings, Harris effectively gets his message across, by causing us to consider what the foundation of our faith is built upon. Is that foundation on dangerous ground, or does it stand on the Solid Rock, Jesus Christ, and His Gospel of Grace?  He challenges the reader to not just be content with what you are spoon-fed in church, but to dig in for yourself to uncover what is true.  Using his sense of humor, examples in his own life and the lives of others he knows, conviction, ...and even a couple of sketches, Harris, gives a compelling argument on why the reader needs to study God.  His explanation of the basic doctrines of Christianity is easy to understand.  “We’re all theologians. The question is whether what we know about God is true.” What an incredible thought to begin a book! There is an idea within our culture that theology seeks to explain away the unexplainable or to put God into a box. The real issue is at hand is whether what you know about God is true. Joshua Harris has a way of writing that you could read the entire book and not even realize that you are reading a systematic theology. I liked reading a review by another reviewer who had this to say: The book is a quasi systematic theology/ autobiography mix. The reader gets so caught up with Harris’ stories that you slowly forget that you are actually learning something (I mean this as a good thing, not a bad thing).  As a bible college instructor/facilitator, I feel that anyone in a church teaching/preaching position should read this and see a new perspective on how to teach theology in such a way that even a nine year old can understand.

I was provided with a free copy of Dug Down Deep by Blogging For Books for purposes of review. I was not required to give a positive review, only a fair and honest one. My opinions are my own.

Smack-Dab In The Middle Of God's Love

"Just like a dollop of honey on Ana's happy-tasting sopillas, we are all smack-dab in the middle of Abba's love...a love big enough to hold us all."  What an amazing line from the children's book Smack Dab in the Middle of God's Love by Brennan Manning and John Blase. Beautifully illustrated by Nicole Tadgell. Published by Tommy Nelson.

The pages of this stunning book are bright, colorful, and cheery.  The story itself only adds to the beauty of this book.  Children of all ages will love this story...I know, I'm one of the older kids and I loved it!

The main theme of this book, is of course, God's immense love for us, but it also focuses on the importance of looking around us to see God's many wonderful gifts.  Willie Juan asks the children an important question, "What is one thing you think Abba will ask you someday when you are in heaven?"  This gives the children to not only the opportunity to think of God's love and His gifts, but also their responsibility in responding to the gifts.

This book is a "must" for use in children's ministry.  I would highly recommend this book to readers of all ages.

This book was received as an e-book via BookSneeze®.com - book review blogger program. I was not required to give any positive review. The review given for this book is my personal opinion only.

One Call Away

Brenda Warner has written her memoir, One Call Away. Most of us know who she is by her husband's "work" playing football, but her story is much greater than that.  This book is about her life as wife, mother and all the tragedies that went on her life and how she used her faith to get through it all. Warner tells her story with much detail. She doesn't seem to try to hide anything; she opens the windows to her life and lets everyone look in. It isn't the kind of memoir where the author stops often to reflect on events in order to share life lessons learned. Warner just matter-of-factly tells everything that happened. The theme of the book, introduced in the first chapter, is that all through life one gets sudden phone calls that bring distressing news, that have the power to forever change the course of one's life. Warner tells us, though, that through it all, our God is always only one call away. Brenda Warner encountered hardships and sorrow throughout her life. She married a man who did not work, had her first child brain damaged through an accident, endured the end of this marriage due to her husband's adultery, financially struggled as a single-mother, lost her parents in a tornado, and was overwhelmed with the fame, money, and negative publicity once her husband became an NFL star. I can respect her resilience as a woman and her love for family. Though as a Christian, while mentioning her prayers through these trials, she does not focus on anything in God's Word that gave her hope, strength, comfort, or encouragement. Instead, she constantly talks about how she was a marine, that she was a nurse, and focused on her choices. I never really felt that she pointed to Christ as her source. As a Christian reader, this left me rather discouraged. If you are seeking to know more about Brenda Warner's life, then this is the book for you. If you are seeking good, Christian reading and encouragement, you may want to look elsewhere.
I  received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com  book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Well Done, Good & Faithful Servant, Well Done

It is with a breaking heart that I must tell you that at 4 p.m. (Pacific Time)/7 p.m. (Eastern Time) my dear, sweet, sister/friend, Leslie has gone home to be with Jesus. As heart-breaking as this news is, one amazing thing happened...she had always longed to come to Pennsylvania to meet/see me...well, today she made it!  It began raining at almost 7 p.m., as I stepped out on to my side porch I said, "Lord, if Leslie's going to be okay, send me a rainbow".  As I looked to the sky, yep...you guessed it...there was a rainbow!  I, as any human would, thought this meant that she'd pull through this battle, but when the phone call came in, I realized, she was stopping by to let me know that, yes, in fact, she truly was okay. 

Right now, I need some quiet, private time to spend with my thoughts and memories.  I'll be spending that quiet time on the beaches of New Smyrna Beach, FL. When I return, I will write a tribute to this incredible woman of God, who touched so many lives in so many ways. I just pray I can do her justice.

I know that when she walked into heaven this evening, she heard her Savior say, "Well done, good and faithful servant, well done."

You will forever live in my heart and my thoughts, Leslie.  I am, who I am today, because of the honor of knowing you.  I can see you "Happy Dancing" with Jesus on heaven's streets of gold!

Sit Down, Buckle Up & Hold On Tight!

Yeah, whirlwind, that's the perfect word for all that has transpired since I last posted. The roller coaster ride has gotten really wild lately. Whew! I'm almost to the point of shouting "enough, I want off!".

My dear friend, Leslie, has been in the fight of her life...literally. After her most recent gamma knife procedure, brain surgery the following day, and her first Yervoy treatment for melanoma within a week or so following brain surgery, her body has just been inundated and it's taking it's toll on her. She's been in ICU since Saturday fighting for her life.  Over the 3-1/2 years with this cancer journey, this is the hardest fight yet. It's a scary time for all of those who love her so dearly. The emotions are all over the place.

The whirlwind for me began with Thursday morning's interview for my pastoral license. It's hard to believe that this is the final step! It's been a long road - not without many bumps along the way either - but when God calls you to something, nothing can stop it. So the wait begins...  Some of the questions were interesting. I got to talk about my passion for my work with ChemoAngels (the volunteer program where "angel" volunteers are match up with cancer patients to send them cards of encouragement and support during their cancer treatment) and the impact that has had on my life for the past 10 years; as well as talking about the impact that it's had on those I've angeled in that time. I was also asked that if money were no object and there were no restrictions of any kind, what is my biggest dream.  I thought that was interesting. My answer: to be able to make a 'road trip' all across the country to see/meet all of my ChemoAngel buddies and/or family members from my 10 years of service.  Little did I know what would happen by speaking that dream aloud!

Later in the day on Thursday, I began my countdown for a trip to Florida to see my aunt and her new home (as well as my uncle and now grown cousins).  We've needed a vacation of some sort (haven't had one since my daughter's Kids Jeopardy try-out in Philadelphia June 2010) - we've had a lot of stresses, especially recently. What I didn't know until Thursday was that this trip was a "graduation gift".  I have one semester of Bible College to complete to earn my Bachelor's degree (class begins Sept. 13th), so my mother, God love her, decided that this was to be my graduation gift! I'm so excited to see New Smyrna Beach - I've heard that it's beautiful - white powdery sand beaches; bottlenose dolphins, manatees and rays come into the rivers from the Atlantic; quaint town; only 15 miles from Daytona Beach (a Nascar fan's haven!). So I'm super excited for the trip!

Saturday came the distressing news that Leslie was having a lot of side effect issues and was being taken to the hospital.  I found a short personal message on Les' blog from another friend of Les' wanting me to call her - that she'd like to talk to me - and listed her phone number.  Interesting.  It was late (my time) when I seen the message, so instead I texted her and set up a time to call her the following evening - since we both attend church and are on opposite sides of the country - you know, the whole time difference thing.

To say the least, church Sunday morning was interesting.  Our pastor came up with a new way to connect people in our church (we are growing quite fast and we don't want new people to fall through the cracks - we want them to feel like a real part of the church family)/  He wanted 30 volunteers to agree to take 5 names (individuals, as well as families) who would agree to....get this....send cards of encouragement and support - to make them feel like someone care, to make connections with...hmm, this sounds so familiar...wonder where that inspiration came from???  Of course, I volunteered. I mean it's right up my alley - it's been my life for the past 10 years. His vision is an ever-widening circle of connections...again this sounds very familiar.

Sunday evening comes and I place "the" call. Now mind you, I've never talked to, or directly communicated with, this lady. I knew her name from the comments on Les' blog; she knew me from all that Leslie has shared about my angeling, as well as my comments on the blog, so I wasn't concerned about making contact with her or anything like that, especially knowing that we both share a deep love and friendship with Les (and it's been incredible the ever widening circle of friends that have come from Les' illness).  So I place the call...and have to leave a voicemail. About 30 minutes later my call was returned. We chatted about all kinds of things and then we got to the heart of the matter.  God had placed something in her heart - to raise funds to bring me from Pennsylvania to California so Leslie could finally meet me face-to-face. What? Are you serious? Blown away? You bet I was. Remember my response to the interview question?  Again, I'm reminded about the power of our words.  I currently have NO means to get out to California at this time, but God was placing it on this woman's heart to try to get me out there! WOW!  Leslie means so much to so many and I would say for her friends/co-workers/church family to want to pull something like this off is a HUGE testament to how much she is loved and how much she has influenced the lives of those around her. A large majority of her hometown area know about me; know about what I've done for Leslie as her ChemoAngel;  know that her greatest desire was to meet me! In fact, they know that she was desiring to come to Pennsylvania this fall...and she wasn't planning on coming alone either...there were some of her friends who wanted to join her. Why? Yep, to meet me.  So for God to put this on this lady's heart was like Make-A-Wish for her!  The phone call lasted for well over an hour and she wanted to get the word out to see how fast funds could be raised, etc.

After the phone call, my daughter and I busted out the Scrabble game because there was nothing worth watching on t.v. and I thought it'd be a great way to unwind from the mind-blowing phone call! As we were drawing tiles to see who would start, my daughter drew an "A" tile - I drew and "S" tile...she was to begin.  We dumped those tiles back into the mix and drew anew for the start of the game. My daughter got very animated at the tiles laying before her.  She said, "Mom, if I'd have kept that "A", not only would I have a 7 letter word, but you won't believe what the word is!"  She turned her tiles around: M I R C L E...the 7th letter was "W"! Yeah, I think we were being told something! We grabbed the camera and took a picture.  I also wrote this all down because it's one of those things that no one would believe and that you'd want recorded - I mean when God moves, it really needs to be recorded.  That's how the bible came to be - God showed up in the lives of the writers and they recorded what God was doing.  We're told that if ALL the works of God were recorded, there would not be enough room for the world to contain all the books!  God does hear prayers; God is still active in the world today.

Several phone calls and texts later (often in the wee hours of the early morning here on the east coast!) God is still moving, still working. By the next day (Monday), I get a text from the woman, on whose heart this whole thing was laid, stating that she sold 2 copier machines that day. Before we knew it, $500 had been pledged! What? Are you serious? Things are happening so fast.

I'm experiencing this.  I've heard of God doing amazing things like this. I believe God can do anything. I know Scripture to back this stuff up...and yet, as I see it unfolding, I'm stunned...I'm shocked...I'm...well, there just aren't words to fully describe my feelings.

So now, we're looking at this seriously happening...we're checking out flights and prices...we've got people agreeing to put us up in their homes for as long as we need...holy cow!  This is hard to wrap my mind around.  And then the emails, texts and phone calls saying how excited they are at the thought of meeting me! Me, of all people?  I'm no one special. To say that this entire town wants to meet me, is not far from the truth. Me?  Little ol' insignificant me? Mind-blowing! They're telling me how special I am...telling me how much they love me.  They don't know me - they've never met me. What?  Then my mind is taken back to several phone conversations with Leslie...of her telling me things like: "You're famous on my blog. When you miss a day of posting (or are later than normal) I (Leslie) get phone calls and messages asking "Where's Angel Linda - she's okay, right? (which is always followed by the joke of...you can't miss any days of posting!)"  All of this just overwhelms me...as I said before, as I'm continuing to say...there just are no words to describe my feelings.

Just give me a moment here to take a "bunny trail" (as my dear friend, Amy says - "love ya, Amy").  It blows my mind that these people are saying all these wonderful things to me and about me, when I have family members who refuse to have anything to do with me.  I don't understand this.  I'm no different with them, than I am with anyone else in my life.  Seems like such a paradox.

As this is all progressing, we're hearing all sorts of reports about Leslie - it's been quite up and down. No one is losing hope that she'll overcome this because we all know that God is more than capable of changing what we see in the natural; that no matter what it appears to be, God is still at work and that His timing and will are always perfect. In fact, Leslie is a fighter. As one of our mutual friends puts it, Leslie's a TLS (Tough Little Sh**)...hahaha.

We stepped out in faith - so much so, that to be available at a moment's notice, we postponed our Florida trip. Yep, you read that right...postponed the Florida stepping out in faith in what this woman heard and felt in her heart. Of course, nothing went forward until we'd talked to Mike, Leslie's husband, as we didn't want to put undo stress on him. Leslie's been pretty isolated since her admission - mainly at Mike's request. Which is totally understandable because Leslie needed rest.  She's one who never wants to hurt anyone's feelings or disappoint them or hurt them - so she often gives in to requests when the best option is really to say 'no'.  When he was told about what God was laying on this woman's heart, he was apprehensive, but didn't want to stand in the way if it was really God.

As the workings have continued, Leslie's condition, while it hasn't gotten a whole lot better, isn't totally dire either.  Her main neurosurgeon is a friend of the neurosurgeon who's caring for her at the present time - they've compared notes as to her condition and course of treatment and they are both in agreement. And so we wait....on all things. 

Today was a difficult decision, but we've decided to put the plans on me going out there on hold.  Personally, I don't want to add any more stress to an already stressful situation and I don't want to jeopardize Leslie's health for anything.  I'm at peace with the decision to wait.  Everything has been placed in God's hands.  The way I figure it - if God wants me out there, I'll end up out there. So in the meantime, I continue to pray...

On the other hand, the Florida trip is back on...we're leaving two days earlier than originally planned - all our reservations were changed and the prices were still the same.  So look out my family in New Smyrna Beach!  It will be great to see my aunt again...as well as cousins I haven't seen since they were little girls. They are all grown up now with children of their own! WooHoo...this is going to be fun.

It's now almost midnight here in Pennsylvania and I've been writing this post for some time.  God pricked my heart to go check for any updates on Leslie (which have been kind of sparse the past couple of days). Well, to what do my wandering eyes should appear?  No, not a miniature sleigh and 8 tiny reindeer...that's just silly.  The most recent update is the most encouraging one since her admission!  A lot of factors have contributed to the state she's in, but she has such a sensitivity to pain medications, that the pain patch that she was given has one major side effect: extreme sleepiness - something they've been fighting since they began using it (which could be one of the main culprits of her lethargy).  They have cut out that patch, found another pain medicine that she was able to tolerate better.  Her oncologist talked to Mike (her hubby) and told him that because Leslie will need to continue on the steroids to control brain swelling at the surgery site, she won't be able to continue with the Yervoy treatments (which have some really, really nasty side effects!) but that a new drug was released just today by the FDA (I seen the report about on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer), she will be a candidate for.  This drug is taken orally and it attaches itself to melanoma cells and kills only the mutating cancer cells.  In fact, the report on the news, showed a body scan before and after treatment. The before scan was full of reds, oranges and yellows (which like with Doppler weather radar means intensity); the after scan was almost completely clear.  I believe the patient had been on the medication a month (but don't hold me to that, I'd have to verify it online with the original news cast).  In any event, they interviewed a woman who had taken the drug in the clinical trial (she had tumors that were raised on her body) and after the first 7 days of treatment had noticed a significant decrease in tumor size...now they are gone!!  In fact, the FDA seen such amazing results from this drug, that it stopped the clinical trials early to approve it. This is a huge break-through in melanoma treatment!   Leslie's oncologist said when she gets better and gets out of the hospital, she is definitely a candidate for this new drug!

And so the wild roller coaster ride continues...I'm sitting down, buckling in tight, hanging on for dear life!  This ride has been fast and furious, filled with hills and valleys and crazy curves...thank goodness the person in the seat next to me is Jesus!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Mercy Come Morning - Lisa Tawn Bergren

I've spent a great deal of time this summer enjoying many good books, across several genres. Today's selection is of them - Mercy Come Morning by Lisa Tawn Bergren.

This is the story of Krista a successful, respected, well-liked college professor who is hundreds of miles away from her hometown but still fighting the ghosts of her past. Krista's father was absent as she grew up and she could never please her mother.  Krista's mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's, is currently in a first-class nursing home. Krista receives the call that anyone would dread - her mother is near death and she she needs to come.  Her mother never regains consciousness.  A close friend helps Krista see her mother in a different way,  When Krista finds diaries and letters, she reads them, gaining a new understanding of her mother. 
The author created each of the characters in this novel with such dimension and depths well as vividly describing the setting.  Lisa Bergren gave the added bonus of describing the Mexican culture and dance scenes, which brought more depth and warmth to the plot. 
This was the first time I've read anything by this author and she held my attention throughout. It was very relatable on many levels, especially in the area of dealing with a loved one's terminal illness.  All the emotions tied to such a time were there...add to that mix Dane, her childhood sweetheart, who still has feelings for Krista - the only drawback was that only one paragraph was dedicated to the hour long conversation between Krista and Dane that brings about restoration between the two.  Over all, this is one enjoyable book. 

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.
 
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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Cherished (e-book) by Kim Cash Tate

This is the first book I've read by Kim Cash Tate - it was also my first time reading an e-book version (not my favorite way of getting into a good read - I'll always be a print book fan).  The story drew me into the intertwined lives of her main characters. This story could very well be the story of any one of us - we all make life choice mistakes, some more serious than others, but we've all made them. This is a light read with heavy messages.  The story weaves it's way around the three main characters, who've all made poor life choices with lasting consequences - each of the characters deals with them in unique ways that are not always healthy ways. These characters form an unlikely friendship.  They learn what God's forgiveness really is and that once they can learn to forgive themselves that anything is possible. This story shows how, if we humble ourselves before God, He will allow us to experience great healing in our brokenness before Him.  My only disappointment with this story was the number of 'coincidences' and too many instantly answered prayers. Yes, God can instantly answer prayers, but that's not always the case. Overall, there was feeling of unrealistic expectations in the speed of answered prayers.  It's a good read nonetheless.
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com  book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY LUCY!

Today has all been about Lucille Ball's 100th Birthday!  I Love Lucy reruns abound.  Lucy's 100th Birthday Celebration is in full swing in nearby Jamestown, NY. 

I've spent the day remembering stories I've heard from people I've known over the years. who knew Lucille Ball firsthand - many shared stories of their school days together.  Even my grandfather went to school with Lucille Ball.  I've been an I Love Lucy fan for as long as I can remember.

This is my tribute to the "Queen of Comdey" for her 100th Birthday and my small way of saying, "Thanks for all the laughs". (This is just a sampling of Lucy's life and career - narrowing them down is almost impossible)

100 YEARS - 100 PHOTO MEMORIES!

Not only was she hilarious,
but she was a beautiful woman...no matter her age!
The Most Famous Ziegfeld Girl
Lucille Ball US Postage Stamp

Rest In Peace, Lucy.
Thanks for all the wonderful memories and laughs! 

Lucille Ball's final resting place (Ball Family plot)
Lakeview Cemetery, Jamestown, NY