Monday, January 26, 2015

Heart Wide Open: Trading Mundane Faith for an Exuberant Life with Jesus, written by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, © 2014

What I like about Heart Wide Open is the open interchange available in discussion in a group setting or as an individual study. There are questions following each chapter, easy to follow and journal for yourself as you read.

I received this wonderful study DVD in the mail one day... I was a recipient from the author's All Things Southern LIVE on the radio.
It definitely was for an appointed day.

Heart Wide Open by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson Our Thursday morning Bible study will be finishing up the questions in the last section this week. So enriched. There are eight chapters, with the last one being an overview. Having the book with the Bible Study and Discussion Guide has been a companion for the DVD, reading the chapter at home and answering the discussion questions, sharing the next week together.



The DVD is like being right in the room with Shellie as she shares a section with the ladies with her. Delightful, unhurried, making you welcome, you will learn more of your heart's desire to know Him more. I highly recommend Shellie Tomlinson's Heart Wide Open for any age group.

Shellie Rushing Tomlinson is the author of the award-winning nonfiction humor titles Suck Your Stomach In and Put Some Color On and Sue Ellen’s Girl Ain’t Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy! She is a popular blogger and speaker, and the host of the radio program All Things Southern LIVE. Shellie loves sharing humor and hope with audiences across the country. She and her husband have two grown children. They live and farm in Louisiana.

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Enjoy this excerpt by author Shellie Tomlinson, with joy ~ Chapter 1

1
When All You Can Bring Him
Is a Broken Want-To

~*~

"Jesus, I know I don't love You like I
should, but I want to want to love You!"

   I like to say I was in church nine months before I was born and shortly thereafter my people began toting me back to the Lord’s house as quickly and as often as they could. I now understand there are worse places to grow up than the left side, second row of a small country church, but as a rambunctious kid with a serious imagination and a bad case of the fidgets, I had a hard time imagining why so much churchgoing was necessary.
   It seemed highly unlikely we would miss out on anything earth shattering if we skipped a service here and there. Even a wiggly little tomboy with smudged eyeglasses could tell you who was going to come in late, who was going to make a scene taking her baby to the nursery, and which elderly deacon was going to rouse himself from a brief nap to offer a hearty “Amen!” People are creatures of habit even—and maybe especially—in the Lord’s house.
   To my way of thinking, a little absence could have made our muchchurched hearts grow even fonder. My sisters concurred. Had this ever come to a vote, we girls would have ruled the day with a three-to-two tally, but our parents weren’t the least bit interested in running a democracy.
   Our list of required appearances included, but was not limited to, Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, two-week vacation Bible schools in the summer, and two-week annual revivals in the spring and fall, both revivals having been prefaced with two-week cottage prayer meetings in anticipation of the big events. Sickness could get you an excused absence from any of these services, but it had to be verified. Holding a thermometer inside your electric blanket so you could stay home on Sunday night and watch The Wonderful World of Disney never worked. Not that I ever tried.
   As a child, I enjoyed the rhythm of familiar hymns as well as the sense of belonging I felt inside those church walls, even if I firmly believed we overdid the whole attendance thing. As a teenager, however, I became increasingly skilled at being present in body alone while my thoughts were occupied elsewhere with my peers and our many dramas. I had a healthy respect for the teachings of the church, and God seemed real enough to me while I was there, but I didn’t understand why my faith felt so compartmentalized. Where God went once I left the church building I couldn’t say. And honestly, I wasn’t all that concerned with the mystery.
   This disconnect between my Sunday morning faith and my everyday experience followed me into my young married life where, despite my childhood conclusion that our parents overdid the churching, I found myself choosing the same level of commitment to the weekly services. I still enjoyed attending church, but I could seldom carry the warm fuzzies I felt during the service any farther than the parking lot before my sense of God’s presence began to fade. The Sundays that bookended my weeks seemed to have little to do with what happened in the days that lay between them. As the years rolled by, I gradually began to wonder why this was and if it had to be. Thankfully, the day finally came when I was ready to admit that I needed something more. I had no clue what it was that had been missing for so long, yet I knew I had to find it.
   As it happens, God used my own children to turn the heat up under my growing desire for more. I was a married woman with a loving husband trying to raise two young teenagers when the persistent dissatisfaction I’d never been able to name began to reach a boiling point.
   During my kids’ early years, I’d been able to pull off the church-lady gig, or at least my concept of the role. I knew the Bible and I knew the rules. Thinking this would be enough, I forged ahead, confident that if my husband and I took our children to church every time the doors opened, just as my parents had done with my sisters and me, all would be well. And for the most part it was—until they hit adolescence and I came down with mommy terrors!

I had no clue what it was that
had been missing for so long,
yet I knew I had to find it. ~*

   My babies were growing up, and it was both exhilarating and terrifying. Everywhere I turned the culture around us was laughing at what I considered sacred and celebrating what I found immoral. Increasingly our kids were exposed to things outside our home that neither their dad nor I approved of, and it frightened me to realize the temptations they faced could potentially wreck the futures we had always dreamed of for them. I tried to placate myself. We had taught them our values. If they were strong in their faith, they would be okay come what may, right? I had already purchased this holy life insurance myself, hadn’t I? I simply needed to make sure they had taken out a similar policy. I needed to know they believed me when I said that the fullest life was one lived in God.
   Such logic should have brought peace, and it would have, if not for one overgrown, peanut-eating elephant loafing smack-dab in the middle of my living room: I had zero life experience to offer as evidence for what I was advertising. As much as I disliked admitting it, any spiritual direction I was offering my kids came strictly from the biblical head knowledge gained through my years in the pew. I was merely regurgitating what I’d heard my whole life.
   In short, I was a hypocrite!
   Though the news came as quite a surprise to me, the ugly truth was undeniable. An Internet dictionary offers the following spot-on definition of my true state in that telling moment: a hypocrite is “a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.”
   Bingo. If I were to be honest, the faith I was experiencing wasn’t satisfying my deepest longings at all. My picture could’ve been pasted right beside that entry. Say “cheese,” Church Lady.
   Even as I came face to face with the realization that I couldn’t pass on something I didn’t have, I was also painfully aware that young people are like mini lie detectors, capable of spotting anything short of the whole truth and willing to call you on it. I’m reminded of the time I came through the living room all dressed up for a big event, whereupon my grade school son looked up and announced, “Wow, Mama. You do not look fat in those pants.” Obviously, Phillip had heard this subject discussed in his few short years on earth, and, just as clearly, there had been other times when I had looked fat in my pants. But enough of What Not to Wear. My point is, children can sniff out insincerity like a bloodhound and see through hypocrites with their eyes closed. My Big Faith Advertisement must have sounded as weak in their ears as it did in mine.
   This sobering realization about the lameness of my own faith stared me down without blinking and prompted some serious soul searching. Why wasn’t my faith satisfying? Why was it that my God and I were friendly acquaintances at best? Why didn’t I know this One I called my Savior? Worse yet, why didn’t I love Him? Oh, I liked Him well enough. I appreciated the gospel, and I was grateful for the promise of a secure eternity, but love this Jesus in the here and now? Not really. In light of all my years of churching and being churched, I wondered how on earth that could be true. And why did some people seem so passionate about Jesus then all I could muster for Him on my most spiritual day was a healthy respect?
   I knew people who talked about Jesus with the kind of affection normally reserved for a flesh-and-blood person. Me? I could sing “Oh, how I love Jesus” as heartily as everyone around me (albeit off-key), but deep down I knew that I could just as easily be singing “Oh, how I love watermelon” for all the fervency in my aching faking heart. My fellow southerners and I have a saying we’re fond of using to encourage someone to be honest. “Tell the truth and stay in church,” we’ll warn. I’ve always thought the line was funny, but I wasn’t laughing as I compared my empty profession of love with the words of Jesus Himself in Mark 12:30: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (NIV). I knew I didn’t love Him that way, and I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do about it. Coming clean with my Jesus-loving church members about the state of my faith didn’t sound at all appealing.
   Have mercy! If this is all I had to advertise for my abundant life, I realized I was going to have a hard time selling God to my kids, or to anyone else for that matter.

Flypaper Faith

With that, the nagging concern over my lackluster faith that had dogged me for years became a desperate need to find out what I was missing. I was no longer willing to settle for the distance that separated me from the God I’d heard about and prayed to from my earliest memory. I think of that turning point as my Flypaper Epiphany.
   When I was growing up, most everyone I knew used flypaper to combat the bothersome insects that populate our southern summers. Flypaper seems to have lost its appeal over the years. But back in the day, these sticky pieces of vertical yellow tape, each about a foot and a half long and a couple inches wide, hung beneath carports all over our Louisiana Delta and as near as possible to the main entrances of our houses.
   Flypaper is coated with sweet-smelling glue and designed to be so sticky that should a pesky fly encounter it while heading into the house, said insect would be immediately detained and permanently affixed to its surface. I can assure you that flypaper lives up to the billing. I once got my hair caught on the stuff, and I thought for sure Mama was going to have to shave me baldheaded to remove it from my crowning glory.

Eternal life isn’t a gift from God;
eternal life is the gift of God.
—Oswald Chambers

   I don’t remember the exact day I sat staring at John 17:3 (I do know it was shortly after I identified myself as a hypocrite), but I’ll always remember the challenge I heard in Jesus’s own words: “This is eternal life, that they might know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” That scripture was familiar to this church girl, but the hope I heard in it was brand spanking new. For the first time I saw in those words a way to get off the spiritual merry-go-round I’d been riding my whole life and strike out on the biggest adventure of all time: to actually know God. I saw this as the way I would learn to love Jesus, to crazy love Him.
   In my new plan God was the flypaper, and I would be the fly. The mission: to throw myself at Him and stick for eternity! The rest of my life began with a single prayer and an honest admission that surprised neither of us:

“I admit it. I don’t love You like I should, but I want to love You. Help!”

Choosing to Love Jesus

I finally admitted that I had nothing to offer God. Zero. Zip. All I could bring was my weak, broken want-to. Here’s the beautiful reality: it was enough. If you want to love Jesus, it’s enough for you too!
   The embarrassing truth I had avoided all my life—that I didn’t really love Jesus—was the very admission He would use to ignite my lukewarm heart. Who knew?! All I had to offer was a desire to love Him, but it was enough. Okay, to be accurate, I couldn’t even say that I wanted to love Him. It was more like I wanted to want to love Him, and still it was enough. He accepted my passionless heart and began to breathe on it, and a new way of living began opening to me.
   I’ve had so many women tell me personal stories about their faith, and I’m always struck by how similar they are to my own. These sincere believers believe in God and they’re trying to follow Him, but they admit to having little to no sense of intimacy with Him. They long for the passion they see in the Bible, but they’re resigned to going through the motions without it. If this resonates with you, if you’ve been trying to ignore a certain dullness to your faith, please hear me. You aren’t asking for anything that God doesn’t want you to enjoy and Jesus didn’t die to give you! I’m walking proof that you can fall in love with Jesus by learning to whisper a simple prayer that meets with His wholehearted approval: “I don’t love You, but I want to love You. Help me!”
   Taste the sugar-sweet words of Ephesians 1:3–4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.”
   God chose to love all of us, but He gave us free will to decide whether or not we would return that love. The type of honest prayer I’m advocating means admitting that our want-to is broken and asking God to teach us how to love Him well.
   Have you been waiting for your heart to spontaneously combust into love for Jesus? If so, you have your cart before your horse, and I’m here to testify through firsthand experience that it’s a frustrating way to ride and produces scant forward progress. In 1 John 4:19 we’re told that “we love, because He first loved us.” In other words, you and I will never be able to bear down and deliver a passionate heart for God out of determination or self-discipline, and it won’t overtake us by surprise. It will, however, ignite in our hearts when we discover the secret of feasting on God’s love in the person of Jesus Christ. Scripture assures us that He loves us not because of who we are but because of who He is.

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4–7)

   God put His love on eternal display by sending Jesus to save us, not because of our merit but in spite of our sin. He initiates the love affair with us. The blessed challenge is to continue drinking that love in as freely as when we first reached for salvation. When we feast on this extravagant love and the many gifts He poured out upon us through Jesus Christ, we receive a nutrient-rich meal that nourishes His passion in us. But I reiterate, it is a decision, just as surely as the one we make when we pull our chairs up to the dining room table. No one can make this choice for us.
   So what does this decision look like? That’s the question I’m excited about answering. Let’s begin with some powerful words from Jesus, recorded in Matthew.

Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (6:19–21, HCSB)

   For the longest time I allowed the good news of this passage to be totally eclipsed by the last sentence: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” That sounded like something of a spiritual inkblot test to me, and it was one I was sure I could never pass. I was quite convinced that if God examined what it was I treasured, He would see that He wasn’t at the top of the list. In my guilt-induced anxiety, I completely missed the clear directive of the passage. These six power-packed words turned my perceived inkblot test on its head when I finally understood their decree: “Collect for yourselves treasures in heaven.” That, my friend, isn’t a question or a suggestion. It’s an instruction that begs a proactive, determined choice of action. It’s also good news, foot-stomping good news. You and I get to choose what we treasure!
   This power-packed privilege of choosing God as my treasure is the very decision I made on the day of my Flypaper Epiphany! I’ve since come to better understand the paradigm shift that occurred that day, but at the time I had no idea of the magnitude of my newly adjusted aim. I couldn’t have known that the decision to toss aside all reserve and throw myself at God with the sole goal of coming to know Him would not only open the door to the passion I was missing but also rescue me from another of my persistent struggles.

The Problem with Dr. Seuss Prayers

For as long as I could remember, I had struggled to feel secure in my salvation. I knew what the Bible taught on the subject, but because my heart could find no rest, I had long followed the Dr. Seuss method in search of that elusive certainty that I belonged to God. Every altar call aggravated the inward struggle, so…
I prayed the sinner’s prayer in a car. I prayed it near and I
            prayed it far.
I prayed it in a tree. I prayed it on bent knee.
I prayed it once for all, and I prayed it each time I heard
            an altar call.
   The wonderful news is that when my focus changed from trying to know if I was saved to knowing the God who saved me, He began to lead me out of the endless frustration of not knowing if I belonged to Him and into an endless pursuit and delightful discovery of Him! Knowing that I am His and He is mine has brought a rest to my soul that trumps anything this world can offer.
   I’ve since come to understand something else about those Dr. Seuss prayers. All of those earlier repetitious rituals were simply my confused responses to Christ’s ongoing invitation to live in and through Him.
   All those times I heard Jesus say, “Come unto Me,” I thought He was inviting me to confirm my eternal destiny, when in reality I was hearing my Redeemer calling me to experience His presence. I had called on God one hundred and one times for salvation, while Christ called one hundred and two times for me to abide in Him, to do life in Him. He was and is forevermore constantly and consistently calling me to come to Him for life itself !
   All those times I struggled to know if I was saved, that tug on my heart was Jesus calling me to come and discover the life God was offering me through Him, to come and find nourishment for my soul through Him, to come and rest through Him, to come and learn through Him. He hasn’t stopped. He is calling you too. He is calling us right now to run to Him for our very lives. Come. Jesus doesn’t ask us to come to Him just once, for salvation. Listen to His words in John 6:35: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (NIV). That, my friend, is our 24/7 invitation to fully experience the abundant life by continuing to come to the Father through Christ.
   The apostle Paul said it this way: “If, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10, niv). In other words, now that we’re on God’s good side through the grace of Jesus, let’s get busy exploring what it means to be alive in Him, what it looks like to treasure Him with all our hearts!

The Measure of Our Treasure

More than a decade ago, I created All Things Southern. It’s a website, radio show, and all-around platform where I can be found celebrating the charm and heritage of the South. I chose the egret as my official mascot. I so enjoy watching the long-legged birds stalking our Louisiana lakes that it just seemed fitting to bring them into the family biz. I’ve since amassed quite a collection of egret pictures and accessories. I have big egrets, little egrets, a metal egret, a porcelain egret, and a fascinating three-foot, artfully carved egret I bought for too much money on a book tour because it called my name! (At least that’s what I told The Husband.)
   I have a number of other collections that, just between us, aren’t nearly as special. Some materialized after I inadvertently mentioned in passing that I liked this or that. See, I made those casual admissions too close to Christmas, and in my big southern family, where everyone is always on the lookout for gift ideas, that kind of thing will buy you a collection every single time! Before you decide I’m an ungrateful soul, let me be quick to assure you that I’m happy to keep these other collections because I appreciate the love behind the purchases. But I keep my egrets because they’re special. They’re valuable to me because I chose to collect them. Each one holds a memory of where I was or what I was doing when I acquired it, meaning they each have a story that I have chosen to remember.

   My friend, as surely as I can choose what to collect and value in my home, you and I can choose what we collect and value in our hearts. Choosing All Things Jesus—this is the choice we benefit from making today and tomorrow and the day after that and every day that follows. God’s Word repeatedly instructs us to remember God, His name, His words, and His acts.
   In Deuteronomy 4:9, Moses said, “Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren” (NKJV).
   And again, in Deuteronomy 5:15, God tells the people of Israel to “remember that you were slaves” (NIV). He says the same to those of us on the New Testament side of the Cross. In Ephesians 2:11–12, Paul encouraged believers to remember where God had brought them from and what He had brought them into:

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

   Oh yes, God wants us to remember Him! One definition of the word remember is “to recollect.” It means to collect again by remembering. That’s exactly my point about choosing our treasure. The things we hear about God can be like a forced collection of knickknacks from family and friends. They won’t mean that much unless and until we purposefully hold them in our hearts because we want to store up everything we can learn about Him.
   While head knowledge ends up on the shelf gathering dust, real treasure comes from chosen memories of precious firsthand experiences with God. Want even more good news? If we choose to remember Him and collect everything we can discover about Him, God is willing and eager to contribute to our collection on a regular basis as we ask Him to help us value and love Him more. But we’d better be ready to rumble because this is a prayer He loves to answer! It’ll also become a prayer you love to pray.
   As for your holy collection, it’s impossible to spend too much time searching out the mysteries of God’s love for us. We can’t exhaust the subject because it has no limits. In the third chapter of Ephesians we find these words from Paul:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
   Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (verses 14–21)

   When we dwell on the breadth, width, length, and height of the love of Jesus, we see it stretching into eternity, and we begin to realize that it’s impossible to measure the love of God. But we can have a fine time trying!
   Words fail to explain the mystery of God’s love and His desire for our company, but the love letter He has written us overflows with this great divine call to friendship, first in the garden and over and over again throughout the Scriptures. Here are just a few examples:

“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8, NIV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. ( John 1:1, 14, NIV)

God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. (1 Corinthians 1:9, NIV)

   Let’s RSVP with a yes to His love and a request that He help us learn to treasure it!

Just Enough Jesus Will Never Be Enough Jesus

Did I mention that we’ll need to make the decision more than once to treasure and respond to God’s love? It’s vitally important that we learn to repeat this good choice precisely because we so often repeat the wrong ones! We are remedial learners, one and all. If we aren’t purposeful about what we choose to value, retain, and treasure, we’ll be apt to “taste and see that the Lord is good” today and look for something else to fill our longing hearts tomorrow.
   Oh, for we are clearly born yearning. For more of what, we don’t always know, but not knowing what our hearts are longing for doesn’t keep us from trying to satisfy them with things, experiences, and people. More is our mantra from birth forward, and our constant striving after it never fails to deliver. The problem is, it delivers more dissatisfaction instead of the greater contentment we’re anticipating. But what if our insatiable desire for more isn’t the problem? What if this unrelenting hunger is exactly what we’ve been divinely designed to feel, a gift from God to compel us toward the One our souls really crave?

  Did you know that Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God put eternity in our hearts? Consider the implications. It doesn’t say we were placed in eternity; it says eternity was placed in us. Forever and a day can be incredibly hard to fathom. Try to think about eternity. Your mind will bail on you every time, the finite staggering before the infinite—and yet God says He placed this open-ended reality in your heart and mine. Amazing! I suspect we haven’t begun to scratch the surface of this mysterious gift of eternity, but whatever else it does, I believe it stirs in all of us an inherent awareness of something more, something greater than our current experience, coupled with an insatiable desire to pursue it.
   More than a century ago, a well-known English preacher named Charles Spurgeon said, “It is the incessant turmoil of the world, the constant attraction of earthly things which takes away the soul from Christ.” It was true then and it’s true today. Nothing and no one on this earth can fully satisfy our human hearts. The pursuit of anything and everything temporal will only alienate us from the Creator who sets our hearts to beating, because God Himself is the more we’re looking for! He designed us to reach for eternity, found in relationship with Him.

The very admission that what you're experiencing
of God is not enough is setting you up for more. ~*

   Perhaps this is why no mortal can adequately explain this life to us. We’re dropped somewhere into God’s timeline with nothing but the flesh on our bones and a delicious dissatisfaction in our hearts. Even if we should come to faith in Christ, our souls will still die a thousand deaths if we settle for going through the motions of religion. Our restless hearts won’t stop longing precisely because there really is more and God wired our hearts to pursue it.
   I don’t know why you picked up this book. Maybe you’ve found Jesus to be so sweet you’re always on the lookout for more of Him. Maybe you don’t honestly want more Jesus but you wish you did. Either way, the very admission that what you’re experiencing of Him is not enough is setting you up for more. I liken it to what happens when an extended family gets together and everyone there wants to hold the new baby.
   How many times have you seen one relative after another try to soothe the child while the mother looks on, content for a time to let the scene play out? She may watch without intervening while her loved ones try to give the baby a pacifier, change his diaper, or offer him a bottle. One of these efforts may even distract the child for a while. But tell me, what happens when nothing and no one will satisfy that baby but the presence of his dearly beloved mama? You’d better believe it. Score one for baby. He’s about to be united with mom.
   Likewise, God reserves His intimacy for those unwilling to settle for anything less. If going to church is enough, if being around others who are passionate about Him is enough, if anything short of realizing His intimate presence for ourselves is enough, that’s all we’ll ever experience.
   God knows that His presence is the greatest thrill this world has to offer, that joy and contentment are found in Him, but still He allows us to resist Him. He simply will not drag us kicking and screaming into His presence— even if we do belong to Him.
   Some time back I shared with my newspaper readers a family secret my dear husband and I had been living with for way too long. Once, years ago, my husband, Phil, and I forced our early adolescent children onto the biggest roller coaster they’d ever seen—against their will. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. But if I may explain, we callous brutes had our reasons.
   For starters, it was late. We were about to leave the famed theme park with its highly publicized ride, and we felt sure we’d never be back. It was now or never. Besides, we knew Jessica and Phillip loved roller coasters. They were just a little intimidated. If we could manage to get ’em on board, we knew they’d thank us later. I’m not excusing us, but somehow the two of us convinced ourselves we were doing the right thing.
   As hard as it is to admit, Phil and I each took a child and began to drag, pull, and coax them up the long ramp. The poor babies whimpered and begged while we pleaded. We could feel the reproachful looks being thrown at us by the teenage attendants and the other straggling theme parkers, but we knew our kids would love the ride once we got them on it. For what it’s worth, we were right. Several wild, fun-packed, squealing moments later, we pulled back into the roller coaster station with those very same kids begging to go again. But by this time, reason had returned and Phil and I were more sheepish than smug. I feel guilty every time I think of that story. I’m also awed every time, awed that a God big enough to compel us to do anything He wishes would restrain Himself from overriding our free will.

At the core of my “not having enough Jesus” problem lay
all my previous efforts to have “just enough” Jesus! ~*

   Indeed, God placed this desire for more in us so that we might search for Him of our own volition. I’ve taken to calling it a blessed dissatisfaction. God knows that yielding our lives to Him brings us this life’s ultimate pleasure, but unlike me and my man, He’s not going to force anyone to go along with His plan.
   Sometimes I wish God wasn’t such a gentleman. The more I taste of His sweet presence, the more I wish He’d grab everyone else by the arm and pull them onto the ride of their lives (or at least let me manhandle ’em, what with my experience and all), but deep down I know that forced companionship isn’t friendship.
   Remember my flypaper commitment? When I decided I absolutely had to know Jesus now, on this earth, in this lifetime—instead of living in anticipation of seeing Him in the next—I had no way of knowing that commitment would be the catalyst for a completely new life. I didn’t realize that looking and listening for Him in His Word would create in me the sweetest of addictions to His friendship. I was simply ready to admit that what I had wasn’t enough. I was soon to discover that at the core of my “not having enough Jesus” problem lay all my previous efforts to have “just enough” Jesus. Oh mercy, the rubber is slapping the road now!

The Problem with Just Enough

If, like me, you want to stay fit but have a hard time squeezing those daily workouts into your tight schedule, I have good news. It turns out that fifteen minutes a day is all you need! Oh yes, according to a recent study, there’s no need to run six miles a day or sweat to the oldies for a solid hour with Richard “Spandex” Simmons. Growing evidence suggests that you can cut in half the previously recommended thirty minutes of aerobic activity per day and still reap some nice health benefits.
   I was as excited to hear this news as the perky little newscaster seemed to be as she shared it. My first thought was, “Yippy Skippy!” Have I mentioned that I live in the Deep South, otherwise known as the Land of Humidity? Dixie Belle, my beloved but spoiled canine, and I feel as if we’re going for a swim every time we venture outdoors for our evening walk. Did I like the idea of cutting that walk in half? You betcha!
   Then I found myself musing a little deeper into the idea of “just enough.” It’s been my experience that shooting for the minimum requirement in most anything tends to return minimum results. Yet we are all prone to taking that route by default: How far do I have to walk to get the benefit? What’s the lowest grade I can make on this test—and still pass? How many sick days can I take without jeopardizing my job?
   Aiming for the minimum requirement is one thing when it comes to physical exercise and passing grades (worst-case scenario: you’ll be a slightly fleshy, average student), but it’s a seriously handicapped starting point for anyone who wants to experience an authentic, abundant life in Jesus Christ. How long is long enough to pray? How much is enough Bible reading? How much am I expected to give, to forgive, to love? When is enough, enough? Trying to follow Jesus just enough to get to heaven will never satisfy the eternity in our hearts, the yearning for God that is woven into the very fabric of our souls. And it will never, ever fix our broken want-tos! On the other hand I can promise that when our “just enough” turns into “I can’t get enough,” we find that He is a gracious plenty.
   Allow me to explain exactly what this just-enough mentality looked like earlier in my life. Have you ever heard someone described as being so heavenly minded that she’s no earthly good? Believe me when I tell you that there was no danger of my falling into that category. Nada, zilch, no way.
   In the years before my low burn turned into a boil, I was trying to follow Christ “just enough”—just enough to stay on His good side, just enough to avoid His wrath, just enough to secure me one of those mansions in glory. As long as I checked off my church attendance and daily devotion, I considered myself free and paid up, so to speak, until the next time. My life in between church and daily devotions I saw as precisely that: my life.
   My mentality had nothing to do with wanting to stray from the church’s teachings and everything to do with buying into the Enemy’s twisted but effective deception: I was sure that if I cashed everything in for Christ, my life would be bland and boring. I could not have been more wrong. When I finally stepped out of my “just enough” mind-set, I discovered that an all-out pursuit of Jesus Christ equals a hold-on-to-your-hat adventure!
   It’s as if He says, “So, you say you’re ready to go with Me? Well, darling, let’s dance!” Oh, and have we ever danced! We’ve danced the slow songs while tears ran down my cheeks, and we’ve shaken a leg on the fast ones as my heart soared. I admit with great regret that I have even sat out a few dances in a huff. But once I decided I absolutely had to know Him, once I gave up my average Christian life for the unknown and put my shaky hand in His, God began to transform my dry, checklist living, and He has never stopped. He joins me in the Scriptures, and He meets me in prayer when I come, not looking to feel good about myself, but longing to know more about Him. He has shown me the secret of abiding in His love by choosing His ways over my own, and He has opened my eyes to the beauty of His body, the church.
   We’ll talk more in the coming pages about giving up the status quo, what that has looked like in my life, and how He has met me in the search. Right now I want to be clear that it’s not just me or your pastor or some third-world missionary who has access to this abundant life in Christ. Father God loves you with a steadfast love. He wants to do life with you. You’re not an isolated case, someone who can’t find God. He is just as available to you as He has been to any other human being who has ever drawn a breath. This is His promise: “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” ( Jeremiah 29:13).
   Dear one, get thyself into the hunt!

~* Dear Lord, I don’t want just enough Jesus to get to heaven. I want more! Give me the desire to love You with all my heart, soul, and mind. Help me know the width, depth, length, and height of Christ’s love for me. Lead me into the adventure of divine friendship with You. Open my heart wide to understand and experience Your love for me and to increasingly love You more in return. Amen.
Excerpted from Heart Wide Open by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson Copyright © 2014 by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Interview with Author Susan Meissner about her new novel, Secrets of a Charmed Life

SecretsOfACharmedLifefinalcover   http://mail.centurylink.net/service/home/~/MeissnerHeadshot1.jpg?auth=co&loc=en_US&id=109470&part=3
Susan Meissner is the multi-published author of seventeen books, including A Fall of Marigolds, named to Booklist’s Top Ten Women’s Fiction titles for 2014, and The Shape of Mercy, named one of the 100 Best Novels in 2008 by Publishers Weekly. She is also a speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. She and her husband make their home in Southern California.
Susan, tell us where the idea for Secrets of a Charmed Life came from.
The story began first as an image in my head of an impoverished girl on the brink of adulthood sketching wedding dresses in the tiny bedroom she shares with a younger half-sister. I could see her in my mind’s eye imagining a life far different from the one she is living. She wants a fairy tale life where love and comfort and happiness are in abundance, and for her, that charmed life begins with a wedding dress worn on that blissful day a girl’s childhood dreams come true. I decided to set her in London at the start of the war because I knew that even for a young woman not yet sixteen, war is a crucible. It is a tester of dreams and desires and determination. I knew the London Blitz was an opposition that would bring out the very best and the very worst in this girl, as war so often does.
 
What is the story about, in a nutshell?
Like many of my other novels, Secrets of a Charmed Life is historical fiction framed by a contemporary layer that links to a story in the past. An American college student named Kendra, who is studying abroad at Oxford, interviews Blitz survivor Isabel McFarland just when the elderly woman is ready to give up secrets she has kept all her life – beginning with who she really is. The story then takes the reader to England in 1940. An unprecedented war against London’s civilian population is about to take place and half a million children are evacuated to foster homes in the countryside. Fifteen-year-old Emmy Downtree and her much younger sister Julia find refuge in a charming Cotswold cottage, but Emmy’s burning ambition to return to the city and apprentice with a fashion designer pits her against Julia’s profound need for her sister’s presence. The sisters’ lives are forever changed when—acting at cross purposes—they secretly return to London on the first day of the Blitz.

What drew you to include in your story the evacuation of London’s children?
Prior to researching for this book, I was only minimally aware of what London’s parents did to keep their children safe during World War II. I’d long ago read C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and I knew the four children in those stories had been sent out of London into the countryside at the start of the war. But I didn’t know that for tens of thousands of children just like them that stay in the countryside lasted for the duration of the war. We’re talking five years. How difficult it must have been for the parents and their kids to be separated from each other – with just occasional visits – for half a decade, and during a time of fear, danger, and deprivation. From a storyteller’s standpoint, the emotional pull of this situation is intense. I knew I wanted to explore what this scenario might have been like for two young sisters.

Is this a book about sisters, then?
It is that, but it is also a book about mothers and daughters, and other family bonds as they relate to children. The universe of children is rather small – home and family are pretty much their world. They don’t always see how their decisions are impacted by the decision of others, nor do they have much frame of reference for war, which is an especially cruel teacher to a child.

What is the significance of Emmy’s wedding dress sketches?
Those bridal gown designs represent Emmy’s naïve notions about the happily-ever-after life that she believes begins for a girl on the day she wears a dress emblematic of bliss and perfection. Emmy sees her unwed mother as someone on whom fate has frowned and that she is somewhat to blame for that. Emmy’s vision for her future is to rise above the constraints of her mother’s unlucky life. But those sketches blind her at first to the larger forces at work. And there are always larger forces at work.

What were you most surprised by in your research for Secrets of a Charmed Life?
I think many of us who were born after World War II have a limited understanding of what England suffered because there were so many other more shocking situations, like the slaughter of millions of Jews, the occupations of nations like Poland and France, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the storming at the beach at Normandy, and the Bataan Death March, to name just a few. I didn’t realize the magnitude of what London suffered until I took a closer look. The city was never occupied by Hitler’s forces but it was bombed relentlessly. Seven of Christopher Wren’s beautiful churches were destroyed, as were thousands upon thousands of homes. More than sixty thousand civilians were killed in the whole of the British Isles. Those are staggering losses. And yet the British people were and are resilient. Their rallying cry of Keep Calm and Carry On (I truly can’t stand trivializations of this motto!) is truly the hallmark of that resiliency. You can go to London’s East End now and see street after street of 1950’s-era buildings, framed by a quiet horizon of much older buildings that the war did not flatten. London, Coventry and the other bombed cities rebuilt what was destroyed and moved on. The memories of the war aren’t in the streets but in the museums, and in national cemeteries, and sometimes, if you look closely enough, in the faces of those who survived it.

What would you especially like readers to take away from Secrets of a Charmed Life?
The title of this book, which I love, is meant to cause the reader to wonder if there really are secrets to living a life that has happily-ever-after written all over it. The title seems to suggest there are hidden truths to being able to have everything you’ve always wanted. But in actuality, and what I hope readers will take away, is that a happy life is not made up of what you have chased and achieved, but rather who you have poured your life into, who has poured their life into yours, and the difference you’ve made in the lives of others. Most of the dreams we pursue don’t have intrinsic worth, but people always do. It’s not a perfect world, and we can only play our own hand of cards – if you will – but if we play the hand as best we can with love for others as the motivation, I think we can rest content.

What are you working on right now?
My next book is set primarily in Hollywood’s golden age, specifically in 1939 when a treasure trove of timeless movies was released, including the most iconic movie of all time, Gone With The Wind. Two studio secretaries who become friends on the set of this movie forge a tale of love, desire, and survival that hints at the dynamic between the characters Scarlett and Melanie. The contemporary thread features a woman whose vintage clothing shop specializes in updated designs of classic Hollywood fashions. When her version of the infamous Gone With the Wind curtain dress is photographed for a local newspaper, a surprising delivery comes her way that ushers the reader back to old Hollywood and the two studio secretaries who, like Scarlett O’Hara, must decide what they are willing to do to get what they want most. The novel will release in February 2016 and is tentatively titled Stars Over Sunset Boulevard. I’ve always loved the movie Gone With the Wind; the sound track alone can stop me in my tracks. It has been a wonderful experience researching the details of how this film came to be made. Like most unprecedented endeavors, there was plenty of drama!
~*~
Susan, thank you for sharing an interview here at Lane Hill House. Readers will be looking forward to the early February release ~ available for pre-order now ~ eReader, paperback, and audio CD.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay, © 2014

Lizzy & Jane, Katherine Reay
You're creating more than a meal; you're creating sustenance and meeting needs that are way beyond nutritional.
   --Cecilia ~ Lizzy & Jane, 139
Being moved out, or being moved to? Elizabeth Hughes leaves her successful chef expertise to a flamboyant entering chef at a New York City restaurant; while at least it was successful a few months back, now clouded with the current thoughts of her sister beginning chemotherapy in Seattle. An unsettled past relationship lack brings them back together. Separated after the death of their mother and her older sister, Jane, leaving for college, Elizabeth returns to their Oregon family home after fifteen years. Apart from Christmas visits in Seattle, joined by their dad, a retired fire chief, they have been distant. Elizabeth goes to Seattle to stay two weeks while her brother-in-law, Peter, is traveling for business; to go to chemo with Jane and cook for her and her niece and nephew.
Nevertheless, it's never about the food––it's about what the food becomes, in the hands of the giver and the recipient.
   --Elizabeth ~ Ibid., 172
Elizabeth arranges to stay an extended two weeks while Peter is on his last scheduled business trip before staying home with his family. Continued happenings hold her heart near.

This is a story about forgiveness, acceptance, and love. Need brings them together, love keeps them.

A wonderful story of learning to share feelings, to not be afraid of acceptance or expression of self. So many wonderful phrases.
"I'm beginning to think the best dreams need others to help build them."
   --Elizabeth ~ Ibid., 204
[Note to author Katherine Reay: I would love to have your Chicken Potpie recipe described on the bottom of page 259.]

I especially like how everyone is letting their guards down and just l~i~v~i~n~g with their hearts wide-open. Transparency in being who they are, with strengths and weaknesses exposed to release and open to receive.

~*~
Sometimes the courage to face your greatest fears comes only when you've run out of ways to escape. At the end of a long night, Elizabeth leans against the industrial oven and takes in her kingdom. Once vibrant and flawless, evenings in the kitchen now feel chaotic and exhausting. She's lost her culinary magic, and business is slowing down.
   When worried investors enlist the talents of a tech-savvy celebrity chef to salvage the restaurant, Elizabeth feels the ground shift beneath her feet. Not only has she lost her touch; she's losing her dream.
   And her means of escape.
   When her mother died, Elizabeth fled home and the overwhelming sense of pain and loss. But fifteen years later, with no other escapes available, she now returns. Brimming with desperation and dread, Elizabeth finds herself in the unlikeliest of places, by her sister’s side in Seattle as Jane undergoes chemotherapy.
   As her new life takes the form of care, cookery, and classic literature, Elizabeth is forced to reimagine her future and reevaluate her past. But can a New York City chef with a painful history settle down with the family she once abandoned . . . and make peace with the sister who once abandoned her?

Katherine Reay Katherine Reay has enjoyed a life-long affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries. After earning degrees in history and marketing from Northwestern University, she worked in not-for-profit development before returning to school to pursue  her MTS. Katherine lives with her husband and three children in Seattle, WA.
Dear Mr. Knightley was her first novel.
Twitter: @Katherine_Reay
Facebook: katherinereaybooks
Website: http://www.katherinereay.com

***Thank you to BookLook Bloggers for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour for Katherine Reay's second novel ~ Lizzy & Jane. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Dear Mr. Knightley : A Novel, Katherine ReayLizzy & Jane, Katherine Reay

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Stitch in Crime, a Quilts of Love novel by Cathy Elliott, © 2015


A long looked forward to week seems to be coming apart at the seams. The city planning board doesn't approve the banner for the opening gathering promoting the quilt show the next weekend, the main speaker doesn't show, and the hostess has an accident necessitating an overnight at the hospital. Could anything else worse happen? Yes, it could. A missing piece of jewelry, and family squabbles, while guests are sequestered to answer questions from the police and detectives called in to follow up the disappearance of the heirloom.

The Wentworth Mansion "A Legacy of Quilts" Soirée
This lovely home, the Gingerbread Mansion in Ferndale, CA, is almost a mirror image of Mary-Alice Wentworth's home. Thea's new adventure  opens at the Wentworth Mansion for a Quilt Show Kickoff Soiree. Everyone is having a grand time...until??? Oh-no! You'll just have to read the book. :-)Possibly, with the aim of the local newspaper reporter covering the Quilt-Without-Guilt Guild event, turned crime scene, it could be the best publicity they could imagine. Asked by Mrs. Wentworth to look further into the happenings at her home, co-chairing a quilt show becomes a greater task to accomplish than Thea James could have envisioned. Owner of an antique store, Thea may just be the one to make the discoveries with her expertise. If she can only figure out what has happened to cause the rift in her friendship with long-time friend, Renée Fowler.

Join this cozy mystery, awaiting the unveiling of Mary-Alice Wentworth's heritage quilt, "Larkin's Treasure" and visits by Thea's sweet cat-panion, Betty.
Original crazy quilt crafted by Angela McInnis & used in A Stitch in Crime's cover.
Original crazy quilt crafted by
Angela McInnis & used in
A Stitch in Crime's stunning cover.
Learn more about this book and the series at the Quilts of Love website.
About the Author:
Author and speaker Cathy Elliott nourishes her night-owl habit by creating cozy mysteries and more on her trusty laptop in Anderson, California. Like the protagonist in her new mystery, Cathy is an avid quilter. Besides collecting (too much) cool fabric, she also enjoys hunting for antique treasures.
Connect with Cathy online: website, Facebook

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity Group and Abingdon Press for this copy of A Stitch in Crime for review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Thea James thought working as co-chair for Larkindale’s first quilt show extravaganza would be a natural extension of her antique business. But while organizing the busy week’s premiere events would make anyone frayed, she doesn’t expect a complete unraveling!
    At the opening soirée, local matriarch Mary-Alice Wentworth is knocked unconscious and robbed of her diamond brooch.
   Soon a rare quilt—the main attraction and a rumored key to great riches—goes missing. Those who signed up to help Thea are strangely no help at all. What more could possibly happen?
   Amid a cast of colorful characters and a tight schedule of garden galas, tea parties, and televised socials, everything is falling apart at the seams—and nothing is quite what it seems. Can Thea sew everything back together?

Twenty-fifth and final book in the Quilts of Love Series!!



Enjoy this excerpt from Cathy Elliott's A Stitch in Crime, Chapter 1 ~

1

Perhaps if she simply avoided eye contact.
    Thea James turned her back on the partygoers, paying attention to the dessert buffet, instead. The Quilt-Without-Guilt Guild had surpassed their Christmas potluck standard. Among a bounty of petite cakes, cookies, puffs, and bars, Thea found her own offering, a plate of blueberry tartlets. They appeared untouched. Strange. She pulled them to the front of the culinary display.
   “Thea! Why are you hiding out in the desserts when I need your help?” The familiar voice of fellow guild member, Heather Ann Brewster, hinted at desperation.
   Turning with reluctance, Thea morphed into hospitality mode. “Blueberry tartlet?”
   “What?” Heather Ann viewed the diminutive dessert, gave a small shudder, and then had the grace to look apologetic. “Ah . . . no, thanks. I haven’t browsed the appetizers yet. Anyway, I can’t think about food now. I’m too upset.”
   Thea shoved her reluctance aside. “What seems to be the problem, Heather Ann?” This time.
   “You know the publicity banner we had made? The one advertising the quilt show next weekend? The one supposed to be hanging over the entrance to Old Town?”
   “Supposed to be hanging over the entrance? I thought they put it up yesterday.” Thea calculated the days left until the show opened. Today was Sunday and tonight’s kickoff quilt show soirée started the festivities. The main event was scheduled for next Saturday. Folks needed to be aware of the date so they’d attend en masse.
   “City utility workers were supposed to put it up. Oh, and it’s beautiful, Thea. In bold letters it says, ‘1st Annual Blocks on the Walk Quilt Show, Pioneer Park’ and the date.”
   “Good . . . very good. So why isn’t it hanging up?”
   “I had the letters made in red, too. Sort of reminds me of Janny Rice’s redwork quilt, you know? Perhaps she’ll place with hers. Beautiful embroidery.” Heather Ann seemed lost in the vision, green eyes staring at nothing.
   “Heather Ann. Focus, hon. You said there was a problem. As the quilt show chairperson, I want to help.” Well, that was a lie. Helping was overrated. Thea wanted to eat some desserts. And she wasn’t the chairperson. Another fib. Rather, the co-chair, along with Prudy Levasich.
   Where was the elusive Prudy, anyway? Probably showing off her twin sister, Trudy, visiting from the East Coast. The co-chair’s co-twin. If Prudy stuck around now and then, she could co-solve these problems with Thea.
   “You have to do something! The Larkindale city planning commission won’t let us put up the banner.” The desperation returned to Heather Ann’s tone, sending her voice to a higher key.
   “Why not?”
   “It’s not up to code. They said the banner needs holes cut in it so the wind will flow through and not blow it down.”
   “Makes sense. Without the holes, it could act more like a sail,” Thea said. “Can’t you cut some?”
   “I guess.” Heather Ann looked uncomfortable. “But I don’t know how big to make the holes. Or how many. The banner was expensive. I don’t want to ruin it.”
   “Very responsible.” Thea considered the options. “I have an idea. Call the Larkin Lake Resort. They’re always putting banners up for some event. The Fly-Fishing Derby. And the Daisy Pedal bike race, right?”
   “Oh, you’re good.” Heather Ann’s expression turned eager, like a puppy about to score a treat.
   “Whatever size they advise, be sure you use the white space and don’t cut into those big red letters you chose. That way people will only see the letters and not notice the holes.” Thea gave Heather Ann an encouraging pat on the shoulder. “Sound okay?”
   “Sounds great. Thanks so much, Thea. I’m on it.” Heather Ann dashed away, blonde ponytail bouncing, presumably to make the call.
   Or grab a few appetizers.
   Which seemed an even better idea to Thea.
   “Well, aren’t you just the little problem-solver here.” Renée Fowler pushed up against Thea in jest, as she used to do when they were teens.
   “Oh, stop.” Thea grinned at her best friend since fifth grade, recently returned home from a long honeymoon tour of Europe.
   She had missed Renée terribly. But something seemed off between them. Had the travels changed Renée? She certainly looked different. More elegant. Her brown hair, cut in Paris, was styled in a fashionable pixie cut. But weren’t her large gray eyes filled with disapproval now? Or was the still single Thea a little jealous of her friend’s marriage and new life?
   Thea studied the crowd. “A wonderful turnout, don’t you think? I’ve been watching for him, but have yet to see Dr. Cottle. Did he already check in?”
   “How would I know, Thea?” Renée said. “I may own the Inn, but I don’t keep up on what time every guest walks through the door.”
   Not a hint of a thank-you for recommending Renée and Howie’s Heritage House Inn as lodging for their illustrious judge and guest speaker, Dr. Niles Cottle. Typical treatment from Renée since her return to Larkindale.
   Thea waved to a friend of Gram’s. “Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. And no better place to do it than in Mary-Alice Wentworth’s garden. Exquisite, isn’t it?”
   Glorious roses edged a pavestone patio, which surrounded a sparkling pond, highlighted by the spectacular fountain in the pond’s center. Water poured endlessly from an urn held by a graceful, granite lady. The effect was more than tranquil. It was hypnotic. Tables with bistro chairs dotted the grounds and this evening’s attendees alternately chatted in groups or relaxed with a cool drink. A number of quilts were displayed near the walkway, staging a quilt show preview, and adding a folksy feel. Her mother’s string quartet played various classical selections with so much enthusiasm the occasional sour note went unnoticed.
   Except maybe by Renée, who now winced as if she had stepped on a nail.
   Uh-oh. Thea grabbed the dessert plate and shoved it at her friend. “How about a nice blueberry tartlet?”
   “Tartlet?” Renée’s distasteful look increased. “What’s in the filling? And look how thick the crust is, Thea. You must use very cold dough to make a flaky crust.”
   Crestfallen, Thea placed the plate back on the table. “Tasted good to me.”
   “They probably are good, for Larkindale. I do like the antique serving plate though,” Renée said. “My tastes have refined so much from my exposure to other cultures. Like what I’m wearing, for instance.” She smoothed out her simple black dress. “In Europe, everyone wears something elegant like this. Understated, you know? Your dress is much too frilly. Too yesterday.”
   “Oh.” Thea’s cheeks burned. Was it no longer okay to like yesterday’s fashions best? Her vintage cocktail dress had been a steal from the family’s antique store, James & Co. Antique Emporium. Certain the cut was flattering to her figure, Thea also thought the cobalt color and purple tulle overlay brought out the periwinkle blue in her eyes. Both Mum and Gram had agreed.
   “But the poufy skirt is a great illusion. One’s not sure if it’s so full because of your curves or the dress’s design.” Renée put a hand on her hip and once-overed her friend. “I could never pull it off. It would just hang on my slender frame. But those strappy sandals are cute. A nice change from your clogs.”
   Thea was beginning to wonder why she was friends with Renée.
   And where was Dr. Cottle?
   Thea studied the gathering again but didn’t see him. Their hostess, Mary-Alice, was also missing. Perhaps she was inside greeting him this minute.
   Leaning toward Thea, Renée said, “Here comes your Cole Mason. So handsome. Did you see him chatting with Mayor Suzanne Stiles for more than a half hour? You better watch out, Miss Thea. Step it up or you’ll remain Miss Thea for a long, long time.”
   “He’s not my Cole Mason and he can talk to whoever he likes!” Thea almost hissed at her friend as Cole approached them. His roving reporter role tonight was to cover the quilt show kick-off-soirée for the Larkindale Lamplight’s society pages. Surely he wouldn’t report any petty problems from putting on the show. It could result in a definite damper on attendance at the official opening.
   Moving past a sullen Renée and closer to Thea, Cole flashed his disarming dimples. Then appearing stunned, he stopped and said. “You look so . . . nice! Am I writing about the wrong subject for the Lamplight? How about a full-page spread of you in your dress?”
   Renée rolled her eyes.
   “No comment,” Thea said, laughter in her voice. “What are you planning to cover?” Making her a feature story was not an option. He had to be kidding. Especially if she looked as chunky in her dress as Renée seemed to say. And the camera added what? Thea sucked in her stomach.
   Cole’s attention had diverted to the treat table. “What do you call this delicious-looking sweet?” He plunked a pink petit four on a faux-china plate. “I don’t want to get the name wrong in my article.”
   Relieved, Thea named each dessert. Cole listed it in his note- book and took still shots with his smart-phone. Without embarrassment, he snuck a few more tempting treats.
   “And this . . . ,” she swept her hand in front of the tartlets with a flourish, “. . . is what I made. Blueberry tartlets. Care to sample one?”
   So far, Renée stood silent. But apparently she’d reached her etiquette limit. “You don’t want to eat those, Cole. They’re made by our peanut-butter-and-pickle sandwich queen here. Need I say more?”
   “Good recommendation. I’ll take two.” Cole stacked the tarts on the last empty spot on his plate.
   The tiny triumph tasted like sugar. But Thea wondered if Renée, with her newly acquired European sensibilities, was right.
   “Perhaps I should have used raspberries instead of blueberries,” Thea said. “Might have looked more appetizing.”
   “I doubt it,” Renée said. “Probably would have looked like coddled blood.”
   Coddled blood? Coddle? What was familiar about that word? Then Thea shivered, remembering Dr. Cottle was still a no-show. What if something horrible had happened to him?
   She surveyed the party once more. Mary-Alice’s favorite nephew appeared to have captivated a small audience, his hands in motion, probably spouting his expertise on the family quilt, “Larkin’s Treasure.” The string quartet sawed with vigor. Thea spotted Prudy hard at work, gabbing with the guests. Or was it Trudy? Thea’s Aunt Elena, along with a few others, admired a magnificent Grandmother’s Garden quilt displayed on the walkway.
   But no Dr. Cottle.
   Cole’s voice cut through her concerns. “You know, these look so good, I think I’ll take another one, in case we run out before I’ve had my fill.” He balanced another tartlet atop the others and winked at Thea.
   Renée blew out a sigh. “You are quite the risk-taker, Mr. Mason.” She waved a dismissal and strolled toward the mayor, probably for a little update on her conversation with Cole.
   That’s it. That’s all I can take. I’m leaving before one more person says boo to me.
   Cole’s hand briefly touched the middle of Thea’s back, stopping her flight, his dark eyes inquisitive. “Are you quite sure she’s your best friend?”
   No. She wasn’t sure anymore. But what could she say? Thea groped for a reason for her friend’s bad behavior. In the search, she found an emptiness she couldn’t name.
   “Renée’s . . . not been herself since she got back from Europe.”
   “A lingering case of jet lag. That’s probably it,” Cole said.
   Thea looked up, grateful for his kindness.
   “So where’s the famous Dr. Cottle?” Cole asked, changing the subject. “I’ve heard he can read the stitches on a fastball from the nosebleed section at Yankee Stadium.”
   “So they say. He’s a major leaguer on quilts and quilting in our state,” Thea said. “In fact, I should go see if there’s been any word of him. Folks came tonight to hear his talk about the Wentworth legacy quilt.”
   “You go then. I’ll pacify myself with a blueberry tartlet.” Cole stuffed a whole one in his mouth and started chewing, pleasure written all over his face.
   Did he like it or was he trying to cheer her up?
   Maybe she didn’t want to know.
   Thea excused herself and strode purposefully toward the house. No eye contact. No eye contact. No eye contact. She managed to slip through the French doors, muting her mother’s Mozart, and putting a wall between herself and the problems outside.
   She closed her eyes. See no evil.
   Beyond the glass door, a distant voice called out, “Has anyone seen Thea?”
   She clicked the door closed.
   Hear no evil.
Cathy Elliott, A Stitch in Crime Abingdon Press, © 2015.

New from Quilts of Love | A Stitch in Crime Kindle Fire Giveaway!

Don’t miss the newest Quilts of Love book, A Stitch in Crime by Cathy Elliott. Thea's first quilt show begins to fall apart at the seams. Will she be able to piece the mystery together and save the town’s investment in the quilt show before another attack happens . . . with far worse results.
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One winner will receive:
  • A Kindle HDX
  • A Stitch in Crime by Cathy Elliott
  • Masterpiece Marriage by Gina Welborn
  • Swept Away by Laura V. Hilton and Cindy Loven

Enter today by clicking the button below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on February 8th. Winner will be announced on the Quilts of Love blog February 9th.
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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Like a Flower in Bloom by Siri Mitchell, © 2015

"In Victorian-era northern England, Charlotte Withersby, daughter of a prominent botanist, attempts to regain her role as his assistant, despite society's expectations and the presence of Edward Trimble, her father's new assistant"––Provided by publisher.

Cover Art
"Not having a choice is different than not caring."
   --Edward, Like a Flower in Bloom, 44
Charlotte Withersby has been caring for her father's correspondence and assisting in keeping a roof over their heads; well, not exactly, taking the pails in consideration to catch the rainwater... But, what would you think if all of a sudden ~ a suddenly ~ a man you have been answering mail to in place of your father, appears on your doorstep, is welcomed in? Before the course of the evening is over, he is at your dinner table and you must escort him to "his" room, as he is now your father's n~e~w assistant, in your place?

That is exactly what happens to Charlotte as her uncle has explained to her father that she needs to be available to society to be enhanced with a husband. Charlotte is quite satisfied with her life the way it is ~ assisting her father's botany research and writing articles. Well, they will just see when the first bills become due and his illustrated series lack subscribers. And Edward Trimble, or whatever his name is, knows the first thing about preserving specimens? Not according to the various shipments sent to them from him.

As Charlotte comes up with a plan to show them how necessary she is, she isn't so certain it was a good path to take. Not only are they not noticing her absence, they are carrying on as if she had never been there. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, isn't exactly happening. In fact, she is sure it isn't. Unexpendable.

Fortunately, so it seems, at her first outing with her uncle as guardian, she meets a Miss Templeton who merits each gentleman with their prone to matrimony. Since Charlotte is adverse to such an idea, two prospects are suggested, who may be in her line of thinking. Measuring everything in her botanical way, is is not surprising she surmises the attributes of gentlemen in the same manner.
Something about him reminded me of an invasive weed that has crept its way into a flower garden, trying to insinuate itself among the other plants. He looked harmless enough, he probably was harmless enough, but somehow he didn't quite belong.
   --Charlotte, Ibid., 86
It is comical how the two young women proceed to procure a future meeting at two appointed times on the same afternoon to view each gentleman's collection of plants. The plan is to be seen coming and going with repeated invites to secure a visual accent of interest.

Charlotte is my very favorite character as she stays true to herself, even amid new norms thrust upon her of when to speak and when to keep her thoughts silent. To the end, you are not certain how it will all turn out. You may find your allegiance changing. The story is conversational between the characters throughout. 

I thoroughly enjoy Siri Mitchell's writings. She is merriment and engaging as her characters come alive off the page as if you are eavesdropping. Somehow, I feel they would invite us in willingly.

Siri Mitchell
Siri Mitchell is the author of nearly a dozen novels, among them the critically acclaimed Christy Award finalists Chateau of Echoes and The Cubicle Next Door. A graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in business, she has worked in many different levels of government. As a military spouse, she has lived in places as varied as Tokyo and Paris. Siri currently lives in the DC-metro area. Visit her website here.

***Thank you to author Siri Mitchell and to Bethany House Publishers for sending me a copy of Like a Flower in Bloom for review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Two days remaining ~ enter here!

~* A visit with Siri Mitchell *~
This novel is set amidst the botany craze of 1850s Victorian England. Why botany?
Botany is a field that was pioneered, in large part, by women. During the 1850s, however, the profession of scientist developed and the field was wrested away from them. It’s not really a novel about botany; it’s a book about a woman displaced from her passion by people who discount her talents due to her gender. It’s fascinating to me just how relevant that struggle still is.

Do you have a personal interest in botany?
Not beyond dabbling in my own flower beds. I’ve always loved flowers, white roses are my favorites, but my interest in plants stops there.

How did you come up with the idea?
My public library has a twice-annual used book sale, and I came across the gorgeously illustrated Women of Flowers by Jack Kramer. In it, he tells the stories of dozens of female Victorian botanical illustrators whose work was credited to men. The injustice of that was so enraging that I knew I had to write about it.

Did you enjoy traveling back into history with Like a Flower in Bloom?
I enjoyed visiting an era that had so many social rules. It was especially fun to develop a heroine who was so completely ignorant of them all. It developed into a comedy of errors that was delightful to write.

What was the most surprising thing you learned?
That botanists had a reputation during the era for being philosophic thinkers with hardy constitutions and a winsome sort of charm. In the wilds of the colonies, scouring the globe in search of rare specimens, they perpetuated a reputation much like that of Indiana Jones. I was also surprised that the study of botany birthed the genre of literary nonsense best exemplified by the works of artist/writers like Edward Lear and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll.
~*~

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Julie Klassen ~ new novel, July 2015!!!

Look what is coming in July from Julie Klassen!!!

Lady Maybe

In the new novel, a woman's startling secrets lead her into unexpected danger and romance in Regency England...
 

One final cry..."God almighty, help us" and suddenly her world shifted violently, until a blinding collision scattered her mind and shook her bones. Then, the pain. The freezing water. And as all sensation drifted away, a hand reached for hers, before all faded into darkness...
 

Now she has awakened as though from some strange, suffocating dream in a warm and welcoming room she has never seen before, and tended to by kind, unfamiliar faces. But not all has been swept away. She recalls fragments of the accident. She remembers a baby. And a ring on her finger reminds her of a lie.
 

But most of all, there is a secret. And in this house of strangers she can trust no one but herself to keep it.

Monday, January 12, 2015

DVD ~ The Identical, © 2014

Review and Giveaway of one copy of The Identical, DVD releasing January 13, 2015

Original music written in 2014, authentically reflects the 1950s, 60s, and 70s portrayed in the film, The Identical. The story begins during the Depression era of the 1930s. At the end of a growing crop season, a young couple have newborn sons. Attending a tent revival, the husband hears the preacher say he and his wife have not been able to bear a child. Concerned for lack of providing for two children, one child is given to them with the promise that the true identify will not be revealed until the death of the birthing parents. Both sons are drawn to music, one publicly and the other naturally talented but attending school to follow in the footsteps of his father.


The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.
    --Proverbs 16:9

Can you relinquish your dreams for someone else? Ryan Wade's father enlists him in the army after being called by the police to come and get Ryan at a roadhouse across the county line. Ryan is drawn by music new to him, that resonates within his heart. The movie ends in the 1970s, following Ryan's dream brought alive upon winning a contest reflecting public singer, Drexel Hemsley. Being encouraged by his wife, Jenny, Ryan signs with an agent and tours at county fairs and concert venues.

Rated PG thematic material and smoking. Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. Dove.org family approved Ages 12+. Approximately 107 minutes.


Propeller Consulting is offering one DVD copy, US and Canada entrant only, due to postage. Include your e-mail address[at]...[dot]com within comment section below. Entries to end January 20, 2015.

Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.
Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.