Connected2Christ

Reviews, Giveaways, Recipes, Fiber Arts, and more...

Silver Dolphin Books Review & Giveaway

sdb

I indulge in the opportunity to read wonderful books. So, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I learn about new places to purchase great books for me and for my children. I nearly jumped with joy when I learned about Silver Dolphin Books.

They are worth the look see, hands down. Silver Dolphin Books publishes activity, novelty, and educational nonfiction books for preschoolers to 12-year-olds.  Silver Dolphin Books is an award winning company. Several of their books have won the Parent’s Choice awards. (You can click here to see the extensive list)

Melody ( 12.5 months old) reading.

Melody ( 12.5 months old) reading.

Out of Silver Dolphin’s generosity, we were able to review the Nursery Rhymes (A Nursery Collection Book) by Susie Lacome & Beth Harwood and the book Amazing Baby Go, Baby, Go! by Beth Harwood, Emma Dodd, Jonathan Lambert.

The Amazing Baby Go, Baby, Go book comes from their popular Amazing Baby series. This series has 28 titles to date its one of the largest series by Silver Dolphin for babies. My daughter enjoyed me reading this  book to her. She smiled and giggled back at the brightly colored graphics and baby pictures in the book with each turning page. I as mommy loved that this book is an indestructible board book with makes it safe for reading time if I want to let her browse through the pages alone.  I like also that this book is not to wordy, I’ve other baby books and my daughter loses interest quickly because I’m not turning the page quick enough when trying to read through.  What makes this book fun is that at the end, there is a heart shaped photo frame where you can insert your very own picture of your Amazing Baby!

The Nursery Collection book, I can see myself pulling off the shelf for years and years to come. This book is beautifully illustrated with it’s soft pastel colored embossed pages and images. One added decorative feature I like is the ribbon tie that you can make into a bow to close the book. This book is filled with well loved nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and lullabies that we all grew up with. When reading through, I couldn’t help but remember when my mom read to me out of our own family nursery rhyme book. I’d been looking for a nursery rhyme book to add to my home library and now my search is over because this is in my mind the perfect in every way I can imagine.

Other books I’d love to add to my collection are various titles from the Wonders Inside, History in Action, and the Fine Art Studio Series!  I’d really love to own all of the books they offer, I have to remind myself that money doesn’t grow on trees though all of their books are reasonably priced! Check them out for yourself at: http://www.silverdolphinbooks.com/

How would you like to win any book of choice from Silver Dolphin Books?

Please visit their site and let me know what book you would choose if you won.

For additional entries:

1. Add me on twitter and retweet this:
@erinlowmaster WIN: Any Silver Dolphin Book of your choice! – http://bit.ly/c2f9u
(Daily Extras are Available)
2.  Follow Silver Dolphin Books on twitter @silverdolphin – 2 entries
3. Post this at a giveaway listing site and leave the link- 3 extra entries

Please leave separate comments for each additional entry, i.e.: if you blog about it leave 2 separate comments. Winners will be notified shortly afterward by email. Please respond within 48 hours or you forfeit your prize to another participant. Contest ends July 7th, 2009

Continue Reading 95 Comments

FIRST: Scared by Tom Davis

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Scared: A Novel on the Edge of the World

David C. Cook; New edition edition (June 1, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tom Davis is the accomplished author of Red Letters and Fields of the Fatherless. He also serves as a trainer in leadership development. He holds a Business and Pastoral Ministry degree from Dallas Baptist University and a Master’s Degree in Theology from The Criswell College. He is the president of Children’s HopeChest (www.hopechest.org), a Christian-based child advocacy organization helping orphans in Eastern Europe and Africa. Tom and his wife, Emily, have five children.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition edition (June 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1589191021
ISBN-13: 978-1589191020

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africa, 1998

Ten years ago I was a dead man.

It all began when Lou, my broker from Alpha Agency, said, “Stuart, how would you feel about heading to The Congo? Time is putting together a crew and needs a hot photographer.”

He asked; I went. That’s how I got paid then. It’s how I get paid now.

My job was to cover a breaking story on a rebel uprising that would soon turn into genocide. Unfortunately, neither Lou nor any of us were privy to that valuable information at the time. We should have seen it coming. The frightening tribal patterns resembled the bloodbath between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. We knew what happened there had spilled over to the DRC – but we ignored it.

Our job was to focus on the story of the moment, whatever we might find. But this was more than a search for journalistic truth. It was an opportunity to win a round of a most dangerous game – the chase for a prize-winning picture.

The plane landed in the capital city of Kinshasa. A man in combat fatigues stood near a large black government car. He was flanked by six armed guards toting fully automatic rifles.

“That must be the mayor and his six closest comrades,” I said to our writer, Mike, as I swung my heavy neon orange bag over my shoulder. “Welcome to a world where you are not in control.” This was Mike’s first international assignment. I swear his knees buckled.

Our team consisted of me; Mike, shipped in from Holland (a lower executive from Time who was looking for a thrill and trying to escape his adulterous wife for a few weeks); and Tommy, the Grip, whose job it was to carry our gear.

“Welcome to the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am Mayor Mobutu.” We introduced ourselves, exchanging the traditional French niceties.

“Bonjour Monsieur.”

“I must go and attend to some urgent matters, but there is a car waiting for you. These guards will take you out to Rutshuru, North Kivu.”

He pointed to a Land Cruiser near the airport building. The mayor’s face carried the scars of a rough life. His right cheek looked as if someone tried to carve a “Z” into it. His left eye was slightly lazy, giving you the feeling he was looking over your shoulder, even when you were face to face.

He turned to me. “You know how dangerous it is here. You are taking your life into your own hands, and we will not be responsible. We keep telling reporters this, but you never listen!” He started to walk away, but turned one more time and wagged his finger at each one us as if we were children. “Pay attention to what these guards tell you, and do not put yourself in the middle of conflict.”

Nobody ever won a Pulitzer by standing at arms length.

“Thank you for welcoming us, sir, and for your words,” I said. “We will keep them in mind.” The guards nodded for us to follow, and we made a solemn line into the Land Cruiser.

It was the rainy season, and on cue an afternoon storm whipped and lashed across the landscape like an angry mob. As we drove in silence, the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. We arrived at the village that would serve as our headquarters. Amid the familiar routines of a small community that seemed oblivious to the dangers surrounding them, people who were displaced by violence congregated in huddles hoping for safety.

I snapped off pictures of the scene. Once the children noticed my camera, school was over. They surrounded me like ants on a Popsicle. I had come prepared. I handed out candy as fast as I could, then got back to the business of capturing images of this unsettling normalcy.

The sun hid behind the trees, and darkness enveloped the thatched huts and makeshift refugee camp, swallowing them whole. Our armed guards escorted us into a separate compound meant to keep us safe from any danger lurking in the nearby jungles.

We took a seat on concrete blocks to enjoy a traditional African meal of corn and beans and we laughed about the monkeys we had seen on the road hurling bananas at our Land Cruiser. It was funnier than it ought to have been.

And then it happened.

The crisp pop of bullets battered our eardrums. The sounds ripped through the jungle night and into the village. Then the screams began. Screams that boiled the blood inside my ears.

I dropped, crawled on my belly to the window and slid up along the front wall, craning my neck so I could see outside. A guard across the room mirrored my actions at another window. Everyone else was flat against the ground. As I peered through the rusty barred window, flashes of light pounded bright fists against the sky, the road, and the trees.

Buildings exploded with fire and a woman cried out in terror. Shadows flickered, black phantoms haunting the night. I made out five or six soldiers beating a woman with their boots and the butts of their guns.

She quit screaming, quit moving, and then they ripped the clothes from her broken body. They began raping her. She came to and started to scream again, pleading for help, and they hit her until her screams choked on her blood.

She couldn’t have been more than sixteen.

I turned my head.

The horror of this night was no act of God. No earthquake or tsunami. This was the act of men. Evil men. Demons in the guise of men.

The uncertainty of what might happen next hovered at the edge of an inhaled breath.

The armed guards screamed for us to lay prostrate on the dirt floor as bullets flew through the walls and widows, scattering plaster and glass. I wiped away salty sweat burning my eyes. But the sweat was thicker than it should have been. I tasted it.

Blood.

Fear strangled the air. Shallow breaths and rapid heartbeats echoed throughout the tiny room. I thought about my last conversation with Whitney.

My last conversation.

Was it my last?

Mike’s hand slid up next to me. His whisper turned my head. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, man.”

Mike shoved his glasses back onto his oversized, pock-marked nose. “This happened to one of my closest friends in Northern Uganda. The rebel militia mutilated everyone and everything in sight. No one made it out alive. No one. These monsters believe in a kind of Old Testament extermination of anything that moves.”

“Thanks for the encouraging words.”

“I always knew I’d die young.”

He reached in his pocked and pulled out a string of wooden rosary beads.

“These were my mother’s.”

“I’m not Catholic.”

“Neither was I. Until now….”

“Shut up!” one of the guards hissed.

Rivers of sweat baptized our faces, our necks, our chests.

Death, real and suffocating, pressed in, driven by the wailing of dying babies, the yelps of slaughtered animals, the screams women being beaten and raped.

My heart raced in rapid-fire panic.

I peered through a hole between a cinder block and a broken windowsill. Rebel troops swarmed like locusts, devouring every living thing in their path.

Mike elbowed me in the thigh. “Remember that story about an African militia group that raped a bunch of Americans? Men, women, children – they weren’t choosy.”

“You have to be quiet,” whispered a guard. He got to one knee, steadying his gun. “Now shut up or I’ll kill you myself.”

A rebel commander yelled something just outside the door. Another shot, and the guard who had just spoken fell dead right on top of me. His blood flowed over my neck and right arm staining my band of brothers ring crimson. The screaming intensified, people ran, yelled, and died.

I scooted against the wall, huddled next to Mike as shots continued to shriek overhead. Plaster exploded and covered us. We tried to make ourselves invisible, curling into the fetal position, wrapping our arms over our heads.

A bullet whined by my ear, missing by centimeters. I crawled face down to the other side of the room, trying to get out of the line of fire.

Then, sudden, deafening silence.

Nobody moved for what seemed like hours. My thoughts milled with the ants of fear, waiting as the silence thickened, punctuated by a moan or a sob. We waited and waited, wondering when it would be safe to stand, wondering if it would ever be safe.

Finally, I gazed out the window, my eyes searching for rebel soldiers in the yellow-orange gloom of smoke. No figures or movement.

“I’m going out,” I whispered to Mike.

He didn’t respond

“Hey, listen. Let’s go man.”

I elbowed him in the ribs.

“Mike!” I grabbed his jacket to turn him toward me. There was a pinpoint crimson stain on the front of his light blue shirt. His eyes stared through me.

I was paralyzed for a moment, not knowing what to do. Then I pulled my camera out of my bag. I picked up Mike’s gear and slung it around my neck.

Outside, the air burned of flesh. Some shadows moved in the distance, but the streets were barren. A few jerking and twitching heaps lined the road and quivered beside the buildings.

Oh, God. Oh, God.

I walked toward the flames. Everything was silent except for a sour ringing in my ears. Something compelled me to enter the destruction, to get closer.

Severed body parts lay before me in a display of such horror I began to heave. A young, pregnant mother crumpled over, lying dead next to a burning haystack. She barely looked human. One leg lay at a right angle, an arm hung loosely from her shoulder, held there by a single, stringy tendon. Her stomach had been sliced wide open, the worm-like contents spilled in front of her, still moving.

There was nothing I could do to help her. Nothing.

I lifted the camera to my left eye. Snap. Snap. Snap. The lens clicked open and closed.

I stepped closer to capture the look on her face. Steam rose from her insides. More pictures. Through the blood and mucus by her midsection I made out a face, a tiny face with eyes closed.

Voices rose over the roofs. Something was happening at the end of the village. Without thought, I raced through the corpses and debris toward the commotion.

The rebel troops had gathered the bodies of all the men they had slain. They were stacking them together in the shape of a pyramid.

As each body was thrown on top of the others, the rebels jeered, spit on the dead, and drank from a whiskey bottle, relishing in their triumph. They shot their guns into the air. Fire flashed around the perimeter. It was a scene from hell.

A man climbed on the roof above the bodies, unzipped his pants and urinated all over the dead. The men slapped each other on the back and laughed.

Another rebel poured some liquid over the bodies.

I adjusted the camera settings and snapped a series of shots as fast as my fingers could click. The fire ignited, a pyramid pyre, and I continued to shoot. I snapped pictures of the dead – men I had seen earlier that day caring for their families – as their faces melted like candle wax. I snapped pictures of the rebels’ ugly glee. And I felt like retching again.

I turned and walked, faster and faster, until I was running.

Each step I took pounded the question: Why? Why? Why?

I raced to the edge of the compound and saw Tommy hanging out the window of our car, frantically motioning me to come. We sped off, the remaining guard driving like a bat out of hell, for it was indeed hell we were escaping. As I turn to look out the back window, I saw Mike’s body crumpled in the seat behind me. Like a rotted rubber band, something inside me snapped. My whole body shook. Sobs came without tears. I only could muster one coherent thought: If we get out of here alive, at least we can send Mike back to his family.

Back to his cheating wife.


My Thoughts:

This book promises to be a real page turner with it’s the raw emotion and realism. I also wanted to mention that this book is not for the faint of heart as it portrays a reality that is graphic and truly heartbreaking.

I’ll let you see for yourself but I am sure in reading this book that you’ll become stirred up with the reality and the reasoning to do something in the world around you.

Continue Reading No Comments

FIRST:The Seven Faith Tribes by George Barna

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Seven Faith Tribes

BarnaBooks (April 2, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

George Barna is the author or coauthor of more than forty books, including best sellers such as The Frog in the Kettle, The Power of Vision, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions, Revolution, and Pagan Christianity. He has had more than one hundred articles published in magazines and other periodicals and writes the bimonthly report The Barna Update, which is read by more than a million people each year.

He is the founder and directing leader of The Barna Group, Ltd., a company that provides primary research and resources related to cultural analysis, faith dynamics, and transformation. Through The Barna Group, he has served hundreds of clients as varied as the Billy Graham Association, World Vision, CBN, the Walt Disney Company, Ford Motor Company, Visa USA, and the United States Navy.

He has taught at several universities and seminaries and has served as the teaching pastor of a large, multiethnic church. Barna currently leads a house church. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Boston College and has graduate degrees from Rutgers University and Dallas Baptist University.

He has been married to his wife, Nancy, since 1978, and they live with their three daughters in southern California.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $24.99
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: BarnaBooks (April 2, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414324049
ISBN-13: 978-1414324043

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

America Is on the Path to Self-Destruction

PERHAPS you have had the heart-wrenching experience of watching helplessly as a loved one—a parent, grandparent, sibling, or close friend—has wasted away due to a debilitating disease or accident. Maybe you have worked for a company that was once vibrant, profitable, and charging into the future—only to lose its way and go out of business.

The United States is in one of those moments. Unless we, the people, can rally to restore health to this once proud and mighty nation, we have a long and disturbing decline to look forward to.

Does it surprise you to hear that our greatest enemy is not al Qaeda or the oil cartel, but America itself? Such an audacious argument is possible, however, because we have steadily and incrementally abandoned what made us a great nation.

The elements that combined to establish the United States as perhaps the most unique and enviable nation in modern history can be restored—but only if we are wise enough, collectively,

to focus on pursuing the good of society, not mere individual self-interest. It is this widespread drive to elevate self over community that has triggered our decline.

Some historians have examined the United States and concluded that it rose to prominence because of its world-class statesmen, foresighted Constitution, military might, abundant natural resources, and entrepreneurial spirit. Indisputably, such factors have significantly contributed to the establishment of a great nation. But such elements, alone, could never sustain it—especially for two-hundred-plus years!

A democracy, such as that in the United States, achieves greatness and retains its strength on the basis of the values and beliefs that fuel people’s choices. Every society adopts a body of principles that defines the national ethos and fosters its ability to withstand various challenges. Only those nations that have moral and spiritual depth, clarity of purpose and process, and nobility of heart and mind are able to persevere and triumph.1

Achieving a state of internal equilibrium that generates forward movement is no small task. It has certainly eluded hundreds upon hundreds of nations and cultures over the course of time. A walk through world history underscores the difficulty of building and sustaining national greatness. Whether we examine the stories of ancient Rome and Greece, more modern examples such as the Soviet Union, Red China, the British Empire, and post-British India, or fascist experiments such as those in Germany and Italy, the outcomes are identical. After initial excitement and cooperation, each of these nations staggered into a dramatic decline, lacking the moral and spiritual fortitude to right themselves.

Among the lessons we learn from observing the demise of formidable countries and cultures are that a nation self-destructs when

• its people cannot hold a civil conversation over matters of disagreement because they are overly possessive of their values and beliefs and too unyielding of their preferences;

• public officials and cultural leaders insist upon positioning and posturing at the expense of their opponents after the exchange of competing ideas—even though those opponents are fellow citizens with an assumed similar interest in sustaining the health of the nation;

• the public cannot agree on what constitutes goodness, morality, generosity, kindness, ethics, or beauty;

• a significant share of the electorate refuses to support legally elected officials who are faithfully upholding the Constitution and diligently pursuing the best interests of the nation;

• people lose respect for others and refuse to grant them the measure of dignity that every human being innately deserves;

• the population embraces the notion that citizens are accountable solely to themselves for their moral and ethical choices because there are no universal standards and moral leaders.

Do these descriptions strike fear in your heart? They should. Increasingly, these are attributes of twenty-first-century America. Such qualities have pushed the world’s greatest democracy to the precipice of self-annihilation. No amount of global trade or technological innovation will compensate for the loss of common vision and values that are required to bolster a mighty nation.

The dominant lifestyle patterns of Americans are a direct outgrowth of our beliefs. Operating within the boundaries of our self-determined cultural parameters, Americans live in ways that are the natural and tangible applications of what we believe to be true, appropriate, right, and valuable.

Therefore, we may not be pleased, but we ought not be surprised by the cultural chaos and moral disintegration we see and experience every day. Such conditions are the inevitable outcomes of the choices we have made that are designed to satisfy our self-interest instead of our shared interests.

For instance, when we abandon sound financial principles and take on personal debt in order to satisfy our desires for more material goods, we undermine society’s best interests. When we allow our children to absorb countless hours of morally promiscuous media content rather than limit their exposure and insist on better programming, we fail to protect our children and society’s best interests. When we create a burgeoning industry of assisted living for our elderly relatives we don’t have the time or inclination to care for, we redefine family and negate a fundamental strength of our society. When we donate less than 3 percent of our income to causes that enhance the quality and sustainability of life, our lack of generosity affects the future of our society. When we permit the blogosphere to become a rat hole of deceit, rudeness, and visual garbage, we forfeit part of the soul of our culture. When we allow “no fault” divorce to become the law of the land, as if nobody had any responsibilities in the demise of a marriage, we foster the demise of our society. When we choose to place our children in day care and prekindergarten programs for more hours than we share with them, we have made a definitive statement about what matters in our world.

Do we need to continue citing examples? Realize that all of those choices, and hundreds of others, reflect our true beliefs—not necessarily the beliefs to which we give lip service, but those to which we give behavioral support. And as we experience the hardships of a culture in transition from strength to weakness, we are merely reaping the harvest of our choices.

What has redirected us from what could be a pleasant and stable existence to one that produces widespread stress and flirts with the edge of disaster from day to day?

INSTITUTIONAL RECALIBRATION

A country as large and complex as the United States relies upon the development of various institutions to help make sense of reality and maintain a semblance of order and purpose. For many decades, our institutions served us well. They operated in synchronization, helping to keep balance in our society while advancing our common ends.

But during the past half century many of our pivotal institutions have reeled from the effects of dramatic change. Briefly, consider the following.

• The family unit has always been the fundamental building block of American society. But the family has been severely challenged by divorce (the United States has the highest divorce rate in the developed world); cohabitation (resulting in a decline in marriage, a rise in divorce, extramarital sexual episodes, extensive physical abuse, and heightened numbers of births outside of marriage); abortions; increasing numbers of unwed mothers; and challenges to the very definition of family and marriage brought about by the demands of the homosexual population and the involvement of activist judges.

• The Christian church has been a cornerstone of American society. But research shows that churches have very limited impact on people’s lives these days.2 The loss of influence can be attributed to the confluence of many factors. These include the erosion of public confidence due to moral crises (e.g., sex scandals among Catholic priests, financial failings among TV preachers); the paucity of vision-driven leadership; growing doubts about the veracity and reliability of the Bible; a nearly universal reliance upon vacuous indicators of ministry impact (i.e., attendance, fundraising, breadth of programs, number of employees, size of buildings and facilities); ministry methods and models that hinder effective learning and interpersonal connections; innocuous and irregular calls to action; and counterproductive competition among churches as well as parachurch ministries. Fewer and fewer Americans think of themselves as members of a churchbased faith community, as followers of a specific deity or faith, or as fully committed to being models of the faith they embrace.

• Public schools have transitioned from training children to possess good character and strong academic skills to producing young people who score well on standardized achievement tests and thereby satisfy government funding criteria. In the process, we have been exposed to values-free education, values-clarification training, and other educational approaches that promote a group of divergent worldviews as if they all possessed equal merit. In the meantime, our students have lost out on learning how to communicate effectively, and they consistently trail students from other countries in academic fundamentals such as reading, writing, mathematics, and science.

• Government agencies have facilitated the acceleration of cultural dissonance. An example is the values-neutral admittance of millions of immigrants. Historically, immigration has been one of the greatest reflections of the openness of America to embrace and work alongside people who share the fundamental ideals of our democracy and are eager to assimilate into the dominant American culture. Over the past quarter century, however, a larger share of the immigrants seeking to make the United States their homeland has come ashore with a different agenda: living a more comfortable and secure life without having to surrender their native culture (e.g., language, values, beliefs, customs, relationships, or behaviors). Rather than adopting the fundamentals that made America strong as part of their assimilation and naturalization process, growing numbers of them expect America to accept their desire to retain that which they personally feel most comfortable with, even though it is at odds with the mainstream experience that produced the nation to which they were attracted.3

Our institutions have been further challenged by other cultural realities. For instance, digital technology—computers, mobile phones, the Internet, digital cameras, video recorders, and the like—has created an opinionated population that has become more narrow-minded and isolated even in the midst of an avalanche of information and relational connections.4 That same technology has fostered an unprecedented degree of global awareness and interactivity within generations, while at the same time birthing new forms of discrimination and marginalization.

Even the nation’s economic transformation, moving from a world-class manufacturing nation to a country that consumes imported products and demands personal services, has altered our self-perceptions, national agenda, and global role.

ENTER THE NEW VALUES

The weakening of our institutions has freed the public to seize upon a revised assortment of values. An examination of the entire cluster gives a pretty sobering perspective on the new American mentality. As you will quickly realize, most of the elements in the emerging values set lead to the new focal point for America: self.

Consider the values transitions described below, along with the shifts in behavior that accompany the newly embraced perspectives, and ask yourself if any of them ring true.

From voluntary accountability to belligerent autonomy

Freedom traditionally implied that we were responsible to those whom we placed in authority—although we still had abundant opportunities to express our views and concerns, and to replace those whose leadership failed to live up to our expectations. In recent years, however, our perspectives on authority and accountability have changed to the point where many of us consider ourselves to be free agents, responsible only to ourselves. We resent others—individuals, family, public officials, organizations, society—who place restrictions and limitations upon us, no matter how reasonable or necessary they may be. When people agree to be held accountable these days, such interaction is not so much about being held to predetermined standards as it is about providing explanations and justifications for the behavior in question, in order to produce absolution. Anyone who gets in the way of our autonomy runs the risk of being called out for such audacity and being cited for offenses such as censorship, fundamentalism, prudishness, narrow-mindedness, or intolerance.

From responsibilities to rights

From the earliest days of the republic, our nation’s leaders accepted the notion that the freedom we fought for in the establishment of the nation could only be maintained if people were willing to accept the responsibilities and duties required to extend such freedom. Consequently, for many decades Americans have carried out the obligations of good citizens: obeying the law, supporting social institutions and leaders, mutually sacrificing, committing to the common good, exercising personal virtue and morality, and the like. To advance freedom, the health of the society must supersede the desires of the individual. But things have changed dramatically. People’s concern these days is ensuring

that they receive the benefits of the rights they perceive to be theirs. Standing in the way of such rights brings on threats of legal action; a lawsuit is now the default response to conditions that limit one’s experiences. Ensuring the exercise of personal rights is the primary concern; exercising and protecting community rights are of secondary consideration.

From respect and dignity to incivility and arrogance

Historically, we have maintained that every person is worthy of respect and dignity. In contrast, increasing numbers of Americans these days are more likely to treat people with suspicion, indifference,

or impatience. Americans have long had an international reputation for rudeness, but our levels of impolite behavior have escalated substantially in recent years. Beyond discourtesy, we have become a society that is frequently and quickly critical of others. Rather than searching for the goodness in people, we are quick to point out their flaws and weaknesses. We have little patience with those who fail to live up to our expectations, and we have no hesitation in expressing our disapproval, regardless of the circumstances.

From discernment to tolerance

One of the most undesirable labels in our society is that of being judgmental. To avoid that critique, we have moved to the opposite extreme, allowing people to do whatever they please, as long as their choices do not put us directly in harm’s way. In essence, we have abandoned discernment in favor of a self-protective permissiveness.

This practice, of course, pushes us to the brink of anarchy, made all the more possible by our adoption of belligerent autonomy.

From pride in production to the joy of consumption

For decades, American citizens derived great satisfaction from the fruit of their labors and extolled the virtues of productivity. However, the source of pride now is in what we own or lease—the material goods that define our station in life and reflect our capacity to consume. In the past, a job was something that allowed us to add value to society and to participate in the work of a unified team. Now, growing numbers of people perceive their job to be a necessary evil, little more than a means to the end of acquiring the tangible items that may bring pleasure or prestige. As a result, the quality of our work efforts is seen as being less important than the rewards generated by those efforts. The hallowed concept of excellence has been left in the dust in our haste to embrace “adequacy” as the new standard for performance.

From contribution and sacrifice to comfort and fulfillment

Most Americans now perceive the ultimate purpose of life to be enjoying a comfortable lifestyle while possessing a positive self image and a sense of fulfillment. The nature of one’s contribution to society—i.e., what we do to advance the good of society—is thought of as a bonus, if any such contribution is made at all.

People rarely consider it necessary—or even the mark of a good citizen—to sacrifice personal benefits or resources for the good of their community or nation, whether that is practiced through political involvement, environmentalism, financial responsibility, child-rearing practices, or other means. Unless such practices produce personal comfort and fulfillment, they are considered strictly optional behavior.

From trust to skepticism

Knowing that truth is not always considered a virtue and that truth is now widely assumed to be whatever the speaker defines it to be—regardless of the facts—Americans are more cautious and caustic these days. What used to be called healthy skepticism has now blossomed into full-blown doubt. Incapable of placing complete confidence in what we are told, we are reticent to trust others. Their motives (selfish) and words (misleading) must now be run through a filter that prevents us from taking

things at face value, resulting in constant tension about who and what to believe. Rather than giving someone the benefit of the doubt, the default position is to reserve our right to remain skeptical. That same degree of mistrust has even diminished our willingness to believe religious teachings, whether from “reliable sources” such as the Bible or from other authorities.

From intellect and character to fame and image

Who were the heroes in years past? Often they were people whose intellect and commitment to improving the human condition produced value for our society: scientists, engineers, theorists,

doctors, professors, and the like. Those people introduced lifechanging innovations and solutions to our culture. They were joined in the winner’s circle by parents, who were celebrated for their commitment to raising moral children and honorable citizens whose firm foundations of goodness would ensure the

strength of the nation for years to come. Today these heroes have been unceremoniously replaced by a revolving door of simpleminded celebrities whose partying exploits, marital failures, materialistic excesses, relational squabbles, and fashion faux pas capture the attention of the tabloids and paparazzi.

We have traded substance for superficiality, intelligence for style, and hard work for merely showing up at hip locations. Celebrities hire image consultants to ensure that the appeal of their public personae extends their fifteen minutes of fame. They influence the gullible public to pursue unreasonable body shapes

and expensive clothing, use incorrect or inappropriate language, and embrace dubious ideas about life. In the process, edginess, extravagance, and national recognition have trumped the values of character and intelligence.

From moral absolutes to moral relativism

Apparently, when Jesus Christ told people to “let your ‘ Yes’ be ‘ Yes,’ and your ‘ No,’ ‘No,’ ”5 that was not what He really meant—at least, according to contemporary Americans. During the past quarter century there has been a massive shift away from the acceptance of moral absolutes (i.e., things are right or wrong, regardless of the situation) to acceptance of moral relativism (i.e., there are no absolute moral standards, so everything depends on what we each decide is right or wrong based on our own personal convictions and current situations). This has affected judicial decisions, government policies, business strategies, personal relationships, financial dealings—in short, everything imaginable. There are fewer and fewer situations in which conventional morality prevails. Life is now more anxiety ridden

because there is no predictability or consistency regarding right and wrong.

Remember, we act out what we believe. Values form the core of our actionable perspectives. The evolution of American society is thus a reflection of this morphing of our values, changing everything about what we believe to be acceptable, valuable, desirable, and even holy.

THE NEW GOALS

This movement in our thinking and behavior has even affected our aspirations. As we dream of the future we will pursue, we’ve adopted a new set of life goals.

As recently as the 1970s, Americans were dedicated to becoming good citizens; raising children with proper character and morals; knowing and living according to accepted moral truths; experiencing and appreciating beauty in art and nature; living with integrity; supporting family members in all dimensions of life; and performing all tasks and responsibilities with excellence. The notion of living the good life centered on fitting into one’s world as a productive, reliable member of a caring society.6

If that profile seems anachronistic to you, it’s because our notion of the good life received a serious makeover. The dominant goals of Americans these days are achieving a comfortable lifestyle; having as many exciting or unique experiences as possible; feeling good about oneself; having ample options from which to choose in all dimensions of life; being able to participate in everything that is personally meaningful or appealing; developing and maintaining a positive public image; and avoiding

pain or sacrifice.

You don’t need an advanced degree to notice that the focus of our goals has taken a 180-degree turn. We are less interested in the good of society than in the promotion and protection of self. We are not as committed to making a societal contribution as we are to ensuring personal comfort and satisfaction. We would like to do well at our assigned or necessary tasks, but we are more committed to having great experiences and adventures than to fulfilling our responsibilities with certifiable excellence.

If you doubt the reality of this shift, talk to anyone who has owned a business for the past thirty years about the change in the dedication and quality standards of the workforce. Or you could speak to veteran teachers about the motivations of students. Try questioning marriage counselors about the nature of the conversations they have with adults whose marriages are on the rocks. Professionals whose work gives them insight into the nature of our culture will confirm the data that describe the reshaping of the mind and heart of America.

Another vantage point regarding who we have become—and are still becoming—is offered by people outside of the American experience. Sometimes we are too close to a situation to see it clearly; more objective perceptions are best provided by observers who are more physically removed from the situation. That’s exactly what is provided by global surveys of attitudes. Several recent international research projects provided an outsider’s view of American society. While the views of such people include various biases and assumptions—e.g., predispositions about Americans, our government, and our cultural preferences, all filtered through the survey respondent’s own predispositions and preferences—the perceived decline in America’s character comes through loud and clear. Europeans, South Americans, Asians, and Africans generally see us as insensitive, materialistic, self-absorbed, and superficially religious.7

THE WORLDVIEW REVOLUTION

Certainly, we have changed in meaningful ways. But no cultural transformation happens in a vacuum, and it is implausible that a national redefinition of this magnitude could have happened without some foundations being monumentally altered. In this case, the floodgates of our cultural transformation were pried open by our willingness to entertain—and eventually to adopt—alternative worldviews.

A worldview is simply the mental and emotional filter that each person embraces and uses to make sense of and respond to the world. Everyone has a worldview. Few have thought much about it

or where it comes from, and even fewer can articulate the contents of their own worldview. But every person’s life is a result of his or her worldview. And every nation’s character is a product of the cumulative worldviews possessed and incarnated by its people.

In the 1950s and earlier, the dominant worldview in the United States might be characterized as Judeo-Christian. Most of the moral standards of the nation were based on Judeo-Christian principles

regarding matters such as purpose, fairness, justice, value, goodness, beauty, relationships, family, generosity, evil, authority, compassion, and faith. While our nation has always had a multitude of faith groups and life philosophies resident within its shores, the past forty years in particular have seen the influx and acceptance of a variety of worldviews that are at odds with the historical foundations on which the country was built.

Because our worldviews direct our words and actions, this national transformation of our worldviews has changed life as we know it. Or, more correctly, knew it.

With the social upheaval that was ushered in during the sixties, everything was up for grabs—including the national sense of morality, spirituality, values, traditions, and lifestyle habits. To this day we are still experimenting and tinkering with our worldview: it remains a work in progress. But enough change has occurred that we can now see—and every day we encounter—the implications of this seismic shift in how we experience, interpret, and react to our world.

The bottom line is simply this: the substitution of alternative worldviews for the traditional Judeo-Christian version is responsible for America incrementally destroying itself. Gone are the

days in which consensus was respected or personal views were maintained within the context of a different dominant worldview. Increasingly, we demand that the world embrace the worldview we possess or we respond in hostile ways: public criticism, nasty blogs and text messages, lawsuits, angry letters to public officials or professional associations, confrontational letters to the editor, damage to property, or other means of retaliation.

The element that facilitated a stable, consensual worldview in the past was the consistency of the religious beliefs of Americans. For more than two centuries, Americans generally held to some form of a Judeo-Christian perspective. Those who did not share such a perspective understood that while they could hold their divergent worldviews, theirs would remain a respected minority view. There was a recognized cultural accommodation in which the majority and minority allowed each other their space and respective social and political standing.

But even though four out of five Americans still consider themselves to be Christians, the prevailing accommodation has been scrapped as the proponents of each alternative worldview have battled for supremacy. Our long-held worldview moorings have been assaulted and have lost ground to alternative perspectives. The problem is not that a general lack of faith or absence of personal theology has undermined the Judeo-Christian worldview.

The underlying issue is that those who normally would have defended and advanced the predominant worldview have succumbed to the lure of alternative perspectives that promise greater freedom and fewer restrictions.

This nation’s spiritual beliefs are constantly evolving and morphing. At this moment in time, the fundamental beliefs on which the nation was founded are no longer the central tenets on which our country operates.8 As we will see in subsequent chapters, basic ideals about God have been radically challenged, to the point where people no longer know what to believe and are warned not to speak in public about “Him/Her/Them/It.” The idea of something being sacred—whether it be in reference to books (e.g., the Bible, Koran, Book of Mormon), beings (e.g., Jesus, Buddha), or places (e.g., Jerusalem, Mecca)—has been reduced from the extraordinary to the ordinary. The importance of following through on spiritual commitments, whether to God or to one’s faith community, typically takes a backseat to other, more pressing commitments.

THE FAITH MIX: SEVEN TRIBES

To get a good understanding of the existing and evolving worldview mosaic, we must take a serious look at the dominant spiritual groups in America. I will refer to these as our faith tribes, based on the fact that the religious history of most Americans—Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even Mormons—describes the various segments of each faith as tribes. A tribe, after all, is a group of people who are united by common beliefs, customs, and traditions; who follow a common leader; and who consider themselves to be a community based on these shared realities.

Religious beliefs and convictions provide the central spectrum of ideas from which our worldview is developed. Getting inside the mind and heart of the major faith tribes will provide the necessary insight into how our existing worldviews came about, why we cling to them, and where they are headed.

Based on extensive segmentation analysis of the spiritual beliefs and practices of more than thirty thousand U.S. adults whom The Barna Group interviewed, we concluded that the United States is home to more than two hundred different religious faiths and denominations but is dominated by seven faith tribes. Naturally, each tribe has distinct segments within it that deviate from the dominant ways of thinking and acting, but these tribes, by and large, are cohesive masses. They range in size from several million to tens of millions of people.

A large majority of Americans are Casual Christians. These are people who profess to be Christian but are notably lax in their beliefs and practices. Casuals represent two-thirds of all American adults. There are variations within this sizable spiritual class, but overall the segment is surprisingly consistent in numerous dimensions of spirituality and in their attitudes and lifestyle choices.

Their counterpart are the Captive Christians—those whose consistently biblical beliefs and Christlike behavior validate their commitment to being followers of Christ. Captives constitute one-sixth of the adult population. They are characterized by a deeper, more intentional devotion to the principles and practices they embrace from the Bible. They are the segment within Christianity that is most likely to be caricatured by the media and by politicians, two groups that greatly misunderstand the motivations and objectives of Captives.

The rest of the nation is divided into five other faith tribes. Jewish people make up roughly 2 percent of the adult public. The percentage of Mormons is slightly smaller than that, though its adherents are strikingly unified in their ideology and practice. Pantheists—a combination of adherents to Eastern religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, etc.), along with those who have adopted the American hybrid we think of as New Age beliefs—are also slightly less than 2 percent of the public. Muslims, while growing in number, make up considerably less than one percent of the American population, but they represent a significant, if controversial, point of view on the faith spectrum. That leaves the largest of the non-Christian tribes: the Skeptics. These folks, nearly 11 percent strong, are atheists or agnostics. They are, in essence, religiously irreligious.

We will explore each of these tribes in relation to key dimensions—demographics, religious beliefs and behaviors, self-image, attitudes and perceptions, lifestyle routines, morals, family realities, and political perspectives and patterns. These insights will enable us to delve into the various worldviews that Americans possess and then discuss how we can restore health to our republic. The required solutions are not political or economic. We need spiritual wisdom backed by a mutual commitment to live up to the chief aims of our respective faith perspectives.

BEYOND THE BEHEMOTH

You may be wondering what there is to talk about if one tribe alone—the Casual Christians—represents two out of every three Americans. By dwarfing all other tribes, isn’t a book about the effect of faith in America really just a book about the Casuals?

Yes and no.

By sheer weight of numbers, the Casuals define the status quo. This group is, in a very real sense, the eight-hundred-pound gorilla that establishes the standards of the moral and spiritual life of the United States. In every respect, until something happens to intentionally alter matters, theirs is the default condition for the country.

To use a more familiar analogy, the Casuals are akin to the place of the Caucasian population in the United States. Each currently represents two-thirds of the population. Both groups are so numerous and familiar to everyone that they largely go unnoticed, but their significance is felt every moment of every day, whether we are conscious of it or not.

But in keeping with this analogy, recognize that they also represent a moving target for the smaller segments whose demographics, dreams, and desires are different from those of the behemoth. African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and other ethnic and racial populations may be

dwarfed by the Caucasian constituency, but they are never rendered irrelevant or powerless simply by being outnumbered. They simply have to try harder to get recognition, power, and favor in a country where they are minorities. And as our history shows, that is difficult but doable.

Is it truly possible for tribes that represent as little as one half of one percent of this massive country (i.e., Muslims) to overcome the standing of the group that encompasses 66 percent of the public? Absolutely! There are four significant reasons why small tribes have the potential to do so.

First, in a true democracy, everyone has a say. Sometimes even the tiniest voice speaks truths that others resonate with. With the prolific access to vehicles of communication in this country, and given the energetic defense of the freedom to express one’s views, every tribe has the opportunity to make its case.

Second, influence is often magnified through dynamic partnerships in which multiple minor players coordinate their efforts to exert impact that transcends their numbers. The mosaic of our population is increasingly characterized by connections across lines—racial, political, economic, religious, and geographic. It is common these days to see coalitions of groups that have never before worked together to break through preexisting barriers to jointly pursue outcomes that are important to all of them.

Third, one of the most powerful ways of influencing today’s population is through modeling. People learn by example. Habits and predispositions are challenged by example. Trends are ignited by a relative handful of people who do something that grabs attention and generates interest.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, never underestimate the power of passion. Groups pursuing outcomes that they are willing to fight for with every resource they can muster often generate

results far beyond the expectations of those who observe their battle with indifference or amusement.

For example, if it were up to the white majority during the middle of the last century, the African American community would still be living in segregated neighborhoods and dealing with a network of isolated social institutions, working for substandard pay in untenable conditions. During the civil rights movement of the sixties and seventies, the African American population was a mere one out of every ten Americans. In terms of raw numbers, they had little hope of changing the mores of this nation.

But because the United States is a democracy whose Constitution promises all people specific rights that give them a place at the table and the right to pursue their dreams, African Americans had a chance to change the larger social context. Through the strategic deployment of various legal means—such as peaceful demonstrations, political lobbying, media influence, boycotts, and prayer—they were able to make their case to the public and to work through the political system. They created viable partnerships with a broad coalition of external groups—churches, other minority populations, various political groups, and associations—to advance their cause. And they were able to defeat overwhelming odds, and endure great injustices en route, to gain ground. African Americans stood firmly behind their

leaders and refused to back down, even when it meant physical pain or other personal hardships. Their unflagging passion, directed by brilliant leaders and channeled through the sacrificial participation of a relative handful of African American people, enabled them to rewrite the well-established norms of a

global superpower.

A current example of how a minuscule group can have a big voice in a cacophonous society is the experience of the gay community. Although gay people are no more than 3 percent to 5 per cent of the adult population, the nation is in tumult over their demands for marriage rights and other changes in policies that affect their lives. Taking a page from the playbook of the civil rights movement, the gay population has used the freedoms and rights provided by the Constitution to its advantage, enabling its members to get the public’s attention and persuade an increasingly sympathetic society to see things their way. Tens of millions of Americans who will never engage in or even consider embracing homosexual behaviors are nevertheless leaning toward or fully supportive of an array of new laws and policies that will satisfy the desires of the gay movement.

Sometimes the giant is vulnerable to the midget. The giant takes such great comfort in its size that it ignores or dismisses things that will eventually return to haunt it. And sometimes the same magnitude that has given the giant reason for comfort becomes the very attribute that disables the behemoth from responding in a timely, strategic, or otherwise effective manner.

THE ABSENCE OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

An inescapable fact of our society is that the vast majority of Americans are connected to Christianity to some degree. And yet, as further testimony to the fact that size is not everything, one of the disturbing conditions in present-day America is that no tribe—not even the Casual or Captive Christians—is allowed to freely pursue its faith without undue interference.

Like all faith tribes, Christian-based tribes must satisfy certain cultural requirements in order to live in a Christlike manner, which is their core spiritual mandate. Among those are to consistently worship their God, to obey His commands as outlined in the Bible, to serve God and people in meaningful ways, and to generously give and receive love. The nation’s democracy was supposed to provide such opportunities to the Christians who sacrificed so much to establish the United States. The desire to experience such freedoms was one of the precipitating motivations for establishing independence from British rule.

Some readers will be surprised to hear that the Christian based tribes in the United States do not currently have those freedoms and abilities. Similarly, in a country that is predicated upon delivering specified rights and their attendant freedoms to all of its citizens, other faith tribes suffer the indignity and injustice of being prevented from exercising those rights as their faith would lead them to.

If you doubt this, please read the biology textbooks used in many government-funded (i.e., public) schools, which make no bones about critiquing Christianity, eliminating faith-based views in favor of science-based explanations, or promoting “safe sex” rather than the biblical alternative of sexual abstinence. Consider the implications of laws that diminish the value of human life or redefine the biblical standard of marriage. Take note of government threats to, or restrictions on, families that homeschool their children for moral or religious reasons. Think about the implication of laws requiring Christian ministries to hire employees who reject their beliefs or who practice lifestyles that visibly and unapologetically conflict with the moral convictions of the ministry. Talk to Christian graduate students around the nation and discover how many of them jeopardize their advanced degrees or scholarly careers if they admit to believing in creationism. How many high school graduation speeches were altered this year by laws preventing students from incorporating their religious beliefs into their remarks? In certain states, Bibles are not allowed in the public school classroom.

These are but a handful of the incendiary examples of how the religious freedoms of just one of the tribes are trampled in the alleged interest of freedom. How we handle these issues has consistently divided the tribes within our country.

NOT SEEKING A THEOCRACY

Please do not miss where I’m headed with this argument. America was not meant to be a theocracy—that is, ruled by a given religious tribe. The dominant spiritual classes in our society should neither possess nor expect to have the final say on all legal and moral matters. In fact, our research consistently shows that Christians in America appreciate their neighbors who belong to other faith tribes; they simply do not want their own ability to serve their God limited by the discomfort or desires of those other tribes any more than the minority tribes want their freedoms to be limited or negated by the larger tribal groups.

In an odd way we have reached a stalemate. Significantly, our research indicates that the United States is presently a nation in which

• none of our faith tribes feel they are able to freely practice their faith without breaking laws or upsetting members of other tribes;

• each tribe feels that the other tribes do not understand what their faith is about and that they cannot get other tribes to give them a fair hearing;

• the freedoms of tribes to practice their faith and hold their particular beliefs are being eliminated by whichever tribe outmaneuvers the others within the political and legal arenas;

• tribal leadership has become more about political prowess exercised in the public domain than about the provision of spiritual and moral guidance within the confines of the tribe;

• people’s inability to experience the religious freedom guaranteed under the Constitution is causing them to feel as if the nation is losing its heart and soul, and along with that, its greatness.

The problem facing America is not the presence of divergent faith tribes. For many years, the United States has had a diverse spiritual palette—and has been one of the most revered and successful

nations on earth because of it. The experience of other nations further confirms that being home to multiple faith tribes is not necessarily an issue. In fact, one could make a compelling argument that it is healthy to have a variety of faith perspectives resident in the same marketplace of ideas and lifestyles.

Faith tribes need not be adversarial; religious conflict is not so much an inevitable product of the differing principles of each tribe as it is a reflection of other values and factors driving the mother culture.

As we witness the deterioration of America, we have to ask the tough questions regarding why a once proud, stable, mighty country is now succumbing to shrill internecine battles over matters that could be creatively and amicably resolved. Based on an extensive examination of data and other cultural information, I’d like to offer a perspective for your consideration.

WORLDVIEWS AND VALUES

Everyone has some type of religious faith. That faith shapes our worldviews. Those worldviews dictate the values we embrace. These values influence the choices we make and the lives we lead.

The United States is a land in which there are competing worldviews and values, which produce diverse lifestyles and expectations. The breadth of worldviews and values that reside within the nation are partly responsible for the variety that has enabled the country to continue to play a major role on the world stage.

But that variety can sometimes create a gulf between what makes for a strong and cohesive nation and one that is satisfied simply to feel good in the moment. America is faced with this dilemma today: should we demonstrate restraint and invest in cross-tribal relationships in order to remain a strong and vibrant nation over the long run, or should we give in to our desire to take the road that demands less now but will likely lead to our demise in the future?

Human history shows that sometimes we forget that what is possible and what is fruitful are two different things. America appears to be at a juncture in history where we have to clarify the shared values that are advantageous and the divergent viewpoints that could ultimately harm the nation.

A WORD ABOUT THE RESEARCH

This book addresses what some of my friends have characterized as a “big idea.” I want you to know that it is not simply a thought that has germinated in my mind for a while before I decided to commit

it to paper. The concepts presented in these pages were borne from more than one million dollars’ worth of research.

For the past quarter century, I have been studying the role of faith in American society. From the nationwide surveys investigating people’s faith that my company regularly conducts with representative samples of one thousand or more adults, I have developed an extensive sense of what makes Americans tick. Each of our surveys includes a standard battery of theolographic questions—inquiries regarding what they believe, how they practice their faith, the role of faith, how it becomes integrated into their daily experience, and so forth.

For this book, I combined the results from a number of surveys, using the common theolographic questions as the foundation through which to filter a very wide range of attitudes, behaviors, values, and perceptions expressed in the various surveys. In total, I had the opportunity to slice and dice the population in relation to more than 500 different measurement criteria (576 distinct variables, to be exact). Using various statistical techniques, I found that Americans’ faith can be categorized into a series of segments, which we will refer to as the seven tribes. And it is on the basis

of the information related to each tribe that I will be describing what is happening in our society today. Please note that this is not a book of personal opinions but a compilation of thousands of opinions culled from the people being profiled. I realize that not every member of any tribe thinks or behaves in exactly the same way. However, by providing an overview of each faith group, I believe we can come to a better understanding of what unites us. (For more information about the procedures used, read appendix 4, which describes our research methodology.)

ROAD MAP

Having made the argument that America is on a crash course for self-destruction, we can either sit back and watch, complicit in the collapse, or we can strategically attempt to revitalize the nation. Toward the latter course of action, let’s take a strategic journey into the following areas.

Stage one

Identify and study the faith tribes: who they are, what they believe, how they live, and what they are passionate about. From this exploration we will be able to better identify and understand the core values that drive the nation—and may serve as the route to a better future.

Stage two

Identify and examine the prevalent worldviews that America’s faith tribes embrace and determine what each body of beliefs and convictions adds to the American condition. Given our philosophical

leanings, we can then identify common values and principles that satisfy the views of the seven tribes. Acknowledging and pursuing those shared values can facilitate the healing and restoration of our nation. The necessary dialogue that must occur could revolve around our shared commitment to these ideals.

Stage three

Explore the reasons behind the failure of American leaders and institutions—political, religious, and family—to unite the nation around a set of shared values and goals. Consider why they’ve been unable to maintain a healthy and robust dialogue around the critical dimensions of modern life. Beyond such analysis, though, we will consider action steps that each of those critical entities could take to move America toward restoration.

Stage four

Americans are fighting wars on many fronts: financial, moral, religious, educational, military, familial, and so forth. We will end this journey with a challenge to adopt a common view of where we, as a nation, can go in unison. Accepting and mastering the challenge will then allow us to become better world citizens. The United States will face continued crises and challenges, but if the people of this republic can learn to share a set of values and goals that resonate with our most deeply held convictions, we will be better equipped to handle the trials and exploit the opportunities that arise.

THERE IS NO TIME TO LOSE

Hundreds of once-great societies have risen and collapsed in the face of similar challenges. From history, we can learn how to sidestep the tribulations that led to their demise. It is a multifaceted challenge that requires everyone, not just our best and our brightest, to participate in the solution. Greatness never comes by the government or charismatic leaders coercing the people to get in line. Cultural endurance is not the result of endless experimentation and self-indulgence. A satisfied citizenry does not emerge from being pampered and spared the hard work of investing in and sustaining democratic principles and practices.

If the United States is to enter its fourth century as a strong and enduring nation, it must embrace and embody the selfless values that carried the country through its first two-plus centuries of freedom and fulfillment. We are indeed a resilient nation, but if we insist on shedding communal sensibilities in favor of personal liberty and self-satisfaction, we will experience an agonizing demise. If, however, we remember that there is a greater good, indeed a higher calling, that we can collectively achieve, we can effectively contribute to making our nation and the entire world a better place.

Faith, shared values, compassionate and empathetic dialogue, visionary leadership, healthy families—these are the components of restoration that must be harnessed for the common good. We have the capacity. Will we use it?

Continue Reading No Comments

FIRST: The Note II: Taking a Chance on Love

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Note II: Taking a Chance on Love

Tyndale House Publishers (April 2, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Christy Award winner Angela Hunt writes books for readers who have learned to expect the unexpected. With over three million copies of her books sold worldwide, she is the best-selling author of The Tale of Three Trees, The Note (which became a Hallmark holiday film), and more than 100 other titles. Angela has won gold and silver medals from ForeWord magazine’s Book of the Year Award and has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from a major readers’ magazine.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 228 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (April 2, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414332955
ISBN-13: 978-1414332956

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

With one elbow propped on her desk, Peyton MacGruder chewed on the edge of a fingernail and glared at the clock on the wall. On days like this, when she was twenty minutes away from her deadline and far from finished with her column, she could swear that the minute hand swept over the clock face at double speed.

She transferred her gaze to the computer monitor and fluttered her fingers over the keyboard. Some days the magic worked and the words flowed. Other days she might as well be typing gibberish.

She skimmed the half-completed column on her screen and tried to focus her thoughts. Last week a reader had written that she was afraid to trust a brother-in-law who had stolen from her in the past. Peyton had answered that forgiveness was important, but experience could not be ignored. And when it came to matters of the heart, caution should always trump passion. Dozens of readers had e-mailed, filling her in-box with responses, most of them supportive.

Now she was working on a recap that included reader comments, but everything she’d written so far looked like extended self-congratulation. She needed a corroborating opinion . . . and any column could be improved with an appropriate quote, couldn’t it? She reached for her dictionary of popular quotations, scanned the index, and jabbed her finger at an appropriate entry. Smiling with satisfaction, she propped her reading glasses on the end of her nose and worked the quote into her piece:

And so, dear readers, when it comes to dealing with relationships, perhaps we should keep the words of Eumenides in mind. That venerable sage once wrote, “There are times when fear is good. It must keep its watchful place at the heart’s controls. There is advantage in the wisdom won from pain.”

Perhaps a happy heart is, at its core, a cautious heart.

There. She leaned back and clicked the word count tool. Seven hundred words—not bad. The dragon lady shouldn’t have to cut any of this column.

After a quick proofread, Peyton clicked Send and addressed the file to Nora Chilton, senior features editor. Another click and away it went.

She turned as something slapped the surface of her desk. Mandi Hillridge, an overenthusiastic intern from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, stood in the aisle, her arms filled with folders. Peyton picked up the envelope Mandi had tossed her way and studied the return address. “Am I supposed to know this Eve Miller?”

Mandi shifted her burden from one arm to the other. “I doubt it. I think she’s a reader.”

Peyton ran her fingertip across the ragged edge. “Why has this letter been opened?”

“Because Phil Brinker didn’t check the address before he tore into it. Our stellar mailroom staff mistakenly delivered it to him while he was in New York working on that story about the media covering the media. He just got back and told me to bring it to you.” Mandi stepped closer, her eyes gleaming. “You want me to go fuss at the guys in the mailroom? One of them’s kinda cute.”

Peyton glanced over the short walls of the reporters’ cubicles and saw Nora stepping out of the elevator. “No.” She propped both elbows up on her desk. “I want you to get me two Tylenol. Extra strength.”

“You have a headache?”

“Not yet.”

Mandi turned in time to see Nora approaching, a folded newspaper in hand. Even from her desk Peyton recognized the distinctive banner that contained her byline and staff photo. Had Nora come down to complain about a column that had already run? She wouldn’t, unless one of the higher-ups sent her to confront Peyton about some obscure point.

“About that headache—” Mandi lowered her voice—“I’ll bring the bottle.”

The young woman hurried away as Nora approached Peyton’s desk. The editor waved the paper before Peyton’s anxious gaze and nodded. “By the way, about this column last week? You were absolutely right.”

“That’s a nice change.” Peyton managed a smile. “About what?”

“Passion. It should always be tempered with caution. Especially when it comes to affairs of the heart.”

Peyton straightened in her chair, not certain why the editor had felt compelled to personally deliver this bit of elaboration. “You speaking from conviction or firsthand experience?”

Nora managed a coy smile. “None of your business. Anyway, you’ve been doing really good work lately. I had my doubts at first, but you’ve grown into the job.”

“You came all the way down here to pat me on the back?”

“Actually, I came down here to tell you that in addition to writing the Heart Healer, I’m going to need you to handle a feature or two for the Lifestyles section. We got the call last night; Marlo Evans had a baby boy, so she’ll be out on maternity leave for the next several weeks.”

Peyton dropped her head to her hand and groaned. “Why not use freelancers?”

“Because I don’t have the patience or the finances to deal with neophytes. The budget cuts have made it necessary for all of us to pick up the slack now and then. Besides—” her mouth curved in a wry smile—“you’re fast and you’re good at researching. A feature or two shouldn’t be a problem for you.”

“But I’m swamped with—” Peyton swallowed the rest of her complaint as sports editor King Danville moved into her line of vision. A warm feeling settled in the pit of her stomach and brought a smile to her lips. Would she ever stop feeling all gushy and girly whenever King approached her desk?

King glanced at the features editor before returning Peyton’s smile. “Hello, Nora.”

Nora’s chin dipped in a stiff nod. “Kingston.”

Like a flower seeking the sun, Peyton shifted to face the man who had recently brought new joy to her life. “I was just telling Nora that these days I don’t have time to keep up with my column and write a weekly feature, no matter how occasional it is.”

Nora glanced from Peyton to King and then arched a brow. “Perhaps if you temper your newfound passion, you’ll find the time.”

King grinned as the editor smiled and moved toward the elevator; then he pulled a white bottle from his jacket pocket and shook it. Peyton placed the familiar rattle within seconds: Extra Strength Tylenol, as requested.

“Ran into Mandi in the coffee room,” King explained. “She said you were going to need these.”

“She was right.” Peyton sighed. “Nora seems to think I can sit down and whip up a decent feature while I’m outlining my next column. I don’t know where she got the idea that I’m some kind of writing machine.”

“Maybe from the fact that you write so fast you make the rest of us look like we’re moving backward.”

Peyton shook her head, unwilling to accept praise she didn’t deserve. She knew the truth—she could turn an assignment around quickly because outside the newspaper office she had no life. While other writers struggled to work amid the pressures of family schedules, children’s homework, school events, sporting activities, and the needs of a spouse, Peyton only had to take care of herself and her two cats.

At least that’s the way things were before King and Christine came into her life. The situation was a little different now, and she was feeling the pressure.

“I’m not that fast,” she insisted. “And I’m not that versatile.”

“Then don’t cave so quickly, MacGruder. Just because Nora’s your boss doesn’t mean you have to let her push you around.”

“I was ready to push back until she played the guilt card. When she mentioned the budget cuts, I realized how lucky I am to even be employed. How can I not agree to write whatever she wants?”

“That’s what I like about you—you’re a solid team player.”

“I’m a pushover.”

King smiled and stepped to the side of Peyton’s desk. “In that case, I’d better prescribe two of these—” he held up the bottle of pain relievers—“or one of these.” Before Peyton could point out that they were surrounded by coworkers in cubicles, he bent and pressed a kiss to her lips. She closed her eyes, ready to forget about an audience of staff reporters, clerks, and copy editors, but the kiss didn’t last.

She looked up at him, unsatisfied.

“Do any good?” he asked.

“Not sure. Try again. Maybe increase the dosage.”

He bent, his lips warming hers with more passion this time. When he finally pulled away, Peyton exhaled a long sigh of happiness . . . and the writers around her erupted into applause.

Peyton grinned as her cheeks warmed. “They approve.”

“I don’t give a fig about them. What did you think?”

“Um . . . better.”

“Only better? Well, you know what they say about practice making perfect . . .”

As the other reporters hooted and King leaned in for yet another kiss, Peyton pressed her palm against the center of his chest. “You know, it’s this kind of temptation that led to Marlo Evans’s maternity leave. And in turn, to my impending headache. So maybe we should get back to work.”

With a roguish grin, King straightened and stepped away from her chair. “Yes, ma’am.”

“But after work—” Peyton squinted at him—“would you want to go for a jog with me and Christine? We wanted to run the paths down by the shoreline.”

King shook his head. “Enticing offer, but I’ve got to run out to the university after I finish up today. David needs to talk to me about something. He says it’s important.”

Peyton nodded, once again reminded that their relationship was not as simple as it would have been if they’d met in their twenties. She had Christine to consider, and King had David. Both children, hers and his, were nearly grown, and both had been forced to deal with the aftermath of their parents’ unwise decisions.

“MacGruder.” King’s voice, warm and insistent, drew her from her thoughts. “Maybe I’ll stop by your place later.”

“I’d like that.” Peyton offered him a forgiving smile. “I’ll be waiting.”

King took two steps toward his office, then halted. “Hey—” he turned, propping his arms on the cubicle wall—“I found an interesting e-mail in my in-box this morning. A friend in New York said my name recently came up in a board meeting at the Times.”

Peyton felt a frigid finger touch the base of her spine. “The New York Times?”

He chuckled. “Hard to imagine, huh? Moving from the Middleborough Times to the Gray Lady?”

“Your name came up in a board meeting? What does that mean, exactly?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know, but I’ll keep you posted.”

As he walked away, exchanging gibes with other writers as he passed their desks, Peyton felt fear blow down the back of her neck. Any other journalist would be salivating at the thought of writing for the Times, but King never seemed to get ahead of himself. Contentment was one of his primary virtues, and Peyton hadn’t realized how much she’d been counting on his ability to remain satisfied with the status quo.

What would she do if she lost him?

The thought struck like a blow to the chest, stealing her breath. Until recently, she had managed to keep herself detached from complicated personal relationships. But then the tragedy of a horrific plane crash taught her about the brevity of life and the importance of connection. Now she was desperate to understand two precious people, but understanding took time, and time was something she no longer possessed in abundance.

She forced herself to take a deep breath and steady her pulse. No one was abandoning her; the world had not shifted on its axis. Her imagination was simply working overtime, a tendency that nearly always resulted in needless worry and borrowed trouble.

With her gift for imagining disaster, maybe she should have been a novelist.

When she swiveled toward her computer, determined to set her fears aside and tackle her e-mail, her gaze fell again on the envelope from Eve Miller. The postmark was five days in the past, so by now the woman’s comments were old news. And in an electronic society, old news was dead news.

Peyton tossed the envelope into a bin filled with unopened letters and turned her attention to her in-box.

***

Peyton slid behind the wheel of her car, tossed her purse into the empty passenger seat, and fumbled with the buckle of her seat belt. When she was certain the car’s computer wouldn’t scold her for forgetting some vital procedure, she turned the ignition switch and waited for the automatic seat to slide forward, tilt, rise, and whatever else it did to adjust to her frame.

King had talked her into buying this vehicle last weekend, insisting that her old car was only a few miles away from imploding. “Ninety-eight thousand miles?” he exclaimed after glimpsing her odometer. “Good grief, MacGruder, are you going for some kind of endurance record?”

She had to admit the new vehicle was nice, but its myriad bells and whistles bewildered her. She hadn’t taken the time to read the manual, and she barely managed to sit through the salesman’s demonstration. “I don’t have time to fuss with fancy gadgets,” she told the desperate young man who had greeted her and King at the auto dealership. “So just point me toward something safe and inexpensive. Something I won’t have to give up chocolate to afford.”

Like a village matchmaker, the salesman grinned and fixed her up with this sleek blue machine, which he kept calling a crossover—a cross between a sedan and an SUV. She had a feeling the vehicle was too big to be economical or politically correct, but since an entire row of similar vehicles waited behind a fence at the dealership, the manager was probably eager to move his inventory. Regardless, the car earned good crash ratings, it used less gasoline than a tank, and it had the one accessory she couldn’t live without: a CD player.

Before putting the car in gear, Peyton punched the button of the stereo system and relaxed when the professional reader’s voice poured through the surround sound speakers. She’d bought this audiobook about mothers and daughters shortly after telling Christine the truth about their relationship—yes, they were reporter and reader, but they were also biological mother and daughter. Eighteen years and difficult circumstances had kept them apart, but a series of newspaper columns had brought them back together.

Now Peyton wanted nothing more than to be the mother she would have been if tragedy hadn’t intervened. A heaven-sent miracle had restored the child she’d been forced to surrender for adoption, and Peyton didn’t want to forfeit this second chance to love. And parent. And occasionally nag.

She and Christine were still in the midst of that awkward getting-to-know-you phase, but Peyton felt they’d made great strides in their relationship. They tried to talk every day, even if only briefly, and though Christine still lived in the house she’d inherited from her adoptive parents, she felt free enough to drop into Peyton’s home unannounced, as any daughter naturally would.

Still, Christine rarely called Peyton “Mom.” When necessary, she called Peyton by name . . . or she didn’t call her anything at all.

“By late adolescence,” a confident voice intoned as Peyton put the car in gear and backed out of the parking space, “most daughters can be placed in one of three categories—distant, dissatisfied, or dependent. Do any of these words remind you of the young woman in your life?”

Peyton shook her head and shifted into drive. The author needed a fourth category for Christine—maybe delightful. They were still in the honeymoon phase, each of them unbearably grateful to have found the other. They might have disagreements later—in fact, they probably would—but for now Peyton was thrilled to be able to know and love the young woman who had never been far from her thoughts and prayers.

“Outstanding mothers devote most of their time to their children, instilling healthy values into daughters who will become outstanding mothers themselves,” the reader continued, “but unsuitable mothers abandon and abuse.”

Peyton winced at the author’s use of the word abandon.

“Bottom line, if you provide your child with what she needs—clothing, shelter, food, affection—you, concerned mother, are off the hook if your daughter makes unwise decisions. After you have taught your child right from wrong, your daughter has the freedom to choose . . . right or wrong. Do not blame yourself if she chooses to learn life’s lessons through negative experiences.”

Peyton frowned as she pulled out of the parking lot and into traffic. Over the years, she’d covered dozens of stories involving teenage delinquents—wayward boys who got mixed up with guns and drugs, runaway girls who ended up on the street or in the hospital because they went looking for love in all the wrong faces. Behind every sad teenager’s story, Peyton found a distraught mother who couldn’t seem to understand how her child ended up in such a deplorable state.

She hated to admit it, but every time she interviewed one of those mothers, she’d walked away feeling resentful and slightly smug, convinced that she would have managed better if only given a chance. But now that she was being given an opportunity to mother a teen, she had no idea what she was supposed to do.

To make matters worse, her time of greatest influence would be limited. After the plane crash in which her father died, Christine had taken time off to grieve, but soon she’d go back to school and get busy with her studies. She’d probably meet a young man on campus and want to settle down. Then she’d center her world on her husband and her children, and she’d expect Peyton to focus on being a doting grandmother, not a mom. So this precious opportunity to parent her daughter would be relatively short-lived.

Peyton pulled up to the red light at an intersection and snapped off the CD player. The bookstores were loaded with books about how to parent newborns, toddlers, middle schoolers, and teens, but no one had much advice for brand-new parents of young adults.

No one even seemed to be able to answer Peyton’s most basic question: at eighteen, which did Christine need most: an authority figure or a friend?

Copyright ©2009 by Angela Hunt. Used with permission from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Continue Reading No Comments

FIRST: A Passion Denied by Julie Lessman

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

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

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

A Passion Denied

Revell (June 1, 2009)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Julie Lessman is a new author who has garnered much writing acclaim, including ten Romance Writers of America awards. She resides in Missouri with her husband and their golden retriever, and has two grown children and a daughter-in-law. She is the author of The Daughters of Boston series, which includes A Passion Most Pure, A Passion Redeemed, and A Passion Denied.

Visit the author’s website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Revell (June 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0800732138
ISBN-13: 978-0800732134

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

“O Lord my God, how great you are!

You are robed with honor and with majesty …

You make the clouds your chariots; you ride upon the wings of the wind.

The winds are your messengers; flames of fire are your servants.”

– Psalm 104:1-4

A PASSION DENIED

Chapter One

Boston, Massachusetts, Spring 1922

Oh, to be a calculating woman! Elizabeth O’Connor sighed. She dodged her way down the bustling sidewalk of Boston’s thriving business district, wishing she were more like her sister, Charity. She chewed on her lip. Regrettably, she wasn’t, a definite character flaw at the moment. And one that would have to change.

She sidestepped a rickety wood wagon heaped high with the Boston Herald, hot off the presses. The freckle-faced boy hauling it muttered an apology before disappearing into a sea of pin-striped suits, short skirts and bobbed hair. On his heels, a young mother ambled along, cooing to a wide-eyed baby in a stroller. The baby’s soft chuckle floated by, and the sound buoyed Elizabeth’s spirits. Spring in the city! Despite the whiff of gasoline and tobacco drifting in the unseasonably warm breeze, she was ready for the promise of love in the air. Her heart fluttered. And maybe, just maybe, a little spring fever would do the trick!

She pressed her nose to the window of McGuire & Brady Printing Company and peered inside. John Morrison Brady was bent over a press, his lean, muscled body poised for battle with a screwdriver in his hand. Her chin hardened, and her smiled faded. That man suffered from a terminal illness that would be the death of their relationship: friendship. Elizabeth straightened her shoulders. And the worst kind of friendship at that—the big-brother kind.

She touched a hand to the wavy shingle haircut her friend Millie had talked her into. “It’s all the rage, Lizzzzzie Lou,” Millie had insisted, the sound of Lizzie’s name buzzing on her tongue like the hum of a busy beehive. A self-proclaimed modern woman, Millie had convinced Elizabeth “Beth” O’Connor to change her name to Lizzie over a year ago—to add excitement to her life, she’d said. And now, in the throes of radical 1920s fashion, Lizzie’s best friend had also convinced her that the chestnut tresses trailing her back simply had to go. The result was a short, fashionable bob, newly shorn just yesterday. Softly waved, it fell to just below her ear, showing off her heart-shaped face and slender neck to good advantage. Or so Millie had said. She squinted at her reflection in the window. She did look older, more sophisticated, she supposed. A smile twitched at the corners of her mouth. And it certainly seemed as if she had turned a few more heads at the bookstore where she worked. She opened the door, spurred on by the tinkling bell overhead, and took a deep breath. Now to turn the right one …

Her brother-in-law, Collin, looked up from his desk where he tallied invoices for printing jobs just completed. A slow grin spread across his handsome face before he let out a low whistle, causing a pleasant wash of heat to seep into her cheeks. “Sweet saints above, Lizzie, is that really you? What are you trying to do? Break a few hearts?”

Her gaze flicked to the back room where Brady lay on a flat wooden dolly beneath their Bullock web-fed press. She studied his long legs sprawled and splattered with ink, then looked back at Collin with a shaky smile. “Nope, only one. But I suspect it’s forged in steel.”

Collin chuckled and glanced over his shoulder, stretching his arms overhead. “Yep, I’d say so, but I admire your tenacity. You might say you’re the little sister he never had. But I suspect that pretty new hairdo and stylish outfit could go a long way in changing his mind.”

She grinned and planted a kiss on his cheek. “Thanks, Collin. One can only hope.” She tugged on her lavender, low-waisted dress, then smoothed out its scalloped layers with sweaty palms. “And pray, I suppose, since it is Brady we’re dealing with here.”

Collin stood and draped an arm around her shoulders. He lowered his voice and gave her a squeeze. “He’ll wake up one of these days, Lizzie. I just hope it’s not too late. You’re too pretty to be waiting around. And he’s a slow one, you know.”

She sighed and leaned against him, staring at Brady with longing in her eyes. “Now there’s a news flash for you.”

Collin laughed and gave her a gentle prod toward the back room. “Show him no mercy, Lizzie.”

She nodded and made her way to the rear of the shop, her pulse tripping faster than the tap-tap-tapping of Brady’s trusty screwdriver. She stopped at the foot of the press and sucked in a deep swallow of air. “I have a notion, John Brady, that whenever you want to get away from the world, you disappear under that silly machine.”

A deep-throated chuckle floated up between the rotors of the press. He rolled out, flat on his back. The smile froze on his face. “Beth? What’d ya do to your hair?”

Heat flooded her cheeks. “I had it bobbed. Do you like it?”

He sat up and rubbed his jaw with the side of his hand, screwdriver angled as if he were playing a violin. “Yeah … it’s pretty, I guess. In a newfangled sort of way.”

She twirled around to give him the full effect, her smile brimming with hope. “Well, I am a modern woman, in case you haven’t noticed.”

He lumbered to his feet. His tall frame unfolded to eliminate everything else in her view. He squinted and scrunched his nose, causing smudges of ink to wrinkle across his tanned cheek. “Mmmm … makes you look old.”

“I am old, Brady, a fact you refuse to acknowledge. Almost eighteen, remember?”

He chuckled. “Seventeen, Beth, and I’ll give you the half.” He turned and ambled to the sink to wash his hands. His husky laugh lingered in the air. She stared at the work shirt spanning his back and barely noticed the ink stains for the broad shoulders and hard muscles cording his arms. He dried his hands on a towel and turned to lean against the counter. The corners of his mouth flickered as if a grin wanted to break free. “You’ll always be a little girl to me, little buddy, especially with those roses in your cheeks and wide eyes. I suspect I’ll feel that way when you’re long gone and married, Beth, with a houseful of little girls all your own. That’s just the way it is with big brothers.”

She notched her powdered chin in the air. “You’re not my brother, John Brady, and no amount of touting will make it so.” She propped hands to her waist and gave him a ruby red pout. “And I’m not a little girl. I’m a woman … with feelings—”

“Beth, we’ve been over this before.” He slacked a hip and ran a calloused hand over his face. His brown eyes softened with compassion. “I see you as my little sister, nothing more. These ‘feelings’ you think you have for me—”

“Know I have for you, Brady! I know it, even if you don’t.” Her chest rose and fell with indignation.

He groaned. “All right, these feelings you know you have for me … I’ve known you since you were thirteen, Elizabeth, and I’ve been a mentor in your faith since fourteen. It’s natural for you to think you have feelings—”

She stomped her foot. “Know, Brady, I know! And if you weren’t so socially inept and totally blind—”

He rose to his full six-foot-three height, making her five-foot-seven seem almost petite. The chiseled line of his jaw hardened with the motion. “Come on, Beth, totally blind?” His gaze flicked into the next room as if he were worried Collin was listening.

Tears threatened and she wanted to bolt, but she fought it off. This was too important. Fueled by frustration long dormant, she slapped her leather clutch onto the table and strode forward. She jabbed a finger into his hard-muscled chest. “Yes, blind, you baboon! And don’t be looking to see what Collin thinks, because he knows it too. Honestly, Brady, as far as the Bible, you’re head and shoulders above anyone I know. But when it comes to seeing what God may have for you right in front of your ink-stained nose, you don’t have a clue.” She dropped a trembling hand to her quivering stomach. Oh, my, where had that come from?

He stood, mouth gaping. A spray of red mottled his neck. “Beth, what’s gotten into you?”

She faltered back, shocked at the thoughts and feelings whirling in her brain. With a rush of adrenalin, she crossed her arms and stared him down, energized by her newfound anger. “You’ve gotten into me, John Brady, and I want to know straight out why you refuse to acknowledge me as a woman? Am I not pretty enough? Smart enough? Mature enough?”

The ruddiness in his neck traveled to his ears. He took a commanding stride toward her and latched a hand on her arm. With a firm grip, he pushed her into a chair at the table and squatted beside her. “Beth, stop this! I’m close to thirty, which is way too old for you. You’re young and beautiful and smart, and more mature than most girls … women … I’ve met. You’re going to make some lucky man a wonderful wife.”

She stared at his handsome face, the contrast of gentle eyes and hard-sculpted features making her heart bleed. Wisps of cinnamon-colored hair curled up at the back of his neck, softening the hard line of his jaw, which was already shadowed by afternoon growth. She swallowed hard, the taste of dread pasty in her throat. “Just not you,” she whispered.

A muscle flinched in his cheek. He smothered her hands between his large, calloused ones. “Beth, I love you, you know that—”

She looked away, unable to bear the empathy in his eyes. “But you’re not attracted to me—”

As soft as a child’s kiss, he lifted her chin with his finger, urging her eyes to his. “Of course I’m attracted to you—your gentle spirit, your thirst for God, your innocence—it draws me to want to protect you and care for you—as a friend and a brother.”

Brother. The sound of that hateful word stiffened her spine. She jerked her hand free and angled her chin. “But not as a woman, is that it, Brady? Someone you can take in your arms and kiss and make love to?”

Blood gorged his cheeks as he stood up. A rare hint of anger sparked in his eyes, and satisfaction flooded her soul. So he wasn’t pure stone. Good! At least she could arouse his temper, if nothing else.

“So help me, Beth, if you spent a fraction of the time reading the Bible as you do those silly romance novels, we wouldn’t be having this problem.”

She jumped up with tears stinging her eyes. “And if you took your nose out of your Bible long enough to see that God has a plan for your life other than smearing yourself with ink, you might see that you are the problem.” With a gasping sob, she snatched her purse from the table and rammed it hard against his chest, pushing him out of the way. She turned toward the door.

He stumbled back, then grabbed her arm. “Beth, wait! We need to pray about this …”

She flung his hand away. Humiliation and anger broiled her cheeks. “No, you pray about it. It seems to be the only thing you know how to do. And while you’re at it, pray that he heals that stupid streak inside of you … and in me, too, for loving you like I do.” She bolted for the door, ignoring Collin’s gaping stare.

“Beth—” Pain echoed in Brady’s voice.

She whirled around, hand fisted on the knob. “And one more prayer, Brady, if you don’t mind. Pray that I hate you, will you? Shouldn’t be too hard, I don’t think. You make it so easy.”

The door slammed closed, rattling the glass.

Brady blinked at Collin. “What just happened?”

Collin let out a low whistle and arched a brow. “Don’t look now, ol’buddy, but I think you’re back in the Great War. What’d ya say to set her off like that? I’ve never seen Lizzie lose her temper before.”

Brady exhaled and dropped into his desk chair. He mauled his face with his hand. “Beth. Her name is Beth, Collin, and I didn’t say anything I haven’t said before.”

“She’s been Lizzie for over a year, Brady. It’s what her friends call her and her family most of the time. You’re the only holdout—in more ways than one.”

Brady glanced up, his eyes burning with fatigue. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means she’s not thirteen anymore; she’s a grown woman. You’re the only one who still treats her like a kid.”

“Don’t start with this, please,” Brady groaned, “I’m way too tired.”

Collin sighed and shuffled to the rack over the door to snatch his keys. “So is Lizzie. Tired of being in love with someone who treats her like a little sister. She wants more. How long are you going to ignore it?”

Brady dropped his head in his hand to shield his eyes. “I haven’t ignored it. I’ve been praying it would go away.”

“Burying your head in the sand—or in your prayers—won’t work, ol’ buddy. You taught me that.”

The truth congealed in Brady’s stomach along with the cold oatmeal he’d eaten for lunch. “I know,” he whispered.

Collin stared for a moment, then wandered over to Brady’s desk. He sat down on an old proof sheet and crossed his arms. “Look, I’ve tried not to butt in where Lizzie is concerned, but it’s kind of hard right now. And to be honest with you, I’m worried.”

“You don’t need to worry about Beth.”

Collin sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s not Beth I’m talking about.”

“Well, don’t worry about me, either, because first thing Monday, I’m going to sit her down and explain once and for all why we can’t be more than friends.”

Collin’s gaze narrowed. “And why is that, exactly? Because you’re not attracted to her?”

Heat blistered Brady’s cheeks.

Collin stared, then broke into a grin. “You are, aren’t you?”

“Knock it off, Collin.”

Collin chuckled. “No, Brady, I won’t ‘knock it off.’ Everybody in this family knows how Lizzie feels about you, but nobody really knows how you feel about her. Until now.”

Brady jumped up and headed to the back room, heat stinging his neck. “I’m going home.”

“You’re in love with my sister-in-law, aren’t you?” Collin hopped up and followed. “Why don’t you just admit it?”

Brady spun around. “I love Beth, but not in that way.”

Collin hesitated and his smile faded. He cocked his head. “I know you won’t lie, Brady, so I’m asking you one more time. Are you attracted to Lizzie?”

“I don’t have to answer that.”

“No, but I’m asking as a friend—to both you and Lizzie. Are you?”

Brady stared, his heart pounding in his chest like the rotors of the Bullock pounding against paper. His voice was barely a whisper. “Yes.”

“I knew it! That’s great news. So, what’s the problem?”

“Because I can’t love her that way.”

Collin frowned. “Why not? I don’t understand. You’re a man and she’s a woman—”

“No!” Brady shocked himself with the vehemence in his tone. “She’s like a sister to me. I could never … would never … think of Beth that way.”

Collin blinked. “Calm down, ol’ buddy. Lizzie is not your sister no matter how much you see it that way. I can’t help but think there’s more to this, John, something you’re not telling me. What is it? Why are you holding back?”

Nausea curdled in Brady’s stomach. He fought back a shudder. “Nothing, Collin. Nothing I care to go into.”

Collin stared long and hard. He finally sighed and jingled the keys in his pocket. “Okay, I’ll leave it be. For now. But I can’t leave Lizzie be. She’s in love with you, my friend, and if you don’t intend to return that love, then you better do something about it. Now.”

Brady braced a hand against the door frame while fear added to the mix in his gut. “I know.”

“That means cutting her loose, Brady. No more Bible study or private prayer time or lunchtime chats. Every minute you spend with that girl is only leading her on.”

Brady closed his eyes. “Yeah.”

Collin gripped an arm around Brady’s shoulder. “I love you, John. You’re the brother I never had and the best friend I’ve ever known. It tears me up when I think you’re not happy. I know how much Lizzie means to you. And I’m here, if you need me.”

“I know. I appreciate that.”

Collin cuffed him on the shoulder and headed for the door. “See you tomorrow.”

Brady looked up. “Collin?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t tell Faith … or anyone … how I feel about Beth, okay?”

Collin stared, his lips poised as if to argue. He released a weighty sigh. “Okay, old buddy, not a word. Have a good night.”

Brady nodded, then swallowed hard. Yeah, as if that were possible.

***

Strangers were gawking, but she didn’t care. She bolted down the crowded sidewalk like a madwoman, tears streaming her cheeks and her chest heaving with hurt. Curious gazes followed as she tore down Henry Street where the farmer’s market was in full sway. She barely noticed the milling patrons who swarmed wooden stands heaped high with oranges and lemons freshly plucked and shipped from Florida groves. Stern-eyed ladies rifled through leaf lettuce while apron-clad vendors hovered and hawked their wares. Lizzie ignored them all, racing past and almost tumbling as she hurdled a crate of potatoes in her path.

“Miss, are you okay …”

Lizzie heard the concern in the shopkeeper’s voice, but she dare not acknowledge his kindness. It would surely unleash the broken sob that lodged in her throat. Right now all she wanted to do was to crawl into a dark corner of St. Stephen’s Church and cry. She sniffed. That and spit into John Brady’s eye. She flew up the church’s marble steps and tugged at the heavy oak doors.

The hallowed darkness inside strained her eyes as she adjusted to its dim light. She scanned the pews to make sure she was alone. With a shuddering heave, she made her way to the right alcove at the front and sank into her favorite row in the back corner. She set her clutch purse aside and lay down on her back, stretched out like she used to when she was a child, in search of her own little world where she could read and dream and pray. Recess in grade school had always been filled with giggles and games of red rover and girls flirting with boys who didn’t know they existed. But at times, when the pull of a favorite book or a longing for romance would strike, she would steal away, unbeknownst to the nuns. It was here, in this shadowed church, lit only by the soft glow of flickering candles and sunlight shafting through stained-glass windows, that she would finally connect with God.

She’d lie on the polished wood bench and look up, squinting to imagine that Jesus was lying down too, on a bench in the balcony across the way, ready to chat. At times, she could almost see his white gown through the marble balustrade as he listened to her. She always felt close to him there, amidst the lingering scent of incense and lemon oil. As if they were best friends. And they were. Their brief encounters always filled her with peace, often providing a much-needed balm to her young soul.

With a weary sigh, she lay down in the darkened pew and closed her eyes, allowing her thoughts to stray to Brady as they so often did. In her daydreams, she found herself comparing him to heroes she idolized in her favorite books. Her lips curved into a sad smile. Without question, John Brady was her Mr. Darcy, possessing all the exasperating prejudice of Jane Austin’s hero in Pride & Prejudice. At least when it came to her, she thought with a twist of her lips—too blinded by his own stubborn perceptions to see what everyone else so clearly saw—that his “little buddy” was destined to be his very own “Lizzy.”

She stared now, lost in a faraway look that blurred the flame of the sanctuary light as it glittered in its scarlet holder. “Why, God? Why can’t he love me? I know he cares—I can see it in his eyes and feel it in his touch. And I love him too—you know I do. But he gives me nothing.”

She peeked up at the balcony. “He’s a man after your own heart, God, which has me wondering if you’re as stubborn as he. I surely hope so, because I’m going to need help in matching wits with him. And if you don’t mind my saying so, when it comes to stubborn, this man is one of your finest creations. But if we belong together—loving each other while loving you—then you’ve got to open his eyes to the truth. And if I’ve missed it all these years and not heard your still, quiet voice, then please … please … set me free from his hold.”

She closed her eyes and settled in once again, her focus intent on the prayer at hand. All at once the heavy oak door squealed open, emitting a shaft of light that filtered in from the vestibule. The sound of hurried footsteps echoed through the cavernous building and then stopped. A broken sob pierced the darkness. Lizzie’s eyes popped open. She stiffened in the pew. What in the world?

Pitiful heaves rose to the rafters as Lizzie sat and scanned the dark church. Nothing … except the painful sound of someone’s grief. With a tightening in her chest, Lizzie rose and followed the sound of the weeping. Her eyes widened as she discovered its source in the very last pew. “Ellie? Is that you? Oh, honey, what’s wrong?”

A sprite of a girl lay collapsed in the pew, her ragged overalls torn and tattered. Wisps of carrot-red hair escaped from stubby braids, lending a halo effect that reminded Lizzie of a fuzzy spider monkey. Her slight shoulders shuddered with every heartbreaking heave, but at the sound of Lizzie’s voice, she jolted upright. She blinked in shock, enormous hazel eyes glossy with tears.

“Lizzie! I-I thought I was a-alone.” She sniffed and swiped at her nose with the sleeve of her blouse. With a lift of her chin, she squinted up, forcing a million tiny freckles to scrunch in a frown. “And nothing’s wrong.”

Lizzie folded her arms and arched a brow. “It’s a sin to lie, Eleanor Walsh, and well you know it. And in a church, no less.”

The faintest hint of a smile flickered at the edges of the girl’s mouth. “So I’ll duck in the confessional on the way out. Betcha God will barely notice.”

“He notices everything, Ellie, especially when one of his favorite little girls is making such a ruckus in his house.” Lizzie nudged her over and sat down. “What’s wrong?”

“Aw, Lizzie, you wouldn’t understand.”

“Mmm … maybe. Maybe not. But you won’t know till you tell me, now will you?”

Ellie glanced up, her face skewed in thought. She took a deep breath and settled back against the pew, expelling a long, heavy sigh. “I beat up Brian Kincaid.”

Lizzie leaned forward in shock. “What? That big, hulking boy from the 7th grade? Sweet Mother of Job, how? Why?”

“Because he’s a snot-nosed bully, that’s why. So I walloped him.”

“Good heavens, Ellie, he’s a foot taller than you!”

A grin parted the nine-year-old’s lips, revealing a flash of teeth. “Not anymore. I thrashed him down to size just like I do my brothers when they fire me up. That’ll teach him to call me names.”

“Lizzie bit back a smile. “What kind of names?”

She jutted her lip and folded her arms, squinting hard at the pew in front of her. “Calls me an ‘it.’ Says I’m not a girl.” She looked away, but not before Lizzie caught the quiver of her chin. “A freak of nature.” Her voice wavered the slightest bit before it hardened. “Ellie Smellie, the circus sideshow.”

Hot wetness sprang to Lizzie’s eyes and fury burned in her throat. She grabbed Ellie in a ferocious hug. “Bald-faced lies, all of it! You’re a beautiful girl, Eleanor Walsh. And Brian Kincaid is nothing but a bully who is appropriately named—lyin’ Brian.”

Ellie pulled away, clearly avoiding Lizzie’s eyes for the tears in her own. She sniffed several times. “No, Lizzie, he’s right. I’ll never be a girl—at least not a pretty one like you.” Her small frame shivered as she looked away. “Ain’t nobody to teach me since ma up and died—” Her voice cracked before she continued. “And even if there was, Pop barely makes enough to feed me and the boys. He sure can’t buy me no fancy dresses.”

Lizzie’s heart squeezed in her chest as she studied the frail little girl whose mother died three years prior, giving birth to her fifth son. Since then, Ellie had become one of the Southie neighborhoods scrappiest tomboys, weathering her fair share of cruel teasing and fights. Lizzie chewed on her lip in deep thought. “Ellie, my sister Katie is a few years older than you, and I’ll just bet we can come up with some clothes that don’t fit her anymore if you don’t mind hand-me-downs.”

Ellie flicked the strap of her threadbare overalls. “Mind hand-me-downs? Gosh, Lizzie, I’d be naked as a jaybird if it wasn’t for my older brothers.” Her jaw leveled up a full inch. “But I don’t aim to take no charity.”

“No, not charity. I was thinking more along the lines of earning it. Do you like to read?”

“Nope. Got no money for books either.”

Lizzie smiled. “You don’t need money for these books. I’m talking about helping me—at Bookends, the bookstore where I work. You know, story time on Saturdays?”

One pale strawberry brow angled high. “Ain’t that for kids?”

“Yes, but I could use your help with setting up and cleaning up.” Lizzie’s eyes narrowed as she gave Ellie a tight-lipped smile. “And there are one or two little troublemakers who I bet you could keep in line with a withering glance.”

A grin sprouted on Ellie’s face. “Boys, I hope—they’re my specialty. With a houseful of brothers, I’m real good with boy troublemakers.”

Lizzie stood to her feet with a chuckle. “Are there any other kind?”

“Nope. Least not for me.” She squinted up. “I’ll bet you never have trouble with boys, do ya, Lizzie, pretty as you are?”

Brady’s handsome face invaded her thoughts. Her jaw stiffened. “Don’t be too sure, Ellie. Boys can be troublemakers at any age, trust me.”

Ellie rose to her feet and shoved her hands deep in her pockets. “Yeah, especially brothers.” She cocked her head and gave Lizzie a curious look. “You got a brother that gives you trouble, Lizzie?”

Brother. The very word grated on Lizzie’s nerves. She wrapped an arm around Ellie’s shoulder. “Yeah, I do, Ellie, but I have every intention of taking care of it. Just like I’m going to teach you to take care of bullies like Brian Kincaid.”

Ellie looked up. “How?”

“Well, for starters, if you’ll work story time with me for the next four Saturdays, I will pay you back by taking you home to try on all of Katie’s hand-me-downs. And then, if you want, I can cut your hair and show you how to fix it. What do you say?”

“Gosh, Lizzie, that would be swell!” She paused, her smile suddenly fading.

Lizzie’s brows dipped. “What?”

“Well, what if it doesn’t work? I mean, what if everybody still thinks I’m an ‘it’?”

“They won’t, trust me.”

A glimmer of wetness shone in Ellie’s eyes. “But what if I’m too much like a boy to ever learn to be a girl?”

Lizzie bent and gently cupped Ellie’s face in her hands. “You’ll learn, Ellie, because this is too important. And when something is that important, you do whatever it takes.”

A smile trembled on Ellie’s lips as she threw her arms around Lizzie’s waist. “Gosh, Lizzie, you sound just like my momma before she …” She pulled away and straightened her shoulders, then swiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “I gotta go, but I’ll see you on Saturday, okay?”

Lizzie blinked to clear the moisture from her own eyes. “Saturday, ten o’clock. Don’t be late or I’ll send Lyin’ Brian to hunt you down.”

Ellie nodded and grinned before bolting out the door, once again leaving the sanctuary in a state of peaceful calm. With a heavy sigh, Lizzie made her way back to her pew and lay down. With no effort at all, her thoughts returned to Brady.

Whatever it takes.

At the thought of her advice to Ellie, a smiled flitted on her lips. She lay there a while longer to drink in his peace and his strength, and then sat up and squared her shoulders, finally rising to her feet. She smoothed out her skirt and lifted her chin. Resolve kindled in her bones. An air of stubbornness settled in, shivering her spine like the cool air currents that whistled through the domed ceiling of the drafty church. “Okay, God, I plan to take my own advice and do whatever it takes. Mr. John Brady is no longer dealing with ‘his little sister.’ He’s dealing with a woman in love.” Lizzie plucked her clutch purse from the pew and marched to the door with renewed purpose. “It’s said that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,’” she mused. “Ha!” Her lips clamped into a tight line. “Just wait till he sees a woman ignored.”

***

Brady buried his fists in his pockets and hung his head, barreling toward his apartment on Rumpole Street with one driving purpose: to be alone. His thoughts couldn’t be farther away from the pretty spring evening in his bustling Southie neighborhood than if he were safely locked behind his apartment door. Any other night, he would have enjoyed taking his time, stopping to chat with a neighbor or easily coerced into a game of stickball with a rowdy group of kids. He would have enjoyed the faint haze of green in the trees as new buds burgeoned forth, washing the landscape with a soft watercolor effect. But for once, the rich scent of freshly hewn mulch as neighbors readied their gardens, and the shrieks of children at play and birds in song, failed to coax a smile to his lips.

No, not tonight. Tonight his thoughts were elsewhere. Mired in a place where the innocent laughter of children and the peace of a wholesome neighborhood were as foreign as an ice storm on a balmy spring day. Brady shivered inside in spite of the 60-degree temperatures. He quickened his pace when he neared his three-story brick brownstone. Flanked by graceful federal pillars and forsythia heavy with yellow blooms, it welcomed him home, tonight more than usual. He hurried up steps lined with crocus and littered with the occasional pressed-steel toy truck and cap-gun cannon. He sucked in a deep breath and grasped the steel knob of the glass-paned door with rigid purpose, seeking nothing but solitude.

“Hi ya, Brady, what’s your hurry?”

Brady hunched his shoulders and moaned inwardly. He turned slowly, a poor attempt at a smile on his lips. “Hi ya, Cluny. Enjoying the weather?”

Fourteen-year-old Cluny McGee grinned, a spray of wild freckles lost in a layer of dirt on his delicate face. The cuffs of his pants were several inches too short, and his ill-fitted shirt strained at the buttons despite a spindly chest. He slapped a strand of white-blond thatch out of his twinkling blue eyes. “Yeah, gives me spring fever for all the pretty girls.”

Brady forced a grimace into a smile. “This time of year will do that. Well, enjoy.” He yanked the door open, desperate to escape to the haven of his home.

“Wait! You goin’ to the gym tonight? I thought maybe we could box a match or two.” Cluny flexed his muscles. “Gotta shape up for the ladies, you know.”

Brady hesitated. He glanced at Cluny, not missing the hopefulness in his eyes. He managed a smile. “Too tired, Cluny. How ‘bout tomorrow?”

The boy grinned, exposing a smile that could melt stone. “Sure thing, Brady. Same time as usual?”

Brady nodded and waved, exhaling as the door closed behind him. He mounted the steps with trepidation, hoping to make it to the next landing as quietly as possible. This was one night he needed to be alone, to fall on his knees before God and seek his peace.

A door squealed open. So much for peace.

“Brady, you’re home!”

He stopped on the steps and smiled at his eleven-year-old neighbor. “Esther, why aren’t you outside with your friends?”

She giggled and ducked her head, then flipped a long, thick braid the color of molasses over her shoulder. “Because I baked cookies. Your favorite kind—gingerbread. Wait here.”

She darted off, leaving the door ajar, then returned with a plate of cookies, still warm. The delicious smell filled the tiny foyer, evoking noises from his stomach. She giggled and held them up. Her proud look warmed his heart. He tweaked her braid and smiled, then hoisted the cookies with one hand. “You’re going to spoil me, Esther Mullen. What’s the occasion this time?”

“For lending me the books, of course. I’m almost finished with the last one.”

He tucked the cookies under one arm and cocked a hip. “Which was your favorite?”

She scrunched her nose in thought. “Jane Eyre, I think, although I love Pride & Prejudice too. I’m almost done. Do you have anymore?”

“Tons. You just knock on my door whenever you need a new batch, okay?”

She smiled shyly. “Thanks, Brady.”

He chucked a finger under her chin. “And thanks for the cookies, Ess. You’re going to make a wonderful wife the way you bake like you do.”

A sweet haze of pink dotted her cheeks, and she nodded. “Good night, Brady.”

“G’night, Esther.”

The door closed and Brady sighed. Forgive me, Lord, for being so grumpy. And thank you for small blessings like Esther and Cluny.

He trudged the last few steps to his door and fished the key from his pocket. He caught a whiff of gingerbread and smiled, unlocking the door and prodding it closed with his shoe. He put the plate of cookies on the table and sampled one as he made his way to the kitchen cupboard. He reached for a glass, then opened the icebox to pull out the milk. He poured it and frowned, suddenly remembering the scene with Beth. His gut curdled like the two-week-old milk in the glass. Brady sighed and leaned against the counter.

Why, Lord? She was the only good and decent thing in his life. His love for her was deep and genuine and, yes—through the grace of God—pure. He wanted to protect her and nurture her and always be there for her. Why did he have to give her up?

Brady poured the sour milk into the sink and rinsed it out. He absently washed the glass as he struggled with his thoughts. He traipsed to the sofa and collapsed, dropping his head back and closing his eyes.

He knew why.

As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.

A bitter smile twisted his lips. If only he could forget as easily as God. Remove his own shame as far as the east is from the west. Instead, it burned inside him like an eternal fire, singeing any hope of beauty and innocence. Any hope of Beth.

Brady hunched on the couch and put his head in his hands. “Help me, Lord. I’m sick with grief over what I have to do. I love Beth more than my own life. Help me to give her up, to let her go. Give me the grace to do it. To see it through. I pray that you will help her understand. And bring a godly man who will love her like she deserves to be loved.”

A heaviness settled on him like the cloying heat of his tiny apartment. He rose and crossed to the window to lift the sash and let in what little breeze he could. He inhaled the fresh evening air, heartened by the scented promise of rain. He grasped his leather Bible from the mahogany desk and settled back into the couch. He began to read and felt the gentle wind of God blowing through his mind with every anointed word.

As always, peace flooded his soul. He exhaled. Thank you, God. His eyes lifted to roam his tiny apartment, grateful for the oasis it offered. Though sparse in décor, it exuded a definite masculine air that made him feel comfortable. Heavy but simple wood pieces were arranged in a practical manner. His antique mahogany desk, a gift from his Aunt Amelia in New York, was laden with books wedged between brass bookends from his father. On its polished surface, there was just enough room for a simple wood and brass lamp in the shape of a sailing vessel. His eyes scanned across the dark burgundy sofa on which he sat, moving on to admire the framed prints of ships hung on the walls throughout the room. Their nautical feel always seemed to soothe him. He closed his eyes and pictured the blue of the ocean as he sailed across it in his mind. Sailing, free and easy as a bird, the wind in his face. Not moored to a past … nor a future.

Brady expelled a breath and opened his eyes to the imposing chestnut bookcase across the room. He had made it himself. Its shelves were lined with the rich hues of literature that helped to sate the inevitable loneliness that surfaced from time to time.

He suddenly thought of Beth and her love of reading, and his earlier malaise returned with a vengeance. He stared at his collection of leather-bound books. Her hands had touched every volume on his shelves, cradled them in her lap, fingered each page with care. He had bought them all for her, to satisfy her craving for literature.

He laid his hand on the worn pages of his Bible and closed his eyes, remembering his arrival in Boston almost fours years ago. He hadn’t known a soul but Collin, but the O’Connors had quickly drawn him into the warmth and security of their family. He had fallen in love with all of them, completely in awe of the closeness they shared, a reaction only heightened by his own bleak childhood. Beth had been thirteen then, almost fourteen, a shy and fragile little girl with soft violet eyes and a gentle nature. She had taken to him at once, enamored with his own love of literature and God. Seeking him out, making him feel special.

Brady dropped his head back against the couch. She was the little sister he’d longed for. The one feminine touch in his life that would never become corrupt. All he had wanted was to protect her, nurture her, love her in the purest sense of the word. It was never meant to be more.

Not for her. And certainly not for him.

With a heavy expulsion of air, he closed his eyes, as if by doing so, he could shut out the feelings that had begun to surface over the last few months. When had the seeds of attraction been sown? At what precise moment had the tilt of her smile begun to trigger his pulse? Fear tightened his stomach. When had she ceased being a little girl? He opened his eyes with new resolve and cemented his lips into a hard line. It didn’t matter. He was her friend and mentor, a devoted big brother who wanted nothing but the best for her.

And he was definitely not it.

An urgent knock at the door shook him from his thoughts, and he lunged to his feet. He opened it to the sound of weeping. His neighbor across the hall stood on his threshold, her face streaked with tears. Strands of brown hair fluttered free from a disheveled bun as she stared up at him, her dark eyes pleading. “Oh, Brady, you’re home! Can you help me, please?”

Brady’s gut tightened. “Pete again?”

She nodded and clutched her arms around her middle, her body shuddering.

“Ei-leen! Where the devil are ya?” Pete’s slurred tone rumbled from the bowels of the dark apartment, bringing with it a whiff of stale whiskey.

Brady stared at the bruise on her cheek and rested a hand on her shoulder. “Are you okay? Did he hurt you—”

She shook her head, then wiped her face with her sleeve. “No, I just got home. All he had time for was one quick whack across my face. I thank God you’re here to stop him, Brady. You always seem to have a way with Pete when he gets like this.”

Brady pulled her into his apartment. “I’ll talk to him, Eileen, but I want you to stay here. I thought he’d given up the bottle. What set him off this time?”

“Ei … leen! So, help me …”

She shivered. “He was home before me, so I’m guessing he lost his job again. Oh, Brady, I’m so scared! What are we going to do?”

Brady wrapped an arm around her shoulder and led her to his kitchen. He gave her a quick squeeze. “Same thing as always, Eileen, we pray. God always turns it around, doesn’t he?”

She shook her head and sniffed.

“There’s coffee in my cupboard. Make a pot, will you? Double strength. I’ll go in and talk to Pete, and you bring it in when it’s ready, okay?”

She nodded and then threw her arms around Brady’s middle. Her voice broke. “Oh, Brady, you’re a gift from God, ye are! Sometimes I think you’re an angel instead of a man.”

Heat scalded the back of his neck. He patted her shoulder. “No, Eileen, I’m just a man who’s found the grace of God.” He steered her toward the cupboard, then headed for the door. He turned and gave her a reassuring smile. “Prayer and coffee, in that order, okay?”

A smile trembled on her lips and she nodded. He closed the door behind him.

“Ei … leen! I’m gonna blister you …”

Brady strode into Eileen and Pete’s apartment and drew in a deep breath for the task ahead. An angel instead of a man. His lips quirked into a sour smile. That would certainly be nice. Especially at a moment like this. His jaw tightened. As if he could qualify.

Angels didn’t have his past.

Continue Reading No Comments

100 Bible Stories 100 Bible Songs by: Stephen Elkins

100biblestories100 Bible Stories, 100 Bible Songs
By Stephen Elkins

Once again am I impressed with the work of Stephen Elkins. If you know anything about this author, you know he is the author of many other loved christian children book such as one of my favorite titles, LullaBible A to Z Promise Book: Baby’s First Bible Promises. I’ve owned the promise book for a few months and have quite enjoyed reading it to my daughter and listening to the accompanying cd.

“100 Bible Stories, 100 Bible Songs” is one of Stephens latest works. This book is geared toward preschoolers, though my 12 month daughter really enjoys listening/dancing along to the two  accompanying hymn & filled cd’s that go along with the stories, as well as looking at the beautifully illustrated pages along side of me.I look forward to the  days when my daughter will take to heart these easy to comprehend renditions of well know Bible stories with their simple to understand life applications.

“100 Bible Stories, 100 Bible Songs” I highly recommended for families, churches, and libraries of all kinds.

I review for Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers

Continue Reading 1 Comment

Customize It All

Connected2Christ.com Copyright © All Rights Reserved.
Powered by Warp Theme Framework