Friday, March 28, 2014

The Power of a Little Thing

As I've mentioned before, I am not a coffee drinker.  I love the smell of it, but I can't stand the taste of the stuff, no matter how much milk or sugar I add.  Yuck!  I do, however, enjoy several cups of herbal tea throughout my day.  And unlike most people, I create my own herbal tea concoctions.  I buy a variety of tea bags at Bargain Foods where I can get boxes of 20-100 tea bags for anywhere from 89 cents to $2.  Then I place a mix of tea bags in my "special" coffee pot (special, because it's only used for making tea), add some water, let it brew and enjoy my special blend all day long.  My blends usually consists of two or more of the following:  green tea, white tea, peppermint, chamomile, spearmint, lemon, honey, ginger, and vanilla.  Sometimes I even blend teas that are already herbal blends.  It just depends on my mood and whether I want a calming or invigorating tea.

Anyway, last night, Jason offered to make the tea and asked what I wanted.  "Whatever you want to throw together," I commented, not taking into consideration that there was one particular tea in the pantry that did not mix well with some of the others.  I remembered this fact as soon as I smelled the tea, but the damage had already been done.  Just as I usually do, Jason had combined some mint teas with chamomile and lemon.  Fine.  Unfortunately, he had also thrown one bag of Vanilla Caramel in with the mix.  Vanilla and mint are fine together, as are vanilla and chamomile.  Vanilla and lemon is not my favorite blend, but it's not bad.  However, the caramel doesn't really blend well with any of them, particularly the lemon and the mint.

The result was a smooth yet strange-tasting tea that left an indescribable taste in my mouth after I had managed to down half the cup.  Not wanting to hurt Jason's feelings, I did my best to drink the entire cup, but I just couldn't, and after he left for work this morning, I dumped the rest of it down the drain and started a new batch.  I'm sorry.  He meant well, and it was really my fault for not remembering about the Vanilla Caramel.  Besides, the only way I knew how badly it blended with the other teas is because I had tried it before myself. . . and learned my lesson.

As I prepared my new batch of tea this morning, I was reminded of the phrase in the Bible:  a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump (Galatians 5:9, I Corinthians 5:6).  Oddly enough, I came across that same phrase when reading a devotional by a friend and fellow author, Lynn Mosher.  I thought about how that one little tea bag made the entire pot of tea nearly undrinkable.  There were probably eight to ten bags in that batch of tea, several of which were strong mint blends.  Yet it was all overpowered by one little tea bag.  And as a result, the entire pot was wasted.  It was of no good.  I couldn't stomach it.

Sin is the same way.  We often overlook what we call "the small sins."  A little lie.  A slight exaggeration.  Going a few miles over the speed limit.  Taking a little extra time on break at work.  Forsaking our Bible reading and prayer time.  They're not big sins like murder, adultery or thievery, so they're acceptable, right?  I mean, we're only human, after all.  We can't be expected to be perfect.  We live in a sinful world and inhabit sinful bodies.  Sin is just a part of life, right?

Unfortunately, yes, it is now a part of life, but that doesn't mean it's excusable or acceptable.  It doesn't mean that God is not watching or that Jesus didn't have to die for those "little sins."  What it does mean is that we need to be on guard.  What starts out as a "little sin" may well become something much greater.  Sin always leads to more sin!  It's a never-ending process, and as soon as we become lax and allow things to slip by unnoticed, those "little sins" began to grow and take on a life of their own.

One tea bag was enough to ruin an entire pot of tea.  One sin is enough to ruin our relationship with the Father.  I'm not talking about losing our salvation.  That can't happen.  Salvation is forever, and nothing can change that.  But when we're living in sin, even "little sin," there is a wall separating us from God.  It hinders our walk together and our communication with Him.  It drives a wedge between us that only confession of that sin can remedy.  And just as the tea left a sour taste in my mouth, don't you know our sin leaves a sour taste in God's?

I'll let you in on a little secret:  there are no "little sins."  They're all big to God.  They all cost Him the life of His Son.  And they are all signs of rebellion to His authority.  Let's keep that in mind the next time we want to go a little faster than we should or take a longer break than we're allotted.  Let's remember that fact when we allow our minds to wander where they shouldn't go and our mouths to say words they shouldn't utter.  Sin is sin, and it is powerful.  Just like the leaven.  Just like the Vanilla Caramel tea.  It can ruin and destroy, and I guarantee you the cost will be more than some funky-tasting tea.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Happily Ever After

Sometimes I feel like a character in a fairy tale. I don't have a wicked stepmother, but sometimes I do feel like a prisoner held captive by my fears and doubts. I haven't eaten any poison apples lately, but I have tasted the acrid flavor of Satan's lies time and time again. I don't recall pricking my finger on any spinning wheels, but I have felt the pain of rejection and betrayal. I've never bought any magic beans, but I, too, have made unwise investments that are still seeking to destroy me.

I've heard it said that fairy tales are not good for us. Some say that they completely and totally misrepresent reality and cause us to be discontent with our mediocre existence. Have they read any fairy tales recently? I can't think of a single one that I would want to be part of, can you? Chased by wolves, giants, and wicked queens? No, thank you!

I, for one, think there's a lot more reality to fairy tales than some would like to believe. No, I'm not saying that I believe in fairies or anything like that. I'm just saying that there are some valuable lessons to be learned. But some argue that there is no such thing as "happily ever after" and that saying there is simply leads people to future disappointment. I respectfully disagree. There is a "happily ever after." My Bible says so.

I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am going to Heaven someday. Whether it be by way of the rapture or by death, I know that I'm going. I also know that Heaven is a wonderful place. There is no death, no sickness, and no crying. There is joy and happiness. There is peace and tranquility. There are no strangers in Heaven, neither is there sin. But most of all, Jesus will be there. Oh, yes, Heaven is a wonderful place, and I'm going. So, you see, no matter how bad things seem sometimes here on earth, my story will end happily ever after. Actually, I take that back. My story won't end. It will continue for all eternity. . . happily ever after.

(Excerpt from Random Ramblings of a Raving Redhead. Get your copy today!)

Friday, March 21, 2014

How Do You Plead?

 For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not. - Isaiah 30:15

It happened again.  As I sat on my couch this morning, quietly doing my Bible reading, one of the verses jumped right off the page and slapped me smartly across the face.  I admit that I've been struggling as I'm making my way through the book of Isaiah.  I consider myself to be a fairly bright individual, but the book of Isaiah makes me feel like a blithering idiot.  I just don't get it!  It's a bit like time travel in that the passages jump from past to future, and many times, I'm at a loss to determine which is which.  I don't do time travel (just ask anyone in my family)! 

Anyway, I've been struggling to get through, which means my mind is prone to wander off somewhere during my reading.  This morning, before I began, I asked the Lord to help me pay attention and to understand what I was reading.  Well, I didn't understand it all (not by a long shot), but I got quite a beating from one verse in particular.

To understand the actual interpretation of the verse, you'll need to read the entire chapter and get the context (if you can).  As for the application, that's what struck me.  In a nutshell, this verse seems to say to me, "If you'll do what you know to do, take time to rest and enjoy life, spend quiet time just being with Me and trusting in Me to do what's best for you, you'll have the strength to conquer whatever you may face. . . but you just won't do it!"  Ouch and ouch!!!!  Or should I say, "Guilty as charged!"

Do what I know to do? -- Sometimes I do, but admittedly, sometimes I don't.  I know better, but I make excuses for my wrong actions.

Take time to rest and enjoy life?  -- Who has time to rest and enjoy when there's so much to be done?  There are meals to cook, laundry to fold, books to write, bills to pay, and on and on.  Rest?  Enjoy?  Seriously?

Spend quiet time just being with the Lord? -- At first, I thought I was pretty good at this one.  I make a point to have my daily quiet time, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I often do a whole lot of talking during that "quiet time."  Aren't we supposed to pray?  Of course, but we're also supposed to be still and rest in His presence.

Trust that He'll do what's best for me? -- Hmm, that's a tough one.  I want to trust.  I know He can be trusted.  But for some reason, when things seem impossible, my knee-jerk reaction is to worry, not to trust.

When I read this verse, it was like God was saying to me, "Dana, I've given you everything you need to live a joyful life.  Strength is within your grasp if you'll only do what I've asked you to do.  Is it really that difficult?"

Well, yes and no.  In the flesh, it's quite difficult.  In the spirit, however, it's a piece of cake (and I love cake!).  See, not only has God asked us to do these things, but He's already given us the power to accomplish them.  That power lies within us in the form of the Holy Spirit.  If we will simply relinquish our control and allow Him to live through us, we'll have no trouble walking through this life, no matter how rough the road may be.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

I See the Light!

Last night during our devotion time, I received an answer for which I've been searching a long time.  Despite my attempts and desire to spend more time with the Lord, to delve deeper into His Word, to serve Him with greater obedience and to love Him more than ever, I felt a wedge growing between us.  Each day, I felt further from Him than the day before.  My prayers seemed to go unheard.  My pleas for closeness appeared to be ignored.  And my attempts to draw closer to Him seemed to be in vain.  No matter what I did or how hard I prayed, I felt like I was drifting away, and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why.

I began to doubt my love.  I even began to doubt my salvation.  After all God has seen me through, after all He's done for me, why did it seem like the more I got to know Him, the further apart we seemed?  I couldn't fathom what was going on, but I was certain I had to be doing something wrong.  I had no peace. That is, until last night.

Jason and I are currently making our way through "My Utmost for His Highest," and I have to admit that the lessons, while short, are jam-packed with meat and meaning that often takes us an hour or more of discussion to digest.  Last night's offering, though, needed no digesting.  I finally understood.  Things finally made sense.  At last, the puzzle pieces began to fall into place, and I saw my valley for what it truly was--a stepping stone.

The devotion was entitled, "The Discipline of Dismay," and it answered so many questions.  Allow me to quote a little to help you understand.

At the beginning of our life with Jesus Christ, we were sure we knew all there was to know about following Him… But now we're not quite so sure. Jesus is far ahead of us and is beginning to seem different and unfamiliar… He no longer seems to be my Counselor and Friend and has a point of view about which I know nothing... I begin to realize that there is a distance between Jesus and me and I can no longer be intimate with Him. I have no idea where he is going, and the goal has become strangely distant… The discipline of dismay is an essential lesson which a disciple must learn. The danger is that we tend to look back on our times of obedience and on our past sacrifices to God in an effort to keep our enthusiasm for Him strong. But when the darkness of dismay comes, endure until it is over, because out of it will come the ability to follow Jesus truly, which brings inexpressibly wonderful joy. - My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers

Jesus never moved, and in fact, neither did I.  What happened was that the more I discovered who God truly is, the more I realized how unworthy I am.  That was the wedge.  In this particular case, it wasn't sin or anything negative.  It was my dismay at realizing how far I am from being all that God wants me to be.  My valley is a serious case of growing pains, which are a painful, yet necessary, part of life.  And by enduring until the end, I will gain a relationship with Jesus like I've never experience before.

Thank you, Lord, for giving us the answers we seek at the perfect time for us to accept and understand them.  Please give me strength to continue through the valley, knowing that the reward will be worth it!




Monday, March 17, 2014

Not What I Asked For

God truly works in mysterious ways, and I've discovered that the more I try to make sense of the things He does, the more confused and confounded I become.  Take, for example, my personality.  I'm a planner, a list-maker and an organizer.  I take the verse that says "let all things be done decently and in order" very seriously.  I like to have a plan and to be prepared for whatever the day may hold.

Since God made me and gave me that type of personality, common sense would dictate that He would place me in situations where that particular trait could thrive.  But, no, that's not how God has chosen to work.  Instead, He has placed me in an occupation that is as unpredictable as anything else I know.  He has given my husband a job with hours that vary from day to day, week to week and even hour to hour.  He has allowed me to suffer physical ailments that flair up at the most inopportune times to sidetrack my well-laid plans and delay my appointments.  Yes, it seems that every area of my life is out of control.  Well, out of my control, at least.  How can I make a schedule when work hours and obligations are constantly changing?  How can I maintain a routine when I don't know from one day to the next how well my body is going to cooperate?  How can I plan when so many things are constantly up in the air?

For me, it's frustrating.  I don't like "flying by the seat of my pants."  I'm not comfortable "winging it."  And God knows that, yet He has placed me where I am for a reason.  Possibly because I'm a little too comfortable having control.  Perhaps, it's because I need to depend less on myself and my plans and more on Him and His plans.  Sometimes, God has to nudge us out of our comfort zones to help us to see that without Him we can do nothing.  I think He also needs to remind us that, despite appearances in our comfort zones, we are not the ones in charge.  He is.

To be honest, some days I look at my life and argue, "God, this is not what I asked for."  But amidst the chaos and confusion, I hear His gentle voice as He reassures me, "No, it's not, my child.  It's better.  Trust me."

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. - Isaiah 55:8-9

Thursday, March 13, 2014

An Inside Look at The Proof by Cheryl Colwell

As a member of the John 3:16 Marketing Network, a group for Christian writers, I have the privilege of taking part in this month's Suspense Book Launch.  Today I will be featuring an excerpt from Cheryl Colwell's book, The Proof.  I have personally read and can recommend Cheryl's book.  In fact, if you missed my review on The Proof, you can check it out here.  After that, scroll down to find out more about Cheryl and her book, to read an excerpt from her thrilling suspense novel, and to sign up for the chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card.


Part 9 of 10
The Proof by Cheryl Colwell

Siena, Italy

Only three days had passed, yet Gabe’s mind reeled. His grandfather had filled him with many stories about the family treasures housed in the 1,000-year-old structure.

Lingering after breakfast in the rectangular, windowless dining room, Louis now pressed for the details about Gabe’s late father, his family, and his life. Gabe fingered the crystal water glass that remained on the table. Translucent alabaster chandeliers provided soft illumination for a hard subject.

“And what about Angelica? What is your sister doing?”

Gabe glanced up in surprise. Surely, his father had notified him of her death. But no, Gabe could see the anticipation in his eyes. “I’m sorry, sir, Angelica has passed from us also.”

Louis sank back in the tall chair, his strong hands gripping the claws carved on the walnut arms. His face held such pain that Gabe trained his attention on the red and gold pattern of the carpet underfoot. He dreaded what would come next.

“How did she die?”

A simple question, but the answer held so much torment. “It was an accident. She was lost in a mudslide while we were hiking in the mountains.”

“How old was my granddaughter?”

“Twelve.”

An anguished gasp escaped the old man. “So long ago, but no one told me. Am I that much of a monster that my own son would stab my heart this way? Gabriel, am I?” His breathing accelerated and his hand pressed against his chest.

Gabe called for Rinaldo and rose to get help, but Louis motioned for him to sit. His grandfather waited for an answer. Meeting the old man’s anxious eyes, he said, “No, you are not a monster. This was a monstrous thing to be done to you.” Gabe’s own resentment seeped into his words. His father had been heartless, except where Angelica had been concerned.

Rinaldo appeared from his quarters opposite the kitchen, took one look at his employer, and reached for his medication from the sideboard.

When Louis had calmed down, he said, “I need to go to my room.” Rinaldo and Gabe helped the distressed man to his suite and helped him lie down on a black and tan upholstered chaise next to his bed.

Gabe left and pulled the door closed, wishing he could lock out the fear that hid in the shadows of his mind. Craving the growing bond with his grandfather had made him vulnerable. He had been close to revealing his darkest secret. But with truth came consequences. Shaken, he escaped to the ballroom where all the preparations to honor him were taking place.

Empty crates that had contained his paintings lay in neat stacks. As soon as he had accepted the invitation, Conte Dolcini had notified Serena Romano, a popular art dealer, to make it happen. And it was happening.

Strain tugged at Serena’s face. She carried a metal clipboard and ordered her crew to transform the ballroom of the Palazzo Dolcini into a grand salon to exhibit Gabe’s work. Thin and wiry, with her face pulled tight at the hand of a surgeon, she looked anything but serene. A string of emotionally charged Italian streamed out of her mouth, causing alarm in the eyes of the young men who were not moving fast enough after lunch. They had only four more days to finish the details.

When she explained the significance of the night to Gabe, her self-importance seemed to cause her head to rise to new heights. “Members of the old guard are anxious to see the Dolcini collections again. Their children have only heard tales about the palazzo. They are thrilled to be included on the guest list to see you, the famous American painter.” She flashed a wily smile. “Your Italian heritage only heightens the excitement.”

She was less forthcoming with other information, but Gabe was able to pull a few facts together. Although his grandfather carried on a vast array of business responsibilities, the Palazzo Dolcini had not opened its doors for an event in four decades, not since its mistress, Contessa Dolcini was murdered. Not since Gabe’s father left for America.

He glanced around the fabulous ballroom. His paintings rested on magnificent gilded easels placed with artistic precision around the massive space. The second story room was ablaze with light as Serena checked for shadows and glare that might hinder the viewing of his pieces.

“These are magnifico,” she complimented. Tilting her head to study him, she asked, “Are you aware of the rare gift you possess?”

He judged her comment as sincere rather than flattery. “It feels that way at times.”

She flashed a quick smile. “Conte Dolcini will love these. He is so proud of you.”

He is for now. An ache in Gabe’s chest limited his response to an appreciative nod with a murmured, “Grazie.” He left the residence by the rear exit to escape the commotion—and the unsolicited childhood memories.
##
While the inner soul of the palazzo flaunted the masters’ paintings, the gardens outside boasted their own treasures. Trees and vines shaded and caressed the master sculptors’ marble and bronze figures. Today, however, Gabe’s mind was too preoccupied to let the garden’s glory entice him. Today, he longed for sanctuary. He needed to center—to remind himself of all he had accomplished through diligence and hard work. Why could one memory strip him bare so easily?

As he meandered along a wide path that circled the large lawn, the beauty of the symmetry was nearly lost on him. Overhead, the tips of the ancient olive trees intermingled, providing a welcome respite from the unusual September heat. Statues of Roman women holding fruit or vegetables seemed to pause along the path. He had already bypassed most of them when the extended hand of a magnificent bronze reached out to him.

A bearded Greek warrior stood elevated on a round pedestal. The sculptor had wrought the realistic musculature of the chest and body in great detail. Gabe studied the rounded skull, certain it was once crowned with a helmet. He had seen two such statues on the cover of an art magazine in Louis’ library. Divers had discovered them off the coast of Riace, a village near the toe of Italy’s boot-shaped landmass.

“The Riace Warriors,” he said aloud and shook his head in amazement. What were the chances his grandfather had purchased a third warrior, clandestinely rescued from the shallow water?

“Hey, man.”

Gabe’s head swung around to meet the wide grin of a red-haired man who looked vaguely familiar. “Do I know you?”

“You forgot your cousin, did you?”

Gabe’s jaw dropped. “Ralph Witte?” He scanned the bizarre, silver-studded black jeans that clung to the man’s long, skinny legs. “I haven’t seen you since I was ten and you spent the summer with us.” Raised without a father, or discipline, Ralph had proved to be a challenge for Gabe’s parents. A one-sided smile dimpled Gabe’s cheek. He had enjoyed the distraction and his father’s frustration with someone other than himself. Where Gabe refused to take part in adventures, Ralph created one spectacular event after another. He even stole their neighbor’s car and took out the trashcans instead of making the turn. A shadow crossed over Gabe’s memory. His father had been less than gentle on Ralph’s backside.

“Yeah, that was a good year, as I remember it.” Ralph’s dull green eyes darkened below the stiff spikes of natural red hair. “So, you still a good little chump?”

Gabe colored. Ralph had thrown that insult at him all that summer. But he was thirty-four now. All grown up. Ignoring the dig, he asked, “Do you still live in London?”

Ralph straightened. “Yeah mate, still in London. I’m a rock star now, you know.”

Gabe looked at the wild hair and clothes and grinned. “You look like a rock star.” A hard-life rock star. “What instrument do you play?”

“A mean guitar, but not the lead. Not like you, turnin’ out to be a great painter an’ all.” His whitened teeth, too perfect to be real, sparkled from a narrow jaw. But Gabe could hardly call it a smile.

“What brings you to Italy?” Gabe asked.

“Got a gig. Then I finds out my cuz is here to get all glorified. The ol’ man finally gets to hold up his legitimate grandson for the world t’ see. It’s all he’s ever wanted.”

Gabe recoiled. “I’ve just met him—I had no idea.”

“That’s the sorry part, ain’t it? My mom and your dad, ignoring the ol’ guy, but me growing up without nothin’. She wouldn’t let me near him. And he wouldn’t have nothin’ to do with us, just because she self-medicated. Don’t quite seem right, does it?”

“I’m sorry to hear that. My father cut us off from all of this.”

 Ralph eyed him. “Not your fault.” He shook Gabe’s hand. “I’m glad for you, with all this fuss and all. You turned out good, in spite of Angelica’s accident.”

Gabe’s smile faded.

“You ain’t past that?” Ralph smirked at the revelation. “Does Louis know yet?”Working to hide the sting, Gabe changed the subject. “Are you staying here while you’re in town?”

“Right. My mum died and the ol’ man let me stay here for awhile. Then kicked me out over a little misunderstandin’.”

Gabe was silent. What could he say?

Ralph cocked his chin up. “Hey, just wanted to stop by before the big event. I ain’t invited, but I’ll see you around.” He started to leave but turned back. “He hasn’t been feedin’ you any of that Templar lunacy has he?”

Puzzled, Gabe responded, “Haven’t heard a thing.”

With that, Ralph nodded, slipped through the iron gate, and vanished from sight.

Gabe stared after him. Strange guy. A moment later, Rinaldo emerged from around a precisely carved hedge. “Sir, would you give your grandfather a moment of your time?” He stepped back inside through the solarium door.

Why did it always come back to Angelica? Gabe was not interested in continuing the conversation. He strolled the perimeter walk, stretching out the time and keeping a lookout for more Greek bronzes. None showed themselves.

Arriving at a stone railing, he peered over and was astonished. Below lay a large seating area arranged like a small Roman amphitheater. A strong breeze blew up from the half-circle stage below and teased his black curls away from his eyes. He followed its direction and glanced back at the palazzo where his grandfather waited.

What would his life have been like without that fateful day?

The wind shifted. It was impossible to tell from which direction it came or to where it journeyed. Could it be that simple to change the direction of his life?

It was time. He trudged up the broad steps to the side entrance. Inside, the house was quiet. Rinaldo led him to the open door of a small chapel and left. Standing at the entrance, Gabe realized it had been ages since he had entered a chapel. The peculiar atmosphere here was different from anything he had experienced before.

The aesthetics of the narrow room were impressive. Its vaulted ceiling highlighted a magnificent glass centerpiece set high on one of its stone walls. Sun filtered through the five-foot rose window that displayed stained glass of every color. The soft light danced its rainbow illumination over seven rows of benches in the otherwise dusky room.

Gabe stood still. A gentle presence and distant singing filled him, causing a slow swell in his heart. He listened harder, but the song was not audible.

A movement in the front of the chapel startled him. Louis changed his weight on the altar where he knelt, head in hands. Gabe eased forward and heard his grandfather praying.

“Lord, my only son renounced me and is dead. And now, Angelica. Only You know the depth of my agony.” Louis wiped the tears that dripped into his beard. “I cannot undo my willful actions, but please, deliver me from these spiteful accusations fettered to my soul.” He pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose, then rose from where he knelt on the padded altar and sat on the first bench.
Gabe grimaced at the grief his father’s actions had caused this gentle man. He stepped forward and laid a hand on Louis’ shoulder.

Startled, Louis turned. His face solemn, he patted the bench. “Come sit. Tell me about Angelica." His eyes probed for truth.

Gabe rubbed his forehead. The peace vanished. He hid a nervous swallow and sat on the other end of the smooth wooden bench, hesitating before beginning the story. “We were hiking in the Sierras, close to King’s Canyon in California. The terrain was rough and wild, but Angelica was a gazelle, skipping from rock to rock, until a storm moved in without warning. Our father rushed us down the mountain in the torrent that followed.” He looked down, unable to meet his grandfather’s eyes and cleared his throat.

“I was able to wade across a place where the waterfall pooled, but when I looked back toward Angelica, a mudslide hit the place where she clung to the mountain.” He sighed. “We never found her.”

Gabe tried to shield himself from the loss and pain the memory caused—the part where she had always defended him from his father’s brutal ranting. And from his schoolmate’s taunts of pretty girl because of his beautiful features. He had returned her loyalty with treachery.

Shutting his eyes against the image, Gabe straightened. “He never spoke more than a dozen civil words to me after that.”

“Your father was always full of blame,” Louis moaned, apparently lost in his recollections. “I can see this was hard for you, but thank you for telling me. I need to rest now.”

Back in his room, Gabe fell into the blue overstuffed chair. He snatched his wallet from the end table and fished through the dark pockets until his fingers touched the slick edge of the small photo. It had been a long time since he brought Angelica’s sixth-grade picture into the light.

As he studied her confidant face, a new sensation grew inside his gut. Anger seized him, pushing out the guilt. If she hadn’t been showing off—if she’d stayed with them… Her decisions ruined his life.
Condemnation rushed back. Nice try. Would he now blame her? He shrugged. No. There had been enough blame. He refused to step into his father’s shoes.

Staring at nothing, he fought against the certainty that if the courageous Conte Louis Dolcini—master horseman and proud patron of his family—knew the rest of the story, he would cancel the art exhibit and send him packing. Gabe would have no way of paying his bills. His mother would be left homeless. His stomach knotted against the threat that hovered just out of his control.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Proof by Cheryl Colwell

About the Book:  Shrouded in mystery, a precious relic known as Il Testamento, or The Proof, circulated among the early Christians for centuries. Before their deaths, its guardians hid it from their adversaries, leaving only a crude map of its location. For centuries, it lay in darkness. Until now. Reports of its existence have resurfaced, inciting an ancient rivalry between a ruthless group that seeks to destroy it, and a secret association that lusts for its power. Summoned to Siena by a grandfather he has never met, Gabriel Dolcini is thrust into a dark maze of danger. And into his divine destiny.

About the Author:   Passionate about all things creative, Cheryl Colwell finds inspiration in the countryside of Ashland, Oregon - the perfect venue for her interests in writing, gardening, and art. John, her husband, best friend, and chiropractor, keeps her in shape for gardening and writing long into the night. They are delighted to have four unique and talented children and three grandchildren. A smart and playful English Shepherd makes their empty nest a happy place. Cheryl began writing fiction in 2007. True to her tagline, "Stunning Suspense," her characters visit stunning locations while they pursue adventurous quests peppered with mystery, suspense, and romance. Cheryl likes to think of her stories as "cozy" suspense.

Find Cheryl online:
Website: cherylcolwell.com
Blog: The Best of Inspired Writing at: inspiredfictionbooks.com
Blog: travelandmysteryblog.com

My Review:   When I first read the description of Cheryl's book, I couldn't wait to read it.  Mystery.  Ancient relic.  Crude map.  Ancient rivalry.  The perfect story, in my mind.  I'm glad to say that I was not disappointed.  From the very first chapter, I related to the main character, Gabriel, an artist pursuing his life-long dream yet endeavoring to simply pay his bills.  I understood his frustration and confusion.  I felt for him as he strove to find answers to solve not only his financial problems, but his emotional ones as well.  He, like all the other characters, are well-written as complex individuals with unique characteristics and personal struggles.

As for the story itself, I must admit it had me running to the history books to discover just how much of the tale was truth and how much was fiction.  The two were interwoven so beautifully and delicately that is was difficult to tell where one ended and the other began.  I was thrilled to discover that the story behind the authentic sword in the stone is a true and fascinating story and that the actual sword can be viewed in Italy.  The story of the sword and the man who thrust it into the stone is an integral part of the mystery of the book, but I can assure you that it is not the only portion that will have your scratching your head or leaning forward in anticipation of the next chapter.

My favorite part of the book was the last chapter, not because of reaching the solution to the mystery but rather because it was totally unexpected and unbelievably moving.  My tears flowed freely as I read and pondered the conclusion, but I fear I cannot tell you more without ruining the experience for you, so I'll leave it at that.

While the book is Christian-based, the author does a wonderful job of not coming across as "preachy" or "super-religious."  That being said, however, salvation's message and the fruit of the Spirit are unmistakably clear throughout the pages.

If there was one drawback to the book, I would have to say that it was the number of characters and locations in the book.  Perhaps it was because I had to read the book over a longer stretch of time, but I had trouble keeping the characters and places straight.  There is a guide in the back of the book that tells who is who and where each scene is taking place, but since I was reading on an e-reader, it was not convenient to "flip" to the back of the book each time the characters changed.  Halfway through the book, before I realized there was a guide in the back, I found myself wishing I had taken notes on the many different characters and locations.  I tell you this not as a criticism but because I hope with this knowledge you will either take notes or be aware of the list in the back before you begin reading.  I'm certain it will aid you.

Overall, this was an excellent book and a must-read for those who love history, medieval conflict, Templar knights, ancient relics and/or religious mysteries.  You will not be disappointed!

(Note:  After reading my review, Cheryl revamped her book and placed the character list in the front of the book, which I'm sure will aid you when you read this thrilling mystery!)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Accompanied by the Master

I read the story this morning of a mother who took her young child to a concert.  Upon finding their seats, the mothers was overjoyed to recognize a friend and soon became lost in conversation.  As the lights went down, signaling that the concert was about to begin, the mother realized that her child was no longer in his seat.  In the darkness, a simple piano tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" was heard throughout the building. 

The spotlight illuminated the stage, and much to the mother's embarrassment, her child was sitting at the grand piano, pecking out the simple tune.  What the child didn't know is that the star of the evening, the pianist for whom the concert was building held, was approaching him from behind.  The musician slipped onto the bench beside the young child and whispered in his ear to continue playing.  The child happily obeyed and repeated his simple piece.  However, the tune sounded nothing like it had before, for as he played, the master musician accompanied him.  The notes were sweet, and the melody flowed.  What had begun as a child's meager melody had turned into a musical masterpiece.

Isn't that what God does with us?  He takes our meager attempts and turns them into miracles.  In and of ourselves, we can do nothing, but that doesn't usually stop us from trying.  Even our efforts to serve Him are lacking in strength, devotion or skill.  Yet, God uses us to perform a masterpiece.  He turns our meager melodies into musical delights.  He transforms our words into blessings.  He takes the simplest of the simple and turns it into something indescribable.  And just like the master musician in the story above, He urges us to keep playing.

The musician could have been angry or offended at the child's nonsense.  But instead, he encouraged the giver to keep on giving, even if his offering was paltry.  God, too, encourages us to keep on serving, even if it seems our efforts are in vain or our services are of no consequence.  Does God need us to work for Him?  No, but He allows us to, and our response should be the same as the little child at the concert--unreserved joy at the privilege to play alongside the Master.

 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. - Philippians 2:13

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What a Tangled Web!


I walked through a spiderweb this morning. That, in and of itself, is not unusual. What is unusual is that I wasn't outside at the time. No, this spiderweb was in my house. And it was not a little web by any means. No, this web had its own zip code. It stretched from my curtains to my mantel and then down to my stereo.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I haven't won any "Housekeeper of the Year" awards. In fact, my housekeeping leaves A LOT to be desired (sorry, Mom). Nevertheless, I do frequently take the time to rid my house of spiderwebs. The problem is that we live in a very old house which means there are a lot of cracks and crevices for pesky little critters to enter in. And enter in they do. I can be completely rid of spiderwebs in the morning, but by afternoon, my house resembles the ancient crypts. It's unreal how quickly and elaborately these spiders can spin their webs.

You know who else is good at spinning webs? Satan. He can spin webs of discouragement, discontentment, and doubt better than any spider alive. The tricky part about these webs is that, like the web I walked through this morning, they often show up in unexpected places. Before we realize what's happening, we're tangled in a sticky web that we weren't prepared for.

For this reason, the Bible tells us to always be on guard. "Watch and pray," Jesus said. "Put on the whole armor of God." Over and over again, we are warned to expect the unexpected. When we do, we are less likely to become snared in one of Satan's webs.

As you get ready for the day today, be sure to grab your armor, your sword, and your shield. You may be facing fiery darts, but also be on guard for the unseen webs that may be in your path. They can often be as dangerous (and sometimes more) than the fiery darts. Beware!