Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Blog Tour: Words of Comfort for Times of Loss (Review & Interview)

Grief comes in many forms. It provides untold challenges for the people - especially as people walk through the emotions, which impact the grieving heart.

Cecil Murphey and Liz Allison know firsthand the ups and downs of personal grief.

Murphey drew from experiences surrounding the deaths of his father and son-in-law, while Allison’s reflections focus on things that happened in her life following the death of her husband, NASCAR driver Davey Allison .

Together the pair used their experiences to create a new resource – Words of Comfort In Times of Loss, which is designed as an easy to read , easy to read book that touches upon the emotions of those who hurt, as well as offer solace.

“I I wanted to give readers a male and a female perspective on loss,” Murphey said. “I wanted Words of Comfort for Times of Loss to offer compassion and understanding. I didn't want to throw out a lot of advice (which they probably know anyway).

“Liz and I have both suffered painful loss and we wanted to share what we've learned.”

Murphey envisioned this project as primarily a gift book – something someone could hand to a person “in the throes of sorrow and needs a few encouraging words to take to the next healing step.”

“When we mourn, we're aware that others go through the process, and yet we feel alone and often that no one feels our pain as we do,” Murphey said. “No one truly understands another, but [the book] was my way to come alongside a person encased in sorrow, and hold out my arms of compassion.”

In fact, Murphey said, this is the type of book he would have wanted to have, as he dealt with issues surrounding his son-in-law’s death.

"I had to do a lot of internal processing over the death of my son-in-law," Murphey explained. "That brought back painful memories of the loss of my dad because we never had a warm or healthy relationship." 

Murphey and Allison’s words are accompanied by watercolor illustrations created by Michal Sparks.

“I wanted soothing artwork because the pictures offer their own warmth along with our words,” Murphey said. “[Sparks] watercolors feel exactly right to me.”

This is the second time Murphey has collaborated with Sparks. After she completed the artwork for “When Someone You Love Has Cancer,” Murphey told his editor that Sparks’ soft watercolors “captured the pathos” of his prose.

Though small – approximately 6,000 words – Murphey said the book breaks down several issues many people face, in its 12 brief chapters - including suggestions on how to move through grief at a personal pace and how to handle holidays after the death of a loved one.

“I struggled over what I could leave out,” Murphey said. “As I prayed and thought about my own grief, those were the issues I had to focus on when I was heartbroken.

“I wanted to offer comfort, as the title says, but it was my way to say softly, ‘God loves you. You may feel isolated, but he is with you.’ I hoped our words would remind [readers] of the tenderness of the God who never forsakes us.”

Murphey said with each book he works to create, he tries to “move deeper” inside himself.

“I strive to be like Nathaniel of whom Jesus said, ‘An Israelite in whom there is no guile.’ I translate that to mean one who is transparent,” Murphey continued. “It's not easy to make myself vulnerable, but I've learned that the more open I am about my feelings, the more I resonate with others' emotions (and they with mine).”

What’s Next For Murphey
Murphey is nearly finished with “Knowing God, Knowing Myself,” a book of aphorisms (short, pithy sayings), compiled from more than 400 he has written throughout the years.

“When an editor at Regal Books heard about them, he asked me to share some of them in a book. I plan to use and explain about 70,” Murphey explained.

Some examples of his aphorisms include:
---“I am passionately involved in the process; I am emotionally detached from the result.”
---“If I figure out a reason for God's love, I have the wrong answer.”
---“No matter how many times I hear something, I will deny what I'm not prepared to accept.”

Murphey also created a website to help writers improve their craft. He recently started a blog where he shares information about writing – Cec Murphey's Writer to Writer - http://cecmurpheyswritertowriter.blogspot.com.

What I Thought About This Resource
I jumped at the chance to review this book - and do the interview with at least one of the authors - because I hoped it would be a good resource that I could use for those going through a "time of loss."

Working within a children's ministry, often the "loss" revolves around either a grandparent (ok, sometimes a pet). I hoped this would be a book I could pass to parents within my ministry.

This book definitely met and exceeded expectations. Simple, direct and to the point, it walks through several subjects faced by people dealing with grief.

Using examples from their own lives, Allison and Murphey help readers find practical and easy ways to deal with their emotions, feelings and well, even the things well-meaning people may say.

The illustrations, created by Sparks are beautiful. The soft pastels work in tandem with the words to create a resource that is not only practical, but comforting.

This book will definitely go on my parenting resource bookshelf. It would definitely be worth purchasing several in bulk and passing them to a family dealing with a death. Simple in nature, the message is quite powerful and timely.

More About The Book - From The Publishers
Through great personal loss, authors Cecil Murphey and Liz Allison have gained insight to share with others who are going through uncertainty, depression, and loneliness after losing a loved one. They also offer advice for those comforting someone who is grieving.

Among comforting paintings by artist Michal Sparks, brief stories, personal experiences, and prayers offer a meaningful path toward healing for readers when they:
  • feel alone and lost in their grief and want to reconnect with others and to life
  • seek to make sense of their loss alongside their sense of faith, purpose, and God
  • want to honor their loved one without clinging to the past in unhealthy ways
Readers are given gentle permission to grapple with doubt, seek peace, and reflect on their loss in their own way without judgment and with understanding and hope. A perfect gift for a loved one dealing with loss.

Find It Online
Amazon.com
Harvest House Publishers

Meet The Authors & The Illustrator
Liz Allison was married to NASCAR driver Davey Allison until his tragic death in 1993. Widowed at 28 with two young children to raise, Allison faced the long journey of pain, loss, and grief with great faith. Committed to encouraging others, she returned to her work in TV reporting, has published eight books, and hosts a weekly radio show. Learn more about Allison by visiting: www.lizallison.com.

Cecil Murphey is an international speaker and bestselling author who has written more than 100 books, including New York Times bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper). No stranger himself to loss and grief, Murphy has served as a pastor and hospital chaplain for many years, and through his ministry and books he has brought hope and encouragement to countless people around the world. Read more about Murphy at www.cecilmurphey.com.

Michal Sparks’ artwork can be found throughout the home-furnishings industry in textiles, gift items, dinnerware, and more. She is the artist of the Emilie Marie books for girls as well as Simple Joys, Beautiful Home on a Budget, My Very First Tea Party, and My Very First Book of Manners. She and her family live in New Jersey.
Learn more about Sparks by visiting: www.indigogate.com

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Kathy Carlton Willis Communications. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Blog Tour: The Promise of Morning (Review)

What do you do when loss threatens to break your heart? How do you find the courage to go on with life?

Those are just two of the questions faced by Ellie Craig in Ann Shorey's newest book "The Promise of Morning," the second book in the At Home in Beldon Grove series.

In the novel, Ellie Craig must find a way to deal with the deaths of three infant children and the depression that follows - despite having the love of her husband, Matthew, a pastor who is facing his own heart break and disappointment related to his ministry.

The Promise of Morning is filled with themes of overcoming tragedy, finding strength to meet daunting challenges, and trusting your heart to love again.

What I Think?
The good: I thought Shorey created an interesting community in Beldon Grove. I could imagine life around the small, frontier town. I thought the conflict she created among the pastor and the coming Shakespearean play - echoed things that I've experienced in present-day ministry conflicts.

I also thought her story lines were intriguing - although, I often found myself skipping ahead to find out what happened with a side story, rather than plowing through the main story themes.

The not so good: I never completely connected with the characters in this story. I'm not sure what kept me from "clicking" with the book. I initially thought it was because it was a "book 2" - I assumed that the characters back story took place in the first book. But researching the series online let me know that that assumption was off. Book 1 focuses on a different couple. (I'm not sure if Ellie and Matthew appear in the first book as secondary characters.)

I guess if I was ranking this book on a 1 to 5 scale with 5 being the "best" and 1 being the "worst" I'd rank this as a 2.5 to 3. It's not the worst book that I've ever read, but it's probably not one that I'll pick up and read more than once. (But again, it takes a lot to get on the "read over and over" again list.)

With that said, this is definitely a book I'd be willing to pass on to someone else - because I have a feeling others will resonate with the book's message of hope and endurance.

Online Resources
A Discussion Guide
Read An Excerpt


The First Book
She's determined to make it--and she doesn't need a man's help to do it.

It is the summer of 1838 in St. Lawrenceville, Missouri, and Molly McGarvie's life is about to change forever. When her beloved Samuel succumbs to cholera, Molly is heartbroken but resolves to take care of herself and her children.

When Samuel's unscrupulous brother takes over the family business and leaves Molly to fend for herself, she knows she must head out on her own. It is a dangerous journey, and along the way she must face the loss of another family member. Somehow she must find a way to make a living, restore her family, and fend off some overeager suitors.

Book one in the At Home in Beldon Grove series, The Edge of Light will captivate you with the true-to-life emotions of one woman's struggle to survive.

Find The Book(s) On Line
Amazon.com
Christianbook.com
Barnes&Noble

Meet Ann Shorey
Ann Shorey is the author of The Edge of Light and has published selections in the Cup of Comfort series and in Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul. You can read more about her by visiting her blog: http://www.annshorey.com/

Shorey's books are available online or at local bookstores, published by Revell Books

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Deep Thoughts: Camp Barnabas

Editor's Note:  This devotion appeared in the September/October 2003 issue Devo'Zine published by Upper Room Ministries.

Camp Barnabas
By Kaylea M. Hutson
We want to send a message: Jesus loves you, and you are special just the way you are.

Nestled in the foothills of southwestern Missouri, Camp Barnabas helps children with serious, chronic illnesses or disabilities experience the joys of summer camp. There they find encouragement and acceptance, and they meet God. At Camp Barnabas, every activity is designed to let campers learn that they are important, regardless of their disabilities.
      Paul and Cyndy Teas founded Camp Barnabas in 1995. Cyndy says that often students come to camp feeling as if they are a burden to their families, and the world tells them that they are not valuable. "We want to send a message: Jesus loves you, and you are special just the way you are," Cyndy says. "We love [the campers] with unconditional love, just as Jesus loves them."
      Outdoor activities, such as sliding down a zip line or weaving through a ropes course, allow campers to experience things they might not otherwise try.
      "Basically we do the same activities [as they do at other camps], but we figure out how to adapt them so that everyone can do them," Cyndy says.
      A pool with a beachside entry allows campers confined to wheelchairs to wheel straight into the water. The pool also features water slides built with ramps, rather than stairs, and an automatic wheelchair lift.       Outside of the water, counselors find creative ways to let students use a rappel tower.
      "Basically the camp gives the kids opportunities to be as much as possible like children without disabilities," explains long-time volunteer Johanna Gordan.
      Johanna says that sporting events and other activities allow campers to develop relationships with volunteers. "They have to trust us in order to see us as friends they can depend on. Then they can look at our lives and see the difference faith makes."
      Throughout the week, campers are matched up with peers who have the same disabilities and with a teenage volunteer. In 2002 the camp boasted more than 1,000 volunteers.
      "We want [the children] to know that God has a plan for every person's life," Cyndy says, "and that every person has a place in this world."
      Siblings are included at Camp Barnabas. They need to hear the message of God's love as much as their brothers or sisters do.
      Twins Julie and Kate Savinske have spent several summers at Barnabas. Julie, who is confined to a wheelchair, says that the camp has given her a place to experience life. At Camp Barnabas, she has also experienced God. "I think [Christianity] sets Camp Barnabas apart," Julie says. "I know that God has a plan for my life."
      Beyond attending as campers, Julie and Kate now participate as volunteers. Kate says her experience has helped her learn to praise God. It has also given her the opportunity to show unconditional love to others. And it may direct her future. Kate hopes to pursue a career in physical therapy or special education so that she can continue to work with children who have disabilities.
      "Camp Barnabas is a gift from God," she says. "You can feel God's love here. Campers have so much fun, and they leave with smiles on their faces."

DIG DEEPER
Read Acts 4:36. Camp Barnabas uses sports and other activities to offer encouragement to children with disabilities. Do you play soccer? baseball? ultimate Frisbee? Do you dance? run? Think of ways to use your sport as an expression of God's love and encouragement.

To learn more about Camp Barnabas or to volunteer, go to www.campbarnabas.org.

Kaylea M. Hutson is a reporter and a photographer for the Lawrence County Record in Mount Vernon, Missouri.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Blog Tour: Scattered Petals (Review)

Longing for adventure, Priscilla Morton leaves Boston in 1856 and heads for the Texas Hill Country, never dreaming that the adventure she seeks could have heartbreaking consequences. Although attracted to her, ranch foreman Zachary Webster knows Priscilla deserves a cultured East Coast gentleman, not a cowboy who's haunted by memories of his mistakes.

When necessity draws them together, Priscilla and Zach begin to forge a life filled with promise. But then the past intrudes.

Book 2 of the Texas Dreams series, Scattered Petals by Amanda Cabot weaves a tale of drama, love, and second chances as beautiful as the Hill Country itself.


What I Thought
Wow. I'll be honest, this book has an opening that will grab you in unexpected ways.

Cabot weaves a tale that includes pain, tragedy and redemption - through her main two characters & their families. Hard to read at times (because of the story line) the book definitely shows you how God can work in a person's life, despite the choices other people make (got to love free will).

Even though this was "book 2" of the series, it stood "alone." Which was good because I haven't read the first book.

The way Cabot crafts the story, allows new readers to feel as if they know the characters, without a lot of effort. - Although, it would have been helpful to know what happened in the first book when it relates to a large secondary plot (spoiler alert - the one dealing with the mayor's son), since I got a bit lost figuring out how it related to the main male character - Zach Webster. - I was eventually able to decipher what was going on, but it took a while.

Overall though, I appreciated this story and it's honest nature. Even though it was an historical novel, many of the story lines could have been pulled form today's headlines (situations may change by time but the themes remain true).

Resources You Can Use
Want to read an excerpt? Click Here!
Want to download a discussion guide? Click Here!

Purchase This Book
Amazon
CBD
Barnes & Noble

More About Cabot
Amanda Cabot is an accomplished author under various pen names and a popular speaker. The author of Paper Roses, she is also a charter member of Romance Writers of America, the co-founder of its New Jersey chapter, a member of the ACFW, and an avid traveler.

Want to Read the First Novel?
 Her future stretched out like the clear blue Texas sky.

But a storm is coming.

Leaving the past behind in Philadelphia, mail-order bride Sarah Dobbs arrives in San Antonio ready to greet her groom--a man she has never met but whose letters, her paper roses, have won her heart from afar. But there is a problem--Austin Canfield is dead, and Sarah cannot go back East.

As Sarah tries to reconcile herself to a future that is drastically changed, Austin's brother Clay wants nothing more than to shake the Texas dust from his boots, but first he must find his brother's killer. And then there's Sarah.

Something is blooming out in the vast Texas landscape that neither Clay nor Sarah is ready to admit, and the promise of redemption blows like a gentle breeze through the prairie grasses.

Book 1 of the Texas Dreams series, Paper Roses will sweep you away with a tale of love, loss, and tantalizing possibilities.

About the Publisher
Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, offers practical books that bring the Christian faith to everyday life.  They publish resources from a variety of well-known brands and authors, including their partnership with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Hungry Planet. For more information, visit www.RevellBooks.com.

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

It's an Oscraps Birthday Blog Hop!



Thanks for coming to my BLOG!! YOUR word from my BLOG is: "YOU". Don't forget to collect all of the words and e-mail us at bloghop AT oscraps DOT com with the WHOLE phrase. You will be entered in a drawing to win a HUGE GC to the Oscraps store!!

I have created this little pressie to give you just for stopping by!! In honor of OScraps, 4th birthday, I've created....two versions!

I got into the spring mood - even though they are calling for SNOW tomorrow!
This is from the Spring Bee's Collab it


Big Word Art!

Download no longer available.

Smaller Word Art
Download no longer available


Now, hop on over to Sally's BLOG (sallysangelworks.typepad.com)!!! and thanks for stopping by!!

BTW, if you missed the first part of this blog hop, you can find the beginning of the train, by visiting Jodie McNally's blog at http://jodiemcnally.com/

Friday, March 19, 2010

Blog Tour: Songbird Under a German Moon (Review)


Intrigue, drama, espionage and of course romance, swirl around the story, created by Tricia Goyer - Songbird under a German Moon.

The year is 1945. The war is over and 21-year-old Betty Lake has been invited to Europe to sing in a USO tour for American soldiers who now occupy Hitler's Germany.

When her first night's performance is a hit, Betty becomes enthralled with the applause, the former Nazi-held mansion they're housed in and the attention of Frank Witt, the US Army Signal Corp Photographer.

Yet the next night this songbird is ready to fly the coop when Betty's dear friend, Kat, turns up missing. Betty soon realizes Franks photographs could be the key to finding Kat. Betty and Frank team up against post-war Nazi influences and the two lovebirds' hearts may find the answers...in each other.

But will they have a chance for their romance to sing? The truth will be revealed under a German moon.

What I Thought About It
 I really liked this book. Full of intrigue and suspense, the book captured my attention from the very beginning.

Betty's story - and the struggle she encountered as she tried to find her own identity in the midst of post-World War II helped make this story "real."

As the story develops, we learn more about how Betty came to be in Germany at the end of World War II through lies and deceit.

We also see how lies and deceit led to the events surrounding Kat's disappearance.

Without giving anything away (no spoilers here!), the story lives up to it's name and ends with a "song" - after Betty and Frank learn several life lessons, and of course, solve the mystery.

If you love World War II, and suspense, then this book is definitely for you!

Find Out More Here
 


 About Tricia Goyer
Tricia Goyer is the author of 20 books including From Dust and Ashes, My Life UnScripted, and the children's book, 10 Minutes to Showtime.

She won Historical Novel of the Year in 2005 and 2006 from ACFW, and was honored with the Writer of the Year award from Mt. Hermon Writer's Conference in 2003.

Goyer's book Life Interrupted was a finalist for the Gold Medallion in 2005. In addition to her novels, Goyer writes non-fiction books and magazine articles for publications like Today's Christian Woman and Focus on the Family.

Goyer is a regular speaker at conventions and conferences, and has been a workshop presenter at the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International Conventions.  She and her family make their home in the mountains of Montana. Find out more about her and her books at www.TriciaGoyer.com

Want To Buy This Book?
--Amazon, 
--CBD 
--Barnes & Noble

Links
Want to see what others are saying about this book? Click here!

What Era? Contest!
Leave a comment on Tricia’s blog or send an email through her website CONNECT page and answer this question: What era in history do you wish you'd lived in and why?

Earn extra entries by signing up for Tricia's newsletter here, becoming a Fan on Facebook or Tweeting about the contest on Twitter (use hashtag #songbird)!

You’ll be entered to win one of three signed copies of Songbird Under a German Moon.

Want to read some other books by Goyer?
*Blog Tour: Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie Montana   Review & Interview
*Blog Tour: The Swiss Courier  - Review & Interview
*Blog Tour: Blue Like Playdough - Review
*Blog Tour: Sunflower Serenade - Review
*Blog Tour: All Things Hidden - Review

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Litfuse Publicity Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Blog Tour: Sons of Thunder (Review)

Sophie Frangos is torn between the love of two men and the promise that binds them all together. 

Markos Stavros loves Sophie from afar while battling his thirst for vengeance and his hunger for honor. 

Dino Stavros, Markos' quiet and intelligent brother, simply wants to forget the horror that drove them from their Greek island home to start a new life in America. 

One of these sons of thunder offers a future she longs for, the other the past she lost. From the sultry Chicago jazz clubs of the roaring twenties to the World War II battlefields of Europe to a final showdown in a Greek island village, they'll discover betrayal, sacrifice and finally redemption. Most of all, when Sophie is forced to make her choice, she'll learn that God honors the promises made by the Sons of Thunder. 



Sons of Thunder - the book which launches the new romattic suspense line for Summerside Press (now available at various locations including Wal-Mart) - is written as three novellsa - three stories in three different settings.

What I Thought
I really liked this book. It's different from the other books by Warren I have read, including the PJ Sugar series. In the book's introduction, Warren talks about how she came up with the story idea after getting into a conversation with a stranger on a flight - it's amazing what you can glean from one of these "God-instance" conversations.

The storyline, following Sophie and the two Stavros brothers, provided an interesting hook. You want to keep reading - as you follow the characters from Greek to America and well, back to the European theatre of World War II.

With a few unexpected twists and turns, Warren's novel is full of realism. In fact, that realism amazed me at times.

Warren did not shy away from the "grit and grime of life" in several scenes. In fact, I'm impressed that her editors let a few scenes into the novel - I'm used to the vanilla nature of Christian fiction.

Without being gratuitous, Warren shows us some of the painful choices the characters are forced to make (by their choices or because of the actions of others) because of life circumstances. This "realism" allows Warren to show how God's grace can work in the lives of everyone - despite our broken, frail human nature.

I'm looking forward to seeing where Warren takes this series. The realism in this storyline complements the "humor" found many of her other novels.

(Pst...spoiler alert - want to know more about Book 2 - Click here! Breath of Lions is set to come out in August.)

Part the Waters - Book 3 in the series - is set for a 2011 release.


More About Susan May Warren
Susan May Warren is the award-winning author of seventeen novels and novellas with Tyndale, Steeple Hill and Barbour Publishing. Her first book, Happily Ever After won the American Fiction Christian Writers Book of the Year in 2003, and was a 2003 Christy Award finalist. In Sheep's Clothing, a thriller set in Russia, was a 2006 Christy Award finalist and won the 2006 Inspirational Reader's Choice award. A former missionary to Russia, Susan May Warren now writes Suspense/Romance and Chick Lit full time from her home in northern Minnesota. Learn more about Susan here: www.susanmaywarren.com

Check out what others are saying about the book:
http://www.litfusegroup.com/Blog-Tours/sons-of-thunder-by-susan-may-warren.html

Want to Read More About the Series?
http://brothersinarms.susanmaywarren.com/

Want to Read An Excerpt From Sons of Thunder?
http://susanmaywarren.typepad.com/files/excerpt-for-sons-of-thunder.pdf

It's A Contest!
Be sure to check out Susan's fun contest for the book's release: Each one of us has a wealth of stories from the past – while they might not all be as sweeping and dramatic as that of Sons of Thunder’s Sofia and the Stravos brothers (swoon), your family history is a treasure nonetheless.

Well – let’s hear them! Were your great-grandparents ‘fresh off the boat’? Was your great uncle a war hero? Did your grandmother make unbelievable sacrifices to help or protect the family? Did your father harbor a family secret until his death? Are you related to someone famous? Do you have a family treasure? Whatever it is that is unique in your family history – share your story HERE! (click on the SHARE button)

One grand prize winner will receive:
• Memory Prize package containing a gift certificate to create your own hard cover photo book
• 6 month membership to Netflix (to satisfy that flick fix!)
• Signed copy of Sons of Thunder!

5 runners up will also win signed copies of Sons of Thunder!

You can also be entered to win a copy of Sons of Thunder by helping us Spread the Word during the blog tour!

TWEET THIS:(must use hashtag #SonsofThunder to be entered - no limit on entries! Tweet away!)
Please RT! @susanmaywarren launches new Romantic Suspense #SonsofThunder. Share your story 2 win a fab prize pack! http://ow.ly/1digM

Want to Read Other Books by Susan May Warren?
Double Trouble -http://kaytebug2002.blogspot.com/2010/02/blog-tour-double-trouble-review.html

The Great Christmas Bowl - http://kaytebug2002.blogspot.com/2009/09/book-tour-great-christmas-bowl.html

Nothing But Trouble - http://kaytebug2002.blogspot.com/2009/05/closer-look-susan-may-warren-pj-sugar.html

Editor's Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of this book by Litfuse Publicity Group. This review was not influenced by a free book - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Beyond chocolate: How about giving up Facebook for Lent?

Editor's Note: Here's the text of the article, published on Feb. 20, 2010, by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, that I got interviewed for. It talks about the Facebook Friday Fast that some of us are trying.

By Christie Storm

LITTLE ROCK — When Troy Thomas realized he was spending too much time on Facebook he decided to give up it up - at least temporarily. The United Methodist pastor will be avoiding the social networking site during the 40 days of Lent, which began this week on Ash Wednesday.

“Sometimes I check it three or four times a day when I have blank spots in my schedule,” Thomas said. “I recognize I’m depending on it too much.”

Lent has traditionally been a season of penitence as well as a time of spiritual preparation leading up to Easter, and fasting in one form or another is a common practice. Some Christians will follow a strict fast and partake of only liquids, while others prefer to give up a favorite treat or activity.

Thomas decided this was the year for a Facebook fast.

“I decided to re-center my focus on something that’s more godly during Lent,” he said.

Thomas serves the congregations of Parkers Chapel and Pleasant Grove United Methodist churches near El Dorado. Neither congregation has a Facebook page, so abstaining from the site won’t hamper his ability to keep in touch with church members. He’ll simply have to avoid logging onto his own page, except on Sundays, which aren’t counted as part of Lent.

“This a good thing for me. I’m going to enjoy this,” Thomas said. “Anything that distracts us from God is problematic if we are obsessed with it.”

Not that Thomas has anything against Facebook. He simply believes Lent should be about his relationship with God, he said.

“It’s all about balance and truly being connected with God and being in celebration of the fact that we do have salvation and we do have hope,” he said. “That’s very awesome to me.”

Some United Methodist youth directors are also embracing the idea of a modern fast from technology such as texting or social networking, although their students aren’t quite as excited about the idea.

Amanda Edgar’s suggestion to abstain from texting was met with groans from students at Farmington United Methodist Church.

“They have all these reasons why they can’t do it,” she said.

Edgar, the church’s youth director, said the idea for a Facebook fast came about after a student said he couldn’t go on a summer mission trip because he wouldn’t have access to the Internet.

“He said, ‘I can’t go without it,’ and that got me thinking that a lot of people do go without the Internet,” Edgar said, adding that Lent offers an opening to talk about how much the students possess, compared with other children around the world. “I try to bring it up in my lessons regularly with them.

You could do without. We’re still working on it.”

Edgar said she especially likes the idea of giving up Facebook for a while so the children can focus more on interpersonal relationships face to face.

“When all we do is send these brief texts or posts we don’t get the nuance of talking to someone and reading their reaction, and we don’t get the same depth of self-disclosure when we talk over the computer,” she said. “I hope if they give up texting or Facebook that will encourage them to pick upthe phone, maybe go over to their house. We’ve lost a lot of that personal time we used to have.”

Edgar is encouraging the group to fast for one week instead of the entire Lenten season and she’s hoping adults in the congregation will join them as a way to support the youths.

“They really do think it’s impossible, so if the adults around them can do it that’s good for them to see,” she said.

Kaylea Hutson, minister to families with children at First United Methodist Church in Siloam Springs, challenged her students to a Facebook Friday Fast. They even made a logo to post on their Facebook pages to alert friends of the weekly fast, which begins on Thursday evenings and ends on Saturday mornings.

“I don’t know if it will work,” Hutson said, adding that some students thought the idea was crazy. “They said, ‘Friday is when everyone’s on!’”

Hutson manages the church’s Facebook page and also has her own personal account. She doesn’t work on Fridays, so staying off the church page for one day a week won’t be too difficult. Avoiding her own page will be much harder, she said, especially since she has access to the Internet through her iPhone.

“I want to see if I can do it. I don’t know if I can,” she said. “I check it every day -lots. I check it about as much as I check my e-mail.”

Hutson said she likes the sense of community Facebook provides, as well as the ability to stay connected with friends all over the world. But she says the constant posting can be time-consuming. She doesn’t want to give up Facebook permanently, but does relish the chance to completely “unplug.”

“I think it can be a distraction, where sometimes you are so busy updating your life on Facebook you don’t live your life in person,” Hutson said. “I’m hoping it makes one less distraction in my life ... I might find out I don’t have to be on it 24/7.”

Hutson said the students decided to fast one day a week instead of the entire season in hopes that they will succeed.

“I think it will be harder than if they gave up soda or chocolate,” she said. “I’m not sure any of us knows how hard this will be, but I think it will be good.”

Eschewing texting, social networking and other technology isn’t the only modern twist to fasting. Many churches are encouraging their members to be better stewards of God’s creation by participating in “carbon fasts” this year. The idea is to follow energy-saving tips that ideally will become a part of daily life.

Sherry Joyce is coordinating the effort at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Little Rock. Members were encouraged to sign pledge cards listing their Lenten commitments. The cards included various options, from “saying no to bottled water” to lowering the thermostat at home by three degrees or observing one “silent” day a week without using a cell phone or watching television.

“A lot of people in our congregation normally give up something for Lent, so we decided this year we would offer them the option of taking an action that would deepen their Lenten service and at the same time care for God’s creation,” Joyce said.

The church has a “green team” and caring for the earth is an important part of the ethos of the congregation.

“It’s a very strong, biblical call that we care for the creation God has placed us in and we’ve not been good stewards - not out of any malicious intent, but we are realizing some of the ways we’ve structured our lifestyle is damaging to God’s creation and to me, that’s sin,” Joyce said.

In addition to the pledge cards, members can also follow suggestions on the “Tread Lightly for Lent” calendar provided by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. The calendar offers daily ideas for saving energy and caring for the planet. It’s available at pcusa.org/environment.

The Gaia Guild at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville is promoting a carbon fast, too. Kay Duval, one of the guild leaders, will contribute daily and weekly ideas in the church bulletin and the group will be installing a recycling station in thechurch’s welcome center.

Duval said the bin is for items that can be re-used, including cell phones and inkjet cartridges, as well as used eyeglasses. Items that shouldn’t be disposed of in household trash, such as flashlight batteries, will also be collected.

“All in all, we’ll be encouraging positive acts during Lent, as opposed to the old idea of denial of favorite things,” Duval said.

Information will be available online at stpaulsfay. org.

Members of Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church are also being encouraged to participate in a carbon fast.

“For us it’s to increase awareness,” said Scharmel Roussel, who also serves as a staff liaison for Arkansas Interfaith Power and Light and the Arkansas Green Faith Alliance. Both organizations are dedicated to promoting sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Roussel is posting daily suggestions on the church’s Web site and also on the Arkansas Interfaith Power and Light site. Ash Wednesday’s suggestion was to remove one light bulb and live without it for the duration of Lent and to replace three frequently used bulbs with more energy-efficient compact fluorescent ones. Other suggestions include weatherproofing, recycling and talking to others about carbon fasting.

Information is available at phumc.com and arkansa sipl.com.
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