Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year's Eve 2012

i did it

For the first time, I did it. Wow.

A picture of the day for an entire year. (In 2012 I made it until eye surgery threw me for a loop).

It's amazing to see all of these pics.

Suddenly tonight, I'm having happy thoughts of how full my life is.

It's probably not surprising that my job as a children's pastor shows up as a major theme in the pictures. The other theme, friends and family.

God used this moment to remind me of my blessings.


Here are my photos in review.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Helping Children Deal With the Sandy Hook Tragedy

Expert Offers 8 Recommendations to Help Children Deal with the Sandy Hook Tragedy

Kaylea's Note: The following information was provided by Seedbed, a ministry of Asbury Seminary. You can read the original post here: - I wanted to make sure parents within my sphere of influence had access to the information.

A Note From J.D. Walt, Seedbed Editor: In the aftermath of this unimaginable tragedy in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, my mind turned quickly to another unthinkable tragedy related to children and the very first Christmas. In an effort to destroy Jesus, the child born King, the wicked King Herod ordered all baby boys in the region under two years of age to be killed. I'm trying to help my own four children grasp how the presence of God does not yet necessarily mean the absence of evil.

For this Saturday post, I (J.D. Walt) asked Kathy Milans, an outstanding children's therapist, to offer our Seedbed readers some guidance on how to help children (not to mention ourselves) process this devastating situation. Below, in her own words, she offers 8 practical ways to respond:

In the wake of the Connecticut school shooting, the excitement of Christmas may not penetrate the hearts of all children as they return to school on Monday. This time of year is usually magical for children as they stare peacefully into the manger of Jesus and eagerly await the presents on Christmas morning.

Limit media & news.
Their innocence and security have again been interrupted by mass media that will post agonizing pictures of families trying to seek comfort in the middle of tragedy. In order for children to cope, we need to turn off TV's, radios, and computers. Images will be shown over and over again which can produce vicarious trauma in children.

Observe and enter into their Play.
As caregivers it will be necessary to watch, listen, and join our children as they play. Are they trying to understand a chaotic world by playing out the scenes that they have just seen and heard about? If so, we need to enter their play and take the role of the emergency personnel who bring safety and stability. Having a set of emergency vehicles as part of their toy collection allows children to be in control of tragedy and yet deal with the reality of its existence.

Pay heightened attention to seemingly unrelated fears.
Younger children are egocentric; they can't think abstractly. In their concrete thinking, this shooting feels as if it is in their backyard and their school. This may translate into fear of robbers at bedtime, monsters under their bed, and tears as they board the bus for school on Monday.

Be mindful of your own stress and anxiety and how you process it.
Children are bonded to their caregivers and feel our stress. Praying "Come Lord Jesus, come" will remind us that the Kingdom of God is bigger than this world. As we deal with tragedy in this way, our children will see us as a calm and loving base from which they can find security in the midst of a country that is grieving.

Develop and communicate structured plans for safety at home and school.
Children need to understand that there is a combination of safety and a need for caution in their lives. Explaining home and school safety plans helps them to know that adults in their lives are planning for their safety the best as we are able.

Acknowledge the existence of evil while demonstrating the presence of God through your own gentle presence with them.
Remind your children that the world contains good and bad but we can trust Jesus to be with us in the midst of all difficulties. He is our shelter in the midst of any storm. Children will ask what they need to know. If your child has questions, answer them in a few short simple answers. Then hold them in your lap, hug them, and let them feel your love.

Pray with your children and model what it looks like to take our confusion to God in prayer.
Regardless of age, we all struggle to make sense of where God is in horrible events. Taking our confusion to the throne of Jesus connects us all as we pray for peace on earth this Christmas. Explaining to children that God made humans to be able to freely make choices, good and bad, is part of God's plan. There will be a day when all evil is destroyed and that is our hope in Jesus.

Go out and do good as a response to this evil act. God overcomes evil with good.
Since children are concrete learners, your family may concentrate on how to make this world a better place today in the midst of pain. That is how Jesus is at work. A visit to a local nursing home, putting change in the kettle of the Salvation Army, cooking a meal for a family in need, illustrates this in a way that children can grasp.

Kathy Milans has experience as an elementary educator, teacher trainer, adjunct professor, and has served as Family Resource Director for a major hospital. Along with a B.A. and M.A. in Education, she holds an M.A. in Pastoral Counseling from Asbury Theological Seminary. Kathy is certified by the state of Kentucky to provide pastoral counseling and is credentialed as a Registered Play Therapist by the American Association of Play Therapy.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Processing the news from Sandy Hook Elementary

The following will not be a unique statement. Others are sharing similar thoughts in the wake of what happened yesterday. But consider this 2.5 cents from someone who has worked as a journalist and is a children's pastor.

Please take the news from Newtown, Conn., in moderation this weekend. Over-saturation is not healthy in all aspects of life, and it is especially true this weekend. Continually watching the images will not help you process or deal with what happened, and may cause more harm than good. I think this is a lesson we are all learning, living in a post-911 news culture.

This is a national tragedy. As someone wisely put it last night, we all know of, have a, or have been a 6-year-old. Everyone, regardless of age, will be dealing with the grief of what happened in the Sandy Hook Elementary school in multiple ways.

Keep informed, but do so in moderation. Be mindful of what you not only expose yourself to, but also your children. If we, as adults, struggle to process the images and knowledge of what happened, imagine how they are struggling to do so even more. Yesterday's events are truly indescribable.

So consider this permission to unplug and do other things this weekend. Choose your news sources - and amount of news - wisely.

As you do that, remember, this weekend is the third Sunday in Advent - Joy. Obviously, for many, it will be hard to find joy in the midst of grief; but consider this permission to do just that.

Find ways to enjoy the children in your life. Spend time with them. Assure them. Love them. Pray with them. The key is to simply choose to be present in their lives this weekend (and beyond) - and remember it's ok to seek out joy, in the midst of these unthinkable acts of violence.

If you want to physically do something, find a way to do so in a positive manner. Support one of the churches in Newtown who are on the front lines of this tragedy or do something for a local children's charity/ministry and its upcoming Christmas outreach.

You could even do something as an outreach to local teachers or first responders who, I'm sure, are grieving over this tragedy with their Connecticut counterparts.

Remember, you can also pray for the families in Newtown. As the Rabbi from Newtown told a news agency, prayer for the families in the wake of this tragedy is abundantly needed.

The point to all of this is to remember, we all have choices. This weekend, I am looking for ways I can bring joy into the lives of the children within my sphere of influence.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. Be a light in this dark hour.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Edited to fix a typo and correct the age to 6, 12-15-12 9:30 p.m.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Happy Moment For Christmas

A friend posted a link to this video on YouTube. It combines the song of a great Christian artist - Rich Mullins - along with the classic scenes from Charlie Brown Christmas.

Two of my favorite things, merged together.

Just what I needed on this crazy Advent day.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Blog Tour: Oliver Twist (Review)

I love audio stories - when they are told well. I love how the narrator, the dialogue and the sounds all work together to pull you into the story.

If done well, you truly feel like you are present in the action. You can feel the intensity of the situation, the angst of the character's trials and the elation at the resolution of the story.

The Focus on the Family's Radio Theatre presentation of Oliver Twist does just that and more.

As I listened to the narrator & actors (which honestly, can make or break an audio recording) I truly felt as if I stepped into Charles Dickens' world. The words and sounds of the drama worked together to truly paint a visual picture inside my mind. Recorded on location in London it has an air of authenticity that cannot be matched.

It is as if, a new wind blew through the familiar tale, giving it new life for me.

I believe the Radio Theatre dramas created by Focus on the Family showcase a media they not only do well with, but excel.

Oliver Twist is a superb addition to a list of dramas which include the seven books of the Chronicles of Narnia (I adore this series), as well as the lives of Derrick Bonhoeffer and John Newton.

As an added bonus, it also comes with a dvd that showcases behind the scenes views of how the drama was created - as well as highlights Focus on The Family's ministry to today's orphans.

I can see this drama being used on an upcoming holiday road trip, as well as a unique series of family story times. I can also see loading it on iPod/iPhone to listen to in a variety of ways and settings.

Ultimately, this is a story - and presentation - that will appeal to a variety of ages and genders.

On a scale of one to five, I give this drama a solid five.

From The Publisher
An audio drama of the highest quality, Oliver Twist was recorded on location in London with an award-winning cast. This classic story will steal your heart as the timeless characters are brought to life in Focus on the Family Radio Theatre’s edition of Charles Dickens’ beloved tale. This amazing audio production comes on five CDs, with a bonus DVD that includes behind-the-scenes production footage and the documentary Modern Day Oliver. Purchase of the product also benefits Focus’s “Wait No More” adoption initiative.

With cinema-quality sound and an original soundtrack, this audio drama tells the story of a young orphan sent from a child farm to begin life in a workhouse. After committing the unpardonable offense of asking for more food, Oliver is sent off to apprentice with a coffin-maker whose wife mistreats him. He runs away to London, where he meets the Artful Dodger and Fagin, who trains kids to be pickpockets. Despite his many trials and hardships, he finally gets his happy ending, bringing hope for redemption to all around him.

Online Resources
Read more about it @ The Publisher
Find out more about Focus on the Family's ministry to orphans
Purchase it at Amazon

Note: As a freelance journalist and children's pastor, I was provided a copy of this drama by Tyndale House. This review was not influenced by a free drama - just in case you (or the FTC) were worried about this detail.  (Honestly, I would have purchased it myself - it's that good!)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Blog Tour: Nowhere But Up (Review) - Justin Bieber's mom's story.

Go anywhere where young teen girls gather, and in many cases you'll hear the words "Bieber Fever."

Let's face it, the music of Justin Bieber has saturated the lives of many tweens.

(I know of one specifically in my life, that loves his music so much she posed with a cardboard cutout of him at the mall - oh, someday she'll hate me for taking it.)

So it's not surprising that his mom, Pattie Mallette has written a book. What is surprising - maybe to some - is that the book is not only a memoir, but also a faith-based memoir.

Working with a co-writer, Mallette has documented her journey, which is not "picture perfect." I found her preface to the book refreshing. She lays it out for readers. Her book is a bit raw, it will talk about things in a frank (but not gratuitous way), and it shows - from Mallette's perspective of course - her relationship with many people in her life.

The one thing that truly surprised me is how she reminds people that it is from her perspective, and that for the most part, many of the people (including Mallette) have grown and matured through the years.

Her book is an interesting read. I read it because I wanted to know a bit more about Justin Bieber's mom, and in turn, maybe learn a bit more about him. (Remember, I work with tweens who listen to his music.)

Mallette is very candid about how things from her past, impacted her future. The book's description reads: "With raw honesty, she spills the truth about a lifetime of moments that were punctuated by pain yet permeated with grace--and the journey that's brought her to where she is today." I think this is true.

I'll admit, while I love memoirs, this is probably one I won't add to my "keep and read again" pile. However, it was interesting. The one thing that really did grab me - probably because I work with students - is Mallette's perspective as a teen mom. It was refreshing to see at least one person of faith, a youth minister at the local community center, who stood by her, even when others turned their back.

On the scale of one to five,  I give it a good three. I think Mallette has used her platform as the parent of a major pop star in a positive way.

Mallette's statement - part of the book blurb - wraps up her intent in a nice package:
t doesn't matter where you find yourself today--broken, hurting, wounded, or shamed. If God can help me find my way up, I promise, He can do the same for you.

Let's face it, looking at how a few parents of past pop stars (especially a few female ones) used their "15 minutes" in the spotlight, Mallette's approach is refreshing. 

More About The Authors
Pattie Mallette, known to most of the world as Justin Bieber's mom, is so much more than the mother of a world-renowned pop sensation.

As a young woman and a single mom, she overcame unimaginable obstacles and fought hard to rise above a life of poverty. Pattie has guided her talented son through the winding journey of fame, instilling faith and wisdom every step of the way.

She is impassioned by her vision to share what she has learned from the experiences of her youth and her son's journey. Follow her on Twitter (@pattiemallette).

An accomplished writer, A. J. Gregory has collaborated with fascinating high-profile figures on nearly twenty books. She is also the author of Silent Savior and Messy Faith.

Online Resources
Read an excerpt here.

Buy it online here:
Baker Retail - - -
Barnes & Noble- - -

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of these books by Revell Books, 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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Blog Tour: Breath of Dawn (Review)

Sometimes a book's plot catches your attention like someone yelling "fire" in a crowd. Other times, a writer's words fill you with warmth, kind of like what happens when you sip a cup of hot cocoa.

Kristen Heitzmann's newest novel, The Breath of Dawn, is like that warm cup of chocolate.a

This book - designed as a stand alone novel - re-introduces readers to characters from two previous books: The Still of the Night and A Rush of Wings, novels which were released in 2003.

This novel showcases the story of Quinn, a woman who lives off the grid - to keep someone she sent to prison from finding her,  and Morgan, a man who can control everything in his business world - but not in his personal life.

Through a slow, but deliberate way of storytelling, Heitzmann draws the reader in - as she peels back the layers of both Quinn and Morgan's stories.

Rather than create a "fast pace" novel, Heitzmann instead develops a storyline that has depth. It makes you stop and ponder the next move. It had some surprising twists and turns - in fact a piece of Quinn's past was unexpected - along with the side storyline of RaeAnn.

I'll admit, it took me a while to appreciate the story. I'm used to suspense novels that have a "flash/bang" approach. Instead of racing through this novel, I found myself stopping and simply enjoying the storyline.

In all, I give this novel a solid three and a half. I thought it was a great "stand-alone" novel - in fact, I didn't realize some of the characters (Noelle/Rick & Jill/Morgan) had been previously featured in novels. This is one of the first novels I've read written by Heitzmann. I can see checking out some of her other books in my future!

More About The Novel
Corporate turnaround specialist Morgan Spencer, dubbed the “success guru,” has a Midas touch in business. But losing his wife sent him to the brink, and his two-year-old daughter, Livie, is all he’s living for–until they encounter a woman whose trouble just might draw him out of his own.

Four years ago Quinn Reilly did the right thing. Now the man her testimony put in jail is getting out.

Though she has put up barriers to protect herself and those around her, she has come to care for the Spencer family, especially the winsome Livie and her mercurial father. Unwilling to put them at risk when the threats begin, she requests something she hopes the super-successful Morgan might be able to deliver.

Fixing problems is what Morgan does best, but his counterproposal takes them in a direction neither is equipped to handle. Determined to confront the past, will they survive to build a future?

About The Author
Kristen Heitzmann is the bestselling author of over a dozen novels, including "Freefall", "Halos", "A Rush of Wings", and the Christy Award winner "Secrets".

She and her husband, Jim, and their family live in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she serves as worship leader in their church. Visit for more.

Online Resources
Buy it At Amazon
Follow her on Facebook 
Follow The Blog Tour

It's A Contest
Kristen Heitzmann is celebrating The Breath of Dawn by giving away one of the new Paperwhite Kindles and hosting a fun Author Chat Party on Facebook. (11/27)

One fortunate winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Paperwhite
  • The Breath of Dawn by Kristen Heitzmann
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on November 26th. Winner will be announced at the "The Breath of Dawn" Author Chat Facebook Party on 11/27. Connect with Kristen, get a sneak peek of her next book, try your hand at the trivia contest, and chat with readers just like you. There will also be gift certificates, books and a Book Club Prize Pack to be won (10 copies for your book club or small group)!

So grab your copy of The Breath of Dawn and join Kristen on the evening of the November 27th for a chance to connect with Kristen and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book - don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun, RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 27th!

Spread The Word on Social Media
1) Share It on Facebook
To CELEBRATE the release of her newest novel, The Breath of Dawn, Kristen Heitzmann is giving away a Paperwhite Kindle Fire! Then on 11/27 she'll be hosting a fun Facebook Party where she will be chatting with readers and giving away fun prizes! Click for details and don't miss the fun. 

2. Share this on Twitter:
Enter to win a Paperwhite Kindle Fire from Kristen Heitzmann celebrating the release of The Breath of Dawn.  @LitFuse

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of these books 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.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Blog Tour: Placebo (Review )

Sometimes you may find yourself wanting a little suspense and maybe some "keep you on the edge of your seat" excitement in your reading choices.

For those times, turning to a Steven James novel might just satisfy your craving. (Or at least keep you up until you finish the novel.)

In his newest series, James takes the fast-paced action he has become known for in his Patrick Bowers Files series, and introduces his readers to his newest hero, illusionist Jevin Banks.

Written in the same "bite your finger nails" style as the Bower series, readers will find James' new series dark, intense and suspenseful. They will also discover a story about a man who is trying to move past a tragic moment in his past - in order to move forward in his career, life and future.

It's a strong, solid addition to James' literary stable. I think people who have fallen in love with his writing style will find his portrayal of Banks to be intriguing.

But don't take my word for it.... I had a chance to toss James' some questions by email about his newest work - here's his answers.

1) Why a new series? What drew you to base this series on a magician, rather than a law enforcement figure? 
I’m still continuing the Patrick Bowers thrillers and The King will release next summer. However, I have gathered a lot of ideas over the last five or six years that would make great stories but were just not the kind of ideas that would fit well with the Bowers crime novels. So, finally I just decided I needed to launch a new series to be able to use the material.

I’ve always wanted to avoid the clich├ęd characters that appear in so many crime novels and thrillers, and I thought a new series needed a totally different approach—not a detective or a spy, but still someone who could investigate things and had an interesting skill set. 

An illusionist who debunks psychics and is one of the world’s greatest escape artists came to mind. Then, when I started the books, he became a character I really enjoyed writing about.

2) Both Bowers and Banks have troubled backgrounds. Why are you drawn to create characters who are facing personal challenges? 
At the heart of a story is tension, and at the heart of tension, unmet desire. So, stories are essentially about characters who want something and can’t get it. 

I like to have main characters who are working through difficulties because that tension, that unmet desire for peace or hope or love or forgiveness, drives the story forward. 

Also, on a more personal level, I think it might actually help me deal with issues of loss or disappointment in my own life. I don’t write for therapy, but I think there’s always something therapeutic about writing.

3) What did you hope to create with this new series? What do you hope readers take away from it? 
As always, I’m trying to first of all entertain my readers. There are plenty of distractions and diversions in our world today. If readers aren’t engaged in a story or emotionally involved with it, they will put it aside. So yes, first of all to entertain them. 

Secondly, I always like to ask big questions in my novels, and I would like readers to ask those questions with me. It may sound paradoxical, but I think novelists have an obligation of telling the truth about the world. Rather than sugar-coating evil or making it look attractive, I think we need to be honest about it. Hope, too. And grief. And grace. 

I don’t start my books with a message in mind, but rather a series of questions I’m asking myself and I’m hoping that readers will ask themselves, too.

4) What did you learn from writing this novel? How did God speak to you through your words?
This book opened my eyes up again to something I already know, but don’t put into practice enough—that my beliefs, my prayers (if it’s the will of God)--can have the power to change reality. 

As I wrestled with this issue, I came to understand the importance of my prayer life, my thought life, my heart life.

5) What's next for Banks? How many books do you see in the series?
I’m planning on writing three books in this series. The next is titled Singularity and will be released next summer. It picks up where Placebo left off and takes an interesting trip through the world of autonomous weaponry and thought-controlled robotics. Fascinating stuff.

6) So are you finished with the Bowers series? Will there be a "King"?
As I mentioned earlier, The King will release next summer and then, if all goes as planned, I would like to finish up the series with Checkmate. Who knows, there may even be a spin-off book called Raven featuring Tessa as the main character in the works. But you didn’t hear that from me.

On the scale of one to five, I give James' book a three and half to four. I like his writing style for two reasons. One, it feeds my "desire" for high suspense novels. Second, it meets that need without gratuitous violence and language. He's just as good as James Patterson, but I could easily recommend James to high school youth in my ministry without worry. (I couldn't say the same thing about Patterson.)

I think James tackles some deep issues - including the desire for peace, hope, love and forgiveness - as he crafts his storylines. James is a solid author, and one I highly recommend.

More About The Author
Steven James has penned 30+ books spanning the genres of psychological thrillers, prayer collections, dramas, monologues, a nine book series on creative storytelling, YA fantasy, and inspirational nonfiction.

He has received wide critical acclaim for his work including four Storytelling World Honor awards, two Publishers Weekly starred reviews, and 2009, 2011 and 2012 Christy Awards for best suspense.

His latest thriller, The Queen, won a 2012 ECPA Book Award and the 2012 Christy Award for Best Suspense Novel. Steven earned a Master’s Degree in Storytelling from ETSU in 1997 and is an active member of International Thriller Writers, the Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America, and International Association of Crime Writers.

He is a contributing editor to Writer's Digest, and has taught writing and storytelling principles on three continents.

He lives in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with his wife and three daughters. When he's not writing or speaking, he's rock climbing, playing disc golf, or (shh....) slipping away to a matinee.

Online Resources
Check out James' Website
Get writing advice from James' Blog
Buy Placebo online.
Follow James' on Facebook

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of these books by Revell Books, 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.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Blog Tour: A Purpose Driven Life (Review)

In 2002, the church I was attending decided to do a "church-wide" study on a new book. The Purpose Driven Life.

Rick Warren, lead pastor for a "new" church, Saddleback Church in California, was just emerging as a new voice in the Christian publishing world.

The Purpose Driven Life was ground-shaking in 2002. It caught the attention of millions of people, searching for answers to three simple, yet powerful questions.

I joined in on the book study, because like others - I wanted to know answers to the three "deep" questions explored in the book: Why am I alive? Does my life matter? and What on earth am I hear for?

Since the initial release, Warren has gone on to make great strides in both his pastoral ministry at Saddleback and his writing ministry within the publishing world.

Ten years later, I'll admit, I still find myself searching for answers to those three simple, yet powerful questions addressed in Warren's book.

So it's no wonder, that Warren decided to update what has become a "classic" work. He did so, especially for a  new generation of readers, who may have been teenagers at the time of the first release.

But rather than release it with a new cover and a few tweaks, Warren has done something unique. The book is simply a portal to a plethora of media resources.

Each chapter contains a QR Code, which directs smart phone (or tablets) to a website that contains a video introduction by Warren.

It doesn't stop there - each day (chapter) has an audio Bible study - that means Warren has provided more than 30 additional hours of teaching, as a companion to the book.

There is even an editable online message note section - so you can take notes as you listen, then print or email the text for future use.

Also new in this edition: Warren has added two bonus chapters, identifying what he says are two common barriers to living a purpose driven life. Those chapters include "The Envy Trap" and "The People Pleasing Trap."

The expanded resources also includes access to an online community, where readers can discuss their journey to purpose, get feedback and receive support. (I searched the online resources, and finally found the link to Saddleback's internet campus: - I'm not sure if this is the right link. To be honest, this was the hardest of the "new" resources to navigate online.

What Warren has created, at least in my view, is unprecedented. I've seen other books use one or two QR Codes like "sprinkles on a cupcake" - more for flash and show. But Warren's use of the QR Codes and the book's new website show an amazing understanding and grasp of the power behind internet based technology.

On a side note - I love that I can watch the videos on my iPad. I don't take that for granted, since taking a brand new online class (ironically, on using smart phone technology)  where I could not view class videos with my iPad or iPhone because the video embedding technology used by instructors required flash (not available for iPad/iPhone users.)

Ultimately, Warren has taken a solid book and given it an amazing facelift - without diminishing it's quality. The facelift goes well beyond a new cover - and the new online resources give new and old readers alike a reason to take a look at it.

At one point in life, I cynically thought Warren created this book to gain his "15 minutes" of religious publishing. (Trust me, working for a church, I've seen the "next big thing" come and go, in a variety of areas.) I think the lasting impact of this book - and the way Warren has lived his life in the last 10 years - show that I was wrong - and for that, I'm glad.

This resource has stood the test of time. I think the newest resources will not only help breathe new life into the book, but introduce it to a media-savvy generation with ease.

My only criticism - I can't find a way to download the audio Bible studies to my iPod for "off-line" listening (or in my case, a "classic" iPod that doesn't go online like the iTouch.)

More About The Author
As founding pastor of Saddleback Church, Dr. Rick Warren leads a 30,000 member congregation in California with campuses in major cities around the world.

As a theologian, he has lectured at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, University of Judaism, and dozens of universities and seminaries.

As a global strategist he advises world leaders and has spoken to the United Nations, US Congress, Davos Economic Forum, TED, Aspen Institute, and numerous parliaments.

Rick has also founded the global P.E.A.C.E. plan, which Plants churches of reconciliation, Equips leaders, Assists the poor, Cares for the sick, and Educates the next generation in 196 countries.  
Online Resources
Find out more on Zondervan 
Buy it on Amazon
Visit Rick Warren's website:
Check out the new online resources - Day 1
Read a sample chapter
Resources mentioned in the new edition

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

Blog Tour: Memory Jar (Review)

How do you capture your memories? Do you keep them hidden away or do you share them with others?

Sarah Shelter keeps her memories in actual glass jars. Like precious stones hidden away from light, Sarah keeps her trinkets, rock and other mementos hidden away in jars - just like she hides her emotions.

It's how she's lived life since her best friend was killed in a horrible accident..
But then she meets Jathan - a kind, sweet and quiet Amish man who challenges her to break out of the jar she's placed her life - and to remember that one must live in order to make memories.

In the first novel in her newest series, Seven Brides for Seven Bachelors, Tricia Goyer has crafted a warm, loving novel that reminds readers not only of the simplicity of life, but it's fragile nature.

You can't help but fall in love with Jathan and Sarah as Goyer develops first their friendship, and later, their romance.

While the novel is set among the Amish, readers can easily identify with the struggle Sarah has to not only live once her best friend is killed, but to move on - and grasp the future.

In all, the Memory Jar is a sweet, warm read. I easily give it a solid three out of five. I'm intrigued to see where Goyer takes this series (centered around a part of Montana she used to live in.)

Think about Goyer's style of Amish Fiction this way - Laura Ingalls Wilder used her pen to help readers remember a simpler time - life on the prairie - filled with family, friends and faith. I think at the heart of her work, Goyer strives to do the same thing.

FYI - While I may not be a fan of the entire "Amish Fiction" genre, I truly enjoy reading Goyer's books. (By the way, I'm not just saying this because she and I are becoming "in person" friends - not just social media pals). I think Tricia has captured a piece of Americana simplicity. She reminds people to savor their friendships - and that sometimes we need to "unplug" from the world in order to find ourselves.

More About The Novel
Book One in the Seven Brides for Seven Bachelors series
Every year, 30–40 young Amish men descend on the cozy little town of West Kootenai, Montana, arriving in the spring to live there for six months and receive ‘resident’ status for the hunting season in the fall. They arrive as bachelors, but go home with brides! Sarah Shelter has lived in West Kootenai for the last ten years and wonders if she will ever fall in love.

Since the tragic death of her best friend, she carries her memories in a jar along with the small items connected to them. For just as long, she’s also been carrying around her emotions instead of allowing them to penetrate deep into her heart. Now she’s met a kind and gentle man who may be able to break down the wall. But can Sarah risk her heart to finally achieve her dreams?

More About The Author
Tricia Goyer is the award winning author of over thirty books including Beside Still Waters, Remembering You, and the mommy memoir, Blue Like Play Dough.

Tricia is a regular speaker at conventions and conferences and is the host of Living Inspired. She and her family make their home in Little Rock, Arkansas where they are part of the ministry of FamilyLife.

Find out more about Tricia at

 Online Resources
Buy the novel here
See what others think
Make your own memory jar (and other crafts)

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of these books 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, October 30, 2012

Blog Tour: Hot Button Issues (Review)

Fill in the blank.
I don't know how to talk to my tween about_______.
...Internet Safety
... Pornography
...All Of The Above.

There's a lot of topics parents in my children's ministry struggle to talk about.

I'm always looking to find a resource I can pass along to them, to help start a conversation at home - between parent and child.

It's not easy, but it's important.Actually, it's quite vital. At times, the conversation might even make a difference between life and death.

Nicole O'Dell has created four (two more are pending) books that address the "Hot Button" topics in a tween's life - before they become a problem.

From dating to drugs, modesty to purity, morals to popularity and more - O'Dell tackles the tough issues in her four books: Hot Buttons: Dating Edition, Hot Buttons: Internet Edition; Hot Buttons: Sexuality Edition and Hot Button: Dating Edition.

Each book dives into the topic, lays a foundation for how a parent can discuss the issue, and then tackles some of the "hot" pieces.

The books are small - and could easily fit in a purse or backpack. Each book provides short scenarios and three or four responses a teen might talk about in a particular situation. 

I found the books (I dove into the Sexuality Edition and Internet Edition specifically) to be interesting. They may not be comprehensive - OK, let's face it, what book can cover EVERYTHING about a topic. But they are a solid resource that a parent can use.

I found the Internet Edition interesting, because she identified four websites that tweens and teens like to use, away from the "favorites" (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).

I also thought the Sexuality Edition was frank, honest and not preachy.

I also liked the study guide, O'Dell included in the back of each book. The goal - another way students and parents can tackle an issue in a non-threatening way.

In all, I'll keep these books as a resource for parents. On the scale of one to five, I give them a solid three and half. Ultimately, these books aren't the definitive solution to an issue - but they are a tool parents can use to start a conversation with their student.

FYI - Bullying and Image Editions are coming in Spring 2013. Considering how many of my tweens are struggling with bullying at school this fall, I'm definitely going to check it out when it's published.

Here's a brief synopsis of the four editions:
Hot Buttons Dating Edition offers practical real-life situations that parents can read and discuss with their preteens. Topics include: physical activity, missionary dating, and violence/abuse in dating relationships.

Hot Buttons Internet Edition helps parents prepare their teens for online challenges they may face. Topics discussed include: internet activity, file sharing, social networking, and internet predators.

Hot Buttons Drug Edition braves the scary world of substance abuse, equipping parents with facts, warning signs, and real-world scenarios on: alcohol; Marijuana and other drugs; inhalants; and prescription drugs.

Hot Buttons Sexuality Edition offers the facts about teen sexuality, backed by statistics; specifics for how to talk frankly about sex with your kids, discussion about the growth of homosexuality and bisexuality among teens; and compassionate advice for guiding your teen to reclaim purity.

About The Author
Youth-culture expert, Nicole O'Dell is the host of Choose NOW Radio: Parent Talk and Teen Talk and the founder of Choose NOW Ministries, dedicated to guiding teens through tough issues and helping parents encourage good decisions.

On air, O'Dell covers peer pressure, dating, purity, drugs, alcohol, modesty, popularity, and anything else that comes up along the way. Nicole writes and speaks to preteens, teenagers, and parents about how to prepare for life's tough choices.

As an author, O'Dell writes both fiction and nonfiction. Her popular YA fiction includes the Diamond Estate Series and the Scenarios for Girls interactive books that feature alternate endings, allowing young girls to decide the outcome for the main character. Her nonfiction for teens includes Girl Talk, which she wrote with her two daughters based on their popular advice column.

While her YA resources encourage and equip teens, Nicole also works to bridge the communication gap between teens and their parents. The Hot Buttons series helps parents discuss tough issues with their tweens and teens before the issues pop up in real life. Watch for future Hot Buttons books on subjects like bullying, image, prejudice, friendships, politics, and more.

O'Dell, resides in Paxton, IL, with her husband and six children-the youngest of whom are toddler triplets.

Online Resources
Find out more about Nicole at
Buy the books:
Check out the blog tour: 

It's A Contest
Win a $100 Visa Cash Card at the Hot Buttons Live Video Chat with Nicole O’Dell!

Note: As a freelance journalist, I was provided a copy of these books 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.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Make A Difference With Operation Christmas Child #OCCGiving

How do you turn an empty shoebox or plastic shoebox like this?
Into a treasure a which could mean the world to a child in the United States or another country?

It's all possible, when you take part in the efforts of Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan's Purse.

This year, OCC expects to reach a milestone - with more than 100 million children set to receive shoe box gifts since the ministry began in 1993.

Can you imagine? At least 100 million children experiencing hope and the love of Jesus, thanks to boxes filled with toys, games, hygiene items, candy and more.

It's an amazing thing to think about.

But it's not going to stop here! OCC has set a goal of going above and beyond 100 million. With more than two billion children in the world - with at least half living in poverty - OCC hopes to collect more shoe box gifts for children this year.

I filled my first shoebox in 1998, as a newbie children's pastor in Kansas. The families in my new church had set a goal to fill a plethora (I can't remember how many) of boxes during the National Collection Week.I still remember going shopping for the items in that first box.

Since then, I've had the privilege of being involved with Operation Christmas Child in a variety of ways. Most recently, I participated in a community party in Siloam Springs organized by some amazing volunteers.

During that party, kids (of all ages) came to the church prior to National Collection week for a fun morning of carnival games. All of the prizes won were used to stuff 100s of boxes. In the last year I was there, we collected at least 250 boxes!

This year, I was encouraged to participate in a "virtual" packing party.

So armed with my list, my friend Laura and I sent shopping today - to buy treats for a 2 to 4 year old girl.

From toys (I really wanted to include a "soft" doll), to fun bath stuff (I loved the frog bath puppet), to a coloring book and crayons - we had fun finding things that a child might enjoy.

My personal favorites - the "duck whistle" (every kid loves a noise maker) and the doll baby (worth going to three stores for it!)

I finished off the box with candy - since it had to be double bagged in a ziplock bag, I was only able to include the dum dum suckers and ring pops - the fruit snacks didn't fit in the box.

I can't wait to see where this box ends up. Thanks to the EZ Tracking option, I should be able to "track" the box as it wings its way to another country. Two years ago a friend did this, and her boxes ended up in Ghana. (You can pay for the shipping online, and OCC generates a label with a track able bar code.)

So what are you waiting for? 
You can still take part in this year's efforts.It's never too late to fill a box!

The National Collection Week Is Nov. 12 to 19. You can fill a shoebox and drop it off at a local collection site (FYI in the Little Rock Metro area, there's at least four churches collecting boxes). You can also build a box online (what an amazing thing) by visiting the OCC website.

Your participation can grow beyond building a box. You can also join in the call to prayer - .

Volunteers are encouraged to sign up for a specific time - especially during the National Collection Week - to help cover the boxes, children receiving them and the volunteers working during the week with prayer. You can read more about it here! 

OCC is an amazing organization - one I gladly support. You can read more about it here.

But don't take my word for it. Check out 2011 American Idol winner Scotty McCreery's experience - traveling to to the Dominican Republic with Operation Christmas Child to deliver shoe box gifts packed by his hometown church.

Ready to pack a box with your kiddos?
Here's some quick instructions.
(You can see the full list here)

1. Use an empty shoe box (standard size, please) or a small plastic container. You can wrap the box (lid separately), but wrapping is not required.

2. Boy or Girl?
Determine whether your gift will be for a boy or a girl, and the child’s age category: 2-4, 5-9, or 10-14. You can download a label online or click the Follow Your Box option to get a special label to learn the destination of you shoe box gift.

3. Fill it up!
Fill the box with a variety of gifts that will bring delight to a child such as toys, school supplies, and hygiene items. A list of suggested gift items is available here.

4. Donate $7
Please donate $7 or more for each shoe box you prepare to help cover shipping and other project costs. You can give online by using our Follow Your Box option, or you can write a check to Samaritan’s Purse (note “OCC” on memo line) and place it in an envelope on top of the gift items inside your box. If you or your family are preparing more than one shoe box, please make one combined donation.

5. Drop Off
Click here to find the closest drop-off location during you and drop off your box during OCC’s National Collection Week, Nov. 12-19, 2012.

You can also send shoe box gifts year-round to:
Samaritan’s Purse
Operation Christmas Child
801 Bamboo Road
Boone, NC 28607

Follow OCC on Social Media



This holiday season build a box with your family to teach kindness, compassion, and generosity.

Operation Christmas Child and influencer marketing platform BlogFrog have teamed up with 200 bloggers like me to spread the word about this great cause. 

BlogFrog will match the first 200 boxes that are built.  Pledge your commitment below to build a box today on Facebook or Twitter!

Pledge your commitment below to build a box today on Facebook or Twitter!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Operation Christmas Child. The opinions and text are all mine.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Impressed by Katy Perry

I ran across this video a few days ago on Facebook.

It features Katy Perry and Jodi DiPiazza sing "Firework" at the Beacon Theater in New York - "Night of Too Many Stars: America Comes Together for Autism Programs" hosted by Jon Stewart. The event, held on Oct. 21, was designed to raise money for autism programs, schools, and services all over the country.

The video tells DiPiazza's story of how music has helped her. It then segues, showing DiPiazza playing "Firework" on the stage, with Perry joining her.

Frankly, I was just really impressed by Perry's actions. It was just awesome - and too good, not to share.

You can see more highlights from the show at

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Blog Tour: The Sandal Artist (Review)

I appreciate a good children's book. I love how good picture books successfully blend the story and illustration together, to form a work of art.

In The Sandal Artist, the author, Kathleen Pelley takes a familiar parable of sorts, and turns it into a new work of fiction.

In the book, she follows Roberto's journey as he grows and changes from an aspiring artist who only paints "bright vibrant" scenes - neglecting the images of the poor children playing or an older man with his donkey - until he begins to value the people and places around him.

This all takes place because a cobbler lends Roberto a pair of sandals and tells him they may help him see the world in a new light.

It's a re-telling of the idea of "walking" in another person's shoes, will help you really understand them.

This is an interesting children's book. I like the story line, and the images are beautifully created.

It's a simple story - not too "Christian" but definitely one that has a positive moral message.

I do think this would make a good "bedtime" book for a parent to read to a child - because it would open a conversation about how you value life and the people and things around you.

On the scale of one to five, it's a three. Beautiful images, thought provoking words and a nice addition to my children's picture book collection.

You can find more online here:
At Amazon
Visit Kathleen Pelley's Website

Note: I received a copy of this book, from the publisher. However, the free book did not influence this review.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, October 22, 2012

Blog Tour: When A Heart Stops (Review)

There are days, I'm glad Lynette Eason wasn't on my high school reunion committee.

Her imaginative plans, provide a chilling and suspenseful foundation for the Deadly Reunion trilogy.

In the second book in the series, Eason continues the story of three friends - Serena, Jillian and Alexia, 10 years after their high school graduation. This novel focuses on the life of Serena - now a medical examiner.

When a serial killer begins to pick off former classmates - and then begins to target her - Serena  Hopkins finds herself becoming an ally with her former high school crush - Dominic Allen (Alexia's older brother, who is now an FBI Agent.) - all while she is balancing a secret - sent to her by Jillian.

In this novel, Eason has created a suspense filled addition to the series. While it's not a stand-alone book, it does build on the first novel - When The Smoke Clears (Alexia's story).

This is a sold, well written piece of fiction. While it didn't "grip" me as tightly as the first book - it did "pull me in" and keep me reading well past my bed time.

Eason is a solid author in the genre of romantic, suspense fiction. The romantic twists and turns do not overshadow the suspense and mystery aspects of the work - which is something I LOVE. (I hate when the romance seems to run over the storyline.)

I do highly recommend you read the first book - before picking up this novel. There are pieces of the storyline which are tightly entwined between both novels - that help make each of them better.

On the scale of one to five, I give this novel a solid three. It might not keep you up at night, but it might leave you jumping at the shadows!

More About The Author
Lynette Eason is the author of several romantic suspense novels, including Too Close to Home, Don't Look Back, A Killer Among Us, and When the Smoke Clears.

She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America. A homeschooling mother of two, she has a master's degree in education from Converse College. She lives in South Carolina.

Online Resources
Buy it online
Read my review of the first book - When The Smoke Clears
Check out Lynette Eason's website

Past Reviews of Eason's Books
Too Close To Home (Review)
Don't Look Back (Review & Interview) 
A Killer Among Us (Review) 

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

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Election Advice From John Wesley

The graphic I found on Facebook,
which drew my attention to this Wesley quote.

Election season is in full swing. Considering how much election "junk" was in my mail today, I think it's safe to say it's an extremely contentious, polarizing election.

Unfortunately, the passion is not just limited to the presidential campaign. It seems like EVERY race I've encountered this fall is full of people willing to share their opinions in some questionable ways.

Twenty years ago, I was idealistic. I was voting, campaigning and covering (as a political science student and as a student journalist - not at the same time of course), my first presidential election.

I remember the excitement, the intrigue and the electric nature of those events. It was awesome. I campaigned at some things, covered others and learned from every experience.

I was able to hear and experience rallies for George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Dan Quayle in person. (I was sick for the Al Gore event.)  I covered the Bush event, as a student journalist, along side the national media.

As a political science student, I campaigned for both democrats and republicans. In my world, and in those smaller campaigns, the party didn't matter, it was the candidate - and what they stood for - that was most important.

I also remember how, in both campaigns, we treated the "opposing team" with respect and dignity. We may have disagreed at times, but we were still friends. In fact, after one rally, I'm pretty sure we all went out for pizza together.

Now, I'm finding myself disillusioned with the new face of politics. It seems as if we've given up respect for rants. The division is wide and at times, quite painful. One only has to view updates on Facebook, or tweets from Twitter to see this in action.

Still, regardless of my feelings, I'll vote in the election - the words of my professors ring in my head. It's important to vote - It's my civic duty and my right, and something I should NEVER take for granted.

But as Nov. 6 draws near, I also have the wise words of John Wesley (from his journal, Oct. 6, 1774), ringing in my head.

During the remaining days of this election season, I'll "speak no evil of the person [I] voted against," and I'll also make an effort to make sure my "spirits [are] not sharpened against those that voted on the other side."

I guess, my hope is others will do the same. Remember, life will continue after Nov. 6 - regardless of who wins the election.

What the journal page looked like.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Day At The Little Rock Zoo

Last week, I had a chance to relax and shoot some pics at the Little Rock Zoo.

Looking back on it now, it was a great way to live out my "One Little Word" for 2012 - Rest.

For 1-1/2 hours, I walked around the zoo with a friend, snapped some pics (next time I'm taking the "big gun" (aka my long range lens), and just hung out - enjoying a pretty fall day.

Honestly, this is one of the first times in a long time, I've shot pics, well, just to shoot - no reason. Not for an event, not for work, but just for me.

So, I thought I'd share a few of the favorites.

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