Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday | How I've Fallen in Love With Love

There's a young guy at work that I love to hang out with. JM and I have gotten to be good friends, we tease each other mercilessly to the entertainment of everyone else, we stop and have five minute conversations when we both end up doing stuff in the dairy cooler room at the same time. He's one of my favorite people at work and we've actually developed quite a good friendship. He's dynamic, outspoken, hilarious, silly and he's known for constantly saying outrageous things. But he works hard and everyone knows that if you need help with anything, JM will be right on it. He's the kind of guy that it's impossible not to know is in the room with you.

JM is also a homosexual and an outspoken one at that. He's a cross-dresser and frankly, it took me a couple weeks to determine whether “JM” was a she or a he. I wasn't the only one a little confused. The initials of “JM” wasn't much of an indicator either.

 I'll be honest and say that he and a couple other gays at work are the first gay people that I have actually personally been friends with. I'm a firm believer that homosexuality is wrong and it's an abomination in the sight of God. But I'll tell you what...I love my gay friends

But it's been my interaction with JM and Emilio, another gay guy I've spent a lot of time with at work, along with just the dozens of other unsaved people that I've grown to love like they're my own family, that have taught me one of the biggest spiritual lessons that I've ever learned in my entire life.

And that's love. The unconditional kind. Love without limit, without restriction, without judgment, without condemnation, without prejudice or pride, the I-love-you-just-the-way-you-are kind of love. Not a love that says I approve of what you do, but a love that says I will love you no matter what you do or who you are.

Because that's the way that Jesus loves. Jesus love unconditionally.

 It can be hard to hate the sin but love the sinner and I think that in this, the church (God's people) have miserably failed. We see sin and we grab our children and quickly hustle them out of the way. We cocoon ourselves in our safe churches and wait for the sinner to pass by. We're so preoccupied with keeping ourselves pure and undefiled, safe and secure in the arms of Jesus, that we place concrete-and-barbed-wire fences around ourselves, saved on one side, sinners on the other.

But how will they know we are Christians? By our love. They know we are Christians by our love. What is love? Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not boast (ie. does that think higher of oneself). Love does not hold record of wrong. Unconditional love gets down in the gutters of sin, wraps up the lost in a firm, never-letting-go embrace and holds on. Unconditional love holds on no matter how inappropriate, how weird, how disturbing and how dirty the subject is.

I have been given a whole new grace to love my gay friends. I talk to them, listen to them talk about relationship issues, ask them questions about their boyfriends, don't look disgusted when JM brags on his sex-transformation and just give them the same kind of love that every single person needs. And a little extra more. I never say I approve of what they do, I never encourage them their lifestyles in my words or in the things I say but they're in my life and so I'm going to be in their's.

When the moment comes that I get to fully share with them that I'm a Christian who believes the Bible and everything that it says, I want them to be able to look back on every single moment that I've been with them and never once see even a hint of me holding myself off in judgment. That may not mean that I don't lose a friend or have an uncomfortable confrontation, but at least they'll hear the name of Jesus from someone's who never failed to love and value them for exactly who they are.

Unconditional love.

Love truly is one of the greatest things on earth and I'm really learning that these days. In fact, love has changed my entire world. When you find yourself loving, truly loving, the people that the Lord died for, there is no way that you can stand unchanged. Love changes everything.

There is a reason that "the greatest of these is love."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Book Review | It Had To Be You (Christiansen Family Novels Book #2)

 It Had To Be You
by Susan May Warren
5 out of 5

I’m a recent convert to the Susan May Warren scene, first initiated a few months ago when the first book in the Christiansen Family series, Take a Chance on Me, first came out. I didn’t get to review it prior to it’s release but I did check it out at our local library as soon as I was able to and was a Susan May Warren fan from the start.

Eden Christiansen never imagined her role as her younger brother Owen’s cheerleader would keep her on the sidelines of her own life. Sure, it feels good to be needed, but looking after the reckless NHL rookie leaves little time for Eden to focus on her own career. She dreamed of making a name for herself as a reporter, but is stuck writing obits—and starting to fear she doesn’t have the chops to land a major story. If only someone would step up to mentor Owen . . . but she knows better than to expect help from team veteran and bad-boy enforcer Jace Jacobsen.

Jace has built his career on the infamous reputation of his aggressive behavior—on and off the ice. Now at a crossroads about his future in hockey, that reputation has him trapped. And the guilt-trip he’s getting from Eden Christiansen isn’t making things any easier. But when Owen’s carelessness leads to a career-threatening injury and Eden stumbles upon a story that could be her big break, she and Jace are thrown together . . . and begin to wonder if they belong on the same team after all.[story synopsis taken from back cover]

It’s a classic story of good girl falling for bad boy, but whereas that may be a well-worn story plot, there’s nothing well-worn about everything that makes this story exactly the incredible book that it is. You instantly love the characters – the heroine Eden is loyal, giving, spunky, yet her insecurities come across the pages in such a way that I found myself identifying with her so much in a very personal way, while what’s not to love about a bad boy turned good guy like studly hockey player Jace? What has really impressed me about the books by Susan May Warren is the level of personalness that really comes at you from every angle. It feels real, not just a two-dimensional love story but a 3D holograph of real people, the kind of people that you wish you could know in real life.

As happy as I was to reach the final romantic climax of Eden and Jace’s story, I was almost disappointed, because I wanted to keep going further into their lives, find out what happens next, etc. But I guess that’ll have to wait until the next book in the series! When that book comes up for review in my inbox, fellow reviews, watch out, because I’ll be jumping on it right quick. :D

I give it my personal favorite rating of 5 out of 5!

Tyndale Publishing via Litfuse
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Susan May Warren It Had To Be You

Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday | Why I Love the World & Why I Think That's Ok

I've never felt a huge personal burden for the lost. I've always been passionate about revival and further transformation of Christians and the church. To me, the unsaved were just a blank silhouette, like an empty facebook profile box where someone's not uploaded their photo yet. I figured that there were plenty of other people out pounding the pavement for Jesus, while my personal calling was for the church

Truth is, I didn't really know anybody who wasn't saved. My family is all saved, minus a few. All my friends were all second/third generation Christians. The only social settings or groups that I was involved with were either with church or various other Christian conservative influences. Everywhere I rubbed shoulders, I rubbed shoulders with a fellow believer in Christ.

Until seven months ago, when I accepted my job at Target. Every day since then, I have worked, sweated, talked, laughed, shared and just been friends with dozens of people who only know Jesus as a reason to swear. Suddenly that empty profile picture became the faces of my friends.

Of Yolanda. Of Miguel. Of Alex, Misty, Luis, Belen, Rose, Tom, Derek, Kayla, Stephen, Emilio, JM...the list of names go on. All of these people are my friends. My people. People I care about. People I've talked to, heard their stories, teased and joked with in the backroom at work. They have personalities, heartache, strengths, weaknesses and hurts. Some of them fall under the categories of best friends. Some I've even had small crushes on, haha. Some annoy me sometimes, some come to me with their grievances, some like to tease me because I'll tease back.

 I love my people. And the more I'm with them, the more I love each one and care so much about each one. And the more that happens, the more it cripples my heart that these precious friends aren't going where I'm going. That the way they're going is taking them to an eternity in hell. Suddenly, with the faces of my friends backdropped by the flames of eternal destruction, hell has become so much more real and eternity that much more forever.

And I cannot be silent about Jesus. Because my silence could cost them their lives. Oh no, I'm still terrible at it, it doesn't come naturally. Sometimes I just feel like the words that are coming out of my mouth don't make sense and I feel embarrassed because I must look so stupid. I still bypass those perfect opportunities because I talk myself out of it. But those opportunities, by God's grace, are becoming less. I'm just a tiny baby witness, who's big smile and constant positive attitude at work is more well-known than her faith. But that's changing. Because I can't let my friends, my work family, not know about Jesus any longer.

I'm so different than the girl who didn't care about the world overly much. Because I wasn't out in it. But now? I'm out in the world and I love the people in it.

The worst thing that we can do, as teens, as parents, as singles, as to stay in our church circles where it's safe, surrounded by the like-minded and protected from the world's temptations by the cushion of our fellow believers...because then we will never personally know the people who need Jesus.


It's when we know them personally that we love them. And when we love them, then there's no way we could ever be silent about Jesus.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Review | Distortion, Moonlighters Series Book #2

by Terri Blackstock
4 out of 5

Juliet Cole’s life has been dismantled by the murder of her husband. She doesn’t know who—or what—to trust when everything she has believed to be true about her marriage has been a lie. When Juliet Cole’s husband of fifteen years is gunned down in a dark parking lot before her eyes, she thinks it was a random shooting. Devastated and traumatized, she answers hours of questioning. When she’s finally allowed to return home to break the news to her boys, she hears a voicemail that takes the situation from a random shooting to a planned, deliberate attack. [story synopsis taken from back cover]

Terri Blackstock and I go way back. Okay, maybe only about 5 years ago but my first trip into one of her books, the first in the Newpointe 911 series, literally changed my life (thanks to that series, I now always have a bottle of drinking water in my trunk)  and as crazy as it may sound, actually got me through a rough patch in my life. Thank you, Mrs. Blackstock!! Needless to say, Terri Blackstock is one of my favorite authors. Ever. So I was crazy-excited when I got the email saying that I’d be able to review her latest work of fiction, the second book in her Moonlighters series. 

In most novels where nasty aspersions are cast at a spouse or loved one, you almost always find it to be false, some sort of frame-up or misunderstanding. One of things that I really liked about this book, though, was the fact that Juliet must deal with the realization that her husband really was not who she thought he was. It was a twist on things that I don’t often see in books, yet sadly, is a true fact of life, in this day and age. Here’s where Terri Blackstock always win with me – the struggles that her character’s face are true to life struggles; this author never shies away from addressing real questions and voices the doubts that many people are too frightened or ashamed to say out loud. That’s what makes a Blackstock novel a Blackstock novel to me.

Distortion is a well-executed story of mystery, murder and intrigue, with Blackstock’s ever-faithful emotional saga that any Blackstock fan will have come to expect. As a huge Blackstock fan, I’ll stand behind any Blackstock novel with fierce loyalty, understand that right now. But I will say this: after writing the 38 + books listen on the inside cover of the book, there’s going to be some wear on the author’s style. Perhaps a little lag in her step, a sense of been there, done that hovering around the edges of the story line. And so, despite the book being yet another well-written, well-plotted success, I did feel like Distortion lacked the little extra oomph that I’ve come to expect. But let that not deter anyone from turning away from reading this, because, like I said, it truly is a great book. 

And so, despite that hint of weariness between the lines, Distortion really does rank high on a score card of modern mystery. 

I give it a 4 out of 5.

Zondervan via Litfuse

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Book Review | Friend Me

Friend Me
by John Faubion
4.5 out of 5

Scott and Rachel’s marriage is on the brink of disaster. Scott, a businessman with a high-pressure job, just wants Rachel to understand him and accept his flaws. Rachel is a lonely housewife, desperate for attention and friendship. So she decides to create a virtual friend online, unaware that Scott is doing the exact same thing. But neither realizes that there’s a much larger problem looming. . . .

Behind both of their online creations is Melissa, a woman who is brilliant— and totally insane. Masquerading as both friend and lover, Melissa programmed a search parameter into the Virtual Friend Me software to find her perfect man, but along the way she forgot to specify his marriage status. And Scott is her ideal match. Now Melissa is determined to have it all—Scott, his family, and Rachel’s life. [story synopsis taken from back cover]

It's something of a shot in the dark to try out an unknown author's first work of fiction, since so often first works leave a lot to be desires. My expectations for Friend Me were low as I began the first pages but it took me only those first few pages to realize that author John Faubion is already ahead of the game.

The concept of a virtual friend feels beyond the grasp of reality...but perhaps not too far beyond, as technology is advancing at an incredibly and at times, frightening, pace. In reading Friend Me, you have to be willing to open up your mind to a level of technology that feels like something akin to Iron Man's Jarvis, but once you reach that point, it's not hard to keep up with the plot points of Friend Me.

I felt that the two main characters being SO quick to fully embrace a computer generated “friend,” to be slightly weak. But perhaps that's just because I've been brought up by cautious parents when it comes to both offline and online communications, therefore Scott and Rachel's quick drift into cyper-friendships felt foreign to me. But sadly, I know there are many people who have no compulsion against sharing their life's private details online, so the story perhaps holds true to reality pretty closely after all.

The mental wrestling of both characters a few times felt redundant, such as Rachel's repeated remindings to herself how good her husband really is. But that's a minor quibble. I just have a thing against repetition.

The writing style was flawless though, as far as I could see while reading. John Faubion creates an engaging, suspenseful and intriguing story that keeps you're attention but leaves you space to breath. I liked the climax of the story – not an all guns drawn, sirens shrieking ending like many mystery/murder novels will, but rather, a climax that brought you to a cliffs edge, but that didn't leave you dangling for very long. The characters were well developed, felt like real people and the ending's restoration just felt right.

Overall, I'm truly impressed by John Faubion's Friend Me and would be interested in seeing what other works he produces in the future.

I give it a 4.5 out of 5.

Howard Books via Litfuse

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John Faubion Friend Me