Monday, August 31, 2009
Back to the book review. This was a way cool book! To sit and read what is actually on teens and young adult minds was just incredible. They covered so many topics. A lot of parents would (and do) freak out when young people tell them personal things. then, that's when they shut up and don't communicate with their parents. If we parents can learn not to freak out, then they will spill their guts to us. Just like they did and do to Suzanne Eller.
I think about the time that Suzanne had to have put in with this young people to interview them. I can't even imagine the task. I want to personally thank you Suzy for taking that time to do it. Also, for then putting it on print!
I will cherish your book forever. I am presently going to school to pursue Christian Counseling. I think this book will be a great resource book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Multnomah Books (June 2, 2009)
Eric and Leslie Ludy are the best-selling authors of more than a dozen books – known for tackling some of the toughest issues of our day. The Ludy’s unique “insider perspective” on the sexual and spiritual climate of contemporary culture has given them a powerful platform with audiences around the world. Eric and Leslie Ludy live with their children in Windsor, Colorado and can be found blogging and podcasting at www.setapartlife.com.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Multnomah Books (June 2, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Giving God the Pen
The Babes and
the Big Egos
The day I made my choice
All the Kens and Barbies sat around the table.1 Amid glistening smiles and Coppertone tans, the fragrance of Polo with a hint of Skin So Soft (yes, this was the good old nineties!) wafted through the café booth. I nibbled at my burrito as the conversation around me finally arrived at its ultimate destination.
“So, Kevin,” Barbie no. 1 flirted across the table, “Tell us who you’re seeing now.”
Kevin, the son of a state senator, was used to having eyes upon him. Being a Tom Cruise look-alike has a way of boosting the ego. As he crunched a chip between perfect teeth, an “I thought you’d never ask” smirk found its way across his face.
As all of us camp counselors leaned in, eyes bulging with expectancy, Kevin finally revealed the secret in a low monotone: “Her name is…Sandra!”
This only added to the excitement and wonder, because no one had any idea who Sandra was.
“Is she a babe?” crooned the resident Brad Pitt, alias Mike from Wyoming.
Say no more! Swift as the bionic man, Kevin whipped out his wallet. Moments later we all observed a photograph of the “hottest girl on the planet,” as Kevin so proudly referred to her.
“Niiice!” Came the rumble of approval from Brad Pitt and Matt Damon (Wayne from Denver).
“I think she has a huge nose!” grumbled one of the girls under her breath.
I continued to pick at my burrito.
Barbie no. 2, sitting beside Top Gun, was next in the heartthrob inquisition. She displayed a photo of her boyfriend to cheers of “You go, girl!” from the Barbies and disapproving rumbles about his skinny neck from the Kens, Brads, Matts, and Toms.
After a week of having to exhibit saint like behavior to all the little campers and being super spiritual while around the camp leaders, it was time to let our hair down—time to let the real passions of life come out. I mean, in your late teens and early twenties, you can sing only so many spiritual camp songs before you need an infusion of good old-fashioned romance.
One year earlier, talks like this had really lit my fire. I used to love to brag about my love life at camp and exaggerate about my “sexy new girlfriend” in a way that would make all the guys jealous and all the girls insecure. You could say just about anything and get away with it; no one was going home with you to check out your story.
I used to crave these love life chats, but something about Eric Ludy had changed—something big. Something that made me want to slide under the table when all those inquisitive eyes turned my way.
I’ll never forget the moment. There I was, my fork poking at the jalapeño stranded on the corner of my plate and my mind screaming over and over, Please don’t ask me…please don’t ask me.
“So, Eric, tell us about your exciting love life!”
All the periwinkle, emerald, and dark brown eyes were twinkling at me with expectation. I gulped.
“Uh,” I mumbled. My palms were sweaty. My tongue was dry and thick, like I had a felt eraser in my mouth. Finally, I found my voice. “Uh, I uh, actually, uh, I am waiting on God.”
But to be honest, it didn’t really come out as clearly as I just wrote it. The last part of my sentence was mumbled under my breath, sounding something like, “Ima waying on Gaw.”
I hoped a brief answer would encourage them to move on to Elle Macpherson (a.k.a. Kayla from Utah) seated next to me, poised and ready with a photo of her hunk. The plan backfired. They became even more interested.
“Uh, I think we missed that, Ludy, ”Tom Cruise sarcastically challenged. “Was that a girl’s name or some kind of Chinese food?”
After the laughs subsided, I began again, this time a little more clearly.
“I know this may sound strange, you guys, but I’ve decided that I won’t give my heart to another girl until God shows me it’s my wife.”
I have often wished I could have been more eloquent, that I could have made my resolve sound a little more appealing to my audience, now staring at me with mouths ajar. But I guess God wanted me to know that I was following a different path, that I was not to seek the approval of the Kens and Barbies of this world but simply to honor and love Him.
It was a lonely moment. Silence filled our corner of the restaurant, and all eyes focused on the jalapeño I was ruthlessly stabbing to death.
“That’s…interesting!” Barbie no. 1 awkwardly noted, her eyes large with disbelief.
Wayne from Denver was not quite as subtle in his disapproval. “Oh, give me a break!” he exploded in disgust. “How in the world do you expect to find someone, Ludy, if you’re not out there looking? ”His words incited a chorus of yeahs and exactlys from around the booth.
After a moment of reflective silence, I took a deep breath and stated, “I believe that if God wants me to be married”—another deep breath—“He will pick her out for me.”
A dark cloud settled over the entire group and rained down bewilderment in the form of pursed lips and rolled eyes. I glanced up from my tortured jalapeño to discover a long bony index finger pointing at me, about twelve inches from my nose. Kevin used that finger like Clint Eastwood used a gun. He didn’t shoot to maim—he shot to kill. His bronzed face had turned red with annoyance, and his lips were quivering with indignation, like a lava pool ready to explode. After three long seconds, he finally erupted.
“I totally disagree with you!” he fumed, his index finger still targeting my right nostril. “God doesn’t want us hanging around nagging Him about something like that!”
A few “amens” from the crowd textured his passionate sermon. He continued. “I believe God wants us to pick,” he preached, “and then He blesses our choice!” He paused and then came to a climactic finish: “It’s sappy Christianity like yours that gives us Christians the image of helpless orphans! It is absolutely ridiculous to think that God would care that much about your love life!”
The finger held fast for another few long seconds, then slowly dropped as if to say, You show any sign of life, and I’ll shoot again!
I was the ultimate bummer to their titillating conversation. If ever you want to drain the juice right out of romance, just bring God into the picture. I had committed the unpardonable camp counselor sin, and all the eyes around the table were letting me know it.
Growing up, I had always gotten along with everybody. I knew how to be liked by the crowd and not offend anyone. I was careful to say the right thing in order to avoid disagreements. Eric Ludy had never been known for his backbone…well, except maybe in championing the Denver Broncos. But when it came to things that really mattered, I was just plain spineless. This was one of the first times in my life I can remember actually standing up for something I believed in (that wasn’t orange and blue).
Ironically, I didn’t even know exactly what I was talking about. Just twelve months before, I, too, would have “totally disagreed” with what I had just said. But over the past year, God had been challenging me to apply my Christianity to every area of my life. Was it ridiculous to think God would be interested enough in my love life to direct me to the girl He wanted me to spend my life with?
I shifted in my seat, stabbed my jalapeño one last time, and spoke. “All I know,” I said, “is that every time I’ve tried to find someone myself, I realize in the long run that I have horrible taste.”
All eyes were wide with amazement as I concluded, “Kevin, if God had ten women line up in front of me and said, ‘Eric, you pick,’ I would fall flat on my face before Him and say, ‘God, You know me better than I know myself…You pick! ’ ”
I’ll bet no one present other than myself remembers that scene. To them it was probably just the ramblings of a lunatic named Ludy. But for me it was a defining moment. It was almost as if God was saying, “How seriously are you going to trust Me, Eric?”
So there it was, in front of the babes and the big egos, that God challenged me to officially trust Him with the pen of my life. I had held onto that pen for twenty years, and now, over a chicken burrito and a mangled jalapeño, I handed it over to the great Author to allow Him to work His wonders.
I’ve never regretted it for a moment.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
FaithWords (August 13, 2009)
Also in Spanish: Rompiendo las barreras
Jason and Cindee Frenn, along with their three daughters, are missionary evangelists and conference speakers who travel throughout North and South America holding citywide crusades. They have preached the gospel to 1.2 million people and have helped more than 120,000 people make first-time commitments to Christ. Together with their team based in Costa Rica, they help people find freedom in Christ to become all God intends for them to be.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $19.99
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (August 13, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
WaterBrook Press (June 2, 2009)
RITA Award–winning Beth Pattillo combines her love of knitting and books in her engaging Sweetgum series. An ordained minister in the Christian Church, Pattillo served churches in Missouri and Tennessee before founding Faith Leader, a spiritual leadership development program. Pattillo is the married mother of two children. She lives and laughs in Tennessee.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (June 2, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Every Tuesday at eleven o’clock in the morning, Eugenie Carson descended the steps of the Sweetgum Public Library and made her way to Tallulah’s Café on the town square. In the past, she would have eaten the diet plate—cottage cheese and a peach half—in solitary splendor. Then she would have returned to her job running the library, just as she’d done for the last forty years.
On this humid September morning, though, Eugenie was meeting someone for lunch—her new husband, Rev. Paul Carson, pastor of the Sweetgum Christian Church. Eugenie smiled at the thought of Paul waiting for her at the café. They might both be gray haired and near retirement, but happiness was happiness, no matter what age you found it.
Eugenie entered the square from the southeast corner. The Antebellum courthouse anchored the middle, while Kendall’s Department Store occupied the east side to her right. She walked along the south side of the square, past Callahan’s Hardware, the drugstore, and the movie theater, and crossed the street to the café. The good citizens of Sweetgum were already arriving at Tallulah’s for lunch. But Eugenie passed the café, heading up the western side of the square. She had a brief errand to do before she met her husband. Two doors down, she could see the sign for Munden’s Five-and-Dime. Her business there shouldn’t take long.
Before she reached Munden’s, a familiar figure emerged from one of the shops and blocked the sidewalk.
Hazel Emerson. President of the women’s auxiliary at the Sweetgum Christian Church and self-appointed judge and jury of her fellow parishioners.
“Eugenie.” Hazel smiled, but the expression, coupled with her rather prominent eyeteeth, gave her a wolfish look. Hazel was on the heavy side, a bit younger than Eugenie’s own sixty five years, and her hair was dyed an unbecoming shade of mink. Hazel smiled, but there was no pleasantness in it. “Just the person
I wanted to see.”
Eugenie knew better than to let her distaste for the woman show. “Good morning, Hazel,” she replied. “How are you?”
“Distressed, Eugenie. Thoroughly distressed.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Eugenie truly was dismayed, but not from worry over Hazel’s discomfort.
“Yes, well, you have the power to calm the waters, ”Hazel said with the same false smile. “In a manner of speaking, at least.”
Since Eugenie’s marriage to Paul only a few weeks before, she’d learned how demanding Hazel could be. The other woman called the parsonage at all hours and appeared in Paul’s office at least once a day. Although Eugenie had known Hazel casually for years, she’d never had to bother with her much. Eugenie couldn’t remember Hazel ever having entered the library.
“How can I help you?” Eugenie said in her best librarian’s voice. She had uttered the phrase countless times over the last forty years and had it down to an art form. Interested but not enmeshed. Solicitous but not overly involved.
“Well, Eugenie, you must know that many people in the church are distressed by your marriage to Paul.”
“Really?” Eugenie kept the pleasant smile on her face and continued to breathe evenly. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Oh, not me, of course,” Hazel said and pressed a hand to her ample chest. “I’m perfectly delighted. But some people… Well, they have concerns.”
“What concerns would those be?” Eugenie asked with measured calm.
Hazel glanced to the right and to the left, then leaned forward to whisper in a conspiratorial fashion. “Some of them aren’t sure you’re a Christian,” she said. Then she straightened and resumed her normal tone of voice. “As I said, I’m not one of them, but I thought I should tell you. For your own good, but also for Rev. Carson’s.”
“I see.” And Eugenie certainly did, far more than Hazel would guess. Eugenie wasn’t new to small-town gossip. Heaven knew she’d heard her share, and even been the target of some, over the last forty years. She’d known that her marriage to Paul would cause some comments, but she hadn’t expected this blatant response.
“I’m mentioning it because I don’t think it would be difficult to put people’s fears to rest,” Hazel said. Her smug expression needled Eugenie. “I know you’ve been attending worship, and that’s a wonderful start.” Hazel quickly moved from interfering to patronizing. “The women’s auxiliary meets on Tuesday mornings. If you joined us—”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” Eugenie answered. She was determined to keep a civil tongue in her head if it killed her. “I have to work.”
“For something this important, I’m sure you could find someone to cover for you.”
Eugenie tightened her grip on her handbag. In an emergency, no doubt she could arrange something. But this wasn’t an emergency. It was manipulation.
“Particularly at this time,” Hazel said, barely stopping for breath. “With all the losses we’ve had in these last few months… Well, our community needs leadership. Our church needs leadership.” She gave Eugenie a meaningful look.
Eugenie paused to consider her words carefully. “It has been a difficult summer,” she began. “Tom Munden’s death was so unexpected, and then to lose Frank Jackson like that. And now, with Nancy St. Clair…”
“So you see why it’s more important than ever that you prove to church members that their pastor hasn’t made a grave mistake.”
“I hardly think that my attending a meeting of the women’s auxiliary will offer much comfort to the grieving.” Nor would it convince anyone of her status as a believer. Those sorts of people weren’t looking for proof. They were looking for Eugenie to grovel for acceptance.
Hazel sniffed. “Don’t be difficult, Eugenie. You’re being unrealistic if you expect people to accept you as a Christian after forty years of never darkening the door of any sanctuary in this town.”
“I’ve always felt that faith is a private matter.” That was the sum of any personal information Eugenie was willing to concede to Hazel. “I prefer to let my actions speak for me.”
“There are rumblings,” Hazel said darkly. “Budget rumblings.”
“What do you mean?”
“People need to have full confidence in their pastor, Eugenie. Otherwise they’re less motivated to support the church financially.”
Eugenie bit her tongue. She couldn’t believe Hazel Emerson was standing here, in the middle of the town square, practicing her own brand of extortion.
“Are you threatening me?” Eugenie asked, incredulous.
Hazel sniffed. “Of course not. Don’t be silly. I’m merely cautioning you. As a Christian and as a friend.”
Eugenie wanted to reply that Hazel didn’t appear to be filling either role very well, but she refrained.
“I’ll take your concerns under advisement,” she said to Hazel with forced pleasantness. “I’m sure you mean them in the kindest possible way.”
“Of course I do. How else would I mean them?”
“How else, indeed?” Eugenie muttered under her breath.
“Well, I won’t keep you.” Hazel nodded. “Have a nice day, Eugenie.”
“You too, Hazel.” The response was automatic and helped Eugenie to cover her true sentiments. She stood in place for a long moment as Hazel moved past her, on her way to stir up trouble in some other quarter, no doubt. Then, with a deep breath, Eugenie forced herself to start moving toward Munden’s Five-and-Dime.
She had known it would be difficult, stepping into this unfamiliar role as a pastor’s wife. Paul had assured her that he had no expectations, that she should do what she felt was right. But Eugenie wondered if he had any idea of the trouble Hazel Emerson was stirring up right under his nose.
True, she hadn’t attended church for forty years. After she and Paul had ended their young romance, she’d blamed God for separating them. If Paul hadn’t felt called to the ministry, if he hadn’t refused to take her with him when he went to seminary, if she hadn’t stubbornly insisted on going with him or ending their relationship…
Last year she and Paul had found each other again, all these decades later, and she’d thought the past behind them. But here it was once more in the person of Hazel Emerson, raising troubling questions. Threatening Paul. Forcing Eugenie to examine issues she’d rather leave unanswered.
As the head of the Sweetgum Knit Lit Society, Eugenie had taken on responsibility for the well-being of the little group several years before. Since Ruthie Allen, the church secretary, had left for Africa last spring to do volunteer work, the group had experienced a definite void. It was time for an infusion of new blood, and after careful consideration, Eugenie had determined that Maria Munden was just the person the Knit Lit Society needed. What’s more, Maria needed the group too. The recent loss of her father must be quite difficult for her, Eugenie was sure. And so despite having had her feathers ruffled by Hazel Emerson, Eugenie walked into Munden’s Five-and-Dime with a firm purpose.
“Good morning, Maria,” Eugenie called above the whine of the door. For years she’d been after Tom Munden to use a little WD-40 on the hinges, but he had insisted that the noise bothered him less than the idea of a customer entering without him knowing it.
“Eugenie! Hello.” Maria straightened from where she stood slumped over the counter. She had red marks on her forehead from resting her head in her hands, and her nondescript shoulder length brown hair hung on each side of her face in a clump. Eugenie had come at the right time. Maria was in her early thirties, but her father’s death seemed to have aged her ten years.
Maria came around the counter. “What can I help you with today?”
“Oh, I’m not here to buy anything,” Eugenie said, and then she was dismayed when disappointment showed in Maria’s eyes. With the superstores of the world creeping closer and closer to Sweetgum, mom-and-pop shops like Munden’s were living on borrowed time. Even if Tom Munden had lived, the inevitable day when the store closed couldn’t have been avoided.
“What did you need then?” Maria’s tone was polite but strained.
“I have an invitation for you.”
Eugenie stood a little straighter. “On behalf of the Sweetgum Knit Lit Society, I’d like to extend an invitation to you to become a part of the group.”
Maria’s brown eyes were blank for a moment, and then they darkened. “The Knit Lit Society?”
“I can’t think of anyone who would be a better fit.” Eugenie paused. “If you don’t know how to knit, one of us can teach you. And I know you enjoy reading.” Maria was one of the most faithful and frequent patrons of the library. “I think you’d appreciate the discussion.”
Maria said nothing.
“If you’d like some time to think—”
“I’ll do it,” Maria said quickly, as if she didn’t want to give herself time to reconsider. “I know how to knit. You won’t have to teach me.”
“Excellent,” Eugenie said, relieved. “Our meeting is this Friday.”
“Do I have to read something by then?” Lines of doubt wrinkled Maria’s forehead beneath the strands of gray that streaked her hair.
Eugenie shook her head. “I haven’t passed out the reading list for this year. This first meeting will be to get us organized.”
Relief eased the tight lines on her face.
“We meet at the church, of course,” Eugenie continued. “Upstairs, in the Pairs and Spares Sunday school room. If you’d like, I can drop by here Friday evening and we can walk over together.”
Maria shook her head. “Thank you, but that won’t be necessary.” She paused, as if collecting her thoughts, then spoke. “I’m not sure why you asked me to join, Eugenie, but I appreciate it.”
“I’m delighted to have you. The others will be as well. ”Mission accomplished, Eugenie shifted her pocketbook to the other arm. “I’d better be going. I’m meeting Paul for lunch at the café.”
Like most of Sweetgum, with the possible exception of Hazel Emerson, Maria smiled at Eugenie’s mention of her new husband. “Tell the preacher I said hello.” Maria moved to open the door for Eugenie. “I’ll see you at the meeting.”
Eugenie lifted her shoulders and nodded with as much equanimity as she could. After years of being the town spinster, playing the newlywed was a novel experience. She hoped she’d become accustomed to it with time—if she didn’t drive away all of Paul’s parishioners first with her heathen ways.
“Have a nice afternoon,” Eugenie said and slipped out the door, glad that at least one thing that morning had gone as planned.
After Eugenie left, Maria Munden halfheartedly swiped her feather duster at the back-to-school display in the front window. Hot sunshine, amplified by the plate glass, made sweat bead on her forehead. What was the point of dusting the same old collection of binders, backpacks, and two-pocket folders? She’d barely seen a customer all day. She turned from the window and looked around at the neat rows of shelving. The five symmetrical aisles had stood in the same place as long as she could remember.
Aisle one, to the far left, held greeting cards, gift-wrap, stationery, office and school supplies. Aisle two, housewares and paper goods. Aisle three, decorative items. Aisle four, cleaning supplies and detergent. Aisle five had always been her favorite, with its games, puzzles, and coloring books. Across the back wall stretched the sewing notions, yarn, and craft supplies. Everything to outfit a household and its members in one small space. The only problem was, no one wanted small anymore. They wanted variety, bulk, and large economy size with a McDonald’s and a credit union. Not quaint and limited, like the old five-and- dime.
From the counter a few feet away, Maria’s cell phone buzzed, and she sighed. She knew without looking at the display who it would be.
“Maria, you have to do something about this.” Her mother never acknowledged the greeting but plunged into a voluble litany of complaints that covered everything from the state of the weather to her older sister Daphne’s management of the farm.
“Mom?” Maria tried to interrupt her mother’s diatribe. “Mom? Look, I’m the only one in the store right now. I’ll have to call you back later.”
“Where’s Stephanie? She was supposed to be there at nine.”
“I don’t know where she is. ”Maria’s younger sister, the baby at twenty-five, was AWOL more often than not.
Maria heard the shop door open with a whine of its hinges, not too different from her mother’s tone of voice. She looked up, expecting to see her younger sister. Instead, a tall, dark-haired man entered the store. He took two steps inside, then stopped. His eyes traveled around the rows of shelves, and his lips twisted in an expression of disapproval. The hairs on Maria’s neck stood on end. The stranger saw her, nodded, and then disappeared down the far aisle, but he was so tall that Maria could track his progress as he moved. He came to a stop in front of the office supplies. Someone from out of town, obviously. Probably a traveling salesman who needed paper clips or legal pads. Maybe a couple of blank CDs or a flash drive. Maria had dealt with his type before.
“Bye, Mom,” she said into the phone before clicking it shut. From experience, she knew it would take her mother several moments before she realized Maria was no longer on the other end of the line. Such discoveries never seemed to faze her mother. She would simply look around the room at home and find Daphne so she could continue her rant. Maria tucked the cell phone under the counter and moved across the store toward the stranger. “May I help you?” Upon closer inspection, she could see that his suit was expensive. So were his haircut, his shoes, and his aftershave.
His head turned toward her, and she felt a little catch in her chest. His dark eyes stared down at her as if she were a lesser mortal approaching a demigod.
“I’m looking for a fountain pen,” he said. He turned back toward the shelves of office supplies and studied them as if attempting to decipher a secret code.
A fountain pen? In Sweetgum? He was definitely from out of town.
“I’m afraid we only have ballpoint or gel.” She waved a hand toward the appropriate shelf. “Would one of these do?”
He looked at her again, one eyebrow arched like the vault of a cathedral. “I need a fountain pen.”
Maria took a calming breath. A sale was a sale, and the customer was always right—her father’s two favorite dictums, drummed into her from the day she was tall enough to see over the counter.
“I’m sorry. Our selection is limited, I know. Which way are you headed? I can direct you to the nearest Wal-Mart. You might find one there.”
At her mention of the chain superstore, the man’s mouth turned down as if she’d just insulted him. “No, thank you. That won’t be necessary.”
“Is there anything else I can help you with?” she said, practically gritting her teeth. She resisted the urge to grab his arm and hustle him out of the store. Today was not the day to try her patience. In two hours, assuming Stephanie showed up, Maria was going to cross the town square to the lawyer’s office and do the unthinkable. At the moment, she didn’t have time for this man and his supercilious attitude toward Sweetgum.
“I need directions,” he said, eyeing her dubiously, as if he thought she might not be up to the task.
“Well, if you’re looking for someplace nearby, I can tell you where you need to go,” she said without a hint of a smile.
He looked away, as if deliberating whether to accept her offer. Honestly, the man might be extraordinarily good-looking—and wealthy, no doubt—but she would be surprised if he had any friends. He had the social skills of a goat.
The hinges on the door whined again. Maria looked over her shoulder to see another man entering the shop.
“James!” The second man grinned when he caught sight of the stranger at Maria’s side. “You disappeared.” The newcomer was as fair as the first was dark. “We’re late.”
“Yes,” the stranger replied with a continued lack of charm.
“But I needed a pen. ”He snatched a two-pack of ballpoints from the shelf and extended them toward Maria. “I’ll take these.”
Maria bit the inside of her lip and took the package from his hand. “I’ll ring you up at the counter.” She whirled on one heel and walked, spine rigid, to the front of the store.
“Hi.” The second man greeted her with cheery casualness. “Great store. I haven’t seen anything like this in years.”
It was a polite way of saying that Munden’s Five-and-Dime was dated, but Maria appreciated his chivalry. Especially since his friend obviously didn’t have a courteous bone in his body.
“Thank you. ”Maria smiled at him and then stepped behind the counter to ring up the sale on the ancient register. She’d pushed her father for years to computerize their sales—not to mention the inventory—but he’d been perfectly happy with his tried-and-true methods. Unfortunately, while he’d been able to keep track of sales and stock in his head, Maria wasn’t quite so gifted.
The tall man appeared on the other side of the register. “Three dollars and thirty-two cents,” she said, not looking him in the eye.
He reached for his wallet and pulled out a hundred dollar bill. Maria refused to show her frustration. Great. Now he would wipe out all her change, and she’d have to figure out a way to run over to the bank without anyone to watch the store. She completed the transaction and slid the package of pens into a paper bag with the Munden’s logo emblazoned on it.
“Hey, can you recommend a place for lunch?” the blond man asked. He glanced at his watch. “We need a place to eat between meetings.”
“Tallulah’s Café down the block,” Maria said. Even the tall, arrogant stranger wouldn’t be able to find fault with Tallulah’s home cooking. People drove from miles around for her fried chicken, beef stew, and thick, juicy pork chops. “But you might want to go soon. The café gets busy at lunch.”
“Thanks.” His smile could only be described as sunny, and it made Maria feel better. She smiled in response.
The tall man watched the exchange impassively. Maria hoped he’d be gone from Sweetgum before the sun went down. Big-city folks who came into town dispensing condescension were one of her biggest pet peeves.
“C’mon, James,” the blond man said. “I have a lot of papers to go over.” He nodded toward his friend. “James here thinks I’m crazy to buy so much land in the middle of nowhere.”
Maria froze. It couldn’t be.
“Oh.” She couldn’t think what else to say.
“We’d better go,” the tall man said, glancing at his watch. “Thank you. ”He nodded curtly at Maria, letting her know she’d been dismissed as the inferior creature that she was.
“But I thought you wanted—” Before she could remind him about his request for directions, the two men disappeared out the door, and Maria’s suspicions—not to mention her fears— flooded through her.
She should have put two and two together the moment the first man had walked into the store. A stranger in an expensive suit. In town for a meeting. Looking for a fountain pen to sign things. Normally Maria was good at figuring things out. Like where her father had put the quarterly tax forms and how she and Stephanie could manage the store with just the two of them for employees.
What she hadn’t figured out, though, were the more complex questions. Like how she had come to be a small-town spinster when she hadn’t been aware of time passing. Or how she was going to keep the five-and-dime afloat even as the town’s economy continued to wither on the vine. And she certainly had no idea how she was going to tell her mother and sisters that she, as executrix of her father’s will, was about to sell their farm, and the only home they’d ever known, right out from under them.
“Welcome to Sweetgum,” she said to the empty aisles around her, and then she picked up the feather duster once more.
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
Andy Hawthorne is a British evangelist, author, and founder of the Message Trust, an award-winning Christian mission organization dedicated to bringing the gospel message to the poorest neighborhoods of Hawthorne’s hometown of Manchester, England. He is the author of Diary of a Dangerous Vision, also a Survivor book.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
There Is No Plan B
Toward the end of a life full of amazing words and actions, Jesus said something that was remarkable even by his own standards. Talking to his Father, he said, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4).
It strikes me that, like Jesus, we really do all have a task to complete on this earth and that the goal of our lives should be to get as close to completing that work as we possibly can. Flip the thought over: Isn’t it absolutely amazing to think of all the good works we’ll leave behind when we die? What about all those plans and possibilities that were dreamt up for us? Can we really ignore them so easily?
Jesus’ good works here on earth didn’t start when he came out of the desert in a blaze of glorious healing, teaching, and saving. It was thirty years earlier that it all started, when he was willing to leave the glory of heaven and humble himself to float around as a fetus inside a little bag of waters in the womb of a young peasant girl. That’s how far he had to go in order to get right alongside us, to reach our level and literally put flesh on the bones of God’s master plan of salvation.
Throughout the rest of this book we will be looking at Jesus and seeing what we can learn from the way he reached out with words and actions. But first we need to go right back to the beginning and take a look at his mother. What can we learn from her amazing response to the call of God on her life?
There is no doubt that Mary was a remarkable young woman. How many girls in their early teens, as she probably was, would cope in such a faith-filled and chilled-out way in the face of such earth-shattering news? And it wasn’t as if the delivery was low-key. There was no email, no gentle chat with a familiar family member; just some forty-foot-tall shining white angel called Gabriel. (Okay, so the Bible might not say he was forty feet tall or shining white, but you’ve got to give an evangelist a little room to tell a story!)
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:30–33)
Let’s be fair: Mary was a risk. What if she had said “No thanks”? What if she got freaked out by the whole thing and changed her mind? What if she ran off and drank a bottle of gin or had a cold bath or found some other way of getting rid of the baby? There must have been others looking for a way of dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. What if Mary joined them?
The whole thing was a risk, and it’s not much different today. Imagine choosing you and me to share the most glorious news in the world and to deliver the kindness of God to a hurting world! What if we ran in the opposite direction? What if we gave up on prayer, stopped acting in faith, and acted in fear instead? How much of a mess the world would be in!
But that’s our God. He has staked everything on us getting our act together. He has bet the house on everyday idiots like you and me getting involved and taking our faith seriously. How amazing is that? How scary?
There is a folktale of the angels coming before God as Jesus ascended to heaven. They were asking him what the plan was now that Jesus’ time on earth was up. Who was going to carry on the work of building God’s kingdom? God points down to the ragtag bunch of anger-management failures, hotheads, and oubting Thomases. It’s them. They’re the ones to build it.
“But what if they fail?”
“There is no plan B.”
Those first disciples were the plan, just like that overwhelmed teenage mom, just like you and me. We’re the plan. We’re the potential. We’re the way this thing gets built.
Mary may have been young, inexperienced, and poor, but she was no failure. She had what it took to be used by God; she had a heart that pumped for him, a heart that beat in time with his own work. As the eyes of the Lord scanned Israel looking for a girl who would be suitable for the greatest responsibility in the history of the world, they rested on Mary.
I love Mary’s response to Gabriel’s words. I’m convinced that if we were to respond in a similar way when each of us met our own calling, we would see a lot more success and transformation going
on down here.
Four things stand out to me. First, there’s the whole sense of urgency that we get from Mary. Luke 1:39 tells us that her response to the overwhelming responsibility was to get ready and hurry to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house to tell them the good news. Look at the rest of the gospels, and you’ll see a whole lot of hurrying once people have received a word from the Lord. The gospels are littered with words like immediately, suddenly, and swiftly. Wouldn’t it be great if the church of Jesus was a bit swifter to respond to the command of God to go? How much better would things be if we were to go out of our meetings with a little more pace and passion and deliver the good news in words and actions to this generation? For Mary there was no option. God had spoken, and she started to hurry.
That hurrying carried on over sixty miles of difficult terrain, but it was worth it. Once she arrived at Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house, Elizabeth’s baby started jumping for joy in the Holy Spirit. As if she needed it, there was Mary’s massive confirmation that this wonderful miracle really was taking place inside her. In one quick trip Mary demonstrated a truth that lies at the heart of all Christian living: We have to understand the importance of sacrifice and obedience. If God puts people on your heart, don’t just pray for them; go to them quickly and watch what he does. If God puts an neighborhood or a people group or a country in your mind, go quickly; don’t wait until every piece of the jigsaw puzzle is in place
and every penny is in the bank. Step out. Do it. Risk it.
After thirty years of doing this stuff, I can testify that if it’s the Great Commission you’re working on, God really will bankroll the work. Right now his eyes are searching the earth looking for people with a heart for the lost, hurting, or broken of this planet. And when he finds them and sees that they are ready to obey the call and go sacrificially, he will strongly support them (2 Chronicles 16:9).
The second thing that gets me is Mary’s excitement. We’ve just had a few of our team return from a large youth prayer event in America called The Ramp, and to be honest I’m slightly worried they might spontaneously combust. They’re so pumped that every talk we give is now greeted with whoops and hollers American style, and they’re spending literally hours and hours of every day in prayer, worship, and sharing Jesus with people who don’t know him. They’re not doing it because they’re paid or because they are bored or because they think it might just be a bit of a laugh. They’re doing it because the reality of who Jesus is and what he did has burrowed deep under their skin. And when that happens for real,
any aspect of our lives is a candidate for transformation.
I’m quite jealous of their passion right now. Granted, some of it may seem a bit over the top, but I’d rather have overenthusiasm than the numbness that comes from being lukewarm. George Verwer
put it better when he said, “It’s easier to cool down a furnace than warm up a corpse.” I’d rather be a furnace for Jesus, and passion and excitement have always been the currency that young people
Luke carries on with the story:
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was
filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord
should come to me?” (Luke 1:41–43)
Elizabeth’s joy was palpable. She was telling Mary that she was the most blessed person on the planet, that she had been given the most privileged job that’s ever been given. Because Mary had not been tripped up or freaked out by the news, nor did she feel lukewarm about it—choosing instead to believe, trust, and act—Elizabeth could see that things were going well. There’s a truth in here somewhere, that when we hold on tight to God’s promises and believe that they will come through in spite of all the troubles and opposition around us, then we end up being blessed. So many Christians get disillusioned and discouraged when God’s promises aren’t fulfilled according to their schedules. It can be tempting to
do the opposite of Mary and give in to disillusionment and defeat. But there is no life to be found down that route.
I think Mary knew that, because instinctively she joined in with Elizabeth’s excitement, bursting into a song full with joy and optimism.
Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has
been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me
blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” (Luke 1:46–55)
For most of my life I’ve been a member of my local Anglican church. Just occasionally I’ve had the joy of sitting through the 1662 prayer-book service. As the name suggests, this is a very old bit of kit. Over 350 years have passed since it was scripted by a bunch of evangelists called the Reformers. They were trying to reach people with the gospel, dragging services out of the world of outdated Latin traditions. They used the language of the street, and in its day it was a truly dangerous and radical thing to do. Their
motto was “always reforming,” and that’s what they did, constantly bringing the services up to date, refusing to settle and be stuck in a rut. There was just one problem: One by one they were burnt at the stake for their efforts. Three and a half centuries later many churches are still using the same services. I’ve got a sneaking feeling that Thomas Cranmer and his fellow Reformers are in heaven right now slapping their heads, wincing their eyes shut, and shouting,
I know I’m on thin ice with some people, particularly those who love the poetry and reverence of the 1662 prayer-book service. And just because it’s not my cup of tea doesn’t mean God doesn’t like
it. But I’m sure that what matters more than whether we like the worship service or whether it’s got robed choirs and bells and smells or screaming rock bands up front is whether the people outside the church can understand and connect with it. If that’s not possible, we should do exactly what the Reformers did: Kick it out.
But I’ll say this for the 1662 service: It nearly always includes Mary’s song, called the Magnificat. This is an amazing collection of words held together by full-throttle joy, passion, and excitement. Sadly, in my experience, it usually gets sung to a miserable tune by people with very long faces, which is weird because this is a song of excitement and over-the-top joy and passion.
“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.…” The word rejoices here in the original Greek language is agallio. It’s the same word that’s used in Luke 10:21 when Jesus is freaking out with joy as the disciples return from their first mission and report that “even the demons submit to us in your name” (verse 17). It literally means “to leap for joy, to show one’s joy by leaping and skipping, demonstrating excessive or ecstatic joy and delight.” Mary is, in short, quite a happy girl at this point! In fact, it would appear that,
despite the challenges of her pregnant state, she is beaming with excitement and almost bursting with this song of joy and praise to God.
Let’s be fair, even with the hassle and hard work, Christianity is a phenomenally exciting thing. Living on the cutting edge of God’s purposes, dealing with all the opposition that comes with trying to reach out into our communities, following Jesus’ great commission to tell the world the good news … these are the ingredients that lead to the most real, most inspiring, most satisfying experience of all. Let’s not lose the sheer joy and wonder of what this good news of Jesus can do in the darkest of communities and the most
broken lives. Put another way, the gospel works every time; it’s lost none of its power. As Paul says, we’re plugged into “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
When you think about that, it’s understandable that every once in a while—just like our young men returned from The Ramp—we need to get a little overexcited.
Right now the developed world is suffering from an epidemic of excess that is squeezing all the joy out of so many lives. Look around and you’ll see it: an excess of alcohol, drugs, sex, debt, and isolation that is literally killing people. How about confronting that with the excessive, ecstatic joy and delight that only Jesus can bring?
The third thing that is obvious from Mary’s response to God’s call is her love of Scripture. She is thirteen or fourteen years old, yet she just oozes the Bible. This song she bursts into certainly feels as though it’s off the top of her head, but it includes no less than twelve different Old Testament passages.
It’s clear that Mary didn’t just skim her way through Scripture. She memorized it and held it in her heart, getting to the point where it really was “living and active” and “sharper than any double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). The same can be true for us, if only we’d get Scripture off the pages of our Bible and running through our blood. Would life ever really be the same again if we managed this? Why not make a commitment today to learn more of the Bible? How good would it be to be able to know it, live it, and breathe it, so that what pours out of us is God’s Word, pure and simple—whether we are on the streets or facing times of great excitement, challenge, temptation, or failure?
I’ve got a feeling that one of the key reasons Mary was chosen for this amazing task was that she loved God’s Word. And from the moment she became a mother to God’s child, she showed her child how to do likewise.
At her coronation Elizabeth II was presented with a Bible by the Archbishop of Canterbury—just as it has been with all the kings and queens of the British Commonwealth. As he presented it, he uttered these words: “Your Majesty, here are the lively oracles of God, the most precious thing this life affords.”
And that’s the truth. We might not spend much time getting into the Bible, and we might completely forget to treat it with the respect it’s due, but it really is the most precious thing on the planet. It’s the only thing I know of that contains the keys to a worthwhile life here on earth and an eternal one to come. We might want to be used by God for high and holy purposes that last forever, but without immersing ourselves in God’s Word, we’re never going to make it. It is this, and not our own man-sized dreams and visions, that must direct our plans.
The last thing to stand out, as we look at this passage right at the start of Jesus’ life on earth, is Mary’s humility. Her song isn’t full of arrogance or ego but humility and sacrifice instead. It reminds me a lot of David’s song when he was dragged out of obscurity as a shepherd boy to rule a nation:
Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign LORD, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign LORD?
(2 Samuel 7:18–19)
Of course the answer is yes—it is exactly God’s usual way of dealing with men and women. Reading the Bible, I get the feeling God just loves to stun the humble with his awesome intervention.
Gideon was the least in the lowest family but went on to defeat the Midianites. Amos the gardener made his status clear with these words:
I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” (Amos 7:14–15)
There are others, too, and I love every single story. But it’s more than mere entertainment or good drama. If you and I will get to the place where God really does get all the glory—like Mary, David, Gideon, and Amos—then maybe we’ll find ourselves involved in greater things than we’ve experienced so far.
One thing I’m sure of is that right now the Lord’s eyes continue to range the earth. He’s not on the hunt for talent, giftedness, or sexiness; just a humble heart and a life willing to react quickly and obediently to his Word. When he comes across that, he’ll strongly support it. You won’t find yourself giving birth in the way that Mary did, but you will give birth to some God-sized visions for your community. Bit by bit you will stop living a life plagued by small-minded and insular views. Instead you will live large, bearing
the fruit that he chose for you on the day he went out of his way to select you for eternal life.
Ephesians 2:10 makes this absolutely clear: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Maybe some years in the future, when old age has settled upon you, you might be able to inch a little closer to saying to God, “I’ve brought you glory by
completing most of the work you gave me to do.”
Isn’t that really what life is all about?
1. If someone looked at your bank statements, Internet-browser history, or phone records, what would he or she say are your priorities? Try doing the exercise yourself or—if you’re brave enough—give someone else permission to do it for you.
2. What place does the Bible have in your head and heart? Do you know it? Do you like it? Do you feel as though you need it to help you through the day? If you’ve answered no to any of those, don’t worry or feel condemned, but do make up your mind to do something about it. Talk to someone at church who is wise and trustworthy and who knows the Bible. Ask him or her to help you get to know it better.
3. Are you feeling as though everyone else has a God-given calling and you do not? Are you still waiting for God to deliver you a dream that matches your hopes and expectations? Stop. Think back over the last seventy-two hours: Have there been times when you have ignored things that God may have been prompting you to do? Are there conversations you avoided, situations you backed out of, or things you simply ignored? If so, you need to repent and rediscover a little more obedience. Or are you struggling to think of anything that God might have been speaking to you about? If that’s the case, you need to know this: God doesn’t stay silent for long. Talk to someone about how you can learn to hear him better.
4. Humility is a hard thing to measure—particularly in ourselves. But it’s worth having a go. Are there people or places or tasks that— deep down—you know you go out of your way to avoid? Are there areas of your life that you’ve fenced off from God? Are there dreams and ambitions that you can’t let go of? If so, take a look back at Mary’s reaction to her unexpected pregnancy. How do you think she would respond in your situation?
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Now, read over this list of Bible Verses to help replace this faulty script we play in our minds.
Matthew 5:8 - Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Psalm 91:15 - He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.
Micah 6:8 - He has showed you, O man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Romans 15:4 - For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 - He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
1 Corinthians 15:58 - Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
1 John 4:16 - And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
Isaiah 41:10 - So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
1 Chronicles 16:8 - Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.
Ecclesiastes 5:20 - He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keep him occupied with gladness of heart.
Deuteronomy 4:39 - Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.
I Thessalonians 3: 5 - May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance.
Hebrews 2:1 - We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.
James 1:2,3 - Consider is pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
Hebrews 2:18 - Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 11:7 - By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
James 3:17 - But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
VMI (January 1, 2009)
In both her professional and personal life, Tanya Unkovich describes herself as “a mixed bag.” As a qualified CPA and expert in accounting software, she provides counseling and consulting services. Later in life, she received training as a life and corporate coach and now maintains a private coaching [therapy] practice in Auckland, New Zealand. Her latest career developments include writing articles for local magazines, publishing Unplanned Journey and the accompanying workbook, and fulfilling speaking engagements. On the personal side, Unkovich traces her passionate approach to life to her Croatian roots. She pursues health and wellness on all levels—physical, emotional, and spiritual—and prefers to fill her hours with fun, creativity, friends, family, and Fergus the cat, who is a source of absolute joy.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: VMI (January 1, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
November 8, 2004
It was November 8, 2004; we were at my mom and dad’s home to celebrate Phil’s birthday, just the four of us that night. My parents were not aware that Phil and I were awaiting the results of a biopsy on a lump in his left armpit, a procedure that had been done some five days earlier.
The secret of this lump that Phil and I shared had caused me much distress during the previous two weeks; however, Phil insisted that we tell no one. My mother however, knowing her daughter, knew that something was not right with me during this time but did not push me for an answer when she approached me about my somber moods. Oh how much I wanted to share my concern with her, but I could not, as I had sworn to Phil that mom and dad were not to know. We were not to cause them any concern. I however could not help myself and had told three girlfriends during these two weeks, simply to release the pressure that was upon me and eventually he too had told a close friend.
On the day of his birthday, my concern was that it was five days later, and we still had not heard the result of this biopsy. Phil, however, was still not concerned. Earlier that day Phil and I had spoken on the phone, and when I asked him if he had heard from the doctor yet, he said to me. “No and I am not worried either Tanya. God is not going to give me sickness now. I have too much to do in this world.” He did add that it was only a five percent concern for him. I was not convinced that all was well until we had heard the final result, and the simple fact that this result was taking so long was worrying me.
The day of Phil’s birthday was long and arduous for me as each time the phone would ring my heart would pound as I wondered if this was the call we were waiting for. How I got through this day was by means of a fantasy that I had created and which replayed in my head constantly.
My fantasy was that we would be having dinner with mom and dad, one of her fabulous feasts. Phil would receive a phone call from his doctor whilst we were dining saying that all was well, that the lump was simply an infection of some sort and there was nothing to be concerned about. We would then tell mom and dad what we had been going through over the past two weeks and that everything was fine, and within days we could now move ahead and enjoy our dream holiday of a Caribbean cruise, on which we were due to leave three days later. We could then proceed to really celebrate Phil’s birthday and enjoy the remainder of the evening.
This was my fantasy and what I needed to hold onto in order to get through this day, November 8, as the alternative was too unbearable to invest any more energy into. Anyway, that sort of thing would never happen to me and was not part of my life plan.
Intuitively I knew that Phil would receive the call whilst we were there for dinner. However, I did not know which way the pendulum would swing for us––after all it was a fifty-fifty chance either way. What kept me positive and thinking that the outcome would be favorable was simply the belief that surely Phil and I would never be given such an enormous hurdle to overcome in our lives. We were the perfect couple, with the perfect love and perfect life. This alone kept me positive and any other outcome would simply be a tragedy.
There still existed many facts that continued to fuel my fear. Firstly and most importantly, the lump was still there, and it was not getting any smaller. Secondly and my most fearful was what my intuition kept telling me, that Phil had cancer.
I could not rest and be at peace during this wait. Little snippets of peace would blanket me, but would be short lived as the fear would roll in over and pull the comfort of this blanket away from me as if taken by a corner and whisked away, often leaving me shivering.
That evening I was unable to enjoy mom’s famous roast chicken, which as always, had a crunchy golden roasted skin, with the flavors of garlic, olive oil and salt in exactly the correct portions that only mom could measure to perfection.
It was just after 6.15 p.m. when Phil was about to cut his birthday cake when the sound of his cell phone ringing startled me. I recall the exact times very clearly as each moment was like an eternity for me that night. I knew that this was the call. My fantasy had begun. How would the pendulum swing?
Immediately my heart began to race as I heard Phil say, “Hello Rhona,” he stood up from the dining room table and walked about ten feet to the kitchen bench with the cell phone in his left hand. I followed him staring at his face, his blue eyes, just to get some indication from his expressions, his words or his tone that all was well and I could then continue to live out my fantasy that I had so perfectly composed with my perfect outcome.
It was Phil’s reply to Rhona in four words that altered my life forever, “What time tomorrow morning” that I knew the pendulum had not swung in our favor. I placed my hands on the kitchen bench, bent my head down and looked to the fawn tiled floor. The feeling of overwhelming nausea immediately came over me, and my breathing became heavy. It felt as though pins were jabbing into my head. I looked up and was facing Phil as he used his spare hand to look for a pen and began shuffling on the kitchen bench to look for some paper. He settled for the back of an envelope. He said very little at first then commenced to ask Rhona what the results were. She did not want to say on the phone, but he insisted that she tell him and said that he would rather know now than wait until the morning.
The walls of the kitchen began to turn around me as I watched Phil write on the back of this envelope the words, lymphoma and small cell carcinoma with a question mark. He ended his conversation to Rhona saying that he would see her at eight thirty the following morning.
Phil slowly placed his cell phone on top of the envelope that now held his fate, and I immediately draped my arms around his neck, terrified. I could not cry; I could barely get air into my lungs. I just held him as my head was nestled to his left. Phil appeared to be strong, in fact, like someone who did not want to be fussed over at that moment. He appeared in shock and was later to tell me that this was one time that he was in fact very frightened.
Meanwhile, my parents were still sitting at the dining room table confused and looking at us both. But by this stage knowing that something was seriously wrong. I can still see my mother’s look of confusion as she kept saying to me, “Tanya, what is wrong?”
It was I who looked at my mother and said, “Mom, Phil has cancer.” I recall seeing her look of confusion become a state of absolute disbelief in the words she had just heard. Briefly and hurriedly I informed them of the sequence of events during the previous two weeks.
Phil said very little, as he sat there, obviously in shock and stunned. It was then that my very intuitive mother told me that she had sensed something was wrong with me over the past weeks, that I was not the same. I was quiet and distant, but she was unable to pinpoint what was happening to me. However, she admitted that even this mother would never have expected something like this to be troubling her daughter, whom she knew so well.
Horror now replaced the joy that my parents had felt only ten minutes earlier as they were about to sing happy birthday to their son-in-law, who they referred to as their fourth son. “Not our Philip” were the words that mom repeated, I can still hear them.
Phil and I sat down again at the dining room table where his uncut birthday cake still remained. I wrapped my arms around my waist and started to cry in disbelief, rocking forwards and backwards in my chair. This cannot be happening to us; this is not true, not Phil, not my precious Phil, were the thoughts that were racing through my very confused mind.
Once again the dining room felt as though it was spinning around me, and all I wanted to do was to escape and return back two weeks to that feeling of bliss that I was experiencing in my perfect life.
Phil was slightly annoyed at my reaction, and he was trying to indicate to me that it was not something to panic about and not to frighten mom and dad any more than they should be. Mom and Dad both kept reassuring me of the same, saying that Phil would be fine and that I should calm down and that once they simply cut out the cancerous growth, “he will be fine,” they kept saying.
Never in my life had I hoped that my parents would be right as they tried to comfort their little girl, their terrified little girl. Phil did not show his fear that night as I did; whilst he was in shock and frightened, he tried to be strong for us all.
No matter what anyone said to me at the dinner table that night, I had a terrible feeling. Something inside me knew that it would not be as simple as cutting out a cancerous lump. It was far greater than this, and something big was about to happen in our lives.
Phil’s frame of mind changed to being slightly jovial, and he was determined to have a piece of his birthday cake that mum made for her son-in-law: banana with chocolate icing on top. He proceeded to cut his cake but without the usual joyous singing and ate this piece of cake in a manner to show his mum he appreciated and enjoyed the cake that she made for him. This was what he portrayed. Phil’s state of happiness was in fact his own defense mechanism kicking in as he was trying to protect himself from what his consciousness at that moment was actually not able to assimilate. I believe that Phil also wanted to protect us from seeing what he was really feeling at that moment.
Whilst we were still at my parent’s home that night, I went into the bathroom upstairs and made a phone call to my close friend Catherine. I was trying to speak as quietly as I could to tell her what we had just heard, and all I can remember is Catherine replying in her gentle Scottish accent saying “Oh no.”
Catherine had been my main support, not only during the previous two weeks, but also during many other painful journeys in my life. It was Catherine whom I had phoned in the early hours of a cold May morning in 1998 after we had discovered that my father had just been diagnosed with cancer. We cried together on the phone that morning and we would be shedding many more tears together in the months to follow this phone call.
As we drove away from mom and dad’s, I recall them standing at the front door of their home saying goodbye with hand waves that were not like the usual ones of joy but simply raising their hands in some form of acknowledgement, neither of us really knowing of what.
I knew very well what would happen behind that closed front door once they went inside. In spite of being strong for both Phil and I that night, normally mom and dad do not mind expressing their feelings, and this would have been done whilst they were together behind that closed door. Their tears would have flowed as they held each other, in utter disbelief of what they had just learned, of what had just been asked of their little girl and her husband to now endure in their life.
On our way home, not a lot was spoken in the car between Phil and I; we were silent. However we wanted to commence our fight against this beast inside Phil’s body immediately. Phil was an Area Manager for a supermarket chain, and his office was at our local supermarket, only a five minute drive from our home. Phil had always kept a very healthy diet and was at one point in his life a vegetarian, so he was very knowledgeable about food groups and what his body needed.
We had decided to stop there before returning home and we began buying organic vegetables, fruits, cereals, vitamins, and anything that we felt would help cleanse Phil’s body and somehow take away this nightmare. We were in shock and disbelief as we frantically looked around the market, wanting to find anything that would assist us and provide us with a feeling that we were doing something towards the cause.
Later that evening, the two of us sat in the lounge together praying that somehow this nightmare for us would end, and we could return to our simple life as it was only two weeks earlier.
All we knew was that Phil had either Lymphoma or Small Cell Carcinoma; we knew nothing about either of these types of cancer. I had heard that Lymphoma was treatable and knew of people whom had survived this type of cancer but was not sure about those other three words. Somehow, with the word small in the description, Phil naively assumed that Small Cell Carcinoma was perhaps not that bad. Little did we know how deadly three words could be.
We were later to learn that small cell carcinoma of unknown primary (SCUP) is a deadly and uncommon cancer that is usually diagnosed in the lymph nodes, liver, brain or bone. The prognosis varies from a few months to several years depending on the location, extent of disease and response to therapy.
The following morning I was physically and emotionally shattered. Apart from momentarily dozing, neither of us slept that night. Phil got up and went to the gym early that day, as he did every other morning. Today would be no different for him. He was going to continue with his life. I did not have the energy to do much at all; my body was in shock and shaking. It astounded me that Phil actually got up and did his usual gym routine.
At five thirty that morning I phoned my friends, Sue and Meg, the other two friends who were aware of our dilemma during the previous weeks, and I just wept. Whatever sleep I got the night before was not enough to remove the nightmare when I awoke that morning. Yes, last night did happen and yes, my fantasy that I had so perfectly scripted did not come true.
When Phil returned from his workout, he told me that his friend Tony stopped him at the gym and said “Mate, you are looking really good, what are you doing? I have never seen you look in better shape.” Phil told me that he sarcastically wanted to say, “oh just get cancer mate, that’s how you do it.”
Phil and I went together for the eight–thirty appointment. Even though we were early, Phil’s doctor Rhona came out to get us as soon as we arrived. The first thing I noticed as she approached us was firstly her gentle but very nervous smile and then her beautiful bush of black wavy hair.
Rhona had been wonderful to us both in the past. I had always respected her for how thorough she was and her beautiful manner during the times when I sat with her and cried to her about not being able to conceive and become pregnant. She was originally from South Africa, and I often felt comforted by her accent and soft voice. However, on this morning, no matter how softly and calmly Rhona spoke, when I heard the words “secondary cancer,” it was as if she was shouting them directly into my face.
My knowledge of cancer was reasonable, and what I did know for sure was that secondary cancer was not good and it meant that there was a primary cancer elsewhere in Phil’s body. The biopsy result was not yet conclusive, and further tests were being performed to rule out lymphoma. They believed that Phil had small cell carcinoma, which we were told apparently often originates in the lung. This meant that whatever was in his lymph nodes in his armpit was not all there was, and it was not going to be a matter of simply “cutting out a lump.”
Once again I began to feel nauseated, and the room was closing in on me. I could barely look at Phil, who was also in shock and feeling the same disbelief that I was. Immediately I visualized a tumor inside Phil, sitting on his lung. Then I began to tremble harder and stronger, wanting to escape from this cage that I was placed in. All I wanted was to return to my life before October 25 when all was well in my world, and I was ignorant of what in fact lay ahead in my life.
This was November 9. We were due to go on a Caribbean Cruise only two days later––a holiday that Phil desperately needed and one that up until October 25 I had looked forward to so much.
My immediate reaction was that we could not go on this holiday and that Phil had to begin treatment of some sort to remove this cancer from his body immediately. Rhona already had a verbal suggestion from an oncologist that Phil was not to travel, and I agreed. “We cannot go, please, let’s stay home and get you well. Start treatment, do whatever to stop this beast.” Phil said no, and he insisted that we go on this holiday. For him this was to be the beginning of his healing. He said he was tired and needed to rest and was adamant in Rhona’s office that nothing or no one would hold him back from this holiday which he so desperately needed.
He became angry with me in the office at my fearful reaction. I did not want to lose another moment to this disease which was inside Phil’s body and what I sensed was moving rapidly.
It is only as I now write this that I can look back and feel, Phil, you followed your heart your intuition and your decision was perfect. Who was I to suggest what you were to do with your body? Phil said no to everything that everyone was firing at him that morning. “This is my decision and I need to do this, we will go on this holiday, I need this holiday, I need this rest, I want to start my healing by resting my body, and I will not have chemotherapy.” It was as simple as that for Phil; this was his body and his call.
I don’t know how we got home that morning. All we had to do was to walk two hundred meters from the Doctor’s surgery which was across the road and down a side street from our home. We walked in silence. Looking at Phil was my greatest pain. At that moment, I could see his fear as we crossed the busy road, both of us oblivious to all the traffic on that Tuesday morning. Tuesdays would not be the same for me for many a month after that day.
Once we arrived home we made a couple of phone calls: one to Phil’s friend and confidant Debbie and once again I saw his fear. I held him tightly with my arms around his waist as he spoke to her.
A few moments later, I called mom and dad and told them in my Croatian tongue that it was worse than we thought––that it was on Phil’s lungs and who knows where else. I recall having to repeat it to Dad so that he understood and even louder again so he could hear what I was saying. This however was disrupted by the wailing in the background that came from my mother’s heart. I cried as I told my father. I could hear his tears also and feel his heart being taken from his chest as I did my best to explain what I understood of Phil’s condition.
I made this call from our bedroom as I was looking out at nothing on the street. It was a busy main road with the constant sound of cars going past. This morning however, the sound of the cars did not register in my thinking and the noise that would so often have bothered me just did not compute, because all I knew and could think about was that my husband Phil had cancer. Nothing else mattered any more.
Phil asked that my parents tell no one of his diagnosis, not even my brothers. I pleaded with him that we not keep this a secret that my parents needed support here also, and he finally agreed that yes my brothers could know, but no one else was to know at this point. My father left mom alone for awhile as he went to my brother Zel’s office to tell him what was now happening in our family.
Phil headed off to work shortly after our phone calls, and, once he had departed, Zel phoned me, and finally I was able to release the anguish that had lodged itself in my chest that morning. We were both in tears as we gently spoke. I was sitting on the edge of my bed, facing the mirror of my bedroom suite looking unbelievably at a distressed woman in the reflection as if I was watching a movie. I could not believe and did not want to believe that it was actually I who was looking back at me.
Horror overcame me as I watched this movie, and I began crying to Zel that I did not want to lose Phil. I did not want him to die. Once again, my arm was wrapped around my stomach as I sat on the edge of my bed rocking forwards and backwards. Did I think that this cradling of self would ease my pain, perhaps? I will never forget the words that Zel then spoke to me, “Tanya, if it is God’s will to take our brother Phil, then one thing I know is that he will be in Heaven, and that is what really matters.” Whilst I knew this to be true, this was not to be the outcome; it could not be.
Phil did want to visit his sister Marie that morning to let her know what had happened to us over the past two weeks and what he was now facing. Marie was special to him, very similar to his mother, Moira, who had already passed away some 18 years earlier. Marie was his “big” sister, with a big heart, who had a huge love for her “big baby” brother.
When we arrived at her shop she knew that something was wrong, since we had both shown up unannounced––something that had never occurred before. As I walked towards her I could see her apprehension which was hidden behind a smile that was placed on her face as if it was painted on.
It was Phil who began to tell her that he had cancer and the brief details of what we knew, and then came his first tears. Finally he was able to let his tears come with his big sister. He did not need to be brave at this moment. How he would have loved to have had his mom with him at that time I am sure.
Marie was stoic. The three of us held each other closely in her shop as I then completed the story which Phil had begun, as much as I could, with the only words that I knew, “cancer, secondary, probably lung.” I was strong, but my voice was trembling. I too wanted to cry, but I could not. This was Phil’s time now to shed those much needed tears, and, as difficult as it was for me at this time, I held mine in for now.
Those other big words, small cell carcinoma, meant nothing to me at this point. In time however, they would haunt me––they would wake me in the night and it would be a long time before I could see or hear those words without trembling.
The three of us continued to hold each other and formed a little triangle, me, hoping that these cuddles and love would be what would start to shrink this foreign beast that had lodged itself inside Phil’s beautiful body.
Phil was such a proud man. He trained hard at the gym and always liked to look his best. He was well known for his beautiful wardrobe of clothes. He was naturally lean. At six foot three inches tall he weighed in at only eighty four kilograms when we met; as he did a lot of running. However, that was something I knew would change after being in a Croatian family. He needed some padding; my mom thought, and she had much joy in doing this!
By the time of our wedding day some two years later, Phil was ninety kilograms and at the time of his diagnosis he was ninety six kilograms, of which he was very proud. I remember one night when he was coming to bed as he proudly waltzed in to our room after his typical lengthy shower, and I said to him, “Do you love your body honey”?
“Hell yeah,” was his jovial reply, “it’s the only one God gave me and I am going to look after it!” This was something Phil always did.
No matter what shape or size we naturally are, I realized first hand at the time of Phil’s illness how lucky we were that we had healthy bodies.