Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Read the Red Words



The tall, thirty-something woman with large eyes and humble spirit chatted with me while watching her two-year-old play on the slide. She was waiting for her six-year-old to step out of Vacation Bible School at a local church as I waited with my daughters to pick up grandchildren. I steered the conversation to spiritual things. When I asked her how she came to know the Lord, she shared her story.
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She did not grow up in a Christian home--far from it. Steeped in relativism and the humanistic thinking of our times, she had no regard for God, until she met a lady who modeled her faith in ways she found captivating and inviting. While she couldn’t pinpoint a specific action, she noted the woman’s winsome ways through simple acts of kindness. Later, another woman invited her to a Bible study. While she admitted she kept going primarily to be with the other women, she identified a pivotal study that initiated a change of mind. At one point, the group showed The Truth Project series produced by Focus on the Family. So compelling was the evidence for God and His fingerprint on every area of life that she could no longer escape the fact that God existed. He was real, and He was truth.
Still, she remained frustrated. She wanted to know more of God, but she simply couldn’t put the pieces together. In her words, she “didn’t get it.” One morning, she woke up still longing to know Him. Before her feet hit the floor, in her mind she heard, “Read the red words.”
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She knew the red words referred to certain sections in a Bible she owned, but she did not know until she read them that they were the words of Jesus. She devoured His teaching and believed His message of love, grace, and forgiveness.
In the telling of her story, she wept, overcome with emotion. “How can I ever repay Him for what He has done for me? What can I do for Him?”
I thought for a moment, gazed at her little son, now moving over the mulch in our direction. “Read the red words to your children. Your kids are your number one discipleship mission. Read them the red words.”
Her eyes brightened, and her shoulders noticeably lifted.
I left that encounter reminded that it is God who sets salvation in motion; He seeks us; He places the desire within us to know Him; and He does whatever necessary to bring the light of His Word to us so that we can receive His gift of forgiveness and eternal life. He is faithful God, true to His Word.
I also left marveling at how often we get the erroneous impression that our service for Him is “out there somewhere” demonstrated in some grand display when often our greatest ministry lies right in front of us as we go about our day. 
How about you, dear reader? 
Do you know God through His Son, Jesus Christ? Do you sense that tug on your heart to know Him? Have you responded to Him? Share your story below wherever you are in your spiritual journey (a seeker or a follower).

Have you ever experienced a time when you longed to serve the Lord in some grand way only to find the “grand” way was right in front of you? Share your story in the comment section.   
   

Monday, June 12, 2017

First Chapters with Jennifer Slattery, author of Beyond I Do

Will seeing beyond the present unite them or tear them apart?
Marriage . . . it’s more than a happily ever after. Eternally more.

Ainsley Meadows, raised by a hedonist mother, who cycles through jobs and relationships like wrapping paper on Christmas morning, falls into a predictable and safe relationship with Richard, a self-absorbed socialite psychiatrist. But as her wedding nears, a battered woman and her child spark a long-forgotten dream and ignite a hidden passion. One that threatens to change everything, including her fianc√©. To embrace God’s best and find true love, this security-seeking bride must follow God with reckless abandon and realize that marriage goes Beyond I Do.

~~~


Chapter 1

Ainsley’s stomach churned as she eased into the Whispering Hills Apartments parking lot. Broken beer bottles and other trash littered the ground. A few tenants had draped sheets across their windows. Other windows were boarded up. One was busted in, shards of glass held in place by silver duct tape.

Please tell me this isn’t where Marie Nelson lives. She compared the address Deborah had given her to the rusted numbers on the complex in front of her.

This was the place. And from the looks of it, the very place Ainsley shouldn’t be, at least, not alone.

Her phone chimed, making her jump. She glanced at the screen. Her fiance’s number flashed. She answered. “Hey, Richard. What’s up?” She shoved her purse and computer case under the passenger seat.

“Where are you?”

“Doing a favor for Deborah. Why? You need something?” She grabbed her pepper spray from the glove compartment.

“Who?”

As if she hadn’t talked about the woman countless times over the years. “Deborah Eldridge, the one who told me about Christ.” And kept her from going completely insane or spiraling into rebellion when Ainsley’s home life fell apart. “Sometimes I wonder if you ever really listen.”

A pack of muscular and hardfaced men gathered around a navy pickup watched her, causing her already queasy stomach to cramp. There were four of them, two dressed in black with thick chains draped around their neck. The tallest among themwas covered, neck and arms, with tattoos. She looked away, suddenly acutely aware of her shiny Honda Accord and department store garb.

Oh, Lord Jesus, please keep me safe.

“That Deborah. Right.” A keyboard clicked on the other end of the line. Most likely, Richard was working on final edits for his book. “Now I remember. So you’re in Smithville?”

“Not exactly. More like . . . ” She scanned her surroundings again, her gaze lingering on a used diaper decaying on the ground ten feet away. “More like . . . the Admiral Boulevard area.”

Richard made a choking noise, as if spewing coffee. “You’re where? Please tell me you are not in the crime center of Kansas City.  You are, aren’t you?” He muttered something under his breath. “Why must you continue to jeopardize your safety like this?”

“And why must you treat me like a child?”

He sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m just worried. But surely you know how dangerous that area is.”

“I’ll be fine. It’s broad daylight. Besides, criminals and gang members aren’t the only people who live in this part of town. There are women and children, senior citizens.”

“Yes, I know. I’ve seen pictures of them flash across the evening news — after they’ve been shot.”

She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. This wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have. Not now, sitting like a bright, shiny target in an inner-city apartment complex’s parking lot. “Goodbye, Richard. I’ll call you when I get home.”

“Tell me exactly where you’re at.”

So he could come rescue her? “Listen, I’ve gotta go.” She ended the call then slipped her cell into her blazer pocket.

Her phone chimed again but she ignored it. Richard was much too sheltered by his high society friends. As her pastor often said, “If you don’t know any single parents or folks living in poverty, you need to get out in the real world, because Jesus doesn’t need any seat warmers.”

It was time she acted on that same advice. She stepped from her car, and a gust of wind carrying the scent of trash swept over her. Moving to her trunk, she glanced around. A man in a low- rider pulled up beside a girl in four-inch heels, a miniskirt, and bikini top.

Please tell me she’s not doing what I think she is.

Time to drop off her care items then get home. Grabbing her shopping bag filled with everything from cough drops to orange juice, she locked her car and hurried to unit number 478. A door covered in a thick layer of grime stood in front of her. Apparently, the only entrance into the complex.

There she stood, looking like a small-town librarian, about to enter into a danger zone. An area known for shootings, rapes, and robberies. So why was she still here and not back in her car headed toward I-70?

Because Deborah said this was important. The woman would’ve come herself, had she been able. And after all she’d done for Ainsley over the years, this was the least Ainsley could do.

Holding her overstuffed bag and pepper spray in one hand, Ainsley reached for the knob and turned. The door squeaked open, a thick stench of mildew and cigarette smoke permeating the air. Surveying her surroundings, bag clutched to her chest like a shield, she searched for an elevator. All she found was a dark stairwell that smelled of vomit.

A verse taped to her bathroom mirror came to mind: If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will find it (Matthew 16:25).

Lose her life, her rights, for Christ. That was fine when it meant holding babies in the nursery or bringing meals. She glanced at her Walgreens bag. Or medicine to shut-ins. She always said she wanted to live God’s adventure, but whenever the chance arose, her fears and insecurities held her back. Not this time. God was giving her the opportunity to put action to her words, and she was determined to see this through.

Finger poised over the trigger of her pepper spray, she climbed the stairs. Lord Jesus, keep me safe. Lord Jesus, keep me safe. Lord Jesus —

A door above slammed shut, and she startled, nearly dropping her bag. Holding her breath, she pressed against the cool cement wall as heavy footfalls descended toward her. A large woman carrying a poodle rounded the corner with a grunt. Ainsley’s jittery legs went slack as intense relief washed over her.

She offered the woman a shaky smile then faced the remaining stairs with renewed focus. Taking them two at a time, she arrived on the third floor out of breath, heart racing.

Marie Nelson’s apartment was three doors down on the left. From inside, a television blared. Ainsley knocked then waited, casting frequent glances down the hall.

No answer. She tried again, louder this time. Muffled yelling erupted from the adjacent apartment, followed by a loud crash. Ainsley knocked again, this time using the flat end of her fist, then her foot. Again, nothing. She started to leave when the television turned off. Once again, she knocked, the yelling in the next residence now louder, clearer.

“Can’t even cook fried chicken. What’d I tell you about burnin’ my dinner, you stupid cow?” A deep male voice. “You disgust me.”

There was a high-pitched cry followed by a thud.

Domestic violence? An urge to do something welled within her, battling against her fear. Should she call the cops? Absolutely, but first she needed to get out of here.



For more of Ainsley's story, read a free, 36 page excerpt here.

~~~



About the Author


 Jennifer Slattery, author of Breaking Free, Beyond I Do, Intertwined, and When Dawn Breaks, is an inspiring contemporary novelist whose stories of hope, love, and grace resonate with real people. She also writes Christian Living articles for Crosswalk.com and devotions for her personal blog, JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com; Internet Cafe Devotions; and oversees the blog and social media accounts for Takin' It To The Streets, a ministry serving Omaha Metro's working poor and homeless. When not writing, she enjoys hanging out with her teenage daughter and real-life hero husband, as well as serving in her church. 

~~~

In the Beyond I Do story, Ainsley is challenged to live God's adventure, but she realizes her fears and insecurities hold her back. Readers, have you ever experienced this? Please share your real-life adventure with my readers, and let Jennifer know your thoughts about her first chapter in the comment section below. 


Monday, May 15, 2017

First Chapters with Christine Lindsay, author of Sofi's Bridge



Seattle Debutante Sofi Andersson will do everything in her power to protect her sister who is suffering from shock over their father’s death. Charles, the family busy-body, threatens to lock Trina in a sanatorium—a whitewashed term for an insane asylum—so Sofi will rescue her little sister, even if it means running away to the Cascade Mountains with only the new gardener Neil Macpherson to protect them. But in a cabin high in the Cascades, Sofi begins to recognize that the handsome immigrant from Ireland harbors secrets of his own. Can she trust this man whose gentle manner brings such peace to her traumatized sister and such tumult to her own emotions? And can Neil, the gardener, continue to hide from Sofi that he is really Dr. Neil Galloway, a man wanted for murder by the British police? Only an act of faith and love will bridge the distance that separates lies from truth and safety.




Chapter One of Sofi’s Bridge
Seattle Washington, 1913

A blur of white raced along the grounds to the beach. 
Sofi froze at the second story window. Set against the tattered sky of an incoming squall, her sister’s nightgown billowed in the dark. For the past six weeks Trina kept as much distance as she could from the sight and sound of the surf. Sofi raised a shaking hand to her throat, turned and tore along the upper hall. “Mattie, she’s outside.”

China shattered as Matilda, their housekeeper, dropped a supper tray. At the staircase, Sofi hiked up her black silk skirts and pounded downwards. Matilda followed close behind.

Ten minutes ago Trina had been in the nursery, huddling on the window seat. Though nearly grown she was always in the nursery since that night when. . .Trina even slept in the nursery instead of her bedroom, crying for Papa, with Sofi holding her close.

Matilda huffed. “I only left Trina to collect her supper.”

A yelping Odin found Sofi at the kitchen hallway. The Springer Spaniel bounded, his cold nose nudging her hand. Thank goodness one thing in this house had stayed the same. With Odin barking, she pushed through the green baize door. The dog darted past her. Inga, their cook, swung around to face her. Frida, the housemaid, dropped whatever she held in her hand. A man Sofi could swear she’d never seen before sat at the table, and shot to his feet as she hurtled through the kitchen.

She reached the outer door when the man—the gardener, she remembered now—pushed past her and flung the door wide. He charged across the lawn. The dog yowled and leapt after him. With Inga, Frida, and Matilda running behind, Sofi fled in the wake of the gardener down the trail to the beach.

The man reached the sand. Odin bolted past, across the beach as Trina rushed along the dock. Sofi scrambled to keep up, each ragged breath a prayer. Matilda shrieked, and behind, Frida’s and Inga’s calls, “Trina!”

Sofi reached the beach in time to see Trina slip into the skiff at the end of the dock. Her sister pulled on the oars, and made swift progress out on Puget Sound. At the edge of the dock, the dog pawed the planks, whining.

“Trina!” The wind snatched her cries as Sofi tripped over the shore strewn with rocks and driftwood. Dear God, please keep her safe. She had failed in looking after her sister.

The gardener reached the end of the thirty-foot dock and dove. It was hard to see anything other than green phosphorous as he swam toward the small skiff. Cold brine swirled at Sofi’s knees as she waded to the dock. She ran to the end of the wooden planks. It should be her saving Trina. It was her job to look after her family. Twenty yards out, Trina stood up in the skiff. Her nightgown streamed in the wind, a white sail against the squalling night.

Sit down, Trina. Oh, please sit down.

Swells buffeted the small craft as Trina stood, peering into the depths. Sofi cried out, but the wind swallowed her words, until a wave nudged the boat, and Trina fell. Sofi screeched.

One moment Trina was there, the next the sea had taken her. Just like Papa.
She wrenched open the buttons of her bodice. She would not remain frozen, but get out of this wretched gown and bring her sister out of the depths.

“No, Sofi!” Matilda gripped her arm. “You’re not as strong a swimmer as Trina. She has a better chance than you.”

She thrust off Matilda’s hand. She couldn’t lose her sister. She’d swim in her petticoat if need be. But Inga and Frida had made it to the end of the dock, and now three sets of hands held Sofi, as the rising tempest droned. Captive, Sofi counted the strokes of the man swimming to Trina. Then he dove, and the night went quiet. Sofi couldn’t breathe. All that she’d kept dammed up since Papa’s death cascaded over her.

Waves pummeled the pilings and beach. Odin whimpered at her knee. A moment later the gardener came up, gasped for air and dove again. Sofi pressed the heel of her hand against her tight chest. Dear God, don’t take her from me.

At last the waters broke. The gardener surfaced with Trina coughing in his arms. Pins and needles flared over Sofi’s skin. At last, she could do something. She reached for the life ring, tossing it to the man. It landed on the waves near his head. Trina batted at him, and he ducked beneath her. Seconds passed. He emerged to take hold of the life ring. He kicked, towing Trina with his arm across her chest. Until he lost his grip on the ring.

The wind and waves flailed at him and Trina. Hand over hand, Sofi pulled in the rope, and threw the ring out again.He caught it. The tide fought to drag him and Trina, but with Frida’s help, Sofi hauled them in.

As they neared the dock, Sofi and the women reached down to lift Trina from the waves. Sofi pressed on her sister’s back to expel the water she’d taken in.The man hoisted himself to the dock. Dripping wet, he pushed Sofi away, and rolled Trina on her back.

“What are you doing?” She slapped his hands. If anyone would take life-preserving measures it would be her.

But he shoved her and pried Trina’s mouth open. After searching her mouth and throat, he flipped Trina on her front and thumped her back.

A moment later, Trina coughed and spat, and the man stood, leaning down to lift Trina into his arms

Sofi gave him a shove. “I’ll carry her.”

“Don’t be foolish, miss.”

“You can’t possibly carry her up to the house after that swim. We’ll carry her together.”

He swiped his wet hair out of his eyes. “It’ll be quicker if I carry her. She’s worn out and she needs—” He scooped Trina up.

“Please...hurry.” Sofi turned and ordered Matilda. “Water on to boil. Get blankets.” Buffeted by the wind, Sofi walked beside him as he carried Trina up the incline with the squall whistling.

He kept his gaze on the lights shining across the lawns from the kitchen. She kept turning to watch the rise and fall of her sister’s chest, those pale eyelids that remained closed, that long blond hair straggling like seaweed over the bodice of the white nightgown.

When they reached the kitchen stoop, Trina opened her eyes and looked at the man holding her. Sofi gasped. For a moment a spark of the real Trina—sixteen-year-old Trina—shone in the depths of her blue eyes.

Inside the kitchen was a warm hive of activity. The gardener settled a shivering Trina in Inga’s armchair next to the stove.

“A towel,” Sofi said to Frida. She dried Trina’s arms and legs, and wrapped her in a quilt as Matilda barged in with dry clothing.

Kneeling before her sister, she’d been prepared to take charge, have the man fade to the background as a servant of his standing should, but just as he’d done on the dock, he pushed her away. Ignoring his dripping clothes, he leaned close, listening to Trina’s breathing.

And Trina latched her blue gaze with his. In rigid silence, Sofi stood.

Matilda pierced her with a look that asked if she’d lost her mind. Sofi put a hand to her head. Was it giddiness at Trina being alive that sapped her of her usual verve? No. There was something about this man that calmed her sister like none of them had been able to do for weeks.

“Take your hands off her, ye shameless oaf,” Matilda shouted. She’d cared for Trina since she’d been a baby as if she’d been her own.  

The gardener fended her off with a pained look. “Matilda, do you honestly think I’d want to hurt her?” He took hold of Trina’s wrist, as if he counted her pulse, and hunched down to examine her feet. Rocks on the beach had gashed the inside of one arch. With a tea towel, he wiped away a trace of blood.

Sofi reached out to help, but Trina shirked from her, and focused on the fire burning in the grate.

Inga, Frida, and Matilda began to talk at once while Sofi stood aside, alone in the eye of the storm. It wasn’t that Trina rejected her help—she was getting used to being rebuffed by her young sister lately. But this stranger had taken control.

Frida and Inga submitted to his orders as if they’d known him for years instead of a month. Even the dog sat, his tail thumping as he shifted his gaze between the gardener and Trina.

Only Matilda eyed the man as though he were a hooligan. The desire to cry crept up on Sofi, but she shoved it deep. She must be exhausted from carrying the weight of what was left of her family, to let him take charge. Everything had changed since Papa’s death. She spoke to the man in a level tone. “You’ll need iodine. Bandages.”

“Hot water too.” He smiled his thanks when she brought him the basin. “She’ll be fine, stop your worrying.” His voice flowed in rhythmic Irish cadence.

With a calm Sofi did not feel, she retrieved the tin box, opened the bottle of iodine while Matilda ripped a clean white cloth into strips. Sofi would let him see to Trina’s superficial abrasions. He obviously had first aid training. But more than simple medicine was needed to heal her sister’s mind and heart. To think...only a few months ago Trina had been at the yacht club, laughing, challenging the young men to a race. Her sister’s teeth chattered. But her gaze was more clear than since the day they’d brought her home without Papa. “Leave me...alone. It’s my…”

The man’s eyes crinkled with a smile. “You’re all right. Your few wee cuts and bruises don’t worry me at all.”

Trina moaned as her shivering eased, and pulled the quilt around her. Then that heavy curtain came down behind her eyes. It seemed she grew smaller, shrinking away from them all. At least Trina was safe for now. Sofi pressed a hand to her stomach.

A frown replaced the gardener’s smile as he scrutinized Trina. “Is any tea ready? She needs a cup. With plenty of sugar and milk.” He cupped Trina’s chin, but she avoided his eyes. “It’ll do you good,” he murmured, “whether or not you want to talk to me.” His brows creased at Trina’s lack of response, and he cupped her shoulder. “You’ll be fine, so I’m handing you over to Matilda’s care before she tears me limb from limb.” His smile matched the lilt in his voice.

Matilda needed no further encouragement. She, Frida and Inga, began to cluck over their one chick, Matilda’s Scottish ‘R’s rolling, the two other women elongating their Swedish vowels.

For now, Sofi would leave Trina in their capable hands. Her sister was locked away in one of her moods. Later, tonight, Trina would need her. Setting her jaw, Sofi studied the gardener in an attempt to remember his name. She and this man had hardly spoken until tonight. Inga laid out his duties from the time he arrived on their grounds just days before Papa...

Emptiness swelled inside. With Papa’s drowning so shortly after this man started to work for them, she’d not had the heart to get to know him. She dammed up the memories of her father again, before grief sluiced through her—a grief she had no time to indulge. Not now when Trina needed her so much. And Mama too.

This gardener’s name was...Neil Macpherson. And his manner, his confidence...too controlled to be a mere laborer. His abilities hinted at some training, but he was still the gardener. A man who thought he knew what was best, as Charles thought. But then Charles, as Papa’s business partner, always thought he knew best.

Her voice shook. “You’re quite handy at first aid, Mr. Macpherson.”

“Sure anyone could do this. Even me, hired to trim the grass and prune the shrubs.” He flinched, so slight, she almost missed it.

Matilda held a cup of tea to Trina’s lips. Trina sipped and leaned her head against the back of the chair, her eyelids drooping.

Sofi felt Neil Macpherson’s gaze. “You don’t look so well yourself, miss. Take that cuppa that Frida’s bringing you.”

She rubbed her arms, and shook her head. Her soaking clothes clung. Weariness of heart must be spurring this unfamiliar perversity within her. This need to fight, to protect Trina and Mama.

“Well, if it’s not a cup of tea you want,” he said, “then perhaps coffee, as long as it has plenty of sugar to counteract the shock.” He led her away from Trina, and for a second she wanted to lean against him, like Mama used to lean against Papa. 

But this was her family. She must rally herself.

“It’s plain your sister’s suffering from a prolonged sense of trauma,” he said, lowering his voice.

“It’s nothing more than a nervous malady.”

His brow winged upward. “It’s far more than that. She needs help.”

She turned away from his all-too-inquisitive eyes. Of course, her sister needed help.
Trina just didn’t need the kind of help Charles was suggesting.

Inga and Frida whisked away the first aid materials, and Matilda raced upstairs for an item of Trina’s clothing she’d forgotten. Sofi hunched down in front of Trina. She traced a finger down her sister’s cheekbone, along the delicate line of jaw. She turned the young face toward her only to be met by Trina’s vacant stare. Sofi choked back a sob. “Where are you, √§lskling? Where are you?” 

No response came from Papa’s favorite endearment. And really, there was no need for Sofi to ask. She knew exactly where the soul of her sister lay. Six weeks ago, it floated downward with Papa’s body to the dark and sandy bottom of the Juan de Fuca Strait.

What the gardener said was true. She didn’t need anyone to tell her that her sister suffered from trauma, but there had to be a way to bring her sister back to health other than what Charles was arranging.

Neil Macpherson’s officious manner wasn’t what angered her. As a simple laborer, he must only mean well.

But as for Charles...she would fight him with everything she had before she’d allow her sister to go to a hospital for the mentally insane.





Irish-born Christine Lindsay is the author of multi-award-winning Christian fiction and non-fiction. Readers describe her writing as gritty yet tender, realistic yet larger than life, with historical detail that collides into the heart of psychological and relationship drama. Christine's fictional novels have garnered the ACFW Genesis Award, The Grace Award, Canada’s The Word Guild Award, and was a finalist twice for Readers’ Favorite as well as 2nd place in RWA’s Faith Hope and Love contest. 

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Christine, thanks for joining me today and sharing your first chapter of Sofi's Bridge with my readers! God's best to you in your writing venture!