New Year, New Beginnings

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Photo courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I love the anticipation of what a new year may bring. There’s something about the change in year heralding something new, fresh and vibrant in one’s life. As I only read last night in RELEVANT magazine, the new year offers a “psychological reset button.”

I make a point of taking some time out to reflect on the year past and what is ahead. I typically will set some goals across all aspects of my life. My wife and I will do likewise to ensure we understand hopes and dreams plus identify specific targets for such things as home improvements, holidays, leisure activities and such like.

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“Kept,” by Sally Bradley

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Photo courtesy of SallyBradley.com

I don’t read much romantic fiction but I was drawn to “Kept” by the comments of some reviewers whom I respect dearly. What grabbed my attention in their reviews was the notion that this novel wasn’t your typical Christian romance as it grappled with some tough issues.

It didn’t take long to get absorbed in the story. It’s powerful storytelling with wonderfully believable characters (well maybe the good looks are a little exaggerated but my wife tells me that’s essential to most romance novels). I expect Miska, the drop-dead gorgeous freelance editor who has an arrangement with a married pro baseballer (whom she loves) whenever he comes to town, may create some tension amongst readers.

Next door are two brothers: Garrett, the cool soon-to-be-married lawyer and Dillan, the clumsy giant who happens to be a youth pastor. Christian men who befriend Miska and soon become aware of her arrangement.

There’s a wonderful supporting cast of characters any of whom you can meet on the street. My favourite was Tracy who demonstrated how to love someone without any judgment or preconceived notions of who or what they should be. Even when grappling with her own heartbreak she takes Miska on and simply loves her.

But what stirred me most about this story is how Bradley demonstrates the power of Christ’s pursuit of individuals and how His love transforms. Miska reflects all of us; her life is complicated and messy. Sure her particular situation may be extreme compared to the “stuff” we grapple with but it all reflects our fallen natures.

Oh, and there’s a very sweet love story.

We need more Sally Bradley’s to write such novels that portray the rawness of life and the transformative power of Christ’s love.

Erin Healy discusses her latest novel, “Motherless.”

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Photo courtesy of Erin Healy

Erin Healy’s latest novel, “Motherless”, was released a few weeks ago. Being a keen supporter of Erin and her work I was delighted she was willing to respond to a few questions I posed her.

There is also the opportunity for two readers to win a copy of Motherless. More on that at the end of this post.

Introducing Motherless

The tale of two young adults trying to solve the mystery of their mother’s seventeen-year-old suicide.

A whispering voice at the back of my mind reminds me that I’ve been this way for some time. Dead, that is.

The dead have a very broad view of the living, of actions performed out of sight, of thoughts believed to be private. I would know. Losing both parents is a trial no child should endure, and Marina and Dylan have endured enough. They deserve the one thing I could never give them: a mother’s love.

A mother’s love, and the truth.

My children have believed a lie about me for years and years. After all this time I can still feel their hurt in my heart. But the tether holding me to them is frayed from years of neglect . . . and I have to find a way to make my confession before it snaps.

But when the truth comes out, what other beasts will I unleash?

“Why do we lie to the children?” someone asked me once.

“To protect them,” I answered.

How terrible it is that they need protection from me.

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“Motherless,” Erin Healy

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Photo courtesy of Erin Healy

“This is truth: we all tell the stories that we want to believe. We tell them for so long that we forget what we really know. Occasionally we convince others to believe them too.”

Motherless is the story of brother and sister, Marina and Dylan, who are coming to terms with the anticipated death of their father (he’s in an induced coma) having lost their mother many years earlier from an apparent suicide.

Marina, even though only a few years older than 16-year-old Dylan, has taken on many of the responsibilities of being a mother. She is especially protective of him as he suffers from agoraphobia, which can be tremendously debilitating.

Their story is told through the eyes of a first person narrator who has a particular interest in their welfare. This individual takes on a far greater role in their story and especially the key themes as it unfolds.

Healy uses vivid imagery in describing her characters, the Californian coast and the delicacies created by Sara, another key character. At any moment Healy is able to transport the reader into being a cocktail party guest, harvesting grapes in a vineyard or sitting on a surfboard waiting for the next set to roll in.

I particularly appreciated how Healy took me into Dylan’s mind, the young poet who was at his happiest surfing the break outside his home even though stepping out the front door to pop down to the shops crippled him with fear. I know what that feels like.

Lies, deception, grace and forgiveness. Key themes at the heart of most families as they reflect the darkness and light we all must navigate through life.

This is what makes this story so compelling: it could be any of our families that Healy has captured on the page.

Highly recommended.

The Belt of Truth

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Photo Source: Biblecartoons.co.uk

We’re all familiar with the spiritual armour passage in Ephesians 6 where Paul’s exhorts us to put on the armour and stand against the enemy’s schemes. As you might expect, as an author of speculative fiction, it is a passage I reflect on often, as I create my stories.

Putting the armour on is a practice that I observe frequently. Perhaps, not frequently enough, but I have it written on one of the notes attached to the base of my Mac desktop that I stare at for many hours each day: “Put the armour on!”

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“The Legend of Sheba,” Tosca Lee

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Photo courtesy of Tosca Lee

There is little mention of the Queen of Sheba in the Bible other than that she paid King Solomon a visit having heard of his great wisdom and he worshipped an unseen God. (1 Kings 10:1-13)

This novel greatly expands on the little we know and introduces us to an enchanting, complex Queen who is powerful, fiercely independent, intelligent and very beautiful. We meet her as a child and then retrace her period of exile before becoming Queen. She soon asserts her authority by utilising Saba’s natural wealth to build a greater kingdom. Her council continually badger her to marry and produce an heir, however, she only wants to marry for love.

One of Saba’s trader’s shares his meetings with the King of the northern tribes of Israel who is becoming increasingly powerful in the region. She is soon intrigued and infatuated as the two begin corresponding by letter. He with his songs and proverbs, she in riddles. But a greater need arises as Solomon begins to build a fleet of ships and ports that will negate Saba’s trading capabilities. Sheba takes it into her own hands and sets off on the 6 month journey to pay the King a visit to negotiate access to his ships and ports.

It is on arriving in Jerusalem that this novel takes off as we get to witness a most passionate love affair between the two. The tension simmers for many pages as they seek to understand and be understood by the other. Solomon, tired of his wealth and his huge number of wives, meets his equal. A woman who can inspire, motivate and lift him from his boredom. He is captivated by her.

Sheba resists her feelings for him not wanting to be another conquest. But the more time they spend together the more she sees of the heart of this man. Having grown up worshipping Almaqah, a god of the sun and moon, she begins to realise it’s folly. It is in seeing Solomon’s struggle between his faith and his riches she comes to realise the unseen one is the one true God.

Lee writes beautifully as she always does taking us back in time as observant bystanders to the sounds, smells, and sights of the era. Her authorial skill makes this a most charming and fascinating read. Frankly, I was so disappointed when it ended.

There is an informative appendix that outlines some of the key findings from Lee’s exhaustive research which helped answer many of the questions I had as I read the novel. But one must always remember this is a piece of fiction.

“Killing Lions,” John Eldredge & Sam Eldredge

killing-lionsIt was very special to be able to ‘participate’ in a conversation between a son and a father as they chatted about the key matters that impact a man’s heart.

Sam, the 25 year old, recently married and wanting some everyday wisdom on how to approach marriage, his vocation, his faith, friendships, and how to cherish his wife provides the context. His dad, John, asks as many questions as he ‘listens’ to Sam and provides his views based on his experience as a 53 year old. Being a trained counsellor and coaching men in life provides John with greater depth as he is able to relate other mens experiences in addition to his own.

If you’ve read John’s other books much of the content will not be new but being a witness to their conversation provides greater clarity and practical insight.

Particular highlights for me were Chapters 8 (A Few Questions about God) and 10 (Racing Toward the Unknown). Reading John share how he came to realise Jesus really is the way, the truth and the life is a very powerful witness. Then in the final chapter he raises a core question for all men: will I remain open to fathering?

The book also includes three of the Eldredge prayers: The Daily Prayer, Prayer of Guidance and Sexual Healing. All very useful to add to one’s prayer arsenal.

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I also bought the accompanying journal which enables the reader to explore each chapter on their own terms plus provides practical tips on additional reading, movies to watch, and questions to ask other men. It’s a fabulous resource and I’d encourage everyone to buy it and work through it as you read the book.

“God took me by the Hand,” Jerry Bridges

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Photo courtesy of NavPress

This was a delightful read of a very humble man who is able to look back at his 80+ years and see how God has His hand on so many small and large happenings during those years.

I haven’t read any of Jerry’s books and felt led to read this for some reason and am so glad for it.

There are so many takeaways from this short memoir of sorts, a few of which I’ll mention in this review. Jerry is an example of a person the world would least expect to make such an impact; he was born with a number of physical shortcomings and grew up in a very unassuming home. It reminds me how God loves taking the unassuming and use them to do great things for His Kingdom.

Jerry is a disciple of the Navigator Scripture Memory System and throughout this book he demonstrates how important the memorisation of Scripture has been in his life. As he says, if there are no verses hidden in your heart, what words can the Spirit nudge you with when He wishes to make a point? I love that.

Jerry’s idea of “dependent responsibility” which I believe is a theme through many of his works is a great concept. As he writes:

“We are responsible for sanctifying our lives but we cannot make one inch of progress in the Christian life apart from the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.” (p 75)

And finally, Jerry attributes his greatest period of fruitfulness to the last 20 years of his life. That gives me great hope that there is still much I can do that can bear fruit for the Lord.

I’m so appreciative of having read Jerry’s memoir and I will be sure to start working through some of his other books in due course.

“A Beautiful Defeat,” Kevin Malarkey

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Image courtesy of HarperCollins Australia

My pastor said recently: “the Kingdom of God only prospers through an atmosphere of warfare and violence.” It reminded me of this book that I’ve just finished for the second time in quick succession.

This is an excellent practical and Scripture-based guide on how to ‘take up our cross everyday.’

Malarkey starts out exploring why it is so difficult to live a surrendered life and in so doing has a good look at the nature of sin concluding there are three key influencers to why we sin: the world, the flesh and Satan. He provides useful illustrations clarifying the three.

The rest of the book provides guidance of how to practically surrender on a daily basis. He gives a good airing to acknowledging we are in a battle and how to appropriately prepare to survive and in fact prosper through it. There is a great chapter when he compares the preparation to what a Navy SEAL has to do in their line of work having interviewed one as part of his research for the book.

Each chapter ends with an action to take an honest assessment of yourself and a prayer to commit the key learnings to the Lord.

I took many notes as I read through it and am sure I’ll be referring back to those in the days to come.

If you’re grappling with the state of your walk with the Lord, you may find some super insights in this book that will help give you some sound perspective.

Highly recommended.

“The Heroic Path,” John Sowers

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Image courtesy of Jericho Books

Sowers explores his sense of manhood through sharing his journey from growing up fatherless whilst examining Jesus’ own journey from being the son of Mary to his coming out as the Son of God.

Throughout this marvellous book, I thought Sowers was in my head. Many of the scenes, feelings and thoughts he described I could personally relate to: the sense of not being manly enough and not fitting in with the perceived worldly expectations of men. In that regard, this was such a blessing that I am able to realise I am not alone in such thoughts.

Yes, this does have a ‘traditional” wilderness experience that many coming-to-manhood books also describe, however, even though Sowers encourages such a journey I believe he considers the definition of “wilderness” to be far and wide. Any experience that leads us to step outside our traditional comfort zones can have the same impact as confronting a huge bear as Sowers did.

“The way to the wild masculine follows the wind trails of Jesus as He walked into manhood, as He was called, initiated, empowered, and sent by the Father. This is the heroic path.” (pp90-91)

I love that quote. Holding onto Jesus to discover all that He has for us is what defines the pursuit of manhood, just as it was for Him as He walked those last three years of His time on the earth.

Sowers challenges us to go deep with God. Bathe in the Word allowing it to transform us because that is what it does when we get enough of it. Chapter 10 is fabulous in outlining a training plan for combating the enemy who will do everything he can to derail our objective and keep us drowning in self-condemnation and fear. Sowers takes us through how Jesus combated Satan when He completed His 40 day fast.

“Sacrificial love is the heart of manhood.” (p191)

Sowers sums it up in those seven words. Jesus, our Saviour but also our Example. This is how He lived His life and He lived the most manly life we can ever imagine or dear to live.

Well constructed and easy (but challenging content) to read, Sowers has written a quality book that will sit comfortably alongside others of its ilk, such as John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart”.

I’ll be recommending “The Heroic Path” to all those men, young and old, who are yearning for more.