Book Review: The Shadow: Someone is Watching (Rahab’s Rope, Book 1)

Meagan Winston cares deeply about women who are victims of human trafficking.  She travels to India regularly to help women escape those who are victimizing them.  Unknown to her, drugs are also making that same trip, and she is the only connection the FBI can find.

The FBI wants answers.  Enter former Marine Cole Fleming.  He shows up at Rahab’s Rope, the shop where Meagan works selling items made by women rescued from trafficking, with questions.  As the investigation unfolds, it becomes evident that someone else is also interested in Meagan, someone who’s watched her from a distance for a very long time and wants to show her how much she means to him.  Can Meagan trust her heart?  Is Cole the man following her?

The Shadow was a humdinger of a good read!  This is the first book by Kimberly Rae that I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and I expect it won’t be the last.  I wanted to reach into the pages and hug Meagan.  I can’t imagine being accused by the FBI of international drug trafficking, nor can I imagine having someone stalking me.  One would be bad enough, but both?

In additional to a whole lot of suspenseful moments, the book has some other high points as well.  It looks at the effects of the drug trafficking the FBI is looking to stop, and in that theme, we get some insight into why Cole does what he does.  We see how Meagan’s faith sustains her, and the good relationships between her and her family (her grandpa is my favorite!).  We see the redemptive power of God in a broken marriage, and the start of a relationship in the most unlikely of circumstances.

If you’re a fan of Dee Henderson’s work, you will thoroughly enjoy The Shadow.  You can read it for free right now with Kindle Unlimited, or you can win your very own copy here!  I’ve got one to give away.  To enter, just leave a comment letting me know what cause is near and dear to your heart (and if you feel inclined to talk about it, why).

Disclaimer:  I received an advance copy of this book from the BlogAbout Blogger Network in exchange for my honest review.  I only read books that interest me, and I don’t say nice things about the books I read unless they’re true.  All opinions expressed here are mine, and I received nothing in exchange for my review other than the advance copy.

 

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Movie Talk: Enchanted Christmas

Can you feel it? That little edge of crispness in the air (even here in south Louisiana!) and the undercurrent of excitement in the stores? The holidays are right around the corner and you know what that means. Decorations, baking and family? Uh…no. It’s time to tuck into snuggly pajamas, grab a steaming cup of cocoa and curl up on the couch with your favorite holiday movies!  (My teenager thinks it’s way too early for Christmas.  Pffft, what does he know?  LOL)

Every year, Hallmark Channel outdoes itself on the family movie front and this year is no different. With TWENTY-ONE new holiday features premiering on the network’s “Countdown to Christmas” this season, there is plenty of sweet, family-friendly goodness to go around.

One of these movies in particular has piqued my interest. It’s called Enchanted Christmas*. Here’s the description of the movie:

Young widow, Laura Trudeau (played by Alexa PenaVega) was a remarkable dancer. Now working as a project manager in LA, she is tasked to renovate a rundown hotel lodge, in her hometown of Rosemont, Utah and have it ready by Christmas eve. She is stunned to run into her former love and dance partner Ricardo Archuleta, (Carlos PenaVega) who she discovers is in rehearsals for The Christmas Eve shows grand finale, with his new dance partner Taylor (Chelsie Hightower, “Dancing with the Stars”).  When Taylor has an audition abroad, Laura once again finds herself back in Ricardo’s arms. Feelings are rekindled, and with both the hotel opening and the show in jeopardy, Laura has to make some difficult decisions, both personally and professionally.

You can check out the trailer here.   http://www.hallmarkchannel.com/videos/preview-enchanted-christmas

Doesn’t that look great? Who doesn’t love ballroom dancing? And you throw in Christmas? Seriously! 

Photo: Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

Photo: Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

Photo: Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

Photo: Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

If you thought you recognized the main character, Laura, you probably did. Alexa PenaVega skyrocketed to fame in the Spy Kids series of movies. Now she’s all grown up and co-starring with her husband, Carlos PenaVega. They even contributed their musical talents by recording one of the songs for the movie. Is there anything they can’t do?

Enchanted Christmas airs on November 12th on Hallmark Channel at 8:00 pm/7:00 central. Don’t miss it!

*Enchanted Christmas is a Mission Pictures International and Gabriel Productions, LLC production. Cindy Bond and Gene Davis serve as Executive producers. James Wilberger and Jarrod Phillips are producers. Terry Cunningham directed from a script by Rick Garman and Catherine Y. Friday.  #HallmarkChannel #EnchantedChristmas #CountdowntoChristmas #Missionpicturesintl

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Tuneful Tuesday: Self-Centered or Selfless Edition

I listen to a lot of music.  One of my favorites is TobyMac.  I had this song playing as I cleaned the kitchen this morning.

And a line from the song really struck me:

“Anything, I would give up for you/Everything, I’d give it all away”

And I thought, would I really?  Give up ANYTHING?

I’ve been wrestling in recent months with giving.  Giving money, giving time, meeting needs as I see them.  I’ve made peace with the idea that, as far as giving money goes, we can’t make the grand gesture.  We don’t have the financial wherewithal to pay someone’s house note for a few months until they get back on their feet, or pay someone else’s light bill, or buy them a week’s worth of groceries.  But we can buy a meal for a homeless man, or add a little extra to our grocery shopping to give to our church’s food pantry, or contribute to Operation Christmas Child boxes.  So that’s progress, at least as far as recognizing our capability to give financially and doing what we can, letting go of the idea that it’s too small to matter.

But when it comes to giving time (which is usually in short supply when I’m working, but which I’ve had a surplus of while I’ve been out of work), I find myself confronted with something I never thought was an issue for me:  I am selfish.  I don’t want to go out of my way.  If I’m asked to do something that takes me out of my routine, that would keep me from getting things done according to my agenda, I start trying to think of reasons why I can’t do it.  I want to hang onto my time and use it the way I want to use it, not in a way that would help out someone else.

I know, it’s not mine to meet every single need.  I know there are times it’s appropriate to say “no”.  Where I struggle is when I’ve got the ability to do it, but straight up do.not.want.to because it inconveniences me.  And it’s only recently that this has come to the forefront of my attention.  If you’d asked me twenty years ago if I were selfish, I’d have said, of course not.  But God is working on me, and clearly, this is a burr He’s trying to rub off of me.  And it is one big, ugly burr.  I see it in how I relate to my family sometimes.  I see it in how I relate to others sometimes.  And that all ties back into how I relate to Jesus.  When I’m selfish with my time to someone else, I’m telling Him that my wants are more important than this thing He’s asking me to do.

That’s a bitter pill to swallow, especially knowing that, as a Christian, I’m supposed to be striving to be more Christ-like each day.  And Jesus is the epitome of unselfishness.  After all, He laid down His very life for me.  And I balk at taking time out of my day to help someone?  Ouch.

There’s another TobyMac song in my iTunes library that is a good reminder for me of what love, the love we’re supposed to have for others, needs to look like:

This is harder than I thought
Harder than I thought it’d be
Harder than I thought
Takin’ every part of me
Harder than I thought
So much harder than I thought it’d be
But empty’s never felt so full

This is what love
Feels like
Poured out, used up, still givin’
Stretching me out to the end of my limits
This is what love (this is what love)
This is what real love
Feels like
This is what love feels like poured out
Used up still willin’ to fight for it
This is what love feels like
Yeah, this is what it feels like

Like floating confetti
The beautiful gets messy
When the fallout finds the floor
But in the depths of the trenches
Is the richest of riches
Love is calling us to more

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;  naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” — Matthew 25:34-40

Lord, remove my selfish heart and replace it with a heart that beats in time with Yours, that steps forth willingly and sacrificially to meet needs.

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Oh, that’s bad. — No, that’s good!

Y’all ever watch Hee Haw?  (Okay, I’ve just dated myself with that.)  I used to watch it all the time growing up.  The title of my blog post was inspired by the absolutely hilarious bit by Archie Campbell and Roy Clark.  (Y’all enjoy a little humor with the video above!  It just kills me every time.  If that’s not enough Hee Haw goodness, go find the backwards fairy tales.  You’ll laugh until you cry.)

Sometimes you think life is handing you something bad.  But God.  He can work all things for our good.

So, yeah, back in February, I had a wreck in which my car was totaled.

Oh, that’s bad. — No, that’s good.  The boys and I walked away unhurt, and I ended up with a lower car payment and lower monthly car insurance payment, and we have a larger vehicle that gets us from point A to point B.  And Brian says it has a better sound system than Chewbacca did.  LOL

Then in April, we found ourselves in the thoroughly unenviable position of having a house we could no longer afford.  We walked away and the bank took it back, and before we did that, we had to find someplace to live.  Seemed like a tall order, since we wanted to keep the boys in their schools, and rent here is exorbitant (as in, more than a house payment in a lot of cases).

Oh, that’s bad. — No, that’s good.  We found a place to live, in our school district, 3 bedroom and 2 bath (that 2 bath is important when you’ve got a teenage boy), with just about everything we wanted, for a price we could afford.  (And that was all thanks to God’s provision and my friend Wendy telling me to call and ask about it!)

The place we found?  It’s a trailer.

Oh, that’s bad. — No, that’s good.  There is nothing wrong with it, it’s sound, it’s a roof over our heads with covered parking for our vehicles, we have a lovely yard (nicer than we had at our previous house), it’s out in the country, and most all of our stuff fits in it (and we had a bunch of stuff that needed a good throwing away, anyway).  Our landlords are lovely people, and if something breaks, I just pick up the phone and call.  Living here is our opportunity (we hope) to finally get back on some solid financial footing.  Life has happened, and we hope this is our place to regroup.

But we couldn’t have our cats here.  They had to be rehomed.  (No hating on that, please.  It was not a decision we made lightly, and a whole lot of tears were shed.)

Oh, that’s bad. — No, that’s good.  Well, not as bad as it could have been, anyway.  A lovely woman gave them a happy home.  Bless her, she already had seven cats, and took ours to be her eighth and ninth.  By all accounts, they are happy as clams there (and she has it set up really nicely if you’re a cat!).  And while I miss the cats, I do not miss the cat hair.  Or the litter box.

And then just when you thought things might settle down, wait, there’s more.  On Friday I was laid off.  It was for financial reasons, as our firm wasn’t bringing in the work or the money to need two attorneys.  That was really, really not how I expected my Friday to go.

Oh, that’s bad. — Well, yeah, it would seem that way, wouldn’t it?  And I certainly wouldn’t have gotten up Friday morning and said, “Let me see, I think I’d like to lose my job today” had the choice been mine to make.  But when I look back at all the times things have happened, when our first response has been, “Oh, that’s bad,” and see that every.single.time God has brought something good out of it, I can’t really get too worked up.  This turn of events may have been a surprise to me, but it was absolutely not a surprise to Him.  There was a reason why I got that job, and there is a reason why I no longer have it.  So, right now, I’m okay.  I’m breathing.  I’ve already applied for two state jobs and reached out to friends to ask for a heads up if they hear of anything.  And it is only the grace and peace of my Lord, and my knowledge that He is faithful, that keeps me grounded in the middle of this particular storm.

Day by day, I’m learning what it means to pray without ceasing.  And even in this, I can lift my eyes to God and give thanks.

 

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Who you really are

I went to Thing One’s eighth grade awards program today.  Sitting in the middle school gym made me think back (a long way back) to my school days.  I was one of “those” kids.  The kind who was involved in ev.ery.thing, who won all the awards, who made the honor roll, who was Student of the Year, that sort of thing.  I was smart and I knew it and I loved it.

Academic Awards

You know how many awards Thing One brought home today?  None.  Nada.  Zip.  Zero.  Zilch.  No academic awards, no sports awards, not even 100% dress-out for PE.  But Thing One isn’t bothered by his lack of awards.  He’s comfortable in his own skin, for the most part, and if you ask him, he’ll tell you the awards don’t matter, because he’s the GOAT – Greatest of All Time!  That got me thinking, too.

How much do those awards I won in sixth grade, eighth grade, high school *really* matter now?  I’ve probably still got some of them stashed in a folder or scrapbook or box somewhere.  It was a lot of fun at the time, winning them.  But have they been any indicator of future success?  Not really, not as far as achieving ridiculous levels of wealth and/or fame or living the high life with all the toys money can buy.  Does anyone care now that I was a National Merit Scholar?  I’m not sure I even care at this point.

Worldly accolades are fun, I’ll grant you that.  It’s nice to feel like you’re special, like you’re appreciated, like you’re noticed.  But that doesn’t last, and that’s not what counts most.  Not even our perception of ourselves as worthy is what matters.  No, what I want Thing One to remember, even when the world is unkind, is who he is in our Savior, Christ Jesus.

He was created specifically by God, who knows him better than he knows himself.  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you….” – Jeremiah 1:5

He is called to righteousness.  “I am the Lord, I have called You in righteousness….” – Isaiah 42:6

He is a child of God.  “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” – Romans 8:16

He is created by God to do good things.  “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:10

He is loved – loved enough that Jesus went to the cross for him, to save him and give him eternal life.  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” – 1 John 4:10

Those are the things that matter.  Our identity as a beloved child of God, our salvation based on our faith in Jesus, those are the things we carry with us into eternity.  That scrapbook full of decades-old award certificates isn’t going to make the trip when we stand before our Creator.

If you have questions about eternity, about faith, about God, about Christianity, check out https://www.truelife.org/.  I’m no expert, but you can ask me, too.  If I don’t know an answer, I’ll look for it, and I’ll help you find someone who does know.

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It’s Good to Have a Guide!

This is a traffic map of the way I get to work.

This morning it was pretty tame – most days, there’s a lot more red on the traffic maps early in the day, because traffic is usually a disastrous hot mess.  But I drive about 20 miles to work each day, so knowing what the route looks like can be a big help.

One morning this week, Brian left the house earlier than I did.  That usually doesn’t happen, as I’m most often out the door ahead of him.  But on this particular day, he was ahead of me.  We often talk on the phone in the mornings, and we were talking that day (thank you, Bluetooth, for letting us talk without holding phones up to our ears!).  As we talked, he told me what traffic looked like on the bridge across the Mississippi River.  He was able to tell me where the slowdowns were, and said I might want to get off on a side street and pick up the interstate farther along the way.  I did, and it saved me some time and headache in traffic.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had someone who could act as a guide for us in our everyday lives?  Someone who’d already been where we were going and could give us directions as to what path we should take?  Wow, that would be amazing.

You know what?  We do.

There isn’t a place we’re headed to that God hasn’t walked before us.  There isn’t a day we face that He hasn’t seen.  He knows what’s coming, and He stands ready to walk with us through whatever each day may bring.

As Lauren Daigle says in her song Trust in You, “Your ways are always higher, Your plans are always good, There’s not a place that I’ll go You’ve not already stood.”  What a marvelous thought.  I don’t have to fear the future because I have a Guide who has already seen what’s around the corner.  He’s just waiting for me to trust Him to direct my path.

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Brian’s best Christmas present ever – the Cameron’s stovetop smoker

Okay, maybe not the best *ever*, but certainly the hit of 2016 – Brian got this Cameron’s Stovetop Smoker, and it is fabulous!!!  We’d talked about something like a Big Green Egg or a Kamado Joe, but those were really more than our budget could handle.  When he found this little gem, it seemed like the perfect fit.

The Stovetop Smoker comes with everything you need to get started – the smoker, the drip pan, the rack, and three good-sized samples of wood chips.  Ours came with hickory (the granddaddy of all woods for some good smoke flavor!), pecan, and alder, which is a good selection to get started with.

The first time we fired it up, we decided to make smoked meatloaf.  A local barbecue restaurant serves smoked meatloaf, and it’s my favorite, so that seemed like an appropriate first choice for our new stovetop smoker.  I used my Dr Pepper Meatloaf recipe from one of my Baylor cookbooks.

You don’t need a lot of wood to bring some big smoky flavor to your food.  Just a tablespoon or two of wood chips in the bottom of the pan is all you need.

smoker-wood-chips

After you put your wood chips in the pan, you cover it with your drip pan, lined with foil, and your rack, sprayed with cooking spray.

smoker-prepared-drip-pan

And then you’re ready to get smokin’!  Here’s the meat loaf, shaped and ready to go.

smoked-meatloaf-ready-to-smoke

The Stovetop Smoker comes with a recipe guide, which is handy if you don’t know how long to smoke meat for.  The guide gave a time of 30 minutes for 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef in the form of hamburger patties.  We had about 1 1/2 pounds of meat in the form of two loaves, so we figured that would be a good starting point.

We put the lid on the smoker, set it on a stovetop burner, and let ‘er rip.  It works over any heat source, including open flame and electric stovetop.  We’ve got a gas stove, and we centered the smoker over one burner, as the instructions said.  And in just about half an hour, behold!  Glorious smoked meatloaf!

smoked-meatloaf-done

The one on the right was touching the top of the lid, so next time, I’d squash my meatloaf down a little flatter.  But it was tasty and delicious!  We’ve also done smoked hamburgers, which were a HUGE hit with Thing One and Thing Two.  We may never cook another hamburger on a grill again.

The Stovetop Smoker does release a little smoke into the kitchen, but it’s not much.  If it’s smoking too much, that’s easily fixed by tweaking the lid.  It’s stainless steel, so pretty easy to clean, and the pan is supposed to get darker with use (and ours definitely has).  We are enjoying the heck out of this thing, and I can’t wait to see what all we can smoke in the comfort of our kitchen.

If you think you’d like to try the Stovetop Smoker yourself, please feel free to use one of the links in my post.  Thanks!

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

 

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National Roof Over Your Head Day

Today is National Roof Over Your Head Day. I thought that was appropriate to post about during the holiday season. So often we get caught up in the whirl of parties and baking and decorating and finding just the right gift, and what should be a joyous season becomes a season of immense stress. We forget to stop and be thankful for what we have.

roof-over-your-head-day

I’m celebrating National Roof Over Your Head Day by saying a prayer of gratitude for our home. On this gray, chilly, rainy day, we’re warm and dry. Especially in this area, after the August floods, this is a blessing that many don’t have. Homes are in various stages of reconstruction, or have been destroyed utterly. Today, I don’t take the blessing of a home for granted. Whether your house is modern and luxurious, small and cozy, or just an average house on an average street, take time today to appreciate the roof over your head.

Today would also be a good day to consider making a donation to a local homeless shelter or other organization that gives people a place to come in out of the rain.

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Tuneful Tuesday: Flood and Hope Edition

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know south Louisiana has been hit hard by flooding in recent weeks.  (Or maybe you don’t, given the lack of significant national media coverage.)  The amount of rain that fell on parts of the greater Baton Rouge area in just a matter of days was more rain than Los Angeles has gotten in the last four YEARS.  Let that roll around in your brain for a minute.  Twenty, twenty-five, thirty inches or more of rain, in a matter of hours, days.  It’s done incredible amounts of damage, and I have friends and family who had to be rescued from their homes, and in some cases, who lost everything.  You see the devastation and it’s like you’re looking at a movie.  This can’t be real.  But it is.

Song:  “Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman

When something like this happens, you hear people say about the wreckage, with the best of intentions, “It’s just stuff.”  And to some extent, perhaps that’s true.  Furniture, curtains, cabinets, dishes, all that can be replaced.  It’s the sentimental things that are harder to toss on the junk pile as “just stuff”.  Wedding photos.  The little outfit your baby wore home from the hospital after weeks in the NICU.  The cards your kids made you for Mother’s Day when they were young.  The love letters your father wrote to your mother when he was serving overseas in World War II.  Those things, once gone, can never be recreated.

But even so, there is a hope greater than the things we can see and touch and mourn the letting go of.  What peace comes when we can cling to the Hope of eternity, the Light of the world.

“So lift your voice just one more time
If there’s any hope may it be a sign
That everything was made to shine
Despite what you can see
So take this bread and drink this wine
And hide your spirit within the vine
Where all things will work by a good design
For those who will believe
And let go of all we cannot hold onto
For the hope beyond the blue”

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1

 Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.'” – John 8:12

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Sprucing the blog up a little….

Thanks to the lovely Giselle at A Book and a Cup of Coffee for my blog header!  I’m graphics challenged, so I really appreciate her designing the header for me.

What do y’all think?  🙂

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