Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Emmy's Equal by Macia Gruver

What I Thought:

I stepped out of my comfort zone to read this book. It is a Western Romance...and I actually really enjoyed it. The main character is a spunky and fiesty young woman who fights with her old non-Christian self. It is really cute how she comes to realize that she just can't go back to being the carnal, self-loving princess that she was before she became a Christian. The love interest is a great blend of Native American and Hispanic cultures. He is adorable. I had a lot of fun reading this book.

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Emmy’s Equal

Barbour Books (October 9, 2009)

***Special thanks to Angie Brillhart of Barbour Publishing for sending me a review copy.***


Marcia Gruver lives with her husband in Huffman, Texas, and has published various articles, poems, and devotionals. Her novel, Love Never Fails (renamed Chasing Charity), won third place in the 2007 American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Genesis Contest. Marcia is a member of ACFW, Fellowship of Christian Writers (FCW), and The Writers View.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (October 9, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602602077
ISBN-13: 978-1602602076


Humble, Texas, August, 1906

The stagnant well appeared bottomless, as dank and murky as a grave. Emmy rested her arms on the cold, jagged stones and leaned to peer into the abyss. Mama’s embroidered lace hankie, shimmering in the meager light, hung from an outcropping of rock about four feet down. Narrowing her eyes, she peered at the spot of white that stood out from the surrounding darkness and heaved a sigh, stirring the fetid air below and raising a noxious odor that took her breath.

She pushed up her sleeves and blasted a droopy blonde ringlet from her eyes with a frustrated puff of air. There was no help for it—at the risk of certain death, she had to retrieve that handkerchief.

A figure loomed, drawing alongside her with a grunt.

She jumped, and her heart shot past her throat. Chest pounding, she wasted a glare on the dark profile, noticing for the first time a scatter of lines around his eyes and tiny gray curlicues in his sideburns.

“Nash! I nearly leapt over the side.” She swatted his arm. “I’ve asked you to stop sneaking up on me. I’ve a good mind to fit you with a cowbell.”

A chuckle rumbled from his chest, as deep as the chasm. “I didn’t go to scare you, Miss Emmy.” He bent his lanky body so far she feared he’d tumble headfirst into the never-ending shaft. “Say, what we looking for inside this hole?”

“We’re not looking for anything. I’ve already found it.” Emmy clutched his shirtsleeve and pulled him away. “Go fetch me a lantern, and be quick about it.” She tucked her chin in the direction of the palomino pony languishing under a nearby oak, nibbling at the circle of high grass around the trunk. “Take Trouble. He’ll be quicker than walking.”

Nash frowned and rubbed the knuckles of one hand along his temple, as if an ache had sprung up there. “What you need a lantern for, with the sun up and shining the past five hours? There’s plenty of light to see.”

She braced herself and pointed. “Not down there.”

Nash’s sleepy eyes flew open. His startled gaze bounced along her finger to the circular wall of weathered stones. “Down there?” He took a cautious step back. “What’s in this sour old pit that might concern you?”

Emmy swallowed hard. She could trust Nash with anything but dreaded his reaction all the same. “It’s. . .one of mama’s hankies.” She squeezed her eyes shut and ducked her head.

His shoulders eased, and he ambled over to gaze inside. “Is that all?”

If only it were. Emmy risked a peek at him. “You don’t understand.”

He winced as if she’d spoken a bad omen. “Uh, uh. Not from her good batch? Them she’s always cackling about?”

Emmy cringed and nodded.

The delicate, lacy linens held an uncommon depth of meaning for Emmy’s mama. Hand embroidered in Germany by her grandmother then brought to the Americas and placed in Mama’s hope chest, they represented heart, hearth, and homeland to Magdalena Dane. In equal measure, they represented distress, discontent, and discord to her only daughter, because the bothersome bits of cloth seemed determined to cause Emmy grief.

Nash’s stunned expression hardened into an accusing glare. “Why, Miss Emmy? Why you done brought about such misery? You ain’t s’posed to touch ’em, and you know it.” His graying brows fluttered up and down, like two moths bent on escape. “There’s scarce few left, and your mama blames you for them what’s missing.”

She moaned and flapped her hands. “I didn’t mean to take the silly thing. It was warm when I rode out this morning. I knew I’d likely sweat, so I snagged a hankie from the clothesline. I never looked at it until a few minutes ago. That’s how this terrible mishap came about. I held it up as I rode, staring in disbelief. Trouble was galloping across the yard when the wind caught it and. . .” She motioned behind her. “The willful rag drifted down the well before I could stop the horse and chase after it.”

Emmy lowered her eyes then peered up at him through her lashes. “None of this is my fault, Nash. Papa should’ve covered this smelly cistern months ago, and those wretched handkerchiefs have a mind of their own.”

The hint of a smile played around Nash’s lips. “If so, they harbor a mighty poor opinion of you.”

She wrinkled her nose at him.

Wagging his head, he rested the back of his hand on his side. “In all my years of working for your family, of all the fits I’ve seen your mama pitch, the worst have been over the loss of them fancy scraps of cloth.” He shuddered. “Miss Emmy, I’d be mighty grateful if you’d wait and break the news to her after I leave for the day. She gon’ be powerful upset.”

Emmy held up and wiggled a finger. “On the contrary. I won’t be upsetting Mama.”

“How you figure that?”

“Because there’s no need to tell her.”

Nash propped his elbow in one hand and rubbed his chin with the other. “Missy, I thought you was done telling lies and scheming. Don’t forget you’re a saint of God now.”

A saint of God. Yes, she was, through no fault of her own. Like Elijah’s fiery chariot, God had swirled into Emmy’s life in a weak moment and delivered her from herself. Not that she minded His day-to-day presence. In fact, she rather enjoyed the peace He brought. It was during times of temptation when she found the constant stirring in her heart to do the right thing a bit of a bother. Yet no wonder, really. In the past, she’d had precious little practice in doing the right thing.

She blinked up at Nash. “I have no plans to lie, and I won’t need to scheme. We’re simply going to return great-grandmother’s hankie to Mama’s clothesline, washed, rinsed, and fresh as a newborn calf.”

Nash stared then shook his head. “No ma’am. You jus’ forget about what we gon’ do. Question is how are you gon’ pull it off?”

“I’ll show you.” She shooed him with her hands. “Run fetch that lantern like I asked and leave the rest to me.”

Still shaking his head, Nash mounted Trouble and laid in his heels. The horse bolted the short distance across the yard to the well-kept shed tucked behind Emmy’s two-story house. With a furtive glance toward the porch, Nash eased the door open and slipped inside.

While she waited, Emmy watched a rowdy band of crows swarm Nash’s cornfield. The black bandits bickered and pecked for position before settling in for a meal, oblivious to the mop-headed stick Nash had dressed in a ragged shirt and floppy hat and then shoved in the ground. She dared not call his attention to the culprits or he’d bluster after them, shouting and waving his arms like a demented windmill, leaving her to cope alone with her pressing dilemma.

She jerked her gaze from the birds when Nash rode up and slid off Trouble to the ground, a lighted lantern in his hand.

Handing over the light with a flourish, he lowered one brow and pinned her with a squinty look. “Here’s what you asked for. Jus’ be sure to leave me plumb out of the story when you go explaining yourself to your mama.”

He turned to go, but Emmy caught hold of his shirttail. “Not so fast. I’m not done with you.”

Nash covered his ears and reeled away. “Don’t tell me no mo’. I ain’t seen nothing, and I ain’t heard nothing. If anybody needs me, I’ll be feeding the chickens.”

Emmy aimed a haughty laugh at his back. “It’s too late for that. You’re in up to your hat, and it’s no less punishment than you deserve for sneaking about all the time.”

Nash dug in his heels and stood facing the grove of loblolly pine at the edge of the yard, his body stiff as a post.

Repentant, she softened her voice to a plea. “I’m sorry, Nash. I had no call to utter such a thing. It’s just. . .I can’t do this without you.”

Arms dangling at his sides, he tipped his head toward the sky and whispered something, a prayer no doubt, before turning to face her. “What you want me to do?”

She peppered him with grateful kisses then grabbed his hand. “Come over here.” Hauling him to the gaping cavity, she lowered the lamp. “See? There it is.”

They gazed at the only bright spot in the oppressive gloom, their ability to see inside the shaft made no better by the frail circle of yellow light.

Nash shrugged and drew back from the side. “Too far down. May as well wave it goodbye then go fess up to what you done.”

Emmy gripped his arm. “Nonsense. We can get it out of there.”

“How, short of fishing it out with a cane pole? And I got no hooks.” He scratched his head. “I reckon I could take my hammer and pound a bend in a nail.”

She shook her head. “Too risky. If the hankie slips off it’ll settle to the bottom, and that’ll be the end of it.” She drew a determined breath. “I have a better idea.”

Nash’s eyebrows rose on his forehead, reaching new heights, even for him. “What sort of idea? Harebrained or foolhardy? Them’s the only two kinds you have.”

She swallowed hard and fingered the wooden bucket sitting on the wall. “I’m going to straddle this, and you’ll lower me down to fetch it.”

The shaggy brows bested their last mark. “You cain’t mean it, Miss Emmy.”

“I do so.”

“Then your idea is both harebrained and foolhardy. You must be plain tetched up under them pretty white locks. S’pose that rope snaps in two?”

“Oh, pooh.” She patted the heavy hemp coiled around the crank. “This rope is thick and sound.” She pointed over her shoulder at the horse. “You could lower Trouble down that well.”

He nodded. “Yes’m. That’s exactly what I’d be doing.” He jerked off his weathered hat and dashed it against his leg. “Don’t ask me to put you in that kind of danger. No, missy. I won’t do it. Not for nothing in this wide world.”

Touched, Emmy smiled at the man who’d been like a father to her over the years, far more of a parent than her own papa, who didn’t stay home often enough to have much practice at the role. She took Nash’s hand and squeezed it. “I won’t be in any danger. As long as you’re holding the handle, I know I’ll be safe.” She peered up into his sulky brown eyes. “You know if you don’t help me I’ll just find a way to do it myself. I have to get that hankie.”

He gaped at her. “The silly thing ain’t worth dying for, is it? Your mama has fussed at you before, and you lived to tell the tale. Why is this time so all-fired special?”

She squared around to face him. “I can’t have her angry about anything just now. I’m planning to ask permission to go to St. Louis when Mama travels with Aunt Bertha to South Texas. It’ll be hard enough to convince her as it is. If she gets in a snit, my plan is doomed.”

“Why they going off so far?”

“It’s Aunt Bertha’s idea. Now that she has money, she’s determined to go into the cattle business. She’s bent on learning all she can. Papa knows a very successful rancher down south who’s willing to teach her everything he knows.”

“Cain’t you jus’ stay home?”

“They’ll be gone for a month or better. Mama refuses to leave me here alone for that long, and I’d much prefer going to see Charity.”

Nash smiled and nodded. “ ’Specially with her jus’ done birthing the little one.”

Emmy beamed. “Exactly. I can help Charity bring him home.”

A thrill coursed through her at the thought of seeing Charity and Buddy’s new baby boy. Emmy and Charity were as close as twin sisters, best friends like their mamas had always been. Emmy’s mama and Aunt Bertha had grown up together in Jefferson before moving to Humble.

Last year, a handsome young oilman came to town and found oil on Aunt Bertha’s land. Charity wound up married to him and soon left for St. Louis to meet his parents. When Buddy found out she was expecting, he kept her in the city so she’d be close to good medical care.

Not a day had passed that Emmy didn’t think of Charity and long to see her. She was coming home next month, bringing little Thad to meet the family.

Nash narrowed his eyes. “You ain’t jus’ trying to sneak off to St. Louis to see that oilman friend of Mistah Buddy’s, are you? Don’t think I didn’t see you making eyes at him the whole time that preacher was trying to marry off Miss Charity.”

Emmy whirled. “Who? Mr. Ritter?” She dismissed the thought with a wave of her hand. “Jerry Ritter was just a passing fancy.”

Nash raised a cynical brow.

“Oh, pooh, Nash! You stop that!” She fiddled the row of tiny buttons on her sleeve. “Besides. . .Aunt Bertha claims Mr. Ritter was recently betrothed to a childhood sweetheart.” She flicked off an insect from the cuff of her blouse and dashed away her humiliation with the same resolve. “Therefore, my desire to be in St. Louis has nothing to do with him. I just need to see Charity. If I get into any more trouble, Mama’s bound to haul me with them to that dreadful desert town instead. If she does, I’ll just dry up along with it and perish. I mean it!”

Grinding the toe of his oversized boot in the dirt, Nash sighed and shifted his weight. “I don’t know, Miss Emmy. . .”

Emmy stifled a grin. She had him. “I’ll be just fine. I promise. Now help me climb up.”

Still mumbling his objections, he offered an elbow to Emmy so she could pull up and sit on the uneven stones. Unfastening the buttoned flap on her split skirt, she swung her legs over and settled on the side, trying hard not to look past her boots. “Turn your head while I sit astride the pail. It won’t look so dainty in this outfit.”

Nash gazed toward the field, obviously too distracted to notice the raiding crows.

Still clinging to his arm, Emmy held her breath and pulled the dangling rope closer, guiding it between her legs. “All right, I’m ready. Lean your weight into the handle. I’m about to push off.”

Nash shifted his gaze to the sky. “Oh, sweet Jesus. Please protect this chil’.”

Holding her breath, she scooted from the edge, squealing when her body spun and dipped about a foot. “Nash! Have you got it?”

“I’ve got it. Stop squirming now. You heavier than you look.”

Emmy forced herself to still, more afraid than she’d expected to be. She felt more than saw the yawning gulf, a great gaping mouth poised to swallow her whole. “Hand me the lantern and then you can lower me. But go slowly, for heaven’s sake.”

She breathed a prayer as she spiraled past the opening and descended. Glancing up, she bit her lip and watched the rope unwind from the wobbly reel, outlined by a circle of light. Misguided but determined white roots that had pushed through cracks in the mortar groped at her, snagging her hem and sleeves. Crisscrossed nets of taught, silky threads offered whispers of resistance before giving way and sticking to the exposed parts of her legs. Emmy held the soft glow of the lamp closer to the side, shuddering when eight-legged bodies skittered in every direction. She gritted her teeth, suppressing a shriek and the urge to order Nash to haul her out of the wide-awake nightmare.

You can do this. Just a little more and you’ll be there. Three more turns and you’ll have Mama’s hankie in your hands. This will all be worth it then.

Exhaling her relief, she drew even with the jutting rock that had caught the precious heirloom. Holding the lantern out of the way, she swayed her body until the motion brought her closer to the wall.

She snatched at the white spot. Instead of soft linen, she felt thick, sticky padding. In place of the crush of a napkin gathered in her palm, there was the unmistakable writhing of something alive.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Love is a Battlefield by Annalisa Daughety

What I Thought:

This was a fun read. One of those that entertains and leaves you smiling. I've never been to Shiloh National Military Park, so it was really interesting to hear all about it through the eyes of a park ranger. I look forward to the rest of the series and more National Parks!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Love is a Battlefield

Barbour Books (October 1, 2009)

***Special thanks to Angie Brillhart of Barbour Publishing for sending me a review copy.***


Annalisa Daughety lives in Memphis, Tennessee, where she works as an event planner. After attending Freed-Hardeman University, where she majored in American Studies, Annalisa worked at Shiloh National Military Park as a park ranger. She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and loves gardening, shopping, and watching sports. For more information, visit her Web site at .

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (October 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602604770
ISBN-13: 978-1602604773


If someone had told Kristy O’Neal that the battlefield at Shiloh would see another casualty nearly one hundred and fifty years after the battle ended, she’d have thought they were crazy.

Yet, two weeks ago, one last soldier had been injured on the majestic field. And Kristy had the battle scars to prove it. Admittedly, her wound was emotional, not physical, but she still wondered if the splintered pieces of her heart might be tougher to knit back together than a bullet-shattered bone.

Ready or not, her recovery time was over, so she squared her shoulders and headed back onto the hallowed ground. Never let it be said that Kristy couldn’t soldier up with the best of them. Ranger hat firmly in place and gold badge glinting in the May sunlight, she marched briskly to the visitor center.

“Morning, Kristy.” Ranger Owen Branam stopped putting money in the cash register slots long enough to nod in her direction. “You have a nice trip?” He closed the drawer, finished with his preparations for the day’s visitors.

Nice trip? A cruise spent faking allergies to explain away tears. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?

“Lovely.” she managed what she hoped was a convincing smile. “The weather was great.” Scooting past him, she attempted to make it to her office without further questioning.

“Umm. Kristy?”

The apprehension in the older man’s voice made her stop in her tracks. She slowly turned to look back at Owen.

He ran his finger around the neck of his shirt as if he had a little too much starch in the collar. “The chief asked me to have you go straight up to his office when you got in.” He motioned toward the counter. “You can leave your things here. I’ll keep an eye on them while you’re upstairs.”

Only five minutes into her morning and her plan to fly as far under the radar as possible had already gone out the window. So much for the low-key first day back she’d hoped for.

“Thanks, Owen.” Kristy put her hat on the counter and tucked her purse underneath the desk.

As she got to the top of the stairs, an unfamiliar voice called out a greeting to Owen. Twisting around, she peeked over the railing. Wow. A Johnny Depp lookalike was helping Owen straighten the brochures. The second thing she noticed about him, after his movie star resemblance, was the park service uniform he wore. Surely, he wasn’t a new employee. She’d only been gone a few weeks. Things didn’t usually happen that quickly at Shiloh National Military Park.

“Glad to have you back.”

The gruff voice of Chief Ranger Hank Strong made her jump and turn around.

She felt her face grow hot. Had he been watching her ogle Ranger Depp? She cleared her throat.

“Glad to be back.” She followed him into his office and perched on one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs in front of his desk. Her gaze skimmed over a hodgepodge of furniture, maps, and historical books. None of the furnishings matched, except for Hank’s oversized desk and equally oversized chair that had always reminded her of a king’s throne.

“Good, good.” Hank settled himself behind the desk and peered at her over his round bifocals. “Look, Kristy. There’s no easy way to tell you this.” For a moment, an expression that looked like uncertainty flitted over his weathered face.

Uh-oh. As befitted his name, Hank Strong was always sure of himself. Whatever he was about to say, she wasn’t going to like it.

“I told you before you left on your trip there’d be a job waiting for you when you got back,” Hank paused.

Kristy could tell he was choosing his words carefully.

She nodded. “Yes. And believe me, I’m so grateful.” When she’d turned in her two-week notice, it had felt like she was letting him down, letting the park down. After all, she’d begun working at Shiloh while she was still in college. It was the only place she’d ever worked—or ever wanted to work, for that matter. After her plans had abruptly changed, she’d been relieved when Hank stepped in and told her there was still a place for her at Shiloh.

“Well, there was one thing I didn’t mention.”

“Oh?” Why do his words sound so ominous?

“By the time I found out you weren’t moving and were still available to work, your position had been filled.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Kristy. The paperwork had already gone through. There was nothing that could be done.”

She tried to catch her breath. Knowing she was at least able to come back to work at the park was the only thing that had gotten her through the past two weeks. “But you said. . .” Her voice trailed off as she willed herself not to panic.

“I know. I said I had a position for you. And I do.” He leaned back a little in his chair, visibly relieved to have the bad news off his chest. “You’re welcome to stay on as a seasonal ranger.”

Seasonal? That was where she’d started, nine years earlier, the summer after her freshman year of college. She glanced around, hoping for a paper bag she could breathe into. Of course, what she needed most was a rewind button that would allow her to go back in time and decide not to quit her job. But if she could travel back to the past, knowing what she did now, there wouldn’t have been a reason to leave Shiloh in the first place.

“You want me to be a seasonal?” Kristy’s voice squeaked. “What about my salary?”

A frown drew his bushy brows together. “There’ll be a pay cut. And you’ll move to the office shared by the seasonal staff. In fact, Owen has already put your box of office doodads in there.”

If she hadn’t been so shell-shocked, she probably would’ve laughed at his word for the contents of the box she’d left in her former office weeks earlier. Instead, all she could think was how she’d planned to stop by and pick her things up once the movers arrived. But the moving van had been permanently rerouted.

“You can still live in park housing. I know you’ve already packed most of your things, but Owen said he didn’t think you’d actually moved anything out yet.” He handed her a manila folder. “Your decision, kiddo. We’d love to keep you around. You’re a great park ranger. But I understand if you want to go in a different direction now.”

She took the file from him and glanced at the paperwork inside. The contents of the folder would effectively help to move her back down the career ladder she’d been climbing.

“What happens in September?” The seasonal positions at Shiloh ran from Memorial Day through Labor Day. And since they were only a few days shy of Memorial Day, she figured she should feel lucky there was even a seasonal position still available. They usually filled pretty quickly.

“Well.” He leaned back even farther and pressed his fingertips together. “At that juncture you’ll have a few options. Perhaps a permanent position will open here. Or we can look around at other parks and try to get you a transfer.”

Or I can leave the park service.

He rose to his feet. “If you want to think about it for a day or two, that’s fine.”

She knew Hank well enough to know that giving her time to consider the offer was his way of being sympathetic. Despite her trembling legs, she managed to stand. “Thank you,” she mumbled and scurried for the stairs, her mind spinning like a recently fired cannonball.

A permanent position opening at Shiloh was pretty much out of the question. Most of the rangers planned to stay until retirement age, some of them even longer. And she wasn’t interested in a transfer. This was the park she loved. Kristy had grown up in nearby Savannah, Tennessee, and some of her earliest memories were of the cannons and monuments at Shiloh.

Owen avoided eye contact with her as she descended the stairs.

Thanks a lot, buddy.

He’d obviously known what the meeting was going to be about, but hadn’t had the nerve to give her a warning before she went upstairs. Kristy couldn’t blame him though. No one liked to be the bearer of bad news.

And with her newfound knowledge, the mystery of the unfamiliar ranger was solved. The Johnny Depp lookalike was the ranger who now had her position. Not to mention her office.

She silently gathered her hat and purse from the front desk and took them to the room reserved for seasonal staff. As she passed the office she used to occupy, a fleeting glance told her that Ranger Depp wasn’t inside. The seasonal office, if it could even be called an office, was full of old desks and equipment. Kristy turned on the light and took in the sparsely decorated white walls. It was a far cry from the cheerful yellow she’d painted her former office last year. Thankfully, the other members of the seasonal staff wouldn’t arrive until Monday. At least I should have peace until Memorial Day. She could even move the desks and junk, buy some paint for the walls, and live out the next few days in Pretend Everything’s Okay Land.

Except, eventually, she’d have to face reality.

She flipped on the computer and silently tapped her fingers on the desk as she waited forever for it to boot up.

Can I do this? Can I take a step down in pay and status? Seasonals were at the low end of the totem pole. She remembered those days all too well. Getting assigned the tasks no one else wanted to do and being expected to do them without grumbling. Would they do that to her again? Or would she continue to be treated as permanent staff, despite the demotion?

Demotion. Ouch.

Either way, it wouldn’t be pleasant.

She glanced down at the box of her things on the floor next to the computer, and tears flooded her eyes. Empty picture frames peeked out from the box flaps. The pictures that had once been in them were nowhere in sight. Someone had wanted to spare her feelings today. Either that, or they didn’t want to be stuck with an emotional female to console.

The frames might’ve been without pictures, but Kristy knew what they’d once held. Her heart pounded as she grabbed all three frames and tossed them in the trashcan, taking unexpected pleasure in the sight and sound of shattering glass. A yellow and white wad under a large shard caught her eye. She couldn’t resist carefully fishing it out of the can, even though she knew better.

Kristy unwrinkled the ball and smoothed it out on the old, beat-up desk, running her hand over the creases in the paper. Fancy paper, as Owen called it months ago when he’d first seen it. Her vision blurred with fresh tears, but she didn’t need to read the words to know what they said.

For a long moment, she stared down at the engraved invitation.

To her wedding.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Church of Facebook by Jesse Rice

What I Thought:

This is a wonderfully funny and poignant book depicting today's Christian and how social networking affects the church. I recommend that you visit Jesse's HILARIOUS website to see the author in action. If you are a Blogger, Facebooker, or any other online person who also happens to be a Christian, this book is for you.

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Church of Facebook

David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***


Jesse Rice is a writer and musician and served for eight years as the Contemporary Worship Arts Director at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, a large and thriving congregation in the heart of Silicon Valley. Jesse has a Master’s in Counseling Psychology and is an authority on the search for meaning in a fast-paced, hyper-connected world. He is a sought-after worship leader and speaker with more than fifteen years of experience working with college students and young adults. Jesse and his wife, Katie, live in Palo Alto, California.

Visit the author's hilarious website.

The Church of Facebook, by Jesse Rice from David C. Cook on Vimeo.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434765342
ISBN-13: 978-1434765345



Akumal, Mexico, is just over an hour south of Cancun on the Mexican Riviera, a quaint resort community surrounded by white sandy beaches and lush jungle palms. Its miniscule “downtown” is composed of two small grocery stores, half a dozen restaurants, and a scuba-diving shop. It is positioned on a long stretch of beach regarded for its snorkeling and giant sea turtles. It is a tourist trap but few tourists know of it, keeping life in Akumal consistently vibrating at little more than a soothing hum. In other words, it is paradise.

On New Years Day 1998, three particularly pasty psychologists found themselves luxuriating in Akumal while discussing the topic, “What makes people happy?” As soft, eighty-degree breezes swept over the tops of their little tropical drinks sporting little tropical umbrellas, it was difficult to imagine discussing anything else.

Renown psychologist Martin Seligman was one of the three. His round, clean-shaven face and mostly bald head framed an easy smile, making him look like a beardless Santa Claus with a badly sunburned nose. Together with Ray Fowler and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (yes, that’s a lot of consonants but it’s easily pronounced: “cheeks-sent-me-high”), he was celebrating his very first day as president of the American Psychological Association. Seligman was known around the world for his work studying learned helplessness, depression, and, conversely, for his founding contributions to the emerging field of positive psychology. Each incoming APA president is asked to choose a theme for their yearlong term of office. Seligman, frustrated that so much of his field seemed entirely focused on the broken parts of humanity, wanted to steer things in a more optimistic direction. Thus the quiet beach resort, thus the tropical drinks, and thus the question, “What makes people happy?”

One year after that very conversation, Seligman and company—plus a group of young talent being groomed to lead the charge for a more optimistic approach in their field—returned to Akumal as part of a first annual conference on “positive psychology.” The tiny beach community had never seen so much pale skin. Not that psychology had always turned a blind eye to optimism. Throughout the decades there had always been a few rogues willing to brave their fellow researchers’ suspicious looks and folded arms in order to promote a more positive approach to well-being. But here was the beginning of a movement to reorient the entire field, to mainstream what had until then seemed little more than a fringe curiosity.

In the years following the conference, the evidence for what makes people happy began to roll in like a gentle wave in Akumal. What did researchers find? You may be surprised.

More money doesn’t make you happy. Yes, we’ve all been told that “money can’t buy happiness,” but here for the first time was actual scientific research that showed, once our basic material needs are met, additional income does almost nothing to raise our sense of satisfaction with life. (Wouldn’t we all love the chance to prove the exception to the rule?) How about education? Would another degree at a better institution make me happy? Again, research showed that more or better education or even a higher IQ did not equate to happiness. How about the quest to remain eternally young? In a culture that has elevated adolescence into an art form, surely perpetual youth would make us happy? Not so fast. Older people, studies revealed, were consistently happier than younger people. They were also less prone to bouts of depression. What about sunny weather? Be honest: Aren’t Californians happier than Michiganders? Research suggested that while those surveyed in the Midwest assumed Californians were a happier bunch thanks to their extra dose of vitamin D, it turns out there is no correlation between balmy weather and consistent feelings of well-being (though after a long Portland, Oregon, winter, my in-laws usually beg to differ).

So what does cause happiness? Dr. Edward Diener—known to his associates as “Dr. Happiness”—conducted a 2002 study along with Martin Seligman at the University of Illinois. That particular study summed up much of positive psychology’s overall findings. Students who tested with the highest levels of happiness and the fewest signs of depression all had one foundational thing in common: significant social ties to friends and family.

In other words, connection is the key to happiness.


“Authentic connection,” writes psychologist Janet L. Surrey, “is described as the core of psychological wellbeing and is the essential quality of growth-fostering and healing relationships. In moments of deep connection in relationship, we break out of isolation and contraction into a more whole and spacious state

of mind and heart.”

At the root of human existence is our great need for connection: connection with one another, with our own hearts and minds, and with a loving God who intended intimate connection with us from the beginning. Connection is the very core of what makes us human and the very means by which we express our humanity. As Surrey notes, there are no “growth-fostering” or “healing” relationships without connection. Apart from its presence the human heart becomes isolated and fragmented. Let’s look more closely at the power of connection through the lens of two compelling stories.


Harry Frederick Harlow was born October 31,1905. His parents were Mabel Rock and Alonzo Harlow Israel. Harry Harlow was not Jewish, but as an adult he changed his original surname from “Israel” to “Harlow” because he feared the prejudice he likely would have encountered in academic circles of the 1940s and ’50s. In grade school and throughout high school, Harlow demonstrated great proficiency in English, so when he headed off to university, he naturally chose English as his major. Harlow spent his first year studying at Reed College in Oregon and then transferred to Stanford University. At Stanford, Harlow continued his studies, but to his surprise, began doing very poorly in his English courses. Partly to avoid flunking out of Stanford and partly due to a growing interest in human behavior, Harlow switched his studies to psychology. Small decisions can make a big difference. Harlow’s decision to switch majors would eventually revolutionize the entire field of psychology.

Harlow completed both his undergraduate and doctoral degrees at Stanford, taking a professorship at the University of Wisconsin almost as soon as he removed his graduation gown. It was at Wisconsin that Harlow would make a name for himself in a series of cleverly designed experiments that involved a seemingly endless supply of rhesus monkeys.

Harlow, who looked exactly like what you’d expect from a research scientist in the 1950s—white lab coat, horn-rimmed glasses, grease-slicked black hair—was interested in love. In fact his name eventually became synonymous with the “science of affection,” and his best-known paper was titled, “The Nature of Love.” Harlow’s fellow researchers often heckled him and dismissed his fascination with affection for not being “scientific enough.” But he wasn’t deterred. Love was on Harlow’s mind and he knew it was on most other minds as well.

Interestingly, Harlow’s own romantic life would itself become a laboratory of love. He met his first wife, Clara, while she was a subject in a famous IQ study that Harlow just happened to be helping to administer. Clara posted a whopping 150 on the IQ test—well into the “genius” category. They were married in 1932 and had two children, Robert and Richard. Harlow and Clara later divorced in 1946. One

year later Harlow remarried. His new wife, Margaret, was herself a bright psychologist. Together, they had two more children, Pamela and Jonathan. Sadly, Margaret died in 1970 after a long battle with cancer. Again just a single year passed before Harlow was married once more. What kind of brilliant mind did he choose to wed this time? To everyone’s surprise Harlow remarried his first wife, Clara. They lived out the rest of their days together until 1981 when Harlow passed away. Hollywood screenwriters have written less interesting love stories.

But all of that lay in the future. For now, as a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Harlow’s primary “romantic interest” was in primates. One experiment in particular put Harlow on the map. Curious how infant rhesus monkeys would behave in an artificial environment, Harlow and his team built two artificial monkey “mothers.” The first was constructed of simple wire mesh and had a blank-faced head screwed on the top with a tube running out from its neck that could deliver milk to the infant monkey. It resembled he kind of demonic stick figure that people typically ignite at the end of the annual Burning Man festival. The second “mother” was identical except that its “face” was more monkeylike, and its wire mesh frame was covered with soft, warm terrycloth. It looked like an elongated furry snowman that would like to be everyone’s friend. There was one more key distinction between the two mothers: The cloth-covered contraption did not have a feeding tube. It was incapable of providing the infant monkey with food.

The black-and-white film from Harlow’s experiment is both hilarious and heartbreaking to watch. As the tiny elflike monkeys stumble around their cages just a few days after birth, they quickly climb up and take a sip from the wire mother but then scramble immediately back to the cloth mother, where they spend the vast majority of their day. If any element of fear was introduced into the environment, as was the case when researchers placed a drum-playing toy bear into their cage (and who wouldn’t find such a thing troubling?), the little monkeys always ran to the cloth mother for comfort instead of the fooddispensing

wire mother, clinging to her with all their strength until the fear passed.

Harlow and his team had expected the infant monkeys to create some kind of “bond” between mother and child immediately following birth. What they did not anticipate was, if forced to choose, the monkeys would select the nonfeeding cloth mother over the food-delivering wire mother every time. Their need for comforting connection, it seemed, was even greater than their need for food!

But there was more. Following his initial discoveries, Harlow introduced a series of modifications to his experiment. In one case he took away the choice between monkey mothers by separating the infants into two different environments: one with only a wire mother and one with only a cloth mother (a tube was added to the cloth mother to support feeding). Harlow found that monkeys from either environment developed physically at the same rate. It appeared there was little or no difference in the “connective effects” of cloth or wire. This seemed to imply that what the monkeys were connected to did not really matter. The only important thing was that they had some kind of connection.

But the scary drum-playing toy bear changed all of that. When the mechanical bear was placed in the “cloth” cages, the frightened monkeys would scramble on to the cloth mother, cuddling and rubbing against her until they were at last able to calm themselves. At that point, the monkeys would relax and

even become curious and playful about sharing a cage with a toy bear, venturing away from the cloth mother in brief excursions to sniff and paw at it.

The monkeys in the “wire” cages, however, could not have responded more differently. When the menacing toy bear was introduced into the wire cages, the little monkeys fell to pieces. They threw themselves on the floor, and rocked back and forth. They screamed in terror. The effect is so dramatic

that footage from the experiment can be quite disturbing to watch.

What Harlow concluded was that the monkeys in the “cloth” cages must have had access to some kind of psychological resource—what he later called emotional attachment—to help them deal with challenges in their environment, especially the introduction of fear. The monkeys in the “wire” cages had no such resources and fell apart at the first sign of danger. This, Harlow began to see, was evidence that there was in fact a certain kind of connection important not only to healthy development but also to serve in adequately facing challenges that might appear.

Harlow found that there are indeed different types of connection that make for different types of responses. There are some types of connection that enable adaptation and resiliency. There are other connections that create psychological breakdown. The monkeys from either cage developed physically at

normally expected rates. They appeared to be identically healthy and normal from the outside. And they behaved as you would expect healthy monkeys to behave. But those similarities vanished the moment some change—especially some threat—was introduced into their environment. When that happened, the difference in their “inner” realities became obvious. One kind of connection had led to the inner strength necessary to cope with and even overcome environmental changes. The other had led to inner chaos and a radically diminished capacity to cope with anything at all.

Harlow’s findings reflect what we now know to be true for human babies, as well. Bonding, the psychological process by which a mother creates a safe and nurturing environment for the child to develop, lays the groundwork for the baby’s ability to grow into a healthy and well-adapted adult. That is why, as soon as is possible, the new mother is handed her fresh-out-of-the womb baby to physically bond with. If a physical connection is not possible—for example, a health issue that requires the baby to initially be kept in an incubator—mothers are encouraged to speak tenderly to their child, connecting and intimately bonding through the soothing tones of their own voice. Studies have shown that, just like the little rhesus monkeys, a human baby’s need to bond with its parent may be even more important than

its need for food.

Harlow’s findings revolutionized the way psychologists thought about human relationships. Until then it was unlikely any scientist in his right mind would have claimed that some kind of emotional connection was more important to a growing infant than the most basic of all needs, food. But what Harlow demonstrated so vividly with infant monkeys, and what study after study has shown to be all the more true in human beings, is that connection is not just “what causes happiness.” It is also our most basic need.


The reality of our innate need for connection is often most clearly revealed in the experience of dis-connection. Dropped cell phone calls, the loss of a job or career opportunity, a romantic breakup, the death of a loved one—each kind of disconnection alerts us to the fact that we were meant to connect. The feelings that result from a broken connection can run the gamut from simple frustration to complete personal devastation. But we need not explore something as painful as death in order to further illustrate the effects of disconnection. We can do something as simple as turning on the “telly.”

The BBC, the United Kingdom’s mammoth media empire, produces some of the most clever and thought provoking programming that often tickles the funny bone while stretching the intellect. And no, I’m not talking about The Office. In 2006 a BBC television series called Horizon invited six people to take part in a compelling experiment. Adam, Claire, Rickey, Judy, Barney, and Bill agreed to subject themselves to forty-eight hours of sensory deprivation. They signed up to be “disconnected” in every way in order to see what would happen.

Adam is a stand-up comedian in his late twenties. He has a significantly receding hairline, a slight paunch in his belly, and eyes that appear slightly crossed. He’s the most extroverted of the six, a person who—like most extroverts—requires a great deal of sensory stimulation to make sense of the world. He jokes self-effacingly as he imagines the toll the next two days will take on him. “I’m afraid I’ll go mad. What if I start smashing things up?”

Claire is also in her late twenties with short dark hair and a pretty smile. She says she likes a challenge. “I do try to push myself.” As a doctoral student in psychology, she seems ideally suited to thrive in an experiment where her mind will be put to the test.

Bill looks lean and strong and is a former ad executive. He is the oldest in the bunch. He plans to cope with the forty-eight hour experiment by using his skills in meditation. “Every day I like to spend time on my own. I sometimes fantasize about being a hermit, about living up in the mountains and coming down to buy a few supplies in town, then going back to my cabin.” If anyone is going to be fine after two days without human connection, it seems to be Bill.

Rickey is a thirtysomething postal worker whose primary hobby is running one-hundred-mile ultramarathons. Yes, you read that correctly—one hundred miles. He plans to think of the experiment as just another test of his endurance.Barney is a film archivist who imagines quietly that he will probably have a hard time over the next two days. Judy is a copywriter for a toy manufacturer. “I’m very excited to get started,” Judy says, not sounding too excited at all. “I don’t know how I’m going to last, but I guess I’ll just keep going.”

As you can see, the “Horizon Six” were not extraordinary people, at least not any more extraordinary than the rest of us.3 They all had their own ideas of how to best handle a situation like this and their own concerns about whether those techniques would actually work. They were average folks who simply wanted to put themselves to the test, to see what would happen when they were disconnected from life as they normally experienced it.

The experiment took place in an abandoned nuclear bunker, the kind of dark and creepy place straight out of a Hollywood horror film. Walking down the stairs and into the long, dimly lit halls of the concrete structure, one might expect to stumble upon a cast of overly attractive twentysomethings being systematically stalked and hacked to death by some very disturbed but strangely likeable assailant.

The six subjects were given a battery of tests to use for before-and-after comparisons. In the first test, they were given a letter—F, for example—then asked to think of as many words as possible in one minute that began with that letter. Classic Adam: “Fake, farting, football …” For the most part, each of the six breezes through, listing dozens of words that begin with F, though no one else seems to come up with anything as creative as a “fake, farting, football.” The next test is presented to them. In this one the subjects are handed a sheet of paper. On the paper are the names of colors printed in columns: black, red, green, etc. But here’s the catch: The names of the colors do not match the actual color of the ink with which they were printed. For example, the word “black” was actually printed in green ink, the word “red” was printed in black ink, and so on.

The subjects are then asked to name the color of ink with which each color’s name was printed. It’s trickier than you think. Our brains typically register a printed word before we register the color of the printed word. But with a little bit of thought, each subject does quite well. They moved on to the final test. While the researchers were curious how the subjects would perform on the first two tests—any drops in performance would be easy to measure when everything was over—they were secretly interested in something quite different.

The last test, the one the researchers were most interested in, measured “levels of suggestibility.” What they wanted to find out was just how vulnerable someone might become to the power of suggestion when they are cut off from connection, disconnected from their social and sensory worlds. Would they fall for a lie? Would they give in to someone else’s point of view even if it were clearly “wrong”? To test for suggestibility, the researchers read their subjects a story with lots of intricate details, then quizzed them. “Was the assailant hit with a fist or a handbag?” Claire is asked. She looks at the researcher with a furrowed brow. “Well, neither.” Claire gets it right. They were trying to pull one over on her, but she was alert for the details. In fact all of the men and women in the group tested fairly well in the first round. In other words, they had very low levels of suggestibility and could not be talked into believing something

that wasn’t true.

With the testing behind them, the Horizon Six were placed into tiny individual concrete rooms with nothing but a lonely bed for furniture. The rooms looked very much like prison cells without toilets. Three of the subjects were placed in rooms completely sealed off from any light source; they could not see their hands in front of their faces. The other three were placed in well-lit rooms, but it came with a catch. They were stuffed into large, padded gloves and socks to disrupt their sense of touch, frosted goggles to completely hinder their vision, and headphones that played nothing but white noise to thwart their hearing. (The gloves were later removed when the subjects complained of painful rashes.)

As the experiment finally got under way, Claire was immediately overwhelmed by the inky blackness of her cell. She anxiously relayed to her observers that her bed sheets were cold and wet and that something should be done immediately to remedy the situation. Intending to remain silent so as not to influence any outcomes, her observers acquiesced to her concern and assured her via intercom that she was mistaken. The sheets were not wet, they said. She was just imagining things. “I don’t think you’re taking my concerns about the blankets very seriously,” Claire lamented. “No one should have to sleep in wet sheets.” After a short time Claire gave up trying to convince them and climbed into a fetal position on her bed.

After just nine hours the subjects were showing signs of wear. “I’m finding this grossly boring,” said Barney. Adam echoed Barney’s thoughts: “It’s unbearable. I can feel my brain not wanting to do anything.” Adam’s statement may not be far from what actually happens during solitary confinement and sensory deprivation. Just as new neural pathways form in our brain as a result of stimulation, there is now research to show that the opposite may also true. If the brain does not get the stimulation it needs, it begins to turn to mush. Bill, who seemed so keen to spend time by himself in the beginning, now complained, “I don’t really want to be here. It’s starting to get on my nerves. I feel like a … helpless lab rat.” Claire was found in her “cell” counting to herself. Barney had taken up singing. Judy, in the meantime, had simply fallen asleep.

After twenty-four hours (or the time it takes Jack Bauer to save Los Angeles from imminent destruction), the subjects began to exhibit truly bizarre behavior. They raised their voices in angry complaint to the walls. They wept uncontrollably. Many experienced vivid hallucinations. Adam reported, “I thought I could see a pile of oyster shells, empty, to represent all the nice food I could have eaten inside here.” Poor Claire was suffering similar effects. “There’s a snake there,” she said, pointing to the floor. In another strange visual display of the effects of disconnection, almost all the subjects began to pace their tiny rooms back and forth, their brains working to selfgenerate some kind of stimulation in order to keep them going. Not Judy, of course. Judy was still asleep. Judy’s eternal sleep, it turned out, was simply her body and mind’s way of dealing with the overwhelming lack of connection, just another form of a coping mechanism.

After forty hours Adam was in tears. “This is close to insanity.” The subjects seemed to have plummeted in both cognitive and behavioral functioning. Barney was singing again—poorly. Most had begun “hearing things,” and claimed that “someone seemed to be in the room” with them. Judy was—you guessed it—still sleeping.

Finally, the experiment came to a close. A researcher’s voice broke through the inky silence in each of their cells, causing them all a fright. “The forty-eight hours are over.” Adam cried out for relief: “I just want to kiss the person who’s letting me out!” Bill was similarly thrilled and laughed to himself. Claire

was visibly relieved. Judy mumbled sleepily, “Oh. Excellent.”

But before they could be reconnected to the outside world, the subjects were readministered the same battery of tests they were given at the beginning in order to reveal any cognitive changes resulting from their two days as lab rats. Of course, almost without exception, everyone performed poorly, further

proving the disabling effects of isolation (as if anyone needed more evidence than the video footage captured in each subject’s room5). Finally, the camera followed each of the six as they walked back through long, dark halls, up the tall steel stairs, and finally out into the sunshine. Adam, Claire, Rickey, Judy, Barney, and Bill were elated to be set free into a world brimming with connection. “My senses are overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells,” said Adam. “You have no idea how good this feels.”

BBC’s Horizon experiment revealed two natural results of disconnection that illustrate our human need to connect. The first result: Cut off from connection, our ability to make sense of the world begins to break down. We begin to see things that aren’t there, to buy into a reality that is wholly skewed. There were no snakes slithering on Claire’s floor. Neither were her sheets wet and cold. They were dry and room temperature, the same as everyone else’s. And Adam did not really have a large pile of seashells growing at the foot of his bed. His room was as empty as the rest. In the real world—the world of connection—Claire and Adam were normally adjusted human beings. In the experimental world—the world of disconnection—they became hallucinating paranoids.

The second result demonstrated by the Horizon experiment was that, cut off from connection, our ability to cope with reality quickly dissolves. In just one day of sensory deprivation and social isolation, each subject was reduced to infantile and even animalistic behavior. They cried uncontrollably and talked to

themselves out loud. They rolled up into fetal positions and huddled on their beds. They yelled at the unsympathetic walls of their room. They even paced their constricting cages like jungle animals, waiting for the moment to attack and escape. Apparently baby rhesus monkeys aren’t the only mammals that

fall apart without the proper connection.

Obviously, the six subjects in the Horizon experiment were placed in extraordinary circumstances. Not many of us (hopefully) live in tiny concrete rooms dominated by an absence of sight, sound, and touch. But the experiment proved what Martin Seligman and his associates began to uncover on the beaches of Akumal, demonstrating its truth by revealing its opposite: If connection can make us happy, then disconnection can make us unhappy. No matter how it was tested, though, connectedness mattered.


Two stories, one common thread woven throughout: the inestimable power of connection. As we saw with Harlow and his monkeys, connection lays the groundwork for growth. In connection we find comfort and safety. We find a nurturing space that allows us to develop as a whole person, maturing inwardly even as we develop outwardly. Without it we might fall apart in the face of terrifying teddy bears. But in the presence of connection, the same toy bear—or whatever real-world challenge we might face—can become a mere curiosity, something we simply adapt to and overcome, growing stronger as we do.

The Horizon Six echoed Harlow’s research: Apart from connection we fall to pieces. Our physical, emotional, and cognitive powers weaken significantly. We become vulnerable to suggestion, and can be easily led to believe things that aren’t true. Our decision-making ability gets cloudy. Our way of viewing the world becomes skewed. We question our ability to cope: Are we going crazy? Will we be able to make it? Am I truly alone? Disconnection seems to leave us locked in little rooms with no light source and no sense of when the madness will end. But it also reminds us of how precious connection truly is. Remember how the subjects responded when finally released from captivity, when they were finally reconnected to their natural environment? Adam, the highly extroverted stand-up comedian, said it best: “You have no idea how good this feels.” Connection, it seems, makes all the difference.


Of course, we are talking about a certain quality of connection, aren’t we? Not just any connection can keep someone from falling to pieces. The average television satellite dish connects us to two hundred-plus channels, each with its own endless number of programs. But not many of us can claim that such a wide variety of connections has revolutionized our lives. Clearly not just any connection will do.

We can look to our own life experience as evidence in the case for quality versus quantity. There are certain people whose emails and phone calls we answer right away, and certain other people whose emails and phone calls we don’t answer at all. If we are having a particularly difficult day, questioning our own worth, wondering what is the point in going on with life, we tend to share this with a certain kind of person and not necessarily the young man behind the counter of our nearest gas station.6 Similarly, if we have good news to share—if a wedding is proposed or a baby is on its way—celebration is usually all the more rich when communicated to certain favorite people.

If we are to make sense of why certain kinds of connection are beneficial and certain others aren’t, we must be more precise in our definition of “connection.” We have to get clear on what kind of connection has the power to secure, grow, free, and transform us. Toward the beginning of this chapter, I quoted psychologist Janet L. Surrey. Here she is again.

Authentic connection is described as the core of psychological wellbeing and is the essential quality

of growth-fostering and healing relationships. In moments of deep connection in relationship, we

break out of isolation and contraction into a more whole and spacious state of mind and heart.

Surrey uses words like “authentic” and “deep” to convey the type of connection that is powerful enough to break us out of “isolation and contraction into a more whole and spacious state of mind and heart.” Even though “authentic” and “deep” are still fairly ambiguous terms, they’re a good place to start. Let’s

build on Surrey’s ideas.

Henri Nouwen, the great spiritual writer of the last century, was a man constantly in search of connection, and his many books represented that search. He wrestled with feeling loved even as he wrote about being the beloved (Life of the Beloved ). He wrestled with hope as he spiraled down into the inky depths of depression (The Inner Voice of Love). He reflected on life in the face of his own mother’s death (A Letter of Consolation). And even though he was a Dutch Catholic priest, his largest audience, by far, was American Protestant evangelicals. The paradox of Nouwen’s life and his message brought hope and healing to millions of readers around the world. His popularity revealed just how well he understood the human condition. He described it this way in his book Lifesigns:

Probably no better word summarizes the suffering of our time than the word, “homeless.” It reveals

one of our deepest and most painful conditions, the condition of not having a sense of belonging, of not having a place where we can feel safe, cared for, protected, and loved.

Nouwen claimed that human suffering was the experience of “not having a place where we can feel loved, safe, cared for, and protected.” He explained that this is what it means to be “homeless.” We can use the inverse of Nouwen’s definition of suffering to help us find a more clear definition of connection: The kind of connection we’re longing for—whether consciously or unconsciously—is the kind that creates a sense of belonging within us, a sense that we are “safe, cared for, protected, and loved.” In other words, we feel most at home—most ourselves—around people with whom we experience that deep and authentic connection that Janet Surrey talked about. As such, we know that, whatever else connection means, it has to include the qualities that most make us feel “at home” in the world.

Finally, listen to this simple dictionary definition, one of several found for the word connection:

A friend, relative, or associate who either has or has access to influence or power.

This is the definition we use when describing someone who got where they are in life because they had “great connections.” But it’s also a description of the kind of connection that matters. We might say, then, that the recipe for the kind of connection we’re trying to define is one that includes authenticity and depth. It is sprinkled with protective safety and dignifying freedom. It contains heaping portions of loving concern for our becoming a better, more whole person. It is seasoned with access to transformative power.

When used in its very best sense, the word home summarizes this definition perfectly. Most of us come from homes that have been fractured in some ways. Many have not been safe, nurturing places. We haven’t always gotten the support and protection we needed. But ideally home was meant to be all of those things—a safe, nurturing, transformative environment where who we are—just as we are—was always celebrated. A place where our highest potential was encouraged and sought after. When we go looking for a best friend, we go looking for home. When we go looking for a spouse, we go looking for home. When we turn our attention to the divine, to spirituality of all kinds, to God Himself, we are looking for home.

There is a truth about our longing for home—our search for community—that emerges from the beginning of the Bible in the second chapter of Genesis: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” God makes this profound observation immediately after breathing His Spirit into Adam. God has just created something that appears to be incomplete; it’s missing something. Has He made a mistake? What does God do in light of his conclusion that “it is not good for the man to be alone”? The answer seems to emphasize the need for a certain quality of connection. God’s response to incomplete Adam: “I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). To be clear, God was not making a statement about gender roles, assigning women the collective position of “administrative assistant.” Nor was He making an isolated statement about the preeminence of marriage (though marriage, with its qualities of mutual submission, self-sacrifice, and unconditional love, has always been a biblical archetype for every kind of community). Rather, God was clarifying that the fullness of our humanity could only be truly expressed through relationship with a suitable other.

The key word here is suitable. What kind of connection would best “suit” Adam? What quality of relationship would not only meet his basic needs for “home,” but also help him grow and flourish? Badgers, despite their sassy attitude and rugged good looks, did not “suit” Adam. Could he find this quality of connection with a giraffe? Could he teach a parrot enough words to connect in conversation? Adam found himself in what was likely the most beautiful garden ever imagined—couldn’t it have been enough for him simply to connect with nature? While Adam’s ability to care for and relate in healthy ways to his environment was vitally important (as it is for us today), his greatest need for connection was with one of his own. The quality of connection capable of meeting Adam’s need for home was to be found in intimate relationship with another human being. He needed one of his own and that’s what he got—perfectly matched Eve (for whom Adam was also a suitable helper). Remember, Adam was surrounded by creatures. He lived in a world saturated with life; there seemed no end to his connections.

But by intentionally creating both Adam and Eve (and every man and woman since) “in His image” and placing them in unique relationship with one another and with Himself, God demonstrated that the quality of a connection clearly matters.


Think back now to the book’s introduction. When the ribbon was cut and hundreds of people began to make their way across the Millennium Bridge, their individual footsteps generated energy. At first this energy was random, firing all over the place. But very quickly the energy became “synchronized.” It began taking on a life of its own as it passed through various points in the bridge’s structure. That new synchrony, or new “order,” forced the pedestrians to begin walking in step with one another, waddling en masse in a “skating gait.” The event pointed toward the first “reality” we discovered in the case of London’s Millennium Bridge. Here it is again:

1. There is a force that is capable of synchronizing a large population in very little time, thereby creating spontaneous order.

Now consider this: In the first quarter of 2009, five million people joined Facebook every week. In addition, Facebook’s membership doubled from one hundred million to two hundred million people from August 2008 to March 2009. Perhaps most incredible, the vast majority of its members—140 million, in

fact—have only been on the rolls since February 2007. That’s 140 million new users in just over two years. Facebook isn’t just a white-hot social-networking platform. It is a radical example of Steven Strogatz’s spontaneous order.

In a very short period of time (five years), a very large population (several hundred million and counting) has been synchronized (pulled into the orbit of a single Web platform called Facebook). And what kind of gravity is capable of accomplishing such a feat?

The human need for home.

It might sound a bit ridiculous. After all, who would claim to be looking for home in a social-networking site like Facebook? We’re there to keep in touch with friends and family, to make some new friendly connections or reconnections, to share small slices of our personal worlds through pictures and status updates and playful games of Mob Wars. We just want a little mindless entertainment, for heaven’s sake. But as we’ll begin to see in the next few chapters, home is exactly the kind of connection that Facebook is offering. For now it is enough to say that the human need for home is plenty powerful enough to create a spontaneous order all its own. Not even Steve Strogatz saw this one coming.

But what is the nature of this new “order” and how does it help us make sense of this tendency to seek out home wherever we can find it? That’s what we’re going to explore next. And while we began this chapter on the warm, white sand beaches of Akumal, Mexico, I’m afraid we’ll need to venture to a slightly less exotic locale to facilitate our exploration in the next one. I’m referring, of course, to the tiny community of Angola, New York.

©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. The Church of Facebook by Jesse Rice. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Grammar Made Easy, Writing Made Great

What I Thought:

In homeschooling, grammar and writing are subjects on which we really work hard to master. Since we already use a great grammar series from Rod & Staff, we've decided to do this course once a week. It is very exciting since it feels like we are at a writer's conference. There are handouts to take notes alongside the verbal lectures as well as worksheets for exercises. If you want to improve your writing, this is for you. It is geared for all ages from 9-109.

Grammar Made Easy, Writing Made Great

Faulty modern educational approach to writing is REVOLUTIONIZED by
The Writing Course-Educator’s Version created for home schoolers, high schoolers,
parents, and college students,

Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX—Did you know that you can learn to write with correct grammar and proper punctuation without learning the rules? This summer, author, pastor, and teacher Fred Lybrand introduces a radically different way of thinking—and learning—about grammar in his simple, yet revolutionary, new curriculum, The Writing Course-Educator’s Version. He straightforwardly offers twelve basic writing “secrets” that virtually anyone can master and that will transform “grammar-challenged” students, parents, and even professional adults into excellent writers. “We are losing a generation of writers to email, IM, and instruction that doesn’t show students how English really works,” says Lybrand.

The Writing Course-Educator’s Version is not only designed for those who constantly struggle with the difficulty of writing, but also for those who just want to write better. Lybrand’s proven approach to writing and grammar solves the problems of what to say, how to say it grammatically, and how to make sure the punctuation is correct. And, the course also shows the sure-cure for poor spelling!

“When a student is not worried about grammar or punctuation, he can learn to write in his own uniquely powerful and effective style; which is the current emphasis placed on writing by the recently modified TAKS test (Texas) and on the SAT college exams,” says Lybrand. “Something more is required than just throwing grammar rules at our students. Instead, our goal should be to teach our children ‘to learn how to learn for themselves.’”

While history has clearly demonstrated the value of the principles taught in The Writing Course-Educator’s Version, there is no writing course even remotely similar to what Lybrand teaches. With a methodology that teaches parents or students how to get engaged in the process of learning the elements that go into writing correctly and effectively, The Writing Course-Educator’s Version immerses students in twelve secrets all truly great writers finally discover (and sometimes aren’t aware of themselves).

“For anyone who likes (or even dislikes!) writing, this course can totally release him or her from the constraints of grammar and punctuation rules and regulations,” says Lybrand. “It also allows parents to become more involved in the schooling process of their own children, whether they attend public, private, or home school.”

Working as either a full curriculum or a supplement (kids in public or private schools can use this training after school to improve their own writing), The Writing Course-Educator’s Version comes as a combination of audio lessons, a printable workbook, and a full transcript of Lybrand’s writing seminar. In sessions of about 30 minutes each, over 21 lessons, students will experience the instruction and exercises necessary to learn the strategic principles which are the building blocks of great writing.

For more information or to order The Writing Course-Educator’s Version click HERE.

*** Special thanks to Tracy McCarter of The B&B Media Group for the review copy of this software!***

Since 1987, The B & B Media Group, Inc. has used its broadcasting, marketing and advertising experience to provide the specialized and strategic publicity necessary to achieve the public relations goals of each client. The Barnabas Agency, a division of The B & B Media Group, Inc., is a proven provider of exceptional public relations and personal management services for authors, speakers, ministries and organizations.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Stretch Marks by Kimberly Stuart

What I Thought:

I was laughing so hard while reading this book that my husband thought I was on the phone. If you like fun Chick-Lit, this is for you. It deals with a veggie eating, yoga doing, marriage hating woman. She finds that she is pregnant and unwed. During the hilarious events that unfold, she does a lot of soul searching. Not only does she find God, she finds her true self. Very great writing...and a really fun story.

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Stretch Marks

David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2009)


Kimberly Stuart holds degrees from St. Olaf College and the University of Iowa. After teaching Spanish and English as a second language in Chicago, Minneapolis, Costa Rica, and eastern Iowa, she took a huge increase in pay to be a full-time mom. She makes her home in Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband and three young children. She is also the author of Act Two: A Novel in Perfect Pitch.

Visit the author's website.

Stretch Marks, by Kimberly Stuart from David C. Cook on Vimeo.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (September 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0781448921
ISBN-13: 978-0781448925


Under the Weather

Mia's nose was stuck in her own armpit. Not a lot of glamour there, but she was working toward a higher purpose.

“Think of how your organs are thanking you for thinking of them, for being considerate enough to stretch them.” Delia's voice floated from the front of the room where, Mia knew without looking, she joined the class in a binding pose that could make most grown men cry like little girls.

Mia breathed an audible breath, collecting a healthy whiff of deodorant-infused sweat. In the nose, out the nose, throat relaxed. She closed her eyes, feeling the ends of her fingers beginning to slip out of the bind. Liver, pancreas, you're welcome, she thought and felt her stomach make an uncharacteristic lurch. The radiator kicked in beside where she stood, infusing heat and a bass hum to the room. Mia focused on an unmoving spot on the floor and not on the spandexed and heaving tush of the woman on the mat in front of her.

“And now using the muscles in your core, slooowly release and come back to mountain pose.” Delia manipulated her voice and cadence to stretch like honey. On any other day, her instructor's voice sounded like a lullaby to Mia, a quiet but persistent reminder to breathe deeply and recycle paper and plastic. Today, though, Mia felt an urge to ask Delia to speak up. She wanted concrete sounds, solid sounds; the feathery intonations landing lightly around the room made her insides itch. She pulled out of the bind and stood at the top of her mat, feet planted, palms outturned.

“Feel better yet?” Frankie whispered to Mia from the mat next to her.

Mia sighed. “Not yet.”

“Let's move into our warrior sequence.” Delia modeled the correct form on her lime-green mat and the class obediently followed suit.

Four poses later Mia hadn't shaken the bug she'd hoped was just an out-of-sorts feeling to be shed with a good workout. She felt elderly, cranky. Not even downward-facing dog had brought any relief. She lay on her back during the last minutes of class, trying to melt into the floor, be the floor. The spandexed woman was snoring. This final pose, savasana, was intended to provide participants final moments to recover, to be still and let their minds quiet before reentering the chaos of the outside world. Most yoga aficionados soaked up the pose. In Mia's class she'd spotted a plump, permed woman wearing a sweatshirt that declared in stark black print “I'm just here for the savasana.”

Today, though, Mia couldn't keep her eyes shut. She curled and flexed her toes, wishing Delia would crank up some Stones or Black Crowes instead of the Tibetan chimes lilting out of the stereo. Her impatience with a woman who freely quoted Mr. Rogers was beginning to worry her. Even in the hush of the room, her thoughts continued in an unruly spin, and when Delia brought everyone back to lotus, Mia glimpsed a scowl on her reflection in the mirror.

“Let's just enjoy the long, strong feeling of our bodies,” Delia said. Her eggplant yoga gear revealed taut muscles. “Our organs are thanking us for a good massage.”

Right. Organs. Mission accomplished, Mia thought, trying to concentrate on the gratitude her body owed her. But her mind crowded with images of bloody, squishy masses, pulsating or writhing in the way organs must do, and she found herself springing from her mat and bolting to the back of the studio. She threw open the door to the ladies' room and gripped the toilet bowl in a new pose, aptly christened “riotous and unexplained retching.” “Mia?” Frankie's voice was subdued, even though a postclass din was making its way through the restroom door.

Mia emerged from the stall. “I guess sun salutations weren't such a good idea.” She washed her face and hands at the sink, trying not to inhale too deeply the scent of eucalyptus rising from the soap. She watched her face in the mirror, noting the pale purple circles under eyes that persisted even with the extra sleep she'd indulged in that week. Mia smoothed her eyebrows with clammy fingers, taking care not to tug the small silver piercing, and glimpsed Frankie's concerned expression in the mirror. “Don't worry,” Mia said. “I feel much better now. Must just be a virus.”

Frankie handed over Mia's coat and a hemp bag proclaiming Save the Seals. “I'll walk you home. Let's stop at Gerry's store for soup and crackers.”

Mia made a face. “Crackers, yes. Soup, definitely not.”

Outside the studio weak February sunshine played hide-andseek with wispy cloud cover. Frankie planted her arm around Mia's waist.

Mia glanced at her friend. “I like the blue.”

Frankie turned her head to showcase the full effect. “Do you? I meant for it to be more baby blue, less sapphire, but I got distracted with this crazy woman on the Home Shopping Network and left the dye on too long.”

In the two years Mia had known her, Frankie had demonstrated a keen affection for adventurous hair coloring. Magenta (advent of spring), emerald green (popular in March), black and white stripes (reflecting doldrums after a breakup), now blue. The rainbow tendency endeared Frankie to Mia, who'd braved an extended though unsuccessful flirtation with dreadlocks during college, but otherwise had settled for a comparatively conformist 'do of patchouli-scented chestnut curls.

“How did this change go over with Frau Leiderhosen?”

Frankie whistled. “She loved it. In fact she wondered if we could have a girls' night out this weekend and take turns trading beauty secrets.”

Mia snorted, which was an unfortunate and unavoidable byproduct of her laughter. The snorts only encouraged Frankie.

“'But, Esteemed Employer,' I said, 'I can't possibly instruct the master! A mere mortal such as I? It'd be like a Chihuahua taking over the dressing room of J-Lo! Or Sophia Loren! Or Gisele Bundchen, a woman who shares with you, dear boss, an impressive German name and an uncanny sense of style!'”

“Stop it.” Mia clutched her stomach and groaned. “Yoga and laughter are off limits until further notification from my digestive tract.”

Frankie sighed. “I do feel sorry for her. I never should have shown up with a mousy blonde bob cut for the initial interview. I was so average librarian.” She shook her head as they slowed near Gerry's Grocery. “Only to turn on her the first week on the job.”

It had occurred to Mia more than once how much she could have benefited from a green-haired librarian in the small Nebraska town where she'd grown up. Not until she was well into adulthood did she realize that not all librarians were employed to scare children, like the dreaded circulation director at Cedar Ridge Municipal Branch with the spidery braid and hairy mole. Mia had cowered behind the legs of her father when he would stop in to check out an eight-track or the latest release by Louis L'Amour. The moled woman had snapped at Mia once when she'd fingered a book on a stand, announcing down her nose that the book of Mia's interest was for display only and could not be checked out. Never mind that Bird Calls of the Northeast had not exactly beckoned to eight-year-old Mia anyway, but the chastisement was enough to keep books at an arm's length for years. How different Mia's interest in reading could have been had a spitfire like Frankie been the one behind the desk! Frankie's supervisor, Ms. Nachtmusik, with her impossible surname that changed with each conversation, didn't know the gift Frankie was to her patrons.

“Hello, ladies.” Gerry looked over his glasses. He stopped pecking madly at a calculator on the front counter. “How are things with you?”

“Mia's sick, Gerry.” Frankie patted Mia on the head. “We need sick stuff.”

Gerry pushed back on his stool and stood. He clucked like an unusually tall occupant of a henhouse. “Sick, Miss Mia? Headache? Stomach? Fever?”

Mia shook her head. “Stomach, I guess. I think crackers will be enough.”

Gerry looked disgusted. “This is not your duty to decide. Miss Frankie and I will take care of the illness. Sit.” He pointed to his stool and waved at her impatiently when she didn't jump at his command. Gerry shuffled off, muttering about the tragedy of young people living in cities without their parents.

Mia slipped Frankie a rolled-up reusable shopping bag and whispered, “Make sure to steer him away from pesticides.” Frankie winked at Mia and skipped behind the man on his mission.

Mia greeted the next few patrons entering the store. She tried watching the game show on Gerry's small black-and-white, but she couldn't seem to follow the rules. I'll just lay my head here for a moment, she thought, pushing Gerry's calculator aside. “Oh, good heavenly gracious, we need to call an ambulance!” Gerry's words seeped like molasses through Mia's subconscious. She wondered who was injured and if it had anything to do with the impossible rules on that game show.

“Mia, honey, are you okay?” Frankie was tugging on her shoulder.

“Hmm?” Mia pulled her eyelids open into the glare of fluorescent lights. Her head was, indeed, on the front counter, but so was the rest of her body. She turned her head slowly to face Frankie, who had crouched down beside her and was inches from her face. “I'm lying on the conveyer belt.”

“Yes, yes, you are,” Frankie said while guiding Mia to a sitting position. She gauged her tone of voice to fit a three-year-old on Sudafed. “Gerry and I left to get some groceries and when we returned,” she enunciated, “you were lying on the counter.” She nodded up and down, up and down.

Mia shook her head. “I was really tired. I needed to sleep.” Her voice trailed off. She kept her hands on her face for a moment, fingers brushing past a stud in her right nostril and the ring in her eyebrow. Eyes open, she peeked through the cracks in her fingers. Behind Gerry, who was patting his pockets frantically for cigarettes that hadn't been there since he'd quit a decade before, stood his son, Adam. Mia tried running her fingers through her yoga-tangle of hair.

Adam cleared his throat and smiled.

Mia realized she'd dropped her hands and had commenced a creepy stare session. “Hi, Adam,” she said too loudly. “How are you?”

Adam bit his cheek in an attempt to take seriously a question coming from a woman sprawled next to a cash register. “I'm great, Mia. You?”

“Fantastic,” she said and swung her legs to the side of her perch. Gerry rushed forward to offer her his arm, Adam close behind. Mia held up her hands in protest. “I'm fine, really,” she said. “Just a little tired, apparently.” She walked slowly to the front door and turned to wave. “Thanks, Gerry. You're a great host. Adam, good to see you. Frankie, are you ready?” She opened the door without waiting for a response and stepped out onto the sidewalk.

Gerry pushed away Frankie's twenty-dollar bill and handed her the sack of sick stuff as she fell in behind her friend. They walked five minutes in silence. Dusk was long gone, the sun having set early in the February evening. Mia was from the Midwest and didn't much mind Chicago winters; Frankie, however, hailed from Southern California and moaned every few steps as wind from the lake found its way through coats and mittens and headed straight for skin.

“I will never know why we have chosen this misery.” Frankie held Mia at the crook of her arm like a geriatric patient. Mia felt too exhausted to protest. At the foot of the stairs leading to her apartment building, she stopped. She watched a dapper older gentleman with mocha skin descend the steps and allow his eyes to fall on her.

“Hey, Silas,” she said.

“Evening, girls,” Silas said. He dropped his keys in the side pocket of his suit and tipped his hat, a soft brown fedora trimmed in striped black ribbon. He cocked his head slightly and narrowed his gaze at Mia. “Girl, you don't look so hot.” Silas furrowed his brow and looked at Frankie. “What's the story, Francesca?”

“We're not sure,” Frankie said. “But don't worry. I'm taking her straight upstairs before she can toss her cookies again.”

Silas took a nimble step back, sidestepping puddles in his retreat. “Honey, I'm sorry. Ain't no fun getting sick.”

“Thanks,” Mia said. She handed him a box of Lorna Doones from her stash of groceries. “Brought your favorites. Goodness knows I won't be needing a visit with Miss Lorna this evening,” she said, wrinkling her nose at the thought.

Silas clucked and shook his head. “Your mama raised you right, girl. I thank God for you, Mia, and I know my dear Bonnie is happy to look down from glory and see me so well taken care of.” He patted her gloved hand. “I couldn't ask for a better neighbor. You get better now, you hear?”

The girls took the steps slowly. When they reached the front door and waited for Mia to fish keys out of her bag, Frankie cleared her throat.

“So, um, what was that business at Gerry's all about?”

Mia shook her head. She dug deeper in her purse. “This is one bizarre virus. I don't even remember making the decision to go to sleep.”

“Yes, right. I didn't mean the counter episode. I meant the eye-lock with Gerry's son.”

“Found them,” Mia said and pushed her key into the lock. “Sorry, what were you saying?”

“Hair-fixing, googly-eye thing with Fig Leaf.” Mia tried to look disapproving. “You and your nicknames. I like the name Adam. I cringe to think of what you call me behind my back.” “Hmm,” Frankie said. “Today would be a toss-up between Vomitronica and Queen of Feigned Emotional Distancing.”

“I'm not feigning anything, for those of us who've read too much Jane Austen,” Mia said. She led the way into the lobby elevator and pushed the button for the fourth floor. The door closed with a shudder and Mia shrugged. “It's really nothing.”

Frankie crossed her arms and positioned her finger above the emergency stop button.

“All right.” Mia sighed. “When I first moved to my apartment, I was momentarily single and also in need of a neighborhood grocery. I found Gerry's, and Adam was always there with his perfect smile and impeccable Persian manners.” She sighed and watched the numbers light up on their ascent.

“Oh, my gosh. This is so Rear Window.”

“Isn't that the one where the woman is paralyzed?”

“No,” Frankie said with labored patience. “That's An Affair to Remember. I'm hinting less at paralysis, more at love at first sight.”

Mia rolled her eyes as the elevator door opened. “I noticed him, he noticed me, we flirted, and then I was no longer single.” Mia stepped into the hallway. “It was nothing. Seriously. As you might remember, I'm happily in love with another man. End of story.” She led the way to her apartment door. “Sorry to disappoint. I was recovering from an episode, remember.”

“Exactly!” Frankie was triumphant. “Your defenses were down, you were caught off guard and didn't have time to censor what was and wasn't socially appropriate--”

“Shh. He might be home.” Mia paused at her apartment door and ignored Frankie's dramatic jab of her finger down her throat.

“That would be so unusual,” Frankie said, sotto voce. “You can't mean he would be eating your food and smashing organic potato chips under his rear as he watches Baywatch reruns on your couch?”

Mia called into the room, “Anybody here?”

Frankie muttered, “Because we wouldn't expect you to be anywhere else.”

Mia pinched Frankie's arm when she heard rustling in the living room. “Lars?”

He stepped into the entryway, blond hair tousled, mouth opened in a wide yawn. “Hey, babe,” he said around his yawn. “Hey, Frankie.”

“Hi, Lars,” Frankie said sweetly. Mia avoided eye contact with her friend and instead pulled her arms around Lars and gave him her cheek to kiss.

“Don't exchange any of my germs,” she said. “I think I'm sick.”

Lars stepped back, nudging Mia out of the embrace. “Really?” He wrinkled his nose. “Like puking sick?”

Mia unbuttoned her coat. Frankie tugged her friend's arms out of the sleeves and unwrapped her from a bulky crocheted scarf. “Like, totally puking sick,” she said, watching Lars for any recognition of her mocking tone. None detected, she rambled on. “She, like, ralphed after yoga and then at Gerry's she totally fell asleep under the scanner.”

Lars had turned and was heading for the fridge. Mia shot a pleading look at Frankie, who sighed and nodded a momentary truce.

“You should have called and told me you were going to the store. We're almost out of soy milk,” he said, nose in the fridge. “And I ate the last Carob Joy after lunch.”

Mia filled a glass with water. Lars had piled his dishes in the sink, and it occurred to her to thank him, as this was a marked improvement from finding them all over the apartment, crusty, molding, and sometimes neglected until they smelled of rot. Determined not to conjure up any more detail of those images and too tired to explain to Frankie later why dirty dishes piled in the sink was a step upward, she sipped her water and shuffled toward the bedroom.

“Thanks, Frankie, for taking care of me,” she said. “I owe you. But I can't think about it right now, okay?”

Frankie followed her into the bedroom. She turned the covers down as Mia undressed and placed a saucer of crackers on the bedside table. “You take care of yourself, do you hear me?” For a woman with blue hair, Frankie could command the maternal authority of Olivia Walton when summoned. “Call me tomorrow morning. Or before if you need me. Not that Lars isn't the nurturing, restorative type …”

Mia moaned. She lowered herself into bed and curled up into a fetal position.

“All right, all right.” Frankie spoke softly. She turned out the light. “Sleep well, Mimi.” She waited a moment for an answer from under the down comforter but Mia was already drifting toward sleep.

©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. Stretch Marks by Kimberly Stuart. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.