Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fear Not Tomorrow, God is Already There

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:

Fear Not Tomorrow, God is Already There: Trusting Him in Uncertain Times

Howard Books (September 29, 2009)


Ruth Graham is the daughter of the revered American pastor Billy Graham. She has appeared on a variety of radio and television shows and is the author of the bestselling In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $22.99
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (September 29, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416558438
ISBN-13: 978-1416558439


Trust at My Doorstep

Chapter 1

It had been a difficult few months. One of my children was struggling, and I didn’t know how things would play out. I was anxious, frightened, and continually preoccupied. I could imagine what might be ahead. The questions were relentless: What could I have done differently? Was it my fault? What could I do to change it? How could I protect my child? Was there another step I could take? I felt as if I were being sucked under by a whirlpool of scenes, conversations, and hypothetical outcomes. I lost weight. I battled headaches. I felt like I was constantly vibrating. The fear was overwhelming.

This particular day, the postman arrived at my door with a padded envelope. It was addressed to me in familiar back-slanted handwriting—something from Mother. Feeling the envelope, I knew it was too light to contain a book. What could it be? My birthday was still a long way off. As I tore at the flap and reached inside, I took hold of what felt like a long, narrow picture frame. Pulling it out, I stopped for a moment and stared. It was the framed print from the wall in front of Mother’s desk. In black calligraphy bordered by a flowering vine I read the familiar words: “Fear not tomorrow, God is already there.”

Instantly, I was transported back to the mountain home of my childhood in Montreat, North Carolina. My mother’s plain wooden desk flanked by a tall chest of drawers and a bookcase took up much of one wall in her room. Always lying open on the desk, surrounded by various reference materials, was her well-marked, dog-eared Bible. On the wall facing the desk hung a collection of precious photographs and artifacts: a crown of thorns woven for Mother by the head of the Jerusalem police, a slave collar given to her by Johnny Cash, a rude wooden cross fashioned by my brother Franklin, photographs of loved ones and of those for whom she was praying. Centered above these artifacts was the print I now held. I’m not sure where Mother got it or who gave it to her, only that I cannot remember a time when it wasn’t hanging there like a banner.

I imagined my mother standing on a chair in front of the desk, reaching to take the print off the wall. Sending me such a gift was just like Mother. All my life, since I left home for boarding school in the ninth grade, she had been sending me letters filled with encouragement from the Scriptures—bits of what she was learning in her own study time or wisdom for some situation I might be facing. Now here she was identifying with my mother’s heart, sending me a poignant reassurance. We had not talked much about the circumstances of my struggle. Mother just intuitively knew I might need something like this—a reminder that God was working in our lives and that he cared about our future. I appreciated her sensitivity. She didn’t blame or condemn me; she didn’t unload a lot of advice. She just sent me something that had been of value to her, something that had reassured her, no doubt, as she had mothered us. Standing on my doorstep, holding that print, I felt the words penetrate my heart and mind, almost as if I had never seen them before, as if they were a message written directly to me. I read them again slowly: “Fear not tomorrow, God is already there.”

Little Foxes

Since that day on my doorstep, I have faced quite a few threatening tomorrows, and I have battled fear and anxiety as resilient foes. Perhaps you have fought this same battle. We may experience moments of clarity, as I did reading my mother’s framed print, but then we return to daily life and to the struggle. We wonder how we’re supposed to “fear not tomorrow” in the worst-case scenarios of our lives: a frightening diagnosis, betrayal, separation from a child who has gone off to war, the loss of a job, the evaporation of our retirement, the drug addiction of a loved one, abandonment by a spouse, failure at our workplace, the loss of a home, a legal verdict that changes our lives, the death of a loved one, the exposure of a secret, the loss of our possessions to flood, earthquake, tornado, or financial disaster.

Fear not tomorrow? It is easy to say it but another thing to live it out. We drown in our questions: But what about . . . ? How will I . . . ? What if . . . ? But if I can’t even . . . ? Who will . . . ? And what does it mean that God is already there? Where? In our crises, God can seem silent, remote, or worse, even imaginary. You may feel as I have at times. I have real problems, and they are too big, too hard, too painful for me to solve. I don’t have time for theology. I’m in trouble here! I’m inadequate, and I need something real. Something practical. Something secure. Give me some solutions, some guarantees. Can’t you see that I’m terrified of tomorrow?

Fear and anxiety can exhaust us. King Solomon writes about the “little foxes that spoil the vines” (Song of Solomon 2:15 NKJV). Fear and anxiety are like that. Fear can wipe us out, burn up whatever energy we have, and hinder us from entering into the full experience of life that God desires for us. Certainly, fear and anxiety can become so severe they incapacitate us. But the majority of us live with fear and still function. I have heard fear compared to a jack hammer buzzing just outside the window. The noise is constantly there. When you sleep, the jack hammer quits, but when you wake up, it starts again, sapping your strength and attention until you’re no longer really living—just enduring.

Fear takes the air out of life. When we live with fear, we lose our capacity for fun and spontaneity. We can’t love others wholeheartedly. We become like that frog being boiled slowly. The water gets steadily hotter until we realize, “I’m not having any fun. I have no joy. I’m not alive. I’ve forgotten how to laugh.” During the difficult period with my child that I described above, I experienced fear in different ways. At times, I would have trouble functioning; at other times, I would be able to get up in the morning and do what was necessary. Up and down. Fear was that steady buzz or hum. I wasn’t able to hear the music of life clearly. Everything was filtered through that fear.

My mother was a master at finding ways to enjoy life despite the intense pressures she faced. She knew how to move fear out of the way and keep joy alive. Stories of her antics and pranks have become the stuff of legend in our family. As a young parent, for instance, I would tell my children, “Now don’t draw on yourselves.” Then I would leave the kids with Mother, only to find them covered in inky smiley faces that Mother herself had drawn! Once Mother made a mudslide for the grandchildren on the side of a steep embankment near our Montreat house. She turned on the hose and then promptly took her turn as the first one down. When much older, she accidently drove her car down that same steep embankment. Thinking she was stepping on the brake, she had stepped on the accelerator instead. She and her friend escaped unscathed, but afterward, Mother arranged for a stop sign to be staked at the bottom of the incline, lest other wayward drivers be tempted to take the same route!

Life is a gift from God to be enjoyed. Fear suffocates our spirits and robs us of that gift. It is human to experience the emotion of fear. Fear entered the human experience in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve rebelled against God and hid themselves from Him. But Peter describes Satan as a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” and I believe fear is also Satan’s paw print (1 Peter 5:8). It is true that some kinds fear can help us—the kind that keeps us from stepping into oncoming traffic, for instance, or putting our hand on a hot stove. At times, God may use fear to keep us from making wrong choices or wrong decisions in life. But these moments of fear are different from what the Bible calls the “spirit of fear,” which I might describe as the condition or attitude that takes hold when our emotion of fear consumes us (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV). As Paul writes, the spirit of fear does not come from God.

Shifting Our Focus

God is concerned about the way fear affects our lives. The Bible says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment” (1 John 4:18 NKJV). Fear involves torment. Torment is not God’s will for us. God is committed to our peace. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you” (John 14:27 NKJV). We read of Jesus, “He Himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14 NKJV). God has ordained peace for us (Isaiah 26:12). He did not design us to live in fear and anxiety but in peace. In Scripture, we find God repeatedly urging, commanding, people not to be afraid. God is not condemning us for feeling the emotion of fear, but He doesn’t want us to get stuck there or to set up camp in torment. The question is when we are at our wit’s end, how do we “fear not”? At such moments, peace can seem nothing more than an abstraction. We struggle even to imagine the experience.

Often, when we experience fear, we have allowed our circumstances to overwhelm or alter our perspective. Our perspective has become skewed. I have discovered that defeating fear in my life begins with shifting my focus. I take my eyes off the circumstances, off the source of my fear, and put my focus on God. Instead of mulling over the “what ifs” in my future—instead of looking ahead with anxiety, trepidation, dread, or even horror—I make the choice to look at God, to consider His character, and to trust that the One who loves me is “already there.” The message on Mother’s framed print helped me to make that kind of shift as I faced uncertainty with my child. I had been focusing on tomorrow; the words on the print brought my focus back to God.

Shifting our focus is first a decision, then a process. When we turn to God, our decision opens a door for peace and reassurance to enter our hearts. The Bible says of God, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You” (Isaiah 26:3 NKJV, emphasis added). When we focus on God, peace follows. I find that as I concentrate on God, as I examine facets of His character, as I spend time with Him in prayer, sharing my heart and quieting myself to listen, as I meditate on what His Word says about Him, as I read about Jesus and observe the way He handled life—as I “stay” my mind on God—my problems begin to lose their power over me. Instead, I become absorbed in the power, the beauty, and the love of God. He is my focus now. I am learning about Him and getting to know Him. And the more I learn, the more I discover I can trust Him.

In the coming chapters, we will be doing just what the verse above from Isaiah says—staying, or fixing, our minds on God. We will examine some of God’s attributes and consider His ways. We will study the character of Jesus, for in learning about Jesus, we learn about God. Scripture calls Jesus the “express image” of God (Hebrews 1:3 NKJV). Jesus Himself told His disciples, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9 NKJV). If we want to know what God is like, we can look at Jesus. We can ask: How did Jesus deal with people? What were His relationships like? How did He respond to people’s distress? As we focus on God this way, we can expect God’s peace to crowd out the fear in our hearts.

For some of us, focusing on God, or considering that He is “already there” in our tomorrow, is not exactly a comfort. We may be afraid of God. What little we know of Him, or what we don’t know of Him, frightens us. We fear He is out to lower the boom on us, that He is looking for our faults and eager to point out our failings. We are afraid of His power. Afraid of His judgment. Afraid of being overwhelmed by Him. It is our human nature to fear what we don’t understand, and we don’t understand God. He is unfathomable. He is so much more than we can imagine—far more. He is not accountable to us. He is mysterious, and mystery can be frightening. On seeing the Lord on the throne, Isaiah said, “Woe is me, for I am undone!” (Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah saw his frailty in light of God’s almightiness; he was awed by God’s holiness and glory.

But Scripture also calls God “Abba,” an intimate word for Father that we would translate “Daddy” (Romans 8:15). While God is overwhelming, He is also tender with us. In the New Testament, we see Jesus touching, healing, and relating intimately with people. Bette Midler recorded a song with the lyric, “God is watching us from a distance.” That line is only half-true. God is watching us. But not from a distance. Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23 NKJV). God comes close. He makes His home with us. He longs for us as a lover for his bride. We take God for granted, we don’t develop the relationship, we ignore Him, we don’t spend time with Him, and yet He stays with us, longing for that intimacy. God makes covenant with us, and He keeps it. To me, that is one of the most reassuring truths about God. He will never give me up. Never desert me. Never leave me alone. Never (Hebrews 13:5).

As we learn more about God in these pages and spend time focusing our attention on Him, our relationship with Him will deepen. The Bible promises that when we draw near to God, he will draw near to us (James 4:8). As our relationship with God grows, so will our trust in Him. We will discover His constancy. When everything around us is unstable, God is stable. His character is consistent, unchanging. His love is secure. My prayer is that the more you learn of God and the closer you get to Him, the more you will be able not only to trust Him with your tomorrow but also to take comfort in the fact that He is the One who is already there.

Overcoming Our Misperceptions

Part of our challenge in learning to trust God involves overcoming misperceptions we may have of Him. If my view of God is not accurate, then my trust in Him will be more hesitant than hopeful. Often our picture of God is colored by our experiences with our own fathers or with other figures of authority in our lives. If your father was cold and demanding, then you may see God that way. If your father was gone, as mine often was, then you may see God as far away or busy with other things. If an authority figure was angry or abusive, then you may see God the same way and want nothing to do with Him. We are relational beings, and as such, we are hardwired to measure God by our experiences with significant people.

I did not always view God as someone with whom I could be comfortable. As I shared, my father was gone much of the time, fulfilling his calling to preach the gospel. I knew my father loved me; I knew I was important to him. But I also knew the world needed him, and for many years, I saw God as being similarly occupied with others and unreachable. I have since learned that God is not like that.

In my book In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart, I share in detail about my life, my failures, and some of the ways God met me in my brokenness and redeemed it. I tell the story of what it was like to go home to Montreat after a major personal failure. Driving up the mountain to my parents’ home was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I had no idea what they would say to me or how they would respond. I had gone against everyone’s advice. As I saw it, I had failed myself, my family, my children, and God. I felt deserving of condemnation and rejection. What would my parents do? Would they say they had told me so? That I had made my bed and now would have to lie in it?

As I approached the top of the mountain, I saw my father standing there in the driveway. I parked the car and opened the door to get out, but before I could as much as set my feet on the asphalt, my father was at my side. He wrapped his arms around me, and I heard him say, “Welcome home.” His acceptance instantly silenced my shame. I was broken, but I no longer feared. My father had embraced me at my worst and loved me anyway. I experienced grace. I would not compare my father with God, but that day my father showed me in a very practical, gracious way what God is like.

Through that experience, I was able to get a glimpse of the unconditional love God has for me. It has taken me a while to get to a point where I finally see God as “Abba,” as Daddy. Learning to know God intimately has been a process. But through the fog of doubt, anxiety, and fear, I do see Him now as warm and embracing. He loves me, enjoys me, and wants me to know His joy. He will do anything to draw me in. He wants my heart. He wants my trust.

Many years ago I taught a Bible study entitled “Enjoying God” for the women at my home church. I was convinced most of us did not enjoy God. Even the title of the study made us a bit uncomfortable. Was it sacrilegious to “enjoy” God? Wasn’t He austere and stern? Holy and unapproachable? I wanted to explore the possibilities.

The first week’s homework was to imagine crawling into God’s lap and calling him Daddy. I think many were slightly put off by the assignment. Some had to deal with the damaged image of an earthly father. Some had difficulty seeing God in such an intimate way. Each week the assignment was the same. Gradually, I began to hear reports of breakthroughs. Some people took longer than others to connect with God, but we sensed God doing something profound in the group. My own life changed over the course of that study as I too began to see God intimately—as a secure place of comfort and peace. As I focused on Him, God was chipping away at my misperceptions, helping me to open my heart to His love. And He can do the same for you.

Why, God?

Our misperceptions of God can also be formed in the trials and heartaches of life. You may have a long scar of pain running through your life—a spouse leaving, the loss of a child, bankruptcy, illness, addiction, things that take the breath out of you. Perhaps you feel that God abandoned you in those experiences. That He must not care about you. That if He loved you, He wouldn’t have let you go through all that hurt. You wonder, “Why should I trust Him now?”

Why, God? This is a real question we ask when life happens and things seem to go badly. Why are You letting my life unravel? Don’t You love me? Didn’t You promise to protect me? How could You let this happen? In the valleys of life, we can feel as if God has betrayed us. That He isn’t trustworthy, as we once thought. That we’ll never again have a stable or secure place to stand. When devastation occurs and we can’t see God anywhere, our trust in Him can crumble to dust. We may even reject Him for a time.

I’ve lived through personal events that have left me reeling. I have written about suffering in a broken marriage. As the marriage began to come apart I couldn’t “feel” God. I couldn’t hold myself together. I described the way I felt back then: “Raw. Lonely. Exposed. Like an egg without a shell.” I wanted to know why those circumstances were happening to me. Perhaps you have felt this way too.

I’ve seen loved ones suffer through crushing experiences, and I’ve asked God why. Why did my friend’s first grandchild die just hours after birth? Why did a young missionary couple’s two-year-old child drown in the backyard? Why was my friend diagnosed with lung cancer though she never smoked a day in her life? We witness or live through destruction caused by tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes. We call them “acts-of-God,” and we wonder why God would allow them. Fear not tomorrow? How can we do anything but fear after all the devastation we’ve already seen?

God is not threatened by our why. People say we can’t ask why, but we can—we should. We’re in good company when we ask why. Jesus, Job, David, Jeremiah, and many others we would call “heroes of the faith” have asked why. Asking why is part of the human experience. When we ask God why, we are expressing our innermost emotions, our hurt and disappointment, and God wants us to do that. He works with honesty. He is not threatened by our questions and doubts. He invites us to express our feelings. We’re in a relationship with Him—He doesn’t want us to shut our emotions down. While God already knows how we feel, we need to know; and often we discover what is in our hearts as we express ourselves freely to Him.

But we can also get stuck at why. While asking why can be a stimulus for further exploration, understanding, and honest grappling, sometimes it can become a defense—a way to keep God out and to keep intimacy with Him at bay. We can go round and round in circles with why, never really intending to get anywhere. We can get comfortable with why. We would rather stay where we are than do the hard work of learning how to trust God again. And if we’re not careful, some people will keep us there. They will feed our why as long as we let them. At a certain point, what we actually may need is someone to pull us forward and say, “Hey, let’s explore why you feel this way. Let’s not give up on God.”

God invites us to wrestle with our why, our questions. He wrestles with us, as He wrestled with Jacob (Genesis 32:24–32). But finally the angel of God touched Jacob’s thigh and put it out of socket. I can hear the angel saying, “It’s enough now. Let’s go forward.” My Uncle Clayton Bell, my mother’s brother, died suddenly of a heart attack at age sixty-eight. He loved God passionately and was pastoring a thriving church. Those who loved him asked God why. Why take this dynamic man at his prime? Why not leave him here to serve You? Aunt Peggy, my uncle’s wife, suffered greatly, but there came a time when I remember her saying, “I’m going to lean into the pain.” Whatever her questions, she was going to “lean,” trusting God and expecting Him to be there.

At some point, trusting God becomes a step of faith. No one can prove God. You will have to make the choice to trust Him for yourself. Making that choice doesn’t mean you have settled your questions; you may not see those questions resolved in this life. But you can make the decision to try trusting God again. You can take a step forward with all your unresolved questions and invite God to reveal Himself. It’s okay to live with what I call “unfinishedness.” I think about my mother and how “finished” she looked in her relationship with God—as if everything were settled, everything clear. But when you read Mother’s poetry, you discover she was anything but finished. She simply learned to live with her questions and to trust God anyway.

Walking Forward

Why not bring your questions along as you walk forward to discover more about God in this book? You can invite God to work with you as you read. Ask Him to help you in your battle with fear. Ask Him to help you overcome your misperceptions of Him so you can trust Him for tomorrow. God longs to reveal Himself to you. Jesus said about those who love God, “I too will love them and show myself to them” (John 14:21 TNIV). God wants us to see Him for who He really is.

We don’t have to get it all at once. Trusting God is a process. Just as there are stages of life, there are stages of faith. Trust comes bit by bit. Our part is to be willing—willing to move, willing to try. God wants our willingness. Someone once said you can’t steer a car that isn’t moving. If we can just make the choice to move, God will meet us. I want to challenge you. Open yourself up to the possibility of what God can do in your life. Let Him show Himself worthy of your trust. Walk forward into these pages and decide for yourself about God. See if His intimate love is real. See for yourself. Don’t let your questions or misperceptions be hindrances. They don’t have to stop you from moving. Let’s get to know God better. Let’s discover Him. We can bring our baggage, our questions, our “why” right along with us.


Fear Not Tomorrow, God is Already There:

Trusting Him in Uncertain Times

Ruth Graham

Howard Books

West Monroe, Louisiana

[Refer to P4P regarding inclusion of purpose statement.]

Our purpose at Howard Books is to:

Increase faith in the hearts of growing Christians
Inspire holiness in the lives of believers
Instill hope in the hearts of struggling people everywhere
Because He’s coming again!

[Howard Logo] Published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

Fear Not Tomorrow, God Is Already There © 2009 Ruth Graham

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Howard Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

Published in association with Ambassador Literary Agency, Nashville, Tennessee

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data TK

ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-5843-9

ISBN-10: 4165-5843-8

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

HOWARD and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Manufactured in the United States of America

For information regarding special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact: Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-800-456-6798 or

Edited by Stacy Mattingly and Cindy Lambert

Cover design by TK

Interior design by TK

Photography/illustrations by TK

Scripture quotations not otherwise marked are from the New American Standard Bible®. Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. Scripture quotations marked AMP are from the Amplified Bible®, copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission ( Scripture quotations marked KJV are from the Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version. Scripture quotations marked NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked NLT are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked The Message are from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group. All rights reserved. Scripture quotations marked TNIV are taken from the Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version®. TNIV®. Copyright© 2001, 2005 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Think No Evil

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:

Think No Evil: Inside the Story of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting...and Beyond

Howard Books (September 22, 2009)


Jonas Beiler grew up in a strict and traditional Old Order Amish family during the 1950s. Now he is the cofounder and chairman of the Angela Foundation. He is also a licensed family counselor and founder of the Family Resource and Counseling Center in Gap, Pennsylvania.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $23.99
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (September 22, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416562982
ISBN-13: 978-1416562986


Chapter One: Gates Wide Open

It has become numbingly familiar. A man walks into a church, a store, a dormitory, a nursing home, or a school and begins shooting. Sometimes there is panic, sometimes an eerie quietness. But always bodies fall, almost in unison with the shell casings dropping from the gun. And always there is death. Senseless, inexplicable loss of innocent life. Within seconds, we begin hearing reports on our Blackberries or iPhones. Within minutes it is “Breaking News” on CNN, and by the end of the day it has seared a name in our memories. Columbine. Virginia Tech.

Or for me, The Amish Schoolhouse Shooting.

As I write this, it has been nearly three years since our community watched as ten little girls were carried out of their one-room school and laid on the grass where first responders desperately tried to save their lives. As a professional counselor and the founder of a counseling center that serves this area, I saw firsthand the effects this traumatic event had on our citizens. And as someone who grew up in an Amish household and suffered through my own share of tragedies, I found myself strangely drawn back into a culture that I once chose to leave. I know these people who still travel by horse and buggy and light their homes with gas lanterns, yet as I moved among them through this tragedy I found myself asking questions that, surprisingly, led me to back to a hard look at my own heart. How were they able to cope so well with the loss of their children? What enables a father who lost two daughters in that schoolhouse to bear no malice toward the man who shot them? And what can I learn—what can we learn—from them to help us more gracefully carry our own life burdens?

That last question is what prompted me to attempt to share what I have learned from the families who lost so much that day. The Amish will be the first to tell you they’re not perfect. But they do a lot of things right. Forgiveness is one of them. In my counseling, I have seen how lesser tragedies destroy relationships, ruin marriages, and turn people’s hearts to stone. Life throws so much at us that seems unfair and undeserved, and certainly the shootings at the Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania were both. And yet, not a word of anger or retribution from the Amish. Somehow they have learned that blame and vengeance are toxic while forgiveness and reconciliation disarm their grief. Even in the valley of the shadow of death they know how to live well, and that is really the story that I want to share—how ordinary human beings ease their own pain by forgiving those who have hurt them.

It is a story that began decades ago when I knew it was time to choose.


Little has changed in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania from the time I was a young boy to that fateful October day when shots pierced the stillness of our countryside. Towns like Cedar Lane and New Holland and Gap and Iva might have grown slightly, but as you drive through the hills and valleys along White Oak Road or Buck Hill Road, you’ll see the same quaint farms and patchwork fields that the Amish have worked for generations. Like most Amish boys, I learned to read in a little one-room schoolhouse and could hitch up a team of horses by the time I was twelve years old. I didn’t feel deprived because we didn’t have electricity or phones and it didn’t really bother me to wear the plain clothes that set us apart from my non-Amish friends. As far as I was concerned, being Amish was fine with me, except for one thing. I loved cars. I mean I really loved them. I couldn’t imagine never being able to drive one, but knew that’s what was at stake if I remained Amish.

In Amish culture, you may be born into an Amish family, but you must choose for yourself if you want to be Amish and that usually happens somewhere between the ages of sixteen and twenty one. You may have seen documentaries about Amish teenagers sowing their wild oats for a year or so before deciding to leave or stay within the Amish faith. While it’s true that Amish young people are given their freedom, in reality few teenagers stray very far from the Amish way of life. But all eventually must choose, and once you decide to stay and become baptized as Amish, you can never leave without serious consequences including being shunned by other Amish, even your own parents and relatives. I couldn’t imagine never being a part of my loving family, but I also felt a tug to explore life beyond my Amish roots, and I worried that it would hurt my father if I chose to leave. I remember once asking my dad why we did the things we did and he told me it was all about choice. We choose to live the way we do. It is not forced on us. So when I finally told him at age fifteen that I did not want to stay Amish, I know he was disappointed, but he was not harsh with me, nor did he try to talk me out of it. He respected my choice, which has profoundly shaped my thinking about the Amish. You can always trust them. They live up to their word. If they say they will do something, they will do it. You may have heard the expression, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Well, you would never hear that from an Amish parent. Whatever they teach their children, they back it up with their actions. My dad told me we had a choice and when I made a choice that he obviously wished I wouldn’t have made, he did not turn his back on me. He taught me an important lesson the way most Amish teach their children: by example. Many years later, in the wake of the tragic shooting, I would see Amish mothers and fathers teach their children about forgiveness the same way.

I left the Amish community, but I never left my family, nor did they abandon me. Because of that, I too would learn about forgiveness from my father’s example. Most of my brothers and sisters made the same decision to leave for their own reasons. But my parents remained Amish, and much of my world view is still seen through the metaphorical front windscreen of an Amish buggy.


During those winter months after the shooting so much about our community was covered in stillness. The shortening days felt somber and subdued as we were constantly reminded of the girls that had perished. Normally the sights and sounds surrounding my home in Lancaster County filled me with a sense of nostalgia: the rhythm of horse and buggies clip-clopping their way down our back country roads or the sight of children dashing home from school through a cold afternoon had always been pleasant reminders to me of growing up as a young Amish boy. But that feeling of nostalgia had been replaced with a solemn feeling of remembrance.

Lancaster County is a unique community, the kind of which seems to rarely exist in America anymore. Many of my friends come from families that have lived in this same area for over two hundred years, some even before our country was formed—often we are still connected by friendships held long ago by our parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents. You will find roadside stands selling produce or baked goods, and it is not unusual for them to be left unattended, the prices listed on a bucket or box where you can leave payment for the goods you take. The vast majority of the county is farmland, and in the summer various shades of green spread out to the horizon: beautiful forests line the hills and drift down to waving fields of corn and tobacco and hay.

In the fall months many of the small towns sponsor fairs or festivals, some established for seventy-five years or more. They were originally conceived for local farmers to bring and sell their harvested goods, but like much of the commerce in this area, they were also social events—an opportunity to get caught up with friends you hadn’t seen in a while. I can imagine that back in the day they were joyous times, the crops having been brought in, the community coming together to prepare for a long winter. Nowadays we still go to the fair every year and sit on the same street corner with all of our friends, some of whom we haven’t seen all year but can count on seeing there at the fair. The parade goes by, filled with local high school bands and hay wagons advertising local businesses. Our grandchildren vanish into the back streets together, another generation of friendships, riding the Ferris wheel or going through the haunted house. I like to think that in thirty years they will be sitting on that corner, with their children running off to ride the rides with my friends’ great-grandchildren.

The Amish people live easily among us: good neighbors, hard workers, a peaceful people. They attend the same fairs with their children. Their separateness goes only as far as their plain clothing, or their lack of modern conveniences like telephones and electricity, or the fact that they have their own schools. I have many good friends who are Amish. While they choose to live their lives free of cell phones and computers, they still walk alongside us. They mourn with us when we lose loved ones, and we with them. We talk to them about world events. They volunteer on our local fire brigades and ambulance crews and run businesses within our community.

When the media converged on our community on that fateful October day, I guess I was an ideal person for the media to talk to: someone who grew up in the Amish community, now a family counselor familiar with the effects of grief and tragedy on people’s lives. So I served as a contact for the media, doing countless interviews and sitting on various panels, almost all of which were directed at the Amish response of forgiveness. It immediately became the theme for the media and the millions of people who watched in their homes or listened in their cars—this unbelievable ability to forgive the murderer of innocent children. But tragedy can change a community, and I wondered how the acts of one man would change ours.

Like many individuals, I had already experience my share of personal turmoil over things I could not control. I knew that when these overwhelming experiences of hurt and loss occur, the very core of your being is altered. In fact, having experienced these tragedies in my life, and being counseled through them, led me to pursue becoming a counselor myself. Eventually I went back to school to do just that, and I studied quite a bit on my own as well. In May of 1992, just up the road from Nickel Mines, my wife and I opened the Gap Family Information Center (later it became the Family Resource and Counseling Center), a place where people from our community can come to find healing from a variety of ailments, whether physical, emotional or spiritual.

As a trained counselor I spend a lot of time listening to people pour out the pain of their lives and can see with my own eyes how it has affected them. Nearly every time I speak with a couple whose marriage has been torn, or visit with a family who has lost a child, I am reminded that there are some hurts in life that never completely disappear.

But now, after the shooting, I understand even better how tragedies can affect individuals and communities. I think back to places like Columbine or the areas in the south affected by Hurricane Katrina and I can relate to the trauma they faced and continue to live with. Our community felt shattered after the shootings in that small schoolhouse. Sometimes, as I drove those back country roads or stopped to talk to Amish men, I could hardly bear to think about the pain those girls’ parents felt, or the innocence that our community had lost. But tragedies can also bring communities closer together, if forgiveness is allowed take hold, and if any good can come out of our loss it is this unique practice of forgiveness that characterize the Amish response to evil and injustice.

Word of the Amish communities’ decision to forgive the shooter and his family spread around the world through the media in a matter of days (ironically, from a culture with little or no access to the media). This in itself seems like a miracle to me—if you or I wanted to market a product or a concept to the entire world we could spend millions of dollars and take years and still probably could not accomplish it. Yet the Amish, who do not own phones or computers, captured the world’s attention with a simple, preposterous act. It was almost as if they were illustrating the lyrics of that chorus from the Seventies: “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

While the public was fascinated with the Amish take on forgiveness, they didn’t quite know what to do with it. Some people refused to believe that anyone could offer genuine forgiveness to their children’s killer. They suspected the Amish were either lying or deluding themselves. Others believed the forgiveness was genuine but thought the stoic Amish must be robotic, lacking the normal emotions experienced by you and me, in order to offer up such a graceful sentiment.

Neither is the case. Both misunderstandings find their origins in our culture’s false perception of what forgiveness truly is, and the state of mind of someone offering such unusual forgiveness. The Amish are neither liars nor zombies. They are just like you and me and offer a sincere forgiveness with no strings attached, no dependence on any reciprocating feelings or actions. But they also hurt as deeply as the rest of us over the loss of a child, or a loved one. True forgiveness is never easy, and the Amish struggle with the same emotions of anger and retribution that we all do. But they chose to forgive in spite of those feelings.


About a year after the shooting I heard a story about one of the young girls who had been in the schoolhouse when the shooter entered. She was a survivor. She, along with her family and her community, forgave the man who killed those girls. But forgiveness does not mean that all the hurt or anger or feelings associated with the event vanish. Forgiveness, in the context of life’s major disappointments and hurts, never conforms to the old Sunday-school saying: “Forgive and forget.” In reality, it’s next to impossible to forget an event like the shooting at her schoolhouse.

This young survivor was working in the local farmer’s market when she noticed a man standing quietly off to the side of her counter. As she tried to concentrate on her work she found herself growing more and more agitated over the man’s presence. He seemed to be watching all the girls behind the counter very closely, occasionally starting forward as if he were going to approach, then stopping and standing still again, always watching and fidgeting with the bag he carried with him. There was something eerie about him. Was it the way he stood, or how intently he seemed to stare at them?

All around him the farmer’s market bustled with activity. The Amish were often the center of attention for first-time visitors to the market, so the Amish girl was somewhat used to being stared at, but something about that particular guy made her want to hurry the customer she was working with and then disappear into the back of the store. The difference between a curious stare and the way that stranger looked at her seemed obvious and stirred something inside her from the past.

Meanwhile, other customers walked between the long rows of stands, eyeing up the goods, making their cash purchases. The vendors took the money from each sale and crammed it into old fashioned cash registers or old money boxes. The floor was bare cement smoothed by years of wandering customers. The exposed ceiling showed iron cross beams, pipes and electrical wires. The whole place smelled of produce, fried food, and old books.

For many people outside of Lancaster County, farmer’s markets are the only place they interact with the Amish and their conservative dress—the men wearing hats, mostly black clothing with single-colored shirts and long beards, the women with their head coverings and long hair pulled into tight buns. Amish from Pennsylvania often travel to New York City, Philadelphia or Baltimore to sell their wares: fresh fruit and vegetables, home baked pies and cookies, quilts and handmade furniture. For some of the Amish that is their main interaction with people outside of their community as well. The Amish are hardworking, provide quality products, and almost all are outgoing in that environment and give friendly customer service.

But this particular girl, only months removed from the shooting that took place in the Nickel Mines school, got more and more nervous—she found her breath coming shallow and faster, so much so that her own chest rose and fell visibly. She looked around but no one else seemed to notice the man or her reaction to his presence. Her gaze darted from here to there, first looking at him, wanting to keep an eye on him, then quickly looking away if he looked in her direction. She tried to help the customer in front of the counter but concentrating was difficult.

Then she saw him approach. He strode forward, fishing around for something in his bag, then sticking his hand down deep and drawing an object out with one fast pull.

The girl cried out and fled to the back of the stand, shaking.

The man pulled the object out of his bag and placed it on the counter. It was a Bible, a random gift to the workers at the farmer’s market stand. He disappeared among the hundreds of browsing shoppers. The gentleman had no idea the scare he had just given the girl. No one outside the stand had noticed that something intense had happened. Everything continued on as normal—the shoppers wandered and the vendors shouted out their sales to the lingering crowds.

But in the back, the traumatized girl wept.

Not too long before, her schoolhouse had been hemmed in by police cruisers and emergency vehicles while the sound of a handful of helicopters sliced through the sky. And the thunderous crack of rapid gun shots had echoed back at her from the rolling hills.

Forgiveness is never easy.


During those solemn winter months following the tragedy in our community, my wife, Anne, was running errands in the countryside close to the place where the shootings had taken place. That particular area of southern Lancaster County, about sixty miles east of Philadelphia, was an alternating blanket of farms and forest. The trees stood bare. The fields in November and December and January were rock hard, and flat. Where spring and summer bring deep green and autumn blazes with color, winter often feels quiet and stark.

Anne, my wife, also grew up Amish, and we both understood the questions blazing up within that community in the wake of the killings: Should their schools have more secure steel doors with deadbolts to keep intruders out? Should they install telephones in the one room school houses in case of emergency, a serious break from their traditional decision to shun most modern conveniences? Should the gates that guard the entrance to most of their schools’ stone driveways be kept closed and locked to prevent strangers from driving on to the premises?

Anne came to a stop sign at a “T” in the road. She could only turn right or left. The roads rolled with the gently sloping landscape or curved along the small streams. A handful of scattered homes broke up the farmland that seemed to go on almost indefinitely. But as she paused at that intersection preparing to turn, she noticed something: directly in front of her was a one room Amish schoolhouse, not the one where the shooting took place, but one of the many within that ten mile radius.

Most of those schools look the same: a narrow stone or dirt lane leading from the road and up to a painted cement block building with a shingled roof and a small, covered porch; a school bell perched on the roof’s peak; separate outhouses for the girls and the boys. In some of the schools’ large yards you can see the outline of a base path where the children play softball. Some even have a backstop. The school grounds often take up an acre or so of land in the middle of a farmer’s field, usually donated by one of the student’s parents, surrounded by a three- or four-rail horse fence.

Yet there was something about this simple school that made my wife stop her car and park there for a minute. Part of it had to do with her thoughts of the children at the Nickel Mines school and all they had been through. She was also affected by visions of the parents who had lost children and their long road ahead, knowing as she does how heart-wrenching it is to lose a child. But on that particular day, in the wake of all the questions brought up within the Amish community about how they would deal with this disaster, there was one thing that immediately stood out.

The front gate was wide open.

We have all seen what happens in a community when people allow unforgiveness to rule their hearts. Lawsuits abound, separating the perpetrator and their family from those who were wronged, and in this separation the healing process is slowed dramatically. When forgiveness is withheld walls are built within a community and division occurs, leading to isolation and further misunderstanding. Anger and bitterness take hold.

The parents of those girls who were killed, along with their family members and neighbors, decided not to allow the shooting to further separate them from their neighbors. There were no lawsuits filed by the victims’ families against the shooter’s estate or the emergency services or the government, as is so often the case. They would not permit anger or fear to drive them into installing telephones, modern conveniences that their way of life had survived so long without. They would trust God to protect them, leaving the gate open to their hearts and to their communities, and move forward with forgiving hearts.

Given what happened, could that really be possible?

Think No Evil
Inside the Story of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting . . .
and Beyond

Jonas Beiler
with Shawn Smucker

Howard Books

West Monroe, Louisiana

[Refer to P4P regarding inclusion of purpose statement.]

Our purpose at Howard Books is to:

Increase faith in the hearts of growing Christians
Inspire holiness in the lives of believers
Instill hope in the hearts of struggling people everywhere
Because He’s coming again!

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Think No Evil © 2009 Jonas Beiler

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Howard Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

Published in association with Ambassador Literary Agency, Nashville, Tennessee

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data TK

ISBN 978-1-4165-6298-6

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Edited by Cindy Lambert

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[Permission information regarding Bible translations used (See "Bible Version Lines" list) TK]

Monday, September 28, 2009

Three Weddings & a Bar Mitzvah

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:

Three Weddings & a Bar Mitzvah

David C. Cook (2009)


Melody Carlson has published more than one hundred books for adults, children, and teens, with many on best-seller lists. Several books have been finalists for, and winners of, various writing awards, including the Gold Medallion and the RITA Award. She and her husband live in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and have two grown sons.

Visit the author's website.

Three Weddings and a Bar Mitzvah, by Melody Carlson from David C. Cook on Vimeo.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 320
Vendor: David C. Cook (2009)
ISBN: 1589191080
ISBN-13: 9781589191082


Megan Abernathy

“Okay, then, how does the second Saturday in June look?” Anna asked her housemates.

Megan frowned down at her date book spread open on the dining room table. She and Anna had been trying to nail a date for Lelani and Gil's wedding. Megan had already been the spoiler of the first weekend of June, but she'd already promised her mom that she'd go to a family reunion in Washington. Now it seemed she was about to mess things up again. “I'm sorry,” she said, “but I promised Marcus I'd go to his sister's wedding. It's been scheduled for almost a year now, and it's the second Saturday too. But maybe I can get out of it.”

Lelani just shook her head as she quietly rocked Emma in her arms, pacing back and forth between the living room and dining room. The baby was teething and fussy and overdue for her afternoon nap. Megan wasn't sure if Lelani's frustrated expression was a result of wedding planning or her baby's mood.

“Is it possible you could do both weddings in one day?” Anna asked Megan.

“That might work.” Megan picked up her datebook and followed Lelani into the living room, where she continued to rock Emma.

“Or we could look at the third weekend in June,” Anna called from the dining room.

“Shhh.” Megan held a forefinger over her lips to signal Anna that Emma was finally about to nod off. Megan waited and watched as Emma's eyes fluttered closed and Lelani gently eased the limp baby down into the playpen set up in a corner of the living room. Lelani pushed a dark lock of hair away from Emma's forehead, tucked a fuzzy pink blanket over her, then finally stood up straight and sighed.

“Looks like she's down for the count,” Megan whispered.

Lelani nodded. “Now, where were we with dates?”

“If you still want to go with the second Saturday,” Megan spoke quietly, “Anna just suggested that it might be possible for me to attend two weddings in one day.”

“That's a lot to ask of you,” Lelani said as they returned to the dining room, where Anna and Kendall were waiting expectantly with the calendar in the middle of the table and opened to June.

Megan shrugged as she pulled out a chair. “It's your wedding, Lelani. You should have it the way you want it. I just want to help.”

Anna pointed to the second Saturday. “Okay, this is the date in question. Is it doable or not?”

Lelani sat down and sighed. “I'm willing to schedule my wedding so that it's not a conflict with the other one. I mean, if it can even be done. Mostly I just wanted to wait until I finished spring term.”

“What time is Marcus's sister's wedding?” asked Anna.

“I'm not positive, but I think he said it was in the evening.” She reached for her phone.

“And you want a sunset wedding,” Kendall reminded Lelani.

“That's true.” Anna nodded.

“But I also want Megan to be there,” Lelani pointed out.

“That would be helpful, since she's your maid of honor,” said Anna.

Megan tried not to bristle at the tone of Anna's voice. She knew that Anna had been put a little out of sorts by Lelani's choice--especially considering that Anna was the sister of the groom--but to be fair, Megan was a lot closer to Lelani than Anna was. And at least they were all going to be in the wedding.

“Let me ask Marcus about the time,” Megan said as she pressed his speed-dial number and waited. “Hey, Marcus,” she said when he finally answered. “We're having a scheduling problem here. Do you know what time Hannah's wedding is going to be?”

“In the evening, I think,” Marcus said. “Do you need the exact time?”

“No, that's good enough.” Megan gave Lelani a disappointed look. “I'll talk to you later, okay?”

“You're not thinking of bailing on me, are you?” He sounded genuinely worried.

“No, but we're trying to pin down a time and date for Lelani.”

“It's just that I really want my family to meet you, Megan. I mean all of my family. And I want you to meet them too.”

“I know, and I plan to go with you.”

“Thanks. So, I'll see you around six thirty tonight?”

“That's right.” Megan told him good-bye, then turned to Lelani with a sigh. “I'm sorry,” she told her. “That wedding's at night too. Maybe I should blow off my family reunion so that you--”

“No.” Anna pointed to the calendar. “I just realized that the first Saturday in June is also my mother's birthday.”

“So?” Kendall shrugged. “What's wrong with that?”

Megan laughed. “Think about it, Kendall, how would you like to share your wedding anniversary with your mother-in-law's birthday?”

Kendall grinned. “Oh, yeah. Maybe not.”

“How about a Sunday wedding?” suggested Megan.

“Sunday?” Lelani's brow creased slightly as she weighed this.

“Sunday might make it easier to book the location,” Kendall said. “I mean, since most weddings are usually on Saturdays, and June is a pretty busy wedding month.”

“That's true,” agreed Megan.

“And you gotta admit that this is short notice for planning a wedding,” added Kendall. “Some people say you should start planning your wedding a whole year ahead of time.”

“Marcus's sister has been planning her wedding for more than a year,” Megan admitted. “Marcus says that Hannah is going to be a candidate for the Bridezillas show if she doesn't lighten up.”

They all laughed.

“Well, there's no way Gil and I are going to spend a year planning a wedding.” Lelani shook her head. “That's fine for some people, but we're more interested in our marriage than we are in our wedding.”

“I hear you.” Kendall laughed and patted her slightly rounded belly. She was in her fifth month of the pregnancy. They all knew that she and her Maui man, Killiki, were corresponding regularly, but despite Kendall's high hopes there'd been no proposal.

“I really don't see why it should take a year to plan a wedding,” Megan admitted. “I think that's just the wedding industry's way of lining their pockets.”

“So how much planning time do you have now anyway?” Kendall asked Lelani. “Like three months?”

“Not even.” Lelani flipped the calendar pages back. “It's barely two now.”

“Which is why we need to nail this date today,” Megan said. “Even though it's a small wedding--”

“And that remains to be seen,” Anna reminded her. “My mother's list keeps growing and growing and growing.”

“I still think it might be easier to just elope,” Lelani reminded them. “I told Gil that I wouldn't have a problem with that at all.”

“Yes, that would be brilliant.” Anna firmly shook her head. “You can just imagine how absolutely thrilled Mom would be about that little idea.”

Lelani smiled. “I actually thought she'd be relieved.”

“That might've been true a few months ago. But Mom's changing.” Anna poked Lelani in the arm. “In fact, I'm starting to feel jealous. I think she likes you better than me now.”

Lelani giggled. “In your dreams, Anna. Your mother just puts up with me so she can have access to Emma.”

They all laughed about that. Everyone knew that Mrs. Mendez was crazy about her soon-to-be granddaughter. Already she'd bought Emma all kinds of clothes and toys and seemed totally intent on spoiling the child rotten.

“Speaking of Emma”--Kendall shook her finger--“Mrs. Mendez is certain that she's supposed to have her on Monday. But I thought it was my day.”

“I'm not sure,” Lelani admitted. “But I'll call and find out.”

“And while you've got Granny on the line,” continued Kendall, “tell her that I do know how to change diapers properly. One more diaper lecture and I might just tape a Pamper over that big mouth of hers. Sheesh!”

They all laughed again. Since coming home from Maui, Kendall had been complaining about how Mrs. Mendez always seemed to find fault with Kendall's childcare abilities. In fact, Mrs. Mendez had spent the first week “teaching” Kendall the “proper” way to do almost everything.

To be fair, Megan didn't blame the older woman. Megan had been a little worried about Kendall too. But to everyone's surprise, Kendall turned out to be rather maternal. Whether it had to do with her own pregnancy or a hidden talent, Megan couldn't decide, but Kendall's skill had been a huge relief.

“Now, back to the wedding date,” said Lelani.

“Yes,” agreed Megan. “What about earlier on Saturday?”

“Oh, no,” Anna said. “I just remembered that I promised Edmond I'd go to his brother's bar mitzvah on that same day--I think it's in the morning.”

Lelani groaned.

“Edmond's brother?” Megan frowned. “I thought he was an only child. And since when is he Jewish?”

“Remember, his mom remarried,” Anna told her. “And Philip Goldstein, her new husband, is Jewish, and he has a son named Ben whose bar mitzvah is that Saturday.” She sighed. “I'm sorry, Lelani.”

“So Saturday morning is kaput,” Megan said.

“And Lelani wanted a sunset wedding anyway,” Anna repeated.

“So why can't you have a sunset wedding on Sunday?” Kendall suggested.

“That's an idea.” Megan turned back to Lelani. “What do you think?”

Lelani nodded. “I think that could work.”

“And here's another idea!” Anna exclaimed. “If the wedding was on Sunday night, you could probably have the reception in the restaurant afterward. I'm guessing it would be late by the time the wedding was over, and Sunday's not exactly a busy night.”

Lelani looked hopeful. “Do you think your parents would mind?”

“Mind? Are you kidding? That's what my mother lives for.”

“But we still don't have a place picked for the wedding,” Megan said.

“I have several outdoor locations in mind. I'll start checking on them tomorrow.”

“We'll have to pray that it doesn't rain.” Megan penned 'Lelani and Gil's Wedding' in her date book, then closed it.

“Should there be a backup plan?” asked Anna. “I'm sure my parents could have the wedding at their house.”

“Or here,” suggested Kendall. “You can use this house if you want.”

Anna frowned. “It's kind of small, don't you think?”

“I think it's sweet of Kendall to offer.” Lelani smiled at Kendall.

“I can imagine a bride coming down those stairs,” Kendall nodded toward the staircase. “I mean, if it was a small wedding.”

“I'll keep it in mind,” Lelani told her. “And your parents' house too.”

“It might be tricky getting a church reserved on a Sunday night,” Megan looked at the clock. “And speaking of that, I better get ready. Marcus is picking me up for the evening service in about fifteen minutes.” She turned back to Lelani. “Don't worry. I've got my to-do list and I'll start checking on some of this stuff tomorrow. My mom will want to help with the flowers.”

“And my aunt wants to make the cake,” Anna reminded them.

“Sounds like you're in good hands,” Kendall sad a bit wistfully. “I wonder how it would go if I was planning my wedding.”

“You'd be in good hands too,” Lelani assured her.

“Now, let's start going over that guest list,” Anna said as Megan stood up. “The sooner we get it finished, the less chance my mother will have of adding to it.” Megan was relieved that Anna had offered to handle the invitations. She could have them printed at the publishing company for a fraction of the price that a regular printer would charge, and hopefully she'd get them sent out in the next couple of weeks.

As Megan changed from her weekend sweats into something presentable, she wondered what would happen with Lelani's parents when it was time for the big event. Although her dad had promised to come and was already committed to paying Lelani's tuition to finish med school, Lelani's mom was still giving Lelani the cold shoulder. Make that the ice shoulder. For a woman who lived in the tropics, Mrs. Porter was about as chilly as they come. Still, Lelani had friends to lean on. Maybe that was better than family at times.

“Your prince is here,” Kendall called into Megan's room.

“Thanks.” Megan was looking for her other loafer and thinking it was time to organize her closet again. “Tell him I'm coming.”

When Megan came out, Marcus was in the dining room, chatting with her housemates like one of the family. He was teasing Anna for having her hair in curlers, then joking with Kendall about whether her Maui man had called her today.

“Not yet,” Kendall told him with a little frown. “But don't forget the time-zone thing. It's earlier there.”

“Speaking of time zones,” Lelani said to Marcus. “Did I hear you're actually thinking about going to Africa?”

Marcus grinned and nodded. “Yeah, Greg Mercer, this guy at our church, is trying to put together a mission trip to Zambia. I might go too.”

“Wow, that's a long ways away.” Kendall turned to Megan. “How do you feel about that?”

Megan shrugged as she pulled on her denim jacket. “I think it's cool.”

“Are you coming with us to church tonight, Kendall?” Marcus asked. “Greg is going to show a video about Zambia.”

“Sorry to miss that,” Kendall told him. “But Killiki is supposed to call.”

“Ready to roll?” Megan nodded up to the clock.

He grinned at her. “Yep.” But before they went out, he turned around. “That is, unless anyone else wants to come tonight.”

Lelani and Anna thanked him but said they had plans. Even so, Megan was glad he'd asked. It was nice when Kendall came with them occasionally. And Lelani had come once too. Really, it seemed that God was at work at 86 Bloomberg Place. Things had changed a lot since last fall.

“So are you nervous?” Marcus asked as he drove toward the city.

“Nervous?” Megan frowned. “About church?”

“No. The big interview.”

Megan slapped her forehead. “Wow, I temporarily forgot. We were so obsessed with Lelani's wedding today, trying to make lists, plan everything, and settle the date … I put the interview totally out of my mind.”

“Hopefully, it won't be out of your mind by Monday.”

“No, of course not.”

“So … are you nervous?”

Megan considered this. It would be her first interview for a teaching job. And it was a little unsettling. “The truth is, I don't think I have a chance at the job,” she admitted. “And, yes, I'm nervous. Thanks for reminding me.”

“Sorry. Why don't you think you'll get the job?”

“Because I don't have any actual teaching experience.” She wanted to add duh, but thought it sounded a little juvenile.

“Everyone has to start somewhere.”

“But starting in middle school, just a couple of months before the school year ends? Don't you think they'll want someone who knows what they're doing?”

“Unless they want someone who's enthusiastic and energetic and smart and creative and who likes kids and had lots of great new ideas and--”

“Wow, any chance you could do the interview in my place?”

“Cross-dress and pretend I'm you?”

She laughed. “Funny.”

“Just have confidence, Megan. Believe in yourself and make them believe too. You'd be great as a middle-school teacher.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Because I remember middle school.”


“And most of my teachers were old and dull and boring.”

“That's sad.”

“And I would've loved having someone like you for a teacher.”


He chuckled. “Yeah. If I was thirteen, I'd probably sit right in the front row and think about how hot you were, and then I'd start fantasizing about--”

“Marcus Barrett, you're pathetic.” Just the same, she laughed.

“What can I say? I'm just a normal, warm-blooded, American kid.”

“Give me a break!” She punched him in the arm.

“Is that your phone?” he asked as he was parking outside of the church.

“Oh, yeah, a good reminder to turn it off.” She pulled it out to see it was Kendall. Megan hoped nothing was wrong. “Hey, Kendall,” she said as Marcus set the parking brake. “What's up?”

“Guess what?” shrieked Kendall.

“I have no idea what, but it sounds like good news.” She stepped out of the car.

“Killiki just called.”

“That's nice.”

“And he asked me to marry him!”

Megan raised her eyebrows and looked at Marcus as he came around to meet her. “And you said yes?”

“Of course! Do you think I'm crazy?”

“No. Not at all. Congratulations, Kendall. I mean, I guess that's what you say.”

“So now we have two weddings to plan.”

Megan blinked. She walked with Marcus toward the church entry. “Oh, yeah, I guess we do.”

“And I'm getting married in June too!”

“That's great, Kendall. I'm really, really happy for you. And Killiki seems like a great guy.”

“He is! Anyway, we just looked at the calendar again. And we finally figured that I should just get married the same day as Lelani, only I'll get married in the morning. That way we'll all be able to go to both weddings.”

“Wow, the same day?”

“Otherwise, you'll be at your reunion or Marcus's sister's wedding. Or Anna will be at the bar mitzvah. Or Lelani and Gil will be on their honeymoon.”

“Oh, that's right.”

“And I want all of you there!”

“Yes, I suppose that makes sense.”

“It'll be busy, but fun.”

“Definitely.” Then Megan thanked Kendall for telling her, and they said good-bye. Megan closed her phone and just shook her head. “Wow.”

“Kendall's getting married?” asked Marcus as he held the church door open for her.

“Yes. Can you believe it?”

“Good for her.”

“And her wedding will be the same weekend as your sister's and the same day as Lelani's.”

Marcus held up three fingers and wore a perplexed expression. “Three weddings in one weekend? That's crazy.”

“Yep.” Megan nodded. “Three weddings and a bar mitzvah.”

“Huh?” Marcus looked confused, but they were in the sanctuary, and Megan knew she'd have to explain later.

©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. Three Weddings and a Bar Mitzvah by Melody Carlson. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Faith Path

*Press release*

A Cringe-Free Plan for Talking About Your Faith

New study based on Mark Mittelberg’s Choosing Your Faith reveals how non-Christians think and empowers believers to reach them

Many Christians cringe at the thought of talking with non-Christians about faith. It’s almost like trying to explain music to a deaf person or a painting to someone who is blind. But one important thing any Christian can do is understand their friends—listen to them and consider how they think. Then it becomes possible to truly communicate God’s truth.

Now there is an exciting new resource for church groups and individuals with a heart to more effectively engage unbelievers in faith conversations. Based on Mark Mittelberg’s book Choosing Your Faith, the eight-lesson Faith Path workbook (David C Cook, October 2009) is designed to be used in a group with the Faith Path DVD and builds on Mittelberg’s sensible, evenhanded approach to evangelism.

“Faith. Everybody lives by it—even skeptics and atheists! That’s right. Everyone you know trusts something they believe in but can’t prove or know absolutely. They take it on faith,” Mittelberg says. “If you want to talk to your friends about your faith, it helps to understand what they believe and how they got there. Because badgering people to change their minds just doesn’t work.”

DVD segments include teaching from Mittelberg, as well as short interviews with fascinating people talking about the faith paths they were on before they came to Christ. Approaches such as relativism, traditionalism, mysticism, authoritarianism, and others are explored. Interviews seen on the DVD are then discussed in a thought-provoking, enjoyable group format, as well as in workbook entries. Among other things, participants will learn to recognize the danger of paths that lead away from Christ and will deepen their own faith in Christ and reinforce their reasons for believing.

No other DVD/workbooks exist for Choosing Your Faith (workbook includes leader’s guide materials), so Faith Path—with live interviews and audience interaction—promises to set new trends for learning how to engage others in spiritual conversations.

“Relativists, traditionalists, mystics, authoritarians, and others…they’re all here. And after you understand how these folks think about faith, you can help them find a trustworthy pathway to truth,” Mittelberg says. “Because no matter what your friends believe, they still matter to God.”

Author Bio: Mark Mittelberg is a best-selling author, sought-after speaker, and a leading outreach strategist. He is the author of Choosing Your Faith, coauthor (with Lee Strobel) of The Unexpected Adventure, and coauthor (with Bill Hybels and Lee Strobel) of the Becoming a Contagious Christian curriculum. He previously served as the evangelism director for Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association. Mark earned a master’s degree in philosophy of religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He lives in Southern California with his wife, Heidi, and their two teenage children.

Faith Path (Workbook & DVD) by Mark Mittelberg

David C Cook/October 2009

Workbook-ISBN: 978-1-4347-6513-0/softcover/141 pages/$12.99 DVD-ISBN: 978-1-4347-6514-7/$24.99

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Longview

*press release*

What Will Your Ministry Look Like 25 Years After You’re Gone?

Learn to value transformation over turn-around by extending your view

Many of today’s ministries suffer from a near-sighted vision. Too often leaders choose easy solutions over principled, long-term strategies. The results can be devastating, as ignored issues become full-blown crises, and small problems become big challenges.

The Longview (David C Cook, October 2009) is a fresh approach to leadership that will transform how readers make decisions and address problems. Author Dr. Roger Parrott offers proven, practical principles drawn from scripture and his renowned career in educational leadership. Parrott issues readers a timely challenge: Defy the trends of short-sighted goal-making for quick returns by learning to lead for long-term significance.

America is paying the price of short-term decision making (i.e., sub-prime mortgages, Bernie Madoff, health care costs, General Motors bankruptcy, et al). As more ministries adopt the prevailing short-term pattern, they move closer to the same outcome—the quick payoff—at the cost of a future crisis. The Longview calls for a seismic shift in the leadership attitudes and actions of readers. Parrott is a seasoned, practical leader who is not afraid to challenge younger leaders to lead for lasting impact, not fleeting bragging rights. The book offers practical insights from both scripture and his own experience. Both young and seasoned leaders will uncover a solid foundation for success for any ministry, organization, or business.

“Our theology and our ministry passion draw us to talk about longview outcomes as our heart’s desire, but we have been duped into fostering a generation of leaders, board members, employees, and constituencies who value short-term gain over longview significance,” says Parrott. In The Longview, he further explains that because this shortview corporate culture has so permeated the church today, those in ministry have loosened their grip on the biblical model for leadership. The time is right for rising leaders to break free from the short-term leadership patterns of the past and set their sites on the horizon to ensure a life of leadership that will be honoring to God and bring us back to principles that will allow the church to make a transformational difference in the world.

“The best leaders understand they should always be held accountable for the long-term before they are rewarded for their immediate results,” says Parrott. “The Longview will give leaders nitty-gritty practical applications to break free from the pattern of aiming for nearsighted remedies instead of long-term solutions.”

Endorsed by Ken Blanchard and a host of significant ministry leaders, The Longview will produce a seismic shift in the leadership attitudes of readers—it will revolutionize the way you lead.

Author Bio: At age thirty-four Roger Parrott became one of America’s youngest college presidents. Parrott is currently the president of Belhaven College, an innovative liberal arts institution recognized as the leading evangelical college in the Arts. He earned a PhD in higher education administration from the University of Maryland. Parrott serves in leadership of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, Mission America Coalition, and Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He has advised a wide variety of ministries in the US and internationally.

The Longview by Roger Parrott, Ph.D.

David C Cook/October 2009/ISBN: 978-1-4347-6749-3/hardcover/255 pages/$16.99

Saturday, September 26, 2009

When You Lose Someone You Love

*press release*

Not Sure What to Say to a Grieving Person?

Give the gift of comfort with the 20th anniversary edition of a classic

There is nothing more devastating than the death of a loved one. And whether it comes suddenly and unexpectedly, or at the end of a long and painful illness, every death is experienced anew, a shocking loss that takes your breath away and leaves you disoriented and lost.

Grief is mysterious, misunderstood, and experienced differently from individual to individual. Yet there are certain universal elements to the grieving process. In When You Lose Someone You Love: Comfort for Those Who Grieve (David C Cook, October 2009), author Richard Exley offers a compassionate handbook on grief. The book is written as a series of letters between a pastor and a parishioner he seeks to comfort. As he offers understanding to a man suffering a profound loss, the pastor shows that grief is a healthy process that God can use to mend broken hearts.

When we lose someone we love, we are often overwhelmed by the strong emotions and confusion that come like tidal waves in our lives. Sometimes we hardly recognize ourselves or the world in which we live. Exley’s personal and empathetic epistle communicates the mercy and grace of the heavenly Father to grieving people.

“I have chosen the ‘letter style’ because it affords me the opportunity to speak to you directly and in a very personal manner,” Exley says. “This is not a book about grief; rather, it is comfort extended to those who are even now walking through the valley of the shadow of death.”

This book is the perfect gift for anyone suffering a profound loss. It has been endorsed by many a reader who, having drawn great comfort from its pages, has passed it along to a grief-stricken friend or loved one. Pastors and ministries that regularly interact with grieving people should keep multiple copies of When You Lose Someone You Love on hand.

Revised and updated, this twentieth anniversary edition features prayers and scripture meditation, as well as a new introduction and epilogue. Simple, profound, personal, compassionate … When You Lose Someone You Love tenderly walks the grief-stricken through sorrow to peace and, eventually, renewed joy.

Author Bio: Richard Exley is the author of twenty-nine books and has written both fiction and nonfiction. His articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Leadership Journal, Charisma, Ministries Today, The Pentecostal Evangel, Advance, Enrichment, and New Man. He has served as senior pastor of churches in Colorado and Oklahoma, hosted several popular television and radio programs, including the nationally syndicated Straight from the Heart, and appeared on the 700 Club, Richard Roberts Live, Action Sixty, the former PTL, The New Jim Bakker Show, and The Harvest Show. Richard and his wife, Brenda Starr, spend their time in a secluded cabin overlooking picturesque Beaver Lake in Northwest Arkansas.

When You Lose Someone You Love by Richard Exley

David C Cook/October 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4347-6480-5/128 pages/softcover/$9.99

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