Tangled Ashes by Michele Phoenix

This book is a fantastic historical version reminiscent of the idea “if walls could talk”. There have been many times I have been in older homes and I wished they could tell their story!
I love the way it is written, alternating between the present day and the historical time period. In modern day time, Becker, a very troubled, angry, alcoholic is more or less tricked by his business partner into going to France and renovating an ancient castle. The owner is a jovial and very wealthy man, Mr. Fallon. His deadline for the main part of the castle is for a party for his pregnant wife’s 40th birthday. The renovation is extensive and the date set seems almost impossible.
Becker has become bitter and withdrawn throughout the years and is stretched to the limit with the jobs demands, a very nervous French designer he is forced to work with, and Fallon’s nanny and two children who spend each day there.
The historical time is in the 1940’s during WW2 and Hitler’s occupation in France at this very castle. Two young girls, Marie and Elise, are hired as housemaids by Heinrich Himmler who used the castle to house the Lebensborn Program. Both Himmler and program actually existed during WW2. I had read about and seen documentaries about this program. It was part of Hitler’s plans for a “perfect race”. Young unmarried women became pregnant by German soldiers. They were cared for and pampered by the Third Reich until they delivered their babies. After delivery, they left and their babies stayed to be eventually adopted out to German couples and be raised as Nazi’s. Falling in love with a German stableman, Elise is influenced by the propaganda and becomes pregnant by him. After she becomes a resident in the chateau, she begins to realize what she has done and that she will lose her baby. The girl’s lives and the discoveries Becker makes during the renovation being to interconnect.
There are many surprises, twists, and turns in the story. I was never bored, always wanting to read further. I found several spiritual lessons within the story about loyalty, facing our problems with faith, forgiveness, and caring in the face of rejection. This was a great book! It was my first book to read by Ms. Phoenix and I look forward to more.
I received this book free from Handlebar Publishing in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day by Garry R. Morgan

The title is telling the truth! You really can understand the religions of the world in 15 minutes a day and even less. As a Christian, I desire to be able to share my faith in Christ with all people. To do so I need to understand where they base their faith and what their beliefs are. I also want to respect their beliefs as I share mine.
I was able to get a basic over all view and not have to wade through lengthy books. The author has done all the hard work and research! Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism are covered in more than one chapter as their belief systems are much more complex to understand. I appreciate how understandable and easy to read the information is.
This book has common religions I was most familiar with and many I had never heard of. I did not even know that Jainism and Zoroastrianism existed! I even learned some interesting information about some of the ones thought I already knew about! From a Christian viewpoint, I was given not only their beliefs, but also their history, and how their faith is practiced. This book such a great resource! I only wish Mr. Morgan had written it years ago!
I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

The Donkey Who Carried a King By R.C. Sproul

This book is destined to become an Easter classic for families and children! I loved the way it combined so many wonderful lessons and spiritual truths and shared the Easter story in such a unique way.
The story begins when a young boy named Reilly is talking to his father and grandfather about his problem of picked last for games. His grandfather sympathizes and tells him of a little donkey in Jerusalem named Davey.
Davey was sad because he had never been called to do any job. He just stayed in his pen all day. The other donkeys tell him about famous donkeys in history: Balaam’s donkey and the one that carried Mary to Bethlehem for the birth of Christ.
One day his life changes and Davey’s master chooses him to carry Christ through the streets on Palm Sunday. After carrying a king he becomes very prideful and is unhappy with the regular jobs assigned him. One day while working, he witnesses Christ carrying the cross to his crucifixion. Davey is upset that the King would have to do such a demeaning job. An old donkey tells him how Christ was being a servant to mankind. Davey realizes if Christ can bear His cross then he can bear his loads without complaining.
Reilly’s grandfather not only uses Davy’s lesson to teach him about being grateful for what he is chosen to play but also being humble and not always expecting the best places. Mr. Sproul beautifully shares not only Christ’s death and resurrection, but also the plan of salvation.
At the end of the book, there are wonderful questions and answers about the story to help children to understand the story and apply the truths in it. I can’t emphasize enough what an outstanding delightful book this is! One every parent and grandparent will want for their library.
I received this book free from the Reformation Trust Publishing in exchange for my review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Cruel Harvest: A Memoir By Fran Elizabeth Grubb

I have read several books in the past about cruelty and mistreatment people have endured during their childhood. I did not read them, or this one, because I enjoy the suffering of another, but rather to better understand how they overcame such abuse and became productive, healed adults.
I must admit this is the best one yet. Ms. Grubb’s style of writing was captivating. She openly yet tastefully shared her years of growing up a victim of her father’s emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Her childhood was made even more difficult by the fact that they were migrant workers, constantly traveling, missed years of education, and no home to call their own. She lost her innocence, her childhood, and eventually many members of her family. I was amazed by her compassion, love, and kindness for her siblings when you would think she would be bitter and self-absorbed.
My heart was broken and shocked at her sufferings at the hand of her father but also the horrible physical deprivation she faced. Her strength, courage, and perseverance were amazing. It seemed every time her life began to look hopeful, things took a turn for the worse. A maternal aunt that should have been a rescuer turns out to be an abuser in different and even crueler ways than her father. A children’s home where she found love and happiness is snatched from her. Her mother who should be her provider and protector abandons her. Yet she never shows any bitterness or resentment. Her faith in God never faded as a child and later as an adult.
Her beautiful spirit is further shown in later years as she not only seeks to reunite with her siblings but also her ability to forgive her father at his grave. Others blame God and grow bitter against Him for such minor inconveniences in their lives. Ms. Grubb’s testimony of faith puts such an attitude to shame. She trusts God even further by leaving tragic unanswered questions in His hands.
Experiencing the atrocities through her eyes opened my own even further to the heart and mind of a child in this situation. I saw more clearly, what they feel but also their deepest longings for a normal life and family. We who have been blessed with loving families and nurturing tend to take those blessings for granted.
This book also alerted me to many subtle signs that a child is being abused that like some adults who came into Ms. Grubb’s life, totally missed. Thousands of children live like this today right under our noses. I believe Cruel Harvest will help raise even more awareness to the plight of such children. I applaud Ms. Grubbs for her transparency, honesty, beautiful writing and sharing a very private part of herself with others.
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

TEAR DROPS ON THE ALTAR by Narita Roady

I remember the first time I saw them. I know they had been there all along but somehow I had never noticed them. I wondered how many times had I looked directly at them and not seen them? There had to have been dozens of times I polished right over them, never realizing they were right under my hand.
But on that day, they jumped out at me as I knelt before the Lord in prayer: the tear stains on the altar. No amount of wax or oil would remove their traces. They were etched into the wood. How strange. Tears don’t stain clothing, skin or other articles but they had stained the altar. I was shocked at how many there were. Every one of those dull, irregular splotches will remain forever a testimony of those who have kneeled before their Heavenly Father in brokenness and need. They were small silent memorials of grieving hearts coming to the foot of the cross. Every tear drop represents a burden laid before the Lord.
A burden is a heavy load to carry and it grows heavier with time. They just aren’t a physical heaviness but are also emotional, mental and spiritual. That’s why they weigh so much more on us than something that is weighed in pounds and ounces. While we might bear a heavy load bodily for a time, it is impossible to bear a burden of the soul and heart. “For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me.” Psalm 38:4
The Lord made us that way, for if we could continue under their weight, we would never seek Him.
While many times, sin is the crushing weight behind our burdens that we cannot bear. It may be the sin of another, one that is persecuting us, or a loved one gone astray. While their sins may bring great pain to our hearts, nothing is as massively oppressing as our own sins against God. If left, they can literally squeeze the life out of us.
Other hardships we shoulder may have nothing to do with sin. Sickness and physical problems are a part of life. Facing the loss of a loved one is something everyone experiences at one time or another. Loss of material possessions due to fire, a tornado or floods are certainly not due to any wrong doing on our part. Whether they are a product of sin or simply a result of living, they all come under the same category – burdens. So what do we do with them?
As in all things pertaining to our lives, God has an answer, a solution, and a way to find relief. And as always it is very simple so everyone has the ability to succeed. Are you ready . . . I know you already know this. . . .you’ve heard it before . . . . JUST GIVE HIM THE BURDEN! Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. Psalm 55:22
Then why don’t we? We have various rationalizations for not doing so. A common one is the conscious or unconscious idea that certain problems are too small to bother God with. Nothing, I repeat nothing is too minor to be brought before Him. From the catastrophe to the seemingly insignificant, all are equally important to our Heavenly Father if it concerns one of His precious children. If He is keeping count of all the hairs on your head, there is no doubt your most trivial problems are of utmost concern to Him also.
On the other hand we might think the dilemma is so minor that we can manage on our own. Whether pride or just plain stupidity fuels this idea, God tells us such ventures are doomed from the beginning and we can’t do ANYTHING without Him! I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. John 15:5
Can we take a breath without Him? Can our heart beat without Him? No! Therefore we can be certain we can’t carry even a mustard seed of trouble alone.
Another reason we hang onto our burdens is because we stop trusting God. When pain and suffering are intense it is easy to make them our focus. This leads us along the lonely futile pathway of self-pity and anger. Weariness overtakes us under our cumbersome load and soon we begin to question God. How could He allow this? I thought He loved me! Where is God when I need Him?
We question the One Who made the ultimate sacrifice when we deserved nothing but punishment. We question the One Who has proven His care and provision for us over and over again. We question the One Whose promises never fail. And thus we being our Israelite experience, wandering in our self-made wilderness, sinking further and further beneath a load we are incapable of bearing. How heartbreaking it must be for Him Who only wants the very best for us, and yet we measure His love by our present circumstances! For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Jeremiah 29:11
Of course we can’t forget the amazing burden race. Instead of turning it over to God we decide we can out run it! Drugs, alcohol, immorality, excessive spending, over work, religious activity are all ways people try to escape their massive load they continue to stagger under. David experienced this same desire in Psalm 55:6-7. And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and reamin in the wilderness. Selah.
Much like a kitten with a can tied to its tail, where we go our burden follows, and we will only grow more frantic and exhausted. There is no relief or escape.
We go a full circle and come back to the same answer: we can only give our burdens to the Lord! Face it no one wants your problems but the Lord!!! Many might care and a few that really love you might be willing to take them, but none can, only God. The next question is HOW do we give our burdens to the Lord?
As strange as it may sound, the first step is to ACCEPT the burden. Don’t deny it, attempt to defeat it alone, out last it or flee it. After all, how can we get rid of something by refusing to acknowledge the affect it is having on our lives? Acceptance shows we are trusting God. Recognizing that He is in control and whatever comes our way is lovingly sent to benefit, not destroy us. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: 1 Peter 1:6-7
No matter what the situation, there are never any victims or sitting ducks among God’s children. Quite the contrary, His children are much loved and receive only the best. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
As strange as it may seem, after accepting the burden the Lord asks us to GIVE it to Him. So much so that He uses an even more compelling word and tells us to CAST it. That means to literally throw it on Him! This illustrates how strongly He feels about us hanging on to our problems. Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. Psalm 55:22. We do this by simply praying and surrendering it to Him.
Accepting the burden is a start and giving it to Him is good but to complete our transaction we must LEAVE it with Him. This is where we fail so often then turn to question why He is not relieving us of the load we strain under. Too often we give our problems to God then take them back with claw marks on them! He’s not the problem, we are!
What is weighing you down right now? What burdens are you bent under and stumbling? Admit it, you can’t carry them. God is waiting right now with strong arms to take them from you. Right now, take your spindly spiritual arms, lug them to the foot of the cross and literally throw them at Him. He’ll not only catch them, He’ll keep them.
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

Published in the Oklahoma Baptist Newspaper, October 2012