GATHERING SHADOWS (Finding Sanctuary, Book 1) by Nancy Mehl ~ a review

Gathering Shadows

Romantic Suspense, Old Order Mennonite, Mystery

I received GATHERING SHADOWS in 2014 from the publisher (the other two novels in the series followed). That was the year my husband began getting sick and these stories along with a great many other WONDERFUL works I hoped to read went on a shelf that became my To Be Read (TBR) list. I’ve finally gotten to this novel and I’m so glad I did.

Sanctuary is picturesque and inviting, but it’s a sleepy little Mennonite town chock full of secrets. Nearly every resident is hiding something, it seems.

St. Louis TV news reporter Wynter Evans hopes to propel herself into the anchor’s seat at her station with a human interest story on unusual Missouri towns. However, her station manager has told her to stay away from Sanctuary.

Those plans change when she is handed a photo of an Old Order Mennonite family living in Sanctuary whose teenage son closely resembles what Wynter’s brother, who had been kidnapped as a child, could look like now. Wynter is also hiding something…her real name.

What I like so much about Nancy Mehl’s writing is that she makes difficult, painful, even horrific incidents come alive on the written page that do happen to actual living people. This is true of Wynter/Emily Evans when she deals with a painful past that has come crashing into her present life and confronts implied threats that are confusing and don’t add up to any real leads in the case. I felt her frustration, disappointment, fear, and anguish.

This is a page turner. When I finished it, I immediately picked up the next one in the series, DEADLY ECHOES.

Purchase GATHERING SHADOWS on Amazon

Magnolia Storms (A Coastal Hearts Novel) by Janet W. Ferguson ~ a review

Magnolia Storms

Romance, Christian Fiction

With Hurricane Dorian bearing down on the Bahamas as a Cat 5 this Labor Day weekend, I decided to finish reading this emotional novel of devastation, hope, and love.

The author skillfully achieves a sense of foreboding from the very beginning. Hero and Gulf Coast river bar pilot Josh Bergeron attempts to board a cargo ship in rough water and his foot slips off of the rung of the metal ladder. I am mostly a detective story reader and/or action-adventure. The most exciting parts of this novel for me were Josh’s scenes out on tumultuous seas.

Later in the story, we learn that heroine Maggie Marovich’s father, also a bar pilot and Josh’s mentor was swept away and lost during Hurricane Katrina. She left the Gulf Coast, never to return, but now her sister Cammie’s horrid accident and hospitalization forces Maggie back to their childhood home as another hurricane looms.

As a Christian reader, I appreciated the Bible verse that kept repeating: “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in Him.” Job 13:15

All of the characters were highly likeable and well developed in this emotional romance story. I’m not a romance reader and didn’t absolutely and totally fall into their lives. My favorite character was Aunt Ruth. I do recommend this novel to romance readers who enjoy a realistic, exciting clean read.

Purchase Magnolia Storms on Amazon

Don’t Allow A Negative Self Image ~ to cloud your golden years

elderly couple beach

When I retired and moved to Florida, I didn’t want to sit around in the house and watch TV all day, and there were just so many times a week I could go out to lunch with my retiree friends. I quickly discovered that the most interesting seniors to be around were working…at least part-time. It wasn’t long before a church friend got me a job as a part-time caretaker for the elderly. It’s a rewarding job, in many ways. But it has a sad side. I soon became friendly with other caretakers and as we talked, I realized how common it is for seniors to have made detailed financial preparation for their latter years, but they hadn’t made emotional, mental, or spiritual preparation. Many had a very derogatory and debilitating view of themselves.

As a believer, I indeed do believe the Bible verse:

For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. ~ Jeremiah 29:11, New American Standard Bible [NASB]

I do not believe that verse became null-and-void when I retired. Just because I entered my “senior years” doesn’t mean God stopped having plans for me. I tend not to refer to myself as a “senior.” No, I’m a “seasoned citizen.” I have a wealth of experience under my belt, useful experience that God can put to work.

elderly man NikkonHow seniors think of themselves is very important. We look in the mirror and it doesn’t lie to us. We’re getting older. However, the truth is, age has it’s own beauty. Seniors have to renew their minds to that reality.

How do we renew your minds? The answer is with words. We must not allow ourselves to say any more derogatory words about ourselves and the aging process. “I guess I’m just getting dimmer and dimmer.” “I must be just about useless now.” No! Don’t speak those negative words over yourself! God sees seniors as shining lights, repositories of wisdom.

Say positive words. “I might be slowing down a bit, but I have a lot to offer and there are still things I want to experience, and I will experience those things.” Pick something that you can do that brings joy and do it. Visit your grandchildren. Adopt a rescue pet. Go to lunch with a friend. Phone somebody and pray with them, pray for them.

We seasoned citizens have to take control of any demeaning and self-condemning thoughts that reoccur and linger in our minds. If these negative thoughts seem to go round-and-round on a kind-of loop, we have to banish them. The way to banish those ingrained negative thoughts is to say positive statements aloud. “I’m getting better and better every day,” is an often used phrase. Seniors can turn that into “I’m getting wiser and wiser every day.” Or, “more compassionate every day.” Say the words out loud. Speech cuts through thoughts.

As a believer, I try to say what God has said about me and how I can live my life. I find what God has said about me in the Bible. I try not to first and foremost see myself as getting older, but as His wonderful creation.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. ~ Ephesians 2:10 New American Standard Bible [NASB]

I’ve often heard it said that “do not fear” and/or “do not be afraid” is said more times in the Bible than anything else.

Remember that I have commanded you to be determined and confident! Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I, the Lord your God, am with you wherever you go.” ~ Joshua 1:9 Good News Translation [GNT]

elderly woman museum

One of the best tactics for getting rid of persistent negative thoughts is to intentionally surround ourselves with what is good, pleasing, and lovely. Fill a notebook with beautiful and pleasing pictures from magazines. Hang a painting that delights and gratifies. If you can’t afford to purchase a painting, get one at a thrift store. Thrifting all on its own is fun. Visit a museum. Read an uplifting book. Watch an old comedy movie that will make you laugh…for laughter is good medicine. Be proactive. Chase the blues away. Tell that old-lady/old/man withered up negative self-image to get going…

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ~ Philippians 4:8, English Standard Version [ESV]


 

 

Come Out of the Shadows ~ the shadow of death

Woman Free, Field

He’s gone, or she’s gone. Sometimes the difficult memories with some guilt attached come easier than memories of the happy times. That’s because the loss of a spouse is so great, sometimes the remembrance of the happy times is too painful. Sounds strange, but it’s true. Widow and widowers know what I’m talking about.

He or she will never laugh again. Or, I fell in love with him or her the first time she or he smiled just that certain way and I’ll never see that again. Strange as it is, the self-condemning memories almost feel better, less painful. ~~ It might not be self-condemnation. It might be that the loss is so deep, the pain actually feels good. These feelings are normal, but should only last for a season. The time must come when you allow gentle joy to come at the memory of your spouse…that your memories are couched in sweetness.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. ~ Romans 8:1 [New American Standard Bible, NASB]

But what if the marriage had problems? What if it wasn’t ideal? Yet you still miss him or her, still love your spouse? That’s also normal, natural, not unusual, not stupid. What if because the marriage had problems, now that he or she is gone, you, the surviving spouse have guilt. You tell yourself, “I could’ve been nicer to him or her. Could have been more present in the marriage, more understanding.” Maybe so, but it still stands this is only a season during the mourning process. The Lord wants his children free of condemnation. Confess what you have to confess. Forgive your spouse. Forgive yourself, and come out into the light. Forgiveness is intentional. You may have to forgive your spouse and/or yourself over and over as you walk through this journey back into the light. And that’s okay.

In the light of Christ, work on relationships with people who are in your daily life now. What can you do to make the relationships you are in become more joyful, healthier? Can you let the little things go? At home, at church, at work…what are the small things that annoy you? Make a short, easily manageable list if you have to. Don’t make a list so long it will overwhelm you and make you further heap coals on yourself.

What’s really inconsequential in the long run? Pray over the list and intentionally let those things go. Let yourself see your own freedom in letting the angst go you’ve felt due to the little things on that list.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. ~ Psalm 23:4 [King James Version, KJV]

Pre-Easter Cleaning ~ an Olde World tradition

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I’m a traditional kinda gal. Not that I follow a lot of proscribed traditions laid down by others. Although I do have some of those. Mostly, I’ve made up my own traditions. However, deep cleaning a house before Easter is an ancient, Olde World Christian tradition, going back to the 1st century Church. In fact, it goes back before that to the Old Testament and Passover cleaning rites and traditions.

Maybe it’s simply because as the days get longer and brighter, I notice the dust and cat hair in the corners. Oh, yeah…I have five cats. Used to be an animal rescuer in Brooklyn, but that’s a story for another time. Needless to say, the light of spring revealed dreaded CAT HAIR.

15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; ~ Exodus 12:15 [New American Standard Bible, NASB]

When Jewish women remove the leaven from their kitchens they also scrub and clean the kitchen thoroughly that not a single drop remains. Biblically, leaven symbolizes sin. For many Christians, this type of deep cleaning symbolizes the cleansing of the heart, mind, and soul.

In medieval Christian homes made of wood or stone, pre-Easter cleaning meant the doors were thrown open, the rushes that covered the floors were swept out and the walls and floors were scrubbed with lye-soap. Very little cleaning had been done all winter due to cold weather. This winter no-deep-cleaning rule was especially true in northern climates.

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I’ve never adhered to that olden-time winter no-deep-cleaning rule, not even when I lived up north. Then again, every house I knew of had heat and access to all manner of cleaning materials. So, each year, I’d do a thorough cleaning right before Thanksgiving to get ready for that day of thanks and also as preparation for Christmas. I put my Christmas decorations up the day after Thanksgiving. There’s no Black Friday for me (I really dislike that term, anyway). So, in my mind, the house must be really clean with Christmas decorations going up.  There is no scripture for that. But, since I’m a contemporary traditionalist I do make up my own traditions. There certainly is no scripture against that.

Proverbs 31: 27 ~ She carefully watches everything in her household
    and suffers nothing from laziness. [New Living Translation, NLT]

Spring cleaning is also a good time to get rid of some useless clutter. The Lord has been after me for a while to rid my house of objects with negative soul ties…that hostess gift I’ve kept out of respect given by a relative who didn’t care for my husband, that Christmas present given by an “old friend” who didn’t understand and frowned on my Christian faith and friends…OUT with those things! I’ve been saved for twenty-four years. So that tells you how long I’ve kept some of these things (pray for me). But “soul ties” is a subject for another blog article I hope I will one day get to write.

I’m not one of those who follows the steps proscribed in a cleaning blog or podcast, and certainly not if it comes from a strange religion or tradition. I use the word “strange” biblically. I don’t make a list of things I have to clean or de-clutter. I know what I have to do, I’ve been cleaning for many years. Got it down to a science by now.

Quoting from Second Fantasions: “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go.”

Outdoor Work ~ a small slice of intentional living

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Workers removed the old damaged siding.

Workers have taken the water damaged siding off of a portion of the outside of my condo unit. This is Florida, you get water damage. I’m pleased with the attention my Home Owners Association (HOA) pays to detail.

I feel the Holy Spirit guided me to chose this particular condo. My move here was very intentional. I took my time looking before purchasing.

Prepare your work outside
And make it ready for yourself in the field;
Afterwards, then, build your house. ~ Proverbs 24: 27 New American Standard Bible [NASB]

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flowering bushes in front of and on the sides of my unit

 

The Lord doesn’t “speak” to me in earth shattering ways. I don’t have visitations and visions. I find the Lord’s voice in the peace I have inside with a particular situation. Of course I do have to pray about it and ask the Lord what His will is. Then after that, I seek inner peace about it.

 

The wise woman builds her house,
But the foolish tears it down with her own hands. ~ Proverbs 14: 1; New American Standard Bible [NASB]

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a bloom of the type behind my unit

To me, yes, this Scripture is talking about the physical house, housekeeping. A wise woman knows how to keep her house. So many young women don’t know a thing about housekeeping today and that’s a shame. Housekeeping isn’t only about dusting the furniture and floors, though it starts with that. It’s about keeping the house, holding onto it…not being foreclosed. It’s an intentional way of living.

At one time, I lived a much more haphazard lifestyle. And let me tell you, there are many more ‘hazards’ in a haphazard life than in an intentional one. At some point, metaphorical skinned knees lost a lot of their appeal to me.

Yes, bad things can happen to good people, to planners, to intentional livers. What I wanted to do was cut down on the self-inflicted wounds.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. ~ James 1:5; New American Standard Bible [NASB]

I would say, this next verse is most closely the way I hear from God…that is as long as I’m also hearing the Word of God (Bible) and praying. For me, it only works in that order.

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. ~ Isaiah 30:21; English Standard Version [ESV]

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Elephant Ear behind my unit

 

 

 

The Benefit of Marriage ~ sustainable prosperity

wedding ringsStatistics tell us divorce is financial devastating for the wife and children. So, the solution must be: let’s just live together. Just live together. Just. Doesn’t that imply something lesser?

Well, just living together , most times, is even worse for the woman and the children when there’s a permanent breakup. So, many single mothers, without benefit of marriage, are on public assistance and food stamps.

Without benefit of marriage. That’s an old sentiment. We don’t think of marriage that way any more. Maybe we should. The benefits of marriage. How about looking at marriage as the beginning of a family legacy, the beginning of joy and lasting prosperity (something two people intentionally build together). It’s not robbing or cheating your spouse of your time, your energy, but most importantly not reneging on your shared dream(s).

Intentional, sustainable prosperity in marriage is so much more than money in a bank account or a portfolio of stocks and bonds. It’s building a dream together. It’s financial security, emotionally healthy relationships within the family, the family home as a safe place to be…all this over a lifetime. It’s getting to the end and looking back with satisfaction, with happiness, with wonderful memories.

That would be a whole knew way of visualizing marriage for so many today. If couples went into marriage that way, that would be revolutionary in a very good way. It would also mean picking your spouse wisely. The wrong somebody is not a good choice.

13-15 And here’s a second offense: You fill the place of worship with your whining and sniveling because you don’t get what you want from God. Do you know why? Simple. Because God was there as a witness when you spoke your marriage vows to your young bride, and now you’ve broken those vows, broken the faith-bond with your vowed companion, your covenant wife. God, not you, made marriage. His Spirit inhabits even the smallest details of marriage. And what does he want from marriage? Children of God, that’s what. So guard the spirit of marriage within you. Don’t cheat on your spouse. ~ Malachi 2:13-15 The Message Bible (MSG)