Friday, September 12, 2014

3 Things I'm Ready For



Today I'm linking up with the #fiveminutefriday community again. No editing, no worrying that everything's not perfect, just writing. Here we go...

There are lots of things I'm probably not ready for, but there are three things that I am:

I'm ready for the busyness of summer to be finished. Summer is always a busy time in my life. I enjoy it while it's here but when September arrives, I'm ready for the pace to slow. And this year is no different. 

I'm ready for fall and all the changes that come with it! The cool temperatures, the bonfire and smores, the changing colors of the leaves. I'm ready to open my windows and let the breeze bring in the scent of autumn. 

I'm ready for my favorite fall tv shows to return! Scandal and Grey's Anatomy, the Biggest Loser, The Walking Dead, and Revenge. I'm ready for new shows that will quickly become my favorites, I'm sure, like How to Get Away with Murder. 

What are you ready for?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hot Dogs, Wedding Feasts, and Jesus




A couple of months ago I spent 4 days in Chicago with a small missions team from my church. We partnered with a local organization called Youth With a Mission who's been serving the city for 20+ years. In fact, it was this same organization that I had spent two years serving full-time in my mid-twenties.

Since our team was so small, we joined up with another team in the city to do a couple of outreach projects. We walked around Daley Plaza during the lunch hour one day asking folks if we can pray with them. We explored Little India/Pakinstan engrossing ourselves in the culture, engaging in conversation, and eventually praying with those who accepted our offer. We passed out Jesus films and ice cold bottles of water on a warm night. We engaged with the homeless of the city, both on the streets and in a soup kitchen. We fed the hungry, prayed with the sick, and met some practical needs of those living on the streets. Anyone we could show crazy love to, we did.

Our last morning in the city, we packed up all our stuff and shoved it back into the SUV that had brought us. We ate breakfast and cleaned up the room we had stayed in, making sure to leave it spotless as it had been upon arrival. We left notes for the YWAM staff we'd grown to love in just those few short days. Then we headed to the basement to pack up all the basic essentials for our last outreach of the trip: hot dogs.

Hot dogs? Yes. You heard that right. Hot dogs. A couple hundred of them, in fact.

One wouldn't think that hot dogs could have an impact in people's lives.

The truth is, it probably wasn't the hot dog that had the impact. The impact came from the personal invitation to join us for a meal.

There's a story in the Gospels about a man who invited all these important people to his son's wedding. Presumably, these people were people he was closely associated with, probably some were even his friends. Yet the day of the wedding, these people didn't show up at the wedding. They all had excuses as to why they couldn't attend. So the man told his servants to go out into the streets and invite the poor, the lame, the crippled, and the blind.

The story seems a little far-fetched especially considering this is a wedding feast for the man's son we're talking about here. On the other hand, the closest friends and associates in this man's life turned their backs on him on a very important day in his family's life. To heck with them, right? They don't deserve to be there! They didn't honor the man or appreciate his invitation. So he extends his invitation to those whom he knows will do both. 

After we got the grilling station all set up and the buns, condiments, and chips set up on the serving table, we took an hour walking up and down the beach inviting complete strangers to share a meal with us. Tons of people looked at us like we were crazy. Many said "no." Others thanked us for the invite and said they'd think about it. A few even engaged us in brief conversation to find out who we were and why we were inviting them to eat hot dogs. 

Truth be told, I have no idea exactly how many people at lunch with is that Saturday afternoon. What I do know is a TON of people were invited and a TON came to get hot dogs. ��

Out of all those people who were invited, I specifically remember one lady who stopped to chat after I invited her to grab a hot dog. She asked about who we were and why we were giving away hot dogs and chips, what church we were with, etc. Then she asked some deeper, harder questions.. The ones about politics and religion and gender and marriage equality. The ones that can make or break a conversation when talking about the church and Jesus. She wasn't looking to start a debate. She had genuine questions. And I loved answering them even though I didn't have all the answers. It was a real, honest conversation where both of us walked away different. Because that's what crazy love does... It changes you. 

How has crazy love changed you? Who are you inviting to experience crazy love?



The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen by Tosca Lee: A Book Review + Author Interview


The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen
336 Pages
Howard Books

Her name is legend. Her story, the epic of nations. The Queen of Sheba. A powerful new novel of love, power, and the questions at the heart of existence by the author of the award-winning “brilliant” (Library Journal) and “masterful” (Publishers Weekly) Iscariot.

There is the story you know: A foreign queen, journeying north with a caravan of riches to pay tribute to a king favored by the One God. The tale of a queen conquered by a king and god both before returning to her own land laden with gifts.

That is the tale you were meant to believe.

Which means most of it is a lie.

The truth is far more than even the storytellers could conjure. The riches more priceless. The secrets more corrosive. The love and betrayal more passionate and devastating.

Across the Red Sea, the pillars of the great oval temple once bore my name: Bilqis, Daughter of the Moon. Here, to the west, the porticoes knew another: Makeda, Woman of Fire. To the Israelites, I was queen of the spice lands, which they called Sheba.


In the tenth century BC, the new Queen of Sheba has inherited her father’s throne and all its riches at great personal cost. Her realm stretches west across the Red Sea into land wealthy in gold, frankincense, and spices. But now new alliances to the North threaten the trade routes that are the lifeblood of her nation. Solomon, the brash new king of Israel famous for his wealth and wisdom, will not be denied the tribute of the world—or of Sheba’s queen. With tensions ready to erupt within her own borders and the future of her nation at stake, the one woman who can match wits with Solomon undertakes the journey of a lifetime in a daring bid to test and win the king. But neither ruler has anticipated the clash of agendas, gods, and passion that threatens to ignite—and ruin—them both. An explosive retelling of the legendary king and queen and the nations that shaped history.

* * * * *

The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen is my new favorite book by Tosca Lee! Sheba is a beautifully woven tale of the mysterious Queen of Sheba and her encounter with the biblical King Solomon. Tosca Lee has re-created the ancient world with all its splendor, so much so that one could almost smell the frankincense and myrrh, feel the exotic royal fabrics, and taste the gritty dessert sand along the trade routes. And if the magnificence of the ancient world doesn't pull you in, the account of Sheba's life certainly will.

What I love most about the narrative of Sheba is the depth and humanity of the Queen. She is not another royal no one can relate to, but a woman of character and strength. She is a lover of words and wisdom. She leads her people as one who has overcome her fair share (or more) of suffering.

Truly, there is nothing I disliked about Sheba except for when I read the last word of the last page because I didn't want the story to end!

If you're looking for a hot-off-the-press, brilliantly told story of love and loss, faith and hope, mystery and charm, I recommend The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen.

* * * * *



“One of the most gifted novelists writing today.”
—Steven James, best-selling author.
Tosca Lee is the award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of Iscariot; Demon: A Memoir; Havah: The Story of Eve, and the Books of Mortals series with New York Times best-seller Ted Dekker (Forbidden, Mortal and Sovereign). Her highly anticipated seventh novel, The Legend of Sheba, releases September 9, 2014.
Tosca received her B.A. in English and International Relations from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts with studies at Oxford University. She is a lifelong world adventure traveler and makes her home in the Midwest. To learn more about Tosca, visit www.toscalee.com.

On The Legend of Sheba:

  • You are known for your meticulous research. How did researching Legend of Sheba differ from your other books?
After a year and a half of hard research for Iscariot, I thought research for Sheba would be much easier. Not so! It is much harder to fill in the historical record of 1000 years earlier than the time of Christ due to the dearth of archaeological progress in history-rich and troubled Yemen, natural phenomena such as the encroaching sands of the desert, and a lack of historical records recording any queen in the Southern Arabian region.

  • What do we actually know about the Queen of Sheba?
We know something about the Sabaean (the Israelite Sheba = ancient Arabian Saba) people: that they had a capital in Marib, a sovereign “federator” who united the kingdoms of Saba, an elegant and evolving script, a sophisticated dam near the capital that turned Marib’s dusty fields into oases, and that there is great evidence of Sabaean settlement in the area of Ethiopia near what would become Aksum. We know the Sabaeans of the 10th Century BC worshipped the moon god, Almaqah, though experts do not agree whether this was a male or female deity. We know that in terms of the ancient world, they were quite rich due in large part to their cultivation of frankincense in the southeastern region, and that they had an extensive and evolving trade network that extended as far north as Damascus, as far east as India, and as far west across the Red Sea as Ethiopia and the continent beyond.

  • What do we actually know about King Solomon—I understand that the academic opinion varies quite a lot from the biblical account.
Again, we know more about the region, people, language, culture and ethnic history of the Israelites than anything, archaeologically-speaking, of the king himself. It would be such a help if something were unearthed from the City of David or the Temple Mount that could be linked to Solomon’s temple or directly to Solomon himself! There was an item—a small ivory pomegranate that was once thought to top the scepter of a priest of this time period, with an inscription indicating so… but this was later ruled to be a forgery, though the carved pomegranate did date to the correct (early to mid-900s BC) time period. I say more about this question in the Author’s Notes of Legend of Sheba.

  • The queen is a very minor character in the scope of the biblical narrative, but you assert that her famous visit to King Solomon is vitally important in the scope of Old Testament history. Why?
For two reasons. If the story of the United Monarchy (the kingdom of David and his son/successor, Solomon) is not true, then the bedrock of three major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) collapses into fiction, and the claim of Jews to the land of Israel with it. Perhaps the authors of 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles knew that, because they took the opportunity to basically say, “Hey, this queen from the ends of the earth, that famous Queen of Sheba, came and brought tribute to our king, and blessed him and our god and said ‘All that I heard was true, and I never even heard the half of it!’” This is fascinating. It begs the question: what was it that was so great about this female sovereign—in a time when the world was ruled by men—and a pagan, no less… what was it about her that was so outstanding that her endorsement of Solomon, his riches, wisdom, and god, held so much weight as to be included in the Old Testament narrative? Who was this woman who matched wits with the wisest man in the world—whose throne was so secure that she could leave it and make the 1400 mile journey of half a year to visit this king… before making the long trek back? Well, this must be a woman worth knowing something about.

  • I understand you created a special bonus for your readers with Legend of Sheba. Can you tell us more about that?

Ismeni—a free eBook short story prequel to The Legend of Sheba—will be available August 26. This is the story of Sheba’s mother, and sheds some light on the man who would become the queen of Sheba’s right-hand councilor. It’s about 34 pages long, and also includes a preview of the Prologue and first chapter of The Legend of Sheba.


Links to Download FREE:

Amazon: http://bit.ly/IsmeniPrelude
Simon & Schuster: http://bit.ly/LegendofShebaPrequel

Friday, September 5, 2014

Love Speaks Softly



Today I'm linking up with the #fiveminutefriday community for the first time in FOREVER. I just felt the need to write for a few minutes. To get something out. But as you can see, it wasn't just something I needed to get out...someone was speaking straight to my heart. 

-----

I love you. 

His words come to me in a whisper. Not the loud, booming voice that I want to hear. The one that parts the clouds, calming the storm. 

Love speaks softly. 

His whispered words breathes calmly into my soul. Taking me back to the early days when I was giddy as a school girl with excitement. Longing to spend time with Him. Clinging to His words of truth with abandon. Seeking Him in the early morning and late into the night. 

Daughter, I love you. 

I hear him calling me softly. 

Come to me. Spend time with me in this moment. Let go of everything else and just be. I am here. 

Waiting. 

Loving. 

-----

These words aren't just for me. Maybe you who are reading this simple blog post needs to know how much you're truly loved. Maybe you think all hope is lost and you're not wanted anymore. Perhaps you feel abandoned. The truth is, He calls you daughter. He is waiting, patiently, with arms opened and ready for you to come to Him. He is so excited to spend time with you, enjoying your presence, and loving you!!

Love speaks softly, in a hushed lovers whisper. Take time today to sit in stillness. Quiet everything around you and listen for His still small voice. 

Do you hear Him?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

37 Birthday Wishes


One month from yesterday is my 37th birthday. Birthday's aren't a big deal to me, most of the time, but this morning I had an idea. Thanks to an email from Crowdrise, one of the best social media crowd-sourcing fundraising sites around, I was reminded about my upcoming birthday. The email suggested I do something different, something not for me, but for someone else. Raise funds for an organization that I'm passionate about or, in my case, people. Little people to be exact. Children. Children who are being raised in poverty all around the world. Children, who with just a little bit of financial help, can rise above the poverty they're being raised in and find hope. Hope through feeding programs. Education. Medical attention. Most importantly, hope in Jesus.

So for my 37th birthday, my wish is to see 37 children sponsored through Compassion International! Sponsoring a child through Compassion is simple and costs only $38 a month. That $38 helps feed and educate a child living in poverty. It helps bring medical services to them as well. Best of all, it brings the hope of Jesus to a child who otherwise might never hear the gospel.

A couple of years ago I began sponsoring a little girl from India named Mounika. She is super-sweet and smart. It's such a joy to write her letters each month and to receive letters back from her. Though we're thousands of miles a part, I know that she (along with her family) are being taken care of by the staff of Compassion. They're being prayed for, encouraged, and supported in their journey through life. 

You, too, can sponsor a child through Compassion. All you have to do is CLICK HERE to visit my Compassion website and click on the "sponsor me" button. Or, you can go to Compassion's website and view children that are waiting to be sponsored there.

Some of you may already sponsor a child through Compassion or another child-sponsor program. That's OK. If you want, maybe you can consider sponsoring another child. Or help spread the word about my 37 birthday wishes and invite your friends to sponsor a child!

Whatever you do, don't do nothing. Help make my wishes come true!!! Because, really, it's not about me... it's about 37 kids out there that need hope!!!

If you plan on helping make my wishes come true, leave a comment. Thanks!! :)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Penny Wise: A Book Review

About the book: Penny Wise introduces us to yet another family in "the neighborhood"---the Jaspers, busy with demanding jobs, busy with church, busy volunteering, parents of three active teenagers, juggling sometimes crazy schedules. All good things. Until all those "good things" feed into a series of crises that affects the whole family. Something's gotta change!

The third in the Windy City Neighbors series, Penny Wise is a contemporary peek at an urban family wrestling with the spiritual and practical challenges of real life. The series employs the innovating storytelling technique of "parallel novels," each with its own drama and story arc, but whose characters' lives become intertwined with their neighbors and affect one another. Welcome to Beecham Street---a typical, isolated American neighborhood that is beginning to come out of its shell . . . for better or worse.

Purchase a copy: http://ow.ly/yLCKz 

About the authors: Dave and Neta Jackson are award-winning authors living in the Chicago area where their parallel novels from the Yada Yada House of Hope and Harry Bentley series are set. As a husband/wife writing team, Dave and Neta Jackson are enthusiastic about books, kids, walking with God, gospel music, and each other! Together they are the authors or coauthors of over 100 books.

Find Neta and Dave online: website

Blog Tour: Check out what other bloggers are saying about Penny Wisehttp://litfusegroup.com/campaigns/penny-wise-dave-neta-jackson

My Review:

Penny Wise is like peeking into my own life at the moment! This summer I am super busy, going from here to there, with barely any time for myself in the meantime. They're all good things. Work, outreach stuff, church, small group. But sometimes I feel like I'm in over my head and barely have time for myself, not to mention, my husband.

If I'm being honest, even writing this review is being done in haste as I'm in the middle of making dinner. And, to top it off, I haven't even finished the book because of my jam-packed schedule!

Here's what I know of Penny Wise... it's well-written with an insightful look into the life of super-busy Michelle Jasper, her family, and the neighborhood of Beecham Street! It considers the demands of living, working, and loving Jesus in an urban world. Penny Wise goes beyond the surface and challenges the reader to recognize what's important in life and go deeper in their relationship with Jesus. 

**Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Penny Wise in exchange for my honest review.**

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Welcome to God's Living Room

Our #CrazyLoveChicago team met at my house early on a Wednesday morning. We piled our suitcases, blankets, and pillows into the back of Jeannie's SUV then buckled ourselves in and drove off towards Chicago. The six-hour drive was peppered with excited conversation, flowing from personal questions to anecdotal stories to wondering what the next few days would look like. Even I, the veteran missionary who lived and served with YWAM Chicago for 2 years, didn't quite know what our team was to expect during our short 4 day trip. But I answered the questions as best I could, telling stories of my own time there years ago.
Windmills in Layfatte, Indiana

As we drew closer to Chicago, I wondered for the thousandth time what God was going to do in and through our team. I knew our schedule was going to be jam-packed, filled with one ministry opportunity after the other. I had a sense of what we were going to experience, the people we were going to meet, the excitement of doing new things and stepping out of our comfort zones. But I didn't know exactly what was going to happen!

This is actually a view of the city as we're leaving

As we drove into the city, my heart was overwhelmed. The day had finally come. This day that I'd prayed for, longed for, and planned for 10 long years. 

When I left Chicago 10 years ago, I knew God wanted me to come home to Ohio. To work with the local church and get people excited about missions, both within the local community and overseas. Not to mention cities. (I believe God has an amazing plan for cities, but that's for another post!) I also knew that He wanted me to return to Chicago, bringing with me teams of people who had a heart for showing crazy love. 

It may seem silly, but for me, this #CrazyLoveChicago team was a dream come true. An answer to prayer.

The YWAM Chicago staff knows how to show hospitality!
We arrived at YWAM Chicago just in time for dinner followed by an orientation led by Jesse and some of the other staff. Jesse shared a powerful message on the parable of the sower that personally struck a chord and set the tone for the entire outreach. 

The next morning, our small team joined another team that was in the city and we all set out for our first ministry opportunity: prayer at Daly Plaza. Daly Plaza is home to a courthouse and numerous business offices. In the summer, the plaza hosts a farmers market along with daily entertainment during the lunch hour. We meandered around the farmers market for a bit, gazing at the Amish cheeses and the fresh produce. We talked about how we were going to approach people and how weird it was going to be. Armed with only a business card and what little bit of courage we could muster up, we split into teams and set out to pray for people.

Approaching anyone and asking them if they'd like prayer is intimidating in and of itself. Especially if you're an introvert and asking anyone for anything is out of your comfort zone. But try doing that in a bustling city plaza during lunch hour and it's so much worse. Yet this time, I felt no fear. I was out of my comfort zone, sure, but it was oddly easy for me. Maybe my past 2 years of experience was what made it easier. Or perhaps it was the realization that I would likely never see these people again. I don't know. What I do know is this: God had gone before us and prepared the hearts of those He wanted us to pray for that day.


Our first divine appointment!

Overall, our team ended up praying for over 100 people during the one-hour lunch break at Daly Plaza! Even though it was weird and awkward and we struggled to connect with people at times, God put people in our paths that day that needed prayer. Myself and Tabby prayed with several people from various walks of life. We prayed for a police officer, a street musician, a homeless man, a couple going through financial troubles, a grandmother, and a retired long-distance cyclist. Folks with real needs, physical and spiritual. 

Picture for a moment a king sitting on his throne, robed in fine linens and adorned in precious jewels. Those who seek to enter the throne room cannot do so without an invitation. Even then, they must bow low to the ground to show respect and honor, indicating that they are lower than the king. Now imagine being a child of the king. The child needs no invitation to see the king, his father. Instead of bowing low, he runs with wild abandon to the throne, jumping in his father's lap!

The Bible says that as children of God, we can boldly approach His throne. (Hebrews 4:16) Because of Jesus, we can come to Him with confidence. When we pray, we are simply talking to God, our Father. We are approaching Him with confidence and talking to Him about our day, thanking Him for the gifts He's given, asking Him to meet our needs and those of our family and friends. It's like we're sitting in His living room having a conversation. 

Here's the cool thing -- when we prayed with someone, it was like we welcomed them into God's living room!

For some of the people we prayed for, it was their first encounter with God. Maybe it was the second, third, fourth, or hundredth. Wherever they are on the God-spectrum, He knows. But on that day, as we prayed, He welcomed them into His living room. Whether they were far from Him or one of His close friends, in that moment, He was there.

Praying in a busy plaza may not be the everyday norm for most people. I know it's not for me. Yet I was reminded that God wants to meet with us. He welcomes all of us into His living room. To make ourselves comfortable. And to invite friends.

Maybe asking people if they need prayer isn't your thing. That's OK. But be open to it. Allow God to nudge you to pray for a co-worker or friend or stranger in the line at Walmart. You never know, they might just allow you to pray with them, thus ushering them into God's living room.