Friday, August 22, 2014

Time to Throw Out the Red Pen!

After days of researching information from the local library, I have put my finishing touches on my essay and it was ready to hand in. I always prided myself on my ability to write and write well. With this latest assignment from my English teacher, I had to dig deeper than a simple narrative from one of my favorite memories, or to step beyond the ability to debate the merits of some injustice in the world. I had to research information on the topic for my research paper. If you remember before the days of the internet and computers, this involved using encyclopedias, magazines, and books from the library. It was using a card catalog and manually going on a treasure hunt to find the elusive book you needed for your paper. Often times, that book was missing when you went to find it.

Probably checked out by someone else, or simply misplaced for the time being. So I had to go back and look up other books I might be able to use. There was a requirement to find at least three sources and list them on your cite works page and to make sure you didn't copy down things unless you were using them as a quote. Once the researching was complete, then you had to compile all that information into about 4 or 5 pages of what you wanted to say. I remember mine was on the Bermuda Triangle and the mystery surrounding it. I thought I had a real winner, even claiming I wanted to be one of those people that were "taken" in hopes of explaining what was really happening.

But turning in the paper was only adding more stress to what I was feeling. I had hoped for a decent grade and one that was not filled with the dreaded red pen. If you have been in a public school setting, you can probably remember those "red pen" papers. They were graded in red pen and often included hints or suggestions on how to correct your paper, from spelling and punctuation errors, to how to start a decent paragraph and included the one we still dread today, the perfect thesis statement.

I did get my paper back and was pleased by my grade, but it was still marred by those red pen corrections on it. Oh how I would have loved to get a paper back with nothing on it but a perfect A and nothing more. But then again wouldn't we all?

Life is filled with those daily papers we are required to submit. It might be running our kids to school, paying bills, heading to work in rush hour traffic, or even caring for someone who is sick and can't help themselves. Each of us every single day has an opportunity to see how we can manage through our day in hopes not necessarily for a perfect paper, but at least one with less red pen marks than we did before.

In a world where lately every where you look you can find "red pen" marks. Whether it is some crisis happening in a country far from ours, from school shootings, or what our current president is doing to help in any situation, why a celebrity who has virtually everything he could want, takes his own life without explanation; why people begin rioting and arguing in cities of what injustice they feel the police are handing out, and it seems like the more we plug in, the more "red pen" marks there are to see.

I believe we need to be the ones to make the world a better place by finding ways we can eliminate those red pen marks in life. We need to step outside our own doors and try to be better neighbors. We need to realize that there are people hurting all around us and all they are searching for is validation that they mean something to anyone. We need to find ways to make this day better by making better choices instead of looking how we can play the blame game alongside everyone else. Choose your side. Take a stand.

We need to unite more and divide less.

We need to realize that people count, not what they may do that may cause us to judge them without knowing all the facts. If you trust the media in any form, to provide that for you, You are sadlybeing led astray.  News sells and they know it. So they will make sure you see only what they want you to see. But every day people are writing different stories that the media never shares. Stories that would show us that the world we live in isn't so bad after all.

I think we need to change our perspectives, open our eyes and change our focus. Lets start focusing on the good instead of the bad, and I guarantee you, we WILL find it.

There are people all around the world looking to make a difference. One that breeds an environment of love and not hate. One that offers joy instead of despair. One that helps instead of hurts. If you truly look hard enough you can find it.

I challenge everyone who reads this to share ONE thing you did to throw out the red pen in the world. Leave a comment below so we can help change people's mind sets about what is happening around us. I know we won't make this world a peaceful place, but perhaps we can shift our minds on things above instead of the evil in the world today. If only for today.

Like Chuck Swindoll so eloquently shared in his devotional this morning, "But I've got a hunch that when the score is added up one day as we stand before our Lord, many of us will wish we'd played a lot more Risk . . . and a lot less Trivial Pursuit." What are you willing to "Risk" today?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Learning to rely on auto pilot!

I'm sure you have heard of auto pilot, the device on planes that allow pilots to walk away from the controls once the plane is steady and level. But I am thinking of another auto pilot. The one that happens but we never think about it.

Today I had to make a run for cat food. My cats aren't able to tolerate grain in their food, it makes them vomit pretty severely, so when they run out, it requires a trip to the pet store not something simple like Target or the grocery store. So I discovered late last night, we were out. The poor things would be letting me know in their obnoxious helpful ways that they were hungry.

So this morning I headed out to the first pet store hoping they would have what I needed. I found the first brand I needed and grabbed a couple of cans of their favorite food as well since it was on sale, but failed to find the exact brand I needed. Yes my cats are picky, creatures of habit and will turn up their nose at anything but what they love. A real pain if you ask me, but I am sucker for what they love.

So that meant that I would need to head a bit further out and go to another pet store about 20 minutes further, but I knew they carried that brand. So to kill some time, I do what my brother usually does and calls me when he is driving to check in and to pass time. Before I knew it I was pulling up at the store, grabbing a shopping cart and locating that brand of cat food. Sure enough, they had it and after paying for it, I resumed my call with my brother for the ride home.

When I got there and unloaded everything and finished my call, I realized, I got home, but don't really remember the drive. I know I stopped at all required red lights, stop signs and kept to the speed limit with using my bluetooth headset, (yes, I like being a safe driver while using my phone), but it dawned on me, I never really remember making all those required turns to make my way home.

Almost like I was on auto pilot.

How many times have you done that before whenever your driving home from some place you've been before and sat back and thought about it. Do you remember your drive home?

No, more than likely, because our brain takes over for us, because it remembers what we need to do without thinking about it!

You know there is going to be a spiritual note behind it all right?

Yes! Definitely, I got it when I was sitting down reading my latest novel, In Perfect Time by Sarah Sundin, who is a complete master at WWII romance stories. I kept running across the word auto pilot and God nudged me to share this message with you. I wasn't sure what to write so God sat me down and I began writing and low and behold you have what you are reading right now.

That the Holy Spirit is a lot like the auto pilot in our lives. As long as we are smooth and level, we go about our day in so many ways, never thinking about some of the choices we make, words we say or routines we go through because we are walking along the narrow road with God.

It's when we try and take back control and do things in our own manner, that we are headed for turbulence. We don't realize the consequences of what we say or do at times, and then are completely shocked by the results asking "where was God in the midst of that"

The answer is simple, we walked away to handle things on our own and in our own power instead of simply letting go and letting God take control of our lives. To go on auto pilot as it were. To help us make the right choices without thinking about it, to say the right things when they need to be said, to encourage someone through the low points of their life and most of all to be able to call up God's Word in a heart beat or to know right where to find it in the Bible.

God truly does know what He doing and the more we can stand beside Him and let Him lead, the easier our flight will be. I'd rather have God be my pilot than co-pilot any day of the week and the more time I spend with Him, the easier my day goes.

So the next time, you find yourself struggling through life, take a step back and ask yourself, just how far you have moved away from God?

Odds are, you know just the right way to get back on target, just don't wait too long before you do!

Proverbs 3:6 " In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight!"

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Restoring Factory Settings

I had the amazing opportunity last night to talk to my dad over the phone for quite awhile actually. We have restored our relationship after not speaking for almost 17 years. Looking back some might say we were both at fault for being at odds for so many years and all that time is lost and can never be regained. I would beg to differ.

I remember something Greg Laurie, pastor at Harvest Church in Riverside, was teaching on, about two differences in sin. A lesser sin and a greater sin. Huh?

Yes, you read that right. There are various forms of things we can do that are sinful, but there are two degrees of how severe they are, one lesser and the other greater.

Meaning you can lie as a believer and lie as an unbeliever. So which sin is greater?

Most would say they are the same, but they aren't.

The believer is held to a high standard because they know better. They are one of God's chosen so they know what they are doing is wrong, while an unbeliever is still undecided about his faith in God. So for us, we are held to a greater measuring stick.

Interesting right? So how does that apply to me and my father?

I found God and my salvation in Jesus Christ when I was 21. Between the those years and where I am now, there is an awful lot of space in between. I fell away but never lost my salvation in God. I was a lost prodigal trying to make my way in the world, trying to do things on my own, but never understanding my true need for God in my life. I can remember those ebbs and flows in my life where I would be completely on fire for God, and then fall away again. Much like the person who is on a walk, and instead of moving forward, falls and refuses to get back up. I didn't lose ground, I just didn't gain ground on those times. My salvation was secure I just wasn't growing in my faith, my relationship with God or my spiritual knowledge.

So when I refused to speak and restore the relationship with my dad, yes we were both at fault, but me, more so than my father. Being a Christian, I am held to a higher accountability than he was. I could make every single excuse in the book, but until I realized I was called to do the right thing and make amends, even if he flat out refused to accept my forgiveness and apology, I was still doing the right thing. (Thanks to Mikey Tribbie for making me realize what I needed to do as a believer!)

So when I called him that first time, on his birthday, he was shocked I'm sure. But I was forever grateful I called. See we don't know when our time here on earth is up, but I know one thing for sure, I want to make sure when I get to Heaven, I have the right answers for what I did with my life for Jesus.

For the last couple of decades, I've done some things for God's glory, but in my opinion, not enough. I need to be a living, breathing example of the power at work of God living in my life, so others can see and be transformed and want that same thing in their own lives.

One day, this world will end and God will restore it when He comes back to judge everyone. Until that time, we have two choices. If you are born once, you will die twice and if you are born twice, you will die once. The choice is yours.

What does this mean?

If you are born once, meaning your physical body being born when you are a baby, and when you die twice, you will physically die and you will face a spiritual death away from God and Heaven.

However, if you are born twice, mean physical body born when you are a baby and then a spiritual rebirth when you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior (the ONLY WAY to heaven by the way!), when you die it will only be your physical body, your spiritual one will live forever in Heaven and with God and the rest of the unbelievers. The choice is simple, the choice is yours and yours alone to make.

No one can do it for you. I hope you make the decision today to be born twice and to die once. I would love to spend an eternity with you as part of the heavenly family. Are you ready to make that commitment?

Here's all you need to do, but it has to be with a sincere heart, meaning you are handing your life, your messes over to God and you're tired of doing things your way. But the great news is that starting today, God will do a factory reset on your life (much like those factory resets on your computer,) and starting today, YOU will be a NEW creation and have an eternal destiny that doesn't involve fire, and torment forever and ever. Here's all you need to do! Pray this prayer!

Lord Jesus,

I know I'm a sinner, but I thank You for dying on the cross for my sins and rising again from the dead. I'm sorry for my sin, Lord, and I turn from it now, and I put my faith in You. To be my Savior, my Lord, my God and my Friend. Thank You, for loving me, and calling me, and accepting me, In Jesus Name, AMEN!!!

That's it? Well, yes and no! You are NOW a new creation and there are some things you need to do to help you on your spiritual walk to become stronger in your faith. Remember what I shared before about being on a walk? You are just beginning yours, you don't want to stop your forward progress, so I have 4 tips for you to make sure you don't fall down and stay down.

1. Begin praying to God. Talk to Him just like you would a friend. He's anxious to hear from you. In fact, He's been watching you this entire time and can't wait to hear your thoughts on everything happening in your life.

2. Read your Bible. If you don't have one, get one! (like Woody would say from Toy Story!) It helps you know more about Jesus, God and what has been happening since the beginning of creation right to the very end of the world. Not sure where to start, begin in the book of John.

3. Find a church! It's like a vitamin B-12 shot and helps keeps you motivated, learning and growing, plus you meet some great people there who are now, part of your new family. And it's growing every day.

4. Tell people. Tell others about your decision today to give your life to God. In fact, I'd love to hear from you so please email me at and I'd love to pray for you and encourage you in your new walk.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Why a Book Reviewer?

If you are not familiar with my blog, Reviews From The Heart, it's my own blogging site devoted to finding wholesome family and Christian based products in a market where deception can come in all shapes and sizes. Being a huge book lover since I was old enough to read, I literally inhaled books as soon as I could get my hands on them.

Remember I was raised in the generation where technology hadn't made its debut yet so imagination and physical activity was key for kids growing up. We didn't have 24 hour television or even cable at that point and I still vaguely remember going to sleep when you'd get that colored bar when the programming on the stations had run their course before the song of America the Beautiful would play before signing off for the night.  So for me books were my way out of the world and a chance to see things and be someone I could only dream about at this point.

My beloved favorites were just about anything dealing with horse and dogs and soon those interests too would change as the years passed. I couldn't wait for the book mobile to show up in our local neighborhood because to me it meant more books I could check out as long as I could carry them home. The book mobile was a paneled van that pulled up filled with books from the library for kids who couldn't get out to the main branch. Still wish they operated something like this especially for those who find getting to the local library a bit of a challenge.

Fast forward to today, where for the last 5 years I've become a book reviewer. What is required? Nothing more than love of books, a commitment to follow through on what you read, and a place to share your opinions on the books, thus the creation of Reviews From The Heart that began back in 2009 even though the blog posts begin in 2010, I started my reviews on my personal blog Heart 2 Heart, but was later asked and voted that the book reviews be listed on another blog for those who weren't interested in books and product reviews. Along the way I've read some keepers and the need for my husband to build at least two bookcases a year to house them in. If you haven't notice the local brick and mortar stores are closing and for most the only way to get their hands on a book is through the Internet or library.

I don't have an English degree from college just a desire to share what I find with those who are interested in what I have to say and love books as much as I do. I remember reading something on a publisher's website about blogging for books, a simply notion that the publisher would send you a complimentary copy of the book, you promise to read it and share your opinions. That's it. That is all they requested. It started out with one publisher and one book at a time. But for me, the books were so good, I could finish them in a day, and had to wait about 14 days to get another one.

I felt like an addict with a need for written words. So I began to research more publishers who were publishing books based on genres I love and were also Christian based companies like WaterBrook Multnomah, Tyndale House and Thomas Nelson. Soon other companies saw the value in the program and those major publishing houses like Hachette Book Groups, Simon and Schuster and Harper Collins Publishers were also publishing Christian and family titles under their own Christian divisions. Add to that mix, Book Tour companies like Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, TLC Book Tours and Litfuse and you begin to gain an awful lot of great novels from some talented authors.

I found the more you reviewed and subsequently shared those reviews on sites like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Shelfari, and Goodreads, the more the publishers and even private authors would reach out and solicit you for reviews. At first I only reviewed Christian books in my favorite genre's like horror, suspense and fantasy and soon realized I was probably missing out on some amazing novels out there, so I began to review everything and anything in the Christan publishing world from Amish Romance, to Christian living and spiritual growth and found out something about myself that I really loved to read just about anything.

So why Christian based books? 

Because for the most part they keep the storylines based on a God-centered life. You don't find profanity or sexual content or even violence in most of them, and if there is violence it is down played without all the graphic details. I don't think books need to contain them to get the message across. I think our imaginations are vivid enough we don't need the explicit details for us to fill in the blanks. These books a wholesome and offer family values and traditions, I would be proud for my daughters to read and thus the desire to be selective in what I choose to review. Although I stick with Christian novels most of the time, I have found some remarkable family books that aren't listed as under the Christian label that I found are beneficial to include as well, thus my reasons for going outside the Christian publishing houses at times.

So how do I rate my books? 

That again is my preference and I have clearly stated my own review system on my blog for those that have read my book reviews.

5- stars are simply the best I will rate a book. It's so good I know I will read it again and again. It is one I can't wait to share when anyone is looking for a great novel to read. It's one that I won't donate or loan out in most cases because they are like family to me. They wind up in my own personal library and the collection is growing..

4 - stars are books that are great but might contain something like one or two words of profanity that one might cringe upon when they are reading it, even if it might seem as if the character might actually say that in real life. These are still great novels but lack something that keeps me from wanting to shout from the roof top, buy this book! It might be a lapse in the writing style, confusing dialogue, too many characters to keep track of but I think you get the idea.

3 - stars is that the book was good but because it contains profanity, sexual content or violence, often times all three, it is not one I would want my daughters to read nor would I really recommend this to a friend.

2 - stars is that I can't recommend this book at all. It contains adult content, extreme violence, graphic sexual content, goes against my religious beliefs as a Christian, a good deal of profanity, and in most cases contains more than one of these in the novel. The characters may be lacking as well as a poorly defined storyline, one where it jumps back and forth, completely confusing the reader. For me, it's the one I have been forced to read solely based on my promise to review the book.

1 - star is the worst of the worst. It was so bad that I couldn't even finish reading it. Would NEVER recommend this book, in fact I would do almost anything to persuade you to NOT read it. I wouldn't even pay money for this one.

Along with my rating of stars I will often times tell you why I rated a book the way I did. Some people however don't appreciate honesty and will stop at nothing to let you know how they feel.

So what do you do when you have to rate a book a 1 our 2 stars? 

Honestly I try really hard to find some redeeming quality in what the author wrote. After all, we are all entitled to our opinions and thus people can chose to read my reviews and make their own decision on whether or not to read the book. The choice is really all up to them, I am simply sharing my opinion. I never stated I was an expert on reviewing and again possess no degree in English but after almost 50 years of reading, how does one become an expert reviewer? I think if people like what you wrote, they may take you up on a suggestion to read the book, or peruse more reviews.

There are authors who don't want anything less than a 4 or 5 star review on any retail sites or even on your blog, but then again, how fair is that? I know they are looking at ratings and marketing, but isn't that what an honest review is? If I really don't like the book, should I forgo posting the review so others can be fooled?

I know for the most part, 90% of the books I review are 4 and 5 stars, because I have been pretty selective about the books and storylines, I choose to read, but then again there are those 10% who find themselves receiving a 3 or less star. It is any worse than people who simply log into a retail site and fall under the anonymous category and simply rate a novel a 1 and say nothing?

In my opinion, I'm simply an honest book reader who is sharing her love of books with those who want to know what I have to say, nothing more and nothing less. Until there is a rating system out there for books like there is for movies and television programs, book reviewing is key. There have been too many books that have passed for something other than what they are, and I think parents who have children or teens who read need to be made aware of them.

The best thing to keep in mind is that I am not a English professor who is going to detail whether the antagonist or protagonist in the story was well written, how the conflict and resolution are adequately illustrated. I honestly don't think people want to be reminded of those English Literature days of trying to find the theme and symbolism in a novel, they simply want to know if it is worth their time, and if you liked it, much like a conversation with a friend or family member would be.

And that my friends and readers is why I review books!

Oh and by the way, NEVER have I received anything more than a complimentary book in the process for reviewing it. I have NEVER been paid for any of my reviews despite what people may think. In fact those publishers that email me with a commission based review, I have turned down 100%. I find it hard to be biased when you are cashing a check from them.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Count It All Joy!

How is it Monday morning already?

It seems as if someone hit the fast forward button on the weekend, and it was over before I knew it.

Monday's take a hard assault.

Most people dread Monday; they loathe it; they despise it. I think if it were possible they simply would remove it off the calendar and extend our Sunday into two days instead. (sounds good to me!)

But I think we are forgetting something, a change in how we perceive Monday.

As a child, one of my favorite toys was the Etch-O-Sketch. Probably something children today might find frustrating and difficult to manage because it requires patience and doesn't gratify instantaneously like technology today does.

Turning those knobs brought you up and down or left and right, but you could never simply pick up and start your line over again someplace else. If you made a mistake, you had to shake it up and down and begin again. But the line you began with was continuous, unbroken, and you just never knew what picture you might wind up with.  (The drawing on top was what mine used to look like).

But our lives every morning can be a new beginning. We simply have to see it like that Etch-O-Sketch and realize that whatever mistakes we made yesterday, we get a fresh day to begin again. Today is a first for us.

The first time to live today.

Until today, we only lived yesterdays. All the things that happened yesterday can not be changed by walking into today and carrying it with us. Today is our do-over.

Today we can make different choices than we did yesterday.

Today we can forget the things that hurt us yesterday and accept today as a new day and let those things go.

Nothing we do today, can change the impacts of yesterday. We can only pick up today and start fresh with new choices, new perspectives and new hope.

There is a reason the Word of God has us moving forward and not looking back. We need to readjust our focus and keep pressing on to what lies ahead.

Even runners in a race, know that when they look back to see how fast others are gaining on them, losing their focus. Professional runners never look back. They only focus on what lies ahead.

That is exactly what we need to do today.

Today is a new day, a fresh new piece of paper just waiting to see what you can do with today. Forget tomorrow. Forget yesterday, what can you do with today?

The possibilities are endless if you are but willing to change how you see the day. Perhaps this Monday, might be your best Monday ever. It is the first Monday for you today, how will you choose to spend your day?

James 1:2 "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy." (New Living Translation).

Friday, August 1, 2014

Never Thought I'd Say It, but I did!

I can honestly tell you that I am not a fan of most sports. I can't see sitting in front of the TV watching hours of mind numbing sports, but then again each person has their own interests. When I first married my husband, Steve, one of the things I loved about him was he was not your typical husband who would sit in front of the TV during football, basketball or baseball season. I thought to myself, well, I found a real treasure.

He doesn't even share conversations with those who do, because he isn't a real fan of those. However, that being said, he does love golf. Thankfully there isn't much of that to go around and I realize like all sports, the dedication and skill is necessary to be good at it, whether it's driving a small ball down a fairway some 200 yards away, or simply tackling down the guy with the football making his way to the end zone.

I do love going to the sporting events. There is something to be said sitting in a stadium watching it live over watching it being televised. But never did I ever imagine that I would say and find myself sitting with my family, mostly my husband and watching the race to the Sprint Cup for NASCAR. I mean honestly how thrilling could it be watching these guys go round and round an oval track for so many laps. But somewhere along the line it changed.

My husband has been blessed to work in the Motorsports industry these last two years and perhaps some of that bled over on me. Understanding the size of some of these tracks and the speeds at which these drivers race along with the horrible crashes you are likely to witness while watching the race. Watching the speed at which the pit crew will race to change tires and add fuel to the tank in under 13 seconds is simply a feat of beauty.

Just recently my daughter got the opportunity to go with her dad to visit the famous Daytona racetrack in Florida where some of the most intense racing happens. She got to walk places most people don't like the places where the spotters and camera men from your local news shows view the race high over the grandstands. She got to see the lake that sits inside the track that most people don't realize is stocked with fish and my husband got the opportunity to fish in during his down time. It was strictly catch and release only for him.

She got an understand of the size that you don't truly understand until you are there. Not just watching in the stands but walking every inch of that track. She got a true appreciation at just how hard her dad worked. One of her greatest times was when we all got tickets to this years Auto Club 400 and with her dad's credentials he was able to get her a pass to get into the pits. She even got the opportunity to sign the start/finish line and to get her picture with her favorite driver's car, number 18, Kyle Busch.

Why do you ask, does she like Kyle Busch, she loves his car's paint schemes which are sponsored by Mars, so he drives a Skittles car (her favorite), M and M's and Snickers.

So where does that leave me?

Well I am no connoisseur of NASCAR drivers! My husband loves Jimmie Johnson, number 48, and he is an all around nice driver. But I don't want to be a follower.

So after a handful of watching races, I chose the up and coming rookie driver Kyle Larson, number 42, who drives a Target sponsored car. I mean I shop there often enough but there is something to see said for Kyle Larson. He's only 21 and he's got natural skills that are keeping him in the top 10 finishes most races. Not even Danica Patrick is doing that. I know that one day when he wins his first Sprint Cup race, I will be right there cheering in front of my set. It's nice to see people achieve success.

So why the big love for NASCAR?

For me, I love that they open every race with a word of prayer. That they pray for the drivers, their families and fans. They they are all actively supportive of our service men and women, and most of the drivers participate actively in charities that help children or those in need.

So for me it goes beyond just watching men drive around the track in a flashy car. It's about running the race of life with a goal in mind and with God on your heart! That's why I love NASCAR!!! By the way, for those of you that wanted to know who won the race at the Auto Club 400, it was Kyle Busch and Kailee was thrilled beyond measure to have her driver beat ours.