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The Last Christian by David Gregory


In the future, it’s possible to live forever—but at what cost?
A.D. 2088. 
Missionary daughter Abigail Caldwell emerges from the jungle for the first time in her thirty-four years, the sole survivor of a mysterious disease that killed her village. Abby goes to America, only to discover a nation where Christianity has completely died out. A curious message from her grandfather assigns her a surprising mission: re-introduce the Christian faith in America, no matter how insurmountable the odds. 
But a larger threat looms. The world's leading artificial intelligence industrialist has perfected a technique for downloading the human brain into a silicon form. Brain transplants have begun, and with them comes the potential of eliminating physical death altogether—but at what expense?  
As Abby navigates a society grown more addicted to stimulating the body than nurturing the soul, she and Creighton Daniels, a historian troubled by his father's unexpected death, become unwitting targets of powerful men who will stop at nothing to further their nefarious goals. Hanging in the balance—the spiritual future of all humanity.
In this fast-paced thriller, startling near-future science collides with thought-provoking religious themes to create a spell-binding "what-if?" novel.


David Gregory is the coauthor of two nonfiction books and a frequent conference speaker. After a te
n-year business career, he returned to school to study religion and communications, earning two master's degrees. David lives in Texas, where he works for a nonprofit organization.

Favorite Verse: Romans 6:10 (NASB)- "For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. "

The Last Christian sounded intriguing by the words on the back cover. I was excited to receive a copy from Water Brook Multnomah to review. I found myself bored at the beginning with all the science talk, but was captivated with the scenes that had Abby and Kate in them.

In the beginning , all the science talk turned me off and I was lost. I know that to some this is captivating information but for me, I didn't want to know because I couldn't understand it. (I am not into science at all! It has never been my subject! Being a homeschool mom, I'll hire someone to teach science to my kids... anyone interested!?!? LOL))

David's writing style is great. The story was an interesting one! Great plot. You will ask yourself many times during the course of reading this, 'What if?'
In the future all this could place. Surely the United States could totally turn away from the Christian message all together. (It is heading in that direction now...)

If you like science, future and 'what if's'... you will LOVE David's The Last Christian.


 The Legal Stuff: This book was provided by Water Brook Multnomah.

Bug Adventure Series by K.M. Groshek

Bug Meets His Friend (Bug's Adventure Series)Bug's Trip to the StoreBug Goes through the Maze


Bug Meets His Friend reminds us that we can always ask for help when making tough decisions. It also reminds us how to make every day an adventure, while overcoming that particular day’s obstacles.

Bug's Trip to the Store reminds us that through hard times and difficulties we can all learn important lessons to help us become stronger in the process. It also reminds us how to make every day an adventure.

In life, children and adults both face obstacles that can cause fear and anxiety. Bug Goes through the Maze reminds us that we can all learn important lessons to help us become stronger by meeting new people and trying new things. It also reminds us how to make every experience an adventure, while overcoming obstacles along the way.

K.M Groshek is an executive, life, health and fitness coach, marathon runner, writer and artist.

Bug's Trip to the Store is her first book in her Bug's Adventure Series. She incorporates her life's experiences in her work.

I read and re-read these stores to my kids and they have become a favorite in our home. The short story told in rhyme teach life lessons and help kids (and adults) realize that it is okay to ask for help, we all sometimes feel overwhelmed with a task ahead, don't give up and you CAN reach your dreams!

The art work is simple yet bright and fun.

Excellent stories, great rhymes, wonderful teachings... all around a GREAT series!

I hope she plans for more in the series as they are great character builders for kids!


 The Legal Stuff: This book was provided by Bostick Communications.

The Mayo Clinic Diet (& Journal) by Mayo Clinic Experts


Discover Mayo Clinic's first-ever weight-loss diet, and the last diet you'll ever need!

In our work with patients over many years, we've identified the leading habits of people who maintain a healthy weight, and the habits of those who don't.

With The Mayo Clinic Diet and The Mayo Clinic Diet Journal, we've boiled this research down to five simple habits to help you take off the extra weight — and five habits to break so that you can keep it from coming back.

The Mayo Clinic Diet book is composed of three sections to get you started, to keep you on track, and to give you the knowledge and tools you need to keep those unwanted pounds off for good.

Part 1 — "Lose It!" is a two-week quick-start plan designed to help you lose 6 to 10 pounds in a safe and healthy way. That's real results, real fast!

Part 2 — "Live It!" helps you continue losing 1 to 2 pounds a week until you reach your goal. Then, learn to maintain your healthy weight for life.

Part 3 — "All the Extra Stuff!" contains meal planners, recipes, tips on overcoming challenges and much more to help you along the way.

The Mayo Clinic Diet Journal is not your typical journal. This 224-page guide will help you plan, track and review your progress over 10 weeks as you follow The Mayo Clinic Diet. You'll also find helpful tips and guidance, including the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid. And at a special introductory offer, enjoy great savings when you purchase both the book and journal together!

The Mayo Clinic Diet and its companion journal put you in charge of reshaping your body and your lifestyle by adopting healthy habits and breaking unhealthy ones. Discover better health through better weight management.

(The Following Article is from MayClinic.com)

The Mayo Clinic Diet is a different approach to weight loss. It's a lifestyle that can help you maintain a healthy weight for a lifetime.

By Mayo Clinic staff

If you're overweight, you've probably tried many diet and weight-loss plans, yet the weight keeps coming back. Welcome to The Mayo Clinic Diet, a program designed to be the last diet you'll need — or want.
The Mayo Clinic Diet is not a fad. You've had enough of those and know the result. This is a program that helps you make simple, healthy, pleasurable changes that result in a weight you can maintain for the rest of your life.
Why the emphasis on health? Aside from health being a good goal, it turns out that a healthy lifestyle is also a great way to lose weight and keep it off. You get better health and better weight. Not a bad deal.
Perhaps best of all, this program is enjoyable. Eating is one of the great joys in life. What you eat on this diet has to taste good, or you won't do it. The Mayo Clinic Diet emphasizes foods that are not only healthy but also taste great, which is why we can say, "Eat well. Enjoy life. Lose weight."
Why did we introduce The Mayo Clinic Diet? Because you wanted it. Bogus Mayo Clinic diets — based on everything from cabbage soup to grapefruit to bacon — have been around for decades. None had any connection to Mayo Clinic. But their popularity told us that people are hungry for a diet based on Mayo's research and clinical experience. The result — for the first time, The Mayo Clinic Diet — for real.
Here's a look at various aspects of the diet.

The Mayo Clinic Diet: A new approach to healthy weight

The Mayo Clinic Diet is a habit-based approach. With The Mayo Clinic Diet, you work to reshape your lifestyle by breaking unhealthy old habits that sabotage your weight and adopting healthy new habits that will lead you down a path toward better health.
The Mayo Clinic Diet has two phases:
  • Lose It! This two-week phase is designed to help you begin seeing results right away, with weight loss of 6 to 10 pounds (2.7 to 4.5 kg). Unlike fad diets that promise rapid weight loss, The Mayo Clinic Diet approach is safe and healthy while building momentum and enthusiasm. It's based on changing habits for a lifetime so that the weight you lose doesn't come back, as it probably has in the past on fad diets.
  • Live It! This second phase builds on Lose It! and is designed to help you continue to lose weight at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kg) a week until you reach your weight goal. This phase also helps you maintain your weight goal permanently by continuing and tweaking lifelong healthy habits.
Within each phase, the diet helps you uncover your inner motivation — what really matters to you — that will help keep you on track in your effort to lose weight.

The Mayo Clinic Diet: Using the food pyramid

At the core of both phases of The Mayo Clinic Diet is the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid. The shape of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid guides you toward a general direction of smart eating. The base of the pyramid focuses on generous amounts of healthy foods that contain a small number of calories in a large volume of food, particularly fruits and vegetables. You choose increasingly lesser amounts as the categories of the pyramid get narrower, including whole grains, lean protein and dairy, healthy fats, and even sweets.

The Mayo Clinic Diet: Increasing physical activity

The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid isn't just about food. Physical activity is at the center of the pyramid, which emphasizes the important role physical activity plays in weight loss and health promotion. If you try to lose weight by only cutting calories, you may lose muscle mass as well as body fat, plus you'll miss out on the other health benefits of physical activity.
At the most basic level, physical activity means moving — every motion of your body burns calories and is therefore beneficial. Cleaning the house, making the bed, shopping, mowing and gardening are all forms of physical activity as you go about your daily routine. Exercise, on the other hand, is a structured and repetitive form of physical activity that you do on a regular basis, such as walking, biking or swimming.
Both are important. The longer and harder your activity or exercise, the more calories you burn — and the effects last even after you've stopped. The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid recommends that you get 30 to 60 minutes of moderately vigorous physical activity or exercise on most days of the week. This level should increase your heart and breathing rates and possibly lead to a light sweat. Brisk walking and yardwork that entails near constant motion are examples of moderately intense activity.

Putting it all together with The Mayo Clinic Diet

You know that losing weight isn't easy. It takes dedication and planning. But with the right tools and motivation, you can make changes that will lead to a healthier, happier life. The Mayo Clinic Diet is designed to help you get there.

This diet is not a diet... it is healthy lifestyle changes that are easy to follow and for REAL people!
In this book the weight-lose experts at Mayo Clinic teach you ways to eat healthy by following the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Food Pyramid, which is not cutting out any food groups or foods, but focusing on eating mainly fresh fruits and vegetables at every meal and limiting the the sweets and fats.

Image of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid

I really liked in chapter 18 that it gives you a list of activities and the calories burned for each activity! It gave me ideas of things that I should spend my time doing for exercising and avoid others when I need to get a good amount of calories burned in a limited time frame.

The journal gives you plenty of space to write your food intake and activities you did each day. It also gives a picture of the food pyramid for each day to keep it fresh on your mind. The journal is nice because it is broken down into the same sections the books is with the phases:

Part 1 — "Lose It!" is a two-week quick-start plan designed to help you lose 6 to 10 pounds in a safe and healthy way. That's real results, real fast!

Part 2 — "Live It!" helps you continue losing 1 to 2 pounds a week until you reach your goal. Then, learn to maintain your healthy weight for life.

I HIGHLY recommend this book and its companion journal!

There is an abundance of information that can be found on the Mayo Clinic website to help in your weight-lose and health efforts.


 The Legal Stuff: This book was provided by FSB Associates.

Clean, Green and Lean: Get Rid of the Toxins That Make You Fat by Walter Crinnion



Groundbreaking science can help you win the battle against fat for good
You've been eating less, counting calories, and exercising like crazy -- shouldn't you be skinny by now? If you're not, diet and exercise may not be the weight-loss answer you need. In Clean, Green, and Lean, you'll find out how the toxins in your food and all over your house can make you fat and keep you that way. This book clearly shows you how to clean out your system and your home to lose weight and feel great in just four weeks.

Want to lose weight without starving yourself, counting calories, or following a complex meal plan? Would you like to look and feel stronger and healthier than you have in years -- exercise optional? How about transforming your health in just four weeks and helping to save the planet in the process? Find out how by reading Clean, Green, and Lean.

In this clear, easy-to-understand guide to getting slim, healthy, and toxin-free, naturopathic physician Dr. Walter Crinnion shows you how to clean up your diet, clean out your body, and rid your home of the toxins that surround you. Many of your nagging health problems will melt away with the pounds, including fatigue, aches and pains, allergies, and depression.

Clean, Green, and Lean shows you why conventional weight-loss programs don't deliver or can't sustain the results you're looking for and how the toxin-fat connection prevents you from losing weight no matter how little you eat or how much you exercise. You'll learn how reducing your toxic burden can help you stay lean for life. Dr. Crinnion helps you determine whether your weight gain is toxin-related and prescribes several cleansing methods and toxin-fighting supplements to rid your body of heavy metals and other poisons. Could it be your house that's making you fat? Dr. Crinnion helps you identify sources of toxic chemicals, allergens, and poisons in your home where you might least expect them. You'll learn how to remove and dispose of them safely, keep new toxins out, and make your home as clean and green as it can be.

Clean, Green, and Lean contains healthy, delicious, clean, green recipes and two weeks of meal plans for lean breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. These nutritious and satisfying meals will keep your stomach full, your body toxin-free, and your body and mind working at peak efficiency.

Filled with inspiring, true-life stories of people who have lost weight, healed their bodies, and turned their lives around following Dr. Crinnion's four-week plan, Clean, Green, and Lean is the groundbreaking book you need to slim down, clean up, and start enjoying life again.

CrinnionDr. Walter Crinnion is one of America's foremost authorities on environmental medicine. A naturopathic physician, he is the director of the Environmental Medicine Center of Excellence at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Arizon
a and chair of the Environmental Medicine Department. He is a close colleague of Dr. Peter D'Adamo, author of the monumental bestseller Eat Right 4 Your Type.

For more information, please visit www.crinnionmedical.com.

As a single-income family raising 5 kids in this economical crisis era, going 'organic' is almost impossible.

Some tips that Dr. Walter mentions are easy for every family to change in their every day living.

Chemicals are every where, many are brought into our homes without the thought of the major effects that they have on our health, and that of our family.

On Dr. Crinnion's website he has an interesting article about the health effects of things around us. If you are like me, after reading this list you have to pick up your chin off the floor and you start looking through cabinets and in cleaning closets.

Though I do not feel that I can change our ENTIRE eating regiment, I know that there are a few things that I can make sure I replace with healthier versions or organic. I will definitely do away with many of the chemicals that Dr. Crinnion mentions.

Overall, Clean, Green and Lean was great. You can search for hours upon hours to find all this information online, but if you want it all in one place and easy to refer to, then this is a must-have for your library!

I was draw to this book because I am trying to lose weight. (Mainly so I look great in a swimsuit next summer for my trip to Jamaica, but the more I look into diets, eating habits and fitness, I know that it is more about living healthy then just about losing weight.)


 The Legal Stuff: This book was provided by FSB Media.

More than Conquerors by Kathi Macias

More than Conquerors (Extreme Devotion)


True love ignites their passionate pursuit of His call
With violent crime on the rise and the political climate changing throughout certain parts of Mexico, the opportunity for open Christian witness, particularly in some areas of Chiapas State, is rapidly decreasing. Hector Rodriguez pastors a small church in the tourist-popular border town of Tijuana. He also routinely carries Bibles deeper into the hostile areas of Mexico, where he ministers despite increasing difficulty and persecution. 
Hector’s mother accompanied him on one of those trips and felt God called her to stay in the little village of San Juan Chamula, where she uses the Scriptures to teach reading to the families who are open to it. In retaliation for Hector’s bringing the Bibles into areas hostile to Christians and in an effort to dissuade him from continuing to expand his ministry there, Hector’s mother is murdered. Hector must decide if he will continue his work despite his worries about protecting his wife and children.

Award-winning author Kathi Macias has written more than 17 books, including the award-winning devotional A Moment a Day, and the popular “Matthews” mystery novels. One of her recent novels, Emma Jean Reborn, is being put into script form by playwright Barry Scott. Kathi has won many awards, including the Angel Award from Excellence in Media, fiction awards from the San Diego Christian Writers Guild, and the grand prize in an international writing contest. With women’s ministry as her primary interest, Kathi is a popular speaker for women’s retreats, conferences, and churches. A mother and grandmother, Kathi and her husband, Al, call California home.

Visit her at KathiMacias.com.

Kathi has a heart for the Christian martyr. I've had the opportunity to read book one in the Extreme Devotion Series, No Greater Love, and now More than Conquerors. WOW!

Kathi does an awesome job of capture what most of us Christian would be feeling or thinking if we were the main characters. If I were Hector I would be having some of the same doubts that he was having; do I risk my family to continue doing what I feel God has put me here to do?  That is always a hard question as parents, knowing the danger your kids are in, the hurts they are carrying and the struggles they are seeing. Though our family has not personally been called to go serve in a foreign country, for a time we were Youth Pastors at our home church in Utah and we saw our kids suffer in some areas do to the ministry and it is hard, you do question whether you are doing the right thing or not.

Kathi has done an exceptional job of not only portraying the Mexican people in their poverty, struggles and culture, but in their need for Christ. Though this story is fiction, many real life martyr stories play out so similar, the location and the details vary, but the struggles and the devotion to Christ is the same.

Kathi's heart is truly shown through this series! I've cried, prayed and examined my own life and devotion through reading them. Thank you Kathi!

I look forward to reading book three in the series, Red Ink.

More than Conquerors
Click above to read the other reviews on this tour!

How Can I Run a Tight Ship When I'm Surrounded by Loose Cannons?: Proverbs 31 Discoveries for Yielding to the Master of the Seas

I am now reading another book by Kathi~
How Can I Run a Tight Ship When I'm Surrounded by Loose Cannons?:
Proverbs 31 Discoveries for Yielding to the Master of the Seas

My review of this amazing book will be posted next week.

 The Legal Stuff: This book was provided by the author and Pump Up Your Book Tour.

Texas Roads by Cathy Bryant


City gal Dani Davis just wants to find a place to call home. Miller's Creek, Texas, with its country charm and quirky citizens seems like the perfect place to start over. Perfect, that is, except for the cowboy who gives her a ride into town... Dani secretly finances renovations to downtown Miller's Creek, but malicious rumors force her to choose between keeping her involvement a secret and the home for which she's always longed. Then the discovery of an age-old secret propel her down a road she never expected to travel. Steve Miller is determined to save his dying hometown. When vandalism jeopardizes the Miller's Creek restoration project, he can't help but suspect Dani, whose strange behavior has become fodder for local gossips. Will Steve and Dani be able to call a truce for a higher cause, and in the process help Dani understand the true meaning of home?

Image of Cathy Bryant

Cathy Bryant has spent her entire life in small Texas towns, and is proud of her heritage. She is a published composer and writer, having devotions published both online and in book and magazine format. Her first novel, "Texas Roads," finaled in the 2009 ACFW Genesis Competition.


Cathy Bryant has made my "New-Authors-to-keep-an-eye-on" list!

Cathy's writing was flowing, easy to read and captivating. Texas Roads was an easy and enjoyable read. One endorsement stated that it was a  "spell-binding" read and I truly agree. I read it in three days and it keep me coming back for more.

Though I've never visited Texas before, I could smell the country kitchen food and hear the Texan accents. I got a little dust on my jeans and a bit of watery eyes and a tickle on my nose from the hay. (I have allergies!)

Thanks so much for the trip, Cathy!

fractal_background_red-2-1.jpg picture by raaez

Would you love to read this book for yourself?
Cathy will ship you a copy if you are the lucky winner!

You must be a follower of my blog to be eligible... so what you waiting for... FOLLOW ME!!
Open to U.S residents ONLY!

Here's how to enter:
(One entry per each thing you do.)

  • Subscribe to my email list at the top right hand side.
  • "Like" my SuperMom page on Facebook.
  • Follow me on Twitter.
  • Follow Cathy on Facebook.
  • Follow Cathy on Twitter.
  • Follow me on Networked Blogs. (Right hand side---->)
  • Leave a comment on any other post on my blog.

It's that simple!

Leave ONE comment with the number of entries.

EXAMPLE: If you follow me and Cathy on FB, follow us both on Twitter and left a comment on another one of my blog posts, you'd leave:

Jane Doe  +5
Follow Cathy FB
Follow you FB
Follow you Twitter
Follow Cathy Twitter
Commented on "9 years and counting" blog post

Hope that makes it simple for you!

Good Luck!

~JUNE 2~ 
Cheryl... You are the winner!
Please respond within 48 hrs to the email I sent you to claim your book!

The Legal Stuff: This book and contest was provided by the author.
Thanks Cathy!

Life Inspite of Me by KristenJane Anderson and Tricia Goyer

Kristen Anderson wanted to die---but God had other plans. Recounting her miraculous survival of a suicide attempt in which a train severed her legs, Kristen shares how her newfound faith in God helped her overcome severe depression and shame, as well as the challenges of permanent physical disability. Discover how she found fulfillment serving God!

She wanted to die. God had other plans.

Why does my life have to be so painful?
What’s wrong with me?
It’s not going to get better.
It could all be over soon, and then I won’t hurt anymore.

Kristen Anderson thought she had the picture-perfect life until strokes of gray dimmed her outlook: three friends and her grandmother died within two years. Still reeling from these losses, she was raped by a friend she thought she could trust. She soon spiraled into a seemingly bottomless depression.

One January night, the seventeen-year-old decided she no longer wanted to deal with the emotional pain that smothered her. She lay down on a set of cold railroad tracks and waited for a freight train to send her to heaven…and peace.

But Kristen's story doesn’t end there. 

In Life, In Spite of Me this remarkably joyful young woman shares the miracle of her survival, the agonizing aftermath of her failed suicide attempt, and the hope that has completely transformed her life, giving her a powerful purpose for living.

Her gripping story of finding joy against all odds provides a vivid and unforgettable reminder that life is a gift to be treasured.  

Includes notes of encouragement Kristen wishes she had received when she was struggling most.


Image of Tricia GoyerTricia Goyer is the author of twenty books including From Dust and Ashes, My Life UnScripted, and the children's book, 10 Minutes to Showtime. She won Historical Novel of the Year in 2005 and 2006 from ACFW, and was honored with the Writer of the Year award from Mt. Hermon Writer's Conference in 2003. Tricia's book Life Interrupted was a finalist for the Gold Medallion in 2005. In addition to her novels, Tricia writes non-fiction books and magazine articles for publications like Today's Christian Woman and Focus on the Family. Tricia is a regular speaker at conventions and conferences, and has been a workshop presenter at the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International Conventions. She and her family make their home in the mountains of Montana.

Image of Kristen Jane Anderson 

Kristen Jane Anderson has been featured on Oprah and is a popular speaker at colleges, women's and youth events, churches, and suicide prevention outreaches. A graduate of Moody Bible Institute and the founder of Reaching You Ministries, Kristen seeks to help those who are hurting, hopeless, lost, suicidal and depressed.


What an amazing story of tragedy, pain and hopelessness, yet it is filled with grace, forgiveness, God's hand of healing and His peace that passes all understanding.

Tricia has done a excellent job retelling Kristen's story. 

From page one I was hooked. I enjoy reading biographies that sing of God's mercies and miracles. This one has G-O-D written all over it.

I cried as Kristen made the decision to lie down on the train tracks. I cringed as she describes the train passing over her, I rejoiced when she lives and I hurt for her mother as she watched her baby lie helpless in a hospital bed. 

I thanked God as he provided His healing to Kristen in her mind and emotions and I rejoiced as Kristen excepted Christ and the calling he had placed on her life to share her story.

This is a great true story that should be shared! 


 The Legal Stuff: This book was provided by Waterbrook Multnomah.

Darlington Woods by Mike Dellosso

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Realms; 1 edition (May 4, 2010)
***Special thanks to Anna Coelho Silva | Publicity Coordinator, Book Group | Strang Communications for sending me a review copy.***


Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Mike now lives in Hanover, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Jen, and their three daughters. He is a regular columnist for AVirtuousWoman.org, was a newspaper correspondent/columnist for over three years, has published several articles for The Candle of Prayer inspirational booklets, and has edited and contributed to numerous Christian-themed Web sites and e-newsletters. Mike is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers association, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, the Relief Writer’s Network, and FaithWriters, and plans to join International Thriller Writers once published. He received his BA degree in sports exercise and medicine from Messiah College and his MBS degree in theology from Master’s Graduate School of Divinity.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 281 pages
Publisher: Realms; 1 edition (May 4, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1599799189
ISBN-13: 978-1599799186


Present day

As he pressed his beat-up Ford down an uneven stretch of asphalt, Rob Shields had death on his mind. His own. The void within him had grown to colossal proportions, opening its gaping black maw and swallowing any hope or happiness he once had. Lost forever. No chance of return. Death welcomed him, enticed him, drew him in with its easy ways and comfortable charm.

Oh, he knew he would never do it. Taking his own life had a certain appeal to it, held a certain freedom that his bleak outlook on life longed for, but it took a much braver— or dumber—man than he to actually pull it off. But still he wanted, maybe needed, to pretend he was as serious as murder. And that meant it was time to see the house. If he was to fantasize about putting an end to his journey, he at least wanted to see the place that had promised a better life. Just one visit, one look, would satisfy him.

He glanced over at the empty passenger seat then into the rearview mirror at the vacant spot in the backseat. Kelly would be jabbering about what beautiful country this was.

“Look at the wildflowers. Oh, I love wildflowers.”

And little Jimmy would be singing away to his MP3 player, getting the lyrics all wrong.

Man, he missed them.

A familiar sadness overcame him, and he once again thought of his own death. He couldn’t bear to live without them any longer . . .

Life had become a great burden, an endless source of sadness. Every day was lived in despair. Unhappiness and discontent had become his bedfellows. He would see the

house, allow himself one evening of pleasant dreams about what could have been, then return to Massachusetts to live out the rest of his life in isolated misery. And in his mind,

that in itself was a form of suicide. A living death.

Rob depressed the accelerator, and the odometer needle climbed nearer to seventy. On the horizon, heat devils performed an arrhythmic dance, and the sun-scorched

blacktop appeared to be glossed with mercury. The road cut through pastureland like a hardened artery. To his right, a handful of horses stood motionless, their noses to the ground. To his left, the land stretched out like a green sea, undulating slowly to an even tempo.

Mayfield had to be no more than an hour away, but the fuel

gauge said he needed gas now. Up ahead, an elderly man in a ball cap was on both knees working his garden. Rob slowed the car and stopped beside him. The older gent turned his body slowly, revealing a patch over one eye.

Rob leaned across the center console and spoke loudly. “Where’s the nearest gas station?”

The old man cupped one hand around his ear and raised his eyebrows.

Rob said it louder. “Where’s the nearest gas station?”

The man nodded in the direction Rob had been traveling. “’Bout a mile down the road. Shell station on the left.”

“Thanks,” Rob said, and he pulled away. In the rearview mirror he could see the man watch him for a moment then return to his garden.

Exactly one mile down the road Rob steered into a cracked-asphalt lot and up to an old-style analog gas pump, the kind with the rotating numbers. He didn’t even know those kind still existed. The station had seen better days. From the sun-bleached Shell sign to the grime-coated plate-glass window of the little convenience store to the scarred and faded blacktop, everything spoke of neglect. This was one outpost time had forgotten.

Rob got out of the car and noticed the handwritten sign on the pump: Pre-pay inside. Management.

Walking across the lot, he could feel the day’s heat radiating through the soles of his shoes. A little bell chimed when he opened the door. A thin, fair-skinned man with shoulder-length hair nodded at him from behind the counter.

“Thirty in gas,” Rob said, reaching for his wallet.

The clerk punched some buttons on the register and said, “Thirty.”

Rob paid him. “How far to Mayfield?”

The clerk looked up. “Where?”


After a quick shrug, “Fifty, sixty miles.” He looked like he wanted to say more, so Rob waited. “Not much in Mayfield.”

“A house,” Rob said.

“Your house?”

“Should have been.” Then he turned and left. The bell chimed again on his way out.

At the pump, Rob unscrewed the fuel cap and inserted the nozzle. Jimmy always loved to squeeze the trigger.

“Can I pull the trigger, Daddy?”

That’s what he called it, a trigger. He’d pretend the nozzle was a cowboy gun. Thoughts of his son flooded Rob’s mind, and he did nothing to stop them. Now was a time for remembering, for soaking up every good feeling and every fond image left to enjoy.

When the rolling numbers hit seventeen dollars, a quick movement caught Rob’s attention. He jerked his head up and toward the side of the store where a stand of shrubs sat quiet and motionless. Then he heard it, a muffled giggle, and his breath caught in his throat. He knew that giggle. Knew it like the sound of his own voice. The movement was there again. An image ran from the shrubs to the rear of the store and out of sight. The nozzle snapped off and fell to the ground with a solid clunk. Rob knew that run too, the shortened stride, the slightly exaggerated pumping of the arms. He could feel his heart thudding all the way down to his fingertips.

It was Jimmy. His little buddy.

Crossing the lot in large walking strides at first, then a run, Rob rounded the building fully expecting to find his son, Jimmy, red-faced with brown hair matted to his forehead,

waiting in a crouch to scare him.

“I got you, Daddy!”

Instead, all he found were a few rusted-out fifty-gallon drums, a stack of dry-rotted tires, and a haphazard pile of rebar. His breathing rate had quickened from the short sprint, and beads of sweat now popped out on his forehead and upper lip. He wiped them away with the sleeve of his T-shirt.

He walked the length of the building, scanning the field of

knee-high grass behind it. “Jimmy?”

But no answer came. Not even a rustle of grass. And no giggle.

“Jimmy,” Rob said in a normal volume, more to himself than the phantom of his son that had haunted him now for going on two months. The visions—the psychologist called

them hallucinations—had come frequently at first, sometimes as much as once a day, then grew more sporadic. Until now, he hadn’t had one for over two weeks. At first,

Rob was convinced there was a purpose to them, a meaning. Maybe they even meant Jimmy was still alive, waiting for his daddy to find him and rescue him. Maybe. The psychologist disagreed. Rob thought he was a quack and stopped attending the weekly sessions.

Scolding himself for once again allowing his frazzled imagination to dupe him, Rob returned to his car like a man taking his final stroll down the long corridor to the electric

chair. The sun’s heat now seemed more intense, and his shirt clung to his back and chest.

He picked the nozzle up from the ground and balanced it in his hand.

“Can I pull the trigger, Daddy?”

Every time he pumped gas he’d think of Jimmy. It was one of those little things that would haunt him the rest of his life. But it was a haunting he welcomed. After squeezing out the rest of his thirty bucks, Rob returned the nozzle to the pump, opened the car door, and was hit by a breath of heat.

Sitting in his car was like hanging out in an oven, but Rob did not turn the ignition. The air outside was still and the heat sweltering. Sweat seeped from his pores, wetting the front of his shirt. He thought of the image of his son and that familiar gait and noticed his hands were trembling. Tears formed in his eyes, blurring his vision.

“Jimmy.” He said the name again, as if it were some holy word that could cross the span of the finite and infinite and bring his little boy back. He wanted to hold him, bury his

face in Jimmy’s hair, and draw in the smell of sweat and cookies.

“I like how you smell, Daddy. You smell like a daddy.”

Wiping the tears from his eyes, Rob started the car, pulled away from the pump, and headed east toward Mayfield.

As he drove, the empty seats beside and behind him burned like hot coals. As much as he tried, he could not dismiss the memory of Kelly reaching over and placing a graceful hand on his thigh, her hair rippling in the wind, a smile stretched across her face. Nor could he stop glancing in the rearview mirror, half hoping to see Jimmy bouncing against the back of the seat.

Rob slapped at the steering wheel. He knew he was going mad, that the solitude of the last three months had nearly driven him over the edge and blurred the line between reality and fantasy. And he was obsessing again. He had to think of something else, so he turned his mind to the house his great-aunt Wilda had left him. He’d never seen the place, had never even met Wilda. But when he found out he was the sole heir to the house, his mother raved about how much Kelly and Jimmy would love the place. That was six months ago.

Before his world got flipped on its head and everything went to pot.

Before he went insane and entertained thoughts of death. The boy and his mommy walk back to the car to clean his hands. He’s been working on a candy apple for some time, and it’s creating quite the mess. Daddy told them he’d meet them at the lemonade stand. Lemonade is great for a warm day, he said. The grass in the parking area is brown and ground into the dry dirt from everyone walking and driving on it. His mommy is holding his clean hand and singing a Sunday school song about Joshua and the battle of Jericho. The boy is still thinking about the eagle the man behind the table was holding. He never knew eagles were so big. And when it looked at him, it seemed to see right past his skin and into his insides. They had other things at the stand too—an owl with big yellow eyes, a couple different kinds of snakes, and an aquarium full of toads—but the eagle was his favorite. He wondered what it would be like to be able to fly like an eagle, way up in the sky where no one could bother you, seeing the whole world at once.

“Here we are,” Mommy says. Their car looks extra clean because Daddy washed it just before they left. The black paint looks like a dark mirror and makes him look funny, like one of those curvy mirrors at the carnival.

Mommy opens the trunk and leans over into it, looking for the napkins. It reminds him of a poem about a crocodile with a toothache. He wishes he could remember all the words. Something about the crocodile opening so wide and the dentist climbing inside, then SNAP! Mommy always claps her hands real hard at that part, and it always makes him jump.

A man comes up behind Mommy. He’s wearing dirty old blue jeans and a tight black T-shirt. His face is big and round, and there are a lot of little scars on his cheeks. His eyes are placed real close together and pushed back into his head. With his shaggy hair and large face, the boy thinks he looks like a head of cabbage.

“Excuse me,” the man says. He reaches out to touch Mommy’s hip then looks at the boy.

Mommy jumps and stands up fast. She turns around and looks at the man, crossing her arms in front of her. She seems nervous. “Yes?”

Cabbage Head looks nervous too. He pushes his hand through his hair, and the boy notices the sweat on his forehead. It makes his hair wet where it comes out of the skin. “It’s your husband—”

Now Mommy looks scared. “Wha–what’s wrong?” Her voice shakes.

“I need you to come with me.” He looks at the boy with those deep eyes then back at Mommy. “The boy can stay here at the car. We’ll only be a minute.”

Mommy bites her lower lip and looks around. She kneels beside the boy. She looks real scared and is breathing fast. Her hands are shaking, and she’s still biting her lower lip. “Stay here, OK? Don’t leave the car. I’ll be right back. Don’t leave the car.”

She hugs the boy then kisses him on the cheek. Opening the back door of the car, she motions for the boy to get in. “Remember, stay here. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be back for you soon.” She closes the door, blows him a kiss, and leaves with Cabbage Head. The boy watches as they walk away and disappear behind a trailer.

It doesn’t take long for it to get too hot to stay in the car. He opens the door and slides out, staying low to the ground so no one will see him. He leans against the car, but the black metal is too hot. So he sits Indian-style on the ground next to the back tire and picks at the grass. He wonders what could be wrong with Daddy. Did he have a heart attack or get cancer? Mr. Davies next door got cancer last year and died. This scares the boy. Maybe Daddy’s just lost and the man needs Mommy to help find him. He thinks about the man and his deep eyes. They were like the eagle’s eyes. Something about them didn’t look right, though. The boy feels like if he looked at them long enough he’d see things that would give him nightmares for a very long time. And they would see things in him too.

It seems like a long time of sitting by the tire and picking at brown grass before the boy hears footsteps coming, the sound of dry grass crunching like stale potato chips. He stands and looks around, hoping it’s Mommy. But Cabbage Head is coming toward him, alone. Where’s Mommy? Is she with Daddy, and the man is coming to take him to them?

Cabbage Head comes close. He’s sweating even worse now, and his hair looks like it has been messed up. He offers the boy his hand, a big meaty thing that looks like a bear’s paw. “C’mon, son. You must come with me.”

“Where’s my mom?” the boy asks. He notices his own voice is shaking.

“She’s fine. She wants me to bring you to her.”

The boy can tell the man is lying. He wants to run away but is afraid he’ll never find Mommy or Daddy on his own. “Where is she?”

Cabbage Head closes his hand and opens it again. His wide palm is all shiny with sweat. “Come. She’s waiting for you.”

There’s no way the boy is going to hold the man’s hand. He turns to run but the man catches him by the arm. “Oh, no, you don’t. You’re coming with me.”

The boy tries to holler, but the man’s sweaty hand is over his mouth, pressing so hard it hurts. The boy has never known what it is like to be so scared. He’s sure Cabbage Head is going to kill him, or worse, keep him alive but never allow him to see his mommy or daddy again.


Flirting with Faith by Joan Ball

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Howard Books; Original edition (May 11, 2010)
***Special thanks to Blythe Daniel of The Blythe Daniel Agency, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***


Joan Ball is a professor in the Peter J. Tobin College of Business at St. Johns University in New York, and a writer at Beliefnet.com. She and her husband, Martin, have three children and they live in suburban New York.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 213 pages
Publisher: Howard Books; Original edition (May 11, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1439149879
ISBN-13: 978-1439149874
Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6.5 x 0.6 inches



Thirty-seven is way too young to be having a heart attack, I thought, resting my hand on my chest and struggling to catch my breath. I’m sure it’s nothing.

But somewhere deep inside I knew I was lying to myself. Although I was a firm believer in mind over matter, my attempts to will away the waves of nausea and shortness of breath were failing miserably.

As my stoic resolve began to dissolve into genuine concern, I think there might actually be something wrong with me.

I looked at my watch, then over my shoulder into the serious-looking faces of forty or fifty strangers scattered in little clumps throughout the massive, mostly empty main sanctuary of a church we’d been attending for about a month. These clean-cut, well-manicured families in their suits and dresses and sensible shoes were way too straitlaced for my taste. In fact, they perfectly embodied the stereotype of church folks I’d carried along on my spiritual (and sometimes not so spiritual) journey from staunch atheism to recovery-based, power-greater-than-myself pseudo-agnosticism. They appeared boring and predictable; I saw nothing of myself in these people, and I was confident that their conception of Jesus as God was a farce.

Despite my growing concern over the pressure in my chest, I sat motionless, proud enough to choose the anonymity of the pew over creating a scene with a quick exit.

Of course, this begs the question: What was I doing there in the first place?

Faith aside, church and a nice brunch made for a surprisingly relaxing Sunday-morning routine that offset nicely the insane pace we managed to maintain Monday through Saturday. And since the kids liked meeting their friends there, it seemed like a benign sacrifice of an hour in exchange for some quality family-bonding time.

Even so, I didn’t really trust these church people. There was something about their unwavering propriety that I was sure amounted to little more than a thin disguise for a subtle yet palpable wariness of “outsiders.” Maybe it was the body language or the tone of their voices, but I always came away with the distinct sense that our presence was more tolerated than welcomed. Sure, they did all the right things. The smiles, hellos, and “how-was-your-week’s” were delivered perfectly, as if on cue. But, in the white space between the pleasantries, there was this underlying something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

It was kind of like a friend hosting a party who meets you at the door with a pleasant “Come on in. Make yourself at home. Can I get you a drink?” while shooting daggers at the husband she was fighting with as you pulled up the driveway. The words and actions say welcome, but you can’t help but feel otherwise.

Seven years in addiction recovery had conditioned me to believe that the newcomer—on the wagon or still drinking—is always the most important person in the room. This made the perceived lack of warmth distasteful enough that I thought it best to maintain a polite distance, just to be safe. That said, at this point in my life the polite distance suited me just fine. In fact, the protective cordiality on both sides allowed my husband, Martin, our three kids, and me finally, after nearly two years of halfhearted church shopping, to consider this a place where we might hang our spiritual hats.

I probably wouldn’t have been at church at all if I’d not married Martin six years earlier. When we met, in 1992, I was a single mother and a rabid atheist. More than that, my most potent venom was reserved for theists of the Christian persuasion. I’ve since been told that this brand of anti-theism is frequently born in bad experiences with the church or parochial school, but I was raised without any of that religious baggage.

Although my parents had grown up Roman Catholic, they abandoned the practice before I started grade school. So, coming from what could best be called a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps secular environment, I’d pieced together my own personal philosophy on religion and faith. In my view, people who embraced God and religion were emotionally, physically, or intellectually weak and unable to carry themselves through life on their own. This elaborate ruse called faith provided them with an external construct to prop them up. A fantasy scaffolding that I was smart enough and strong enough to avoid.

Although I vehemently disparaged believers, certain people or groups were paradoxically excluded from my disdain. My devout Catholic grandmother and others in my mother’s family fell into this category, as did anyone who embraced a spiritual path that I perceived to be cooler than Christianity—which included almost every religion or faith tradition on earth that wasn’t Christianity. I have to admit that their pardon was based on random criteria that made neither logical nor theological sense. Naturally, Martin—at the time a Bible-believing, Pentecostal-church-attending Christian—was exempt from my ire. But that was mainly because he was sexy, played guitar, and rarely talked about God unless someone else brought it up.

“In my view, people who embraced God and religion were emotionally, physically, or intellectually weak and unable to carry themselves through life on their own.”

I was like one of those aggressively discriminatory people who hate blacks or whites or gays, yet has one of those “friends who is different” from the stereotype. Somehow, the people I loved and respected were excused from my considerable contempt for Christians, yet I never disbanded my theory that faith was an illusion. It was this kind of convoluted mental calculus that allowed me to agree to a church wedding to Martin in 1996, and that fueled my sporadic church attendance—devoid of Christian faith—for the years that followed.

Surprisingly, in those months before and after we were married, I actually came to like going to church. There was something about the rhythm of doing the same thing once a week, every week, that was . . . I don’t know . . . comforting. Like playing house as a child.

And I got pretty good at playing church.

We went on Sundays and took the kids to a family program on Wednesdays. I even stepped in as a substitute Sunday-school teacher once or twice, which was really weird, since I couldn’t have answered even the simplest questions about the faith with any depth or accuracy if I’d been asked. Thankfully my students were four- and five-year-olds, and I’d been given a pretty thorough syllabus, so no one ever called my bluff. I probably could have continued attending church like that forever—a polite, clandestine agnostic—and no one would have been the wiser. But then we decided to move.

When we settled into our house in Warwick, a rural suburb of New York City, church became an inconvenience. The longer drive from our new house to church got real old, real quick and it didn’t take long for us to realize that losing twenty minutes of sleep to make it to church on time required a greater sacrifice than we were willing to make. After a couple months of setting the clock, overusing the snooze button, and vowing to “try again next week,” we figured we’d try to find a new church in Warwick. When our admittedly halfhearted search for a new place failed, we gave church a little rest. Surely Martin’s Jesus would understand that we were busy people with busy lives. Sunday was the only day that we were guaranteed a chance to sleep in. This omnipotent God had to know we worked hard to balance our careers, the kids’ activities, and the house all week and that we wanted—no, we deserved—a little extra sleep on Sunday mornings.

What we thought would be a short hiatus from church lasted about two years, until our daughter, Kesley, who was thirteen at the time, asked a plaintive question.

“Mom? Do you think we’ll ever go to church again?”

I had never gone to church as a kid, but I do remember what I was up to when I was thirteen. If I had a kid who was actually asking to go to church, I figured I should probably listen.

“Sure, Kels,” I said, trying to sound enthusiastic. “We’ll go back soon.”

So, as quickly as we’d abandoned the Sunday-morning church routine, we reinstated it.

The routine was simple and predictable. We’d start out calm and quiet. Andrew and Ian, who were fourteen and five at the time, were the early risers. They’d wake up and make their way down to the basement family room, where they’d stretch out on facing couches and watch TV or play video games. Kelsey, who was a little slower and a lot grumpier in the morning, usually slept in until the last possible minute. Martin and I fell somewhere in the middle. We’d set the clock for far earlier than either of us intended to wake up and hit the snooze (love that snooze) before lounging in bed, talking or reading (or whatever . . .), until we’d lingered just long enough to get to church almost on time.

Now, if you ask me, being almost on time for anything is far worse than being completely late. Completely late makes it easier to resort to a simple, more relaxing Plan B, like “Let’s just sleep in” or “How about breakfast instead?” Being almost on time, on the other hand, held out a faint but real hope that, despite evidence to the contrary, Plan A may still be achievable. Almost on time got our competitive juices flowing and opened the door to chaos. It told us that, if we hustled, we might just make up the time—even if it meant tormenting ourselves and our children and ruining an otherwise peaceful morning. Martin and I took the bait every time.

“Kelsey, can you please finish getting ready and help your brother find his shoes?” I’d shout up from the bottom of the two-story foyer.

“You can’t wear that shirt, it’s dirty. Go change.” Martin would say as he abruptly intercepted Andrew in the kitchen.

Then I’d snap at our youngest as he followed me from room to room, holding a hundred trading cards and a shoe. “No, Ian, you cannot bring your Pokémon cards. Go ask Kelsey to help you find your other shoe.”

And finally, as if playing a role in a recurring nightmare, Martin would call from the back deck, “If you guys are not in the car in two minutes . . .”

Getting two adults, two teenagers, and a five-year-old showered, dressed, and out the door of a three-story house with three bathrooms shouldn’t be that difficult. And yet somehow it always was. So much for the nice, relaxing family morning.

Eventually, we’d pile into our SUV and back down the cobblestone driveway, catching a glimpse of our picture-postcard, red brick center-hall colonial as we went.

That Sunday morning in 2003 was no different.

“Martin, can I have my sunglasses?” I asked, turning down the cul-de-sac straight into the surprisingly strong spring sunshine.

“Where are they?” he said as he leaned down to rifle through my bigger-than-necessary bag.

“They should be in the inside pocket,” I said, hitting the gas, checking my makeup in the rearview mirror, and handing him my glasses in one unconscious and mindlessly dangerous motion.

He took my black-framed, cat-eye glasses and handed me a pair of dark Jackie-Os that set off my shoulder-length blond hair and monochromatic black outfit, completing the New York urban-chic style that I was trying hard to make look easy.

I looked down at the digital display—9:54 A.M. With six minutes to drive five minutes across town, we were still in the game. I made a quick right out of the cul-de-sac, rolled through a couple of stop signs, and turned into the parking lot as the church bells sounded the last deep doooong. Breathing a sigh of relief, we hit our seats just in time for the organist to play the intro to the first hymn.

Yes, I thought, there’s nothing like landing on the right side of almost on time.

As the notes boomed out of the enormous antique pipe organ and the robe-clad choir fought a losing battle to find the right key, I found myself looking up at the arched stained-glass windows that flanked the massive stone church. Someone had once told me that the panels were museum quality, designed and constructed by Tiffany & Co. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true. They were amazing. Intricate patterns of metal and glass joined to form complex jewel-toned images of Jesus and his crew that exploded when backlit by the sun. I followed the colored beams as they cascaded through well-defined images of faces, bodies, and crosses into an impromptu dance of color that shifted on the floor as if projected by a giant, priceless kaleidoscope.

“With six minutes to drive five minutes across town, we were still in the game.”

I could always appreciate the majestic beauty of a church or cathedral. It was all that religion that happened inside that turned me off. I wonder how much you could get for those things at Sotheby’s, I thought as I turned my attention forward, where a boyish-looking man was calling the congregation to order. He wore a long white robe with a purple sash, the standard uniform for what the church people referred to as the traditional service.

This pastor, whom I will call Pastor Thomas, was about the same age as Martin and me—somewhere in his mid- to late thirties. Despite the fact that he was a little geeky, he seemed nice enough from a distance. We’d only spoken to him once or twice: brief, nice-to-see-you-back-again, so-nice-to-be-back conversations as we left the church. We might have avoided these rather awkward exchanges altogether were it not his custom to stand at the back door of the church sanctuary at the end of the service. It was like the receiving line at a wedding: people making their way down aisles at the left, right, and center of the enormous room, converging at the back into a human traffic jam.

“Before we get started,” Pastor Thomas announced with a broad smile on his face, “Mary Rooney and her son Jason [not their real names] are going to be accepted as new members of our congregation.” Apparently, anyone can go to church, but becoming a member took it to the next level. I just wasn’t sure what that next level looked like.

I almost applauded when the two of them stood up, but caught myself, forgetting that the people here never clapped. Even when singers did a fantastic duet or solo . . . nothing. No one else seemed to mind, but I found that pregnant pause while the musicians cleared their music and returned to their seats in silence to be distractingly awkward. One day I made the mistake of using the no-clapping thing as fodder for pre-service small talk with one of the women who seemed to be involved in a number of church activities.

“I almost applauded when the two of them stood up, but caught myself, forgetting that the people here never clapped.”

“Why is it,” I asked, “that no one ever claps for the singers or musicians?”

She made no attempt to hide her disdain for my question as she said curtly, “This is a church, not a concert.”

As Mary and her elementary-school-age son came to their feet, I wondered whether they were alone because of a divorce, if her husband had died, or if she had just chosen to have a child on her own. Whatever the circumstances, they reminded me of how difficult it had been to be a single mother and how lucky Andrew, Kelsey, and I were to have Martin in our lives. Once Ian was born, our new family was complete.

Pastor Thomas made his way across the stage (I think there’s a more formal name for it, but it looked like a stage to me) and opened a huge book that sat on a quarter-sawn oak pedestal. Then, without speaking, he raised his hands and swept them upward in a small circle like a conductor, and we all came to our feet. After a short prayer, and maybe another hymn, he began to ask Mary and Jason a series of questions.

“Do you accept the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ revealed in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the only way to eternal life?”

“I do,” they answered.

“Do you acknowledge that you are a sinner, sinful by nature, but that by the grace of God alone your sins have been forgiven and your old nature put to death, so that you may be brought to newness of life and set apart as a member of the Body of Christ?”

“I do.”

This Q and A went on for a few more minutes, covering promises to pray, seek God’s guidance, grow in faith, attend church, and accept and obey the rules and guidance of the church elders. They responded with dutiful “I dos” and “I wills” at the end of each question.

Next, the members of the congregation were asked if they would welcome the woman and her son into the “community of faith” and if they would “pledge to them your love, your prayers, and your encouragement as they live the Christian life with us.” The responses of the few dozen congregants in the large room sounded a little empty, as they delivered the best “We dos” and “We wills” they could muster. Not wanting to appear rude, I lip-synched the words along with the crowd.

Oh well, I thought, I guess I could never become a member of this church.

My understanding of the church-membership thing was still a little sketchy. Best I could tell, signing up with a certain church presupposed a heightened level of commitment, or maybe it just indicated that you intend to stick around. While I was okay with getting involved in some church activities or playing in the band, saying “I do” to anything involving Jesus was a commitment I was not willing, able, or interested in making.

“Saying ‘I do’ to anything involving Jesus was a commitment I was not willing, able, or interested in making.”

Sure, given the havoc I had wrought on myself and on others in my twenties, I could almost accept the notion that I might be sinful by nature. I’d even come to a place in my thirties, through the literature and guidance of a 12-step program, where I could pray to a “power greater than myself” with some assurance that it was better to pray than not to pray. But Jesus? The Old and New Testaments? Eternal life? Martin believed in all of that stuff, but not me. Not today. Not tomorrow. No way.

I was hoping that the church-membership thing wouldn’t extend the service longer than the usual one hour. I was pretty hungry and looking forward to endulging in some pancakes and syrup, even though yogurt and fruit would have been the more responsible option. As the announcements finished, Pastor Thomas began his sermon. The message was from the last book of the Bible, called Revelation.

The end of the world as we know it, oh my.

I knew very little about the Bible beyond my absolute confidence that, despite the heartfelt claims of the radio Christians, it was not the divinely inspired Word of God. I mean, how could it be? All of those writers with their hands all over it across the centuries and not one typo? I couldn’t understand who in their right mind would ever believe that all of those angry monks and sadistic inquisitors never changed a little bit of this or that to tip the scales in their favor. How gullible could people be?

While it might have been a lovely notion that some benevolent creator of the universe whispered down two thousand pages of frequently contradictory text because he loves people, I believed the whole Christianity thing had started as an elaborate ruse, perpetrated by powerful and wealthy people to control the uneducated masses. Then, like some centuries-old version of the kids’ game Telephone, the rules and the false hope they promised became a sad and pathetic crutch for the weak and a powerful hammer for the pious.

“I believed the whole Christianity thing had started as an elaborate ruse, perpetrated by powerful and wealthy people to control the uneducated masses.”

Pastor Thomas started talking about Jesus’ returning to earth—for what would be the end of the world—at a time that no one could predict. Judgment day. Armageddon. You don’t need to be a Christian to be familiar with these terms and the notions they conjure. I was half-listening and wondering what any of this could ever have to do with me when he began to read:

Then I saw Heaven open wide—and oh! A white horse and its Rider. The Rider named Faithful and True, judges and makes war in pure righteousness. His eyes are a blaze of fire, on his head many crowns. He has a Name inscribed that’s known only to himself. He is dressed in a robe soaked with blood, and he is addressed as “Word of God.” The armies of Heaven, mounted on white horses and dressed in dazzling white linen, follow him. A sharp sword comes out of his mouth so he can subdue the nations, then rule them with a rod of iron. He treads the winepress of the raging wrath of God, the Sovereign-Strong. On his robe and thigh is written, king of kings, lord of lords.

Apparently, unlike the love-everybody-Gandhi Jesus, the come-back-at-the-end-of-the-world Jesus is a wild warrior who’ll show up ready to rumble.

A sword in his mouth? I thought. These people are nuts.

That’s when my chest started to hurt.

At first it was just a small hollowness right below my sternum, like the sensation you get from swallowing too much pool water. Then came a wave of nausea. And then another. Finally, I started to have trouble catching my breath. Did I eat something bad? I wondered to myself. I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, so maybe last night. Maybe indigestion? My watch read 10:45.

Just fifteen more minutes, I thought as I began to break into a cold sweat.

I contemplated leaving, but I was on the center side of a twelve-foot-long pew, which left me with two equally untenable choices: either I walk up the wide center aisle between row after row of intricately carved wooden pews while clutching my chest and gasping for breath, or I climb over Martin, the kids, and another family to get to the side aisle to do the same. I looked left and then right, considering my options, and decided that both involved more drama than I was willing to risk. And I was just image conscious enough to risk death by heart attack to avoid it. So I drew another deep breath and tried to focus on keeping myself from throwing up.

“I was just image conscious enough to risk death by heart attack to avoid it. So I drew another deep breath and tried to focus on keeping myself from throwing up.”

Martin, who was sitting to my right, was completely unaware of what I was going through. The heaviness of his eyelids, the rhythmic bobbing of his head, and his occasional half snore revealed that he was fighting a battle of his own. He could usually count on me for a gentle but firm elbow to the ribs when he was about to descend into REM sleep during a sermon, but today was different. As the minutes passed and my condition worsened, I had to admit that something was very, very wrong.

“Martin,” I finally whispered with an uncharacteristic sense of urgency, “Baby, wake up.”

“What?” he said, looking around. “I’m not sleeping.” “You’re not going to believe this,” I replied, ignoring his I’m-not-sleeping delusion, “but I think I might be having a freaking heart attack.”

Martin had been with me long enough to know that I was more prone to ignore illness than to overstate it. Looking at me with a combination of uncertainty and concern, he asked, “Do you want to go to the hospital?”

“No,” I said, still allowing self-consciousness to trump my mounting alarm. “Let’s wait and see what happens.”

Intent on maintaining my composure, I quietly struggled to catch a healthy breath and endure the distinct sensation that there was a five-hundred-pound weight perched squarely on the center of my chest.

Just five more minutes.

When the service ended, I took Martin’s arm, and with the kids in tow, we made our way down the center aisle toward the exit. Trying to remain ever so dignified in the midst of my increasing distress, we weaved in and out of small groups of people as quickly as possible, intending to beat the exit traffic without drawing undue attention to ourselves. The church folks were in no hurry as they waited in line to be greeted by Pastor Thomas, who stood between us and the door.

Please don’t try to talk to us. I have to get out of here.

Thankfully, an ancient woman whose curved body stood about four feet high had cornered Pastor Thomas, serving as a welcomed detour on the highway of people squeezing past them to make their way into the parking lot. Still holding on to Martin’s arm to maintain my balance, I scurried to the car, fighting the sensation that my legs might go out from under me at any moment. Come on, come on, I repeated to myself. I needed to get into the car. I needed to get home. I needed . . . I needed . . . I didn’t know what I needed, but I knew I didn’t need to be standing in that parking lot.

Martin unlocked the passenger-side door and helped me lift myself into the seat of the SUV as he closed the door. The kids stuffed themselves into the backseat, ignorant of what I was going through and likely expecting me to ask where they’d like to go for brunch. But what they got was something very different.

“Somewhere in the midst of all this, the pain in my chest lifted, and there I was . . . crying ugly and repeating over and over again, ‘It is all true, all of it, it is all true.’”

The minute I found myself in the privacy of the car, a wave of intense emotion came over me. It was like a dam had broken, a flood of pent-up pressure released behind it in the form of sobbing and hysterical crying. Somewhere in the midst of all this, the pain in my chest lifted and there I was—generally a model of rigid self-control and modern accomplishment—crying ugly and repeating over and over again, “It is all true, all of it, it is all true.” In that moment I knew I was not having a heart attack. Instead, despite lifelong skepticism and outright animosity toward traditional religion, without asking or seeking, this skeptical atheist turned churchgoing agnostic had somehow been struck Christian.

© 2010 Joan Ball

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