Stories that Shape the Soul-The Dead Don’t Dance

The Dead Don't DanceThe Dead Don’t Dance, by Charles Martin, was an impulse purchase on Audible after a lively conversation broke out on Transformational Fiction about the author. It was the first of his books that I’d read, but as everyone commented, it certainly won’t be my last. Charles Martin made a video sharing why he writes what he calls ‘Redemptive Fiction’.  This book certainly takes the reader through that journey.  No matter what kind of relationship the reader has with God, they will walk away from this book challenged if not changed. Charles manages to make you see yourself through the characters in this story as if the book is nothing more than a mirror of the soul.  That is a powerful gift.

He does this through the use of real flesh and bone characters. One of my pet peeves in fiction is that sometimes the characters can be so noble or idealized or they are put in situations that are so unlikely, that even if the book has a great message, you can put the book down and never internalize the story because you’ll never attain that kind of character or be tested to that magnitude. But every character in this book could easily be you or someone whose path you could cross at any moment, and every one of them teaches you something. This book lets you sink into the characters’ shoes (not just the POV’s but all of them).  You could just as easily be the lady at the diner serving advice with a heaping plate of food or the quiet kid at the back of the classroom hiding behind sunglasses. Even if you really can’t relate, you can think of someone in your life that is like them.

Through Dylan Stiles’ point of view, you find yourself seeing life in a brutally honest way. I won’t spoil the story for you, but Dylan finds his life crashing down around him. While he struggles to pick up the pieces and put life back together, he finds life keeps moving and difficulties keep arising at every turn. Just as in real life, he doesn’t understand everything that is happening, and he struggles with the senselessness of it all and why God would let it happen. But life goes on and the lessons don’t stop with the main plot line.  Charles masterfully weaves in lessons on prejudice, justice, family, generosity, integrity and faith as Dylan Stiles has to go back home to his family farm with it’s dying corn fields and to work at a job below his qualifications to hold on to it and pay the mounting medical bills.

We all have those moments when our lives get broadsided by some big event and here we can wrestle it out with a sympathetic character who understands the shock and guilt and wrestling that goes on while you try and learn to live in the midst of the uncertain.  This book is the very definition of Transformational Fiction. You watch God’s hand at work even in the chaos. Sometimes it comes in the form of an honest piece of advice from your best friend. Sometimes it comes unexpectedly out of the mouth of a young woman. Sometimes it comes in the whisper directly to your heart. But The Dead Don’t Dance isn’t preachy (except for when the preacher’s talking) or pushy, it’s just honest spiritual wrestling the whole way through. For Dylan Stiles, God uses the love Dylan has for his wife to teach and carry him through the season of trials. From the mundane daily chores to his lifelong friendship with Amos, every moment of this book was bathed in the light of what mattered most, love. Even the pig that loved his wife but hated him reflected loving the unlovable. This book will make you take stock of your priorities and pan the gold of your life out from the silt using love as a filter.

If you would like to learn more about Charles Martin and his books please visit his website or follow him on Facebook.

The Dead Don’t Dance can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ChristianBooks and Audible.

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Covered by the Lord

I’m going to be brave and admit something to you. Since November of 2009, I have worn a headcovering whenever I pray or ask the Lord for or share a prophetic word. After five years, it is second nature to me to put it on. In public, I rarely remember that I am unique in being a charismatic Christian that covers. But recently, I was asked WHY I cover, and I realized I have not shared my testimony here about it.

1 Corinthians 11:1-16 is a long passage. I’m not going to quote nor am I going to defend, but I ask you prayerfully to go read it and ask the Lord to open Your heart to His word.

In my seventeen years with the Lord, I’ve read through those lines of scripture dozens of times. When I was little, I remember women wearing hats to church and men taking off their hats when they came into church or at a potluck to pray. I thought certainly this scripture explained WHY. But then as I moved from more traditional churches to more evangelical I noticed that women didn’t cover. I asked a few people about it at the different denominations I church hopped between, and they always said it was meant just for the Corinthian women.

That explanation never gave me a peace and my restlessness grew as I realized Paul put it in an eternal context mentioning the dawn of creation and that it was for the benefit of the angels. But I conceded it was one of those things that I would understand when I was older. Shortly after I accepted the Lord, I found myself wrestling with whether I was called to Catholicism and specifically to devote my life to a religious order. I studied intensely the reasons and doctrine behind the habit and its parts, and again I was faced with this scripture of being covered. When God closed the door on Catholicism I left more convicted than ever that we weren’t being obedient to this scripture.

I looked around and noticed that there are Protestants who cover, the Mennonites and Amish. So I studied through their doctrine and their reasoning and it was the same as the Catholic’s it was an issue of acknowledging the authority of God and of those who are to represent Christ to us our pastors, fathers, husbands. I was newly married attending a church that taught the word verse by verse and once again surrounded by women who didn’t cover.

I ended up finding my solace in an online support group for women who head covered. We were all seeking to do what we felt convicted about, but we weren’t in churches who supported us. I didn’t have the courage to do it. Even with all my studies I didn’t feel that I could stand against the current. But one night, I began discussing 1 Corinthians 11:2-15, with my husband who wasn’t yet a believer. When he said he agreed with me and then boldly asked me why I didn’t obey God’s instructions, I found myself without an answer and God convicted me of my lukewarm obedience.

Covered by the LordSo with my husband’s permission, I began covering first at home and on occasion during a fellowship or study. I wish I could capture for you a picture of how blessed my life has been since I started covering. How the simple act of covering my head reminds me that I am coming before a holy God and rights my heart before Him in prayer, worship, and when I step out in obedience to speak with someone. I’ve gained boldness in prayer that I didn’t have before. And even when I am without a cover and there is a need to pray, I can still myself and find that place where I come humbly and yet boldly before the throne of grace.

But in the beginning, I cared very much about how my obedience would affect others. It wasn’t a salvation issue and I didn’t want to stumble my friends, family or fellowship. So it took a great deal of work on God’s part to instill in me boldness for Him to do it in public. I had my Gideon moment one Thanksgiving. My mother and I were discussing my headcovering and my decision to cover, but as everyone began to arrive, I went and prayed for a blessed day of fellowship. I promptly removed my headcovering hoping to avoid the divisive subject on a day when believers and non-believers came to the table together. But as I blended in to the conversations around the table, I realized I was missing the opportunity to share the testimony of His goodness to me that came from my obedience. The next Sunday, it happened again. I felt so hypocritical taking it off when I entered God’s house, that I went home and promised Him that no more would I enter His presence willingly uncovered.

I went home and covered and prayerfully wrote a 2500 word letter to my pastor and his wife explaining my intentions and justifying why with scripture and the testimony of what was happening at home. With their blessing I stepped into church the next Sunday and every Sunday since covered. As the doubt and fear of other’s responses faded away, I found the comfort I had as a child of being continually aware of His presence. God wore away my lukewarm stance. Where I was compromised, God called me to be bold for Him in.

As my focus stayed upon Jesus I realized how precious my diligence to obey His commands and do His work are, in His sight. I appreciate relationships more, I listen more, I receive divine wisdom more frequently. I found in my obedience to recognize my position in creation as well as in my home, things began to fall into His order instead of mine. My husband’s attitude towards being the provider changed. He became more protective and concerned for the state of our household, our finances, and even children’s education. Everything I once assumed would be my duty to lead slowly became a partnership because of the work the Holy Spirit was doing in both of us. And then my husband came to faith.

While I know it isn’t the thin veil I wear that truly made any of these blessings occur, but the desire of my heart to be obedient, I believe God used it to lead my husband to faith and his proper position in Him. We know we can trust in the mutuality that Jesus had with His Father, God, while He walked on this earth. I submit to my husband because like the Lord, I know that though I’m equal in power and ability, there can only be one will and love leading our household, God’s.

My husband knows that He must be the one to intercede about the direction our household should go. When times get tough, we both have to pray and listen for direction, but I ask God to speak to my husband and let what He speaks to me be confirmation. And it is a blessing that even though I’m technically older in our spiritual walk that we can walk in this contrary manner with great assurance we are in the will of God.

Even though it has been five years, I’m still only woman in our church who covers and I’m okay with that. This isn’t a salvation issue. But my relationship with other sisters-in-the-Lord who do cover has expanded greatly in the past five years. There is even a movement to bring headcovering back to the church. If you are curious about it or the churches/pastors who now endorse headcovering you can find excellent resources and testimonies at http://www.headcoveringmovement.com/

So what area has God called you to be obedient in? I would love to hear from you.

The Humble Door of Prayer

The Humble Door of PrayerThe next six weeks, I’m immersing myself in the study of prayer as I prepare to finish my little liturgy, Flower, Fruit, Field this summer. This book has been percolating in my heart for almost a year, coming together in bits and pieces. I thought a little book (maybe 12,000 words) would be a quick project, but the art of writing simple words is much more like creating a bonsai tree than assembling a puzzle with fewer pieces.

But I want to share the journey with you, and it begins at the Humble Door of Prayer.  I’ve never been to Israel, but they say you have to stoop to enter the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem.  I’ve always pictured the door to the quiet place of our heart, one that requires us to bow in order to enter.  That solitary action of bowing reminds us that we are coming to speak with our Lord, our King, the Great I AM. The sight of our dirt laden feet upon the floor reminds us that we are sinners unworthy of the love and grace He gives us when we come to be with Him.

Yet He commands us to lift our eyes, to gaze upon His face and to pour out our hearts to Him.  He listens so patiently while we bumble through our frustrations, our struggles with sin, and our intercessions for those around us. He waits, and then if we will stay and listen, He speaks. He wipes away our tears when we are grieving.  He wraps His arms around us when we need comfort. He emboldens our hearts when we are in distress. He promises provision in our hour of need.

But for Him to do any of those things we must ENTER into His presence and not be quick to leave the moment we finish speaking. That’s why the Door of Prayer is made low.  If we are too quick to enter or leave, we will miss the amazing grace of His presence.  If we do not humble ourselves, we will enter into His presence. We may yell at Him from outside the door, hoping He hears our passing request.  We may step just inside the door, sound off our needs then turn and leave.  But we deny ourselves the true blessing of prayer when we do so.

Lord let us never forget Your holiness. To enter Your presence is to be on holy ground. Let us never enter without reverence acknowledging the price paid for that privilege. Let us enter with humble and grateful hearts for Your desire to minister to us. Most of all, let us never leave without being made more like You. May we be living testimonies of the power of prayer.

Standing Steadfast

Standing SteadfastTherefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:48

When I think of STEADFAST I think of two things- mountains and God. Scripture refers often to God as a mighty mountain or rock.  He is our Firm Foundation, our Solid Rock, our Rock of Ages. He won’t be moved unless He desires to move. Maybe that’s why we stand in awe of the majesty of mountain ranges. They take our breath away, because they remind us how great and mighty God is.

If you were to ask me what I think the opposite of STEADFAST is, I would say humans.  We waver with the slightest wind of change.  Everyday trends and opinions change, even inside the church. We are easily moved by the currents of society.  Scripture compares our wills to shifting sand.  If you’ve ever walked a beach, you know how easily the sand moves when stepped upon, blown, or touched by water.  We are the epitome of shifty.

But God calls us to be STEADFAST. He wants us to stand anchored in His word, His will, His love.  He tells us to be like trees planted beside Living Water, our roots seeking out His depths.  But how? How do we grow roots?  How do we reach deeper than the sandy surface and find the bedrock that will anchor us?

Through Him.

It is that simple and yet that hard.  We have to desire Him the way the thirsty desire water.  When we do, we will find persistent prayer a way of life.  We will find His word our source of strength, comfort, hope.  We will find our arms wrapped tightly around Him and His arms around us.  We will cling to His steadfast presence and thus be planted ourselves.

Lately, I’ve been evaluating where I stand in all the different areas of my life.  Like the people in the picture above, I’m standing in awe of the mountain that is God’s will upon which the terrain of my life is tread. I feel so small, so inadequate. My knees quake at the thought of going down this steep mountainside and up that densely wooded one across the way. I know I can’t do it without Him.  I have to anchor myself deep and follow the instructions of the Holy Spirit about where to find my footing and my next anchor verse.

So be encouraged to keep steadfast even when the mountain looks impossible.  Even when you get scrapped up trying to go your own way.  Even when you find yourself hanging by the rope of salvation.  Even when you wander off the path prepared for you and find yourself hopelessly lost.  He is there, underneath you assuring your footing, beside you ready to comfort, within you ready to tell you where to put the next anchor, even ahead of you forging a path back to His perfect one.  We will find our steadfastness in being confident in His.

I love to hear from my readers.  Is there a time God has shown His steadfast heart towards you?  I’d love to hear about it.

Through Rushing Waters

Through Rushing Waters

This past week, I finished reading Catherine Richmond’s Through Rushing Waters. After talking to Catherine at a Transformational Author’s Tuesday Talks, I was drawn to this particular book because it deals with the Ponca tribe in late 1870’s.  In this book, Catherine creates a well balanced historical picture of the competing interests of the US government’s Indian Bureau, the army, the missionaries, the settlers, and the Ponca. Somehow she manages to make you see both the beauty of the wild prairie that the Ponca have called home for generations and the ugliness of what happens to the land, and by consequence the tribe, when the land was settled and turned into farmland. At times the reader can even feel the land struggling to survive along with the tribe.

Catherine Richmond does all this through an unlikely heroine, Sophia Mackinoff, a young Russian noblewoman, who becomes a missionary for the Ponca Indian Agency. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure that Sophia’s backstory, the unrest in Russia that forced her and her father to flee and her Greek Orthodox faith, was going to contribute anything to this story. Yet Sophia is the perfect eyes and heart to tell the Ponca’s story through.  Her own experiences as a foreigner colors in the Ponca life and gives a unique outsider perspective allowing the reader to appreciate all sides of the story.

As the title captures, the words ‘Through Rushing Waters’ anchors Sophia as her life, those of her fellow Indian Agency employees, and the Ponca are tried and tested. The true history isn’t far off from this fictionalized version. I found myself praying for intercession over and over and thinking about the real people who lived through these historical events. This book left me wanting to somehow honor those who gave voice to the injustices around them.

Through Rushing Waters is one of those books that will make you wrestle with a need to be different. Among the many lessons this book has to offer, one of the strongest is charity is love in action. This is echoed in the development of the romance between Sophia and Will Dunn. Will and Sophia teach us how to overcome our differences and get to know one another. We learn how to listen, how to meet needs, how different backgrounds and faiths aren’t the real obstacles, but our narrow-mindedness.  As love develops between Will and Sophia, and through their combined love for the Ponca, the reader sees the greater love of God for all men.

As with all Transformational Fiction, I found myself gripped with the reality that this story is still being written. Throughout the book there are planted very small pictures of very great offenses universal to every Native American tribe.  These injustices still exist and like Will and Sophia, I want to help give voice to these issues along with tangible ways to rectify our past mistakes. I also walked away from this book challenged to have a right heart towards others. To stop assuming I know what other people are going through or need. Real charity requires knowing and loving those who are different than me.  Before I give, I need to listen to their needs and give even if it means sharing the last of what I have.  This book reminds us that is the charity that God blesses, and the moment God proves Himself the provider of our needs.

I look forward to reading more of Catherine Richmond’s books in the very near future.

Through Rushing Waters is available for sale at Amazon and CBD.

You can find more about Catherine Richmond and her books at her website.

You can also follow Catherine on Facebook.

For more Transformational Fiction you can visit our website or join us on Facebook.

Depths of Love

Depths of Love

As an infant in the Lord, I couldn’t fathom the depths of God’s love. Like a new swimmer, I couldn’t dive into that deep end. I couldn’t hold my breath that long. In fact, it seemed that just to stick my head under the water was overwhelming.

I wish the Lord would have given me a spiritual director to train me through those tender years. I floundered in the shallow end. Then I decided to just jump off the deep end, figuring I’d learn or I’d drown. I came very close to drowning. Thankfully the Lord pulled me back to where I could stand up. Slowly, I taught myself to listen to His voice, to trust His instructions, to not panic when my feet left the security of the bottom. And the more I threw myself into practicing to swim, the more I understood my need for Him and His love for me.

One day, I realized I could swim and dive. I got comfortable in the pool for a while, thinking I understood the depths of His love as I touched the twelve foot bottom, until one day I arrived and He told me to follow Him. He led me to the ocean.  Its vast and powerful waves, overwhelmed me. Not far out, it was deeper than the pool I’d grown comfortable with. He offered me His hand and led me in, but as the water rose above my waist I got scared and let go. I turned around and was immediately knocked down by the waves.

When I made it to the sandy shore, I collapsed with exhaustion. This wasn’t the calm pool waters. This was something different. This wasn’t something I was going to learn to do easily. This was something that was going to shape me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be shaped. I wasn’t sure finding the depth of God’s love was worth learning to swim beyond the breakers. But I realized, the pool had trained me in the skills I needed- prayer, reading scripture, knowing His voice, trusting Him.

Now God was asking me to follow Him into the real world. It was scary to go out into water where I couldn’t see the bottom and the waves constantly barraged me. But each time I got a little stronger. Each time I was overwhelmed, Jesus would pull me back to the safety of the shore. Day after day, the progress was small but the further out I went the less resistance there was. I grew in endurance and in trust that He wouldn’t let me drown.

I’ve made it past the breakers but now the bottom is no longer touchable. Out here it requires a conservation of energy. I don’t have the freedom to go back to the shallow end and rest. When I tire, I have to go back to the shore. Each day, I have to face the waves to get out beyond them. They are no less powerful but I’ve grown stronger. And I wonder what is next? What do I learn now that I’ve conquered getting out to the calmer waters? Will He teach me to dive deeper into His love? Will He teach me to swim to distant shores?

The depth of His love is like the deepest part of the ocean floor. I will never reach it. What I do know is wherever He leads it will be worth it.

Where are you?  Are you still in the pool?  Standing scared on the beach?  Stuck in the undertow?

Stories that Shape the Soul-The Wood’s Edge

Stories that Shape the Soul

I’ve been making room in my schedule for more reading.  I read Lori Benton’s book Burning Sky back in the fall. It was so good that I planned to purchase The Wood’s Edge in April to read when I finished my beta-copy of Instruments of Intervention.  God has a sense of humor, because He gave me the opportunity to read an ARC (advanced reader copy), two months before it officially comes out. I couldn’t say no.

As with her first two books, Lori’s attention to historical detail brings the reader right into the 1700’s frontier life. She has mastered giving a solid historical backdrop by weaving it through the characters’ personal stories. The complicated relationships between the different groups of settlers and Native American tribes all feel authentic. From the encounters with soldiers to missionaries, you can’t help but step away from the book with a deeper understanding our history.

The course of two families’ lives are forever changed by Major Reginald Aubrey’s decision to switch his dead newborn son for one of the twins born the same night to a woman from the nearby Oneida community.  The repercussions of his decision are foreshadowed in the ensuing escape as the French take the fort and the natives with them attack the fleeing English. The rest of the book reveals the domino effect of that decision over twenty years as the twin boys grow up in two very different households and cultures.

To tell you anymore would spoil the story, but I will mention the pacing is different from Lori’s last two books.  As a writer, I can tell you trying to cover 20 years of one character’s life is difficult, but Lori manages to weave the life events of a whole cast of characters so well that while you are aware of the passing time, you don’t feel lapses in their stories.  It also allows for a slower more enjoyable read.  You can set the book down in between the year breaks feeling satisfied. Yet the next time you see The Wood’s Edge, you just as eagerly want to pick it up again.

As you approach the end you suddenly feel there aren’t enough chapters to wrap up all the questions going through your mind, but Lori’s ending doesn’t disappoint.  There is redemption, forgiveness, and healing in the characters’ lives and hope for the future. Being the first in a series, the few unanswered questions leave the reader with an anticipation, but not a dissatisfaction.  You walk away confident God has everything in hand and yet uncertain what the future holds for characters that have become dear friends.

The Wood’s Edge will stay with you and give you plenty to talk to the Lord about. I wrestled with God over all the times Reginald had the opportunity to confess his sin and to make it right. I reflected on some of my own life decisions and their impacts. I walked away with an awareness that our sin has ripples of consequences, and we never know the whole story behind someone’s sin (even in fiction). I also realized God’s forgiveness is only half of the healing process of repentance. There is also a need for honesty and restitution to those we’ve hurt in the process.

The care and time Lori puts into each book is relished in every bite like a soup that has all day to simmer.  While 2016 feels far off for the sequel, The Flight of Arrows, I know it will be worth the wait.  In the meantime, when I find myself missing my beloved friends, I know they are simply a bookshelf away and will reminisce with them as I hear their story again.

The Wood’s Edge is set to release April 21st.  It is available for pre-order at Amazon and CBD.

You can find more about Lori Benton and her books at her website.

You can also follow Lori on Facebook .

*While I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review, this review is completely my own opinions and complies with ethical author standards.