Wednesday, February 18, 2009

WILD Card Tour: Out of Time by Paul McCusker (Time Thriller Series)

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:

Out of Time (Time Thriller Series #2)

Zondervan (February 1, 2009)


Paul McCusker is the author of The Mill House, Epiphany, The Faded Flower and several Adventures in Odyssey programs. Winner of the Peabody Award for his radio drama on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for Focus on the Family, he lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and two children.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (February 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310714370
ISBN-13: 978-0310714378


“Quid est ergo tempus? si nemo ex me quaerat, scio; si quaerenti explicare velim, nescio.”

[Translation: “What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone who does ask me, I do not know.”]

-St. Augustine


A tall gray old man stepped to the pinnacle of Glastonbury Tor, an unusual cone-like hill with a tower named after a saint. In the wet English twilight, the wind whipped the old man’s long gray hair and beard and the ragged brown monk’s robe he wore like a flag in a gale. The dark clouds above moved and gathered around him. Chalice and Wearyall Hills sat nearby, their shoulders hunched. A battered Abbey beyond listened in silence.

The old man cast a sad eye to the green landscape, spread like a quilt, adorned with small houses and shops. He prayed silently for a moment, then pulled an ancient curved horn from under his habit. He placed it to his lips and blew once, then twice, then a final time. The three muted blasts were caught by the wind and carried away.

It was a summons.

PART ONE: The Stranger

Chapter 1
Chapter 2

“Look at that,” Ben Hearn said to his wife Kathryn. “It’s crazy, I tell you. Crazy.”

They were in Ben’s pick-up truck rattling for the Fawlt Line High School to help chaperone the sophomore class end-of-the-year school dance. Mr. and Mrs. Hearn weren’t keen on dances themselves, at least not the modern kind, but their daughter Chelsea would be there for her first real dance in her formal dress and flowers and carefully permed hair. She was escorted by Tommy Daughtry who showed up tonight at their front door in an ill-fitting tuxedo and an awkward blush on his cheeks. Kathryn thought they were an adorable couple, and said so again and again with every photograph she insisted on taking next to the fireplace and on the patio and by Tommy’s dad’s car. Kathryn even took a picture as they drove away.

“Kathryn, are you listening to me?”

“What’s crazy, Ben?” Kathryn suddenly asked, peering through the unusual fog.

“Didn’t you see the sign for Malcolm Dubb’s village?”

Kathryn hadn’t. But since they were on one of the roads bordering Malcolm Dubb’s vast estate, she remembered what sign her husband was talking about. It was the one that announced the construction of Malcolm Dubb’s Historical Village.

“I don’t know what the town council was thinking when they agreed to it,” Ben said. Malcolm was the wealthiest citizen of their little town of Fawlt Line. In fact, his family had been there for close to two centuries. Malcolm, a history buff, had designated a large portion of his property for the village.

Kathryn squinted at the fog ahead. “Don’t you think you should slow down?”

The truck engine whined as Ben heeded his wife. “You know what he’s doing with the village, right? He’s shipping in buildings, Kathryn. Brick by brick and stone by stone from all over the world. Have you ever heard of such a thing? A museum with a few trinkets and artifacts I could understand, but buildings?”

Kathryn smiled. “Malcolm always was obsessed with history. I remember when we were in school together—”

Ben wasn’t listening. “Do you know what they’ve been working on for the past few weeks? Some kind of a ruin from England. A monastery or castle or cathedral or something.”

“From England?” Kathryn asked. “Did he ship in this fog too?”

Ben grunted, “I just don’t understand Malcolm’s fascination with something that’s ruined. What’s the point?”

Kathryn was about to answer—and would have—if a man on horseback hadn’t suddenly appeared on the road in front of them. The fog cleared just in time for Ben to see him. He swore out loud as he hit the brakes and jerked the steering wheel to the right. The horse reared wildly. The man flew backwards to the ground. Kathryn cried out as the truck skidded into a ditch on the side of the road and came to a gravel-spraying stop.

Ben and Kathryn looked at each other shakily.

“You all right?” Ben asked.

Kathryn nodded.

“Of all the stupid things to do—” Ben growled and angrily pushed his door open. “Stay here,” he said before the door slammed shut again.

Kathryn reached over and turned on the emergency flashers.

Ben made his way cautiously down the road. “Fool,” Ben muttered to himself, then called out. “Hello? Are you all right?”

The fog parted like a curtain, as if to present the man lying on the side of the road to Ben.

“Oh no,” Ben said, rushing forward. He crouched down next to the figure, a very large man. Whoever it was seemed to be wrapped in a dark blanket. The man was perfectly still and his face was hidden in the fog and shadows.

“Hey,” Ben said, hoping the man would stir. He didn’t. Ben looked him over for any sign of blood. Nothing was obvious around his head. But what could he expect to see in that fog? “Kathryn! Call 911 on the mobile phone. And bring me the flashlight from the glove compartment!” he called out.

He peered closely at the shadowed form of the man as he heard Kathryn open her door. She was already talking into the phone, gasping instructions to an emergency operator. The shaft of light from the flashlight bounced around eerily in the ever-moving fog. “Ben?”

“Here,” Ben said.

Kathryn joined him. “Ambulance is on its way. But they’re on the line and want to know his condition.”

He took the flashlight from her and got his first full look at the stranger. He had long dark salt-and-peppery hair, beard, and moustache and a rugged, outdoorsy kind of face. Ben couldn’t guess an age for the man. Anywhere from 40 to 60, he figured. He wore a peaceful expression. He could’ve been sleeping. “I can’t tell. There’s no blood.”

Kathryn reported Ben’s findings to the emergency operator, then asked Ben, “He’s not dead is he?”

“I don’t think so.” Ben reached down, separating the blanket to check the man’s vital signs. The feel of the cloth told him it wasn’t a blanket at all. And as he pushed the fabric aside, he realized that it was a cape made of a thick course material, clasped at the neck by a dragon brooch. “What in the world—?”

Kathryn gasped.

They expected to see a shirt or a sweater or a coat of some sort. Instead he wore a long vest with the symbol of a dragon stitched on to the front, a gold belt, brown leggings, and soft leather footwear that looked more like slippers than shoes. The whole outfit reminded Ben of the kind of costume he’d seen in a Robin Hood movie. At his side was a sword in a sheath.

“Is it Halloween?” Kathryn asked.


At the high school, the sophomore dance was just getting under way. The Starliners, a rock and jazz band from nearby Hancock, warmed up for their first number as the sound engineer tried to get the volume just right.

Jeff Dubbs, dressed in a tux and looking all the more uncomfortable for it, stepped into the converted gymnasium and looked around. Streamers and balloons blew gently in the rafters above. A banner wishing the class a good summer rustled over the scoreboard.

A couple of dozen kids mingled in the middle of the dance floor and along the walls. Jeff tugged at his collar and wished he was somewhere else. Anywhere else.

Elizabeth Forde, Jeff’s girlfriend, slipped her hand into the crook of Jeff’s arm. She kissed him on the cheek. “Tell me you like it. We were here all afternoon getting the room decorated.”

“It’s nice,” Jeff said. You’re nicer, he thought as he looked Elizabeth over for the umpteenth time. She was wearing a stunning pink gown with lots of lacy things around the neck and sleeves. The white corsage he had bought for her was pinned to the strap. She looked out over the gathering students and he took in her profile: the delicate nose, large brown eyes and full lips, all framed by the long brown hair that she’d taken extra care with earlier that evening. He had to admit it, she was beautiful.

She glanced at him and caught him looking at her. He blushed.

“What’s wrong?” she asked self-consciously.

A loud metallic crash behind them saved Jeff from answering. Elizabeth’s father, Alan Forde, an eccentric man at the best of times, had dropped a tray of paper cups filled with drinks. Elizabeth’s mother rolled her eyes. “I told you to be careful,” she lectured.

“Too many cups to one side,” he answered quickly as he knelt to clean up the mess. “I misjudged the balance.”

“Oh, Daddy,” said Elizabeth bemused, and went to his side to help.

Jeff grinned. There was a time when Elizabeth would have raced from the room in embarrassment over her father. Not any more. Not since she’d had an adventure that, in part, made her realize how much she loved her parents, quirks and all.

“Hello, Jeff,” Malcolm Dubbs said. Malcolm was an English relative who’d become Jeff’s guardian—and the head of the Dubbs family’s vast American estate—after Jeff’s parents had died in a car accident.

“Hi, Malcolm,” Jeff said. “Nice suit.”

Malcolm tugged at bottom of his jacket. “It doesn’t smell musty, does it?”

Jeff sniffed the air. “Nope.”


The lead singer for the band stepped up to the microphone. “How’re you doing?” We’re the Starliners and we hope you’re ready to dance!” The three-piece brass section started an up-tempo song with the rest of the band joining in a few bars later. A handful of dancers wiggled their way onto the floor. Again, Jeff wished he was somewhere else. He didn’t like to dance.

Elizabeth left her father and mother to finish cleaning up the spilled drinks and rejoined Jeff.

“You look exquisite, Elizabeth,” Malcolm said.

Elizabeth curtseyed. “Thank you, Malcolm. You look pretty nice yourself.”

He smiled at her, then at Jeff. “Why don’t you two dance?”

“Malcolm,” Jeff said through clenched teeth. Malcolm knew full well that Jeff didn’t like to dance.

Elizabeth feigned a melodramatic tone, “I’ve resigned myself to an evening as a wallflower.”

“Will you dance with me?” Malcolm asked, with a slight bow.

“I’d love to,” she said and offered him her hand.

He took it and winked at Jeff as he lead her onto the dance floor. Jeff leaned against the door post, his arms folded. Upstaged by his cousin once again. But he didn’t mind at all.

A tap on the shoulder took his gaze from the dance floor and into the round boyish face of Sheriff Richard Hounslow. The Sheriff was in his uniform—Fawlt Line Police Department’s traditional beige shirt and trousers. The shirt was unbuttoned at the collar. He didn’t wear a gun unless he had to. His only official equipment was his badge and a walkie-talkie strapped to his belt. “Is your cousin here?”

Jeff tipped his head towards the dance floor. “Out there with Elizabeth. Is something wrong?”


“You want me to go get him?”

Hounslow shook his head. “Nah, I’ll wait until the song’s over.”

They stood silently for a moment and watched Malcolm and Elizabeth play Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers amidst the wild gyrations of the dancers around them.

“He’s not bad,” Hounslow said.

The song ended. Malcolm and Elizabeth, pleasantly breathless, returned to Jeff.

“Uh oh,” Malcolm said when he saw Hounslow. “What’s wrong?”

Hounslow straightened up. “I need you to come to the hospital. Apparently one of the workers from your so-called historical village was knocked down by Ben Hearn’s truck.”

“One of my workers?” Malcolm said, surprised. “But they’re off for the weekend. Are you certain he’s from my village?”

Hounslow shrugged. “He came racing off of your property on a horse—right in front of Ben. Worse, he doesn’t speak a word of English, just some gibberish. That’s why I need you to come.”

“Is he seriously hurt?”

“No. But Doc McConnell wants to keep him in overnight for observation.” Hounslow gestured to the dance. “Sorry to take you away from all your fun.”

“Hmm.” Malcolm turned to Jeff. “My dear boy, I leave Elizabeth in your capable hands. Dance with her.”

Jeff hung his head.

“You heard your cousin,” Elizabeth said, and dragged Jeff onto the dance floor.


The stranger had caused such a ruckus at the hospital—shouting, trying to get away—that the doctor had had to sedate him and strap him into the bed. He lay sleeping as Malcolm, Sheriff Hounslow, and Dr. McConnell approached the bed.

“We had to give him three times the normal dose because of his size,” Dr. McConnell said softly, as if he was afraid of waking the man.

Malcolm looked closely at the unconscious figure. He was big, all right, stretching the length of the bed. “I’ve never seen him before,” Malcolm said.

“He was riding one of your horses,” Hounslow stated.

Malcolm cocked an eyebrow. “I’ll have to talk to Mr. Farrar, my groundskeeper. He lives in the cottage next to the stables.”

“Already done,” Hounslow said. “He was watching television. Didn’t hear a thing. He was surprised that one of your horses was gone. So, if nothing else, you could press charges against the man for horse-thievery.”

Malcolm shook his head. “I’d like to find out more about him first.”

“Well, good luck. We couldn’t get anything out of him. He kept yakking away in some gibberish. Kept pounding his chest and calling himself Rex or Regis or something like that.”

Dr. McConnell interjected. “It’s strange, but he spoke words and phrases that reminded me of the Latin I picked up in medical school.”

“Latin?” Malcolm asked.

“Could’ve been,” Dr. McConnell said. “But I’m no expert.”

Hounslow pulled at his belt. “I called the asylum in Grantsville to see if they’ve had any escapes. None.”

“Just because he speaks Latin doesn’t mean he’s mentally disturbed,” Malcolm said.

“Agreed,” Hounslow answered, “but how about that.” He pointed to the stranger’s clothes, now draped across a visitor’s chair.

Malcolm walked to the chair. “This is what he had on?” he asked, surprised.

Hounslow nodded. “That’s another reason we figured he was from your village. You haven’t started hiring character actors, have you?”

“The construction workers are still building,” Malcolm said. “I haven’t hired any staff yet.” He fingered the fabric of the robe and tunic, making a mental note of the dragon insignias. He picked up the soft leather shoes and looked them over. “Amazing. The outfit looks so authentic. And I don’t mean authentic like a well-done replica, I mean it looks worn like they’re real clothes.”

“Maybe he’s one of those homeless fruitcakes who just happened to wander into town,” Hounslow offered.

Dr. McConnell folded his arms, “It’s hard to imagine this guy being homeless and just wandering anywhere with that sword.”

“Sword?” asked Malcolm.

“Here,” Hounslow said and opened the door to the large wardrobe in the corner. With both hands he pulled out a long sword encased in an ornate golden scabbard. He cradled it in his arms for Malcolm to inspect.

“Good grief,” Malcolm gasped, running his hand along the golden scabbard. “Is that real gold?”

“Looks like it,” Hounslow said.

Malcolm examined the handle of the sword, also golden, with a row of unfamiliar jewels imbedded along the length of the stem. Even in the washed-out fluorescent light of the room, it sparkled as if it reflected the sun. “Can I take it out?”

“Yeah,” Hounslow said, “but be careful. It’s heavy and sharp.”

Malcolm grabbed the handle with both hands and withdrew the sword from the scabbard. It was heavy, as Hounslow said, and Malcolm imagined it would take a man the size of the stranger to weald it with any effect. It was a strain to hold it up. The blade was made of thick, shiny steel with an elaborate engraving of what looked like thin vines and blossoms along the edges. “It must be worth a fortune,” Malcolm said as he slid the sword back into the sheath.

Dr. McConnell agreed. “So what’s a derelict doing with a Latin vocabulary and a valuable sword?”

“That’s what I’d like to find out when he wakes up,” Malcolm answered.

Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Within two hours the stranger was awake and pulling at the restraining straps on the bed. He shouted at the nurse, Dr. McConnell, Sheriff Hounslow and Malcolm in a tone that was unmistakably belligerent. When he realized it didn’t help, he resigned himself to watch the flashing lights and electronic graphs on the medical equipment around him.

After hearing a few of the phrases he yelled—like rex, regis, libertas, stultus—Malcolm was certain about the Latin and phoned a friend of his from the University at Frostburg to come. Dr. Camilla Ashe was so intrigued by Malcolm’s description that she decided not to wait until morning and drove the forty-five minutes to Fawlt Line that night. She arrived a little after ten. By that time the group in the room included Jerry Anderson, editor of Fawlt Line’s Daily Gazette. He had heard the news about the mystery man on his police scanner.

Dr. Ashe, a prim scholarly woman dressed from head to toe in tweed, approached the side of the bed warily. The stranger was once again transfixed by the lights on the equipment and only seemed to realize she was there when she cleared her throat. He looked at her with an expression of impatience. She spoke to him in Latin and he gawked at her. Then, realizing he finally had someone who understood him, he bombarded her with words. She tried to interject, but the stranger kept talking. His voice rose to a shout and she seemed to lose patience and responded in kind.

Malcolm watched them, astounded that they seemed to be arguing and wished he had taken the time to learn Latin in college. Jeff and Elizabeth quietly slipped into the room, still dressed in their clothes from the dance, and leaned against the far wall to stay out of the way.

The stranger continued his assault with words. Finally, Dr. Ashe put her hands on her hips and spoke in a tone that was withering in any language. The stranger turned his head away from her as if to say that the conversation was over. He didn’t look at her again. She spun around to the expectant group, growled loudly and stormed out of the room.

“What was that all about?” Malcolm asked her in the hall.

Her hands trembled as she unwrapped a piece of gum and tossed it into her mouth. “I’ve given up smoking, but I’d love to have a cigarette now.”

“Sorry,” Malcolm said, then waited politely for her to compose herself.

“He said he didn’t want to talk to a woman,” she said. “He resented a woman being sent to him by his captors.”


Dr. Ashe chewed her gum forcefully. “I don’t mind saying that that man should be certified. He’s not sane.”

“Why? What did he say?”

“He said that, as a king, he should be treated with more respect. He wants to speak with whichever baron or duke is holding him captive. He wants to know where he’s being held and if there’s a ransom. He demands to be told how he got here and where his knights are. And, finally, he wants someone to tell him about the magic boxes with the flashing lights.” Dr. Ashe groaned.

“I told you he’s a fruitcake,” Sheriff Hounslow said from behind Malcolm.

“Or it’s a very tiresome joke,” Dr. Ashe added and wagged a finger at Malcolm. “You wouldn’t be pulling a prank on me, would you?”

“No,” Malcolm said simply.

“Then you should get him some psychiatric help,” she said.

“I still don’t understand,” Malcolm said. “He said he’s a king. But King who—and king of what”

Dr. Ashe grinned irritably. “He says he’s King Arthur.”

Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Dr. Ashe left. She wanted nothing more to do with the Latin-speaking lunatic.

“What are you going to do now?” Jerry Anderson asked Malcolm.

Before Malcolm could answer, Hounslow jumped in. “Let’s get something straight. Doc McConnell and I are making the decisions here. Not Malcolm.”

“Sorry,” Jerry said. “What are you going to do now, Sheriff Hounslow?”

Hounslow shrugged, “I don’t know yet.”

Malcolm smiled politely. “In my humble opinion, we should find someone else who knows enough Latin to communicate with him. A man this time.”

Elizabeth raised her hand and wiggled her fingers. “I know someone.”

All eyes fell to her.

“My Dad,” she said. “He studied Latin when he was in college and sometimes uses it for his research.” Elizabeth’s father was a teacher at the middle school, though some said he should have been teaching at a major university.

“Of course,” Malcolm said and went to the phone.

Alan Forde was quite tall himself and his size, combined with his knowledge of Latin, obviously impressed the stranger. The stranger seemed more patient and spoke in calmer tones. Alan pulled up a chair next to the bed. After a brief spurt of conversation, he turned to Dr. McConnell. “Can we free his hands please?”

Dr. McConnell looked skeptically at Alan and the stranger. “You’re kidding.”

“He promises not to resort to physical violence or even to attempt an escape. But it’s offensive to his honor to be tied up.”

“Well ... “ Dr. McConnell began, then looked to Sheriff Hounslow and Malcolm for help.

“I think you should do it,” Malcolm suggested.

Sheriff Hounslow unclipped the walkie-talkie from his belt and called to one of his officers on the other end. “Bring me my gun,” he said.

“Okay,” Dr. McConnell said. He undid the restraining straps.

The stranger rubbed his wrists then sat up in the bed. He spoke to Alan.

“Thank you,” Alan translated, then added: “I think he’ll be more agreeable to talk now.”

“Does he really think he’s King Arthur?” Hounslow asked.


“Then what’s he doing here?” Malcolm asked. “What was he doing on my property? Why did he take my horse?”

Alan posed the questions to the stranger.

Through Alan, the stranger explained, “My nephew Sir Mordred, that traitorous and wicked knight, attempted to usurp my throne whilst I was pursuing Sir Lancelot north to his castle at Joyous Gard. Verily, I loved Lancelot as my own, even whilst he coveted my queen and betrayed me. While I was gone, Mordred enticed many weak-willed nobles to join his army to overthrow my rule. My army met and routed his forces on Barham Down, but my nephew fled to other parts. We made chase but did not battle them again, choosing instead to negotiate a peace. I desired not the terrible bloodshed that would ensue if we were to engage in combat. And so it is that we have come here to this plain to meet and discuss terms.”

“What’s this got to do with anything?” Hounslow growled.

Malcolm ignored him. “So tonight is the eve of your meeting with Mordred to make a truce,” he said to Alan while looking at the stranger. “What happened?”

The stranger answered through Alan, “As I lay upon my bed in my pavilion, I dreamed an incredible dream. I sat upon a chair which was fastened to a wheel in the sky. I was adorned in a garment of finest woven gold. Far below me I saw deep black water wherein was contained all manner of serpents and worms and the most foul and horrible wild beasts. Suddenly, it was as if the wheel turned upside-down and I fell among the serpents and wild beasts and they pounced upon me. I cried out in a loud voice and awoke upon a cold slab of stone in the midst of a vast field. Troubled by this vision, I rose, determined to find my knights. I espied glowing torches in the distance and approached them. I found there not my army but a stable of horses. I mounted one and made haste in the direction of my knights. I spurred the horse ever-faster and faster until I was attacked by the armored cart that was drawn by neither man nor beast. Frightened, my horse reared and I fell to the ground.” He turned to Malcolm, “Now, speak knave, am I a prisoner or is a dream?”

Malcolm tugged gently at his ear and said to the others, “He woke up on one of the stone slabs in my historical village. Probably in the church ruins I bought from England. Very interesting.”

“You don’t believe any of this nonsense, do you?” Hounslow asked.

Malcolm answered in a guarded tone, “For the moment, I believe that he’s confused and found himself on my property.”

The stranger folded his arms and muttered the same phrase over and over.

“He says Merlin is responsible,” Alan said. “He doesn’t know how, but he’s sure it is some trickery of Merlin’s.”

“That’s it,” Hounslow said. “Everybody out. It’s now past midnight and I’ve had enough of this. We’re going to transfer this nutcase to the Hancock Sanitarium. Let them decide what to do with him.” With that said, he marched out of the room.

Dr. McConnell looked at Malcolm apologetically. “What else can I do with him?”

Malcolm didn’t know. “I wish I could take him back to my cottage.”

The stranger spoke again and Alan translated, “Answer me! Am I to be ransomed or is this a dream?”

Malcolm spoke as soothingly as he could. “Tell him that we are not his captors and, if it’ll help, to consider this a bizarre dream.” As an afterthought, he added, “Also ask him if he’ll give us his word as King not to try to escape tonight. Otherwise, the doctor will have to strap his arms again.”

The stranger gave his word.

Dynamic Uno here: Out of Time is a wonderful sequel in the Time Thriller Trilogy that includes the realm of Camelot and King Arthur. How does King Arthur fit into time travel, you ask? Well, he's the one that has been displaced into Fawlt Line, and since he only speaks Latin--well, he has a rather hard time getting along well with the locals--especially the sheriff.

Fear not! God has everything under control, even if Malcolm and Jeff do not. They end of having to break King Arthur out of a mental hospital and run like fugitives to England. Unfortunately, Arthur's story has hit the tabloids and they are recognised by one pesky reporter. To top things off, things aren't going so well in England either, but you'll have to read the book to find out about what's happening over there.

If you enjoy fast paced fantasy stories, or even the legends of King Arthur, then this book is for you. It's a quick read, and teenagers both young and old will enjoy it. Check out the first book in the series--otherwise, some of the conversations/relationships will not make sense to you.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wild Card Tour: Finding God in The Shack by Randal Rauser

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:

Finding God in the Shack

Authentic (February 3, 2009)


Randal Rauser is associate professor of historical theology at Taylor Seminary, Edmonton, Canada and was granted Taylor’s first annual teaching award for Outstanding Service to Students in 2005. Dr. Rauser’s career as both professor and author has been shaped by his passion for developing a biblically sound apologetic theology that meets the challenges of secular western culture. He is a popular speaker and gifted communicator who seeks to bring the truth of Scripture to bear on the real-life issues of today.

Rauser received his master’s degree in Christian studies at Regent College, later earning a PhD at King’s College London, where he focused on studying the doctrine of the Trinity. Dr. Rauser is the coauthor (with Daniel Hill) of Christian Philosophy A-Z (Edinburgh University Press, 2006) and author of Faith Lacking Understanding (Paternoster) and Theology in Search of Foundations (Oxford University Press, Forthcoming). He has also authored several articles which have appeared in International Journal of Systematic Theology, Heythrop Journal, and Christian Scholars Review. In keeping with his interest in the crossroads of theology and popular culture, Dr. Rauser’s newest book, Finding God in The Shack, explores the theology set forth in The Shack.

Dr. Rauser’s approach to controversial novels like The Shack and The Da Vinci Code distinguishes him from many other evangelical thinkers. “Sometimes we evangelicals possess a certain flatness; we can’t see the beauty of a story. In my opinion, a book like The Shack is not an end in itself. It is part of a conversation,” Dr. Rauser muses. “When a book becomes a catalyst for us to engage people in conversations about who God is instead of the latest update on ‘Brangelina’ or the status of our 401(k)s, we should not miss that opportunity simply because we’re afraid we might make a theological mistake. After all, what work or discourse on theology gets everything right?”

Rauser met his wife, Jasper, a native of Korea, while she was studying English in Vancouver. They have been married since 1999 and have a six-year-old daughter named Jamie and a Lhasa Apso named Sonny. The Rausers currently attend Greenfield Baptist Church in Edmonton, where Dr. Rauser teaches Sunday school and has presented a seminar on the theology of The Shack.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Authentic (February 3, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1606570323
ISBN-13: 978-1606570326


Why This Theologian Is Especially Fond of The Shack

As a theologian, I have one big reason to be especially fond of The Shack. To appreciate the source of my gratitude, I need to say a few words about academic theology over the last forty years. (Trust me, this will not be as painful as it sounds!) Our story begins back in the year 1967 when Catholic theologian

Karl Rahner published a little book called The Trinity. There, Rahner observed, “Despite their orthodox confession of the Trinity, Christians are, in their practical life, almost mere ‘monotheists.’ We must be willing to admit that, should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged.”1

By calling Christians “almost mere monotheists” Rahner meant that their beliefs about God do not differ significantly from other forms of monotheism like Judaism and Islam. But how can this be if, as Christians claim, the very foundation of their belief in God is found in the doctrine of the Trinity? Rahner’s striking claim really shook up theologians as they pondered how it could be that the doctrine which is supposed to be at the heart of our faith was actually somewhere out on the periphery.

Does the Trinity Matter?

Rather than simply take Rahner’s word for it, I would suggest that we test his thesis by way of a little thought experiment. Imagine that the pastor of a typical Baptist church became convinced that the Trinity was false. Instead of believing that God is three persons, he came to believe that God is one person who plays three roles: sometimes he acts as the Father, other times he acts as the Son, and yet other times as the Holy Spirit. This view is called modalism, and it has been considered a heresy by the Christian church since the third century.

Now if the doctrine of the Trinity really is important, we would expect that the pastor’s rejection of it in favor of modalism would send shockwaves throughout the church. But is this really what would happen? I doubt it! On the contrary, I suspect that as long as he continued to mention the Father, Son and Spirit, it wouldn’t matter if he believed they were all the same person. The church would continue on as it always had with its weekly services, Christmas pageants, potlucks, and various ministries. In contrast to this, if our Baptist pastor baptized an infant on Sunday, I bet you would have a church split by Monday! But surely this is strange: why would a peripheral question concerning the practice of baptism be in practice more important for the church’s identity than the supposedly essential doctrine of the Trinity?

Theologians knew that Rahner was right. Although we claim to be trinitarian Christians, this doctrine does not make a difference to the life of the church. But then the theologians faced the challenge of making the Trinity relevant again. They took up this challenge by doing what theologians do best: they wrote books. Lots of books. Lots and lots of books. Some were about the biblical basis of the Trinity. Others talked about the theological or philosophical dimensions of the Trinity. Still others discussed the historical development of the Trinity. And still others talked about the practical and pastoral implications of the Trinity.2

Many of these books were well worth reading. Indeed, some were good enough to qualify as modern classics. And yet, most were only ever read by other theologians which meant that had virtually no impact on the neighborhood church. As a result, we remain stalled in the same place where we were forty years ago: few pastors know how to preach the Trinity, fewer church goers know how to pray the Trinity, and almost no one knows what it would mean to live the Trinity.

At this point you might be wondering whether the doctrine of the Trinity ever made a difference to the church. The answer is yes, it did: the burning torch of Christian truth has burned much brighter in the past. To take one example, if we could hop in a time machine and travel back to the fourth century Roman Empire, we would have encountered a society that debated theology with the same vigor that Canadians today debate hockey. At that time, big questions were at stake as Christians debated a heretical view called Arianism which said that Jesus was God’s greatest creation.

The fierce public debate between orthodox Christianity and Arianism so consumed the general public that average people would jump into theological debates at the slightest provocation. Strangers in the streets would get into fierce debates over various scriptural passages: for instance, how should we understand the claim that Jesus is God’s “only begotten son” (John 3:16)? Did the text mean, as the Arians claimed, that Jesus was God’s first creation? Or, as the orthodox Christians argued, was Jesus eternally begotten by and equal to God the Father? People of the time were passionate about these questions, for they recognized that the heart of Christianity was at stake.

We have a snapshot of the debate from Gregory of Nyssa, a bishop of the time. He wrote: “If in this city you ask anyone for change, he will discuss with you whether the Son is begotten or unbegotten. If you ask about the quality of bread, you will receive the answer that ‘the Father is greater, the Son is less.’ If you suggest that a bath is desirable, you will be told that ‘there was nothing before the Son was created.’ ”3 In other words, theology was to be found everywhere. It found its way into every conversation, every situation. So prevalent was theological discussion that, as Gregory’s weary tone suggests, even the bishops were getting worn out by the debate!

If Christians in the past could wear out their bishops with their theological bravado, why is it that today many Christians think theology is about as exciting as watching paint dry or attending a life insurance seminar? Or to turn the question around, how can we reignite that lost passion? And how can we get average Christians excited about the doctrine of the Trinity, so that it again returns to coffee shop conversations, morning devotions, and the heart of Christian worship?

Rediscovering the Trinity in The Shack

While the answer to our question is surely complex, recently theology has been given a tremendous boost by, of all things, a novel. Not just any novel mind you, for William Paul Young’s The Shack tells a most unlikely story! Not content simply to

reintroduce the Trinity as a doctrine of mere peripheral interest,

the book weaves the triune God into an engaging narrative. Along the way, it goes to the heart of the most horrifying case of evil and then makes the truly bold claim that God as triune is crucial to the process by which healing is coming to this world.

First, let’s say a word about the story itself. The Shack opens with the narrator “Willie” reporting that he has recorded everything as his close friend Mack had instructed him. (Since the name Willie is an obvious reference to author William Young, some readers have assumed that the book is claiming to be a factual account. But Young has made it clear that the book is fictional, albeit with a significant portion of autobiography thrown in.) We then learn that a few years prior to Willie’s writing Mack took three of his children camping. At the end of a wonderful weekend, his son was in a canoeing accident, and in the melee that ensued, his youngest daughter Missy disappeared. Within hours it became clear that she had been abducted by a serial killer known as the Little Lady-Killer. In a matter of hours, the FBI investigation converged on a remote shack where Missy’s bloody dress was discovered, though her body was never found.

Fast-forward three-and-a-half years and Mack continues to struggle with “the Great Sadness.” Then one day he receives an invitation in his mailbox to meet Papa (his wife’s name for God) at the shack. Perplexed and intrigued, Mack secretly travels to the shack on a Friday evening and is met by an African-American woman named Papa, an Asian woman named Sarayu, and a Jewish man named Jesus: all told, a rather unconventional Trinity! Over the next two days Mack communes with the three as he comes to terms with the Great Sadness and embarks on the road to healing and reconciliation.

The book climaxes on Sunday morning when Papa (now in male form) takes Mack on a journey to the place where the killer buried Missy. Together they return her body to the shack for a proper burial, complete with an unforgettable memorial ceremony. After Mack shares a special communion service with Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu, he falls asleep, only to wake up in the dark, cold cabin. Mack then travels back down the mountain where he gets into a serious car accident. As he slowly recovers in the hospital the memories of the weekend gradually return, prompting the question of whether it was just a dream.

Yet when he has recovered, Mack confirms the truth of the weekend by taking Nan and the police to the grave where the Little Lady-Killer had buried Missy. (Apparently Mack’s experience of relocating and burying Missy’s body did not really occur.) This discovery ultimately provides forensic evidence which leads to the Little Lady-Killer’s arrest and trial. The book ends with Mack transformed and transforming: having been reconciled with his children, wife, and abusive father, he now seeks to extend forgiveness to Missy’s killer.

In the short time since its publication, The Shack has ignited the church’s interest in the doctrine of the Trinity more than the dozens of theology books that have been published by academic theologians over the last forty years. It is wonderful (and a bit humbling) for the theologian to witness a doctrine that has long been locked in the seminary classroom now emerging as a topic of lively conversations at the local coffee shop, and all because of a novel! But while those conversations have not typically lacked for enthusiasm and conviction, many of them would benefit from some deeper background as to the theological issues at stake. It is to this end that the present book is aimed.

Conversations on The Shack: An Overview

We will begin in chapter two of this book with one of the most controversial aspects of The Shack: the manifestation of God the Father as “Papa”, a large African-American woman, and of the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman named Sarayu. This portrayal has yielded some startling, even fantastic charges (including the frenzied charge that The Shack promotes goddess worship!). But even if those charges are overblown, one might still wonder whether the depiction is appropriate and what it implies about our knowledge of God. In this chapter we shall explore these questions by inquiring into the way that the infinite God accommodates himself to our limited human minds, so that we can know him.

Shift to another table in the coffee shop and one might hear an impassioned discussion on how the three persons constitute the one God. On this point some critics have argued that The Shack’s depiction of God is seriously flawed, for it fails to distinguish the three persons. We shall enter into the center of this debate in chapter three as we explore the intriguing way that the book wrestles with the unity and distinction of the Trinity, and ultimately how it distinguishes Sarayu and Jesus in accord with their particular missions as revealed in Scripture.

Turn to another conversation and one finds a heated debate in progress concerning questions of authority and submission. The question here concerns whether the Father is ultimately in charge of the Trinity so that the Son and Spirit eternally submit to him. Or could it be that the Father is as submitted to the Son and Spirit as they are to him? This is not a pointless question, for deciding whether there is authority and submission or mutual submission within God could have radical implications for how we organize our relationships here on earth. After all, don’t we want to be more like God? The view of The Shack is that all the divine persons are submitted to one another and to the creation, and so all human persons should also be so submitted. We shall wade into the midst of this debate in chapter four.

While the conversations thus far are important, it is those that we shall consider in the final three chapters which become for many people critical. In chapter five we will turn to ask how a God who is all-loving and all-powerful would allow the horrific murder of young Missy, a child of whom he says he is especially fond. The reason, it would seem, is that God allows Missy’s death so that he can achieve some kind of greater good out of it. But what kind of “greater goods” would justify the murder of a little girl? Could it be that God allows evil for the sake of free will? And could it be that he allows evil to draw us to him while developing our moral character? Even if these answers provide a plausible general response to evil, we will feel the painful tension when we apply them to the specific death of young Missy.

Turn to another table wrestling with the problem of evil, and the life and death of Jesus Christ moves to center stage. Ultimately there is evil because creation is fallen and we are sick with sin. And so as a response, God has sent his Son to bring healing to this fallen creation. In chapter six we will consider how The Shack explains the atoning work of Christ, noting both what it does and does not affirm about the atonement. In particular, we will note how the book ignores (or bypasses) the language of God’s wrath against sin. Indeed, in its place, it describes the Father as suffering with the Son. We will also consider the controversial question of how far Christ’s atoning work extends, and specifically whether it might save some who have never heard of Christ.

As we said, the world is sick with sin and in need of the Great Physician. However, with a view of salvation as God rescuing souls for heaven, many Christians have missed the fullness of God’s healing intent. And so in our final conversation we will consider the fullness of biblical salvation as extending to all creation. This vision is captured in the subtle way that the book depicts the renewal of the shack and the surrounding environs on Mack’s unforgettable weekend. Evidently it is not only Mack that is being made new, but the entire creation as well.

One final word before we begin. Most people who have read or heard about The Shack are aware of the controversies that swirl around the book. Although I appreciate the passion of the critics, I have been saddened by a frequent lack of charity that has been shown to the book’s author and its fans. And I have been especially disheartened by the advice of some influential Christian leaders not to read the book. It is true that The Shack asks some hard questions and occasionally takes positions with which we might well disagree. But surely the answer is not found in shielding people from the conversation, but rather in leading them through it.

After all, it is through wrestling with new ideas that one learns to deal with the nuance and complexity that characterizes an intellectually mature faith. The Shack will not answer all our questions, nor does it aspire to. But we can be thankful that it has started a great conversation.

1. The Trinity, trans. Joseph Donceel (Tunbridge Wells: Burns and Oates, 1970), 10-11.

2. For some examples of more practically oriented and accessible treatments see Millard Erickson, Making Sense of the Trinity: Three Crucial Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000); Robin Parry, Worshipping Trinity (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2005); Bruce A. Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, & Relevance (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005).

3. Cited in W.H.C. Frend, The Early Church (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), 174-5.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wild Card Tour: Gingham Mountain by Mary Connealy

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:

Gingham Mountain (Lassoed in Texas, Book 3)

Barbour Books (February 1, 2009)


MARY CONNEALY is married to Ivan a farmer, and she is the mother of four beautiful daughters, Joslyn, Wendy, Shelly and Katy. Mary is a GED Instructor by day and an author by night. And there is always a cape involved in her transformation.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $10.97
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (February 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602601410
ISBN-13: 978-1602601413


Sour Springs, Texas, 1870

Martha had an iron rod where most people had a backbone.

Grant smiled as he pulled his team to a stop in front of the train station in Sour Springs, Texas.

She also had a heart of gold—even if the old bat wouldn’t admit it. She was going to be thrilled to see him and scold him the whole time.

“It’s time to get back on the train.” Martha Norris, ever the disciplinarian, had a voice that could back down a starving Texas wildcat, let alone a bunch of orphaned kids. It carried all the way across the street as Grant jumped from his wagon and trotted toward the depot. He’d almost missed them. He could see the worry on Martha’s face.

Wound up tight from rushing to town, Grant knew he was late. But now that he was here, he relaxed. It took all of his willpower not to laugh at Martha, the old softy.

He hurried toward them. If it had only been Martha he would have laughed, but there was nothing funny about the two children with her. They were leftovers.

A little girl, shivering in the biting cold, her thin shoulders hunched against the wind, turned back toward the train. Martha, her shoulders slumped with sadness at what lay ahead for these children, rested one of her competent hands on the child’s back.

Grant noticed the girl limping. That explained why she hadn’t been adopted. No one wanted a handicapped child. As if limping put a child so far outside of normal she didn’t need love and a home. Controlling the slow burn in his gut, Grant saw the engineer top off the train’s water tank. They’d be pulling out of the station in a matter of minutes.

“Isn’t this the last stop, Mrs. Norris?” A blond-headed boy stood, stony-faced, angry, scared.

“Yes, Charlie, it is.”

His new son’s name was Charlie. Grant picked up his pace.

Martha sighed. “We don’t have any more meetings planned.”

“So, we have to go back to New York?” Charlie, shivering and thin but hardy compared to the girl, scowled as he stood on the snow-covered platform, six feet of wood separating the train from the station house.

Grant had never heard such a defeated question.

The little girl’s chin dropped and her shoulders trembled.

What was he thinking? He heard defeat from unwanted children all the time.

Charlie slipped his threadbare coat off his shoulders even though the wind cut like a knife through Grant’s worn-out buckskin jacket.

Grant’s throat threatened to swell shut with tears as he watched that boy sacrifice the bit of warmth he got from that old coat.

Stepping behind Martha, Charlie wrapped his coat around the girl. She shuddered and practically burrowed into the coat as if it held the heat of a fireplace, even as she shook her head and frowned at Charlie.

“Just take the stupid thing.” Charlie glared at the girl.

After studying him a long moment, the little girl, her eyes wide and sad, kept the coat.

Mrs. Norris stayed his hands. “That’s very generous, Charlie, but you can’t go without a coat.”

“I don’t want it. I’m gonna throw it under the train if she don’t take it.” The boy’s voice was sharp and combative. A bad attitude. That could keep a boy from finding a home.

Grant hurried faster across the frozen ruts of Sour Springs Main Street toward the train platform and almost made it. A tight grip on his arm stopped him. Surprised, he turned and saw that irksome woman who’d been hounding him ever since she’d moved to town. What was her name? Grant’d made of point of not paying attention to her. She usually yammered about having his shirts sewn in her shop.

“Grant, it’s so nice to see you.”

It took all his considerable patience to not jerk free. Shirt Lady was unusually tall, slender, and no one could deny she was pretty, but she had a grip like a mule skinner, and Grant was afraid he’d have a fight on his hands to get his arm back.

Grant touched the brim of his battered Stetson with his free hand. “Howdy, Miss. I’m afraid I’m in a hurry today.”

A movement caught his eye, and he turned to look at his wagon across the street. Through the whipping wind he could see little, but Grant was sure someone had come alongside his wagon. He wished it were true so he could palm this persistent pest off on an unsuspecting neighbor.

Shirt Lady’s grip tightened until it almost hurt through his coat. She leaned close, far closer than was proper to Grant’s way of thinking.

“Why don’t you come over to my place and warm yourself before you head back to the ranch. I’ve made pie, and it’s a lonely kind of day.” She fluttered her lashes until Grant worried she’d gotten dirt in her eye. He considered sending her to Doc Morgan for medical care.

The train chugged and reminded Grant he was almost out of time. “Can’t stop now, Miss.” What was her name? How many times had she spoken to him? A dozen if it was three. “There are some orphans left on the platform, and they need a home. I’ve got to see to ’em.”

Something flashed in her eyes for a second before she controlled it. He knew that look. She didn’t like orphans. Well, then what was she doing talking to him? He came with a passel of ’em. Grant shook himself free.

“We’ll talk another time then.”

Sorely afraid they would, Grant tugged on his hat brim again and ran. His boots echoed on the depot stairs. He reached the top step just as Martha turned to the sound of his clomping. She was listening for him even when she shouldn’t be.

Grant couldn’t stand the sight of the boy’s thin shoulders covered only by the coarse fabric of his dirty, brown shirt. He pulled his gloves off, noticing as he did that the tips of his fingers showed through holes in all ten fingers.

“I’ll take ’em, Martha.” How was he supposed to live with himself if he didn’t? Grant’s spurs clinked as he came forward. He realized in his dash to get to town he’d worn his spurs even though he brought the buckboard. Filthy from working the cattle all morning, most of his hair had fallen loose from the thong he used to tie it back. More than likely he smelled like his horse. A razor hadn’t touched his face since last Sunday morning.

Never one to spend money on himself when his young’uns had needs—or might at any time—his coat hung in tatters, and his woolen union suit showed through a rip in his knee.

Martha ran her eyes up and down him and shook her head, suppressing a smile. “Grant, you look a fright.”

A slender young woman rose to her feet from where she sat at the depot. Her movements drew Grant’s eyes away from the forlorn children. From the look of the snow piling up on the young woman’s head, she’d been sitting here in the cold ever since the train had pulled in, which would have been the better part of an hour ago. She must have expected someone to meet her, but no one had.

When she stepped toward him, Grant spared her a longer glance because she was a pretty little thing, even though her dark brown hair hung in bedraggled strings from beneath her black bonnet and twisted into tangled curls around her chin. Her face was so dirty the blue of her eyes shined almost like the heart of a flame in a sooty lantern.

Grant stared at her for a moment. He recognized something in her eyes. If she’d been a child and looked at him with those eyes, he’d have taken her home and raised her.

Then the children drew his attention away from the tired, young lady.

Martha Norris shook her head. “You can’t handle any more, Grant. We’ll find someone, I promise. I won’t quit until I do.”

“I know that’s the honest truth.” Grant knew Martha had to protest; good sense dictated it. But she’d hand the young’uns over. “And God bless you for it. But this is the end of the line for the orphan train. You can’t do anything until you get back to New York. I’m not going to let these children take that ride.”

“Actually, Libby joined us after we’d left New York. It was a little irregular, but it’s obvious the child needs a home.” Martha kept looking at him shaking her head.

“Irregular how?” He tucked his tattered gloves behind his belt buckle.

“She stowed away.” Martha glanced at Libby. “It was the strangest thing. I never go back to the baggage car, but one of the children tore a hole in his pants. My sewing kit is always in the satchel I carry with me. I was sure I had it, but it was nowhere to be found. So I knew I’d most likely left it with my baggage. I went back to fetch it so I could mend the seam and found her hiding in amongst the trunks.”

Grant was reaching for the buttons on his coat, but he froze. “Are you sure she isn’t running away from home?” His stomach twisted when he thought of a couple of his children who had run off over the years. He’d been in a panic until he’d found them. “She might have parents somewhere, worried to death about her.”

“She had a note in her pocket explaining everything. I feel certain she’s an orphan. And I don’t know how long she was back there. She could have been riding with us across several states. I sent telegraphs to every station immediately, and I’m planning on leaving a note at each stop on my way back, but I hold out no hope that a family is searching for her.” Martha sighed as if she wanted to fall asleep on her feet.

Grant realized it wasn’t just the children who had a long ride ahead of them. One corner of Grant’s lips turned up. “Quit looking at me like that, Martha, or I’ll be thinking I have to adopt you so you don’t have to face the trip.”

Martha, fifty if she was a day, laughed. “I ought to take you up on that. You need someone to come out there and take your ranch in hand. Without a wife, who’s going to cook for all these children?”

“You’ve been out. You know how we run things. Everybody chips in.” The snow was getting heavier, and the wind blew a large helping of it down Grant’s neck. Grant ignored the cold in the manner of men who fought the elements for their living and won. He went back to unbuttoning his coat, then shrugged it off and dropped it on the boy’s shoulders. It hung most of the way to the ground.

Charlie tried to give the coat back. “I don’t want your coat, mister.”

Taking a long look at Charlie’s defiant expression, Grant fairly growled. “Keep it.”

Charlie held his gaze for a moment before he looked away. “Thank you.”

Grant gave his Stetson a quick tug to salute the boy’s manners. Snow sprang into the air as the brim of his hat snapped down and up. He watched it be swept up and around by the whipping wind then filter down around his face, becoming part of the blizzard that was getting stronger and meaner every moment.

Martha nodded. “If they limited the number of children one man could take, you’d be over it for sure.”

Grant controlled a shudder of cold as he pulled on his gloves. “Well, thank heavens there’s no limit. The oldest boy and the two older girls are just a year or so away from being out on their own. One of them’s even got a beau. I really need three more to take their places, but I’ll settle for two.”

Martha looked from one exhausted, filthy child to the other then looked back at Grant. “The ride back would be terribly hard on them.”

Grant crouched down in front of the children, sorry for the clink of his spurs which had a harsh sound and might frighten the little girl. Hoping his smile softened his grizzled appearance enough to keep the little girl from running scared, he said, “Well, what kind of man would I be if I stood by watching while something was terribly hard on you two? How’d you like to come out and live on my ranch? I’ve got other kids there, and you’ll fit right in to our family.”

“They’re not going to fit, Grant,” Martha pointed out through chattering teeth. “Your house is overflowing now.”

Grant had to admit she was right. “What difference does it make if we’re a little crowded, Martha? We’ll find room.”

The engineer swung out on the top step of the nearest car, hanging onto a handle in the open door of the huffing locomotive. “All aboard!”

The little girl looked fearfully between the train and Grant.

Looking at the way the little girl clung to Martha’s hand, Grant knew she didn’t want to go off with a strange man almost as much as she didn’t want to get back on that train.

“I’ll go with you.” The little boy narrowed his eyes as he moved to stand like a cranky guardian angel beside the girl.

Grant saw no hesitation in the scowling little boy, only concern for the girl. No fear. No second thoughts. He didn’t even look tired compared to the girl and Martha. He had intelligent blue eyes with the slyness a lot of orphans had. Not every child he’d adopted had made the adjustment without trouble. A lot of them took all of Grant’s prayers and patience. Grant smiled to himself. He had an unlimited supply of prayers, and the prayers helped him hang onto the patience.

Grant shivered under the lash of the blowing snow.

The boy shrugged out of the coat. “Take your coat back. The cold don’t bother me none.”

Grant stood upright and gently tugged the huge garment back around the boy’s neck and began buttoning it. “The cold don’t bother me none, neither. You’ll make a good cowboy, son. We learn to keep going no matter what the weather.” He wished he had another coat because the girl still looked miserable. Truth be told, he wouldn’t have minded one for himself.

Martha leaned close to Grant’s ear on the side away from the children. “Grant, you need to know that Libby hasn’t spoken a word since we found her. There was a note in her pocket that said she’s mute. She’s got a limp, too. It looks to me like she had a badly broken ankle some years ago that didn’t heal right. I’ll understand if you—”

Grant pulled away from Martha’s whispers as his eyebrows slammed together. Martha fell silent and gave him a faintly alarmed look. He tried to calm down before he spoke, matching her whisper. “You’re not going to insult me by suggesting I’d leave a child behind because she has a few problems, are you?”

Martha studied him then her expression relaxed. Once more she whispered, “No Grant. But you did need to be told. The only reason I know her name is because it was on the note. Libby pulled it out of her coat pocket as if she’d done it a thousand times, so chances are this isn’t a new problem, which probably means it’s permanent.”

Grant nodded his head with one taut jerk. “Obliged for the information then. Sorry I got testy.” Grant did his best to make it sound sincere, but it hurt, cut him right to the quick, for Martha to say such a thing to him after all these years.

“No, I’m sorry I doubted you.” Martha rested one hand on his upper arm. “I shouldn’t have, not even for a second.”

Martha eased back and spoke normally again. “We think Libby’s around six.” She swung Libby’s little hand back and forth, giving the girl an encouraging smile.

All Grant’s temper melted away as he looked at the child. “Hello, Libby.” Crouching back down to the little girl’s eye level, he gave the shivering tyke all of his attention.

Too tiny for six and too thin for any age, she had long dark hair caught in a single bedraggled braid and blue eyes awash in fear and wishes. Her nose and cheeks were chapped and red. Her lips trembled. Grant hoped it was from the cold and not from looking at the nasty man who wanted to take her away.

“I think you’ll like living on my ranch. I’ve got the biggest backyard to play in you ever saw. Why, the Rocking C has a mountain rising right up out of the back door. You can collect eggs from the chickens. I’ve got some other kids and they’ll be your brothers and sisters, and we’ve got horses you can ride.”

Libby’s eyes widened with interest, but she never spoke. Well, he’d had ’em shy before.

“I can see you’ll like that. I’ll start giving you riding lessons as soon as the snow lets up.” Grant ran his hand over his grizzled face. “I should have shaved and made myself more presentable for you young’uns. I reckon I’m a scary sight. But the cattle were acting up this morning. There’s a storm coming, and it makes ’em skittish. By the time I could get away, I was afraid I’d miss the train.”

Grant took Libby’s little hand, careful not to move suddenly and frighten her, and rubbed her fingers on his whiskery face.

She snatched her hand away, but she grinned.

The smile transformed Libby’s face. She had eyes that had seen too much and square shoulders that had borne a lifetime of trouble. Grant vowed to himself that he’d devote himself to making her smile.

“I’ll shave it off before I give you your first good night kiss.”

The smile faded, and Libby looked at him with such longing Grant’s heart turned over with a father’s love for his new daughter. She’d gotten to him even faster than they usually did.

Martha reached past Libby to rest her hand on the boy’s shoulder. “And Charlie is eleven.”

Grant pivoted a bit on his toes and looked at Charlie again. A good-looking boy, but so skinny he looked like he’d blow over in a hard wind. Grant could fix that. The boy had flyaway blond hair that needed a wash and a trim. It was the hostility in his eyes that explained why he hadn’t found a home. Grant had seen that look before many times, including in a mirror.

As if he spoke to another man, Grant said, “Charlie, welcome to the family.”

Charlie shrugged as if being adopted meant nothing to him. “Are we supposed to call you pa?”

“That’d be just fine.” Grant looked back at the little girl. “Does that suit you, Libby?”

Libby didn’t take her lonesome eyes off Grant, but she pressed herself against Martha’s leg as if she wanted to disappear into Martha’s long wool coat.

The engineer shouted, “All aboard!” The train whistle sounded. A blast of steam shot across the platform a few feet ahead of them.

Libby jumped and let out a little squeak of surprise. Grant noted that the little girl’s voice worked, so most likely she didn’t talk for reasons of her own, not because of an injury. He wondered if she’d seen something so terrible she couldn’t bear to speak of it.

The boy reached his hand out for Libby. “We’ve been together for a long time, Libby. We can go together to the ranch. I’ll take care of you.”

Libby looked at Charlie as if he were a knight in shining armor. After some hesitation, she released her death grip on Martha and caught Charlie’s hand with both of hers.

“Did I hear you correctly?” A sharp voice asked from over Grant’s shoulder. “Are you allowing this man to adopt these children?”

Startled, Grant stood, turned, and bumped against a soft, cranky woman. He almost knocked her onto her backside—the lady who’d been waiting at the depot. He grabbed her or she’d have fallen on the slippery wood. Grant steadied her, warm and alive in his hands.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday is for...

thanking God that the Internet connection is fixed! I think I've thanked Him about a million times since it was fixed Friday evening.

In celebration--after church and after finishing my book (The Elevator by Angela Hunt--really good! Setting is here in Tampa during a hurricane!), I decided to play with Photoshop Elements. I'm still fighting with the program to get it to do what I want, but I'm SLOWLY getting it figured out through trial and error. Here's what I came up with today...

The top layers were created by one of the artists at ScrapArtist, so all I had to do was insert the picture, but it took me forever to figure out how to make the picture fit the frame. I finally realized that it was the layers tool. Grrrr... DON'T even ask me how long it took me to get the layers palette to show.

I created a couple more layouts--unfortunately, since they were 2-page spreads it wouldn't let me save them as jpegs. Grrrr.....

What have you been up to lately? I haven't received too many comments, so I'm wondering if I'm only speaking to myself here? Let me hear from you!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!

I finally have an Internet connection again! (Yay for the Brighthouse tech!) I hope you've had a wonderful day filled with lots of love!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wild Card Tour: Lessons from San Quentin by Bill Dallas and George Barna

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 authors are:

and the book:

Lessons from San Quentin

Tyndale House Publishers (January 9, 2009)


Bill Dallas is the CEO of the Church Communication Network (CCN), a satellite and Internet communications company serving thousands of churches across North America. He hosts Solutions, a weekly satellite program with Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. A former Young Life leader and Bible study teacher, Bill is a graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He is the proud father of Dallas and Amanda. Bill and his wife, Bettina, life in northern California.

Visit the author's website.

George Barnais the founder and directing leader of The Barna Group, Ltd., a California-based company that offers primary research and strategic assistance related to cultural assessment and transformation, faith dynamics and leadership development.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $22.99
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (January 9, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414326564
ISBN-13: 978-1414326566


Life in the Median Strip

When I entered San Quentin for the first time, I was only thirty-one years old. Still reeling from the chain of events that had landed me there, I couldn’t believe this was now my life. Numb with disbelief, I tried not to think about where I was and who I would be living with. These people were lowlifes—hard-core criminals. They were beneath me, and I couldn’t believe that I would now be considered one of them.

How was this possible? How did I go from being the golden boy of the Bay Area to fresh meat in a state prison?

My life had been going great—better than great, in fact. After graduating with honors from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, I had made my way west and learned the real estate business. By the mideighties I had joined with a business partner, Tony, and we were determined to take the San Francisco Bay area by storm.

We got off to a flying start. We put together huge deals, raising capital from investors who liked our creativity and chutzpah. Tony and I became known as the boy wonders of the Bay Area, and we reveled in the name. We also believed that this was only the beginning of the riches and fame that were surely in store for us.

While some people are known for being type A personalities, I was easily a type triple A. I wasn’t just living in the fast lane; I was going so fast I was burning down the median strip! Life seemed to be beckoning me for greatness, and nothing was going to stop me from living what I deemed to be the good life.

While I learned to play the real estate game in the Bay Area, I also worked as a male model. The money was good, but it was the clothing and attention that really appealed to me. Once I hit it big in real estate, I wore the finest threads available. I believed that image was everything, and I was selling it big-time. Because I needed to raise megabucks for the downtown developments I was always pushing, I knew it was critical that I looked the part of the well-to-do, successful magnate. No suit was too expensive or too finely tailored for me—Hugo Boss and Armani were my favorites. Throw in some exquisite Italian loafers and a brilliant designer tie, and with my hair gelled back, I was ready for action.

In fact, action seemed to be my middle name. I was constantly entertaining women at home, in clubs, even on the job. Cocaine was my drug of choice, and I always had a designer vodka cocktail in my hand. I loved cutting through traffic in my sleek black BMW sedan on the way to business meetings or driving my gleaming black Porsche around town on weekends.

Late at night, you could find me and my high-flying entourage cruising the city, looking for the best scene. My party mates and I regularly rented stretch limos to weave through the streets in search of the hottest clubs. Sometimes we even intentionally circled a specific club, waiting for a sufficiently long line of partyers to form behind the velvet rope outside. We wanted to pull up to the carpeted entryway and make a grand entrance.

Orchestrating favorable press coverage and wrangling introductions to the most important power players in the area became our standard operating procedure.

I quickly gained insight into how the political system worked, and I began to throw fund-raisers for key city and state officials—not just one candidate per race, but multiple candidates—being sure to grease their palms so they would approve our real estate projects. Often, I handed out more money than could be legally donated, but I always figured out ways to either hide the gifts or to skirt the laws. Such rules were merely a minor nuisance in my climb to the top of the world.

And when it was time to work the system, we worked it mercilessly. When we desperately needed to secure city funding for a $100 million development we were working on, I even dated a government official who would be influential in the decision-making process. The campaign coffers of several of the councilmen were filled, thanks to my generosity. In addition, Tony and I hired people to pack a critical city council meeting and say great things about our proposed project. The line of “local residents” extended outside the council chambers and down the block. The chairman eventually cut the meeting short, noting that the public’s overwhelming sentiment for the project could not be more obvious. The city council voted in our favor.

I was Bill Dallas, boy wonder. I had it all figured out.


As it turned out, there were a few things I hadn’t figured out. For instance, one of the details I failed to anticipate was the real estate crash of the early nineties. When it hit, it smacked me like a two-by-four across the head. Many people were taken by surprise by this swift and deep change in the economy, but I was taken hostage.

By the spring of 1991, we had used all of the money invested in our projects to fuel our combustible lifestyle and promote other, newer projects we were setting up. The combination of out-of-control spending, not enough financial planning, and the demise of the real estate market caused us to run out of money, plain and simple. Our financial backers, some of whom were falling on tough times as well—thanks in part to my lofty promises about the returns they would be receiving—began asking about their investments, wondering why work on their projects had been halted and how they were going to fare during the real estate downturn. That’s when everything started to blow up in my face.

Our business strategy had been based on impressing people with sizzle rather than substance. We had cut corners and manipulated every angle in an attempt to provide investors with a world-class return on their investments, which incidentally would also have meant that we would be rolling in cash as well.

But that dream was not to be. My business collapsed, and the life I had built around it began to crash. Big-time. Our luxurious office with its panoramic view was shut down. The phones were turned off. I was kicked out of my penthouse, and my prized toys—my homes and cars—were repossessed. My friends found new parties to enjoy and more successful partyers to accompany. The man of the year quickly became a social leper.

As if things weren’t bad enough, the legal hammer began to fall. Due to a lethal combination of ignorance and ambition, I had been handling investors’ money in a way that was apparently illegal—something called commingling of funds. We had used money from one project to float another without the investors’ knowledge. Although my partner and I always intended to pay back each investor after we completed our development activity, our naive and reckless approach was still against the law. Both the state and federal governments wound up filing charges against me, and a drawn-out, expensive courtroom drama began to unfold.

In the meantime, I sought any job I could get and wound up as a salesman at Nordstrom. I think I got the job because I had such fabulous clothing, but I wasn’t much of a salesman on the retail floor. My heart just wasn’t in it. In fact, my heart was nowhere to be found.

I was completely empty, almost numb, and had little energy for life. In the past, I had always been able to push away such feelings of emptiness with new toys, loud parties, and a lot of women. But now, without any of those things to distract me, I was faced with the fact that I didn’t really like my life—or myself—at all.

Flipping through the cable channels one evening, I stopped to listen to a TV preacher talk about salvation and getting right with God. Up to that point in my life, I hadn’t had much to do with religion. While I was growing up, my family had been tangentially involved in Christianity. Although my father never attended any church activities, my mother sometimes attended a local Protestant church, and I went to the Sunday school on those occasions. Those classes exposed me to some of the stories and values that form the basis of Christianity. But I never really understood the big deal about Jesus Christ. Mom and I found the church people to be nice, and she especially enjoyed the potluck meals and the special events, but we were never active in the church or in the pursuit of genuine faith.

That spiritual apathy was the norm for me until age fourteen, when the brother of one of my best friends led an impromptu Bible study. He talked about our sin problem and how Christ had died on the cross to save us from the punishment we deserved. I was aghast. As he painted the picture—God’s sacrificial love delivered through the murder of Jesus, necessitated by my wayward behavior and corrupted mind—it was clear that I needed to do something about it.

After that meeting, I began to pray constantly for forgiveness. When I say constantly, I mean just that: I literally prayed two to three hundred times each day, asking God to forgive everything I was doing and everything I had previously done. I was a wreck over the fact that I was a habitual, lifelong sinner! I did not have a relationship with Christ, only a foreboding fear of wrongdoing and the inevitable eternal punishment if I didn’t get it right.

The church my friend attended was highly legalistic, and every time we went, we were bombarded with an overwhelming parcel of rules and regulations we needed to satisfy. It was truly unbearable, but having been scared out of my wits by this church’s convincing doctrines about the wrath of God and the wickedness of man, I felt there was no escape. I had no choice but to keep trying to do better and to continually beg for forgiveness.

Religion became the heaviest burden I had yet encountered.

The appeal of that religious group was that it provided clear-cut parameters and some semblance of stability for a young boy raised in a very dysfunctional family. But when my father later died, I became the man of the house by default. It was no easy responsibility to bear, and the combined expectations of God and family soon became too much for me to handle. I was on the verge of cracking up. Religion was only adding to my guilt and shame. No matter how hard I tried, I always felt that it wasn’t enough and that I was losing ground on God’s scale of perfection.

Later, I was introduced to Young Life, a national parachurch ministry that works with teenagers. This group had a more balanced theology and was the first to teach me about God’s grace in response to my sinful ways. As reassuring as that approach was, it led to major confusion in my mind. Was He a God of perfection, holiness, and grand expectations, or was He a God of love, forgiveness, and grace? I wanted to believe the latter, but I was fearful that it might be the former.

By the time I was in my junior year of high school, I hit the wall. Having reached my breaking point and seeing no way to reconcile the competing points of view and excessive demands associated with faith in God, I felt I had to flee the whole thing. I knelt down and prayed to God, asking Him to forgive me (of course!) for having to leave religion altogether. I confessed that if I did not give it up I would surely lose my mind. I was absolutely stressed over the confusion and weight that religion had laid on me, so I followed my instinct, which was to apologize and run.

For the next thirteen years, God was not part of the equation. I sealed off that part of my life and focused on doing the best I could with whatever morals, values, and character attributes I had gleaned by that time.

Now listening to the television preacher on that lonely night in July of 1991, I vaguely recalled hearing an intriguing comment attributed to Blaise Pascal, something about how each of us had a God-shaped hole in our hearts that only He could fill. That made sense to me. I had tried everything—money, drugs, sex, alcohol, travel, clothing, political influence, cars, houses—and I was still empty inside. The void that characterized my life could only be filled by something huge—something superhuman, something supernatural, something beyond the limitations of everything I had tried.

So with nothing to lose and everything to gain, on July 11, 1991, I fell to my hands and knees and asked Jesus into my heart. Little did I know that an attorney would one day defend me in court by quoting Jesus: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

With little else to live for at that point—retail sales failed to get my juices flowing—I got pretty pumped about the Christian faith and began reading the Bible and memorizing Scripture verses like crazy. I’ve always had a great memory, and since Christians seemed to treasure Scripture memorization, this was an easy way for me to get in the game. Eventually I decided to commit much of the New Testament to memory. That was me, all right: driven and over the top.

In retrospect, it would have been more helpful if I had devoted my time to simply understanding what a relationship with Christ meant and how to nurture it. But somehow I completely missed the fact that Christianity is not something you do, it is about a relationship with God and who you become through that divine connection. I had no idea at the time that my biggest issue in life was the superficiality of my character—or that the only antidote for that disease was a full-on commitment to allowing God to transform that character. Instead, I did what I had always done best: analyze, understand, and act. Deciding to become a Christian was simply a calculated, intellectual choice, and my bull-in-a-china-shop approach to Christianity was characteristic of me: understanding something without emotionally investing in it.

A short while after becoming a Christian, I found that I had some time on my hands while the lawyers battled over my fate. I thought it would be fun to work with young people who were seeking to develop their faith in Christ, so I started volunteering with the local Young Life program. I met some outstanding people who were committed to serving the teenagers in the program, but despite the upswing in my spiritual life, there was no getting away from the increasingly claustrophobic legal realities that confronted me. After a year and a half of expensive, embarrassing, and contentious legal defense, I could no longer ignore reality. I was convicted of felony grand theft embezzlement and sentenced to five years in prison.

I was in a state of disbelief. Up to this point, I had never even given much thought to the charges that had been brought against me. I figured my lawyers would work things out and come up with a way for me to get out of the situation. Even though I had become a Christian, I still had such a disconnect with reality that it had been easy to live in a state of denial, focusing only on the here and now.

For the first time in my life, I was forced to face the consequences of my actions. My crime was considered among the more serious offenses a person can commit, short of murder or rape. Besides a stiff prison term, I lost some of my rights as an American citizen. I would no longer be allowed to vote unless I received a full pardon from the governor. I would not be able to serve on a jury or purchase firearms.

I would also be faced with additional restrictions after I was paroled. For the three years of my parole, I would not be allowed to drink alcoholic beverages. I would be required to submit to antinarcotic testing at the will of my parole officer. I would not be allowed to work in real estate or in professions closely associated with my offense, such as financial services. There could be no outside contact with Tony, my former business partner who was convicted of the same crime. Every time I applied for a job, I would have to inform the potential employer of my transgression. And I would not be allowed to start my own business.

On top of that, I was liable for multiple fines, taxes, and other payments—one of the fines alone was $750,000. I also would need to have regular check-ins with my parole and probation officers, could not live more than fifty miles from their location, and could not leave the area without their approval.

But I’m getting ahead of the story. Before I could enjoy the relative freedom of parole, I had to complete my prison term. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my life was about to change. Dramatically.