Saturday, October 4, 2014

Awakening Sun Dedication: To Devon Curtis

“You’ve got some explaining to do, young lady!”

That was my friend Devon’s text to me when she received Awakening Sun in the mail. I had thought about telling her that I had dedicated my book to her, but no, that would have spoiled the surprise. And Devon is not the easiest person to surprise.

*Cough* As in the LAST time I tried throwing her a surprise birthday party. My surprise was so much of a success that she almost didn’t come. (You will be pleased to know that this year, some friends and I succeeded in surprising her for her birthday.)

There’s actually a three-way dedication in my book, but Devon starts it off. She’s been my friend going on forever. Not just my friend. My “I-will-get-you-out-of-your-comfort-zone” friend. And I love her for it.

A few years ago, Devon convinced me to go to Nicaragua on a mission trip with her. So some of the mission trip episodes mentioned in Awakening Sun MAY or MAY NOT be a case of truth tinted with fiction. (I’ll give you a hint: This may involve glitter.)

In Nicaragua, you eat a lot of rice and beans. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m all for rice but have never been a big bean fan.

The first morning in Nicaragua, Devon scooped a healthy portion of black beans onto my plate.

So I tried them. They were okay… mixed with rice.

Later, she slipped goat cheese onto my plate when I wasn’t looking. I smelled it. And I didn’t try it. I just took her word for it that it was gross.

We’ve dropped 65-feet in a giant swing together, courtesy of the Wilds (Me: Screaming / Devon: Laughing). She introduced me to Downton Abbey. She’s taught me what little I know about nail polish (thanks to the fact I didn’t have a sister and was born a low-maintenance tomboy). “Did you use a top coat, Kristen?” She will ask me, and I will guiltily admit I did not.

So Devon, thank you for challenging me to try new things. Thanks to you, I discovered my love for mission trips. And thanks to you, there are now four shades of Essie nail polish on my bathroom counter.

I would be remiss not to mention the rest of those friends in my dedication, starting with Devon’s parents Tim and Rosario who have truly become like a second family to me.

And then there are the dozens of people I’ve been blessed to meet on mission trips – from Nicaragua to Montana to New York. You know who you are. You have permission to write your name on the dedication page.

Thank you all for enriching my life. In some small way, I hope Awakening Sun will enrich yours.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Awakening Sun - Now Available!

I’m excited to release Awakening Sun, the third and last book in my Wings of the Dawn young adult suspense trilogy.

Teaser

The story opens with a seemingly final sentence for the trilogy's villain Neil DeWitt and a fairly simple case for its heroine Abby Grant to solve. Yet things are not as they seem, and what appears to be a standard clinical drug trial turns into something much more complicated and dangerous.

Theme

Second chances. Are they possible? At what cost? Abby and friends face some of their darkest moments yet. Through them, they realize both the intense risk and reward of giving second chances.

Your Turn

The paperback is now available at Amazon.com. Kindle readers, stay tuned! It will be converted into a Kindle version as well.

Share the news with your friends. Then, make coffee, find a cozy chair, and let me know how long it takes you to finish this last installment.

Enjoy!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Never Forget the Hope

Photo Credit: Eric via Flickr Creative Commons
Photo licensor is not affiliated with this blog.
Last Thursday was thirteen years since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

For me, and for many others, the day is branded in our memories. For my seventh grade class, most weren’t even born. My eighth graders were infants or toddlers.

“Never Forget” was an American slogan that came out of that day’s tragic events, and although my students have no way of remembering the day itself, they need to know what happened.

Not because I want them to become angry or bitter, although a certain amount of anger against the atrocities committed is certainly understandable.

No, they need to know what happened, because it is part of our nation’s history. A nation with no sense of its past can make no sense of its future.

So last Thursday, we took the time to watch a few videos. My favorite was one by The Skit Guys, created a few years back. Others included clips from CNN.

We took the time to read about United Flight 93 and the heroism of its passengers that prevented the plane from reaching its target destination.

We talked about the hand of God in history.

Several students struggled. How could a loving God allow such horrible events to happen? How could God possibly “work all things together for good” in this circumstance?

The problem of living in a broken world

Those are understandable responses. We had a Cliff Notes' discussion on man’s free will and the sovereignty of God.

The bottom line: God gave mankind a free will, the ability to choose to obey or disobey Him. Man chose to disobey, and as a result, we live in a broken world. A world where terrorists crash planes into towers and innocent people die.

But did God know 9/11 was going to happen? Yes, He did.

Then why didn’t He stop it? For that matter, why doesn’t He stop natural disasters, heal children dying of cancer, or interfere in the myriads of other barbarisms that occur in this world?

Sometimes, He does. Sometimes, He doesn’t.

On my way home from church this morning, I turned on the radio to hear Dr. Erwin Lutzer talking about this very matter. He said, “Faith doesn’t judge God on circumstances.” In other words, faith doesn’t stop believing God because He doesn’t answer prayer like we want Him to.

Look at the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. Moses, Gideon, Samson, and many other men and women of faith overcame their circumstances by faith. Other people of great faith were sawn asunder, tossed to lions, and died for their faith.

Too often, we let go of our faith when we focus on life’s circumstances and slip into believing the lie that our problems here are too big for God to handle. That’s what happened to Peter when he took his eyes off Jesus. He began to sink amid the raging waves.

The question we should be asking

Instead of asking how a loving God could allow bad things to happen, we should be marveling that a loving God made a way of redemption possible.

After all, sin was our choice, our mistake. Not His.

I asked my eighth graders to use an online concordance or topical Bible to find at least five verses that offer hope or encouragement in the face of tragedies like September 11.

Here are a few of their discoveries:

1.       Psalms 16:8 (ESV): “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”

2.       John 3:16 (NKJV): “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

3.       John 16:33 (ESV): "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

4.       Romans 8:28 (NKJV): "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

5.       Revelation 21:4 (ESV): “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
I hope we “Never Forget” what happened thirteen years ago. One American history class in Spring Hill, Florida won’t.

But more importantly, I hope we Never Forget the Hope made possible only through the mercy of God, who loved us so much that He sent His own Son to die for the sins of the world, to make a way of redemption possible.

At the end of the day, history is His Story. Whether good or bad, the events of this world are paving the way to the climax of redemption’s story: His glorious return.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Remove these words from your dictionary


Three weeks into the school year, I’m more concerned with my students removing certain words from their dictionaries than adding to them.

Student or not, find the nearest dictionary, and cross out the following words:

·         Impossible
·         Can’t
·         Hard
Our culture has simplified and cushioned our lives so that many of us view pain, hardship and challenge as bad things.

Now don’t get me wrong. Life can be hard, and sickness, physical pain and death are no laughing matter.

However, the idea that our futures and dreams should be handed to us on a silver platter – that life “owes” us something – needs to stop.

Somehow, we have to reverse this mindset, and I’m going to start with my seventh and eighth grade classes. The following phrases are hereby banned:

·         It’s too hard.
·         I can’t do it.
·         That’s impossible.
The only way we grow is through challenges. Self-discipline needs to be welcomed as a friend, not shunned as a foe.

In keyboarding this year, I’ve introduced my students to keyboard covers which hide the letters and numbers of the keys when they type. Why? If students can’t see the keys, then they have to refer to their textbook visual and learn the proper fingering – no hunting and pecking allowed.

Each day when I hand out the covers with this huge smile on my face, I’m met with groans. You would think I were asking them to memorize the Hebrew alphabet.

Before we are too critical of my dear students, let’s stop and think. What are the “keyboard covers” in our lives, the things God gives us to challenge us and make us grow? Do we find ourselves thanking Him for them – or complaining about them?

Keyboard covers – and many other trials in life – aren’t going to kill us. They’re designed for our good.

So let’s embrace our challenges and stop pretending this life is supposed to be easy. God’s Word never said it would be, but it does say that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Phil 4:13).

Monday, July 28, 2014

Wings of the Dawn Trilogy: Book 3, Coming Soon!

Photo Credit: Vincent_AF via Flickr Creative Commons
 
Is Neil locked away for good?

Are Abby’s adventures over now that she’s started college?

And what has that airplane-mechanic Andrew been up to in her absence?

Book 3 picks up midway into Abby’s first semester. All seems ordinary until a classmate’s freak accident draws her into an investigation that spirals far beyond the boundaries of her college campus, her country’s borders – and her comfort zone.

The third book in the Wings of the Dawn trilogy is in production with an anticipated release date this fall. New adventures and twists are in store.

Check back for more details and updates in the weeks and months ahead!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Giver: A Book Review

A few weeks back, one of my friends handed me a book and said, “I think you’ll like this.” It was a short, 179-page book by Lois Lowry called The Giver.

As usual, my friend was also on top of the news that this book is being converted into a movie, to be released this August.

So I started reading – and didn’t want to stop. Lowry writes in a clear, simple style that middle-school students would enjoy but that also pulls adults into the story of Jonas, a soon-to-be TWELVE, whose ASSIGNMENT is something he never imagined.

Jonas lives in a futuristic, utopian society – at least, it seems perfect on the surface. Everyone follows a strict order of rules, is rigidly polite, and takes prescribed medication that prevents pain and emotion. "Releases" are celebrated in the House of the Old, and for the premature, but no one really knows what they involve.

At twelve, each child is assigned his life-long occupation since no one, other than a group of Elders, is responsible for making choices. Jonas, who is generally good at everything, can’t guess what his assignment might be.

When he learns that he has been selected as the next Receiver, he is nervous and afraid, for there is only one Receiver who holds all the memories of pain and pleasure in life – so that nothing disrupts the predictable order and harmony of the community.

But as Jonas receives both painful and pleasurable memories from the Giver, he discovers the truth and realizes he can never go back to his old way of life.

Discussion Points
The story is simple and short, but the message behind the story is powerful. What is the meaning and value of life?

Can anyone truly live if completely shielded from pain? Both the Giver and Jonas realize the answer is no, because memories bring both pain and happiness. If you prevent pain, you can never experience joy and love.

You can also never experience family. The happiest memory Jonas receives is a family, including grandparents, at Christmas. But in Jonas’ community, there are no grandparents. Children are assigned parents based on a selection process. Once children grow up, parents live by themselves and eventually enter the House of the Old. There are no true family ties.

An even more horrific practice that Jonas discovers is the true nature of release – euthanasia – practiced on both the very old and sometimes, the very young. He forcefully feels that life must have meaning and in the end, decides that saving one individual is worth risking everything.

Final Thoughts
Life is something to prize and cherish. This is a message, I believe, that’s lacking in American society today. After all, what is abortion but euthanasia for what some view as an “inconvenience”?  

Lowry’s message is a timely one, although without the gospel message, nevertheless an incomplete one. It will be interesting to see how Hollywood translates the book. I can only wonder if viewers will be able to draw the parallel between Jonas’ society and the flippant view of life that our culture often takes.

C. S. Lewis once said, “To love is to be vulnerable.” To be vulnerable involves possible pain, loneliness and fear. But as Lowry’s story reminds us, life without love is meaningless.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars: A Review

After hearing many of my eighth and ninth grade students rave over John Green's The Fault in Our Stars last semester, I bought it on Amazon and added it to my reading list.

What was so irresistible about this book that made it impossible for teen (mostly girl) readers to put it down?

As you may know, this book is a love story between terminal cancer patients who try to make the most of their “little infinity” together. That alone makes it a captivating story that immediately grabs at your heartstrings.

What I liked
Hands down, John Green tells a great story. He provides so many details to build each character’s individuality that you feel you know Augustus and Hazel Grace and are personally involved in their lives. You care about them and what happens to them – and that is why you will need a tissue box before you finish the book.

I also liked that he shared not only the struggles of these teens, but also showed the involvement of their parents, especially Hazel’s. Fighting cancer was a family affair, and even when Hazel was annoyed with her parents, she recognized that their sacrifices were because of their love for her. In fact, she understood this so deeply that she felt guilty for making them put their lives “on hold” for her. The relationship developed among father, mother, and daughter was something I respected – especially because you generally don’t see this in popular teen fiction.

Not so much
The author has a raw, irreverent writing style and often used language to convey his characters’ thoughts and feelings. This, in my opinion, is laziness. Find another word – or simply show how the character feels – instead of encouraging teenage readers to dumb down their own vocabulary.

Because of its subject, this book took advantage of raising and discussing some big questions. Fiction can be a powerful tool to influence young minds, and I strongly disagreed with the author’s perspective. Here are some “for instances”:

Where did we come from, and what happens after death?
  • Hazel’s answer: “There was a time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be a time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I would encourage you to ignore it.”
  • Augustus’ answer on an afterlife isn’t much more comforting, although he thinks he believes in something: “Yes, absolutely. Not like a heaven where you ride unicorns, play harps, and live in a mansion made of clouds. But yes. I believe in Something with a capital S.”
Is there a purpose to life?
  • Augustus: “We’re all just side effects, right?”
  • Hazel, quoting her favorite author, offers the suggestion that humanity is nothing more than “barnacles on the container ship of consciousness”
  • Augustus also answers this question in a letter discovered after his death: “We are likely to hurt the universe as we are to help it, and we’re not likely to do either.”
Final thoughts

Am I overanalyzing this? I don’t think so, although I do think most teens liked the story for the story itself and didn’t consider what message the author was conveying.
Did I see the movie? No, and I probably won’t. I prefer not to watch love scenes between minors. For a full and excellent analysis on the movie, though, please visit pluggedin.com.

Should you read the book? If you have a teen or work with teens, I would say most definitely yes, because then, you can engage them about the book – what is likable and what conflicts with the biblical worldview.
If anyone needs a copy, I have one I would be willing to part with.