Thursday, July 31, 2008

Photos from Yucatan

Please enjoy a slide show of photos from our recent trip to the Yucatan peninsula. Next week, Cuba.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Going against

"A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."

G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

These stories

I've posted a number of stories in recent weeks (and months) about individuals struggling with issues. But I haven't made it clear that these are true stories. In some cases, I've changed names or blurred locations to protect identities, but the stories themselves are true.

I am amazed at individuals' abilities to wrestle with circumstances and often find a victory in God. Things may not turn out as they had planned, but they find God's hand working out a new triumph in those committed to him.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ruth: common sense

When Naomi decided to go home, it wasn’t out of remorse or a desire for reconciliation. She went home because there was plenty of food in Bethlehem. It’s hard to give her credit for higher motives than that. She’d left searching for provision and it made sense to her to return for the same reason.

Naomi used common sense and her own practicality to take care of her own needs. But do you notice the emptiness and bitterness in her heart? Even when Ruth poured out a beautiful statement of love and commitment (Ruth 1:16-17), Naomi said no more to Ruth. She didn’t argue; she just didn’t respond. There was no pledge of any sort of love to Ruth or offer of any encouragement. She just continued to Bethlehem with Ruth in tow.

Naomi trusted her own common sense to provide for her daughters-in-law. The idea of sending them back to their families and their gods was not distasteful to her. It was practical. They needed husbands and children. They wouldn’t find those with her. If going back to their mother’s homes meant idolatry, that was a shame. But at least they’d have families. Her common sense blinded her to the bigger issue.

What Naomi wanted for Ruth and Orpah was rest. Some translations call it security or comfort or permanence, but Naomi urged Ruth and Orpah to go back to their mothers. There, she believed, they would have physical prosperity.

She assumed these young women would want what she wants. Again, common sense told her there is no other priority for a woman than to be married and have children. She can imagine nothing else for Ruth and Orpah.

Don’t we make plans and then ask God to bless them? Don’t we worry when our child leaves for college? We assume the right to anxiety and worry, couching them in terms that sooth our conscience. It’s nothing new, this confidence in common thinking and personal analysis.

We sometimes think that there is a scripture inscribed on a card somewhere assuring us that “God helps those who help themselves.”

It’s the theology of common sense. Naomi returned to Bethlehem trusting her own perspective. But God had something new for Naomi to look at.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Finally, a report

My daughter, the moviemaker (I've mentioned her before, right?), put together a short review of our trip to Yucatan and Cuba. It's finally online so here's the link. It'll give you a taste of what we did and saw.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Some stuff to climb over

Maria was supposed to have colon surgery the day before her graduation but she begged off. Instead, the morning of the ceremony, she was washing the plates and cups.

“You need to rest!” Harlan scolded her.

She smiled sweetly at him and sat down – until he wasn’t looking. Then she picked up the dish towel again.

After breakfast, she hurried downtown to pick up her book and then came back to try on her cap and gown.

Maria met Jesus about 6 years ago, to her husband’s anger. He kicked her out of the house then and eventually divorced her. She lived with a son for a while, but he tired of her talk about Jesus and sent her away.

So, with nowhere to go, she came to the seminary in Merida, Yucatan and helps with household chores in exchange for room and board. She took a full course of study at the seminary and on graduation day, she walked downtown to pick up her bound dissertation – a heavily footnoted study of God’s sovereignty.

A week before graduation, a doctor discovered she has colon cancer. He scheduled immediate surgery but she begged him to wait. She had to graduate first.

Maria runs the seminary bookstore, a tiny shop in the market that sells Christian books at a discounted price. The shop produces a minuscule income for the seminary but mostly provides good Christian books at a reasonable price.

Quietly, Maria goes about her day-to-day activities. Her son stopped by the bookstore on Monday after graduation and her face lit up with love and joy to see him.

“Gloria Dios!” She told me at every turn. “Glory to God!”

What else matters?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


When the revolution swept through Cuba, brushing aside the corruption but bringing a new form of dictatorship under Castro, Jose refused to buckle. He didn’t endorse the revolution and he spent 20 years in prison for his free-thinking.

Today, Jose is 70 years old and works quietly on his farm. He came out of prison with literally nothing and worked his way back with the help of God.

And Jose knows that God protected him in prison and has blessed him now. He takes pride in the animals on the farm – including a beautiful gaited black stallion – and wanted to share what he has with us when we visited the family farm near Havana.

Many, after 20 years in prison, would be bitter or broken. Jose is neither.

He reminds me of another Jose – Joseph of ancient times. That Joseph was unfairly imprisoned as well, accused of crimes he never committed. Yet God protected Joseph and used him to provide and honor others.

In a smaller scale, Jose has the same privilege. Today, he lives in the midst of a banana farm with fresh pineapple available for breakfast. He can pull mangoes from a tree outside the back door and he can work on the farm.

He is surrounded by family that he is influencing. Not all are believers but how will they resist his wiry determination?

Joseph named his first-born son Manasseh, because “God has made me forget all my hardship in my father’s house.” (Gen 41:51)

Today, Jose lives under a clear sky able to live and work with his family in a beautiful place. I think he would say the same thing about God. God overcomes our hardships. God can overcome a prison sentence and he can set us free.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A small window

It’s hard telling what Ben had done, but he got to watch the whole program from the second floor through a small barred window. On the first floor, his buddies were learning a tricky game with hand motions. They got to sing songs and hear a story that made them laugh.

When the teenage girl talked about persevering, even in a hard place like this detention center, Ben could barely hear her words. But he pressed his head hard against the bars.

He’d gotten caught in a scuffle with some of the other boys and earned a few days in solitary. So he wouldn’t get any of the cake and soda brought in for the other boys.

Or so he thought.

For one of the men in our group noticed Ben listening intently at that tiny window. He scooped slices of cake onto napkins and wandered over to the guards standing together by the fence. They were happy to take a slice and then he came back with cups of soda.

He continued to hand out refreshments to all the guards and then, with one more set of goodies in his hand, asked if he could take some to Ben. They agreed.

So Ben got his cake and soda. But the man also prayed with him, shook his hand, and told him a little more about Jesus. You can do a lot through a tiny window.

Please pray for Ben. God opened a door that day and we may never know what will happen. But we trust God’s goodness.

He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.

Isaiah 40:29-31

Monday, July 21, 2008

Ruth: turning back to abundance

Naomi was determined to be angry with God. In our study of Ruth, we’ve examined her difficulties. She lost her husband and sons. She was returning to Bethlehem, limping in and feeling pretty bruised.

Here are a few more instances of how the book of Ruth deals with shub, the idea of returning or turning back from a chosen path.

Ruth 1:21 "I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?"

Here is where the complaints begin, as Naomi enters Bethlehem. She returns empty and that’s God’s fault. But she returns. Remember that she left Moab because she heard of the abundance in Bethlehem, but in her return, she’s in a bitter mood.

Ruth 1:22 So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

Notice that the two women both returned. Ruth is identified with Naomi. They are as one, so to speak, both returning to their homeland.

Ruth 2:6 The servant in charge of the reapers replied, "She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab.

In case we miss the point, our author repeats it when Ruth goes to the harvest fields. Ruth returned. She is bonded with Naomi and has come to her adopted homeland. It’s an important point, one the author underlines for us.

Ruth 4:3 Then he said to the closest relative, "Naomi, who has come back from the land of Moab, has to sell the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech.

Boaz, in discussing redemption opportunities with kin, reminds him of Naomi’s homecoming. Naomi came back from Moab, thereby also reminding him and other listeners of Ruth’s land of origin as well. Otherwise, how could he explain this young Moabite woman who is bonded to Naomi?

Ruth 4:15 "May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him."

Now the women, who heard Naomi’s complaints at the gate when she returned to Bethlehem, remind Naomi that God has returned to her life and offspring. Our author turns the concept of return around, showing how God has returned to Naomi what she thought he had ripped away.

Naomi returned to God’s fullness in Bethlehem, convinced of his bitter hand against her. Because of that return, she experienced restoration as God returned to her that which was lost. Her return, done begrudgingly, opened the door to God’s abundance.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Divorce was not an option for Rose, but her husband just walked out 15 years ago, leaving her in a pit of debt and two young daughters to raise.

Rose didn’t buckle. She turned her situation over to God, got some counsel about finances, and began to dig out.

Today, she lives in the same small house but it’s paid for. She has no debt and her daughters are now on their own, both followers of Jesus.

Today Rose recycles carefully, nurtures her old car, and tends to the details because she is a world traveler. She works as a librarian in a school in Texas and sets money aside monthly for her next trip.

For the last 4 years, Rose has spent two weeks each summer in the Yucatan. One year she was able to slip over to Cuba for several days. She’s taught Vacation Bible Schools and helped with outdoor evangelism outreaches.

This year, she spent a week venturing into a youth detention center in the cool of the evening, where teenage boys are imprisoned. “They are guilty until proven innocent,” she told me.

Omar caught her heart early. “I was outside a store,” he told her, “when my friends went inside and stole some things. Maybe I shouldn’t have waited for them.” Omar got four years in the detention center for waiting for them, but Rose has given him a Bible and he has given his heart to Jesus.

“Please pray for me,” he told her. “It’s hard in here to stay with Jesus.”

Rose will pray. And she’ll be back again next year.

Jesus told his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt 28:19)

It can be done, even by a woman shackled with debt. Start praying about how you’ll go.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Top of the mountain, part 2

Yesterday's post described how we came up the mountain.

The graduation began shortly, but first we worshipped. With guitar, bongo drums, maracas and tambourines, they sang. Exuberantly. Joyfully. Eyes closed and heads leaned back.

With many hugs from family, the graduates were given diplomas. Once the ceremony was over, we realized that if we wanted an interview with the pastor, it had to happen now. The light was fading and we had no electricity for lights.

So we set up an interview site with banana trees as a backdrop to hear an amazing story about a pastor redeemed from voodoo (another story on another day). As we filmed, goats wandered into the background.

By the time we were done interviewing, the meal for the graduates and their families was taken away. We wondered if we’d go to bed hungry.

But many hands helped us tear down our filming equipment and then we were seated in the pastor’s home around a table heavy with food. We ate a common Cuban dish, white rice and black beans. There were fresh sliced pineapple, bananas, lamb, chicken soup, bread, fried plantains.

Once the pastor’s family had served us, and were satisfied we needed nothing more, they faded from the scene to let us eat. We tumbled into beds in three small bedrooms with hard mattresses and stiff lumpy pillows.

But we realized that we had displaced three families. We’re not sure where they slept that night, but they were up late to clean up our food and then up early to prepare breakfast.

We ate pineapple slices as we watched the sun rise, casting orange and purple through the mist of the mountains. We left the mountains tired, dirty, and nervous about the 15-hour drive ahead.

But we left knowing we had been treated like royalty, given the best they had by people who love Jesus and freely give.

They said we had honored them by coming, but we found new energy in their love for the King and their love to us. Coming to the mountain had changed us.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Top of the mountain

We had to shed a lot of baggage to get to the top of the mountain. Up there, life is simpler. There’s no electricity and no running water, unless you count the rain which cut deep ruts in the trail that wound around the mountain.

It was four-wheel-drive country and we had a minivan. Really, it was a horse or oxcart trail and most people came to the church on foot.

We drove across the island of Cuba – seven people and our filming equipment stuffed into the minivan. To go, we had to drastically trim our luggage.

We’d already done that once, leaving a third of our clothes and equipment back in Cancun. Now we sliced again, trying to anticipate equipment needs. We ended up taking two sets of clothes – the ones we wore and a clean set – for the four-day journey.

We walked the last half mile up the trail, allowing the minivan to lurch and bump its way without our extra weight. As we turned the final corner, we saw over 100 people in the clearing waiting for us.

A small group waited under a tree, gathered around an oxcart. Children were playing in the shadow of the church and knots of people stood near the parsonage.

The women came to kiss our cheeks and the men, after a quick handshake, took our bags.

We were whisked into the house for a cup of espresso – the cup of hospitality in Cuba – and allowed to change to fresh clothes.

“When does the graduation start?” I asked our director.

“Right now,” he said. “As soon as we get there.”

This seminary, tucked away in the mountains nearly 600 miles from the city of Havana, had instructed 14 students in Bible knowledge for three years. This was their first graduation and the mountains were alive with excitement.

They had waited for us, the church exuberantly decorated with flowers and ribbons.

Tomorrow: their sacrifice

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ruth: an incredible pledge

We’ve been discussing the idea of shub, or return. In the book of Ruth, the first chapter is rich with this returning. Naomi returns to her homeland. She begs her daughters-in-law to return to their homes.

Let’s take a look at few more uses of shub in Ruth:

Ruth 1:15 Then she said, "Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back (shub) to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law."

Orpah gives up. She kisses Naomi good-bye and returns to her mother and her gods. The problem is now revealed. Naomi is not just sending these young women back to their homes, but also back to their gods. She releases them from worship of God, which has apparently been the family tradition. Naomi now turns to Ruth, who is standing firm. Look, Naomi says, your sister-in-law has returned to her people and her gods. Go do the same thing. You need to return as well.

Ruth 1:16 But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or turn back (shub) from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”

Ruth responds with an incredible pledge. She commits herself to Naomi like a bondservant might. “Your people are my people. Your God is my God. For me to return is to go to Bethlehem with you. What is “return” for you is “return” for me. I identify myself with you. I am your servant.”

Naomi abandons the debate. She says no more to Ruth but instead heads for home.

Ruth has bonded herself to Naomi. That returning or turning back will change both their lives.

We’ll look at Naomi’s stubborn point of view next time, when she ignores the companion that God has given her while insisting that God has left her destitute and empty.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Who prays?

Our family is home safely from Yucatan peninsula and Cuba. We had very few problems and God gave us grace for those challenges that did wander across our path. We felt as though we floated in a bubble of protection and were very away of the many prayers said for us while we were gone.

God is good and we are humbled. Thank you for your prayers.

We conducted over 13 interviews and logged 16 hours of video that will need to be edited and formed into some documentaries. I asked each interview how American Christians could help them.

"Pray for us." That was their first answer every time. They know that their ministry work continues through God's grace and they need prayer. They appreciate ministry teams who come from America to help them. They appreciate the financial help. But most of all they need our prayers.

This is some of the hard work of being a follower of Christ, to commit to daily prayer for people who labor in Jesus' name in other places. but consider committing. If you'd like to pray for a Christian ministering in Yucatan or in Cuba, please email me. I can supply you with names, short thumbnail of their needs, and often a photo.

I know, from the last two weeks, how valuable prayer is. It was a precious gift to our family from those who prayed and I know it will be a precious gift to those we met and left behind. Thank you for praying.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Act Two: A Novel In Perfect Pitch

New Yorker Sadie Maddox is the toast of the classical music world and the queen of all she surveys in short, she's a bit of a diva. But lately her CD sales are sagging, not to mention parts of her anatomy. Maybe it's time for a change. Something new. A second act. So when her agent suggests she take on a professorship at a small liberal arts college, Sadie decides to give it a go. Ivy-covered walls, worshipful students . . . oh yes, the ivory tower has its appeal. And she needs the money.

Except the college is in rural Iowa, and the closest thing to designer clothes is the western wear shop down on Main Street. Sadie's colleagues are intimidated, her students aren't impressed, and she has to live far too close to farm animals.

And when Sadie meets Mac, a large animal veterinarian, she assumes they have nothing in common he is, after all, a country music fan.

But when the semester ends, Sadie packs up and decamps for the city that never sleeps . . . and finds she can't, either. This laugh-out-loud novel about second chances will have readers cheering as Sadie struggles to find her life's second act.

Author Kimberly Stuart makes her home in Des Moines, Iowa with her husband Marc and two children, Ana and Mitch. She is the author of Balancing Act and its sequel, Bottom Line.

She began her writing career by journaling throughout her daughter's first year of life. She entered one of her vignettes into the University of Iowa Alumni magazine's annual nonfiction short story contest, at the urging of her mother.

After winning the contest, she attended the Blue Ridge Mountains Writer's Conference in North Carolina where she made new friends and received much encouragement. Her first book, Balancing Act was accepted a few months after the birth of her son.

You can find out more about her at her website: Go visit: she's giving away an iPod Nano.

Check out her book at Amazon.

Home again

God willing, we are returning home today from the Yucatan peninsula. Thank you for your prayers. I will be posting reports and photos in the next few days. We know God is good and we know his love endures forever.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lord of the Ringless

Dee Aspin is a bubbly, energetic Christian single who connected with me at a recent writers' conference. Because I was single for a lot longer than I wanted to be, I can relate to her ministry to Christian singles. She's publishing a new book so here's more about her ministry.

Author’s New Release Proves God Is Lord of the Ringless

Book praises singleness as breeding ground for a Christ-fulfilling life

LONGWOOD, FL—In Dee Aspin’s new Xulon Press title, Lord of the Ringless: Women Devoted to God and Desiring Marriage (paperback, 978-1-60477-711-9), the author teaches that the hunt for a marriage partner doesn’t have to feel like the long trek to the base of Mount Doom. Single Christians can live with intent and purpose, seeking to please their first love, Jesus Christ. They can pursue their dreams and date with hope—and women can find love at any age. The book features a collection of stories about women who have weathered the daily battles of life courageously and even victoriously, finding a life love the first and second time around, after the age of forty and fifty. And Aspin should know—after working with singles and in singles ministry for 25 years, she has witnessed firsthand the power of Christ to intervene in the lives and loves of fellow women like herself.

Says the author, “[My book] inspires hope for the future and faith for daily living. It encourages women to look to God and reach out to others. It encourages women to find their God-given gifts and purpose, whatever their situation. It supplies Bible study guides at the end of each topic so they can work their way to freedom if they are feeling stuck in any given area of life or relationships.”

The Northern California native has enjoyed a well-rounded life with a history of travel, sports, and outdoor activities. Aspin presently volunteers for the Juvenile Justice Chaplaincy and has a heart for missions. Through these activities and more, she has discovered her God-given gifts and calling, which in turn has empowered her as a faith-filled woman of God.

Xulon Press, a part of Salem Communications Corporation, is the world’s largest Christian publisher, with more than 5,000 titles published to date. Retailers may order Lord of the Ringless through Ingram Book Company and/or Spring Arbor Book Distributors.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


My daughter, the teenage moviemaker, directed my attention to this skit. It brings tears to my eyes when I watch it and, if you haven't seen it yet, I think you should.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mission update

Today, God willing, we are in Cuba wending our way up a winding, narrow mountain road to a new seminary where we'll celebrate several students graduating. Until a few weeks ago, I didn't know how much of a presence that God had in Cuba but he's working there. I can almost see the roots of churches throughout the island pushing down into the rock of socialism, creating new opportunities for God's grace and love to shine. Please pray for the people of Cuba.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Ruth: shub

Yesterday we learned a new Hebrew word, shub, which means “return.” Shub captures the idea of movement to an earlier state and, as a key word in the book of Ruth, captures an important idea in the book.

Let’s take a look at the uses of shub in the first chapter:

Ruth 1:6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return (“shub”) from the land of Moab…

Maybe Naomi’s allegiance is still more closely tied to Moab, for her thoughts are of her new home.

Ruth 1:7 So she departed from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to shub to the land of Judah.

Now the focus is on Bethlehem. She’s returning to her homeland, a prodigal of sorts coming back in emptiness and defeat.

Ruth 1:8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go, return each of you to her mother's house. May the LORD deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me.

Naomi thinks of the two young women in her care and tries to send them back to their homeland. She doesn’t plan to bring two young Moabite women to Bethlehem. She blessed their kindness and wishes to send them to their own people.

Ruth 1:9 And they said to her, "No, but we will surely return with you to your people."

The daughters-in-law refuse. They are family now and they intend to tie their fate to hers. They aren’t literally returning to Bethlehem, for they have never been there. But they are committed: what happens to Naomi happens to them. They are returning because Naomi is returning.

Ruth 1:10 But Naomi said, "Return, my daughters. Why should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?”

Now we see a verbal tug of war. The daughters intend to “return” to Bethlehem (they are not literally from there) but Naomi intends them to actually return to their own

roots. She rejects their commitment, setting them free. They need not feel a family covenant. They can return to their past.

Ruth 1:12 "Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons…”

Both daughters have demurred, indicating they will follow Naomi. So she takes a harder line: your hope is in husband and offspring. I can do nothing to help you. She assumes their hope is as hers, and that the way to fullness is in their past.

We’ll keep looking at this concept next time.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A new look at independence

If things are on track, I am with my family in Cuba today. We're on a two-week mission trip to Mexico and Cuba and should be arriving in Cuba today.

Until recently, cell phones and computers were illegal in Cuba. That's changing, we understand (and we'll be able to report more when we get home!). Although Cuba is apparently loosening its grip on its citizens, my appreciate for the freedom we enjoy in this country has been stirred anew. We take for granted rights that many would kill for. And many are willing to die for.

Today, we celebrate the bold stroke of a group of colonists who were willing to risk their lives and reputations to declare their independence from England.

Happy Fourth of July! Make a list of the freedoms that you enjoy daily in America.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

We met wnen? part 2

I continue my story at Lord of the Ringless today. Come on over for the rest of the story.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ruth: return

The idea of homecoming, or returning, is an essential part of Hebrew texts. “Return” means to movement to an earlier state.

Jacob, after fleeing his homeland to escape his irate brother, returns with a family and a future. It was at Bethel, on that return journey, that Jacob wrestled with God and received God’s renewed covenant promise to care for him. Centuries later, his family had become a nation while in Egypt. They returned to their Promised Land, led by Moses. God remembered his promise to Abraham and allowed the nation to return.

Genesis tells the story of people returning to dust upon death. We yearn to return to the pre-sin Garden of Eden. To repent is to return to a state of favor with God.

In Ruth the word for “return” used 19 times in 13 verses. Not all Bible translations use the word “return” every time, but the original Hebrew text selects shub for all 19 occurrences. Shub occurs most often as Naomi prepares for her Bethlehem homecoming.

The word shub primarily means to physically return or go back to a place. However, several times in the Old Testament, shub means to return from exile. In those cases, there is the sense of God reclaiming those who have walked away from him. There is a strong sense of repentance, of turning away from past sin and returning to God.

. All of us wrestle with return. Where do we go? Do we return to God? Do we return to a former way of life? Do we return to the dreams we once abandoned. There are many possibilities.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a closer look at the idea of return

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

FIRST: A Mile In My FlipFlops

It is July FIRST, time for the FIRST Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and her latest book's FIRST chapter!

The feature author is:
Melody Carlson

and her book:
A Mile in My Flip-Flops
WaterBrook Press (June 17, 2008)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: In sixth grade, Melody Carlson helped start a school newspaper called The BuccaNews (her school’s mascot was a Buccaneer...arrr!). As editor of this paper, she wrote most of the material herself, creating goofy phony bylines to hide the fact that the school newspaper was mostly a "one man" show. Visit Melody's website to see all of her wonderful and various book titles.
Don't miss her latest teen fiction, Stealing Bradford (Carter House Girls, Book 2).

Product Details:
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press (June 17, 2008)
Language: English ISBN-10: 1400073146 ISBN-13: 978-1400073146

I’m not the kind of girl who wants anyone to feel sorry for her.So after my fiancé jilted me less than four weeks before our wedding date, and since the invitations had already been sent, my only recourse was to lie low and wait for everyone to simply forget.Consequently, I became a recluse.

If I wasn’t at work, teaching a delightful class of five-year-olds, who couldn’t care less about my shattered love life, I could be found holed up in my apartment, escaping all unnecessary interaction with “sympathetic” friends. And that is how I became addicted to HGTV and ice cream. Okay, that probably calls for some explanation.

HGTV stands for Home and Garden TV, a network that runs 24/7 and is what I consider the highest form of comfort TV. It is habit forming, albeit slightly mind numbing. And ice cream obviously needs no explanation. Other than the fact that my dad, bless his heart, had seven quart-sized cartons of Ben & Jerry’s delivered to my apartment the day after Collin dumped me. Appropriately enough, dear old Dad (who knows me better than anyone on the planet) selected a flavor called Chocolate Therapy, a product worthy of its name and just as addictive as HGTV.

But now, eighteen months and twenty-two pounds later, I seem to be in a rut. And apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so.“Come on, Gretchen,” urges my best friend, Holly, from her end of the phone line. “Just come with us–please!”“Right…,” I mutter as I lick my spoon and dip it back into a freshly opened carton of Chunky Monkey–also appropriately named, but let’s not go there. Anyway, not only had I moved on to new ice cream flavors, but I also had given up using bowls. “Like I want to tag along with the newlyweds. Thanks, but no thanks.

”“Like I keep telling you, we’re not newlyweds anymore,” she insists. “We’ve been married three months now.”“Yeah…well…”“And it’s Cinco de Mayo,” she persists, using that little girl voice that I first heard when we became best friends back in third grade. “We always go together.”

I consider this. I want to point out that Holly and I used to always go to the Cinco de Mayo celebration together–as in past tense. And despite her pity for me, or perhaps it’s just some sort of misplaced guilt because she’s married and I am not, I think the days of hanging with my best friend are pretty much over now.

The image of Holly and Justin, both good looking enough to be models, strolling around holding hands with frumpy, dumpy me tagging along behind them like their poor, single, reject friend just doesn’t work for me.“Thanks anyway,” I tell her. “But I’m kind of busy today.”“So what are you doing then?” I hear the challenge in her voice, like she thinks I don’t have anything to do on a Saturday.

I slump back into the sofa and look over to the muted TV, which is tuned, of course, to HGTV, where my favorite show, House Flippers, is about to begin, and I don’t want to miss a minute of it. “I’m, uh…I’ve got lesson plans to do,” I say quickly. This is actually true, although I don’t usually do them until Sunday evening.She snickers. “Yeah, that’s a good one, Gretch. I’ll bet you’re vegging out in front of HGTV with a carton of Chocolate Fudge Brownie.”“Wrong.”

Okay, Holly is only partially wrong. Fortunately, I haven’t told her about my latest flavor.“Come on,” she tries again. “It’ll be fun. You can bring Riley along. He’d probably like to stretch his legs.”I glance over to where my usually hyper, chocolate Lab mixed breed is snoozing on his LL Bean doggy bed with a chewed-up and slightly soggy Cole Haan loafer tucked under his muzzle. “Riley’s napping,” I say. “He doesn’t want to be disturbed.”“

Like he wouldn’t want to go out and get some fresh air and sunshine?”“We already had our walk today.”Holly laughs. “You mean that little shuffle you do over to the itty bitty park across the street from your apartment complex? What’s that take? Like seven and a half minutes for the whole round trip? That’s not enough exercise for a growing dog like Riley.”“I threw a ball for him to chase.”“So there’s nothing I can do or say to change your mind?” House Flippers is just starting. “Nope,” I say, trying to end this conversation. “

But thanks for thinking of me.”“Want me to bring you back an empanada?”“Sure,” I say quickly. “You guys have fun!” Then I hang up and, taking the TV off mute, I lean back into the soft chenille sofa and lose myself while watching a hapless couple from Florida renovate a seriously run-down split-level into something they hope to sell for a profit. Unfortunately, neither of them is terribly clever when it comes to remodeling basics.

And their taste in interior design is sadly lacking too. The woman’s favorite color is rose, which she uses liberally throughout the house, and she actually thinks that buyers will appreciate the dated brown tiles and bathroom fixtures in the powder room. By the time the show ends, not only is the house still on the market despite the reduced price and open house, but the couple’s marriage seems to be in real trouble as well.

“Too bad,” I say out loud as I mute the TV for commercials. Riley’s head jerks up, and he looks at me with expectant eyes.“You just keep being a good boy,” I tell him in a soothing tone.

Hopefully, he’ll stretch out this midday nap a bit longer. Because once Riley starts moving, my tiny apartment seems to shrink, first by inches and then by feet.My hope for an elongated nap crumbles when his tail begins to beat rhythmically on the floor, almost like a warning–thump, thump, thump–and the next thing I know, he’s up and prowling around the cluttered living room. Riley isn’t even full grown yet, and he’s already way too much dog for my apartment.

Holly warned me that his breed needed room to romp and play. She tried to talk me into a little dog, like a Yorkie or Chihuahua, but I had fallen for those liquid amber eyes…and did I mention that he’s part chocolate Lab? Since when have I been able to resist chocolate? Besides, he reminded me of a cuddly brown teddy bear. But I hardly considered the fact that he would get bigger.

After he climbed into my lap that day, licking my face and smelling of puppy breath and other things that I knew could be shampooed away, there was no way I could leave him behind at the Humane Society. I already knew that he’d been rejected as a Christmas present. Some dimwitted father had gotten him for toddler twins without consulting Mommy first.

Even so, Holly tried to convince me that a good-looking puppy like that would quickly find another home.But it was too late. I knew Riley was meant for me, and that was that. And I had grandiose ideas of taking him for long walks on the beach. “He’ll help me get in shape,” I assured Holly. She’d long since given up on me going to the fitness club with her, so I think she bought into the whole exercise theory.

She also bought Riley his LL Bean deluxe doggy bed, which I could barely wedge into my already crowded apartment and now takes up most of the dining area, even though it’s partially tucked beneath a gorgeous craftsman-style Ethan Allen dining room set. Although it’s hard to tell that it’s gorgeous since it’s pushed up against a wall and covered with boxes of Pottery Barn kitchen items that won’t fit into my limited cabinet space.

“This place is way too small for us,” I say to Riley as I shove the half-full ice cream carton back into the freezer. As if to confirm this, his wagging tail whacks an oversized dried arrangement in a large bronze vase, sending seedpods, leaves, and twigs flying across the carpet and adding to the general atmosphere of chaos and confusion.

My decorating style? Contemporary clutter with a little eclectic disorder thrown in for special effect. Although, to be fair, that’s not the real me. I’m sure the real me could make a real place look like a million bucks. That is, if I had a real place…or a million bucks.I let out a long sigh as I stand amid my clutter and survey my crowded apartment.

It’s been like this for almost two years now.Overly filled with all the stuff I purchased shortly after Collin proposed to me more than two years ago. Using my meager teacher’s salary and skimpy savings, I started planning the interior décor for our new home. I couldn’t wait to put it all together after the wedding.

“Have you ever heard of wedding presents?” Holly asked me when she first realized what I was doing.

“Of course,” I assured her. “But I can’t expect the guests to provide everything for our home. I figured I might as well get started myself. Look at this great set of espresso cups that I got at Crate & Barrel last weekend for thirty percent off.

”“Well, at least you have good taste,” she admitted as she stooped to admire a hand-tied wool area rug I’d just gotten on sale. Of course, she gasped when she saw the price tag still on it. “Expensive taste too!”

“It’ll last a lifetime,” I assured her, just like the Karastan salesman had assured me. Of course, as it turned out, my entire relationship with Collin didn’t even last two years. Now I’m stuck with a rug that’s too big to fit in this crummy little one-bedroom apartment–the same apartment I’d given Mr. Yamamoto notice on two months before my wedding.

It was so humiliating to have to beg to keep it after the wedding was cancelled, but I didn’t know what else to do.And now, a year and a half later, I’m still here. Stuck. It’s like everyone else has moved on with their lives except me. It wouldn’t be so bad if I had enough room to make myself at home or enough room for Riley to wag his tail without causing mass destruction…or enough room to simply breathe.

Maybe I should rent a storage unit for all this stuff.

Or maybe I should move myself into a storage unit since it would probably be bigger than this apartment.As I pick up Riley’s newest mess, I decide the bottom line is that I need to make a decision. Get rid of some things–whether by storage, a yard sale, or charity–or else get more space. I vote for more space.

Not that I can afford more space. I’m already strapped as it is.Kindergarten teachers don’t make a whole lot. I feel like I’ve created a prison for myself. What used to be a convenient hideout now feels like a trap, and these thin walls seem to be closing in on me daily. Feeling hopeless, I flop back onto the couch and ponder my limited options. Then I consider forgetting the whole thing and escaping back into HGTV, which might call for some more ice cream.

But that’s when I look down and notice my thighs spreading out like two very large slabs of ham. Very pale ham, I might add as I tug at my snug shorts to help cover what I don’t want to see, but it’s not working. I stare at my flabby legs in horror. When did this happen?I stand up now, trying to erase that frightening image of enormous, white thunder thighs. I pace around my apartment a bit before I finally go and stand in front of an oversized mirror that’s leaning against the wall near the front door.

This is a beautiful mirror I got half price at World Market, but it belongs in a large home, possibly over a fireplace or in a lovely foyer. And it will probably be broken by Riley’s antics if it remains against this wall much longer.But instead of admiring the heavy bronze frame of the mirror like I usually do, I actually look into the mirror and am slightly stunned at what I see. Who is that frumpy girl? And who let her into my apartment?

I actually used to think I was sort of good looking. Not a babe, mind you, but okay. Today I see a faded girl with disappointed eyes.Some people, probably encouraged by Holly, a long-legged dazzling brunette, used to say I resembled Nicole Kidman. Although they probably were thinking of when Nicole was heavier and I was lighter. Now it’s a pretty big stretch to see any similarities. To add insult to injury, Nicole has already hit the big “four o,” whereas I am only thirty-two. Her forties might be yesterday’s twenties, but my thirties look more like someone else’s fifties. And I used to take better care of myself.

Okay, I was never thin, but I did eat right and got exercise from jogging and rollerblading. Compared to now, I was in great shape. And my long strawberry blond hair, which I thought was my best asset, was usually wavy and fresh looking, although you wouldn’t know that now. It’s unwashed and pulled tightly into a shabby-looking ponytail, which accentuates my pudgy face and pale skin. Even my freckles have faded.

It doesn’t help matters that my worn T-shirt (with a peeling logo that proclaims “My Teacher Gets an A+”) is saggy and baggy, and my Old Navy khaki shorts, as I’ve just observed, are too tight, and my rubber flip-flops look like they belong on a homeless person–although I could easily be mistaken for one if I was pushing a shopping cart down the street.

Then, in the midst of this pathetic personal inventory, my focus shifts to all the junk that’s piled behind me–the boxes, the myriad of stuff lining the short, narrow hallway and even spilling into the open door of my tiny bedroom, which can barely contain the queensize bed and bronze bedframe still in the packing box behind it. If it wasn’t so depressing, it would almost be funny. I just shake my head.

And then I notice Riley standing strangely still behind me and looking almost as confused as I feel. With his head slightly cocked to one side, he watches me curiously, as if he, too, is afraid to move. This is nuts. Totally certifiable. A girl, or even a dog, could seriously lose it living like this. Or maybe I already have.

They say you’re always the last to know that you’ve lost your marbles.“It’s time for a change,” I announce to Riley. He wags his tail happily now, as if he wholeheartedly agrees. Or maybe he simply thinks I’m offering to take him on a nice, long walk. “We need a real house,” I continue, gathering steam now. “And we need a real yard for you to run and play in.”

Of course, this only excites him more.And that’s when he begins to run about the apartment like a possessed thing, bumping into boxes and furnishings until I finally open the sliding door and send him out to the tiny deck to calm himself.After he settles down, I go and join him. It’s pretty hot out here, and I notice that the seedling sunflower plants, ones we’d started in the classroom and I’d brought home to nurture along, are now hanging limp and lifeless, tortured by the hot afternoon sun that bakes this little patio.

Just one more thing I hate about this place.So much for my attempt at terrace gardening. I’d seen a show on HGTV that inspired me to turn this little square of cement deck into a real oasis. But in reality it’s simply a barren desert that will only get worse as the summer gets hotter. I feel like I’m on the verge of tears now. It’s hopeless.This is all wrong. On so many levels. This is not where I was supposed to be at this stage of the game.

This is not the life I had planned. I feel like I’ve been robbed or tricked or like someone ripped the rug out from under me. And sometimes in moments like this, I even resent God and question my faith in him. I wonder why he allows things like this to happen. Why does he let innocent people get hurt by the selfishness of others? It just doesn’t make sense. And it’s not fair.

Oh, I’ve tried to convince myself I’m over the fact that my ex fiancé, Collin Fairfield, was a total jerk. And I try not to blame him for being swept away when his high school sweetheart decided, after fifteen years of being apart, that she was truly in love with him. I heard that the revelation came to Selena at the same time she received our engraved wedding invitation, which I did not send to her. She wasn’t even on my list.

And I actually believe that I’ve mostly forgiven Collin…and that sneaky Selena too. And I wish them well, although I didn’t attend their wedding last fall. A girl has to draw the line somewhere.But all that aside, this is still so wrong. I do not belong in this stuffy little apartment that’s cluttered with my pretty household goods.

I belong in a real house. A house with a white picket fence and a lawn and fruit trees in the backyard. And being single shouldn’t mean that I don’t get to have that. There must be some way I can afford a home.Of course, I’m fully aware that real estate isn’t cheap in El Ocaso. It’s on the news regularly. Our town’s prices certainly aren’t as outrageous as some of the suburbs around San Diego, but they’re not exactly affordable on a teacher’s salary.

I try not to remember how much I had in my savings account back before I got engaged and got carried away with spending on my wedding and my home. That pretty much depleted what might’ve gone toward a small down payment on what probably would’ve been a very small house. But, hey, even a small house would be better than this prison-cell apartment.

And that’s when it hits me. And it’s so totally obvious I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner. I will become a house flipper! Just like the people on my favorite HGTV show, I will figure out a way to secure a short-term loan, purchase a fixer-upper house, and do the repairs and decorating myself–with my dad’s expert help, of course!And then, maybe as early as midsummer, I will sell this beautifully renovated house for enough profit to make a good-sized down payment on another house just for me…and Riley.

Even if the secondhouse is a fixer-upper too, I can take my time with it, making it just the way I want it. And it’ll be so much better than where I live now.I’m surprised I didn’t come up with this idea months ago. It’s so totally simple. Totally perfect. And totally me!“We are going house hunting,” I announce to Riley as I shove open the sliding door and march back inside the apartment. His whole body is wagging with doggy joy as I quickly exchange my too-tight shorts for jeans and then reach for his leather leash and my Dolce & Gabbana knockoff bag–the one I bought to carry on my honeymoon, the honeymoon that never was. I

avoid looking at my image in the big mirror as we make a hasty exit.“Come on, boy,” I say as I hook the leash to his collar at the top of the stairs. “This is going to be fun!” And since this outing is in the spirit of fun, I even put down the top on my VW Bug, something I haven’t done in ages. Riley looks like he’s died and gone to doggy heaven as he rides joyfully in the backseat, his ears flapping in the breeze. Who knows, maybe we’ll find a house for sale on the beach.

Okay, it’d have to be a run-down, ramshackle sort of place that no one but me can see the hidden value in, but it could happen. And while I renovate my soon-to-be wonder house, Riley can be king of the beach. The possibilities seem limitless. And when I stop at the grocery store to pick up real-estate papers, I am impressed with how many listings there are.

But I can’t read and drive, so I decide to focus on driving. And since I know this town like the back of my hand, this should be easy.But thanks to the Cinco de Mayo celebration, the downtown area is crowded, so I start my search on the south end of town, trying to avoid traffic jams. I’m aware that this area is a little pricey for me, but you never know. First, I pull over into a parking lot and read the fliers. I read about several houses for sale, but the prices are staggering.Even more than I imagined.

Also, based on the descriptions and photos, these houses already seem to be in great shape. No fixer-uppers here. Then I notice some condo units for sale, and I can imagine finding a run-down unit in need of a little TLC, but it’s the same situation. According to the fliers, they’re in tiptop, turnkey shape–recently remodeled with granite counters and cherry hardwood floors and new carpeting and prices so high I can’t imagine doing anything that could push them a penny higher. My profit margin and spirits are steadily sinking. Maybe my idea to flip a house has already flopped. Just like the rest of my life.

Excerpted from A Mile in My Flip-Flops by Melody Carlson Copyright © 2008 by Melody Carlson. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.