Friday, October 31, 2008

Lighting the Reformation

Some said Johhan Tetzel could redeem the sins of the dead, if only you had enough coins. "When the money clangs in the box, the souls spring up to heaven," Tetzel said, soothing the consciences of many around Wittenburg, Germany.

It was October 31, 1517 when a simple professor and monk protested the redemption-by-payment, called indulgences, in a letter to his church superiors.

Martin Luther's first complaint stated clearly his position: forgiveness of sins was from Jesus Christ, not from the clergy. One of his points cut sharply into the pope's authority to forgive: "The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God."

Forgiveness of sins, according to Luther, was God's work and not that of church authorities.

As a professor of Theology, Luther gave lectures on Galatians, Romans, Hebrews and Psalms. In the study for those lectures, he discovered truth in God's word.

Luther's protests of indulgences put the match to the dry pile of tinder that had been gathering for centuries. Corruption within the church had rendered it more of an international business than a spiritual haven. Forgiveness was available to those with the money and offices were exchanged for wealth.

No one at the time thought Luther would lead a reformation of Christian beliefs and practices. He himself wanted only to correct the church. But people were fed up with the Church's corruption and rallied behind Luther's teachings.

A hundred years before, men died for what Luther was proclaiming, but the time was right. God raised up a courageous man to speak truth from God's Word.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Safe love

The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
- CS Lewis

Monday, October 27, 2008

Economic bites

Maybe gas prices have dipped a little but my grocery bill keeps going up. And it's not all because of a teenage son. That just makes the bite a little more vivid.

We all know that the economy is tight right now. Prices are up, personal financial worth down.

John Piper took an interesting tack on his blog, Desiring God. Bad economic times, he suggests, are good for missions.

Here are some of his reasons:
  • During an economic downturn we are more dependent on God. That is the most fertile soil for creating missionaries.
  • During an economic downturn unreached people around the world do not expect you to come, but to look out for yourself. So they may more likely see your risk as love rather than exploitation.
  • During an economic downturn those who need Christ around the world may be less secure in earthly things and more ready to hear about eternal life.
  • During an economic downturn people at home may be wakened to the brevity of life and the fragility of material things, and so may become more generous not less. And when they give under these circumstances, it will make Christ look all the more like the all-satisfying Treasure that he is.

Recently I heard a speaker point out the irony of what our money states: In God we trust. Do we trust the words or the paper they're written on?

Ruth: Finally

The wonder of Ruth captivates me. The story is rich. A woman is stripped of her security and family, blaming God. A foreigner commits to a place and a people she does not know, because of God. A rich man protects relatives he only met, because of his faith in God.

We start the book of Ruth reading a list of names. We close the book in the same way. But the second list is more memorable, for it leads us to King David and ultimately to Jesus.

Men with clay feet, fearful and sickly, were replaced by a heritage of dignity and vigor. Naomi trusted her husband and sons to provide, but learned that that God’s provision is more wondrous.

This is much more than a sweet romance about two people who did the right thing and were rewarded. This is a powerful story about people drawn to health and restoration by God’s compassion and sovereignty.

Nations and lineages were redeemed in God’s plan.

Ruth is a book to encourage us to do as Ruth did: commit with all our heart and all our mind and all our soul and all our strength. For we have seen God work.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


There is only one thing God wants of us,
and that is our unconditional surrender.

Oswald Chambers

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Just bear with me on this one....

A Roman Catholic priest, a Pentecostal minister, and a Rabbi all served as chaplains to the students of the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. They got together 2-3 times a week for coffee and conversation. One day, one of them said to the other two that preaching and serving the sacraments to human beings wasn't all that difficult. A real challenge would be to preach to a bear!

One thing led to another and the three of them agreed to do an experiment. They would go up in the Smokie mountains, find a bear, and attempt to convert him through preaching or the sacraments. They agreed to get back together seven days later and discuss how it went.

When they assembled a week hence, Father Flannery had his arm in a sling, was on crutches and had various bandages on his hands and legs. He shared his adventure first: "Well I went into the woods and found a bear alright, and when I found him I began to read him the RC Catechism, but that bear wanted nothing to do with that and began to slap me around. So, quickly I grabbed my holy water, sprinkled him, and doggone if he didn't become gentle as a lamb. The bishop will join me next week and we will give him first communion and start the process of confirmation."

The Pentecostal, the Rev. Billy Bob Bible spoke up next. He was in a wheelchair, with his arms and legs in casts, and with an IV drip. In his best fire and brimstone voice, he claimed "Well brothers, you know that we don't believe in sprinklin'. I commenced to reading the Bible to the bear, but the bear wanted nothing to do with that, or me. So I grabbed him before he left and we began to wrassle, and fell down a hill into a creek. Quick-like I jumped up and dunked his hairy soul, and doggone if he didn't become gentle as a lamb in an instant. We spent the rest of the day praisin' Jesus."

The rabbi had been silent all this time, and in fact was lying in a hospital bed. He was in a body cast and in traction with all sorts of monitors hooked up to him. He was in bad shape, but was able to look at the other two and say "Looking back on it, I should have started by reciting the ten commandments to him. Circumcision may not have been the best way to start."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ruth: Full Circle

In the first chapter of the book of Ruth, as Naomi returned to Bethlehem, she was greeted by a chorus of women, who greeted her: “Can this be Naomi?”

Maybe they didn’t expect to see her again. Or perhaps she was changed by time and grief.

In any case, Naomi responded with blame and bitterness: “Don’t call me Naomi. My name is now Mara (bitter).”

We can see a bit of a play on words in this exchange. The women were asking if this was Naomi, whose name meant pleasant. Naomi replied: I’m not pleasant but bitter.

But Naomi comes full circle by the end of the book. Again, the women greet her. This time, in Ruth 4:14, they don’t ask her a question but deliver a truth:
“Praise the Lord, who has not left you without a family redeemer today.” (Ruth 4:14)

This chorus of women is a used as a device to reveal Naomi’s state. Where they once questioned Naomi’s condition – and she saw herself as misused and bitter – now they declare to her a new state: blessed.

Where she thought God had stolen away her family, these women remind her that he has instead miraculously restored a family to her.

The text calls the new baby the son of Naomi, which legally would have been true. Under the law, this new son would replace her husband and sons, providing her with the protection she needed.

Naomi was redeemed. And the women joyfully deliver the good news to her: God, whom you assumed had stolen away your life, has instead restored it. Praise the Lord.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Flee or convert

Here's another article about the believers in Orissa, India being persecuted: Flee or convert.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Squeamish faith

Part of following Jesus means to go down his path. But it makes us squeamish when it involves pain.

I’ve been following the Christian believers in India in the state of Orissa. Thirty-four have died because of their non-Hindu stance.

India is a federal republic, with 28 states and a population of 1.1 billion (as of July 2008).

Although their legal system is based on the English common law, separate personal law codes apply to Muslims, Christians, and Hindus. That may be where the rub is.

I have friends in India who report that the Orissa Christians are hiding in the woods now, away from the Hindus. At last report, 34 Christians have died because they are followers of Jesus.


Please read this update. And please take this seriously. Not only do these believers need our prayers, but we need to check our own attitudes. Can we follow Jesus if it means shedding our own indulgences and falling before him as faithful servants?

Where’s my satisfaction? And would I die for it?

For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well

Phil 1:29

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Made into wine

God can never make us wine
if we object to the fingers He uses to crush us with.

Oswald Chambers

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ruth: Where Deities Reign

Last time, we discussed Ruth’s status as a Moabite. She was a foreigner in a day when foreigners were definitely outsiders. But Ruth understood two cultures and two religions.

The people of Ruth’s day understood that gods governed territories. For example, it was believed that the god of Moabites – Chemosh – ruled in the land of Moab and basically nowhere else. In leaving Moab, Ruth was leaving Chemosh. She was no longer under his authority but walking into the authority of God.

The question then became, was God as limited as Chemosh? The book of Ruth wrestles with the idea that although false gods were considered to be territorial, God is not. God reached out to Ruth while she was in Moab and drew her to himself. She believed God and was drawn to his presence. This was symbolized by her move to Bethlehem. Yet God was not limited to Israel. He touched Ruth while she was still in Moab.

The reader was then challenged to consider whether a foreigner could be used by God. Did God have any use for a foreigner?

Obviously, in the case of Ruth, God provided her with protection, with food and with fruitfulness. She came to Bethlehem – the land of God – and received astonishing kindness and a rich share of God’s divine plan.

God embraces all of his creation, not just those in Israel, and he uses any means – including a Moabite believer – to accomplish his purposes.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

FIRST: Goodbye Hollywood Nobody

It is October 11th, and FIRST is doing a special tour to 'Say Goodbye to Hollywood Nobody'.

Today's feature author is:

and her book:

Goodbye Hollywood Nobody

NavPress Publishing Group (September 15, 2008)


Lisa Samson is the author of twenty books, including the Christy Award-winning Songbird. Apples of Gold was her first novel for teens

These days, she's working on Quaker Summer, volunteering at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, raising children and trying to be supportive of a husband in seminary. (Trying . . . some days she's downright awful. It's a good thing he's such a fabulous cook!) She can tell you one thing, it's never dull around there.

Other Novels by Lisa:

Hollywood Nobody, Finding Hollywood Nobody, Romancing Hollywood Nobody, Straight Up, Club Sandwich, Songbird, Tiger Lillie, The Church Ladies, Women's Intuition: A Novel, Songbird, The Living End

Visit her at her website.

Product Details

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: NavPress Publishing Group (September 15, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1600062229
ISBN-13: 978-1600062223


Monday, July 11, 6:30 a.m.

I awaken to a tap on my shoulder and open my eye. My right eye. See, these days it could be one of four people: Charley, Dad, Grampie, or Grammie.

“’Morning, dear!”


Oh well, might as well go for broke. I open the other eye.

“Did you sleep well?”

I shake my head and reach for my cat glasses. “Nope. I kept dreaming about Charley in Scotland.” We sent her off with her new beau, the amazing Anthony Harris, two days ago. “I imagined a road full of sheep chasing her down.”

“That would be silly. They would have to know she hates lamb chops.” Grammie sits on my bed. Yes, my bed. In their fabulous house. In my own wonderful room, complete with reproductions of the Barcelona chair and a platform bed of gleaming sanded mahogany. I burrow further into my white down comforter. I sweat like a pig at night, but I don’t care. A real bed, a bona fide comforter, and four pillows. Feather pillows deep enough to sink the Titanic in.

She pats my shoulder, her bangled wrists emitting the music of wooden jewelry. “Up and at ’em, Scotty. Your dad wants to be on the road by seven thirty.”

“I need a shower.”

“Hop to it then.”

Several minutes later, I revel in the glories of a real shower. Not the crazy little stall we have in the TrailMama, which Dad gassed up last night for our trip to Maine. Our trip to find Babette, my mother. Is she dead or alive? That’s what we’re going to find out.

It’s complicated.

The warm water slides over me from the top of my head on down, and I’ve found the coolest shampoo. It smells like limeade. I kid you not. It’s the greatest stuff ever.

Over breakfast, Grampie sits down with us and goes over the map to make certain Dad knows the best route. My father sits patiently, nodding as words like turnpike, bypass, and scenic route roll like a convoy out of Grampie’s mouth.

Poor Grampie. Dad is just the best at navigation and knows everything about getting from point A to point B, but I think Grampie wants to be a part of it. He hinted at us all going in the Beaver Marquis, their Luxury-with-a-capital-L RV, but Dad pretended not to get it.

Later, Dad said to me, “It’s got to be just us, Scotty. I love my mother and father, but some things just aren’t complete-family affairs.”

“I know. I think you’re right. And if it’s bad . . .”

He nods. “I’d just as soon they not be there while we fall apart.”


So then, I hop up into our RV, affectionately known as the TrailMama, Dad’s black pickup already hitched behind. (Charley’s kitchen trailer is sitting on a lot in storage at a nearby RV dealership, and good riddance. I’m hoping Charley never needs to use that thing again.) “Want me to drive?”

He laughs.

Yep. I still don’t have my license.

Man. But it’s been such a great month or so at the beach. So, okay, I don’t tan much really, but I do have a nice peachy glow.

I’ll take it.

And Grampie grilled a lot, and Grammie helped me sew a couple of vintage-looking skirts, and I’ve learned the basics of my harp.

I jump into the passenger’s seat, buckle in, and look over at my dad. “You really ready for this?” My heart speeds up. This is the final leg of a very long journey, and what’s at the end of the path will determine the rest of our lives.

He looks into my eyes. “Are you?”

“I don’t know,” I whisper. “But we don’t really have a choice, do we?”

“I can go alone.”

I shake my head. “No, Dad. Whatever we do, whatever happens from here on out, we do it together.”


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Our winner!

The winner of the 500th post book basket is Maxine! Congratulations, Maxine. Would you email me your mailing address so I can get these books to you?

For those of you curious, I used to select the winner. Thanks to you all for entering.

Woohoo: 500 posts!

As you can see, I have spared no expense in celebrating my 500th post.

(Insert commercial break: you, too, can hire this balloon-bearing bear for your next 500th celebration.)

My sister made to 500 today as well (here's her blog site) but she didn't spring for the bear so her site is more cheesy than my celebration. Not everyone has elegant tastes, I guess. But since she was the one who urged me to start blogging, I have to dedicate this post to her. I know she'll be honored.

I started Sumballo in March of 2007, nervously placing my writing out for the world to see. Now, if you believe the hit map over on the sidebar, the world has strolled through. I've had hits from Australia, China, India, Africa, South America, and on. Nothing from Antartica yet but a blogger always needs new goals.

Based on the fact that my first posts (no, don't go look) now strike me as rather stilted and amateurish, I think my writing has improved - which was a main goal (well, after having the world stroll through....). But the best part is the new friends I've made in the process. I feel like I went to Malta with Angela, am praying over the elections along with Maxine and studying Solomon with Dana. There are many, many others as well who have touched my life. I've been changed by this blogging experiment.

These 500 posts have included book reviews, Bible studies, financial talks, and a few jokes. Since my sister's number-one post based on hits is her brilliant report on whether we swallow spiders while we sleep (we don't, they think), maybe I need to branch out in my posts.

And one more observation: my sister wrote 2 sentences on her 500th post while I have written a short book. Give a writer a keyboard and look what happens. Sometimes we get to 500 posts in a hurry!

I'll be marching on, with some new direction and changes. Thank you for your support!

I'll post the winner of the book basket later today (when I have time to get all those names logged into a random generator), and report back. You can now go forth in the glow of this elegant celebration.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Thinking about voting

Do your homework.

That is the first suggestion on how to prepare for this year’s election from Ben Witherington, who has assembled an evangelical’s voting guide.

Here are the rest of his ideas:
  • Vote. Don’t stay home because you’re frustrated.
  • Don’t be a one-issue voter.
  • Decide how much character weighs into your decision.
  • Prioritize your issues and evaluate the candidates based on your priorities.
  • Be smart enough to discern when a candidate is not honest or forthright about his/her views.
  • Don’t vote on gut instinct but on evaluation, discussion, thought.

I’ll add one: remember that this election is more than the presidential position. We’re choosing Representatives, Senators, governors, and more. Be sure you read all of Ben’s thoughts. They'll give you something more to think about.


This is post #499 on Sumballo. Remember to get your comments in before I draw for the basket of books. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Ruth, the foreigner

Ruth was a foreigner in a strange home. She left her home and family, buoyed by a determined vow to Naomi, and entered a new world. Ruth undoubtedly wrestled with customs and inside jokes that everyone got but her. Although the language was similar, she may have stumbled over local idioms. And keeping track of the relatives may have seemed overwhelming.

Ruth could not shed the label, “the Moabite.” The author of Ruth reminds us in 2:2 of Ruth’s origin, calling her “Ruth the Moabite.” Later, when Boaz asked his servants to identify her, they referred to her as “the Moabite” and underscored her origin by adding “from the country of Moab.”

If Ruth wanted to minimize her alien status, she wasn’t getting much help. Did she recognize her vulnerable position as a foreigner? She responded to Boaz’s kindness with a question: "Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?" She didn’t hide her status. She was a foreigner and her question implied that perhaps she had not found favor in the sight of others because her foreignness.

And, in case we miss the foreignness, our author labeled Ruth as “the Moabite” again in 2:21. Boaz called her “Ruth the Moabite” twice in his negotiations with the kinsman.

Did she feel isolated by the label? Did she feel torn between her new people and her family? Once she came to Bethlehem, did homesickness set in? She had one foot in two camps: her new family in Bethlehem and her family still in Moab. She knew both cultures; she knew both religions.

Next: where deities reign

Thursday, October 2, 2008


The Lord willing, Sumballo will celebrate its 500th post next week. For those of you who have been with me since the start, that may seem as amazing to you as to me.

Well, we're going to celebrate. (And check out my sister's blog as well. We're going to hit 500 on the same day - and that's been an interesting exercise in working together!)

I have a basket of books that I am going to give away. If you've commented during September - or if you comment before the 500th post is up - your name is in the hat for the books. One name per comment so if you comment a lot, you have a better chance. Feel free to pass the word.

Here are the books in the basket:

  • New Birth or Rebirth by Ravi Zacharias
  • Sweet Caroline by Rachel Hauck
  • RX for Worry: A Thankful Heart by James P. Gill, M.D.
  • Out of the Ruins by Sally S.Wright
  • Crimson Eve by Brandilyn Collins

I may be adding more books. We'll see what I find on my shelves. These are all new/nearly new books. Most have been read once for a book review and deserve another reading.

If you have ideas for the celebration, throw them in the pot! And stay tuned next week for more celebration stuff.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

FIRST: Single Sashami

It is time for the FIRST Blog Tour! On the FIRST day of every month we feature an author and his/her latest book's FIRST chapter!

The feature author is:

and her book:

Single Sashimi
Zondervan (September 1, 2008)


Camy Tang is a FIRST Family Member! She also is a moderator for FIRST Wild Card Tours. She is a loud Asian chick who writes loud Asian chick-lit. She grew up in Hawaii, but now lives in San Jose, California, with her engineer husband and rambunctious poi-dog. In a previous life she was a biologist researcher, but these days she is surgically attached to her computer, writing full-time. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service.

Sushi for One? (Sushi Series, Book One) was her first novel. Her second, Only Uni (Sushi Series, Book Two) was published in March of this year. The next book in the series, Single Sashimi (Sushi Series, Book Three) came out in September 2008!

Visit her at her website.

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (September 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0310274001
ISBN-13: 978-0310274001


Single Sashimi
Camy Tang

Chapter one

Venus Chau opened the door to her aunt's house and almost fainted.

"What died?" She exhaled sharply, trying to get the foul air out of her body before it caused cancer or something.

Her cousin Jennifer Lim entered the foyer with the look of an oni goblin about to eat someone. "She's stinking up my kitchen."

"Who?" Venus hesitated on the threshold, breathing clean night air before she had to close the door.

"My mother, who else?"

The ire in Jenn's voice made Venus busy herself with kicking off her heels amongst the other shoes in the tile foyer. Hoo-boy, she'd never seen quiet Jenn this irate before. Then again, since Aunty Yuki had given her daughter the rule of the kitchen when she'd started cooking in high school, Jenn rarely had to make way for another cook.

"What is she cooking? Beef intestines?"

Jenn flung her arms out. "Who knows? Something Trish is supposed to eat."

"But we don't have to eat it, right? Right?"

"I'll never become pregnant if I have to eat stuff like that." Jenn whirled and stomped toward the kitchen.

Venus turned right into the living room where her very pregnant cousin Trish lounged on the sofa next to her boyfriend, Spenser. "Hey, guys." Her gaze paused on their twined hands. It continued to amaze her that Spenser would date a woman pregnant with another man's child. Maybe Venus shouldn't be so cynical about the men she met. Here was at least one good guy.

Trish's arms shot into the air like a Raiders' cheerleader, nearly clocking Spenser in the eye. "I'm officially on maternity leave!"

Venus paused to clap. "So how did you celebrate?"

"I babysat Matthew all day today." She smiled dreamily at Spenser at the mention of his son.

Venus frowned and landed her hands on her hips. "In your condition?"

Trish waved a hand. "He's not that bad. He stopped swallowing things weeks ago."

"I'm finally not wasting money on all those emergency room visits," Spenser said.

"Besides, I got a book about how to help toddlers expect a new baby." Trish bounced lightly on the sofa cushion in her excitement.

"And?" It seemed kind of weird to Venus, since Trish and Spenser weren't engaged or anything. Yet.

Trish chewed her lip. "I don't know if he totally understands, but at least it's a start."

A sense of strangeness washed over Venus as she watched the two of them, the looks they exchanged that weren't mushy or intimate, just . . . knowing. Like mind reading. It made her feel alienated from her cousin for the first time in her life, and she didn't really like it.

She immediately damped down the feeling. How could she begrudge Trish such a wonderful relationship? Venus was so selfish. She disgusted herself.

She looked around the living room. "Where is -- "

"Venus!" The childish voice rang down the short hallway. She stepped back into the foyer to see Spenser's son, Matthew, trotting down the carpet with hands reached out to her. He grabbed her at the knees, wrinkling her silk pants, but she didn't mind. His shining face looking up at her -- way up, since she was the tallest of the cousins -- made her feel like she was the only reason he lived and breathed. "Psycho Bunny?" he pleaded.

She pretended to think about it. His hands shook her pants legs to make her decide faster.


He darted into the living room and plopped in front of the television, grabbing at the game controllers. The kid had it down pat -- in less than a minute, the music for the Psycho Bunny video game rolled into the room.

Venus sank to the floor next to him.

"Jenn is totally freaking out." Trish's eyes had popped to the size of siu mai dumplings.

"What brought all this on?" Venus picked up the other controller.

"Well, Aunty Yuki had a doctor's appointment today -- "

"Is she doing okay?" She chose the Bunny Foo-Foo character for the game just starting.

"Clean bill of health. Cancer's gone, as far as they can tell."

"So that's why she's taken over Jenn's domain?"

Trish rubbed her back and winced. "She took one look at me and decided I needed something to help the baby along."

Jenn huffed into the living room. "She's going to make me ruin the roast chicken!"

Venus ignored her screeching tone. "Sit down. You're not going to make her hurry by hovering." She and Matthew both jumped over the snake pit and landed in the hollow tree.

Jenn flung herself into an overstuffed chair and dumped her feet on the battered oak coffee table.

Venus turned to glance at the foyer. No Nikes. "Where's Lex?"

"Late. Where else?" Jenn snapped.

"I thought Aiden was helping her be better about that."

"He's not a miracle worker." Spenser massaged Trish's back.

"I have to leave early." Venus stretched her silk-clad feet out, wriggling her toes. Her new stilettos looked great but man, they hurt her arches.

"Then you might not eat at all." Jenn crossed her arms over her chest.

Venus speared her with a glance like a stainless steel skewer. "Chill, okay Cujo?"

Jenn pouted and scrunched further down in the chair.

Venus ignored her and turned back to the game. Her inattention had let Matthew pick up the treasure chest. "I have to work on a project."

"For work?"

"No, for me." Only the Spiderweb, the achievement of her lifetime, a new tool that would propel her to the heights of video game development stardom. Which was why she'd kept it separate from her job-related things -- she didn't even use her company computer when she worked on it, only her personal laptop.

A new smell wafted into the room, this one rivaling the other in its stomach-roiling ability. Venus waved her hand in front of her face.

"Pffaugh! What is she cooking?"

Trish's face had turned the color of green tea. "You're lucky you don't have to eat it. Whatever it is, it ain't gonna stay down for long."

"Just say you still have morning sickness."

"In my ninth month?"

Venus shrugged.

The door slammed open. "Hey, guys -- blech."

Venus twisted around to see her cousin Lex doubled over, clenching her washboard stomach (Venus wished she could have one of those) and looking like she'd hurled up all the shoes littering the foyer floor.

Lex's boyfriend Aiden grabbed her waist to prevent her from nosediving into the tile. "Lex, it's not that bad."

"The gym locker room smells better." Lex used her toes to pull off her cross-trainers without bothering to untie them. "The men's locker room."

"It's not me," Jenn declared. "It's Mom, ruining all my best pots."

"What is she doing? Killing small animals on the stovetop?"

"Something for the baby." Trish tried to smile, but it looked more like a wince.

"As long as we don't have to eat it." Lex dropped her slouchy purse on the floor and walked into the living room.

Aunty Yuki appeared behind her in the doorway, bearing a steaming bowl. "Here, Trish. Drink this." The brilliant smile on her wide face eclipsed her tiny stature.

Venus smelled something pungent, like when she walked into a Chinese medicine shop with her dad. A bolus of air erupted from her mouth, and she coughed. "What is that?" She dropped the game controller.

"Pig's brain soup."

Trish's smile hardened to plastic. Lex grabbed her mouth. Spenser -- who was Chinese and therefore had been raised with the weird concoctions -- sighed. Aiden looked at them all like they were funny-farm rejects.

Venus closed her eyes, tightened her mouth, and concentrated on not gagging. Good thing her stomach was empty.

Aunty Yuki's mouth pursed. "What's wrong? My mother-in-law made me eat pig's brain soup when I was a couple weeks from delivering Jennifer."

"That's what you ruined my pots with?" Jennifer steamed hotter than the bowl of soup.

Her mom caught the yakuza-about-to-hack-your-finger-off expression on Jenn's face. Aunty Yuki paused, then backtracked to the kitchen. With the soup bowl, thankfully.

"Papa?" Matthew's voice sounded faint.

Venus turned.

"Don't feel good." He clutched his poochy tummy.

"Oh, no." Spenser grabbed his son and headed out of the living room.

Then the world exploded.

Just as they passed into the foyer, Matthew threw up onto the tiles.

Lex, with her weak stomach when it came to bodily fluids, took one look and turned pasty.

A burning smell and a few cries sounded from the kitchen.

Trish sat up straighter than a Buddha and clenched her rounded abdomen. "Oh!"

Spenser held his crying son as he urped up the rest of his afternoon snack. Lex clapped a hand to her mouth to prevent herself from following Matthew's example. Jenn started for the kitchen, but then Matthew's mess blocking the foyer stopped her. Trish groaned and curled in on herself, clutching her tummy.

Venus shot to her feet. She wasn't acting Game Lead at her company for nothing.

"You." She pointed to Jenn. "Get to the kitchen and send your mom in here for Trish." Jenn leaped over Matthew's puddle and darted away. "And bring paper towels for the mess!"

"You," she flung at Spenser. "Take Matthew to the bathroom."

He gestured to the brand new hallway carpet.

Oh no, Aunty Yuki would have a fit. But it couldn't be helped. "If he makes a mess on the carpet, we'll just clean it up later."

He didn't hesitate. He hustled down the hallway with Matthew in his arms.

Venus kicked the miniscule living room garbage basket closer to Lex. "Hang your head over that." Not that it would hold more than spittle, but it was better than letting Lex upchuck all over the plush cream carpet. Why did Lex, tomboy and jock, have to go weak every time something gross happened?

"You." Venus stabbed a manicured finger at Aiden. "Get your car, we're taking Trish to the hospital."

He didn't jump at her command. "After one contraction?"

Trish moaned, and Venus had a vision of the baby flying out of her in the next minute. She pointed to the door again. "Just go!"

Aiden shrugged and slipped out the front door, muttering to himself.

"You." She stood in front of Trish, who'd started Lamaze breathing through her pursed lips. "Uh . . ."

Trish peered up at her.

"Um . . . stop having contractions."

Trish rolled her eyes, but didn't speak through her pursed lips.

Venus ignored her and went to kneel over Matthew's rather watery puddle, which had spread with amoeba fingers reaching down the lines of grout. Lex's purse lay nearby, so she rooted in it for a tissue or something to start blotting up the mess.

Footsteps approaching. Before she could raise her head or shout a warning, Aunty Yuki hurried into the foyer. "What's wron -- !"

It was like a Three Stooges episode. Aunty Yuki barreled into Venus's bent figure. She had leaned over Matthew's mess to protect anyone from stepping in it, but it also made her an obstacle in the middle of the foyer.

"Ooomph!" The older woman's feet -- shod in cotton house slippers, luckily, and not shoes -- jammed into Venus's ribs. She couldn't see much except a pair of slippers leaving the floor at the same time, and then a body landing on the living room carpet on the other side of her. Ouch.

"Are you okay?" Venus twisted to kneel in front of her, but she seemed slow to rise.

"Venus, here're the paper towels -- "

Jenn's voice in the foyer made Venus whirl on the balls of her feet and fling her hands up. "Watch out!"

Jenn stopped just in time. Her toes were only inches away from Matthew's mess, her body leaning forward. Her arms whirled, still clutching the towels, like a cheerleader and her pom-poms.

"Jenn." Spenser's voice coming down the hallway toward the foyer. "Where are the -- "

"Stop!" Venus and Jenn shouted at the same time.

Spenser froze, his foot hovering above a finger of the puddle that had stretched toward the hallway. "Ah. Okay. Thanks." He lowered his foot on the clean tile to the side.

Aiden opened the front door. "The car's out front -- " The sight of them all left him speechless.

Trish had started to hyperventilate, her breath seething through her teeth. "Will somebody do something?!"

Aunty Yuki moaned from her crumpled position on the floor.

Smoke started pouring from the kitchen, along with the awful smell of burned . . . something that wasn't normal food.

Venus snatched the paper towels from Jenn. "Kitchen!" Jenn fled before she'd finished speaking. "What do you need?" Venus barked at Spenser.

"Extra towels."

"Guest bedroom closet, top shelf."

He headed back down the hall. Venus turned to Aiden and swept a hand toward Aunty Yuki on the living room floor. "Take care of her, will you?"

"What about me?" Trish moaned through a clenched jaw.

"Stop having contractions!" Venus swiped up the mess on the tile before something worse happened, like someone stepped in it and slid. That would just be the crowning cherry to her evening. Even when she wasn't at work, she was still working.

"Are you okay, Aunty?" She stood with the sodden paper towels.

Aiden had helped her to a seat next to Lex, who was ashen-faced and still leaning over the tiny trash can. Aside from a reddish spot on Aunty Yuki's elbow, she seemed fine.

Jenn entered the living room, her hair wild and a distinctive burned smell sizzling from her clothes. "My imported French saucepan is completely blackened!" But she had enough sense not to glare at her parent as she probably wanted to. Aunty Yuki suddenly found
the wall hangings fascinating.

Venus started to turn toward the kitchen to throw away the paper towels she still held. "Well, we have to take Trish to the hospital -- "

"Actually . . ." Trish's breathing had slowed. "I think it's just a false alarm."

Venus turned to look at her. "False alarm? Pregnant women have those?"

"It happened a couple days ago too."

"What?" Venus almost slammed her fist into her hip, but remembered the dirty paper towels just in time. Good thing too, because she had on a Chanel suit.

Trish gave a long, slow sigh. "Yup, they're gone. That was fast." She smiled cheerfully.

Venus wanted to scream. This was out of her realm. At work, she was used to grabbing a crisis at the throat and wrestling it to submission. This was somewhere Trish was heading without her, and the thought both frightened and unnerved her. She shrugged it off. "Well . . . Aunty -- "

"I'm fine, Venus." Aunty Yuki inspected her elbow. "Jennifer, get those Japanese Salonpas patches -- "

"Mom, they stink." Jenn's stress over her beautiful kitchen made her more belligerent than Venus had ever seen her before. Not that the camphor patches could smell any worse than the burned Chinese-old-wives'-pregnancy-food permeating the house.

At the sound of the word Salonpas, Lex pinched her lips together but didn't say anything.

Aunty Yuki gave Jenn a limpid look. "The Salonpas gets rid of the pain."

"I'll get it." Aiden headed down the hallway to get the adhesive patches.

"In the hall closet." Jenn's words slurred a bit through her tight jaw.

Distraction time. Venus tried to smile. "Aunty, if you're okay, then let's eat."

Jenn's eyes flared neon red. "Can't."


"Somebody turned off the oven." Jenn frowned at her mother, who tactfully looked away. "Dinner won't be for another hour." She stalked back to the kitchen.

Even with the nasty smell, Venus's stomach protested its empty state. "It's already eight o'clock."

"Suck it up!" Jenn yelled from the kitchen.

It was going to be a long night.


Venus needed a Reese's peanut butter cup.

No, a Reese's was bad. Sugar, fat, preservatives, all kinds of chemicals she couldn't even pronounce.

Oooh, but it would taste so good . . .

No, she equated Reese's cups with her fat days. She was no longer fat. She didn't need a Reese's.

But she sure wanted one after such a hectic evening with her cousins.

She trudged up the steps to her condo. Home. Too small to invite people over, and that was the way she liked it. Her haven, where she could relax and let go, no one to see her when she was vulnerable --

Her front door was ajar.

Her limbs froze mid-step, but her heart rat-tat-tatted in her chest like a machine gun. Someone. Had. Broken. Into. Her. Home.

Her hand started to shake. She clenched it to her hip, crushing the silk of her pants. What to do? He might still be there. Pepper spray. In her purse. She searched in her bag and finally found the tiny bottle. Her hand trembled so much, she'd be more likely to spritz herself than the intruder.

Were those sounds coming from inside? She reached out a hand, but couldn't quite bring herself to push the door open further.

Stupid, call the police! She fumbled with the pepper spray so she could extract her cell phone. Dummy, don't pop yourself in the eye with that stuff! She switched the spray to her other hand while her thumb dialed 9 - 1 - 1. Her handbag's leather straps dug into her elbow.

Thump! That came from her living room! Footsteps. Get away from the door! She stumbled backwards, but remembering the stairs right behind her, she tried to stop herself from tumbling down. Her ankle tilted on her stilettos, and she fell sideways to lean against the wall. The footsteps approached her open door.

"9 - 1 - 1, what's your emergency?"

She raised her hand with the bottle of pepper spray. "Someone's -- "

The door swung open.

"Edgar!" The cell phone dropped with a clatter, but she kept a firm grip on the pepper spray, suddenly tempted to use it.

One of her junior programmers stood in her open doorway.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Camy Tang
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530