People Come First By Mike Dellosso

Thank you for giving me a blogging sabbatical. Please enjoy one last blog repeat. Blogging will resume January 5. Happy New Year!  – Nikki

My dad has been a pastor for fifteen years and before that he worked as a supermarket manager for over twenty years. One thing he says he’s learned in his 35+ years of working with people in retail and ministry is this: People come first. Not policies, not procedures or programs or politics. People.
In my full-time job I try to live by that mantra. I spend my days travelling from home to home in rural Adams County, Pennsylvania doing physical therapy on the sick and injured. And every day I remind myself that the patient comes first. I don’t see them merely as a diagnosis or keep a wall between us. I don’t keep them at an arm’s length. They’re people with needs and wants and hurts and fears. People with feelings who deserve to be treated as such.
I also employ this little mantra in my fiction. Plot is important, yes, and pushes the story forward, but the people who populate the story must come first. For me, it’s all about the characters, all about their lives and history and future, their relationships and struggles and fears. Their desires.
I’m a firm believer in the power of characters to keep a reader glued to the pages more so than even a killer plot. We’re all relational and it’s the people of a story we connect with and want to follow. We want to identify with them, feel what they’re feeling, live as they live.
A few years ago I worked with a boy who had cerebral palsy. I’ll call him Aaron. When we first started treating Aaron he had just undergone surgery to lengthen some tendons in his legs that had become contracted and couldn’t even walk. He’d maneuver himself from his bed to his wheelchair to the sofa using only his arms. But despite his disabilities, his withered limbs, the difficulties and obstacles he faced every day, Aaron never once complained, never once showed anger or frustration or even fear. Never spoke a harsh word to either me or his caregiver.
Instead, he was kind and generous and loving. He showed genuine interest in me and my family and asked every day how we were doing and what we had planned for that evening. He trusted me completely with a simple faith that both convicted and inspired me.
By the time we finished working with Aaron he was walking around his small home like it was nobody’s business, smiling earlobe to earlobe, and anxious to get back to school where he was in the seventh grade.
When I left Aaron’s home for the last time I knew I had to create a character like him, one who was tormented physically but never emotionally or spiritually, one who, despite his physical challenges truly walked by faith. A faith that was simple and pure, honest and genuine. And so I created the character of William for Frantic.
William is somewhat of an enigma. He’s small and vulnerable with withered limbs and a unique way of expressing himself. But his faith is the stuff of inspiration and his wisdom runs deeper than the length of his life. He’s the kind of character who sticks with you long after you’ve finished the story, who lingers in your mind and resonates in your heart.
It’s over a year since I finished writing it and I still think about him often. He inspired me to examine my own heart, my own motives, my own faith and the object of that faith. My prayer is that he’ll have the same effect on readers.

(Note From Nikki: To read my review on Frantic, click here.)
Mike Dellosso is the author of 5 novels of suspense. His latest, Frantic, just released February 7 and is already getting great reviews. Mike lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and four daughters. He blogs regularly about matters of faith and life at www.mikedellosso.wordpress.com. Keep up to date with what’s going on in his world by “liking” his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/mikedellosso.

Guest Post: Why We Need Supernatural Fiction

By Mike Duran

America is incurably spiritual. Polls continually reveal that the majority of U.S. citizens have some belief in God, angels, heaven, hell and the devil. Fox News, reporting on a national poll conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation, put an interesting spin on these stats. For instance, more men believe in UFOs than women (39 percent to 30 percent), and Democrats are more likely than Republicans to believe in reincarnation, astrology and ghosts. In another poll, American Atheists, Inc. found that one in five Americans claims to have been visited by an angel. The same poll gives us this helpful statistical tidbit: “Income was another factor affecting responses. Eighty-three percent of those earning below $25,000 per year believed in angelic beings, while those earning over $80,000 were less likely (64 percent) to do so.” In other words, the further you get from the poverty line, the less you need to be touched by an angel.

Suffice to say that we are fascinated by—if not downright favorable toward—the supernatural. UFOs, psychic phenomenon, ghosts and angels are practically American staples.

Hollywood knows this. For instance, of the 50 highest-grossing movies of all-time, more than half contain speculative and supernatural themes. Films like The Sixth Sense, The Dark Knight, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Spider Man, seem to capture something about the American zeitgeist. The box office is a great barometer of our fascination for spiritual things. Movies like The Rite, Hereafter, Paranormal Activity, Legion, The Last Exorcism, and Ghost, are ever-present reminders of our belief that “something” is out there.

This trend is not limited to Tinseltown. In literature, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight epic and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series have sold gazillions of copies. Recently, on the NY Times’ bestseller list, you could find such books as Angelology, Paranormalcy, and A Discovery of Witches.

Point is: Pop culture is a reflection of our fascination, however skewed it might be, with the supernatural. What often gets lost in the statistics and commercialism is the implication of it all. I mean, what does it say about us that we are so interested in invisible entities and dwellers of exotic worlds? Are we escapists, dreamers or just plain primitives?

C.S. Lewis argued that the hunger for heaven is evidence for the existence of heaven. In other words, all cravings have a correspondent fix. Like a missing puzzle piece, we instinctively seek the “shape” that will complete us. Likewise, our unshakeable, intuitive sense that powers greater than ours lurk on the fringes of the everyday, may be the best evidence of their existence. Of course, believing in ghosts or extra-terrestrials does not make them so. Nevertheless, it is the consistent hunger for a “superior mind” and a perfect world that we can’t seem to shake.

Frederick Buechner tells the story of the young man who shot and killed his father in a fit of rage. Later that evening in his prison cell, the boy was heard crying, “I need my Dad. I need my Dad.” It’s very likely that what is going bump in the night is our eternal longings flailing against the void; we’ve evicted God, and we miss Him. America’s hunger for the supernatural is evidence of this spiritual vacuum.

Some theologians have called this the echo of Eden: the spiritual ripples of a world that once was. Because of it, we can’t stand at a graveside without asking where the departed went. We can’t look to the skies without asking if there’s anybody out there. The unseen realm resonates in us, because we are part of it; it is our home away from home.

In his work, True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer said, “The Christian life means living in the two halves of reality: the supernatural and the natural parts.” Demons and angels are real—not just for those who make less than 80K a year. As Christians, we should seek to affirm and reclaim this invisible realm, live in both halves of it.

Writing Supernatural Fiction is one of the ways I try to do that.

This is a part of a three-day blog tour for his debut book, The Resurrection. You can visit his blog here.

Interview With Indelibile Author, Kristen Heitzmann

Today I am hosting an interview with ‘Indelible’ author, Kristen Heitzmann. You can view her website here.

Natalie is eidetic. She is one of the most enduring characters in your book, Indelible. What was the inspiration for Natalie? The role appeared well-researched and I wondered if you knew someone with that kind of memory, or did you just have a fascination with it?

I wanted Natalie to have something to do with sight and seeing beyond the normal capacity. I had learned about eidetic memory a while back and found it fascinating, so that seemed the fit for this character. Making it a disability came out of the story as a source of interior conflict, but as is often the case, it was also a gift forming the basis for her expression through art.

Sculpting and art take up a lot of paper. Do you have a background in it? An interest? Are you artistically-gifted in art?

I am an artist and I feel it’s a great milieu for the characters to join in the process of creation and explore deeper things in life and faith.

What was the inspiration for the town of Redford, or is it a little bit of everywhere? Be specific.

Redford is an imaginary compilation of many Colorado Mountain towns, and just a fun, visual, and precarious setting for much of the action in the story. Living in the foothills and hiking up into the peaks every day that I can increases my awe of God and his creation and restores my soul. In creating Redford I wanted to contrast that glory with the fallen nature of its inhabitants.

Who is Alfred Otto Heitzmann? How did he enrich your life by his presence?

Al Heitzmann was my father-in-law. Highly successful in his field of law, he accomplished big things, yet never boasted. As I said at his funeral, we were in the presence of greatness and never felt small. He lived the last three years of his life (to 97 years old) with us. It was my deep reward and joy to care for him to the moment he died.

Click here to read my review of “Indelible.”

Breeding Dysfunctional Families

Sam & Becky Trommler are committed to reaching this ‘Lost Generation’ with God’s love and truth through their campus ministry with Missions Door.  They need your prayers and support in this urgent endeavor.  For more information or to contribute to their support visit: http://www.missionsdoor.org/missionaries/trommler-sam   

Family watching television, c. 1958

Family watching television, c. 1958 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Sam Trommler

 Dysfunctional Families breed Dysfunctional Children Breed Dysfunctional Families

We have been involved with campus ministry for 18 years. In recent years, we have observed drastic and detrimental changes in the lives of those entering college. These changes are primarily the result of the absence of Biblical truth in the lives of students.  But perhaps the second greatest catalyst for these changes is the dysfunction and breakdown of the family.

A traditional, functional family would be a home where two parents, a father and a mother, who are married, provide an environment of love, nurture and security for their children.  It is not a perfect family but it is a family that strives to provide the right environment for their children.

A Dysfunctional Family fails in one or all of these areas. The stories students tell us are sad and heart-wrenching.  Here are some examples:

  • A female student shares with us that she and her siblings have the same mother but four different fathers.  One night after our Bible Study she comes to us tired and in tears.  She has to be the mom to her younger siblings since there is no father and her mom is continually depressed.  She longs for a mom or dad who would love her.
  • One of our male college students had lived most of his life shuffled between parents and their new spouses.  From the time he was a child his parents have controlled much of his life.  This seems to be the major cause of his insecurity.  He has difficulty making decisions and has extreme OCD.
  •  A female student tells us that her parents are going through a bitter divorce.  She is concerned for her little sister and wants to stay with her wherever the court decides she should live.  She wants to give her sister some stability and help her through the adjustments.
  •  A 6’3” former high school football player, starved for a relationship with his father, said his dad comes home from work, lies on his bed and watches TV.  His dad never talks with him. He has even jumped on his dad’s bed just to get his attention.

More and more children grow up with no good experience of family.  Many of them are growing up in unstable environments, surrounded by uncertainty instead of the steadfast love of a father and mother.  Many are witnessing the breakup of their family at a very young age.

Insecurity is one of the primary affects we see from family breakdown.  Everything a child believed to be permanent is suddenly changed.  People they trusted to always be there for them and care for them are suddenly gone.  This insecurity manifests itself in fear, anger, social immaturity and a self-focus.  They tend to be incessant talkers or mired in a shell.  Socially and emotionally impaired, trying to be confident while fearful inside.

Some, having learned that they cannot depend on others, will develop an independent spirit that makes it difficult for them to trust anyone, including God.   Some will misguidedly blame God for the mess in their life.

They desperately seek to find love but with the world’s warped view of love.  We want to surround them with love.   We want them to be filled with the soul-freeing, heart-filling love of God, the Forever Father who will never leave them nor forsake them.

The good news is that the dysfunction that is becoming the norm in families in our country has created great opportunities to reach people with the truth and love of our loving heavenly Father.  A loving Christian home, based on God’s Word and God’s love, shines a bright light of hope to a generation that sees their desire for marriage and family as hopeless.

We have found some keys to reaching these young adults.

  •  They learn more through an interactive conversation or Bible study rather than a lecture.
  • They love to talk and share their story.  Thus, a listening ear can open a door to their heart.
  •   Empathy not sympathy lets them know that you understand and speaks to their heart.  Be quick to acknowledge their feelings but slow to give them your stories.
  • Asking the right questions will enable them to listen to themselves and see their need for God and His love.
  •   The Word of God is the key.  They need to come to know the true God of the Bible.  Their view of God tends to be a cultural conglomeration of half-truths, misconceptions and false teaching.
photo from missions door

photo from missions door

Our heart’s prayer:  “Father, we praise you for your everlasting love and faithfulness.  We pray for this lost generation for whom secular society provides no real answers, no real peace and no real love because our society has turned its back on you.  Lord, we pray that these lost children and their parents would see their need for you, would hear the Word that brings faith and would find new life as they surrender to your mighty love.  We pray that relationship with you would be restored and family relationships would be reconciled. To Your glory, in Jesus name!”

Note From Nikki: Write a prayer in the comments section for Sam and Becky Trommler’s ministry and all the kids they serve.

A Celebrate Recovery Review of Home Run

homerun_fbcover1

Celebrate Recovery is soon to be the subject of a feature film, Home Run, with a nationwide theatrical release date of April 19, 2013. Baseball all-star Cory Brand knows what it takes to win in the big leagues. But off the field, with memories of his past haunting him, his life is spiraling out of control. Hoping to save her client’s career (and reputation) after a DUI and a team suspension, Cory’s agent sends him back to the small town in Oklahoma where he grew up.

Forced to coach the local youth baseball team and spend eight weeks in the only recovery program in town, Cory can’t wait to return to his old life as quickly as possible. As his young players help him experience the joy of the game, Cory discovers his need to find freedom from his past and hope for his future … and win back the love he left behind. With this unexpected second chance, Cory finds himself on a powerful journey of transformation and redemption. Based on thousands of true stories, Home Run is a powerful reminder that with God, it’s never too late … freedom is possible.

Home Run is an honest, heart-felt look inside addictions and the wreckage left behind in their wake. The characters are real people with real problems walking the road to recovery so many of us have, or are still treading. The process is painful to watch, even more so for those of us who have first-hand knowledge of the struggles in overcoming hurts, hang-ups and habits, however we know that with the power of God and a group of like-minded individuals, we can overcome and prevail.

This film gives us the hope of recovery and the joy of living one day at a time unencumbered by the self-imposed shackles of dysfunctional behavior. Recovery is not just about substance abuse, it covers a multitude of destructive behaviors like co-dependence, eating disorders, gambling, sexual and pornography addictions, as well as things done to us by others that have left deep scars on our emotions and relationships. This film will make you laugh, cry and stand up and cheer, and then go find a recovery group and begin healing! Remember the words of Cory Brand in Home Run, “Nothing great happens when you hold back”.

Written by David & Jaye Lene Long – Ministry Leaders of Celebrate Recovery at the Heights Church

There Are a Lot of Reasons to Give Up, but There Are Greater Reasons to Finish Strong

By Sheri Rose Shepherd

When you have dedicated your life to loving, encouraging, praying for, and pouring yourself into your husband, only to watch him, in a moment of weakness, destroy the foundation you worked so hard to build, you may feel as if your entire world has been wiped out. If this describes you, I invite you to read a real-life love story that I believe will give you the passion you may need to persevere under any and every trial. It will also give you a true picture of what love looks like when lived out with a legacy perspective. I call this story “The Grand Finale.”

John and Marie were college sweethearts who dreamed of furthering God’s Kingdom together. During the first decade of their ministry, God blessed them with a growing church, two beautiful children, and a strong and loving marriage. Because of their commitment to God and each other, they became one of the most respected couples in the community. Their marriage was a beacon of hope to other young couples who wondered what marriage could be. John loved the ministry, and he loved the life God had given him. He was passionate about the call of God on his life, and he truly loved his wife.

One day as John was busy working at the church, a young lady burst through the door of the church office. She was crying hysterically, and John came out of his office to see what he might do to help. As she struggled to catch her breath, she told John about her desperate attempts to escape from her abusive husband. She was sure he would kill her if he found her, but she didn’t feel safe going to the police because they had failed to help her in the past. John quickly called Marie and asked her to take the young lady to a safe place. After Marie helped this distraught young mom gather her kids and some clothes, she brought them home to spend the night with her and John.

In a matter of days, Marie and John’s love for this young woman led her to become a Christian. After spending a few weeks in their home, she seemed like a new person. She was hungry for God and at peace. John and Marie felt great, knowing they had made such an impact on this young woman and her kids.

When this woman and her children were still staying in John and Marie’s home several weeks later, many of his good friends and family approached John and recommended that the woman find housing with another single mom. He was blinded, saying, “Marie is really helping her. I can’t ask her to leave now; she may fall away from the Lord.”

John’s good intentions without wisdom and his unwillingness to heed the warnings of others left him unguarded against the enemy’s attack. One night when Marie was out leading a Bible study, John was home alone with this woman. She had fallen for Marie’s husband and was determined to have him for herself. Tragically, Marie walked into her home to find John and the young woman in their bed together. Everything John and Marie had built was destroyed.

Unable to handle his guilt, John felt like such a failure that he left his marriage, his children, and his church to marry this young, attractive woman. Two years into his new marriage, however, he was diagnosed with acute leukemia and given only ten weeks to live. His second wife, who was still in her early twenties, decided she did not want to take care of a dying man. After emptying his bank account, she left him alone to die. He had no family and no loving church body to rally around him. In fact, he had nothing to show for his years of hard work and dedication to ministry.

As tragic as this story is, the ending is proof of God’s amazing grace. Marie decided that when John died, he should be free of guilt and shame. She went to his bedside, not gloating with condemnation, but offering to care for and forgive him. Her kids seemed almost angry at her for loving her ex-husband after all he had done. Her friends from church asked her why she was helping him. However, Marie wanted her children and church to remember, not how John had left them, but how she took care of him, never leaving his bedside until he drew his last breath.

On the day John died, his children and members from his church gathered around his bedside with Marie. They held hands and shared memories of how John had touched others’ lives when he was walking with God. Marie got a greater gift. By her sacrifice, she began the healing in her own heart and in her children’s hearts. Today they can all live free of regret and anger because they said a final good-bye to their father in a setting of God’s glorious love.

Marie finished strong in spite of the devastation, and she gave John and their kids an amazing final gift: she gave him her forgiveness and the opportunity to finish what he had started, even if it had to take place on his deathbed after their marriage had ended.

If you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you. (1 Peter 4:19)

For more teaching from the Your Heart’s Desire book and Bible study, visit www.biblelifecoaching.com.

Author, Kristine McGuire: Halloween

When I was growing up, Halloween was my second favorite holiday. Why? The night held all the appealing elements of fun. Dressing up in costume. Spooky stories about ghosts and witches. The promise of free candy by shouting “Trick-or-Treat” at a neighbor’s door. Halloween was parties at school, carving pumpkins into candle-lighted Jack-o-Lanterns, and playing games involving apples.

All those years, what I never asked was why we did any of it. What was the purpose of the costumes or candy, the parties or pumpkins. Why on this one night did things deemed dark or frightening become celebrated? It never occurred to me these traditions were from another time or had a purpose. Much like whistling in the dark (to ward off evil spirits), Halloween traditions were just something we did.

As an adult, I began questioning the October holiday routine. When my children were small, churches were suggesting Halloween was evil, offering alternative activities focusing on Autumn or harvest. But it wasn’t until later, on a spiritual journey which drew me deep into witchcraft, that I explored Halloween’s origins.

In a nutshell, October 31st has been associated with the dead or access to the spirit realm from it’s most ancient origins. Spirit communication, divination, veneration or remembrance of the dead were traditions and rituals known in a Celtic festival known as “Samhain” (pronounced “sow-in”). This understanding has remained a part of its heritage even to what we recognize now as Halloween. Despite attempts by the church (beginning in the 3rd century) to overlay or replace darker aspects with Christian doctrine or themes, Halloween has remained connected to the world’s perspective of death and a variety of practices deemed forbidden in scripture.

Since the mid-late 20th century, the celebration of Halloween in America has grown. Many now believe it rivals Christmas as a secular tradition. Once treated as a kind of “child’s holiday” has resulted in adults reclaiming the festival as their own in many ways. Newspapers list costume parties, balls, and spine chilling events dedicated to death, darkness, and horror. Stores have entire sections with candy, decorations, and a myriad of orange and black themed items. As ghost hunting has gained in popularity, it is becoming common for people to visit cemeteries on Halloween, go on “ghost hunting tours” of reportedly haunted places, etc.

As a result, we have a yearly debate among Christians regarding Halloween. Should we be concerned? October 31st has been restored as Samhain for Wiccans and many witches. The day is one of power for many occult practitioners, including some Satanists. How then should Christians respond to this annual celebration within our culture?

Some choose to close the curtains, turn off the light, and ignore the doorbell. I respect that decision. And if God has given a Christian a “red flag” or some kind of warning check in their spirit, they should be obedient to it. However, I believe for some there are approaches which will resonate not only with them but with unchurched neighbor’s, by shining light into the darkness:

  • Host a prayer meeting or worship night.
  • Host a family Christian movie night.
  • Be the neighbor who shines light (create an inviting doorway or porch) on what is a spooky night.
  • Play uplifting contemporary Christian or praise and worship music which people can hear when you open the door.
  • Offer the best candy along with a Pocket Sized Gospel of John and a winsome tract explaining the gospel.
  • Talk to your neighbors (especially if you don’t interact much the rest of the year). Offer parents coffee or hot cider, especially if the evening is cold. Let people see Christ shining through you.

The most important thing to remember is all days belong to God. Everything we do should be tempered with love for our Savior and for one another. After all, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35 NLT.

Do you have any questions for Kristine?

Please leave a comment. Any comment left will be entered to win an autographed copy of Escaping the Cauldron: Exposing Occult Influences in Every Day Life. Deadline to leave a comment will be November 1 in the morning. On the evening of November 1, I will announce one winner. One entry per person. Book given by publisher to review. Read my review here of Escaping The Cauldron.