Friday, May 29, 2009

Who Made You A Princess? (All About Us Series, Book 4): FIRST TOUR

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Who Made You A Princess? (All About Us Series, Book 4)

FaithWords (May 13, 2009)

Plus a Tiffany's Bracelet Giveaway! Go to Camy Tang's Blog and leave a comment on her FIRST Wild Card Tour for Be Strong and Curvaceous, and you will be placed into a drawing for a bracelet that looks similar to the picture below.


Award-winning author Shelley Adina wrote her first teen novel when she was 13. It was rejected by the literary publisher to whom she sent it, but he did say she knew how to tell a story. That was enough to keep her going through the rest of her adolescence, a career, a move to another country, a B.A. in Literature, an M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction, and countless manuscript pages. Shelley is a world traveler and pop culture junkie with an incurable addiction to designer handbags. She writes books about fun and faith—with a side of glamour. Between books, Shelley loves traveling, playing the piano and Celtic harp, watching movies, and making period costumes.

her book site and her website.

It's All About Us is Book One in the All About Us Series. Book Two, The Fruit of my Lipstick came out in August 2008. Book Three, Be Strong & Curvaceous, came out January 2, 2009. And Book Four, Who Made You a Princess?, came out May 13, 2009.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (May 13, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0446179620
ISBN-13: 978-0446179621


NOTHING SAYS “ALONE” like a wide, sandy beach on the western edge of the continent, with the sun going down in a smear of red and orange. Girlfriends, I am the go-to girl for alone. Or at least, that’s what I used to think. Not anymore, though, because nothing says “alive” like a fire snapping and hissing at your feet, and half a dozen of your BFFs laughing and talking around you.

Like the T-shirt says, life is good.

My name’s Shani Amira Marjorie Hanna, and up until I started going to Spencer Academy in my freshman year, all I wanted to do was get in, scoop as many A’s as I could, and get out. College, yeah. Adulthood. Being the boss of me. Social life? Who cared? I’d treat it the way I’d done in middle school, making my own way and watching people brush by me, all disappearing into good-bye like they were flowing down a river.

Then when I was a junior, I met the girls, and things started to change whether I wanted them to or not. Or maybe it was just me. Doing the changing, I mean.

Now we were all seniors and I was beginning to see that all this “I am an island” stuff was just a bunch of smoke. ’Cuz I was not like the Channel Islands, sitting out there on the hazy horizon. I was so done with all that.

Lissa Mansfield sat on the other side of the fire from me while this adorable Jared Padalecki look-alike named Kaz Griffin sat next to her trying to act like the best friend she thought he was. Lissa needs a smack upside the head, you want my opinion. Either that or someone needs to make a serious play for Kaz to wake her up. But it’s not going to be me. I’ve got cuter fish to fry. Heh. More about that later.

“I can’t believe this is the last weekend of summer vacation,” Carly Aragon moaned for about the fifth time since Kaz lit the fire and we all got comfortable in the sand around it. “It’s gone so fast.”

“That’s because you’ve only been here a week.” I handed her the bag of tortilla chips. “What about me? I’ve been here for a month and I still can’t believe we have to go up to San Francisco on Tuesday.”

“I’m so jealous.” Carly bumped me with her shoulder. “A whole month at Casa Mansfield with your own private beach and everything.” She dipped a handful of chips in a big plastic container of salsa she’d made that morning with fresh tomatoes and cilantro and little bits of—get this—cantaloupe. She made one the other day with carrots in it. I don't know how she comes up with this stuff, but it’s all good. We had a cooler full of food to munch on. No burnt weenies for this crowd. Uh-uh. What we can’t order delivered, Carly can make.

“And to think I could have gone back to Chicago and spent the whole summer throwing parties and trashing the McMansion.” I sighed with regret. “Instead, I had to put up with a month in the Hamptons with the Changs, and then a month out here fighting Lissa for her bathroom.”

“Hey, you could have used one of the other ones,” Lissa protested, trying to keep Kaz from snagging the rest of her turkey-avocado-and-alfalfa-sprouts sandwich.

I grinned at her. Who wanted to walk down the hot sandstone patio to one of the other bathrooms when she, Carly, and I had this beautiful Spanish terrazzo-looking wing of the house to ourselves? Carly and I were in Lissa’s sister’s old room, which looked out on this garden with a fountain and big ferns and grasses and flowering trees. And beyond that was the ocean. It was the kind of place you didn’t want to leave, even to go to the bathroom.

I contrasted it with the freezing wind off Lake Michigan in the winter and the long empty hallways of the seven-million-dollar McMansion on Lake Road, where I always felt like a guest. You know—like you’re welcome but the hosts don’t really know what to do with you. I mean, my mom has told me point-blank, with a kind of embarrassed little laugh, that she can’t imagine what happened. The Pill and her careful preventive measures couldn’t all have failed on the same night.

Organic waste happens. Whatever. The point is, I arrived seventeen years ago and they had to adjust.

I think they love me. My dad always reads my report cards, and he used to take me to blues clubs to listen to the musicians doing sound checks before the doors opened. That was before my mom found out. Then I had to wait until I was twelve, and we went to the early shows, which were never as good as the late ones I snuck into whenever my parents went on one of their trips.

They travel a lot. Dad owns this massive petroleum exploration company, and when she’s not chairing charity boards and organizing fund-raisers, Mom goes with him everywhere, from Alaska to New Zealand. I saw a lot of great shows with whichever member of the staff I could bribe to take me and swear I was sixteen. Keb’ Mo, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Roomful of Blues—I saw them all.

A G-minor chord rippled out over the crackle of the fire, and I smiled a slow smile. My second favorite sound in the world (right after the sound of M&Ms pouring into a dish). On my left, Danyel had pulled out his guitar and tuned it while I was lost in la-la land, listening to the waves come in.

Lissa says there are some things you just know. And somehow, I just knew that I was going to be more to Danyel Johnstone than merely a friend of his friend Kaz’s friend Lissa, if you hear what I’m saying. I was done with being alone, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t stand out from the crowd.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like this crowd. Carly especially—she’s like the sister I would have designed my own self. And Lissa, too, though sometimes I wonder if she can be real. I mean, how can you be blond and tall and rich and wear clothes the way she does, and still be so nice? There has to be a flaw in there somewhere, but if she’s got any, she keeps them under wraps.

Gillian, who we’d see in a couple of days, has really grown on me. I couldn’t stand her at first—she’s one of those people you can’t help but notice. I only hung around her because Carly liked her. But somewhere between her going out with this loser brain trust and then her hooking up with Jeremy Clay, who’s a friend of mine, I got to know her. And staying with her family last Christmas, which could have been massively awkward, was actually fun. The last month in the Hamptons with them was a total blast. The only good thing about leaving was knowing I was going to see the rest of the crew here in Santa Barbara.

The one person I still wasn’t sure about was Mac, aka Lady Lindsay MacPhail, who did an exchange term at school in the spring. Getting to know her is like besieging a castle—which is totally appropriate considering she lives in one. She and Carly are tight, and we all e-mailed and IM-ed like fiends all summer, but I’m still not sure. I mean, she has a lot to deal with right now, with her family and everything. And the likelihood of us seeing each other again is kind of low, so maybe I don’t have to make up my mind about her. Maybe I’ll just let her go the way I let the kids in middle school go.

Danyel began to get serious about bending his notes instead of fingerpicking, and I knew he was about to sing. Oh, man, could the night get any more perfect? Even though we’d probably burn the handmade marshmallows from Williams-Sonoma, tonight capped a summer that had been the best time I’d ever had.

The only thing that would make it perfect would be finding some way to be alone with that man. I hadn’t been here more than a day when Danyel and Kaz had come loping down the beach. I’d taken one look at those eyes and those cheekbones and, okay, a very cut set of abs, and decided here was someone I wanted to know a whole lot better. And I did, now, after a couple of weeks. But soon we’d go off to S. F., and he and Kaz would go back to Pacific High. When we pulled out in Gabe Mansfield’s SUV, I wanted there to be something more between us than an air kiss and a handshake, you know what I mean?

I wanted something to be settled. Neither of us had talked about it, but both of us knew it was there. Unspoken longing is all very well in poetry, but I’m the outspoken type. I like things out there where I can touch them.

In a manner of speaking.

Danyel sat between Kaz and me, cross-legged and bare-chested, looking as comfortable in his surf jams as if he lived in them. Come to think of it, he did live in them. His, Kaz’s, and Lissa’s boards were stuck in the sand behind us. They’d spent most of the afternoon out there on the waves. I tried to keep my eyes on the fire. Not that I didn’t appreciate the view next to me, because trust me, it was fine, but I know a man wants to be appreciated for his talents and his mind.

Danyel’s melody sounded familiar—something Gillian played while we waited for our prayer circles at school to start. Which reminded me . . . I nudged Carly. “You guys going to church tomorrow?”

She nodded and lifted her chin at Lissa to get her attention. “Girl wants to know if we’re going to church.”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Lissa said. “Kaz and his family, too. Last chance of the summer to all go together.”

And where Kaz went, Danyel went. Happy thought.

“You’re not going to bail, are you?” Carly’s brows rose a little.

It’s not like I’m anti-religion or anything. I’m just in the beginning stages of learning about it. Without my friends to tell me stuff, I’d be bumbling around on my own, trying to figure it out. My parents don’t go to church, so I didn’t catch the habit from them. But when she was alive and I was a little girl, my grandma used to take me to the one in her neighborhood across town. I thought it was an adventure, riding the bus instead of being driven in the BMW. And the gospel choir was like nothing I’d ever seen, all waving their arms in the air and singing to raise the roof. I always thought they were trying to deafen God, if they could just get up enough volume.

So I like the music part. Always have. And I’m beginning to see the light on the God part, after what happened last spring. But seeing a glimmer and knowing what to do about it are two different things.

“Of course not.” I gave Carly a look. “We all go together. And we walk, in case no one told you, so plan your shoes carefully.”

“Oh, I will.” She sat back on her hands, an “I so see right through you” smile turning up the corners of her mouth. “And it’s all about the worship, I know.” That smile told me she knew exactly what my motivation was. Part of it, at least. Hey, can you blame me?

The music changed and Danyel’s voice lifted into a lonely blues melody, pouring over Carly’s words like cream. I just melted right there on the spot. Man, could that boy sing.

Blue water, blue sky

Blue day, girl, do you think that I

Don’t see you, yeah I do.

Long sunset, long road,

Long life, girl, but I think you know

What I need, yeah, you do.

I do a little singing my own self, so I know talent when I hear it. And I’d have bet you that month’s allowance that Danyel had composed that one. He segued into the chorus and then the bridge, its rhythms straight out of Mississippi but the tune something new, something that fit the sadness and the hope of the words.

Wait a minute.

Blue day? Long sunset? Long road? As in, a long road to San Francisco?

Whoa. Could Danyel be trying to tell someone something? “You think that I don’t see you”? Well, if that didn’t describe me, I didn’t know what would. Ohmigosh.

Could he be trying to tell me his feelings with a song? Musicians were like that. They couldn’t tell a person something to her face, or they were too shy, or it was just too hard to get out, so they poured it into their music. For them, maybe it was easier to perform something than to get personal with it.

Be cool, girl. Let him finish. Then find a way to tell him you understand—and you want it, too.

The last of the notes blew away on the breeze, and a big comber smashed itself on the sand, making a sound like a kettledrum to finish off the song. I clapped, and the others joined in.

“Did you write that yourself?” Lissa removed a marshmallow from her stick and passed it to him. “It was great.”

Danyel shrugged one shoulder. “Tune’s been bugging me for a while and the words just came to me. You know, like an IM or something.”

Carly laughed, and Kaz’s forehead wrinkled for a second in a frown before he did, too.

I love modesty in a man. With that kind of talent, you couldn’t blame Danyel for thinking he was all that.

Should I say something? The breath backed up in my chest. Say it. You’ll lose the moment. “So who’s it about?” I blurted, then felt myself blush.

“Can’t tell.” His head was bent as he picked a handful of notes and turned them into a little melody. “Some girl, probably.”

“Some girl who’s leaving?” I said, trying for a teasing tone. “Is that a good-bye?”

“Could be.”

I wished I had the guts to come out and ask if he’d written the song for me—for us—but I just couldn’t. Not with everyone sitting there. With one look at Carly, whose eyes held a distinct “What’s up with you?” expression, I lost my nerve and shut up. Which, as any of the girls could tell you, doesn’t happen very often.

Danyel launched into another song—some praise thing that everyone knew but me. And then another, and then a cheesy old John Denver number that at least I knew the words to, and then a bunch of goofy songs half of us had learned at camp when we were kids. And then it was nearly midnight, and Kaz got up and stretched.

He’s a tall guy. He stretches a long way. “I’m running the mixer for the early service tomorrow, so I’ve got to go.”

Danyel got up, and I just stopped my silly self from saying, “No, not yet.” Instead, I watched him sling the guitar over one shoulder and yank his board out of the sand. “Are you going to early service, too?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said, sounding a little surprised. “I’m in the band, remember?”

Argh! As if I didn’t know. As if I hadn’t sat there three Sundays in a row, watching his hands move on the frets and the light make shadows under his cheekbones.

“I just meant—I see you at the late one when we go. I didn’t know you went to both.” Stutter, bumble. Oh, just stop talking, girl. You’ve been perfectly comfortable talking to him so far. What’s the matter?

“I don’t, usually. But tomorrow they’re doing full band at early service, too. Last one before all the turistas go home. Next week we’ll be back to normal.” He smiled at me. “See you then.”

Was he looking forward to seeing me, or was he just being nice? “I hope so,” I managed.

“Kaz, you coming?”

Kaz bent to the fire and ran a stick through the coals, separating them. “Just let me put this out. Lissa, where’s the bucket?”

“Here.” While I’d been obsessing over Danyel, Lissa had run down to the waterline and filled a gallon pail. You could tell they’d done this about a million times. She poured the water on the fire and it blew a cloud of steam into the air. The orange coals gave it up with a hiss.

I looked up to say something to Danyel about it and saw that he was already fifty feet away, board under his arm like it weighed nothing, heading down the beach to the public lot where he usually parked his Jeep.

I stared down into the coals, wet and dying.

I couldn’t let the night go out like this.

“Danyel, wait!” The sand polished the soles of my bare feet better than the pumice bar at the salon as I ran to catch up with him. A fast glance behind me told me Lissa had stepped up and begun talking to Kaz, giving me a few seconds alone.

I owed her, big time.

“What’s up, ma?” He planted the board and set the guitar case down. “Forget something?”

“Yes,” I blurted. “I forgot to tell you that I think you’re amazing.”

He blinked. “Whoa.” The barest hint of a smile tickled the corners of his lips.

I might not get another chance as good as this one. I rushed on, the words crowding my mouth in their hurry to get out. “I know there’s something going on here and we’re all leaving on Tuesday and I need to know if you—if you feel the same way.”

“About . . . ?”

“About me. As I feel about you.”

He put both hands on his hips and gazed down at the sand. “Oh.”

Cold engulfed me, as if I’d just plunged face-first into the dark waves twenty feet away. “Oh,” I echoed. “Never mind. I guess I got it wrong.” I stepped back. “Forget about it. No harm done.”

“No, Shani, wait—”

But I didn’t want to hear the “we can still be friends” speech. I didn’t want to hear anything except the wind in my ears as I ran back to the safety of my friends.

***************************MARI'S TAKE ON IT*************************************

I read Book Three back in December and adored it. Book Four does not disappoint. This book focuses on Shani. Shani has two young men chasing her down for her heart. What a position to be in. One is a prince and the other is one of the boys her and her girls hang out with. Both suitable suitors in their own rite.

What I loved about this story line was that Shani was honest with both. She never stopped being who she was on an everyday basis. She did not try to change herself to impress either one. And in the end, I believe she made the better choice.

The issue with her parents was a dousy. She proved herself to be a strong young woman. And I thoroughly enjoyed that she did not suffer financial because of her decision, as her parents had predicted.

The development of her faith was handled well. It truly happened out a her own need, not to impress anyone or even to fit it. She made it her own in her own time. That's how it should always be. You know she still has growing to do but the progress made in this book could really encourage some young ladies.

I realy enjoyed this book. I've passed it on to my two teenage daughters and anxiously await the next book, which will focus on Mac. Hopefully I'll be selected for that First Tour as well. Happy reading!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Heartfelt Memorial

Friends, there is so much to say, to catch you up on (I know that's not proper English but indulge me today), but today is not the day for that. I'll be back later this week to do the catching up part, so get your reading glasses ready. LOL

Today I just want to ask you to pray for those in our military. Right now my family and I have a dear friend who is deployed in Iraq. Him and his precious family just returned from an overseas stint. They were relocated to Texas and had a beautiful baby girl in December. And now daddy is away, serving his country. It simply breaks my heart. I love him, his wife, their two sons and their new baby girl like they are blood relatives. I pray for his safety and their care. He simply must return home to us. We haven't seen them in a couple of years. We are overdue for a reunion between both families with all members present! I pray that this prayer falls within God's will for us.

This story is the story of so many in our military. It has been the story of many in our military over the years and through many wars. I cannot fathom how they do what they do for us and for this country. It is a great sacrifice. We can never ever appreciate them enough. We simply can't.

Pray for my friends. Pray for my stepson, who is also a reservist and has himself been deployed several times in the past couple of years. I pray he doesn't have to go again. Yet I know that prayer may not be answered. And it's okay, because in the end, God sits on the throne. He is sovereign. And I trust Him.

Trust Him today with the lives of our troops. Pray for their safety. Pray for them to keep serving with courage and pride. Pray for their families, who are left to try to live without a big hole in their lives. Pray for us civilians, that we appreciate what they do and that we continue to pray. I pray blessings on our soldiers and all who have gone before them. God bless them. And may He bless you as well today.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

He's Hot

I was sitting in church last night for the last session of a three year marriage class. My husband was running late and was going to come later. Because of that, I took a look toward the door every now and again.

The last time I did that, I saw him walk in. He was wearing a grey shirt. I never got past the shirt. I was newly attracted to him. Nothing special about that shirt mind you. I've seen him in it a million times. But something about him at that moment just struck me afresh. I was thinking and something my daughter would say came to mind ~~ "He's hot!"

The whole thing tickled me. I wonder if my table mates saw my little smile. It was a smile to God. "Thanks God. You are just so amazing. And your sense of humor-I get it tonight." It was a smile for my husband, because after 18 years together, he can still stir my heart and my hormones. LOL It was a smile for myself. I can store this moment in my memory and pull it out on those "not so great" marriage days.

I love that God can take something that seems so common place to us and give us a new perspective on it. What things have you been taking for granted? What has become common place to you? Ask God to give you a fresh perspective. Ask him to let you see with new eyes, His eyes even. My prayer for you is that you ask it, receive it and appreciate it.

I leave you with a verse from Song of Solomon. It reminds me of how I felt last night. If you've never read this book of the Bible, be forewarned. It's a hot number, like my husband! LOL
Read on, ponder it and as always......Be blessed!

"Awake, north wind! Rise up, south wind! Blow on my garden and spread its fragrance all around. Come into your garden, my love; taste its finest fruits." Song of Solomon 4:16 (NLT)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Always Watching - First Tour

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Always Watching, book 1 in the new Rayne Tour series

Zondervan (May 1, 2009)


Brandilyn and Amberly Collins are a mother/daughter team from northern California. Brandilyn is a bestselling novelist, known for her trademarked "Seatbelt Suspense". Amberly is a college student in southern California. She and her mom love attending concerts together.

Visit the author's

Online Promotions-Sweepstakes, Book Trailer, Facebook and More

The Rayne Tourseries is being promoted heavily to teen readers online. The LIVE LIKE A ROCKSTAR SWEEPSTAKES is a chance for teens ages 13-18 to win an $850 night out on the town, including dinner for six at a restaurant of their choice and limo service. To enter, teens must promote the series online. They can post information about the new series and the sweepstakes on their Blog, favorite social media sites, or other Web site. The first 200 entrants will receive a free copy of Always Watching. Official rules and entry details are available

Other promotions include
“The Rayne Tour Series” Fan Club page on Facebook and “The Rayne Tour Series” Shoutlife page.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99

Reading level: Young Adult

Paperback: 224 pages

Publisher: Zondervan (May 1, 2009)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0310715393

ISBN-13: 978-0310715399




It’s not my fault I have to kill.

He’d been watching since the tour began. Eyes straight ahead, keeping cool, like he wasn’t even paying attention. But he noticed everything. Even got a sense for what was happening behind his back. His past life had taught him how to do that—out of necessity. When it was something bad, he felt a vibration in the air, pulling up the hair on his arms. And he’d know. He’d just know.

Sometimes he acted behind the scenes. Nothing that would be noticed. Just ended up in a certain place at a certain time—a presence that kept the wrong thing from happening. Other times he’d say what needed to be heard. Real casual, not sounding like a threat at all. No, he was just talking, shooting the breeze about some previous experience. But beneath the words there’d be a point: don’t cross me or mine.

Sometimes people were too dumb to get it. He’d give them every chance, trying to be the nice guy. Trying to do it the easy way. But no. Those kind of people had stubborn minds and black hearts. Couldn’t be trusted. They were headed for a fall and about to take some good people with them. His people.

That’s what it had come to now.

“Hey, can I see you a sec before you go?” He motioned, and the one who must die came, humming.


Like a lamb to slaughter.


The screams of twenty thousand people sizzled in my ears.

Rayne, you reign! Rayne, you reign! Rayne, you reign! …”

At the sold-out HP Pavilion in San Jose, California the crowd chanted and clapped and stomped for my mom’s group, Rayne—named after her—to do one more song as they left the stage. As usual I stood backstage with Tom Hutchens, my mom’s twenty-five-year-old hair dresser and makeup artist, and my closest friend on tour. Tom was short and slim, with thick black hair and an intense-looking face that didn’t match his crazy personality at all.

Tom feigned the pucker of a hip-hop artist and splayed his fingers in front of his red T-shirt. “Yo, she reign, they go insane!” He had to shout at me, his Vans-clad feet dancing. Tom always wore these wild-looking sneakers with blue, white, and red checks and a red racing stripe on the sides. “Ain’t nothin’ plain about rockinRayne!”

I punched him in the arm, laughing. His silly rap rhymes were getting worse by the day.

Blonde hair bouncing, Mom came flying down the steps on the way to her private dressing room for the two-minute break. Sweat shone on her forehead as she passed by. She flashed her red-lipped grin at me and raised a palm. We high-fived as she sped past.

“They love us, Shaley!”

“’Course, Mom, they always do!”

The rest of the rock group—Kim, Morrey, Rich and Stan—descended more slowly, their faces showing fatigue. None of them had the energy of my mother after a concert. Tom and I gave them a quick thumbs-up before scurrying after Mom.

As we hit the dressing room with Rayne O’Connor’s name on the door, I checked my watch. 10:45. Yay! Almost time to head to the airport and pick up my best friend, Brittany. I hadn’t seen her since Rayne started touring three months ago, and I couldn’t wait to be with her again. This was Rayne’s third tour, and I always found it hard to leave all my school friends behind.

Without Tom to keep me laughing, touring would be terribly lonely.

I closed the dressing room door, shutting out some of the noise.

Whoo.” Mom crossed to the left side of the room and plopped into the makeup chair facing a long, brightly lit mirror. To her right sat a wooden armoire full of her clothing. She always changed outfits during intermission. Along the back wall were the blue sofa and matching armchairs specified by contract for her dressing area in every arena. Opposite the makeup counter was the table loaded with catered food, also specified by contract—bowls of fruit, sandwiches, pasta salad, cheese cubes, chips, and M&Ms for me.

Mom studied herself in the mirror with her large crystal blue eyes. “Okay, Tom, do your magic.” She guzzled a drink from a water bottle on the counter.

Like she needed any magic. With her high cheekbones, oval face, and full lips, Mom was drop-dead gorgeous.

Tom winked at me as he snatched up a tissue. Sticking his scrawny neck out, he scrutinized Mom with animation, eyes narrowed and his mouth a rounded O. “Hm. Hmm.”

He sighed, stood back and spread his hands as if to say nothing to be done here, you’re perfect.

Mom rolled her eyes at me. I shrugged. As if I could control Tom’s antics.

“All right, lover boy.” Mom took another swig of water. “Get to it, I’ve got one minute left.”

“Yo, big Mama.”

Mom swatted his hand. “Would you stop calling me that? I don’t know why I put up with you.” Her mouth curved.

Tom leaned in to blot her face with the tissue. “’Cause I make you look bodacious, that’s why.” Expertly he retouched her blusher and lipstick, fluffed her hair.

Out in the arena the crowd’s yells and applause was growing louder. I smiled and squeezed Mom’s shoulder. Every concert the fans went wild, but it never got old for me. Night after night their adoration set pride for my mom welling in my chest.

Five years ago when I was eleven and Mom was twenty-eight, Rayne was barely hanging on. Mom and the band played little concerts here and there, working night and day to get noticed. I remember how hard she tried back then. A great lyric writer with a distinct, throaty-edged voice, she deserved to make it big. Then the song Far and Near hit the radio and after that—a rocket launch.

Tom stood back and surveyed Mom, his head cocked to one side. “Not bad. Not bad a-tall.”

Rayne, you reign! Rayne, you reign!” The crowd was going crazy out there.

Mom tossed her hair back, looked at herself from side to side. “Great.” She sprang from the chair. “Gotta go.” She hurried toward the door.

I moved out of her way. “Mom, don’t forget we’re going to pick up Brittany in ten minutes. We’re leaving a little early because Tom wants to stop by a drugstore.”

“Oh, that’s right.” Mom pulled up short, one hand on the door knob. She looked to Tom. “Somebody else doing your clean-up?”

He glanced at me. “Got it taken care of.”

Disappointment pulled at my mouth. Mom knew how I’d counted the days until Brittany’s and my junior year of high school ended—just yesterday. My tutor had flown home this morning, and now Brittany was coming for two weeks. Mom was paying all her expenses—for that I was so grateful. But Mom could get so wrapped up in her work. Sometimes I just needed her to remember me.

Mom looked my way—and caught my expression. She smiled too wide, as if to make up for her distraction. “I’m so glad Brittany’s coming, Shaley. We’ll show her a great time.”

I nodded.

“Mick’s going with you, right?”


Mick Rader had been my mom’s main personal bodyguard for the past three years. The other two, Bruce Stolz and Wendell Bennington, would guard her on her way to the hotel tonight while Mick was with me.

“Okay, good. You’ll be safe.” Mom smiled as she opened the door. The crowd’s screams rushed in. “See you at the hotel.”

She blew me a kiss and disappeared.

The yelling suddenly frayed my nerves. I pushed the door shut and leaned against it.

Tom shot me his sad clown look, his lips turned down and eyebrows pulled into a V. He always read my mind so well.

I couldn’t help but smile. “It’s okay.”

His expression whisked away. Tom struck his hip-hop pose. “Got a new one for ya.”

“Oh, yeah?” I knew he’d create the lyrics as he went along, just to get me laughing again.

Tom’s feet started their shuffle-dance. “Let’s go for a ride down the avenue. Top down, wind-blown, my VW. The talk of the town in all we do. Shaley O’Connor puttin’ on the view—”

He froze, mouth open, frowning hard. Then jerked back into dancing. “Can’t think of another line, can you?”

I giggled. “Great, Tom, as fabulous as all your others.”

He bowed. “Thank ya, thank yaaa.”

Pulling up straight, he glanced at the wall clock. “Yikes, I gotta take care of some things before the limo comes. Meet you at the back exit?”


As the door closed behind him, I crossed the room to check myself in the mirror. Excitement pulsed through my veins. Almost time to see Brittany! I chose a neutral lipstick and leaned toward the glass to apply it. Thanks to Tom I’d learned a lot of makeup tricks, and my face needed little retouching. Finished with the lipstick, I ran a brush through my long brown hair. Tom had recently layered it and feathered the bangs. I liked the look.

Despite the difference in hair color, many people said I looked like my mother. I considered that a high compliment.

I stood back and turned side to side. Not bad. My new designer jeans fit well and the blue top matched my eyes. Brittany would love the outfit. I grinned at myself, then glanced at the clock. Almost time for the limo to arrive.

In the arena the crowd roared. Rayne was taking the stage. The first of two encore songs started—the band’s new hit Do it Up Right.

For a few minutes I paced the room impatiently, munching M&Ms. Rayne launched into their final song of the night.

Two hard knocks sounded on the door—Mick’s signal. He stuck his square-shaped head inside. Mick is in his forties, ex-military. A thick neck and muscles out to here. Nobody messes with Mick. “Shaley, you ready?”

“Yes! Is the limo waiting?”

“Yeah.” His deep-set brown eyes swept the room. “Where’s Tom?”

“He said he had to take care of a few things. He’ll meet us at the door.” I crossed to the couch to pick up my purse.

“Okay. I’m going to stop in the bathroom, then I’ll see you there.” He gave me his squinty-eyed stare. “Don’t step outside of the building without me.”

I flicked a look at the ceiling. “Yeah, yeah.” Mick was so protective. It’s not like I’d be in any danger walking out that door. As with all arenas where Rayne sang, the HP Pavilion had a special entrance for performers, guarded by their own local security. And that whole section of the parking lot was roped off and guarded. No chance for any fans or paparazzi to sneak in.

Mick jabbed a finger at me for emphasis, then left.

Tingling with anticipation, I scurried out the door, intent on checking the other dressing rooms for Tom. No time to wait, let’s go, let’s go! Having been at the arena since four o’clock when sound checks began, I’d already learned the layout of the backstage area. There were eight dressing rooms—Mom’s the biggest.

I hurried down the wide hall, mouthing “hi” to people I passed. The sound and light crew were still working, but the backline crew—the guys who maintain all the instruments and switch them out during performances—were done now. Set carpenters, the managers, and all the people who tore down the stage also milled around until the concert ended.

First I went to the back exit and peeked outside. Tom wasn’t there.

I returned all the way up the hall, figuring I’d work my way back down.

For the first time I noticed all the dressing room doors were closed. Strange. If Tom had gone into one to pack up something, he’d have left the door open as a courtesy. Those assigned rooms were personal space to members of the band and Rayne’s production manager, Ross Blanke.

I peeked in the one next to Mom’s.


Shoving my purse handles higher up my shoulder, I went to the third.

Empty again.

The fourth.

No Tom.

This wasn’t right. Tom was never late. Where was he?

Mick approached, signaling me with a roll of his finger—let’s get moving.

I nodded. “He wasn’t in the bathroom?”

Mick shook his head.

Together we walked to the fifth dressing room. Mick poked his head inside.


I ran down to look in the sixth. No Tom.

I banged the door shut and looked around. What was going on? If he didn’t show up soon we wouldn’t have time to go out of our way to a drugstore. The airport was minutes away from the arena. We didn’t want Brittany waiting around by herself after dark.

“You take the next one.” Mick strode past me. “I’ll look in the one on the end.”

The seventh dressing room had been allocated as Ross’s office. At every venue he needed a private area for calling people, dealing with last-minute problems and basically seeing that everything in the contract was honored. I couldn’t remember seeing Ross in the hall. He might be inside, and I didn’t dare just barge in. The production manager’s office was off-limits to everyone unless invited.

I knocked, waited. Knocked harder.

No answer.

I opened the door.

Like Mom, Ross ordered the same room set-up each time. For him that included an oversized desk with black leather chair. On the desk he would stack his papers and folders, carefully position his laptop. A fax machine had to be on his left, a telephone with multiple lines on his right. Looking at Ross—a short, fat man with scraggly hair to his shoulders—you’d never guess what a neat freak he is.

And always on the wall—a large round clock.

As I stepped into the room, my eyes grazed that clock. 10:55. Brittany’s plane would be landing soon.

On the floor beside the desk I glimpsed a splash of color.

Something twisted inside my stomach, almost as if my subconscious mind had already registered the sight. Time seemed to slow.

Clutching the door handle, I turned my head toward the color.

A foot. On the floor sticking out from behind the desk. Wearing a Vans with blue, white and red checks, and a red racing strip. The foot lay on its side, toes pointed away from me, heel dug awkwardly into the carpet.

Deathly still.


I stared across the room at the foot. The back of my neck prickled.

Run, my mind shouted. Run and check on Tom! But my feet rooted to the carpet, my fingers digging into the doorpost.

Onstage, the music stopped. Wild clapping and cheering rose from the arena.

The noise jerked me out of my zombie state. I lowered my purse from my shoulder. Set it on the floor. Holding my breath, I crept forward.

As I edged around the side of the desk, Tom’s jeaned leg came into view.

It wasn’t moving.

My legs stopped.

“T-Tom?” My voice cracked into a whisper.

No answer.

So what? He couldn’t have heard me above the crowd.

I took another step. Now I could see his second leg, drawn up and bent at the knee. Tom was lying on his side. I moved again and saw an arm flung out, fingers half-curled toward the palm.

I leapt forward until his head came into sight. Tom’s second arm lay crumpled against the carpet, his face partially turned into the short sleeve of his red T-shirt. His one visible eye was open, staring at the wall.

Air gushed out of my mouth. He was tricking me.

“You rotten thing!” I pushed at his leg with my toe. “How—”

No change. Just that wide-eyed stare.

All the relief that had spilled out of me reversed back down my throat. My windpipe closed until I could hardly breathe. I sank to my knees beside his chest.

“Tom?” I leaned down to look into both his eyes.

The other one was gone.

I mean gone. Just a black, bloody, gaping hole.

For the longest second of my life, all I could do was stare. It pulled at me, that hole. Like it wanted me to tumble inside it, a horror-film version of Alice in Wonderland.

Faintness gripped me. I swooned toward Tom’s ravaged face, my nose almost touching where his eye used to be …

At the last possible moment, my muscles jerked me back.

I shoved to my feet and screamed.


My shrieks bounced off the walls during the crowd’s final shouts. In the same second all noise died away.

Silence rang in my ears.

I turned and ran.

Mick materialized in the doorway as I hurtled into it. I rammed into his rock-solid chest. With another scream I bounced off and collapsed on the carpet.

“What--?” Mick bent over me. I looked up, mouth flopping open. No sound came. I pointed a shaking finger toward Tom. Mick’s head jerked up.

Horror crossed his face.

He jumped over me and ran to Tom, his hand reaching for the gun clipped to his belt.

Mick bent down and disappeared behind the desk. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t do anything.

Voices of band members mingled in the hall, commenting on the performance. How strange the words sounded. So naïve. So unknowing.

Heavy footsteps approached. Ross rounded the corner and almost stepped on me.

“Ahhh!” I rolled away from him.

Mick raised up from behind the desk. Ross froze at the look on his face. “What’s going on?”

“Tom’s dead.” Mick’s voice was tight.


“Somebody shot him.”

Ross blinked rapidly, then leapt around me to see for himself.

Mick reached for the phone on the desk. “I’m calling 911.”

I stared at the ceiling, mind going numb. My limbs felt like water. Tom was dead. Dead. My heart couldn’t grasp it. I’d just been with him. How could he be gone?

“Oh.” The word choked from Ross’s throat. He backed away from Tom.

“Yes,” Mick said into the phone. “I need to report a homicide. Hang on a minute.” He shoved the phone into Ross’s hand. “You talk to them. I need to get Bruce and Wendell. We’ll round up the band members, make sure they’re safe.”

Mom. Could whoever did this to Tom want to hurt her?

Mick ran past me, gun in hand. “Shaley, stay here.”

I barely heard him. Panic pushed me onto weak knees. I had to find my mother!

Somehow I crawled out the door. “Mom. Mommmm!”

Every person in the hallway jerked around.

Mick spun back to me. “Shaley, stay there!” He swung toward the others. “Everyone, against the wall and don’t move. Wendell, Bruce, where are you?”

People melted back, calling questions, their voices buzzing like a thousand bees in my head.

“Where’s my mom!”

Bruce ran out of the men’s bathroom, hand automatically going for his weapon. “What?” At six-foot-six, he has powerful, long legs and arms. I could see his head about everyone else’s.

Wendell burst from the stage area. “Here!”

“Shaley?” Mom’s sharpened voice filtered from up the hallway. “What’s happening?” She came toward me, eyes wide.

“Rayne, stay where you are!” Mick shouted.

Mom picked up speed. Her head whipped back and forth, gawking at everyone pressed against the walls. She started to run. “Shaley, are you all right?

I teetered to my feet. “Tom’s dead, Mom, he’s dead!”

Gasps rose from dozens of throats. Mom didn’t even slow. Mick grabbed her arm, but she yanked away. As if in a dream—a nightmare—I watched her tear-blurred form hurtle toward me. Mick, Bruce and Wendell spread their feet, guns raised, eyes darting back and forth, searching the hall for danger.

I flung myself forward, sobbing.

After an eternity Mom reached me. I collapsed into her arms, screaming Tom’s name.

I would have read this book in one day but I was sick and could not keep my eyes open. But the next day...whew, I flew through this book. It was an easy read. It kept me guessing the entire time. Who is this psycho? Why is Rayne so secretive about Shaley's dad. A million questions swirled in my mind. And it made me keep on reading. I was shocked at the ending. I like to think I can solve a mystery or two. Yeah, not this time!

I hear tell (from Brandilyn herself) that the second book is due in September. Is it September yet? LOL

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Mixers, Nite Outs and Girlfriends

One of the benefits I've found to connecting to women online is that you get a whole new set of girlfriends. Isn't even more fun when you get to meet them live and in person. I was able to do that recently with three fellow bloggers and twitter friends. I'm actually going to hang out with Carolina Mama tonight in Apex, NC at the National Moms' Nite Out event. I am very excited! And bless her heart, she actually interviewed me Tuesday on her blog as part of her Carolina Girls series. How cool is that?! Hopefully her blog recovers from that event! LOLOL

This will be our second time hanging out. The first time was at the Primrose At The Park Mixer in Morrisville. It is a wonderful preschool. If my girls were younger, I'd definitely have them there. The event was sponsored by the lovely Maria Bailey of Mom Talk Radio. The owner of Primrose At The Park, Leslie Grivalski, is a wonderful woman. I could tell she was passionate about the school, the kids and the parents. Her commitment to excellence is refreshing to me.

It was a great time meeting and getting to know other bloggers and twitter mamas! I'll give a shout out to @RealLifeSarah, @myGOMom @onemomsworld, @notimemom, @MomTalkRadio and of course @CarolinaMama. What fabulous women. I'm hoping we can arrange a tweet up (twitter talk for real life get together of twitter folks) soon. @RealLifeSarah and @onemomsworld live up in the mountains. I vote we meet there! I'm just saying.

Anyway, if you have younger kiddos, consider Primrose, if you have one in your area. Check out how cool it can be for your kids (see pics below). And check out National Mom's Nite Out. It's going on tonight, Thursday, May 7. There might be some mom fun going on in your area.

In the meantime, take a tiny glimpse inside Primrose. Enjoy! And blessings to you!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

First Tour: Murder By Family

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Murder by Family: The Incredible True Story of a Son's Treachery and a Father's Forgiveness

Howard Books (May 12, 2009)


Kent Whitaker was happily married to Tricia for 27 years, until she and their younger son Kevin were murdered in December, 2003. At that point, Kent retired from the construction business and put his energies into restoring his life and working with his remaining son Bart, who was charged and later given the death penalty for arranging the shootings.

This story has been featured on CBS’s crime program 48 Hours Mystery and on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Taping for ABC’s Primetime and Good Morning America has been completed, with airings scheduled for Spring of 2009. In September, 2008, Howard Books (Simon & Schuster) released his book Murder by Family, which tells this amazing (and ultimately uplifting) story of forgiveness, healing and how God works within tragedy to bring about great good. Murder by Family was recently named to the New York Times Best Seller List.

Through a busy schedule of speaking nationally, Kent shares his story of forgiveness and new beginnings to churches, business groups, conferences, and prisons. He also volunteers for nonprofit organizations in the Sugar Land, Texas, area and for River Pointe Community Church.

Visit the author's

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99

Paperback: 224 pages

Publisher: Howard Books (May 12, 2009)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1439164606

ISBN-13: 978-1439164600

Also available in hardcover:

List Price: $22.99

Hardcover: 224 pages

Publisher: Howard Books (September 23, 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1416578137

ISBN-13: 978-1416578130


The First 200 Minutes

I had always heard that your life flashed before your eyes. But that’s not what happened as I lay on the cold concrete that December night, watching the blood from a gunshot wound cover my white shirt. Instead, I found myself praying for my family. There had been four shots, one for each of us.

I told God that if it were my time, I was ready to die, but I prayed that he would spare my wife and two sons. I called to each of them but got no response except for a few quiet, wet coughs from my wife, Tricia. Although I couldn’t see her from where I had fallen, I knew that it was her because when I had first tried to get up, I saw her blond hair splayed out on the threshold of our home’s front door. Though I had never heard that kind of cough before, I instinctively knew it was the sound of a person trying to clear lungs filling with blood. The silence coming from the dark house was horrible. My God, I thought, he’s shot us all.

Life can change in a moment. Just seconds earlier we had been a happy family of four returning from a surprise dinner celebrating our older son Bart’s anticipated college graduation. He had called that afternoon, telling Tricia that he was through with exams and was coming home for the evening. We had enjoyed a great seafood dinner, including a dessert with “Congratulations!” written with chocolate syrup on the plate’s edge. I snapped a few pictures, and then we took the short drive home. How strange that those would be the last photos we would ever have together.

As we got out of the car, our younger son, Kevin, a sophomore in college, led the way to our front door. He stepped inside, with Tricia right behind him. I heard a huge noise, but I didn’t immediately recognize it as a gunshot. A moment of silence, and then Tricia exclaimed, “Oh, no!” as another shot was fired. I still didn’t understand what was happening. I stepped forward and for the first time saw inside the house. The light from the front porch illuminated a ski-masked figure about eight feet away, standing next to the stairs. I couldn’t see Kevin, though he was lying in the shadows next to where the man was standing, or Tricia, who must have been right by my feet. I just stood there wondering which one of Kevin’s goofball friends was playing a joke on us with the paintball gun.

Suddenly I was slammed in the shoulder with enough force to send me spinning back and to my left. Landing face up on the front porch, I still didn’t grasp what was happening. As I tried to get up, I felt a searing pain in my right arm and realized it was badly broken. A fourth shot rang out as comprehension flooded in. We had been shot. We had all been shot. It struck me that I might be dying.

Then my neighbor Cliff was kneeling over me, comforting me. “Don’t worry, buddy! Help is on the way!”

In the distance I heard sirens as Cliff pulled off his T-shirt and pressed it to my wound. I realized then that no one knew where the shooter was and that Cliff might be in danger. I panicked. “Get out of here! He may still be inside!”

Cliff told me to hold on and ran for home. Moments later a squad car pulled up in front of our house, and then another, and a third. I was aware of more sirens, including the deep foghorn of a fire truck, but they were still far away. With heightened senses I heard muffled footfalls as police ran into and around the house, guns drawn and flashlights flicking illumination into the shadows. After only a minute or two someone called out that the house was clear. By then the whole cul-de-sac that faced our home was full of emergency vehicles. It couldn’t have been more than five minutes since the shootings.

People were everywhere. Neighbors were streaming out of their homes while paramedics swarmed. Two men worked on me, cutting away my leather jacket and shirt, trying to stop the bleeding. I repeatedly asked for information on my family, and finally one of the paramedics quietly said, “Sir, please, let us do our job. You’re in good hands, and lots of good folks are with the rest of your family.”

Then, over all the confusion and noise, as they hurried inside the house, I heard one policeman ask another, “What do you want to do about the DOA?”

My heart froze. Dead On Arrival. I knew that at least one of my family members had died. But which one? And why? Were they all dead?

The sound of a helicopter cut through the night, and I saw the landing lights and then the cherry-red body of Life Flight. Three paramedics raced a gurney down the sidewalk, and one of the police officers told me that they were taking Tricia to the hospital. My heart leaped with joy, because that meant she was still alive. Thank God! But then I realized that this also meant that at least one, and by now perhaps both, of my boys were dead. I began to shake all over and knew I was going into shock. I chattered to the paramedics that I was freezing and that they had better get something to cover me. They replied that as soon as Tricia’s Life Flight took off, the second Life Flight would land for me.

What? Life Flight for me? Was I hurt worse than I realized? Did this mean that both boys were already dead, and there was no need for them to be flown to the medical center?

I really didn’t have time to think about it: with a storm of air and sound, the helicopter took off, and moments later a second one landed. I was put on a gurney, covered with warm sheets and a blanket, and stowed in the back. With the high-pitched scream of jet turbines, we took off and began our eight-minute flight to the Houston Medical Center, part of perhaps the finest network of hospitals in the country. If anyone could keep my family alive, the medical staff there could.

Minute 30—Flashback

As we flew, I caught occasional glimpses of freeways and buildings through the copilot’s floor windows. My mind jumped back six months to my only other helicopter ride. The boys and I were in Colorado, on an adventure to celebrate my fifty-fifth birthday. We spent one day mountain biking and another racing along challenging trails on four-wheel ATVs. But my favorite part of the trip was the two days of intense white-water rafting on the Arkansas River as it snaked through the Royal Gorge. While on the river, we saw a sleek red helicopter crest the gorge 1,100 feet above us, roll into a steep dive, and pull up just before hitting the river. It rocketed fifty feet over us, blasting us with downdraft. All six of us guys in the raft went wild.

The next day we took the ride.

It was like a roller coaster without tracks. Incredible! The boys and I enjoyed it so much that we did it again two days later before coming home; it was one of the most wonderful memories of my life. But as I looked out at the lights of the hospital landing pad, remembering that fantastic trip, I felt as though I were watching the home videos of some other person; there was just no connection. I was numb.

Minute 40—In the Trauma Unit

It only took a moment for the trauma team to whisk me inside, where I was surrounded by doctors and nurses - none of whom would tell me anything about my family. The next thing I knew, my mom and dad were there. Someone from the hospital administration arrived, and when I asked her about my wife and sons, she told me not to worry: my son Bart was being transferred by ambulance and would arrive shortly. He would be treated in this same room, just a few feet from me. That told me everything, as I read between the lines. They were only working on two of us.

I turned to my parents. “Mom, I think there’s a good chance that Tricia and Kevin are dead.” Turning to the woman from administration, I asked, “Isn’t that so?” She looked at me for a long moment, nodded her head, and said that it was.

Bart was wheeled into the room a few moments later. I learned that he had rushed into the dark house and, in an apparent scuffle with the shooter, had been shot in the left arm. He was in shock, reacting to the horror of everything. The trauma team scurried around, cleaning wounds and applying temporary casts, since both of us had broken arms. The bullet had entered my right shoulder and traveled through the arm muscle, striking midhumerus and shattering the bone. Bart’s upper left arm was broken where the bullet had hit. Amid the organized chaos, things began to sink in; God was allowing the truth to come a little at a time.

I felt God’s presence and comfort. On one hand I was beginning to absorb how radically things had changed, while on the other I had a calm assurance that I was not alone and that God would knit whatever happened into his plans for good. Scriptures of comfort came to mind. It was as if God gave me a shot of emotional Novocain. Even though I was becoming more aware of the extent of the tragedy, I trusted God.

Before I knew it, I was being wheeled out of the trauma center and into a corridor. As we passed through the big emergency room doors, I was met by forty or fifty friends. I rolled through a canyon of loved ones. Touched by the grief and worry in their eyes, I began to comfort them. I can’t explain it; the words just came out. My response was unexpected and somewhat out of character.

Later that night, after the nurses had gone, I was finally alone with my thoughts. I lay there trying to wrap my mind around it all—and wasn’t doing a very good job. Piece by piece the reality settled onto my soul.

Minute 180—Reality and Choices

My wife, my lover, my best friend, the one who knew and loved me better than any other, to whom I had been true for twenty-eight years, was dead. My son Kevin, with his incredible Christian faith, his crazy, fun-loving personality, and his passion for sports and the outdoors, would never graduate from college, marry, or give us grandchildren. Bart was down the hall suffering a grief and shock that seemed even more intense than what I was feeling. At fifty-five, I would be facing the last third of my life without most of my family.

For years I have told people that faith is not a feeling but a conscious act of the will. You have to choose to trust and believe, especially when circumstances and your feelings are screaming that you can’t trust God . The Bible says that God can take everything and work it for good for those who love him and are called to his service; well, Tricia and Kevin loved him, and so did I. We were all called to his service, but how could these murders possibly be worked for good? I could imagine no such scenario. And if that verse of the Bible was untrustworthy, what other verses might not apply when I needed them? I might as well throw it all away.

So, here I was, in the middle of a horrific situation in which I had to choose either to go with my feelings and slip into bitterness and despair or to follow my own advice and stand on God’s promises even when they don’t make sense. I wrestled with this for a long time, because I knew that I could go either way and that the consequences of the choice were serious.

Finally, I made the decision to stand on the promises of God. It was one of the most important decisions I've ever made.

When I resolved to trust God, I felt a peace come over me that had nothing to do with the morphine drip. The next thought popped unexpectedly into my mind: What about the shooter?

I realized that God was offering me the ability to forgive, if I wanted to take advantage of it. Did I really want to forgive this guy? I know the Bible says we are to forgive those who hurt us. I know God tells us that vengeance is his, if he chooses dispense it. I have even heard secular health professionals say that forgiveness is the most important thing people can do to heal themselves. But did I really want to forgive, even if God was offering a supernatural ability to do so?

In an instant the answer sprang full-grown into my mind. My heart told me that I wanted whoever was responsible to come to Christ and repent of this awful act. At that moment I felt myself completely forgiving him. This forgiveness astounded me, because earlier I had experienced feelings of incredible sadness and intense anger and the desire to kill the person responsible with my own hands. Little did I realize just how important my decision to forgive would be in the coming months.

I have had a hundred people tell me that they think I’m nuts—that I should hate the shooter and cry out for vengeance. Perhaps I am crazy, but I believe that in those early moments God worked supernaturally, allowing me to forgive completely and immediately, because he had plans for me, and those plans required that I have the forgiveness problem settled once and for all.

For the next two days, as Bart and I waited in our rooms for surgery, we had a nearly unprecedented number of visitors. People were always lined up in the halls waiting to see us; they came and went day and night. In fact, the crowding was so severe that the hospital converted a double room on our floor into a hospitality suite stocked with fruit baskets, cookies, coffee, soft drinks, sofas, and chairs. The hospital showed a lot of class, but I think crowd control was also an important factor.

The next day I had my first visit from Detective Marshal Slot and his partner Billy Baugh from the Sugar Land Police Department. They questioned me extensively about what had happened, and I cooperated, telling them I would do everything I could to help them find out who was responsible for this murderous attack.

The detectives returned a day later to tell me they had learned that Bart was not about to graduate from college after all. In fact, he was not even enrolled in school. I was shocked at the news and horrified at the realization that, if this were true, this knowledge coupled with some mistakes Bart had made years earlier might distract the police from searching for the real killer and lead them to look at Bart as a possible suspect. Marshal told me that they were looking at every possibility, which confirmed my fears.

After they left I fumbled my way into a wheelchair and rolled down to Bart’s room, where I found him asleep, as he seemed to be whenever I came to visit. It was as if he had crawled into a hole, trying to escape this nightmare. I asked his girlfriend (who had camped out at the hospital since the first morning) for a few minutes alone with my son.

“Bart, what were you thinking? You weren’t even in school? How could you lie to us about graduation?”

Bart seemed to forcibly pull himself out of some private hell as he sat up in his bed. The curtains were closed, and the room was dark. Gloom pervaded the atmosphere, with those areas just outside the edge of my vision in deepest shadow. At the time the thought did little more than register in my subconscious, but I would later recall this oppressive darkness and do much thinking about it. For now, my thoughts were focused on Bart. A momentary flicker of strange emotions danced in his eyes; he seemed to careen between grief, shame, regret, and fear.

“Dad, I’m so sorry! I didn’t want to tell you because I knew how much you and Mom were looking forward to my graduation. I just figured I could work it out and take the classes next semester, and nobody would know.”

“Nobody would know!” I was furious. “How would we not know? How would they let you graduate? How did you get into this mess in the first place?”

“Things were crazy at work all summer. Some guys quit, everybody was working long hours, and with school starting, I just didn’t have enough time. I’m so sorry! I decided to help at work and make up school in the spring.”

“Do you have any idea what you’ve done? Thanks to this ‘little’ lie about graduation, the police think you’re a suspect! In fact, right now you seem to be their only suspect. You weren’t in school, you told everyone you were graduating, and they think you arranged to have us killed to cover it up. Can you see how stupid that was? Your lie has done the impossible—it has made Tricia and Kevin’s deaths even worse because now the police think you were involved! Do you have any idea how bad this is?”

Years ago, on a bike ride, I saw a hawk fly right over me, so close I could almost touch it. Clutched within its talons was a field mouse, still alive. I saw the bird swoop up to its nest, bringing breakfast to her young; it would be impossible to forget the look of resignation and terror in the mouse’s eyes as he passed over me. For a moment I saw the same look in Bart’s eyes, but it was gone almost instantly, replaced with resolve.

“Dad, that’s nuts! I didn’t have anything to do with the shootings! I’m sorry about the lie, it just happened. I didn’t mean to lie to you and Mom—I was just afraid of what you would say, and I didn’t want to disappoint you. This will be okay.”

“I don’t know. I’m so mad now, I could spit! I’ve told you before: you cannot ever allow yourself to start lying again! Look at the consequences of this one! If you hadn’t told the lie about graduation, they would be looking elsewhere and might find the real killer before the trail gets cold. Now they’re wasting time on you, and who knows how long they’ll keep at it!”

After a while I calmed down, and I told him I loved him and that the police would soon realize nothing tied him to the shootings. I went back to my room, still angry, disappointed, and depressed. What would happen next?

As the days passed, two things happened: First, the investigation centered more and more on Bart as the mastermind of a plot to kill the rest of the family, assuming that his motives were greed and to cover up for failures at school. Second, I came to realize that perhaps my life had been spared for a reason. God must have something important for me to do, because I could see no logical explanation for my still being alive. The bullet hit me well away from my right lung, and nearly six inches from my heart. The gunman couldn’t have been that bad a shot. Not at that close range.

It occurred to me that perhaps my purpose was to be God’s agent of guidance and instruction for Bart. If he was innocent, I would be the anchor he relied on as he weathered the storms of suspicion; I wouldn’t let him go through that horror alone. If he was guilty, I would be in a unique position to model God’s unconditional forgiveness and love. I might be the person God would use to soften Bart’s heart. And since I already had forgiven whoever was responsible, if Bart was guilty, he would be covered in a pure forgiveness, granted before I ever thought it might apply to my son. Either way, until I knew more, I would be nonjudgmental and supportive. While I couldn’t gloss over anything or minimize the consequences of any wrongs Bart might have committed, I still needed to show him that God forgives and that there is always hope.

Maybe I’m crazy. But I took comfort in knowing that I was doing what God wanted me to do. I like reading that line in the Bible about the wisdom of God being foolishness to man. Maybe a nut was exactly whom God intended to use.

This book gripped me from page one. Kent's faith and his trust in God inspires me. The way that he showed love and guidance to his son despite his treachery is beyond my current comprehension. But I applaud him! After reading this book I've had some serious conversations with my children. I'm more attentive to what they do and say and what they don't do and say.

This is an incredible story of love, family and forgiveness.It is a wonderful picture of faith in action. And I believe it is a call to parents to engage, engage engage with your kids on a deeper level. That is not to say that Kent and his wife did't. I am sure they did. But if there is any chance to connect with your kids or other loved ones and keep them from falling prey to the lies of Satan, pursue that way.

I suggest you run, RUN to the bookstore or hurry, HURRY to Amazon and pick up this book.

Blessings to you!