Free true story for Thanksgiving

Do you ever feel like life doesn’t make sense and the world is spiraling out of control? 2020 will do that to you.

I live in New Zealand, one of the safest places on earth from the Covid-19 pandemic. New Zealand locked down early and strong. Now, when cases are skyrocketing across America, New Zealand has almost no Covid cases from community transmission. Almost all cases are Kiwis returning to New Zealand from overseas.  Everyone entering the borders has to isolate in special hotels for two weeks and have several negative Covid tests before re-entering. My life these days is very close to normal except for travel restrictions. It’s been almost three years since we’ve seen anyone in our family in person. We were due to take a five-month furlough this year, but Covid changed all that. We have so much to be thankful for, but it has been a crazy year.

How are you doing where you live? Are you thriving or barely surviving? 2020 can make you wonder what God is up to. How good it is to know that, even in the darkest days, God is in control and is working things out according to his plan.

Mary Weaver, a godly Christian housewife, watched her life seemingly spiral out of control. She faced many dark days when she couldn’t see God working for her.

See a quick summary of her story in this trailer for Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story. (click on the screen with the doctor and stethescope.)

During the darkest days, Mary still believed God would show her innocence. In the end, God proved himself strong and revealed his mighty work behind the scenes.

For two and a half years I was challenged every day by this true story as Mary, her lawyer and I wrote her story. I was constantly challenged by Mary’s testimony and encouraged by God’s amazing work in her life.

As we come to the week of American Thanksgiving, I want to share a chapter from this book that will challenge you to give thanks. You are receiving this chapter free simply for being one of my subscribers to Deb’s Book Blast. In December I will tell you how you can get the ebook Edges of Truth for free as well.

Here’s the story:

 

Prison Blues: a Thanksgiving Challenge

Mary Weaver sat on her prison bunk and slipped a family photo from the pages of her Bible. It pictured her with her husband and two children, before she was sentenced to life in prison without parole. She caressed her red-headed son John and his blonde sister Catherine in the picture. For sixteen months she had only seen them once a week when her husband brought them to the prison visiting room.

It all started January 22, 1993 when Mary was providing childcare for 11-month-old Melissa. Mary was putting the baby’s snowsuit on when Melissa quit breathing. Mary called 9-1-1 and performed CPR until the ambulance came, but the baby died within a day. The autopsy found a two-inch skull fracture and other severe injuries that were seven to ten days old. Some doctors ignored these older injuries and believed Melissa’s death was caused by acute injuries from shaking and possibly slamming the baby just before she quit breathing. Since Mary was with Melissa during the forty-two minutes before she quit breathing, they believed Mary must have caused the fatal injuries.

Mary had never done anything to hurt Melissa but opinion on her guilt was divided. She was eventually sent to prison for murder. Her lawyers were seeking to appeal her case, but over a year had passed and they still hadn’t been able to get a new trial. Meanwhile Mary was separated from her husband and kids who were now five and six years old.

Mary felt sure God would eventually free her and clear her name. She was a Christian and she knew God would get her through prison one day at a time. But she grieved for her children and unsaved husband. Months had passed into a year and more and her children were growing up without her. She would never get those years back.

As Mary sat in her cell worrying about her family, a guard appeared at the door. “Mrs. Weaver? You got a visitor.”

Mary set her Bible aside and preceded the guard down the prison corridor. Who could this be? As she stepped into the visitor’s room Catherine skipped up to her in a pink tutu and leotard.

“Mommy, Mommy, I’m going to my dance recital! Aunt Lisa brought me so you could fix my hair.” Catherine jumped around until Mary could hardly get a hug from her.

Mary smiled her thanks at her friend, Lisa Murphy, who had figured out this creative way to include Mary in her daughter’s special occasion.

Mary drew her daughter close. “I’d love to fix your hair. Shall we do French braids?”

“Yes, yes, yes, with pink ribbons!” Catherine bounced with every word.

Mary removed ribbons and elastic bands from Catherine’s ponytail and pulled long blonde strands into sections with her fingers.

“Hold still,” she reminded her daughter as she started one braid. Mary breathed in the fruity fragrance of the superfine hair as she began to weave the strands into identical braids on either side of her daughter’s head, then tied perfect pink bows at each end.

Catherine shook her head to feel her new hairdo. “Thank you, Mommy! I can’t wait to see myself in the mirror.”

Mary surreptitiously wiped tears with one sleeve. “You look beautiful. Can you show me your dance?”

Catherine performed several ballet steps, ending with a lopsided pirouette. Mary clapped loudly. “Good job! Just remember, when you’re in that recital today, I’m going to be thinking about you.”

Catherine gazed at her mom with pleading eyes. “I wish you could come to my recital.”

Mary blinked some tears from her eyes. “Me too, sweetheart, but Aunt Lisa will take pictures and I’ll study them carefully. Just remember that your mommy is very proud of you!”

Mary gave her daughter a quick, prison-acceptable hug and watched the two walk away. Satan whispered, “You are missing her recital and all the other important moments in her life.”

Mary lifted her chin. But God allowed me to fix her hair. God gave me that precious moment. God is good.

She thought of other ways God had allowed her to mother her children as well. God had given Mary a prison job, and her wages had been raised from thirty-eight to forty-one cents an hour. So what if it was only ten percent of minimum wage? The job made her time pass more quickly, and she could use the money in the commissary or craft store. Supporters could also add twenty dollars a week to her prison account. The activities directors had been especially kind to use this money to purchase fabric and patterns for her. Mary had been able to sew outfits for the kids, paint T-shirts, and buy presents for them.

Mary returned to her cell, sat on her bunk, opened her Bible, and prayed. Lord, help me to be thankful for what I have, not to complain about what I don’t have.

A prison sentence made it easy to slide into self-pity. Unfairness could defeat her but only if she let it. Instead she thought about The Hiding Place, a prison library book she had recently read. Corrie ten Boom had hidden Jews in Holland during World War II. The Nazis had caught her and thrown her into a bitter cold prison for four months, then a women’s extermination camp in Germany. Except for her sister, who was imprisoned with her for a time, Corrie had almost no contact with her family. She and her sister existed in overcrowded, filthy cells with little regard for sanitation and little to eat. They were allowed no exercise or fresh air.

Like Mary, Corrie was unfairly imprisoned, yet Corrie’s sister challenged her to focus on what she had. Corrie accepted the challenge. In solitary confinement she hungered for human contact, but she thanked God for an ant that crawled into her cell and provided a bit of company. In one of her prison cells, for one hour a day, she could stretch herself out tall and feel the sun shine on her head and chest. She thanked God for the sunshine. Later, at the extermination camp, she slept piled on a straw-covered platform with many other prisoners, sandwiched between other crowded platforms. Fleas infested the stinking straw, but Corrie even learned to thank God for the fleas. The tiny insects kept the guards away from the overcrowded bunk, where she hid her precious Bible.

Mary closed her eyes to shut out the conversation of the other inmates lounging right outside her cell. Her prison cell was the Ritz Carlton compared to the ones in the book. “Thank you, Lord, that my family is safe and that I can see them every week. Thank you that I have other gals to talk to. You’ve even given me a roommate who seems to be a true Christian. Thank you that I can feel safe in prison, that other inmates haven’t given me trouble, that the guards treat me with respect. Thank you that I have a Bible and I can read it openly, whenever I want. Thank you that I’ve grown closer to you in prison.”

The State had stolen her family. The first year they seized all her possessions, even her clothes. Only now they allowed her to keep a few things of her own. The State could separate her from her home and family, but they couldn’t take God away from her and they couldn’t take her away from God. She would focus on him and the things she was allowed to enjoy. Today that meant fixing her daughter’s hair for a special occasion.

 

God showers us with so many blessings every day that we sometimes get used to them and claim them as rights. When we have them we don’t appreciate them, and when we don’t, we complain.

Thanksgiving is a great time to focus on what we have. What has God given you today?  

 

 

 

Dealing with Disappointment in 2020

Chances are good that Covid has caused you significant disappointment this year. I went through several stages of lockdown in New Zealand where I serve as a missionary. Locking down with my husband in my comfortable home was not terribly difficult. In fact we enjoyed our time together. We did eight jigsaw puzzles in a couple of months and I was able to work extensively on a book I’m writing. New Zealand locked down quickly and extensively, with good result.  As far as Covid is concerned, I find myself in one of the safest places in the world. New Zealand’s closed borders, however, made the June-to-November furlough to the States we’d been planning impossible. We had found a couple from the States who were willing to fill in for my husband and me in our church planting ministry, but Covid meant they couldn’t get into New Zealand.

As time went on we began to see that a regular furlough might not be possible for quite some time ahead. As people who travel from state to state and meet with big groups of people, missionaries pose a significant health risk to churches. Also many of our supporting churches were not functioning as usual. Most probably only had virtual services for an extended time.

When a regular furlough wouldn’t work for the foreseeable future, we began to consider a quick trip to the States for Christmas to visit our family. The first obstacle was finding someone who could fill in for us for a number of weeks. The fill-in couple pretty much had to come from New Zealand since our borders remain closed. In August we found a couple who would consider the idea, but couldn’t let us know right away. In October, just when we had begun to get excited about seeing our family for Christmas, the couple said they couldn’t come. Then within a week, it seemed like a miracle had happened. We found a well-qualified couple who were New Zealand residents who were happy and eager to fill in for us during the time needed. We decided the Lord was leading us forward, the time was right for a number of reasons, and we would go back. We started looking for airline tickets and planning a schedule. Within a week, however, some feedback we got from trusted sources made us feel that it would be significantly safer if we waited until the middle of 2021 or so. Our daughters and their family had started to plan for a family Christmas and we were all excited about it until this new development made us feel like we had to reverse our decision.

But we’re missionaries so we don’t get disappointed, right? Wrong. So wrong.  For a number of reasons, we had decided we really needed to go back at this time. It seemed the Lord had answered our prayers and provided a couple to fill in so we could go. Yet in the end, it didn’t feel right to go when waiting another half year or so would make it significantly safer for us and the people we want to visit.

What have you lost during 2020 that left you feeling disappointed? You may have lost a loved one or your health or your job. We missed a hundredth anniversary celebration for our mission and a seventy-fifth anniversary of our sending church that we had planned to attend.  Almost everyone has had plans changed and church attendance curtailed. We’ve just experienced a national election in New Zealand and will experience another in America in the coming week. Both involved critical moral issues.  Racial unrest, wildfires, hurricanes. What a year!

What do you do with your disappointment? You know God is in control, that he’s working out his best for you, but you’re still disappointed.

Here are some things that helped me:

This song sung by Ben Everson spoke to me right away. We have the CD of this so the words were so familiar that they were the first song that came to mind after our second decision.

The chorus goes, “You know better than I. You know the way. I’ve let go the need to know why for you know better than I.” I admit that I’d like to know why God seems to be saying no to this Christmas trip, but I am still working on letting go of that.

I filled in for a Sunday School teacher this morning in church. The story was about Cain and Abel. The lesson talked about warning signs. Sometimes God gives us a green light to do something. Sometimes a thing is definitely wrong and we get a red light from God. And sometimes he gives us a yellow light, telling us to use caution or to wait and listen to God’s warning. Cain was angry God didn’t accept his sacrifice and that anger was dangerous. God told him sin was crouching at his door like a wild animal, waiting to overpower him. Disappointment, discontent or anger can quickly turn to sin if we listen to it, wade through it or wallow in it.

Then a character in the current novel I’m writing was struggling with a similar issue. Long ago I had plotted out the book, but as I came to the disappointment of missing Christmas with children and grandchildren, I was just working on the part where my character faced a similar issue. I couldn’t expect my fictional character to be more spiritual than I am, could I?

So when disappointment rears its ugly head at me, I need to remember I have some choices.

  • Refuse to listen to what God is trying to tell me
  • Do what’s asked, but wallow in self-pity
  • Conclude that nothing good ever happens in 2020 and expect the worst to happen
  • Step forward in faith, knowing God is good and in control, and choosing to trust him

“Just two choices on the self: pleasing God or pleasing self.”  (by Ken Collier)

Dear Reader,

How are you doing today?

2020 has been a year for the record books. Covid-19 brings uncomfortable restrictions and uncertainty about the future. In New Zealand, where I live and minister, Covid was eradicated in June but has come back to haunt us in August. Then add protests, riots, and elections with every kind of opinion about how we should respond and what we should do. Even when you’re trusting the Lord, sometimes you just want it all to stop.

2020 has made me dig deeper in God’s Word for assurance that God is still in control. Psalms like Psalm 94:17-19. Uplifting Christian fiction is also a good break from all the noise and confusion around me.  The most interesting character I’ve read recently is Margot De Wilde in The Number of Love by Roseanna M. White. (See my book review at the end of this Book Blast.)

Do you ever tire of formulaic fiction characters? The beautiful model with the troubled past meets the strong but sensitive hunk. Immediate physical attraction (hormones) makes for love at first sight. Constant danger, several car chases, and a rescue from kidnapping assures them they are meant for each other. These elements might make a strong fiction plot, but they aren’t exactly a good way to find a godly partner for life. And these aren’t the kind of characters I write about.

Three characters from Broken Windows:

Jordan Axtell’s faith is challenged by something authors rarely talk about. His missionary parents have been faithfully serving in Taiwan, but have seen few visible results for their efforts. Why doesn’t God bless their ministry?

My husband and I spent sixteen years serving in Taiwan, and at the end of that time we had to close two ministries that weren’t going to go ahead. I know what that feels like. We believe we were in God’s will in Taiwan and God did use us, but we had hoped to see more visible results. We had to leave that in God’s hands. Since then God has brought us to a new ministry in New Zealand that seems like a good fit for us. We now have many Asians in our church and we understand them better because of living in Taiwan. We know God used our Taiwan time in our lives and the lives of others. But we had to come to terms with that part of our lives like Jordan had to.

Zophie Zobel isn’t the kind of girl that many guys long to date, but she has a passion for ministry and a caring heart that drives Jordan in a good direction and causes him to grow.

More than anyone else I know, Zophie is like my oldest daughter. No wonder I love this character so much. To get the perfect look of this character in my head, I chose a photo from a magazine from our mission. Once I saw “Zophie” in a crowd. Now I find she will be working with a missionary friend of ours in Peru. Maybe one day I’ll get to meet the face that inspired this character.

Jordan’s black ’69 Mustang also becomes a character in my book. Jordan introduces her as “Mustang Axtell, the Mrs. Jordan Axtell, my beloved. She’s the only girlfriend I need right now.” If you’ve read Broken Windows you know how the car speaks to him and brings him to the point of significant spiritual change.

Since I’m definitely not a car gal, I had to rely on my brother, Jim, for the details and feel for this character.  Jim told me, “that scene in Chapter Thirteen where Bradley is riding his skateboard close to the Mustang, that’s not funny, you know.” Jim wasn’t joking. He told me how a real car guy would never allow a kid and a skateboard anywhere close to his classic car and the stern warning he would give a kid like Bradley who was anywhere in the vicinity of a classic car. Which told me this scene would resonate with a true car guy.

If you’ve read a book with interesting characters lately, why not leave us a comment and tell us about it?

I’ll end this Book Blast with my book review of the book mentioned above.

My book review of: The Number of Love by Roseanna M. White 

 This book was unlike any book I’ve ever read before. It’s definitely historical and yes, it is mystery and has romance. But the characters are what make this book a 5-star read. The author takes you deep into the mind of Margot, a girl who lives, breathes, thinks, feels and prays in numbers. She counts compulsively and is a genius with numbers. She doesn’t care about fashion and avoids shallow friendships. But the qualities that restrict her social life make her an excellent codebreaker during the Great War. She is intensely loyal to the friends she does have and pushes herself into social situations when she senses the need.

This book demonstrates friendship that looks beyond first impressions and the outer facade of a person to the heart. Unlike the author and me, the characters are Catholic. Salvation is never mentioned, but Margot relies heavily on prayer and learns to trust in God when she doesn’t understand. God speaks to her in numbers and when she doesn’t hear the numbers she doubts that God is speaking to her. I wonder about that. But the characters are unique and compelling. They grow to appreciate the differences of others and learn to work with them, flaws and all. I love that this book is outside the formulaic plots of romance and suspense and yet compelling in a way that is hard to describe. It grows on you until you don’t want to put it down. The most interesting book I’ve read in a long time.

Free Christian ebooks! Great deal for Kobo readers!

My book, Broken Windows, is featured with ten other authors in this promo. This is known as a list builder because you sign up for an author’s newsletter in exchange for that author’s free book. My newsletter, Deb’s Book Blast, only comes out about four times a year. I give away a free book by another Christian author to someone on my list with every regular post. My subscribers already get any free books I’m promoting to new readers..

July 3-6 Kobo readers can get Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story for 99 cents. God worked in amazing ways in this incredible true story.

Children’s Ministry Resources You May Not Have Heard Of

Recently I asked on my Facebook author page for favorite resources of Christian ministry teachers of children. I’m excited to share these great resources I found that I never knew about. Check these out to see if they might work in your ministry.

Devotional Books

Parents in our churches need help finding books that give them easy and meaningful devotions for their families. Since my children are grown, devotional books aren’t automatically on my radar. Here are three recommendations from my readers:

Shannyn Mitchell recommends Worshipful Families by Howard Bean.

Hannah King has been using Tales from Cherry Lane in her family devotions this year. Last year they used My Big Book of 5-Minute Devotionals. Her kids have enjoyed them. They are in Kindergarten and 2nd Grade.

Church Children’s Club Resources

This is what Rebekah Schrepfer uses for her kids’ club at Pioneer Peak Baptist Church in Palmer, Alaska.

Here’s an overview of the club that I have sent around as a Starter Kit. I still have no helpers and no budget.  In the overview I explain how I’ve put together our Wednesday Bible Club and I talk about the free resources that I’ve found.    I’ve used the free lessons from this website.  It is a good walk-through-the-Bible format, and it can be easily supplemented with visual aids and such.  I skip their suggested memory verse because the kids are already learning verses with their Summit Club Books.  And I don’t always use the crafts they suggest, but sometimes they’re nice to use.  I’ve also used this website and printed off their Bible Trading Cards.

Over the years, I’ve learned to use Photoshop and Microsoft Publisher, and I’ve learned how to use WordPress.  While these resources are not always free and can be a long road to travel, it has been a blessing to draw on these skills and apply them to a children’s ministry to make it look professional….when in reality, it’s just little ol’ me.

Original Bible stories and songs and a method for organization of materials

Marilyn Alexander has put all these materials on her website. They come from her long-term ministry at Calvary Baptist Church in Lamar, Colorado.

My friend, Marilyn Alexander has recently launched a website with teaching resources. She specializes in lessons for Bible stories that are used less often. She offers free, original songs about Bible characters. Many of these are about Bible characters that you never find songs about. She also explains a way to organize all your teaching materials in a way that helps you to find all the bits and pieces instantly. You can find all this on her website, Teaching the Bible to Kids.  

Junior Church material

Ruth Grosse recommends these after using them to teach junior church at First Baptist Church, Dillon, Montana. (The oldest Baptist church in Montana.)

AiG has these Sunday School materials. Ruth uses these to teach her Junior Church. She says, “I love Answers in Genesis for Junior Church!  I use the Pre-K – First material, though I have kids who are older – it still works great – and they learn lots of good Bible principles that give them a good foundation for life.  There is a wonderful flipchart and lots of illustrations during the lesson time that keep the kids’ attention, plus game ideas, songs, hands-on activity ideas, and a handwork sheet to take home.  There are 10 lessons per unit (you order a unit at a time), and I’m on the third one.  There is one memory passage per unit – and the kids learn that passage really well – because it is illustrated in the flip chart with words and pictures, plus we review it every Sunday during that unit.  They say it up front in church at the end of the unit, along with singing a song or two.  There are also 4 Bible Truth Questions for each unit that they learn the answers to – and that is fun for them because they all answer together in unison.”

Deb Brammer: Here are some fave resources that I’ve used teaching at Tay Street Baptist Church in Invercargill, New Zealand.

Free Bible Story Pictures

My favorite source for free pictures to use to teach Bible stories is Free Bible Images found here:  . I have printed these images on card and used them. Sometimes I get a Bible story in curriculum which just doesn’t have enough pictures of the story to suit me. I can print these out the day before I use them and not have to wait or pay postage. I’ve also used them for PowerPoint stories for our Discovery Club. Though they are free, if you’re using them a lot it’s nice to send in a contribution. These have really helped me because I like to make up my own Bible themes and use stories in different ways, but I always need Bible story pictures to show what I want to say.

Training for Puppet Ministry

My favorite DVD for training puppeteers is this one  from Creative Ministry Solutions.

My own free resources

If you haven’t checked out my website recently, you’ve missed some new resources I’ve added. Under “Church Programs” You not only find Christmas Programs and Mum-Daughter Nite themes. I’ve also added these original resources.

  • The Road Sign Song. Music and printable visuals for fun new kids’ song.
  • Old Testament Books Song. Used to memorize the Old Testament books. Printed music with demonstration video.
  • Old Testament timeline motions to help kids memorize an overview of the Old Testament.
  • 7-color Jesus poem and object lesson. Printable poem made to fit in a bag with jelly beans in each color. How to make an object lesson to go with it.

Puppet resources:

Under my Puppet Scripts and Tips you’ll find 20 original puppet scripts and 5 helpful articles about puppets.