Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Devil Has No Mother by Nicky Cruzhere

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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:

Worthy Publishing; Reprint edition (July 16, 2013)

***Special thanks to Leeanna Case of Worthy Publishing for sending me a review copy.***


In the 50+ years that have passed since he came to Christ in New York through the selfless devotion of David Wilkerson, Nicky Cruz has traveled widely around the world, speaking to hurting people in all walks of life. His ministry has reached thousands of innercity gang members as he speaks to their need from his own experience.

Visit the author's website.


From his experience of a spiritualist childhood in Puerto Rico and gang culture in New York to an international Christian ministry, Nicky Cruz has seen humanity at its best and its worst. Cruz draws on these earlyexperiences and many others from his evangelistic ministry to expound the reality of the devil’s attempts to try everything possible to gain power over individuals and communities. He also shows clearly why God, not the devil, will win! This book contains many stories of the reality of spiritual warfare and draws on New Testament teaching to show why Christians should be bold in the faceof evil.” – The Good Book Stall.

Product Details:
List Price: $11.22
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Worthy Publishing; Reprint edition (July 16, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1617951897
ISBN-13: 978-1617951893



Know Your EnEmY

a Call to the ChurCh

On the afternoon of February 5, 2009, I was in Guatemala City, enjoying a meal with friends and colleagues at the home of Roberto Lopez, my spiritual son. We were rejoicing over what had happened the night before at the stadium where I had preached. Thousands had responded to the invitation to receive Jesus Christ, streaming down to the front from their seats all over the stadium. It was no wonder that the next day, we were all in a lighthearted mood, laughing and talking loudly.

Then the phone rang.

Pastor Bobby Cruz Jr. (no blood relation to me) answered it and let me know that the call was from my home office in Colorado. Bobby started joking on the phone with my assistant, Karen Robinson, but then his face fell and he quickly carried the phone into another room.

Right then I knew something was wrong.

When Bobby came back a few minutes later, his face was grave. “You’d better call your nephew Tato,” he told me. Tato is the son of my younger brother Rafael in Puerto Rico.

“Call my nephew? For what?” I asked. Then I started crying. “Is my brother dead?” Rafael had recently undergone a heart opera- tion, and I was sure he had died.

Bobby started crying, too, and I could tell his heart was heavy with the news he had been given. But as I found out later, Karen had emphasized to him that I should get the facts straight from my nephew, because the information she had received might not be accurate.

“Call Tato,” Bobby repeated.

So I did. It took awhile to get through to my nephew, and in my heart I was already grieving Rafael, but when Tato finally came on the line, he said it was my older brother Frank who had died.

Frank had been murdered.


Frank was four years older than me. He preceded me to New York back in the 1950s, and it was his apartment I lived in when I first arrived in that city. He became a Christian not long after I did, going on to spend forty-two years as a pastor in New York and Puerto Rico. When he could have been retiring and taking it easy, he instead opened a rehab center in our hometown of Las Piedras, Puerto Rico. Rock Christian Center was very success- ful at weaning addicts off drugs and showing them a better way through Jesus.

As I learned in time, it was one of the addicts connected with the rehab center who killed Frank. His name is Jomar Otero, and he was twenty-two at the time of the murder.

Some months earlier, Frank had tried to help Otero and had often spoken to him about the Lord. But the young man had dropped out of the drug rehab program. Then, on the evening of February 4, this young man suddenly showed up at the home of my brother and his wife, Mary. Otero said his car had run out of gas nearby.

Unbelievably, Otero spent awhile sitting in Frank and Mary’s home and talking with them about the Bible. There he was, with a terrible plan in his mind for Frank, and he was casually discuss- ing Jesus! It reminds me of Judas sharing the Last Supper with the Lord.

Finally Otero asked Frank to take him to get more gas. Mary warned Frank to be careful. The streets of their neighborhood can be dangerous at night, and driving around with a young man like Otero wouldn’t make them any less dangerous. But for most of his seventy-four years Frank had tried to help people, and on this evening, the last of his life, he was still trying to help, thinking of others to his last breath.

What seems to have happened that night is this: Someone else, presumably a friend of Otero’s, got into the car at some point. The two young men took Frank to a secluded location, beat him, then grabbed his belt and choked him to death with it. Then they threw his body into the trunk and used his car in a couple of robberies. They wanted to get money to buy drugs.

Police found Frank’s car abandoned near a river early the next morning. My brother’s body was still in the blood-soaked trunk, his face unrecognizable from the beating he’d taken as well as from the decomposition that was already under way in the intense Puerto Rican heat. It took forensic scientists to officially identify the body later that day. Only then did the awful news make its way to me in Guatemala via Colorado.

Was it necessary for Otero and his presumed accomplice to kidnap my brother and kill him in order to carry out their rob- beries? Of course not. They could have stolen a car anywhere, with much less trouble and risk. Even if you take into account their drug-addled thinking, there is nothing reasonable about what they did. It’s a sad truth, but the only reasonable explanation for my brother’s brutal murder is this: the devil deceived these young men into taking out this servant of God for him.

Our family had turned our back on the devil, whom we previ- ously served. For many years, we had been doing our best to take ground from him for the sake of Christ. And so—without mini- mizing the responsibility of the young men who committed the murder—I believe that my brother’s death was a case of the devil lashing out at us. Unexpectedly. And oh so painfully.

A former gang member, I had flirted with danger and tempted death many times. I kept thinking that if a murder was going to happen to anybody in the family, it should have been me, not Frank. It seemed incredible to me that my gentle, loving brother— the soft-spoken peacemaker in our family—would have his life ended for him like this, a casualty of spiritual and earthly violence. But it was true. It had really happened.

The press called my brother a martyr, and I believe they were right about that. He won many people to Christ in life, and he has won—and is still winning—more to Christ through his death. But this truth does only so much to make his loss easier to bear for those of us who loved him.

Dear, wonderful Frank. We played together as boys. We shared an apartment as young men. We served God side by side. We kept in touch down through the years, and our families remained close. He was my brother. And now he was gone.

Score one for the dark side.

thirst for revenge

Here’s another sad truth. Evil is not only out there. It’s also in here. It’s in our hearts. Even though we have been redeemed, our sinful nature is all too ready to cooperate with any scheme the devil might have up his sleeve. I was reminded of this truth when I returned to Puerto Rico later in the year to attend the court hearing for my brother’s killer.

While violence is common in my beloved homeland of Puerto

Rico, the killing of an old man who was also a pastor outraged the community. The mayor himself got involved in expediting efforts to find the killer. And it wasn’t long before Jomar Otero was taken into custody and brought to trial. (His accomplice, if indeed there was one, has not yet been brought to justice.)

And now I must confess to you that, before the hearing, I was struggling mightily with my sinful nature.

The pain of my grief was unbelievable, almost unbearable. It hurt so much! And not surprisingly, I couldn’t sleep the night before the hearing. If it had been the old days—my gang days—I could have killed Otero without thinking twice about it. Now I wasn’t seriously thinking about taking such extreme measures. But I was struggling with my human nature, feeling hate and wanting deep inside to get some kind of revenge. Thankfully, though, Jesus has control of our human nature!

The next morning, I fell into the arms of my nephew Tato and told him about the thoughts of revenge going through my mind. Three years earlier, God had used me in bringing Tato to faith (a story to be told in a future chapter). And now Tato was saying to me, “Uncle, you cannot do this. You have too much to lose. You have a God of justice. You have your family and your reputation. You must forgive.”

I knew he was right. I have often preached that when you have been hurt by others, forgiveness is a choice you have to make for your own spiritual well-being. And when we forgive, we give up our right to hurt somebody. We cannot retaliate.

Not long after, I admitted to interviewers from the secular media in Puerto Rico that I had been seriously contemplating how I could harm the man who had murdered my brother. But I also told them that, on the day I talked to Tato, I forgave Jomar Otero. And in fact, the same is true for everyone in my family—Frank’s widow, my other brothers, my sister, my nephews and nieces, all of us. We have all forgiven this young man. This testimony on TV made a big impact throughout Puerto Rico.

The judge ordered Otero to life in prison without the possibil- ity of parole. He is in isolation so that none of the other prisoners will kill him for murdering a community leader. If I get a chance to speak to Jomar in prison (and I hope I do), I will tell him that I forgive him. And I will tell him that Jesus wants to forgive him too. It’s what Frank would want.

So, no, I’m not going to take revenge against my brother’s killer. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to strike back against the real enemy. And who is that, again? The apostle Paul said it: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”1

My brother’s blood cries out to me to tell the world about the danger of the evil that’s afoot in the world. In fact, the blood of allthose harmed by Satan and his demons cries out for the truth to be known.

Satan must be unmasked. He is not a harmless caricature or a myth left over from humanity’s primitive past. He’s not a symbol of human wrongdoing. He’s not the personification of some gen- eralized force. He’s a real being—and the most awful one we could imagine. A hopeless case.

the Devil has no Mother

There is an old Spanish saying I remember well from my days as a child in Puerto Rico. It’s something adults would often say when referring to a boy who seemed bent on evil and destruction—a child who lived in rebellion against authority. People would say, “Ese hombre no tiene madre.” Translated, this phrase means, “This guy has no mother.” I remember the phrase well . . . because adults would often use it when referring to me. In other words, I was a lost cause!

When I was a young man, my heart was filled with evil and rebellion. I ran amok in the streets of Las Piedras and then New York, looking for trouble and finding it around every corner. I was bent on destruction, constantly revolting against authority. And I knew what the people of my neighborhood thought of me—I could see the disdain in their eyes. To my face, they cowered in fear. But behind my back, they whispered among themselves, “Ese hombre no tiene madre.” I was like a child who had no mother.

The devil has that same problem: he has no mother. He’s hope- less. He lacks any soft spot. He roams the earth with nothing but hate in his heart, despising all that is good and wholesome, schem- ing to warp and destroy everything that God has made. His being is rotten to the core.

This is our true enemy.

Ese hombre no tiene madre.

My friend, none of us is safe from attack by the devil and his forces. And it’s time we realized it.

Battle Cry

I’ve been an evangelist for more than half a century now. During that time, by God’s grace, I’ve visited numerous countries, trav- eled hundreds of thousands of miles, and spoken before millions of people. And as you might guess, I’ve noticed many changes taking place.

One of the most disturbing trends I’ve noticed within the Church in recent years is a growing blindness toward the reality of the devil and the enormity of the threat he poses. It seems that many of us have forgotten that we have an enemy, one who hates us and would love to see us destroyed.

Paul said that he and other early Christians would not be outwit- ted by the devil, because they were “not unaware of his schemes.”2

But that’s no longer true of us. We are unaware. We’re focused on wars taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we’ve forgot- ten the more important war that’s going on in the spiritual realm. Mesmerized by world events and personal sagas, we’re desensitized to the devil. And as a result, we’re apathetic. Distracted. Naive. Gullible. Hardly a threat to the devil and his wicked plans.

This book is a message—no, a shout—to the Church: Wake up! The devil is real and active in this world, and we’d better under- stand what he’s doing before it’s too late. We need knowledge of his power, as well as of the even greater power for good that is available to us, if we are to serve God faithfully as soldiers in the spiritual war that’s going on. And if we don’t get that knowledge in time, then I fear that the devil may take control all over the world. He’s gone far enough as it is.

In this book we’ll take a deep and honest look into the tactics of the devil and see how evil works. I’m not the ultimate authority on the subject, but I’ve had more experience with the evil one than most, and I feel called to warn and educate the body of believers. Because of that, I plan to pull no punches. I’m going to be com- pletely honest and transparent with you regarding the things I’ve seen and experienced. It’s information you’ve got to have.

Maybe you’ve heard accusing words in your mind.

Maybe you’ve struggled again and again with temptation. Maybe you’ve been gullible toward devilish lies.

Maybe you’ve seen disturbing manifestations of evil. Maybe you’re just curious about the topic of the devil. Whatever your experiences related to personal evil, this

book will explain to you what it means—and what you can do about it.

I wish I could tell you that if you read this book, you will be able to escape all the devil’s attacks and live in blissful freedom from harm. But it doesn’t work that way. Such bliss is to come for us only in heaven. In this world there is no place to run away from the spiritual war taking place. There are no noncombatants, whether you are a believer or not.

But I can assure you that knowing the demonic threat that faces you will make you better prepared to fight. In The Devil Has No Mother, you will learn the limitations of the devil’s influence. You will gain confidence in the Lord’s ability to defeat evil. And you will learn how to take up the weapons God gives you to fight in his name.

Some of the stories you are about to read about the devil may make you uncomfortable, even scare you. But I encourage you to stay with me. Don’t stop reading. This is a message God wants you to hear.

Also, keep in mind that we’re not just going to talk about the devil; we’re also going to discuss God’s magnificent glory and some of the incredible things he has done in my life and in the lives of others. You’ll be both informed and encouraged by these stories. The overriding message of this book is one of confidence and reas- surance. The devil has no mother, but we have a heavenly Father who gives us the victory as we continue to trust in him.

As you read, please know that I’ve already been in prayer for you, your family, and your walk with God. I’ve prayed that he will reveal his power in you. Therefore, I’m confident that as you call on the name of Jesus Christ and the power of his blood, the demons will tremble before you. And God will receive all the glory.

Now it’s time to move on. We have to understand more about our enemy. Who is the devil? Where did he come from? How did he get to be “motherless,” the central player and chief instigator of evil?

For those answers, we must go back in time—back even before the creation of the earth. Back to the origin of the spiritual conflict that has since caught up my brother Frank, me . . . and you.

Ten Million Reasons by Heather Gray

Tour Date: October 31st, 2013

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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:

Astraea Press (July 25, 2013)

***Special thanks to Opal Campbell for sending me a review copy.***


Aside from her long-standing love affair with coffee, Heather’s greatest joys in life are her relationship with her Savior, her family, and writing. Years ago, she decided it would be better to laugh than yell. Heather carries that theme over into her writing where she strives to create characters that experience both the highs and lows of life and, through it all, find a way to love God, embrace each day, and laugh out loud right along with her.

Visit the author's website.


Money talks, and the way she spends hers tells him all he needs to know…
Richard needs to find a woman he can trust, and he needs to find her fast. He doesn’t have time to waste on getting to know people, which means dating and interviewing are out of the question. So how can he get past that initial mask of good behavior to learn what people are really like? Easy! Give them ten million dollars and watch to see what they do with it.
Genevieve is a free-lance journalist who talks to herself, constantly forgets to put appointments on her calendar and can’t go anywhere without being asked to take a survey. Why on earth is Richard interested in her? She doesn’t know it yet, but he has ten million reasons…

Product Details:
List Price: $1.99
Ebook: 123 pages
Publisher: Astraea Press (July 25, 2013)
Language: English


Chapter One

How do I always let myself get sucked into these things? Genevieve Mason sat at her own little private booth in a large room with at least a dozen other people. The clock on the wall ticked loudly, reminding her this was not where she was supposed to be. For some reason she’d never understood, Genevieve had difficulty saying no to surveyors. She invariably felt sorry for the ones who had to stand out in the walkway of the mall trying to entice complete strangers into their offices to take the silly things. While she didn’t generally mind completing a survey, she simply didn't have the time today. Yet, here I am. Taking a survey. When will I ever get a backbone about these things?

A tall, model-thin woman, with straight blonde hair and professionally done eyebrows, clapped her hands twice. “Alright ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming in today. I am going to explain what you need to do, and then I will answer any questions you have. The project should only take about an hour of your time, and you will each be compensated with a twenty-five dollar mall gift card. You can use your gift card at any retailer, including the food court.” The woman, who would doubtless look less severe if her eyebrows weren’t quite so brutally perfect, paused briefly before launching into what sounded like a well-rehearsed speech by a drill sergeant.

I wonder what she pays to get her eyebrows done. Surveying must be more lucrative than I thought.

“Today you will receive a windfall.” People gasped in surprise, but Genevieve wasn’t biting. She’d been through too many of these to get pulled in with a line like that. “You will be given a hypothetical amount of ten million dollars,” the woman continued, speaking over the disappointed sighs of some of Genevieve’s comrades-in-arms, “to spend any way you wish.”

Tapping her foot loudly, the woman who Genevieve had begun to think of as Model-Talker stared around the room until everyone was quiet. Then, continuing her speech, she said, “There is a computer screen in front of you with two columns. In the left column, you will give a description of how you are spending your money. On the right of the screen, you will enter the amount you wish to spend. You will see a tally at the bottom. The tally is keeping track of how much you have spent. When you get to ten million dollars, stop and raise your hand. I, or one of my assistants, will submit your entry and see that you receive your gift card.”

Arms raised all around the room as people began to have questions. Model-Talker held up her hand to halt people’s inquiries and added, “Let me give you a couple of guidelines first. Then I will answer your questions. Your survey will be assigned a coded number. When you are done, you will complete a form with your name and contact information in case we have questions at a later date. Your name will never appear on your survey. The information you enter will not be shared with any other companies and will only be reviewed by one other individual in addition to myself.”

Genevieve wondered how efficiently their survey data could be processed if only two people would see it. Reining her wandering thoughts in, she listened to the rest of Model-Talker’s speech. Talk faster! Some of us need to get somewhere.

“The items you wish to spend your money on have to be items you can purchase in a single day. You cannot spend any of your pretend money on buying a house, for example, because the paperwork and closing for a house take several days. While you can invest money in the stock market or a CD, you cannot open a trust fund because the legalities of opening a trust generally take more than a single day.” Three quarters of the hands in the room went down.

“Any questions?” Model-Talker’s chilly, businesslike voice and expression shamed the remaining people into putting their hands down.

For crying out loud, lady! It’s not as if you’re going to get the plague by answering a question. Genevieve stifled her laughter. She didn’t want to cause Model-Talker’s gaze to zero in on her.

“Alright, everyone. You have one hour to complete the exercise. Begin.”

Genevieve began typing away on her keyboard, entering totals, as she thought about all the ways she could spend the money. Ten million dollars... She wasn't ever likely to have that kind of money, but it was sort of fun to think about.

Within five minutes, a short woman, muscular and dressed like a construction worker, raised her hand to indicate she was done. Genevieve wouldn’t have noticed except that Model-Talker tsked as the woman left the room. Once some of the other people saw how quickly it could be done, they began finishing hastily, too.

They're probably dumping it all into a savings account or the stock market. Why wasn't I born with that kind of cavalier attitude?

She, however, wanted to give careful thought to her expenditures. In order for the results to have any value, she needed to answer honestly. Although, at the rate the other people are leaving, I'd say the data compiled from today will be good and skewed.

Despite her best efforts to ignore it, the repeated ker-thunk of the door opening and closing demanded her attention. They obviously haven't heard the honesty-in-testing lecture enough times. As she watched the next couple of people leave the room, something struck her.

They’re all women. There’s not a single man in this room. Maybe it’s a study into the female psyche. She was sure she’d heard Model-Talker say “ladies and gentlemen.”

Thinking about the lunch date waiting for her, Genevieve swiftly typed in her remaining entries and watched the tally at the bottom of the screen climb. When she got to nine million five hundred thousand dollars she sighed. Who’d have thought I’d have so much trouble spending money? What can I lavish half a million dollars on? Finally struck with inspiration, she entered her final imaginary expenditure and raised her hand. She completed the paperwork and left the room, casting one last pitying glance at the three remaining women who continued to studiously peck at their keyboards.


Genevieve sprinted the last twenty yards or so to the food court hoping her date hadn’t left. She clipped a stranger in the side with her shoulder, yelled an, “I’m sorry!” over her shoulder, and continued on her path. Zipping around the corner, she found herself confronted with an overcrowded food court, people spilling over everywhere she looked. How am I supposed to find him?

“Aunt Gen, over here!” Genevieve turned her head this way and that until she saw her nephew waving his hands wildly over his head in a far back corner of the food court.

Relief coursed through her. Thank goodness! She'd been worried he would think she’d stood him up. Poor guy had enough trouble in his life. He didn’t need another reason to be disappointed in those he loved.

“I’m late, aren’t I?” she asked, the sound of her words shaped by her winded voice.

Max laughed at her. “Aunt Gen, you’re always late.”

“Will you ever forgive me?”

“Buy me lunch, and I’ll think about it,” her fifteen-year-old nephew said with a twinkle in his golden brown eyes.

Sliding two twenties across the table to her nephew, Genevieve said, “You know what I like. Get whatever you want. You deserve it for braving the masses to order.” As her nephew jumped over the handrail behind their table and began maneuvering his way in and out of the different lines, Genevieve sat back and closed her eyes.

Thank you for keeping Max here until I arrived. It was a small but heartfelt prayer.

She opened her eyes, looked around at the crowd and caught a glimpse of herself in the large mirror along the back wall of the food court. Why do they insist on using mirrors to make it look like there's more seating – and more people – than there actually is? She didn't care to spy on other people while they ate and instead studied her own reflection. Genevieve scrutinized her large green eyes and fair complexion. She had curly hair that her family insisted on calling red even though she always wrote auburn whenever she had to enter the color on a form. It was shoulder-length but tended to stand out away from her head rather than lying down gracefully. I certainly don't need any of that shampoo advertised to add body! In a family of Irish-Italian descent, she was the only one that actually looked Irish. Everyone else had been born with the requisite bronzed skin and black hair of their Italian heritage.

She sought out Max in the mirror. He stood in line waiting for the slow progression of customers to move him forward so he could place his order. Max looked more like her father, his grandfather, with each passing year. He's too handsome for his own good. It won't be long before he realizes how much the girls notice him. Max spent much of his time seeking approval from his family; enough in fact, that he hadn't yet detected the way the fairer sex was always trying to get his attention. If he has seen it, he certainly hasn't let on about it.

Genevieve’s sister had divorced three years ago. Max had been twelve at the time, his sister Jenny fourteen. Jenny had fared better in the divorce. She saw her dad a couple times each month, and he doted on her, buying her all the pretty things she wanted. That was his way of making up for his absence, and she was okay with that. Sadly, Max had been much more wounded. He hadn’t wanted the latest toys and gadgets. Instead, he had wanted time, and his dad hadn't been willing — or perhaps able – to supply it. At an age when he was growing from boy to man, he'd essentially lost the one person who was supposed to be most qualified to help him understand what it meant to be a man.

Maureen, Genevieve’s sister, had done her best, but the divorce had forced her to change jobs in order to support her kids. Instead of working part-time and being home in the afternoons, she now worked fifty or more hours each week and hardly saw her kids at all. Genevieve had always been close to her nieces and nephews, but after the divorce, she went out of her way to try to spend time with Jenny and Max. She and Max did lunch at the mall every other week. She and Jenny got mani-pedis together. It seemed like the least she could do. It sure beats spending good money to get my eyebrows tortured when I can do that at home free of charge!

“You know, Aunt Gen, you’ve never once been on time to lunch.” Max was still laughing at her as he set the food down.

Snagging one of his egg rolls and putting it on her own plate, she said, “What makes you say such a mean thing to your dear old auntie?”

“You were worried I’d think you’d blown me off. I could see it on your face when you came round the corner.”

Genevieve shrugged. “Okay, so I was worried. Sue me.”

“You’ve never stood me up. Until you do, I’ll always believe you’re coming.”

Warmth moved through her middle, but it had an icy edge to it. Genevieve was both touched by Max’s words and saddened that he’d had enough experience with his parents in the past few years to know what it felt like to be stood up. His dad wasn’t the only one who hadn’t always been there for his son. There had been more than one sporting event in recent years where she'd been Max’s entire cheering squad. She always saved a seat for her sister, but the seat was rarely ever filled. Max deserved better, but as Maureen often pointed out to her, Genevieve didn’t know how hard it was to be a single mom working to support two teenagers.

Max and Genevieve ate lunch, swapped funny stories from their week, and discussed schedules for the upcoming month. He had decided to try out for the cross-country team.

“I don’t stand a chance, but I want to try.”

“Why? Running is so boring.”

“You run.”

“Yeah, but only because it’s slightly less monotonous than sitting at the computer when I have writer’s block.”

“The practices are long, and they’re in the afternoons when Mom’s usually working, so this will give me something to do. I get bored killing time at home so much. It’s dull there now that Jenny got a job and is gone all the time.”

“How does she like her job?” Genevieve asked, with interest.

“I don’t know about the job, but she sure does like the money,” Max answered, waggling his eyebrows comically.

Ah, to be a teenager with the simple worries of acne medication and a pretty dress. Then Genevieve corrected herself. And divorce. Don’t forget that simple worry.

“So why were you late today?” Max asked.

“You’d never believe me if I told you,” she answered.

“Try me.”

Rolling her eyes, Genevieve answered, “I got sucked into another survey.”

Max almost spit chow mein at her as he laughed. “You have got to be kidding me! Can you even walk through the mall without taking a survey?”

Trying not to laugh, Genevieve crumbled a napkin to throw at her nephew. “I got a gift card out of this one.” Then, slapping the palm of her hand against her forehead, she said, “I should have used it to pay for lunch! What was I thinking?”

“You can use it next time.”

“Do you honestly think I’m going to remember that?” Her voice was filled with dry humor.

“No worries,” he said. “I’ll remind you.”

“What would I do without you, Max?”

“You’d be lost without me, Aunt Gen, and you know it.”

The two cleared their table, and then Genevieve linked her arm through Max’s as they began weaving their way through the crowd to head toward the front of the mall. “You know, Max, I think you might be right. I would be lost. Who else would know to buy himself an extra eggroll just so I could snag it?”

When they got to her car, Genevieve entered Max’s cross-country tryout into her phone’s calendar and told him, “I can’t promise, but I’ll do my best to be there.”

“It’s okay if you can’t make it.” His voice was rock solid. “I know it’s in the middle of the day.” Max, whose every emotion generally came out in the way he spoke, only sounded this steady when he was trying to mask something.

He doesn't want me to know he's disappointed.

“No, it’s not that,” Genevieve said. “You know how bad I am with dates. I need to double-check my desk calendar at home and make sure I don’t have something written down there that I forgot to put in my phone.” Staring at the device in her hand as if the calendar in it would magically give her an answer, she finally shook her head and said to Max. “I’ll text you the morning of to let you know for sure one way or the other, okay?”

Max nodded and said again, “No worries,” as he climbed into her car.

It was a beautiful day in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They drove with their windows down and, since Max was in control of the radio, their music blaring.

Genevieve dropped him off at home. Jenny was still at work, so she didn’t pop in to say “hi”. Instead, she headed back to her own home to try and get some work done.

She was bumping up against deadlines for articles with three different magazines. That’ll teach me to stay up all night reading a book! Releasing a deep sigh, Genevieve admitted to herself that she’d been putting off the articles because they’d all sounded so boring. I have got to start getting pickier about the assignments I accept. What’s the point of freelancing if I can’t stand any of the work I do? I'm not sure this even counts as freelancing anymore.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sun Shine Down: A Memoir by Gillian Marchenko

Tour Date: October 30th

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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:

T S Poetry Press (August 18, 2013)

***Special thanks to Gillian Marchenko for sending me a review copy.***


Gillian Marchenko lives in Chicago with her husband Sergei and four daughters. Her writing has appeared in Literary Mama, MomSense Magazine, Chicago Parent, Thriving Family, Today’s Christian Woman, and Gifted for Leadership. A speaker, and active on Facebook, Twitter, and her website, Gillian says the world is full of people who seem to have it all together. She speaks for the rest of us.

Visit the author's website.


Sun Shine Down. A memoir.

What if?

What if you dreamed of having a beautiful child, and in your mind you saw the life you'd share with that child. First steps, little league (or ballet). Maybe the child would play piano or make you proud on the Honor Roll. There'd be eventual graduations, college, even marriage and grandchildren. You might dream it out that far. Or not. Every parent has hopes. No parents wish for pain—their own, or a child's.

Then you had a premature delivery in a foreign country. And the words swirling around you said a different kind of "what if." What if something was wrong? The dream was at risk—or so it seemed. Would you be ready for that? Could you make peace? Or would it take you down?

These are the questions author Gillian Marchenko faced as she woke up after an emergency C-section in Ukraine. Only her newborn child could answer them, in time. But first she had to find a way to hear more than the words "Down syndrome."

Product Details:
List Price: $15.00
Paperback: 136 pages
Publisher: T S Poetry Press (August 18, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0989854205
ISBN-13: 978-0989854207


~ 1 ~

I woke up just before seven the morning of April 5, 2006, in a surgical recovery room in a hospital in Kiev, Ukraine. Sluggish, I scanned the room, unable to take in my surroundings. A thin white sheet covered my body. I shivered. A metal table housed a tiny television in the corner of the room. The bare walls were a pale shade of blue gray.

Did Sergei leave? Lifting my hand, I placed it on my breastbone and slid it toward my navel. My mid-section felt numb. Pushing down, it was as if I tapped another person’s toneless stomach. White gauze held my empty abdomen tight. I had been eight months pregnant.

Five hours earlier, I stood naked in a warm shower, my blond hair tucked into a flimsy paper cap. A delivery nurse crouched in front of my middle. “Krasata,” she hummed in Russian, smiling, telling me I was beautiful, while methodically shaving me.

I couldn’t see the nurse’s face over the bulge of my stomach. Her brown hair bobbed in and out of sight as she talked. I imagined her gold tooth sparkling as her mouth moved. In Russian, “krasata”  means beautiful as in, “you are a beauty.” My skin was now translucent, stretched to its limit. I looked like ET’s pregnant cousin, wide-eyed from fear, hair thinned.

“Tebye nada peesat?” the nurse asked as she cleaned off the razor. I nodded – yes, I have to pee, and then I squatted, awkward, as my bladder emptied. I hadn’t peed in front of someone since kindergarten, when I used to make my best friend, Carol Peruski, go to the bathroom with me. The yellow stream swirled around and around the shower floor before sliding down the drain. I wanted to be back home in Michigan, tucked away in an American hospital. I wanted to understand everything being said to me.


I had hugged my daughters goodbye that morning, expecting to return in a few hours. Elaina, five and a half years old, had a habit of patting my tummy hello and goodbye. Zoya, eighteen months younger, stood on her tiptoes and aligned her lips with my belly button for a kiss. They hurried our goodbye. They had big plans to make a fort underneath the dining room table with their beloved Ukrainian nanny, Lena.

Our “stalinka”—the historical apartment in Kiev where we’d been living for the last three years, since we’d moved from Chicago to Sergei’s native Ukraine to help start and grow churches—showed few signs of a baby coming. A pack of diapers and some second-hand clothes were piled in the corner. A stroller stood in the hallway by the front door next to a line of shoes. We needed more supplies: ointment and shampoo and bottles. Infant clothes needed laundering. There wasn’t a place for the baby to sleep.

After saying goodbye to the kids, I’d inhaled in an attempt to flatten my protruding belly, needing at least two buttons of my coat to fasten. Giving up, I grabbed a scarf hanging on a hook near the front door and looped it around my neck to keep the Ukrainian winter air at bay. There were three weeks left until my due date. A simple pregnancy check-up coaxed me out the door with a promise of some much-needed time with my husband.

We'd sat in the car a few minutes, waiting for the engine to warm and for the frost to break up on the windshield. I could see my breath. “Let’s swing by that American restaurant on the river after your appointment,” Sergei suggested.

 “You’re on!” I said. “And I know what I am going to order: Eggs Benedict. I am going to eat it all, too. It’s not like I can get any bigger than this, right?”

“You look beautiful,” Sergei said.

At the appointment, I lay on a long brown bed and watched the obstetrician measure my stomach with the kind of measuring tape my mother used to make our clothes when we were kids. The doctor measured once.


“Shto shto?” I asked in Russian. What? What do you see? Is something wrong?

Upon hearing my question, Sergei, who sat on the other side of the room, stood up and walked over to us.

“Shto takoye?” Is there a problem? Sergei asked.

“What? Oh no. Not a problem. I want to measure Gillian’s belly one more time.” The doctor positioned her right hand on the examination table next to my side and extended the tape across my abdomen. She hunched to ensure the right start and stop point on the tape and then held it out in front of her, stretching it wide.

“Your stomach hasn’t grown in two weeks.”

A sound like that of a police siren erupted inside my head, sending icy adrenaline shooting through me. Our baby wasn’t growing? Our baby wasn’t growing.

Sergei stood to the right of the doctor. He took hold of my hand and looked at me with that same steady gaze I'd noticed when we first met. When Sergei looked at a person, his eyes were unwavering, showing his confidence. At first that intimidated me but in our years together, it had become a great comfort. He heard what the doctor said and knew her words would worry me. He was with me and present, just as he had been for the last seven years.

The baby had measured small at checkups earlier in my pregnancy but the doctor had never been concerned about it. At one point the baby measured three weeks behind her due date in size and development. At that time, the doctor reassured me that I had nothing to worry about. “She is growing which is the main thing,” she'd said, winking. The doctor, jolly and round, acted like a female version of Kris Cringle. “There’s no problem. Either we miscalculated the due date or you have a petite little girl in there," she'd explained as she turned her attention to Elaina and Zoya who happened to be with us at that appointment. “Now, girls, are you excited about the baby? And how do you like living in Ukraine?”

“Sergei, please tell her we are concerned.” I'd wanted reassurance. To calm me, the doctor had ordered several ultrasounds and non-stress tests. Each time, the tests had shown the baby staying still. “Ona speet.” She’s sleeping, was all she’d say.

  Today she said, “Here’s what we are going to do, Gillian. We’re going to admit you to the hospital overnight. I suspect the baby needs extra vitamins and nutrients. That should get her back on track."

“Should we worry? Is it something else?” I glared at Sergei the way wives do when they want their husbands to telepathically understand they should jump in with questions and concerns of their own.

“No! Don’t worry!” the jolly doctor smiled at us.

Instead of heading off to breakfast as planned, we went directly to the hospital.  By noon I sat gowned in a room on the fourth floor. A nurse hooked a monitor to my belly to follow the baby’s heartbeats. I watched the squiggly green lines on the black screen dip low as my stomach tightened with each Braxton Hick's contraction. Something is wrong. I know it.

We were assigned a new doctor, tall and tan with a wide smile. His fuzzy, brown hair was gone in the back of his head. He wore glasses. He looked the part of the new Ukrainian, the guy who achieved success somehow during economic instability. The first two buttons of his crisp white shirt were open revealing a heavy chain that shimmered around his neck. Two huge, gold rings covered his knuckles. He was excited to have an American patient because he was learning English.

He introduced himself to Sergei first, in Russian, and shook hands with him. Then he peeked at me. “Hello, there. I see you having a baby? That’s great. I…um…ugh… I am happy to be of assisting of you today here in Ukraine. I am fond of America. And, um…, I am tried to work on my English.”

The new doctor continued to sputter and pause as he talked to me, searching for the right words to say in English. I would answer him in Russian, to let him know I could, and then wait for him to find his next English word.

I had studied Russian with a private tutor three times a week, two to three hours a session, for three and a half years. The day I met Tatiana Nikolayevna, my Russian teacher, I was nervous. She was a mountain of a woman with bleached blond hair. Her high cheekbones and pointed nose gave her a diplomatic air. She walked with a limp, suggesting she'd suffered a hip dislocation at some point in her life. One moment she’d give me an icy glare, then seconds later an approving smile would spread across her face.

For years I'd trudged along, immersing myself in basic conversation, memorization and grammar study. I cried at some point in every session. Tatiana was firm, but kind. In the beginning, I likened Russian to a blurry photograph. I knew something was there, but I could not make out the picture. It was humiliating and exhausting to try to speak a foreign language. Then one day the picture started to come into focus. I heard actual words, sentences, and eventually full conversations. I became an avid eavesdropper. My time deaf and mute in Ukraine came to an end. I had survived basic Russian language acquisition.


Outwardly I kept my cool at the hospital. But inside, I yelled at everyone who walked through the door. Check me and go away! Let me lie here and worry in peace. I’m not in the mood to teach English as a second language.

After meeting the new doctor and helping me settle into the room, Sergei left the hospital to go home and check on Elaina and Zoya, and arrange the rest of the day's schedule. About an hour after he left, I realized I would need a few things to stay overnight. I called him on the cell but got voicemail. “Hi, it’s me. Hope the kids are okay. Listen, since I’m going to be here for the night, can you grab a few things for me while you’re home? I need a change of clothes, my contact case, and maybe a book to read. Thanks. Love you.” After I hung up, I lay back on the hospital bed and focused on the clock on the opposite wall. There was nothing to do but wait. My hands were shaking.

Sergei got back to the hospital around four o’clock. Occasionally, the English-learning doctor came in, checked the monitor, and listened to my stomach with a stethoscope. Sergei asked questions. “How’s the baby doing? Do we know if the glucose and extra vitamins are helping yet?” We discovered that one phrase the doctor knew well in both English and Russian was “wait and see.” He would not outright answer our questions. “Wait and see,” he’d say, already turning to leave.

By nine o’clock, our American colleagues started to call. Julie, the mother hen of our ex-pat group, called first. Her husband James was our team leader, and they had been living in Ukraine for over ten years.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I called Lydia to tell her about you and the baby.” Lydia was another American working with us. Before moving to Ukraine, she was a postnatal nurse at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

“That’s fine, Julie,” I muttered, my frustration breaking through. I wasn’t mad at Julie. I was mad that I was stuck in the hospital. I was mad that we were told over and over again to wait and see.

Julie continued, “And we are coming to the hospital. Once our sitter gets here, James and I will pick up Lydia and we’ll be on our way.”

As soon as I hung up, the phone rang again. Lydia’s voice, strong but soft, filled my ear with questions and greetings.

The threat of tears tightened my throat and I could only manage a whisper,  “The baby hasn’t grown at all since the last visit to the doctor two weeks ago. I have an IV in right now, and I’m receiving glucose and other vitamins. The doctor says this will help bulk the baby up and get her back on track.” Sergei sat in the corner of the hospital room, pretending to be interested in a newspaper he'd picked up in the hospital lobby.

“Whenever I feel a contraction, the green squiggly line on the monitor drops low,” I said. I expected a response from Lydia. Instead, silence. For a second, I wondered if the phone lost its connection.

“Gillian, I will be there in a half hour. The next time your doctor comes in the room, you need to demand an emergency c-section. I don’t want to scare you, but in the States your baby would have already been delivered. She is not doing well. She’s in trouble. Listen to me; you have to talk to your doctor.” I tightened my grip on the phone. Sergei stood up, came over and sat down on my bed. “What’s wrong?” he mouthed. I shook my head and turned to the window.

“Okay, Lydia. We’ll tell him.” I hung up the phone and started to cry. Sergei leaned in and took me in his arms.

“Lydia said it sounds like the baby is in extreme distress. She said we need to demand a c-section.”

Always pragmatic, Sergei wondered out loud, “How can we know she is right? She isn’t even here. The doctor said the baby needs some extra help.” I moved out of Sergei’s arms so I could look him in the eye.
 “Lydia said if we were in the States, the baby would have already been delivered.” I felt a sob rise and my body began shaking. “Sergei, please find the doctor.”

My husband agreed and went to get the doctor. I was alone. I knew it. I’d known for weeks that something was wrong. I should have spoken up more. Oh God, please let the baby live. I want to go home. I did not trust the doctors in this hospital. I wanted my mother. A few minutes later, Sergei came back to the room with the English-learning doctor who had his usual broad smile.

“Umm, your husband said that you are worried that the baby be born?”

“Yes. I have an American friend who is a nurse. I talked to her on the phone and she said that with the baby’s heart beat dropping so low, I would have already had a caesarean section if we were in the States. I’m worried. We need to talk about delivering the baby.”

I stared at this man who was dressed in white pants and a white, button-down shirt with a lazy stethoscope draped around his neck. He was a doctor. I wasn't sure of the schooling process in Ukraine, but in America he would have completed close to a decade of education in order to qualify for this job. Shouldn’t he know? Didn’t he know?

“The baby is stabilizing with the IV. It hasn’t been enough time. I think we should wait and see. She needs more time.” The doctor glanced from my face and Sergei’s to see if his words registered. Sergei spouted back in Russian.

They talked a few more minutes and then the doctor smiled at both of us and left. The clock next to my hospital bed read eleven o’clock at night. The baby had been receiving fluids since noon. I studied the monitor next to my head. The baby’s heart rate still dropped once in a while.

“He doesn’t know what he’s doing!” I snapped at Sergei.

“I know this is hard, but he’s a doctor. He’s your doctor. We should listen to him. And I’m not saying this lightly. That’s my baby too in there. I’m worried. But Lydia isn’t here and the doctor is, and I think we should listen to him.”

Julie, James and Lydia arrived within the hour. They were upbeat, commenting on the nice hospital room, cracking jokes and squinting at me through the room’s bright lights. All three tried to act like it was the most natural thing in the world to hang out in a Ukrainian hospital room at midnight. I loved them for it.

A nurse located the English-learning doctor. When he came into the room, Lydia stepped forward and introduced herself. She went on to tell him what she told me on the phone. As she spoke, she kept taking steps closer to him. Soon, she stood right in front of his face. The doctor no longer smiled. “Doctor, this baby needs a cesarean section right away!” James and Julie hung back on the other side of the room. Sergei got up from the bed and stood next to Lydia.

“We are going to wait and see if the IV helps,” the doctor declared. Lydia persisted, eyeing my husband for language assistance and nodding incessantly as her words poured in a mixture of English and Russian. Her stern face and tone of voice pleaded with the doctor to take action.

I could tell by the projection of her voice that Lydia meant business. Here was one of my people, not only a colleague and a friend, but an American medical professional weighing in on the fate of my child.

After hearing more from Lydia, Sergei took her side. “We need to see if anything else is going on with the baby. My wife is frightened. We don’t want to wait and see anymore.” Sergei squared his deep blue eyes on the doctor.

“All right. I guess we can take a closer look at the baby through an ultrasound.”

“Spaseebo,” Sergei said. Thank you. “Spaseebo,” Julie, James, and Lydia all chimed in.

“Nyezashto,” the doctor replied. Don’t mention it. His expression was blank when he left the room.


Twenty minutes later I concentrated on Sergei’s face, as a coiled cord smeared icy liquid over my midsection. Doctors and nurses huddled around the ultrasound screen, whispering to one another in Russian. The technician tapped on my stretched skin, seeking the baby's beating heart beneath it. As my abdomen tightened again, the small huddle of Ukrainian professionals all gasped at the monitor.

“Sergei, ask them what they see.”

Sergei cleared his throat. “Izveneete pozshalusta. Shto takoye?” Excuse me, please. What is wrong? Our doctor turned around from the group and faced us. Oh no, here we go. Sergei took my hand in his.

“The baby’s heart beat goes too low with the contractions. We need to do a caesarean section right away.”


Back in my room, shaved and ready for surgery, I perched on the end of the high hospital bed and studied the imperfections on the tan walls. Sergei had gone downstairs to sign papers to allow the surgery. James, Julie and Lydia had gone to search for the nearest waiting room. All of a sudden I felt the need to take everything in. I wanted to remember every detail. A well-polished wooden desk with a matching chair stood against the wall in front of me. Cream-colored curtains with deep pleats framed the window. My stocking feet dangled above the alabaster tile floor. They seemed disconnected from my body.

I thought about Elaina and Zoya sleeping in their Estonian-made bunk beds back at the apartment. Sergei and I searched all over Kiev before purchasing the pale, hardwood beds. Thick cotton blankets were probably tucked up under the girls’ chins. I imagined their Babushka, Sergei’s mother, asleep in the next room, ready to provide a drink of water or a trip to the toilet. I wished I had kissed them goodnight.

I heard footsteps in the hall. The doctor stuck his head through the doorway. “Gotova?” No time for English now.

I nodded—ready.