Friday, April 22, 2016

Movie Review: GOD'S NOT DEAD 2

Rating: 5 DOVES!

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  - Matthew 16:15 NASB

This passage from the gospel of Matthew figures very significantly in this film, the sequel to the highly successful and beloved God's Not Dead.

Before I touch upon that, let me say without hesitation that there is no "sophomore slump" here. While film sequels have not always lived up to the original, God's Not Dead 2 may actually be an even better movie than its predecessor. Let's go a step further: Christian movies seem to have come into their own, judging by this latest work. The quality of the actors' performances, writing, the storytelling itself, and direction far exceeds the Christian movies of the past which, speaking of sophomores, (and I apologize for saying this but it's true) were pretty sophomoric.

Let's begin with God's Not Dead 2's cast, which includes the lovely Melissa Joan Hart, who has been in many more roles (but yes, in our house, she's still fondly remembered for Sabrina, the Teenaged Witch!). Here she plays Grace Wesley, who is the sort of high school teacher you won't ever forget for her dedication and kindness, as well as a devoted Christian who innocently responds to a student's question revolving around Ghandi and Jesus Christ. That leads to a political firestorm that threatens her career, her certificate, all that she has.

Grace is a caring teacher who looks after her aging dad (Pat Boone), but her life is turned upside down when the school board (Robin Givens does a fine job as the principal, who not only is so bent on running a tight and politically correct ship that she tramples on the students' freedom of speech, as well) demands an apology from her. When Grace refuses to apologize for simply answering a question, an ACLU attorney is brought in (Ray Wise, brilliant in this role!). Jesse Metcalf also delivers as Grace's lawyer, who initially doesn't want the job of defending her but eventually can't deny that Grace sincerely holds fast to her faith, leading him to defend her passionately.

The late Fred Dalton Thompson and Mike Huckabee have cameos in this, and there are some familiar faces from the first God's Not Dead--Benjamin A. Onyango as the charming and funny Pastor Jude and Paul Kwo, who gives a poignant performance as Martin Yip, a young man seeking the Lord with all of his heart and ready to give up everything to follow Him. Of course, I would be remiss not to mention David A.R. White as Rev. Dave, a local pastor who's dreading jury duty ("I have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being picked" he tells Pastor Jude) until he finds himself on the jury at Grace's trial.

God's Not Dead 2 was inspired by true and recent events here in the United States, of Christians--whether teachers or bakers or bed-and-breakfast owners--who found themselves in a position similar to Grace Wesley. What makes this so compelling is that, for years, Christians were free to worship and speak about the Lord here in the United States. The tide of political correctness and "separation of church and state" (which, as the movie aptly points out, those words never appear in either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution) have changed all that.

Now, naturally, we should have been expecting that, anyway. In John 16:33, Jesus said, "These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (KJV) Yet persecution has for a long time been something that happened "somewhere else." Just ask believers in other parts of the world, who have seen their children murdered right in front of them, or who themselves have been tortured or killed. This year, on Good Friday, Pastor Thomas Uzhunnalil was crucified by ISIS, and all because of his faith.

Persecution has also come to the United States, though it has taken on a different form. For now. These are the last days, so expect persecution to become much worse. I loved God's Not Dead 2 because it reminds us that Christianity is not only about going to church on Sundays and practicing with the choir and all our holidays. Being a Christian is not just about believing in Jesus but about walking with Him, about having an intimate relationship with Him, even when it costs us either something or everything. It is about cultivating that relationship and holding on tight to Him even when the rest of the world says that faith is unpopular and outdated, and that it's time to move forward into a future without Christ. For us, as believers, there is no future without Jesus. He IS our future, our now, our yesterday, our tomorrows.

Like Grace Wesley, we have all been asked that question in our hearts: Who do you say that I am? Our answer to that question is what defines who we are, our life, our being. That answer should guide everything we do or say, what sets us apart from a world that needs the same Savior it is denying. This movie will inspire you to keep your eyes fixed on the things that are eternal rather than the things that are temporal. As Grace says in one scene, "I would rather be judged by the world and accepted by God than accepted by the world and judged by God."

Five doves to the memorable, emotion-packed and timely God's Not Dead 2.

Ah, yes--and the Newsboys are in this one, too!









Monday, April 18, 2016

Happy April and...

Yep--I'm still here!

A lot going on, but a real slowdown on writing for the past few weeks. This year has found us eating healthier, more mindfully, everything in moderation, but with a focus on organic food and slowly cutting out GMOs. It's also seen us becoming more active, which could account for the slowdown in books. I'm doing more walking lately than writing! That included the Foam Glow 5K in Charlotte with friends, and what fun that was.

The hubby and I also had a chance for a little getaway to the beach. Just because. That is all the reason you need!

Yesterday I had another cool surprise, finding SEA SIREN, which I wrote under the pen name Consuelo Vazquez, again on an Amazon bestseller list, right there in the Top 100 for Free Romance Fantasy. So if for any reason you haven't read it, you really do need your copy.

I'll be back in a couple days with some news, plus a couple of my new favorite smoothie recipes. Until then, take care!





Saturday, March 5, 2016

Yoga--Not Just a Phase

Full disclosure time: I have to admit that last year, when I first decided to start a yoga practice, I wasn't sure if I would stick with it. I'm one of those people who doesn't always have that stick-to-itness (and maybe you're in that club, too?).

Yet here we are, just about a year later, and I'm still engaging in this peaceful and mindful practice. To be honest, some weeks have gone by when I didn't bring out my mat. My home office is a prayer room/writing office/private yoga space, so I go into it often enough, but there were a couple weeks here and there that went by during which I didn't spend any time in my practice.

Interestingly, it mattered that I didn't. There was a difference, especially when it came to my problems with anxiety and stress, and I found myself returning to the mat.

Besides helping me manage stress better, yoga has been very beneficial to me in other areas. It's true what people say--you DO find yourself eating healthier, reaching for fruits more often than sweets or carb-laden chips. There are other benefits, too, other reasons to spend a half hour or more in your yoga space.

Have you flirted with the idea of making yoga part of your life? Or maybe, like me in the past, you went to a few classes, loved it but haven't made time for it again in your busy schedule?

After only one year as a "yogi" (love that!), here is my encouragement and advice to you:

1. Like any other lifestyle change/exercise (even though yoga is more than just exercise), consult with your doctor before starting.

2. Respect your body. When I first started last year, I watched videos and felt daunted by the fact that I wasn't as "bendy" as the instructors. My heels still don't totally touch the ground when I move into downward facing dog, nor do I sit cross-legged with my ankle up on my thigh. That's okay. That's why they call it a practice. Yoga is about more, much more, than just being "bendy."

3. Don't be overwhelmed by the different styles of yoga. Hatha, bikram, ashtanga, vinyasa--it's so easy to be intimidated by all the "arms"! The old adage really does apply here: "Everybody has to start somewhere." Though I have had a wonderful, real LIVE instructor, I've also relied a lot on YouTube videos. There are a plethora of them. Look for the words beginners, gentle, and even for seniors. Here is a good description of some yoga types.

4. You don't have to be skinny or have a 6-pack to do yoga. So if you were thinking about using this as an excuse, please don't! Don't cheat yourself out of this pleasure. On Pinterest somewhere, I came across these words: "This is the body I bring to my yoga mat." Over the course of this year, I've silently said these words as I unroll my mat. If anything, yoga will make you more accepting of your body.

5. All you need is a yoga mat and comfortable clothes. You don't have to buy everything all at once, especially when you're first starting. Little by little, you can decorate your space with plants and candles, and when you're ready, add a yoga strap, blanket, blocks, whatever you'd like. The same applies to clothes: a loose-fitting tank top and comfy leggings will work just fine. When you're ready, treat  yourself to pair of fun & colorful yoga pants!

What about music? You might want to set up your phone or Ipad to softly play yoga/spa music. YellowBrickCinema on YouTube has some beautiful, hours-long music to calm you and help you get centered.

6. Life happens. It also gets in the way. Don't come down on yourself; don't tell yourself you're not dedicated or serious all because some time passes before you return to your practice. No matter how committed you are to something, there'll be times when you don't unroll that mat, be it for reasons of being extra busy at work, family commitments, or health-related problems. Whenever possible, come back to it. Your practice will be waiting for you.

7. Make time for yoga. Make time for you. Yoga is something you do for yourself. Cut out half an hour of TV-watching or start to bed 20 minutes earlier, giving yourself a chance on your mat. If you make time for a vigorous workout, you can make time at least a couple times a week, if not more, for yoga.




Thursday, February 25, 2016

SEA SIREN Rides (Swims?) Again

Not that I can always explain these things (actually, I can NEVER explain them), but SEA SIREN--one of my perma-free titles--has suddenly SURGED onto the Amazon Bestseller List!! On the Top 100 Free List, it's currently at #29.

This book, originally published by a traditional publisher 16 years ago and then re-published by me in 2012, started climbing the charts unexpectedly yesterday. Needless to say, I'm delighted to be giving that news!

If you have never read this romantic tail (yes, that's my feeble attempt at a play on words, ha!), please do take advantage and get your copy here.

"Tino Suarez never believed in mermaids—that is, until he found himself up close and personal with one of those temptingly sexy, fish-tailed ladies of the sea. Even more amazing is that this fateful meeting has taken place on dry land, right there in the little Long Island fishing village the brooding sea captain calls home.

But if she truly is a mermaid, then this beautiful and saucy Latin siren is posing as a flesh-and-blood woman. Kiki Figueroa, co-owner of the new Puerto Rican restaurant in town, still believes in love, though she’s gone through a painful marriage that ended in divorce. She also believes there’s a passionate fire inside that seagoing Spaniard and that he’s the catch of a lifetime for any woman, human or mythical. The problem? Captain Suarez has also been deeply disappointed by love. So it’s going to take a legend as old as the sea to make him believe once again in this old-fashioned and sensuous romantic tale."

Monday, February 15, 2016

2 New Works on the Way

Hopefully, this post finds you like that lovely young lady pictured to the right. Our little Lassie  (yes, I know, the original Lassie was a great, big collie!) is relaxing and taking  it easy.
When it comes to new projects, I was, too...until recently. Now I'm in the process of writing two new books, one of which will be a devotional. For some time, I've had this project on my heart, but there was always another book in front of it. I'm happy to say that it is now in the works.
However, because of its nature, the fact that it's very different from other works I've done, I can't very well give readers a time frame yet as to when it will be published. It's my hope that it will become available sometime later this year. More info to come, including some enlightening thoughts about undertaking the project of writing a devotional, so check back here often.
As for the other book, this will be a Christian novel that is also very different from some of my other books, and that I believe will be available in early April.

In the meantime, thank you always for your kind support and I hope to get these new books in your hands soon! God bless you and yours.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Going Au Naturale

Going, going, and still going!

It's been a few months (or several? Time passes when--well, you know that old saying) since my decision to stop coloring my hair and just let my natural gray come in. By now I think it's safe to say that I have my dad's genes. Papi had a head full of chestnut brown hair for years (which went great with his espresso-brown eyes) and his hair really didn't turn mostly silver until right before he passed away in his late 70s.

And I'm not sure that picture to the right is a good representative, but you can see my gray mixed in with the dark brown, at least with the sun coming into the car and highlighting it.

Keep in mind that I'm one of those women who've experimented with color over the years. Lots of blond frostings, full head of black, blond and auburn, even a strawberry blond that, to put it bluntly, looked absolutely terrible on a naturally brunette Cuban woman. I didn't dye my hair because of age but rather because I liked changing my look from time to time.

There comes a time, though, when Nature really does know best. Just yesterday I was picking up foundation, and the hair color aisle was right next to the makeup aisles. I was tempted to pick up a box of auburn but promptly thought: "Nahhhh! I'm really liking the gray!"

Recently, too, a friend at work, who keeps her hair short, passed a group of us in the hallway and turned everybody's head. Though her new hairstyle would look great in any color, the silver in Barbie's hair totally MADE that gorgeous look. She was wearing more than her natural color; she was wearing confidence. That's the way this beautiful lady carries herself, though--not only with confidence, but with humor, personal style and grace.

She wears her silver with aplomb.

Speaking of short hair, I have flirted with the idea of getting mine cut again. It's just that it's taken so long to grow it to this length, so I'm hesitant to do that, plus I'd really like to see what it looks like as a long, silver bob! I'll check back again in a few months, perhaps with more strands of gray or a new 'do that, like Barbie's, shows off the color Nature has given me.

How about you? You walking past the hair color aisle these days, too? Has your silver also, like me and other women, inspired you to take a look at your wardrobe and make decisions about what you should keep, what you should give to Goodwill, and what you truly love to wear? Because I haven't given up on paring down, either, even when it comes to clothes. That means having only clothes that we honestly love and will wear in that closet.

We're women in our 50s, after all. We don't have to do whatever fashion dictates. WE decide what style is!






Saturday, January 23, 2016

Happy January

You'll not hear me say this often, but we North Carolinians just went through a snowstorm yesterday. And believe it or not, THERE'S STILL SNOW OUT THERE!

How about you? If you're up north, it's going on even worse up there with this system that's moving up the coast. My prayers are with you, that you & your family keep safe.

But two days spent indoors can be...well, boring. LOL! There's just so much TV- and movie-watching you can do. So as you can see from the photo on the right, I'm keeping busy doing some cabinet-cleaning and reorganizing. It's been a couple of years, but I'm still trying to pare down. I mean, really, who needs 5 glass Pyrex tops with no containers to go with them?!

In between busywork, I'm also doing some writing. Haven't been doing that in quite a while, ever since the publication of Goodnight, My Love. Instead, I've been refilling my well--something that we as writers need to do sometime.

For now, I'm done with some of our cabinets. Off to get a strenuous walk with the hubby out in that snow! And when I return this week, some news on new books/stories I'll be working on in 2016.

Stay safe!