Gladiator Days

“Why don’t you get in line?” I motioned to my sons above the throng of voices, excited shouts, and laughter filling the warehouse-sized-indoor-bouncy-playground.

The Gladiator Pit snagged 10-year-old Chase’s attention, with its four pedestals of foam and bulky weapons for knocking opponents into the squishy cubes littering the pit’s base.


The current “ruler” of the Gladiator Pit stood proudly in the center, one victory from gaining the golden belt after nine rounds of knocking competitors off.

Chase drank it all in with unbounded eagerness. Though not as competitive as his older brother, he has always loved wrestling-type activities. His smile broadened as the teenaged employee handed him a foam stick, then he crawled across the huge cubes to balance on the orange pedestal.

Cole followed with a frog-legged leap, concentration tightening his features. He stands a few inches taller than Chase now, but Chase is solid and strong, and I was curious to see the outcome.

The four boys faced each other, gripping their long blue foam sticks. When the young employee blew his whistle, the Gladiator fight erupted.

Single-minded and still smiling, Chase leapt off his pedestal, launching his entire body at the current champion across from him. Down the poor boy went, deep into the cubes. Chase regained his balance and pivoted to womp the boy going after Cole.

His momentum knocked that boy and Cole from their pedestals so quickly my sister, nephew, and I burst out laughing at Chase’s victorious grin and the speed at which the action had unfolded.


I grinned back at my excited younger son and his infectious joy. And it reminded me of one of my life verses, Acts 20:24.

“But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

A couple of rounds later, Cole strategized and easily took his brother and two other boys down–but still, Chase wore a big smile.

In the pursuit of our God-given dreams, we will attain victory–and we will get knocked down. How can we truly experience all that with joy? All those ups and downs?

In Acts chapter twenty, Paul calls the elders of the church of Ephesus to him (v 17). He warns and encourages them of what’s to come in the early church. “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (32).

Then, Paul closes with what I consider the key to maintaining our joy in any kind of circumstances…whether we’re getting knocked down or holding our hands high in victory. “And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (35).

We all have Gladiator days–the days when we’re knocked flat on our face, or when we stand tall in victory. But I promise, the most joy you’ll receive on this journey toward God’s heart and your dreams is in giving of yourself and serving others.



Most Memorable Reads of 2016


As we close down another year, I love looking back on the fabulous books I’ve read over the past 365 days. Each January on Goodreads I set up my goal of 52 books, and do my best to meet the goal (while squeezing in as much writing and real life as possible).

Choosing my top five or ten favorite books feels too much like choosing a favorite child or favorite chocolate. I can’t! Each story I read leaves a mark on me in its own way, through the gift of story.

So I decided to list my most memorable reads of 2016–the stories that lingered with me, tugged my heartstrings, gripped my emotions, made me laugh (or cry), and inspired my own writing the most.

(These are in no particular order.)



Shadow of the Storm is book #2 in the Out of Egypt trilogy (book three releases in May), and I loved this and Counted with the Stars equally. Beautiful writing, tender romance, and life-like characters struggling to trust God and survive amidst the turmoil of the Exodus–what’s not to love? A winner for fans of historical and biblical romance.



I read The Girl from the Train last year and was quite moved by Irma Joubert’s (American) debut, so I quickly picked up Child of the River when it released. I finished the story a few weeks ago and still think of the characters. Her writing is somehow both simple and powerful, the images startling. Many scenes I reread just to soak the words in. This author has a gentle, probing hand with human emotion and a vast understanding of South Africa’s (WWII-era) history, giving readers unique stories that long stay with you.



Because I’m also writing a middle grade/YA trilogy, I read this genre once or twice a month. Last in a Long Line of Rebels was humorous and touching for kids and adults alike. Strong-willed protagonist, Lou, and her best friends are determined to solve a centuries-old mystery that threatens her family. Though my boys are getting pickier about “girl stories,” they eagerly snuggled into bed at night so I could read another chapter of this southern story chock full of mystery and family drama–and laughs.



Author Brandy Vallance’s sophomore novel is just as delicious and lovely as its cover. Though quite different than her dazzling debut, The Covered Deep, Within the Veil spills over with beautiful prose and riveting emotion, never giving the reader a chance to pause and catch their breath (which is of course, a good thing.) The romance is both fiery and tender (but remains appropriate), and the fascinating Scottish history fills the pages to the brim. Even better? The sweet salvation message threaded throughout.



If I were to choose a book that racked up the most tears per page, this one wins the blue ribbon. Not that I cried a lot, just one good, solid time. Oh…the end. That scene. A Flight of Arrows is Lori’s second book in The Pathfingers series, and I recommend reading The Wood’s Edge first to better understand this stunning story. Lori’s breathtaking prose and meticulous research frame a story so spiritually moving that I used at least three tissues. While I loved all of her books so far, this one. Just. Moved. Me. So. Much.



Such a fun and heartwarming story! I read Rachel McMillan’s debut in one wonderful day, reclining in my comfy reading chair, and I loved every moment of it. Part mystery, part historical, and threaded with sweet romance, The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder delivers lovely prose, witty footnotes, and lively dialogue that captivates readers. It’s just a unique story, and I still gaze fondly at this adorable green book gem, set on my ‘favorites’ bookshelf.



This book still makes me sigh. Author Joanne Bischof is so gifted at creating beautiful scenes and a tender romance. Oh, that Charlie! I dare you to read this and not fall a little bit in fictional love. But The Lady and the Lionheart is much more than a romance–it’s a redemption story with abiding themes of forgiveness and grace. SO beautiful. (Sigh. See?) For fans of inspirational historical romance, The Lady and the Lionheart is a Must-read.



I’m always on the lookout for appropriate, exciting books for my voracious 12-year old bookworm, and Jill Williamson’s books are just about perfect. Replication is Young Adult,  clean and exciting for ages 12-17, boy or girl. I enjoyed this action-packed story of clone Jason 3.3 (Martyr) and his journey to find out whether his life counts. Humorous and poignant dialogue with new friend Abby mixed with a little bit of romance and lots of action make for a fantastic read for teens.



It was difficult to choose between author Jody Hedlund’s two phenomenal historicals this year–Luther and Katharina (about Martin Luther and his wife Katharina Von Bora), and Newton and Polly (about Amazing Grace composer John Newton and his wife Polly Catlett.) Both stories are touching tributes to the faith and resilience these four historical figures lived. Polly and Newton’s story in particular grabbed me, the stark but grace-filled portrayal of a likeable, proud young man running from God. Redemption abounds, of course. Hedlund’s meticulous research, vivid characters, and lyrical prose are a well-loved gift to her readers.


These book beauties are my Most Memorable Reads of 2016. I’d love to know what your most memorable read(s) are from 2016.

I wish you and yours a safe New Year’s and a blessed and healthy 2017! Happy Reading, friends! ❤ 🙂

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” Phil. 1:3