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Book Event Season Is Upon Us

Tom Poland

Posted August 11, 2022

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer
www.tompoland.net
tompol@earthlink.net

She asked, and I told her. “What’s the writing life like?”

“It’s a sentence to solitary confinement. You work in isolation for long periods, and that’s a good, peaceful day most days.”

However, the day comes when the introvert gives way to the extrovert. As the holidays approach, book events hit the calendar. In the past three days I’ve held an event and added three to the calendar. That makes thirty events so far in 2022. Four are on my 2023 calendar and one on my 2024 calendar. I like book signings, book talks, and festivals that invite groups of writer to meet people and sign books. It’s festive and you meet some wonderful people. It’s rare that a distasteful person attends a book event.

Tom Poland signs SC Country Roads for Ralph Scurry at River Island Club House, Evans, Georgia.

I write of these things because people often ask me, “What’s a day like for a writer?” I sometimes reply, “Everyday is a Monday and every night is a Saturday. No days off.” I tell a lie in a way because book events make for welcome days off. Sure, you may have a drive to make, but it’s almost always worth it.

When you give a talk it helps to do it well. Your name gets passed along. I gave a talk to the Beech Island Agricultural Club (one of America’s older societies) and an Augusta attorney in the audience passed my name along to a lady up in Richmond.

Thus in 2024, I’ll speak to the Tuckahoe Women’s Club in Richmond, Virginia, a club of about 5,000 women. Four hundred to 500 are expected for my talk. “You’ll be in fine company,” she said. “Previous speakers have been Dr. Ben Carson, Nicholas Sparks, and General Norman Schwarzkopf.” It will be a seersucker suit, bow tie type of event.

As I write this column here comes an email from an organization in Greenwood, South Carolina, inviting me to speak this October to the Star Fort Daughters of the American Revolution. This flurry of book event stands in sharp contrast to 2020 when my events dropped to just eight and most were online “Zoom” events, which I detest. I hope never to Zoom again. My zooming days have zoomed away I pray.

Who invites you to speak? I get that question as well. I’ll list a few … Civic groups like Kiwanis and Rotary, museums, colleges, libraries, private organizations such as book clubs, garden clubs, historical societies, Huguenot Societies, the DAR, Sons of Confederate Veterans camps, who are patriotic, history-loving people, Daughters of the American Colonists, and organizations supporting nature and conservation such as the Aiken Land Conservancy.

I have just one rule when I give a talk, “Nothing boring,” and I support my talks with 25 or so photographs of the back roads, Carolina bays, abandoned stores, forgotten cemeteries, and such. It makes for a vicarious journey from the comfort of a chair or banquet table.

In our age of eBooks, digital this, that, and the other, and online events, it’s comforting to know people still enjoy hearing an author discuss a real book—one you can hold in your hands, one where you catch the fragrance of paper and ink. I like to give people the story behind the book for often it’s more memorable than the book itself. And something else proves memorable: the wonderful people you meet through book events. More than a few become great friends.

One final thought. A day alone spent writing is generally a good day. At my fingertips lies mankind’s crowning achievement: language.

“What’s the writing life like,” she asked, and now you know.


Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net

Email Tom about most anything at at tompol@earthlink.net 

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Blink Book Review #10: “The Splendid Beauty … A Dog and His People” by Rick Bragg

Reba Campbell

Posted August 11, 2022

By Reba Campbell

A young friend recently asked me to choose my favorite dog book. I had to think really hard on that one. I’ve read a whole lot of them. I believe in the power of a dog. And there’s a special place in the writer universe for writers who can script a good dog story – whether it’s through poetry, fiction, personal essay, photo captions or a good dog obit.

At the time I got this question, I was in the middle of “The Splendid Beauty … A Dog and His People” by Rick Bragg. “All Over but the Shoutin’” was Rick’s first book that pulled me into his writing. I’ve long admired his spot-on southern-isms that completely avoid the “fingers on the chalkboard” of writers who try to fake knowing the real south and how it sounds, feels, smells and tastes.

In this book, Rick tells the stories of Speck, a bad-boy mixed breed (or mutt as he would have been called before that term lost favor). Sixteen essays lay out various episodes of Speck’s egregious behavior woven in with stories of Rick’s sideways love for this wild creature. This passage foretells the whole concept of the book:

“In his first two months here, he was incarcerated twenty-nine times. Telling him to behave, even after almost two years now, is like telling him it is Tuesday.”

In one paragraph, Rick would have me crying. The next had me laughing out loud. And there’s lot of talk of food – both the human and canine kind (sometimes they are the same). Speck gets factored into the count for Thanksgiving dinner and has a Christmas list that includes cocktail weenies, sliced ham and a dog bed (which Rick kind of counts as edible since Speck ate the last two he had).

If you’ve ever had a dog that wasn’t perfect, you’ll recognize many of Rick’s perfectly told stories.

This little dog book ranks high up there with four others that have fed my soul, tickled my funny bone and brought me to tears. Part of why I love to read is to learn how to be the kind of writer of stories I’d want to read. Rick’s recent book and these other four dog books all taught me something about dogs and about writing.

Dog Medicine” by Julia Barton. At first, this book seemed to be the story of the author’s struggle with depression. My interest waned a bit at first…I wanted to read about Bunker, the dog. But it didn’t take many more pages to understand that, while depression is certainly a major player in the book, it is by no means is it the main character. The real story here is about resilience, acceptance, trust, connection and belief in something bigger. And all of that comes alive through Bunker and how he leads the author through her depression.

“A Year of Dogs” by Vince Musi. This one feeds my need for visual tickling and great writing. Vince’s stories in this book reflect his canine subjects’ personalities and quirky habits with a humor that can only come from his lively imagination plus his willingness to let dogs just be dogs. The narratives that accompany each pup’s unique photo range from sentimental to side splitting. Even if you think you can’t abide a dog, Vince’s book leaves you with that feeling of having just been loved on by a gentle Great Dane with a really long tongue.

“Dog Songs” by Mary Oliver. While I’m not a big poetry reader, Mary Oliver’s collection of poetry is probably the only book on my nightstand that never gathers dust because I pick it up so frequently to just read a poem. You can read these poems as either her musings on daily life with her beloved canines or deeper reflections on the role of our connections with dogs in enriching our existence on this earth.

The Last Will and Testament of Very Distinguished Dog by Eugene O’Neill. I discovered this little gem when it fell off the shelf and landed on my foot during a visit to KramerBooks in DC. It was just weeks after my beloved Golden had died, and it brought me great comfort. It’s a moving and humorous last will and testament of the playwright’s beloved dog reminding him that every dog we own expands our hearts to make room to love another.

Reba Hull Campbell is president of the Medway Group, a big word nerd and avid summertime reader. This is part of her summer reading discipline to get off the screen and back to books in a dozen or so “Blink Book Reviews.” She’s challenging herself to keep them to 300-ish words so readers can skim them in a couple of blinks. Reach Reba at reba@themedwaygroup.com. Read previous reviews at Random Connect Points.

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Stuart Neiman Cartoon: Alex Jones lies

Posted August 8, 2022

By Stuart Neiman

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Everything and Nothing: Voices from ‘a safe area not far’

Aïda Rogers

Posted August 8, 2022

By Aïda Rogers

Their words come across my computer screen, words of explanation and description, dashed plans and new realizations. I receive them with no trouble in my cluttered South Carolina office. They’re from two young women in Ukraine. I “know” them because I’m their customer. Iryna is “Iryna Fleur,” a cold porcelain floral artist in Kyiv. July and her partner, Alex, make and sell vegan bags through their small business, Good Mood Moon, in Kharkiv. Both are “star sellers” on Etsy, an American online company through which you can buy all manner of things – many handmade – from all over the world.

July and Alex donate a portion of their profits to animal care organizations.

Shopping on Etsy is like shopping on an endless Main Street of mom-and-pop specialty stores. Just as you’d have friendly conversations with the owners of brick-and-mortar shops, so it is with Etsy. When I asked Iryna, July and Alex if they’d be willing to answer some questions for this column, they agreed. Here’s what I learned:

Life in Ukraine depends on where you live. Iryna, a former lawyer who lives with her husband and daughter, said in late June that life had continued in Kyiv pretty much as before. With the occasional exception of gas and diesel, which they could find when they needed it, they’ve been able to buy everything they want in the city’s stores.

“On the streets you can see mothers with children who try not to think about the war and live their lives,” she said. “The first month we were stressed. And after, you try to adapt to the new reality. Covid also was a new reality.”      

For Iryna, whose jewelry and art are inspired by the flowers she grew up putting in her hair, the parks and gardens in her area are intact, or were when we emailed. She knows not everyone in her country can say that.

“After answering your questions, I realized that the situation in Ukraine is bipolar,” she said. “Somewhere is difficult with water and food, somewhere you can go to a restaurant.”

Still, life’s uncertainty has never been so clear. Before the war, Iryna and her family were excited about the new house they planned to build and holidays they’d take outside the country.

“Now we want to stay alive,” she said. “We don’t know what will be tomorrow. We realized that money is not everything that can make you happy. Our home, safety and peace, are everything we want.”

According to their Etsy pages, IrynaFleur and Good Mood Moon are still in business, with both saying shipping from Ukraine is working well. (I can attest to that.)

Life has been harder for July and Alex, who left their home and workshop in Kharkiv for “a safe area not far.” Unable to convince Alex’s mother and her husband to join them, the couple brought their three dogs and two cats with them. Like all Ukrainian men, Alex can’t leave the country. July, with their five animals, won’t. They also brought some of their bags with them, to sell online as they can. Alex’s mother, who helps make the bags, has their workshop in her home. Before, they were able to work when there wasn’t an air alert or shelling.

“Our beautiful city Kharkiv is still under shelling every day,” July said.

Their lives before the war sound idyllic. In their home near a forest and lake, July grew greens and roses in their garden and Alex composed music and played guitar and keyboards. But they grew adept at dashing to the cellar or behind two walls when they heard the noises of war. Now, displaced, they say their current circumstances are much better than others who live in occupied areas or near the front lines.

“It is really hard to describe what life is like in a couple of sentences,” says July, who like Alex and Iryna speaks Ukrainian, Russian, and English (Iryna also speaks German). “But imagine you call your mother three times a day with a rapid heartbeat checking if she answers. Or walking a dog not knowing if you return.”

And those are the words that jolt me, so safe behind my computer.

Aïda Rogers writes from an old house in Columbia and a new porch in McClellanville. Her three-volume anthology series, State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, includes stories by 108 Palmetto State writers.

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Living on Purpose: God has a wonderful plan for you

Dr. William Holland

Posted August 8, 2022

By Dr. William Holland

God loves you. This deserves repeating…God loves you! Sometimes people feel that no one cares but this is not true. Jesus proved how much He loved you when He gave His life for you. How much more can He do than to die and come back from the dead so that you can enjoy a relationship with Him and have eternal life? This is not only good news, it’s the best news the world has ever known.

I recently spoke to a small group of amazing people that are seeking God for direction. Sometimes life does not turn out as we had intended and within the disappointments, many find themselves standing at a crossroad where they will either choose to examine their conscience and allow God to help them make a new start, or they will continue trying to live according to their own ideas. It’s true we all have a free will to make decisions, but in every circumstance and situation, God’s way is the best way. Since He can see the future, He knows how everything is going to turn out. He also knows what you are going through today, and we know that He has a wonderful plan for your life. How do we know this? God promises in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

I consider it an honor when the Lord arranges divine appointments for me to minister as His messenger. I enjoy talking with people about God and the Christian life and sometimes He will open a door for me to listen to someone’s problems and I ask for His wisdom and guidance when I respond. I’m always reminded of the passage in Proverbs 11:14 that says, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” In my years of being a minister and chaplain, the most common challenge that people have is trusting God. I agree it is not easy to manifest faith, in fact, it might be one of the most difficult things within the Christian life. We love the idea of a quick fix, but most of the time God is just as concerned with teaching and developing us as He is with giving us a miracle. Why? Because He is trying to reveal to us that His love for us and our love for Him is more important than anything else we are seeking. 

We never need to be stressed or wonder if God is strong enough or wise enough to figure out how to help us. He has all authority and power, He is the Alpha and Omega, He knows everything, can do anything, and when we need a miracle, He is the only one who can make it happen. What we really need to be concerned about is making sure we are in position to receive from Him. What do I mean? We do not hand a child a chainsaw and the reason is obvious. They are not old enough or strong enough to handle something that could injure them. It’s not that they can never use one, but they need to wait until the time is right. Likewise, if we devote our lives to Him and wait for His timing, this will allow our spiritual maturity to advance us into His perfect will. If we are not in position to receive or we give up and throw in the towel, our doubt cancels what He was preparing to do. This is why we must hold on like a bulldog to His promises and allow patience to have her perfect work.

We can assure people that God will always do what He promised as His word cannot fail, yet they will still ask, “So how much longer must I wait for Him to help me?” Have you ever considered that maybe He is waiting on you? I can say this with confidence because it’s happening with me. He’s waiting for us to pray and build mountain-moving faith, and not just trust Him with our words but with our hearts. He’s waiting for us to surrender our will to Him, to build determination and perseverance, and to stand strong on His truth as we declare that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” He desires to train His soldiers for battle, but how many want to enlist and follow His orders?

Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com

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Blink Book Review #9: “These Precious Days” by Ann Patchett

Reba Campbell

Posted August 3, 2022

By Reba Campbell

This summer’s reading list has included books beyond the best-seller fiction I usually favor. Ann Patchett’s “These Precious Days” is one of those. This collection of 24 essays hits on topics ranging from Snoopy’s influence in her life and her three fathers to how she selects a book cover and why knitting saved her life.

Ann’s fiction has graced the top of the New York Times lists for years. “Commonwealth,” “The Dutch House” and “Bel Canto” are just a few. But it’s her non-fiction work that really gets my pages turning.

Initially, the cover drew me in when I saw it on the shelf at Litchfield Books (yes, I occasionally judge a book by its cover). The bright colored painting turns out to be Ann’s beloved dog, Sparky, with eyes that will look right into your soul. You’ll have to read the book to get the whole story on the cover art. That essay alone, ‘These Precious Days,’ is worth the price of the book.

What I love about Ann’s essay writing (I’d read her first book of essays years ago) is how she blows life into seemingly mundane things while, at the same, makes events like being asked to interview Tom Hanks at his own book signing sound almost ordinary. Ann quotes a friend as telling her, “Do you even realize your life isn’t normal? You understand that other people don’t live this way?” My kind of gal! She seems so totally unimpressed with herself and her huge talent.

My favorite line in the book reflects so my own love of books and sharing books with others: “As every reader knows, the social contract between you and a book you love isn’t complete until you can hand that book to someone else and say ‘Here, you’re going to love this.’” Consider this my hand-off.

Reba Hull Campbell is president of the Medway Group, a big word nerd and avid summertime reader. This is part of her summer reading discipline to get off the screen and back to books in a dozen or so “Blink Book Reviews.” She’s challenging herself to keep them to 300-ish words so readers can skim them in a couple of blinks. Reach Reba at reba@themedwaygroup.com. Read previous reviews at Random Connect Points.

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The Power Of Moonlit Imagery

Tom Poland

Posted August 2, 2022

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer
www.tompoland.net
tompol@earthlink.net

Herman Melville created Moby Dick, the great white sperm whale that bit off Ahab’s leg. James Dickey had a 12-point white buck that swam from island to island in moonlight. And I recall boyhood tales of strange white things. There’s something about a wild albino animal that grips the imagination, and if you place it beneath a full moon at midnight, the power of moonlit imagery becomes transformative.

Great Aunt Annie would gather all the children in my mother’s clan around a wood stove on a white frosty winter night and tell ghost stories. Chief among her stories, a favorite of mine, was the mysterious white thing of eastern Georgia’s Broad River Valley. On a Sunday night returning from church, folks would be astride horses and in horse-drawn carriages when the horses would whinny and rear. Silent as white ash settling on a sycamore of white the white thing stepped into the road. The horses bolted.

Aunt Annie told several versions of this tale, so the best I could make of it was that long before dams drowned so many swampland haunts, eastern cougars prowled the land. Albinism does strike and I’ve seen photos of albino porcupines, squirrels, crows, and, of course rabbits, though not the white rabbit of Grace Slick fame. Go ask Alice about that.

All this albinism and full moon imagery came to me when I once again read James Dickey’s essay, “The Starry Place Between The Antlers” in the April 1981 issue of Esquire magazine. Back then Esquire had notable authors write about why they lived where they lived. Dickey lived in Columbia, South Carolina, saddled as it is between the mountains and the coast.

“The sea-deer I cherish above mountain deer, even, because I have never seen them doing what I have been told they do: swimming in moonlight from island to island. I would like to see that …. There would not have to be any reason for them to be swimming; in fact, I had rather there were not any reason. But with the mere possibility the heart of the imagination blazes up like stump-kindling, and starts throwing moonlit shadows, which are antlered. If I maintained that one of these deer, a huge buck with at least twelve points, is said to be dead-white, or moon-white, or breaking-wave white, or angel-white, or black-body-white, I would be accused of making it up, as I just did. But too many hunters and foresters have told me of the swimming deer for me to doubt it. There are deer, they do swim, and at night, and I plan to stay until I see them. Between the deer of the mountains and those of the sea, those down on the salt between the South Carolina islands: that is my balance, and it is right for me: the starry place between the antlers: between the bucks of rhododendron gullies and those of the ocean, the mountain horns and the swimming.”

A white buck swimming in moonlight … It seems to me that if you write about some majestic white creature, you best portray it in moonlight for moonlight fascinates us. After all, the moon’s adjective, “lunar,” gives us “lunacy,” the term, if not the affliction. So, you writers out there, place a wild albino animal in moonlight and you have a potent thing.

Hemingway wrote Hills Like White Elephants, a story about something entirely removed from albinism and moonlight. You’d half expect Ernest Hemingway would have pursued a white lion in moonlight, just as Ahab pursued Moby Dick, but whitetail bucks are as close as Ernest came.

Before I exit the stage, I hope to see the pale messenger from the Otherworld high-step into an inlet, antlered crown held high. I’ll watch it make way for a small island, swimming like the regal beast it is, with purpose and force. Molten moonlight will explode in all directions as the mythic white buck froths dark brine just as the white thing frothed the saliva of Aunt Annie’s terrified horses so very dam-free long ago.


Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net

Email Tom about most anything at at tompol@earthlink.net 

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Everything and Nothing: A checklist for people who don’t like summer

Aïda Rogers

Posted August 1, 2022

By Aïda Rogers

For someone who dislikes summer as much as I do, I can’t help but marvel at the many good things it provides. Proof of a divine generosity? I think so. Because it seems that for the three things that bother me most – heat, humidity, mosquitoes that sing in the tight of your ear before making you their meal – there are many more happy things that almost make up for them. As we wilt through August, I’ve made a list of those things to keep me sane while I swat, sweat and swear. Here it is, in no order at all:

  1. Watermelon. For breakfast, lunch and supper. Good with salt or without. Try an old-fashioned “yellow-meated” one if you can find it. And doesn’t it sound gooood cracking open?
  2. Cantaloupe. See above
  3. Swimming. A group of women in McClellanville gather on Sunday afternoons in their special cool place on the Intracoastal Waterway. There’s a dock, a rope and a current, and because they’ve been friends for so long, they can talk if they want to or not.
  4. Tomato sandwiches. Much has been written about this Southern summer staple, and here’s my thinking: It doesn’t matter what kind of bread you use (I like sourdough or rye) or whether you toast it (I do to avoid the slippy-slidey/mooshy-gooshy factor). What you must have, inarguably, are salt, pepper – and this is critical – full-fat mayo. Don’t cheat yourself. Don’t cheat the tomato. That tomato deserves respect.
  5. Cucumber sandwiches. See above
  6. Lengthy browsing in the grocery store ice cream section, and license to eat as much as you want, while practicing indolence  
  7. The colors. The hotter the sun, the more glorious the flowers. My favorites: hibiscus, crape myrtle, cone flower, morning glory, sunflowers, lantana. Also, canna lilies, which have changed my mind about orange  
  8. Peaches, plums, corn on the cob, children selling lemonade, children playing in sprinklers (not that I’ve seen that in years), biblical clouds, righteous thunderstorms, okra fixed every way, including pickled. Also, dill, basil, parsley and mint growing on the front porch; eggplant, and things that can be made with these, like baba ganouj and tabbouleh. Not to be forgotten: figs. Figs being picked, figs being preserved, figs on cereal, figs on buttered toast, figs on ice cream, figs straight from the tree, figs to risk your life for by climbing that tree. I realize this is more than one thing but 10 seems to be the magic number and speaking of magic,
  9. Fireflies
  10. Finally, these limp summer days give us a greeting that never lets us down. And so on this 96-degree day that feels like 101 because of the humidity, I just have to ask: Is it hot enough for you?        

Aïda Rogers writes from an old house in Columbia and a new porch in McClellanville. Her three-volume anthology series, State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, includes stories by 108 Palmetto State writers.

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Living on Purpose: Our character reflects what we love

Dr. William Holland

Posted August 1, 2022

By Dr. William Holland

Most of us have heard that having lots of money cannot buy love or bring happiness. Since I’ve never been mega-wealthy, I will trust God on this one. Most people are trying to build financial security, but it’s also common for those who succeed to encounter frustration and disappointment. Ecclesiastes 5:10-12 gives us this divine insight, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them, and what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them? The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of the rich will not allow him to sleep.”

We notice this passage begins with someone who loves money as there is a difference between enjoying wealth and it becoming an idol that is worshiped. A popular Bible verse in I Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is the root of all evil, which while some have coveted after, they have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Money does not develop character, it reveals it. I’ve heard people say that money is the root of all evil, but this is incorrect. Money is not evil in itself, ion fact, it can help people and accomplish wonderful things. The danger is how it can possess the hearts and minds of those who have not learned how to prevent it from controlling them. Again, we see that true wealth is joy, peace, and contentment. This reminds me of a story about a little boy that loved pancakes. His mother told him one day, I am going to fix you all the pancakes you can eat, so he thought this will be wonderful. She started cooking and he kept eating. She finally asked if he would like another pancake, to which he replied, “no mam, I don’t even want the ones I’ve already had!”

King Solomon comes to mind when we think of someone who had more wealth than anyone in the world and yet was miserable. He said that having everything you could ever imagine cannot satisfy and is what he called vanity. Sadly, many believe if they could win the lottery, have their dream house, a flashy car, or marry that amazing person they would be happy, and there is nothing wrong with having these things until they begin to have us. There is only one thing that can truly satisfy the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of the human experience and that is having a personal relationship with God. He wants to bless us so that we can live an abundant life and also be a blessing to others. Remember the man in Luke chapter 12 who tore down his barns so that he could build larger ones? God was not pleased with him being so insensitive and self-absorbed.

The end of our verse in Ecclesiastes talks about how the person who works hard and obeys God can rest in peace, but those who love riches are always frustrated with stress and anxiety. I remember when I was a young boy, my dad worked for a very wealthy man. This person was in the construction and developing industry and built subdivisions and shopping centers and owned several farms and so on. He would drive out to the job sites and tell my dad to get in his Lincoln and they would go for a drive and chat. He would tell my dad that he had not slept all night because he was watching the stock market and was consumed about losing money. Instead of being grateful and filled with joy with what God had helped him accumulate, he was nearly in tears and afraid that he might not be making the right decisions. He was obsessed with his riches and even though he had more than he could ever spend, he was being controlled and incarcerated in the darkness of fear and gloom. We were created to love our Creator and be generous, not to allow the pride of materialism to lure us into a state of disappointment and depression. Whatever consumes our mind controls our life. The more we focus on our possessions, the more entangled and distracted we are from our priorities. However, the more we seek and love God and commune with Him, the more we will reflect His attributes.

Read more about the Christian life at billyhollandministries.com

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Stuart Neiman Cartoon: Pact Act

Posted August 1, 2022

By Stuart Neiman

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