Irish Christmas Music

Getty Joy An Irish Christmas Cover copyLast night, Sarabeth and I had the privilege of attending a beautiful concert by new Hymn writers and performers Keith and Kristyn Getty at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Pay attention to this post because they might be coming to your town, and you would be remiss in missing such a great opportunity.

You know that beautiful song, “In Christ Alone” that you sing at church? This is the couple that wrote that song (along with Stuart Townend), and a handful of other world-renowned hymns.

The Getty’s music is unique in that it even has its own genre: singable theology. And to make it even better, they tie their Irish roots in the sounds, blending it beautifully and seamlessly with a tinge of our ol’ country ring. (Their newest album, “Hymns for the Christian Life” features Alison Krauss, one of my personal favorite U.S. performers.) I mean, really – where else will you find a banjo and an accordion on the same stage?

I have posted a link to their Christmas tour below. If you see that they’re headed your way, jump on it in a heartbeat. Cancel anything else you have planned and go to this concert. It tells the Christmas story beautifully through new and traditional Christmas hymns. In fact, there were many times when I got choked up because of the audience participation they encouraged. At one point they had just the children join them in a new Christmas carol and soon everyone was caught up in the magic and purity of the moment.

Fans of the Brave soundtrack will be delighted and will recognize the beautiful uilleann pipes throughout the entire evening (played by Patrick D’Arcy). Never mind that I can’t pronounce it, it’s my favorite instrument! Though there are some tender and intimate moments, you’ll be rooting and dancing and cheering throughout the concert, begging, along with everyone else, for an encore. Oh, and did I mention that most of the songs are accompanied by a vocal choir that tends to steal the show?

Regardless, whether you can make it to the concert or not, you absolutely have to check out their music on itunes, and in particular, “Joy: An Irish Christmas.” It’s the perfect CD to get you in that old-time Christmas spirit.

I’d share more of the band’s impressive resume (including playing for former president George W. Bush at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville), but I’d rather you hear it for yourself to believe it.

Christmas Tour Schedule 

If you go to this concert or listen to the Getty’s music, please comment below to help spread the word about their ministry.

Also, my book, The Man in the Box premiers today! I know several people have already received their copies from Amazon. Make sure to get yours today by clicking here. It’s the perfect gift for the bookworms in your life! You can also get it for your Kindle here.

Also, they promote a great cause to help get children out of poverty. Visit Compassion to sponsor a child today.

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It’s Finally Here!

“Andrew Toy has created a unique and interesting story that spans several genres from mystery and adventure to fantasy … Toy’s debut novel will leave readers talking and will make them instant fans of his storytelling abilities. This will surely be a must-read for every adult that once created a world of their own when they were young, just by using their imaginations.”

-Nicole McManus, reviewer and blogger

My publisher handed me several copies of my book, The Man in the Box, yesterday in a … well, box. To many, it may seem like I’ve accomplished my dream of publishing a book. But that wasn’t my dream. As elated as I was to finally see my book in print, I still can’t ignore the ultimate goal. My occupational dream is to become a full-time author, and there’s still miles to go before I get there.

I know no amount of begging or coercing can get unwilling people to buy my book. I cannot even make promises that you will absolutely love it (though there’s little doubt that you will). But I can share facts, and throughout history facts have caused decisions to be made which might not have otherwise been made, stubborn minds to shift, and cold hearts to thaw. Here are some facts about my book, The Man in the Box, that I hope will persuade skeptics to look into purchasing a copy.

1. I spent three years writing this book, pouring over plot points, struggling with story lines, and not once being satisfied with nothing but the best possible results. I labored ruthlessly to develop something that is unique, unpredictable, and that appeals to all audiences in some way or another. I believe with this book, I have done just that. I invite you to be the judge.

2. Purchasing a copy of my book will help Sarabeth and me to get one step closer to adopting a child. That’s what this site is all about, isn’t it? Sharing our story and raising support to help bring a parentless child into our home. If you purchase The Man in the Box, not only are you investing in a good read, but you are helping us to become the foster-to-adopt parents we long to be. If you want to go an extra step for our cause, review my book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, any place that lets you.

3. I’ve selected six people with impressive platforms to read and review my book. I expected two to not ever get back to me, and at least one to not even like it. All six spoke very highly of it, and would (and do) recommend it to people. They were all breathless in suspense, and also recognized the core themes of the book, which are meant to cause readers to ponder the deeper things in life. You can read some of the reviews here.

4. Alright, I can’t help it. I’ve got to say it. You will LOVE this book! It’s truly got something in it for everyone. If you liked Jurassic Park, The Hunger Games, King Kong, zombies, jungle adventures, family sagas, inspiration, then this book is for you. I’m urging you to get it as soon as you can, because it is my goal to have it become a best seller. Wouldn’t it be fun to say you were one of the first to read it? And remember, Christmas is coming soon, so if you know of anyone who is always looking for their next favorite book, this book is it. They’ll thank you for it.

You can order your copy of The Man in the Box from any of the links below. You won’t regret it.

AmazonBarnes and NobleBlackwyrm. Or, add it to your goodreads bookshelf. And get it on your Kindle here.

“Expect dinosaurs and giant creepy-crawlies. And if that kind of thing scares you, then you’re like me, which means you’ll go ahead and read the book anyway, with no one to blame but yourself for all the flinching you’ll do … There was no going to bed until I’d reached the end. The suspense had me on the edge of my seat with worry about how everyone was going to get out of this, heart thumping out of control the whole time, except for that one minute where it almost stopped.”

-Danielle E. Shipley, author and blogger

Read Chapter Three here.

Fiction is Truth in Disguise

If you’re looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the bookworms in your life, or if you are in need of a great and exciting read, my book, The Man in the Box is available for pre-order on Amazon. You can also order it here.

With less than a week before my book’s official release, little else is being talked about in the Toy household – with the exception of Christmas list items and what is to become of John Bates (can we really wait until January?).

There will be other articles circulating around the Net about my book, but I just wanted to take a moment to address my loyal blog followers personally about why I wrote The Man in the Box, and hopefully persuade some skeptics to give it a read.

The idea for The Man in the Box stemmed from my deep fascination of stories about people finding magical worlds. But then I realized, most of those stories, at least the timeless ones, were all written for kids. Whether walking through a wardrobe or falling from a cyclone or touring a chocolate factory, all of the explorers in these stories are kids themselves. And most adults today, were kids when we first read those stories.

But there is clearly a part of all of us that wants to hold on to those worlds. That’s why we’re so fascinated with updates of the world of Oz, and we tune into shows like Once Upon a Time.

But in all of those great classic stories we just can’t seem to let go of (nor should we), they focus on protagonists who have an unknown future laid out before them. But hardly any of them have a life full of regrets and hardships to contend with that we, as a grown generation can relate to.

Robbie Lake, the protagonist in The Man in the Box has difficulty in his life. He is trying to juggle his faltering job, with two kids who barely like him, and a wife. Life has proven to be dull for him at best, and unbearable at worst. Have you ever found yourself feeling that way? Like there’s just no way out of your current situation? That you’re just doomed to suffer day in and day out? Haven’t you ever wished for an “out”?

Robbie Lake finds his “out” in a very unlikely place – a cardboard box. This is his wardrobe, if you will, his second star to the right, his looking glass. And it proves to be more trouble than it may be worth. You see, the kids in those classic storybooks didn’t have to give up much to explore their magic worlds, but Robbie is required to give up everything to dabble in his secret affairs, and his family is left with a very cantankerous, unreasonable, absent father-figure.

Robbie doesn’t want to be this way, of course. But isn’t that what our secret sins do to us? They change us for the worse, don’t they?

So there you have it, readers and book lovers. A fairy tale for grown ups. One that you will relate to. The Man in the Box is not without its fair share of adventure and white-knuckle moments, let me assure you. You will have plenty of fun in Robbie’s world, the island of Reveloin. But as one reviewer puts it:

“Anxious as I felt during some of the Reveloin scenes, though, it was the parts of the book that took place outside of the box that absorbed me the most; the parts where he struggled to connect with his kids, be there for his wife … and deal with his estranged father.”

Adventure lovers, thrill seekers, average family people, this book is for you. I believe Sam Williamson, Founding Director of Beliefs of the Heart summed The Man in the Box up best:

“Be prepared for the peaks and valleys of adventure, fantasy, real life, and war.”

The Man in the Box comes out Friday, November 30. It is available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and my publisher. Please review it on any or all of these sites if you would like to recommend it to others.

Click here for more reviews.

Cherish this Holiday Season

It seems every year Thanksgiving and Christmas come faster and faster. I think the older we get, the more used to the length of a year we become. Kind of like the return drive on a long trip often seems shorter than the initial drive. Our minds tell us that the trip was so long, and being creatures of pessimism, we anticipate the return trip to be longer than it really is.

Such as with life. How often, students, do you put off that paper because you have an entire week to get it done? Or husbands, how many months go by before we actually fix the furnace? Just look at how big your kids are, if you want me to get to the point.

I recently read a little play by Thornton Wilder called Our Town. It is a very haunting account of this very discussion. The Pulitzer prize winning play is simple enough on the surface, but if one is really paying attention, one will be almost terrified of what Wilder is trying to tell us in his play.

And that is simply: Life is fleeting. Enjoy it now while you can.

One needs also to read through Lamentations or almost any other wisdom book of the Bible to get a clue that this is no joke. Time flies, and may I add: whether you’re having fun or not.

So as you gather around the Thanksgiving table with your family – whether you like them or not – I want to challenge you to really take the time to relax, breathe, and live a little in the life you’ve been given. Enjoy your families, regardless of the circumstances. One day Uncle Fred or Grandma or Dad aren’t going to be sitting at that seat, and you’ll miss them.

If you feel that the holiday season has become mundane, soak it in anyway, because one day, you’ll look back on it all and miss it. And if you do this, your attitude will change.

I dreaded taking the dogs out to do their business four to five times a day. But after reading Our Town, I stopped and reflected on the fact that one day they’ll be too old to go down the stairs by themselves and I’ll have to carry them, recalling these days – these days – of their mobile youth. So I stopped pestering them to “Go potty!” and just let them take their time and allow them to enjoy the cool air and bark at the squirrels.

If you’re like me and hate shopping, go with your spouse anyway this Christmas season, and have fun. Don’t throw a fit, or pout, because one day, you’ll regret soiling would-be sweet memories. Take in every moment – the good and mundane – fix the bad ones, and don’t continue to leave behind regrets of lost memories.

I’ll leave you now with a chilling passage from the third and final act of Our Town. Emily, the young, hopeful bride from the preceding act has died and is in the grave observing a very dull day in her early life as Scrooge does in his own harrowing visions.

Emily – I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.

She breaks down sobbing…

Emily (cont.) – I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back – up the hill – to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover’s Corners… Mama and Papa. Good-by to the clocks ticking… and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths… and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.

She looks toward the stage manager and asks abruptly, through her tears:

Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute?

Stage Manager – No.


How to Deal with Holiday Family Tensions

Christmas Wish List for the Book Lovers in your life.

Customer Etiquette: 10 Tips on How to be a Good Customer

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Customer Etiquette: 10 Tips on How to be a Good Customer

I  couldn’t resist sharing this. I wrote this a couple of years back when I worked in retail. Have fun, laugh at yourself, and share with your shopping-crazy friends and family members. Remember, retail workers are people too!

Customer Etiquette: 10 Tips on How to be a Good Customer

As you gear up for your holiday shopping spree, keep in mind that as soon as you step foot inside a store you cease to be an average law-abiding citizen and you instantly become a dreaded customer who is the cause of raised blood pressures amongst retail workers everywhere.

But you don’t have to be a loathsome customer. You can make the decision right now to be a customer who takes retail workers by surprise and actually walks in and out of the store with little or no lasting consequence to anyone. Below are ten tips to help you be that most coveted, invisible customer. Remember, it’s not because retail workers don’t like you as a person, they just don’t want to deal with you as a customer!

1. If someone is wearing a nametag, don’t ask if they work there.

Seriously. It just makes you look ignorant. When in question, don’t ask. Find someone else who works there.

2. Look for your product, not for a worker.

I understand you might be in a hurry, but you’d be surprised how easy things are to find in many stores.  In fact, positions are held at corporate levels specifically designed to determine in-store placement of every product to help make your shopping experience as quick and easy as possible.

3. If you have to ask, at least know what you’re asking for.

Retail workers don’t want to shop with you and you shouldn’t expect them to. Don’t ask their opinion on what toy Johnny would like best. They’ve never seen Johnny, and they don’t care what you get him as long as you buy something. If you’re looking for a book, know the title and – equally important – the author. If you simply give the description of the cover, then know that when you’re laughing with somebody at your Christmas party, someone’s laughing at you at theirs.

Helpful hint: If you can’t read your child’s wish list, don’t expect anyone else to be able to. Confirm items in question with your child or just get them a spelling workbook for their stocking.

4. Don’t interrupt someone’s work to ask a question.

If a worker’s arms are full while balancing on the top step of a ladder, be considerate; don’t bother them with your question. Instead, if you find yourself approaching that dutiful worker, stop and ask yourself three things: 1) Will I look like a jerk for interrupting this person’s work? 2) Is there anyone else I can ask? 3) Have I exercised tip 3 on this list?

5. Be patient. Retail workers understand you have to shop. Please understand that they have to help everybody.

Yes, yes, I know you’re a customer, but still, the world does not revolve around you. No one wants to see your impression of Scrooge. If you’re going to be pushy, impatient, or irreverent, then stay home and don’t come out until you can at least pretend to be a grown up.

Helpful hint: If you’re showing signs of aggression or odious behavior, a cunning retail worker will recognize this and deliberately take their time with the customer ahead of you. Yes, just to tick you off even more.

6. Just because someone is wearing a nametag does not give you permission to call them by their name.

Retail workers do not choose to have their name display on their shirt; it’s company policy. Do not, I repeat, do not repeatedly use their name in a conversation or to get their attention lest they think you’re going to stalk them on facebook. Despite what you’ve heard from so-called experts, it’s really the creepiest thing in the world and you will be resented for it. Only if the worker offers you their name are you permitted to address them by such.

7. Open your eyes. Read the signs. Follow the directions.

If you’re standing in the checkout line waiting to ask the cashier a customer service question, you are sorely misusing your time. But do the world of retail (and the customers behind you) a favor while you’re standing there. Look at all the large-print signs they put up just for you and consider for the next few minutes whether you should really yield to their directions. When the cashier doesn’t leave her register unattended to lead you to where you want to go, don’t throw a fit. Instead, reflect on the valuable lesson you learned about time management.

8. Cell phone usage… where do I start?

Other than advising customers to use their inside voice (no one wants to hear about your digestive disorders or how your boyfriend hates your cats), I’m just going to address one overlooked issue out of the plethora of misuses with this devise. You might be able to afford that fancy phone you’re showing off, but that retail worker you’re refusing to hang the phone up for is likely struggling through college or has been affected by the weak economy (hence, they’re working in retail). You don’t need to show your fancy gadgets off to them. Hang up the phone and speak to them as an equal human being.

Helpful Hint: Bluetooths make you look like you’re talking to yourself. Sensible people will mock you.

9. Put things back where you found them!

Retail workers are not maids. They have enough to do without cleaning up your messes (really, they do). Throw your trash away. If you can’t remember where you found an item, return to the general area, stare at the shelf and match the picture of the item in your hand with the item on the shelf. Don’t place it next to, or on top of it. Instead, place the product directly in front of the matching item. If you don’t know how to match pictures and put things back where you found them, then find a time machine, go back in time and repeat kindergarten.

10. If someone wishes you a Merry Christmas, don’t take them to court.

No one celebrates every holiday observed in December, so “happy holidays” is not an applicable greeting for anyone (plus, it just sounds like some sappy after-school special). If someone wishes you a happy Hanukkah and you don’t observe Hanukkah, don’t take offense – just feel free to wish them merriment and joy in the name of the particular festivity you represent.

Merry Christmas!

For gift recommendations for the bookworms in your life, click here.

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Christmas Wish List Part 3

I wish you all a wonderful, and delightful Thanksgiving as you gather with friends and family tomorrow.

And now the conclusion of the best books I’ve read in the last 18 months.

For theology readers

How Christianity Changed the World, by Alvin J. Schmidt – This is sort of a mixture of world history and Christian theology. A great read explaining how, indeed, Christianity changed the world.

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis – You’d think every Christian would have read this by now, but I had only read it about a year ago. How I bypassed it all these years is beyond me. Completely mind-blowing.

For fiction lovers

The Hunger Games series, by Suzanne Collins – Great suspense, drama and action. These books are sure to go down as modern literature’s finest. No one’s too old to get into this series. Frequent violence involving teens.

The Price of Freedom, by A.C. Crispin – The prequel to Pirates of the Caribbean. Chronicles the life of young Jack Sparrow and how he chose the life of a pirate. Frequent, but mild sensuality.

The Man in the Boxby Andrew Toy – Prepare for extreme suspense, adventure, and a bit of fantasy. Great for anyone second-guessing their current life situation and seeking a way out. Released November 30th. Violence.

For history buffs

The Forgotten 500, by Gregory Freeman – Classified for over half a century, this flawless, nail-biting book depicts the OSS setting out to recover more than 500 downed airmen trapped behind enemy lines during WWII.

The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson – The subtitle says it all: “Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America.” A couple of very brief depictions of disturbing murders.

Manhunt, by James L. Swanson – A second-by-second account of Lincoln’s murder and the after-effects. Incredibly difficult to put down. Very graphic descriptions of violence and its after-effects.

For biography addicts

Born Again, by Charles Colson – The life and conversion of Nixon’s right-hand man, accused and punished for heading the Watergate Scandal.

Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson – Fascinating business techniques can be learned in this book. But don’t expect any life-giving wisdom from this curious man who changed the Western world as we once knew it. Language.

For sports fans

Bottom of the 33rd, by Dan Barry – Quite simply one of my all-time favorite books, hands down. It sounds like a dry read, but the author’s brilliant use of words draws you into such a beautiful and simple story. I felt like I was sitting in the cold bleachers during all 33 innings.

The Rookie, by Jim Morris – The wonderful Disney movie is actually only based off of one or two chapters of this great auto-biography of the world’s oldest professional ballplayer.

Alright, that’s more than 20 books (rest of the list in the links below). Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving! And happy shopping.

For Part 1 of this list, click here.

For Part 2 of this list, click here.

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Christmas Wish List Part 2

For Part 1 of this list, click here.

Clothes are great gifts for Christmas, but they get old, tattered and go out of style. Movies are great, but they generally only last 90 minutes and then it’s probably a year before you watch them again. But books… books are stories that can take as long as an hour to a year to get get through, and if you’ve made it through, then it’s likely a story that will stick with you forever and never go out of style.

Welcome to part 2 of the greatest books I’ve read in the last 18 months. Happy shopping.

For theology readers

The Truth War, by John MacArthur – A great study on why we should care about Truth in a world dominated by lies and tabloids and false religions.

For fiction lovers

Little Men, by Louise May Alcott – Sequel to the classic Little Women. Just as endearing and full of wisdom and wit.

Calico Joe, by John Grisham – A relatable story about a father and son who can’t seem to let go of the past, and the only chance of bringing them together is the baseball diamond.

For history buffs

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand – One of the greatest personal accounts of a WWII survivor I’ve ever read in my life. From the author of Seabiscuit.

The King’s Speech, by Mark Logue – Pixar movies aside, The King’s Speech is my all-time favorite movie. The book is written by King George XI’s speech therapist’s grandson. It provides lots of background to the movie.

For biography addicts

Catch Me if You Can, by Frank W. Abagnale –  Biographies don’t get any more fun than this one, about a con-artist. Just as wonderful as Steven Spielberg’s movie, which is another favorite of mine.

Washington, a Life, by Ron Chernow – Think you know all about our first president? Think again. It’s a commitment, to say the least, but more than a worthy read. I am convinced that Washington is the greatest political figure our country will ever see.

For the conclusion of this list, click here. And please feel free to list your favorite books in the comment section bellow.

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