Friday, April 23, 2021

Virtual Book Tour - Kicking and Screaming by Melanie D. Gibson

One Woman’s Life-Changing Journey from Troubled Lost Soul to Taekwondo Black Belt

Despite the immense efforts to promote mental health awareness, cultural and societal stigma exists and is very pronounced in certain cultures and communities. Kicking and Screaming illuminates how people with mental illness usually hide behind their accomplishments while suffering in silence and often alone.  The author of Kicking and Screaming shares how taekwondo transformed her life and provided emergency mental and emotional healing.

Readers, who are attempting to overcome adversity and dealing with setbacks, should definitely read Kicking and Screaming. In my opinion, Kicking and Screaming provides motivation and inspiration for readers to move forward despite the plateaus and possible entanglements from toxic relationships.

“I am left in awe of Melanie's courage to reveal her darkest struggles in the hope of helping others. Her fight to find the light inside herself and share it with the world is a tale of inspiration for anyone--martial artist or not. Let the breakthrough in these pages be a call to us all to transform from our own worst enemy to our own best friend.” – Ando Mierzwa, Happy Life Martial Arts

About the Book

Melanie Gibson was an independent woman with a good job, multiple college degrees, and a condo in the trendy part of Fort Worth. She also had a few mental illnesses, a minor substance abuse problem, and rotten relationship skills. She was nearing a total mental breakdown and needed a good kick in the pants, literally and metaphorically.

As a last desperate means to save her sanity, Melanie turned to a nearly forgotten childhood activity: the Korean martial art of taekwondo. To her surprise and delight, she discovered her childhood taekwondo instructors’ Grandmaster operated a taekwondo school a few miles from her home. She restarted her training as a white belt and quickly learned that taekwondo had much more to offer than just learning how to kick and punch.

In taekwondo, Melanie felt like she had a fresh start in more ways than one. She found an inner peace she’d never known before, a sense of community, a newfound confidence, healthy relationship stability, and a positive outlook on life. The kicking and screaming she was doing in class quieted the long-suffering kicking and screaming in her mind. Funny and frank, Kicking and Screaming is the story of Melanie’s life-changing journey from troubled, lost soul to confident taekwondo black belt.

About the Author:

Melanie Gibson began taekwondo training at age ten. At age twelve she stopped taekwondo to pursue other interests and resumed training in her early thirties.

Although Melanie had academic and career achievements throughout her life, she struggled with mental illness and low self-esteem. After making some progress through psychiatric treatment and counseling, she knew she needed to do something more substantial to make lasting changes. Returning to taekwondo had always been in the back of her mind, and the timing was right.

Taekwondo proved to be not only an opportunity to re-learn a beloved skill from her childhood but also a means to build her self-esteem and confidence and heal from old wounds. It brought a needed excitement and purpose to her life, which she shares in her blog Little Black Belt ( While continuing to work at her full-time job, Melanie dedicated herself to taekwondo training and earned her first-degree black belt in 2015. In 2017, she earned her second-degree black belt. Although a pandemic and knee injury sidelined her training in 2020, Melanie plans to return to taekwondo and test for her third-degree black belt. 

Connect with Melanie on social media:







Sunday, April 04, 2021

Guest Post: Cornelius's Story by M. D. House - Author of Pillars of Barabbas - Virtual Book Tour

Cornelius’s Story
by M.D. House 

Acts Chapter 10 records an event with which most of us are familiar. The details of that story are worth pondering, not just from Peter’s perspective, but from Cornelius’s. When I began seriously planning and outlining the first book of the Barabbas series (I Was Called Barabbas), I knew I wanted to include  Cornelius. His role increases in Pillars of Barabbas

Researching Rome and its vaunted legions was fascinating. My wife and I even took a trip to Rome, in part so I could “feel the bones” of the Eternal City once called the Caput Mundi (Capital of the World).

The Roman centurion Cornelius was a god-fearing, charitable man who was sympathetic toward the Jews. We don’t know how common that was, especially among Italian Romans, but it definitely isn’t common to receive the visit of an angel in the middle of the afternoon in your home—even  

when one is fasting and praying, as Cornelius was—in any age of the  


Cornelius was devout and faithful enough to merit such a visit, which came with a purpose. He wasn’t just given the broad outlines of the purpose, either—the angel provided specific instructions regarding a  person he should seek, and where exactly that person would be. 

To his credit, Cornelius didn’t hesitate. He had never heard of Simon Peter, or Simon the tanner, and he probably didn’t spend much time in Joppa, about 63 km (39 mi) to the south of Caesarea. He sent two of his servants, and one of his devout soldiers, to follow the angel’s instructions. 

We know what came next, of course. The Chief Apostle Peter received his own vision, and his initial instructions were less specific if no less marvelous. And thus, the first Gentile was received into the Lord’s newly restored church, along with many of his family and friends. 

The New Testament record contains many such miraculous events, but surely only a small portion of those that occurred. Much of the history— including hundreds, if not thousands, of the epistles of the apostles—has been lost, destroyed, and even changed.

There are no other mentions of Cornelius in the New Testament. Various traditions exist, but without any solid footings. That seems a historical tragedy on several levels. 

Barabbas, of course, is shrouded in even more mystery. We know less about him than about Cornelius.  There is no evidence they ever met. It is, of course, conceivable, especially if Barabbas also became a  Christian. If you had seen the living Christ, and he had literally, visibly died in your place, wouldn’t you have been at least curious? 

It has been an immensely enjoyable—even spiritual—journey to imagine the life of Cornelius many centuries after his conversion and baptism into Christ’s church. How would a noted centurion navigate those waters? And what talents did he bring to the work—talents of which the Lord was well aware? 

After his conversion, he may have been persecuted by members of the Roman hierarchy. He may even have been drummed out of the Roman army. As the Christian church grew in numbers and influence,  challenges for someone like Cornelius would certainly have increased. But again, he brought talents— and perhaps connections—that the Lord knew would be helpful. 

We can assume Cornelius had a close bond with Peter. He likely knew most or all the other apostles as well, including Paul. Wherever Cornelius went, as long as he was willing, he would have been in the thick  of things. There is certainly an example there for us. 

We may not have a large number of talents or a great amount of influence in the world—we aren’t born equal in that way—but we all have talents and gifts that can be used to spread the joy of the gospel and build the kingdom of God on the earth. The Lord expects us to do our best in utilizing our individual talents and opportunities. 

In the end, when we are judged, it won’t matter that we had 5 talents, or 2 talents, or just one talent in this life.  What will matter is how well we used those talents within  our spheres of influence, a reflection of how fully we exercised our faith in Christ and let him and his teachings 

prevail in our lives. 

In Pillars of Barabbas, Cornelius writes a letter to Barabbas and his wife. Here is an excerpt from that [fictional] letter,  

found in Chapter 5: 

“The Lord’s hand is active everywhere, here as I’m sure it is there. I find new causes to be amazed nearly every day, and I’m learning more and more how each soul is precious to  

God. Each person who confesses Christ and follows him,  

enduring to the end is a priceless treasure to the Lord and our Father. Priceless, my dear brother and sister. And he has absolutely no respect of persons. We are all alike unto him. We are all his children. I was born into prosperous and notable circumstances in this world, and he loves me as much as anyone else, but he doesn’t love me more, and I don’t get to skip any  of the steps on the path to true discipleship.” 

While we may not have been born “equal” in our mortal gifts, we are most certainly born equal in our eternal potential as sons and daughters of God, and we will be fairly judged by our loving Savior, who made his great atoning sacrifice for everyone—Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, male or female, black or white, whole or (temporarily) deformed. 

In Christ, Cornelius found someone he could trust completely.

About the Book:

In I Was Called Barabbas, author M.D. House offered his vision of Barabbas’ life by imagining what came after his momentous encounter with Jesus of Nazareth.

Pillars of Barabbas continues the story, finding the man they called Barabbas a long way from the wretched prisoner once released by Pontius Pilate in lieu of Jesus. He and his wife Chanah are growing in regard among the leadership of Christ’s fledgling church, which is expanding and thriving.

But increasing Christian influence breeds jealousy among several Roman governors and senators. How will Emperor Nero react? Can the apostle Paul soothe the moody young ruler? 

The Parthian Empire is also a problem, including in Africa, where the former centurion Cornelius has become a prominent Christian leader. Will the Christians be able to flee, or will they have to fight both the Romans and the Parthians?

Just in time for Easter, Pillars of Barabbas brings the early years of the church into vivid detail, following the saints who sacrificed everything to bring Christ’s message to the world.

About the Author:

M. D. House

is the author of Pillars of Barabbas, as well as the first book in the Barabbas series, I Was Called Barabbas, and the science-fiction novel, Patriot Star. Before beginning his second career as a writer, he worked for twenty-five years in the world of corporate finance, strategic planning, and business development. Now, Michael lives in Utah with his wife, where he spends his time writing and enjoying his children and grandchildren. Learn more about Michael and his work at

Learn more about M.D. House and Pillars of Barabbas at Pillars of Barabbas is available on Amazon here.


Pillars of Barabbas Excerpt

from Chapter 4

Paul had long ago gotten used to waiting for plans to unfold—whether his own, those of others, or, most importantly, the Lord’s. It had been several months since the memorable visit of Octellus, and no word had come from the palace in that time. Manius had made respectful inquiries every few weeks, but the official answer always came back that the emperor was very busy and that the time should come soon. Paul knew he would eventually get to meet with Emperor Nero, knew it so completely that sometimes it seemed the meeting had already happened. And yet it still hadn’t.

He smiled as he looked out the office window toward the Palatine Hill. He had gotten used to sitting at his desk. It still seemed too ornate, but it was useful. He was productive in that space, having already written dozens of lengthy letters to the saints scattered across the empire, both in places he had visited and places he had not. Many of the letters still awaited the right courier to deliver them. That required planning and patience as well. Peter and the other apostles were just as busy in their efforts to communicate, organize, and direct, and they were collectively having a powerful impact, aided by the blessed Roman road system and swift, secure shipping lanes. For all the empire’s faults, it was quite efficient, for which Paul was deeply grateful.

Still, he longed to see more of the saints whom he had taught in his journeys. He received correspondences on a nearly weekly basis from one place or another, and they always brightened his day, even when they talked of various problems. Such challenges gave him opportunity, energizing him to respond appropriately and to coordinate whatever other assistance he could.

Every month or so he also received an epistle from Peter, the Chief Apostle, containing encouragement, news, and instructions, often asking for his views on a particular subject or his vote on a policy or course of action. No major decision was made unless all the apostles agreed, and that was a long and sometimes arduous process.

More patience.

A man cleared his throat before knocking lightly on the doorframe of the office. 

Paul pulled his gaze away from the window to look at the man he could already truly call his friend. “Yes, Manius?”

“We have just received word, Master Paul. Emperor Nero would like to see you. Um, this afternoon.”

Paul leaned back, feeling no surprise and, strangely, no anxiety. That was the Spirit helping him, which still amazed him sometimes. Most times, actually. “Ah, good. We are ready.”

Manius frowned. “He wants you to come alone.” That wasn’t what Octellus had originally said, but again, Paul felt neither surprise nor alarm. He was to meet with an emperor, after all, and a young, mercurial one at that. He needed another adventure.

He took a long breath. A tinge of anxiety crept in as he mentally reviewed the important points that needed to be covered. He had to do well. “Very well, then,” he said. “Will you pray with me, brother, before I prepare to leave?”

Paul took the west road down from the Quirinal, intending to walk along the Tiber River as he continued to order his thoughts. The instructions from Nero hadn’t said what hour in the afternoon he should arrive, so he left at the sun’s zenith, expecting to wait at least an hour after he arrived at the palace. The emperor always had much business to attend to, and Paul could wait. He smiled to himself as he began to descend, picturing Peter in the same situation. Peter tried to be patient—and often succeeded—but he was always pulling at the bit. 

Paul didn’t fault him for it. Peter got a great many things done, and he was courageous and caring. He just seemed to argue with the Lord so much. Maybe argue was too strong a word, but that thought caused him to chuckle. He considered Jacob, wrestling with the man of God for his blessing. What must that have been like?

As he turned left to follow the path for a short distance along the river, with its double line of trees providing a pleasant avenue of shade, he pondered the Lord’s intentions for Rome and its people. He had been earnestly seeking more counsel from the Lord on what his plans were and what he could do to help, but no grand revelations had come. He was to teach as many people as he could, including the emperor. He had little idea how the emperor might react, but Paul had apparently passed Octellus’s test, and he had been left blessedly unhindered by Roman authorities.

He casually noticed the people he passed as he walked. Most were citizens of the upper classes, mainly women, who had time to stroll leisurely along the river near the Capitolene Hill. Before he knew it, he was turning away from the river, passing to the south of the Capitolene before ascending Palatine Hill. He stopped near the top, looking around. Many fine homes stood here—palaces, really—the accumulated wealth among them probably more than he could imagine.

To his right was the temple of Apollo Palatinus, built by Augustus nearly ninety years before. Its massive fluted-front columns of Carrara marble were majestic and regal, inviting awe and obeisance, but Paul had been inside. It was empty and cold, a testament to many such impotent attempts to find comfort and relief from the unknown in idolatrous constructions. Next to it was the temple of Magna Mater, or the ‘Great Mother,’ with its statue of the goddess Cybele and her regal lion attendants at the top of the steps. It had been built more than 160 years earlier than Apollo Palatinus, but still played a major role in public worship. 

A little farther on, another hundred years older still, stood the temple of Victoria, goddess of victory. It was perhaps the boldest of the Roman temples, for it came the closest to claiming victory over death. Many Roman generals had claimed her blessings had spared them and their troops from death on the battlefield and granted them great victories. And yet many had died in every one of those battles—which were often fought for the cheapest of reasons—including innocent men, women, and children. No, those haughty Roman generals hadn’t gained any victories over death; they had dealt it and eventually succumbed to it themselves. Only the Christ, a humble Jew, had overcome death—and he had done it for everyone, not just for himself.

Many other such temples were to be found in the Eternal City, the motives for erecting them probably mixed in every case among sincere desire to respect deity, fear of disrespecting that higher power, colossal imperial arrogance, and manipulation of public sentiment driven both by pride and the need for public order. Those thoughts weighed more heavily on his mind than he would have expected as he continued on toward the palace of Emperor Nero, standing at the very top of the hill, with a wide veranda at the back from which the games at the Circus Maximus could be viewed.

As he began ascending the steps to the palace, a familiar voice called out to him. “Master Paul, welcome!” It was Octellus, and Paul wondered at the odd lightness and cheeriness to his voice. 

Octellus descended a few of the steps to take him by the elbow and lead him up the remaining steps and through the large, ornately decorated double doors into the welcome foyer.

“It is my honor to be here,” Paul said formally, and he wasn’t being disingenuous. He respected the place of the emperor, but more than that, he knew the Lord wanted him to be there, and he was honored to be trusted with such a mission.

“You grace us with your presence,” responded Octellus. Again, that seemed odd. 

Paul suspected that perhaps Octellus was trying to put him off his guard. Such subtle—and sometimes not-so-subtle—tactics were common in state politics. Paul merely smiled and nodded.

“Come, there is time for some refreshment before Emperor Nero can attend you. This way, please.” He gestured with an arm and led him off to the right, toward what sounded like kitchens, where cooks in a household this large always had work to do.

Paul noted that when they entered the dining hall adjacent to the kitchens, the spirit of the place changed. No longer cold, it was warm, and it wasn’t the heat from cooking fires. They were surrounded by servants and slaves, people in humble circumstances, people grateful for regular meals, a roof over their heads, and the chance to be busy at something without being weighed down by it. They were people without much pretense, whose hearts would be open to the preaching of the true gospel.

It appeared that Nero didn’t mistreat his servants and slaves, or at least not to a great extent, as some in similar stations did. Of course, that could simply mean that he or his advisers recognized the value of well-treated servants, but perhaps there was some kindness there as well. Paul hoped there was.

Octellus offered Paul more than just refreshments. A full meal was brought before him, with various meats and fruits and breads, but Paul ate sparingly. It was another political tactic to overfeed your visitors so that their minds might become sluggish and malleable. He was never one for gluttony, anyway. He almost asked that the leftovers be taken to the bottom of the hill and given to a family or two, but he had not that authority.

Octellus didn’t seem perturbed that Paul hadn’t partaken more freely. Instead, he told him a few jokes, including a scandalous story about one of the nobles who lived on the Palatine, laughing and clapping him on the back. Then, when the short repast was over, he led him up some side stairs near the kitchens so that they would be ready to enter the emperor’s secondary audience chamber when the time came.

Paul was taken to a small room with a narrow window looking toward Aventine Hill, beyond the Circus Maximus, where he sat on a small stone bench to wait. Octellus left him there, and Paul bowed his head to pray again. The calm he had felt was beginning to fray at the edges. His meeting with Emperor Nero could begin any minute.

“You already insulted me with shoddy work, and now you stand before me and lie about it?” A shouting voice, heavy with anger, caused him to lift his head. “Did you think I didn’t already know? I brought you here so you could tell me how you were going to fix it! Would you like to be strapped to a cross for a day in the Forum? Would that improve your understanding?”

The booming ceased, and Paul could hear the faintest of noises as the object of the speaker’s wrath tried to answer. 

Paul presumed the thunderous voice was Nero’s, and he wondered again if he was being manipulated. Was it an act? Did Nero want him to enter his presence feeling intimidated?

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