Calculated Risk Discussion Guide

Novel Discussion Notes

A Word from the Author

Some twenty years ago, listening to a recorded sermon another missionary passing through had left behind, I heard the words that to this day, needle and poke; reveal and convict.

My husband and I lived in a village in Equatorial Guinea, Africa with our children and until I heard it said plainly that day, I’d never been able to articulate what I knew somewhere in the jumble of my culture and Bible-based theology. The man on the tape spoke of missionary sacrifice and how our family members back home had one big concern for us—safety.

Then he said, “Safety is an American value, not a Christian one.”

At those words, I almost fell off the sofa. There’d been plenty of non-intended guilt afflicting as we had prepared to live a life (without some of the worldwide conveniences of today) in the rural Congolese Rainforest of West Africa. Mostly people were concerned about the what ifs of something bad happening instead of the what ifs of God’s calling.

What if you get sick? What if the kids get a snake bite? What if we can’t make contact on their birthdays? And you’re going to homeschool your kids? They’ll never survive.

The man on the tape went on to state that nowhere in the Bible did the Lord admonish His people to be safe. But rather, He commanded us to be courageous.

Probably why I’ve remembered those words for all the years is because, at the root of who I am, lies a chicken. Yeah, I was concerned about my children’s education with me at the helm, and yeah, I was nervous about leaving a budding writing and speaking career behind, and yeah, the unknowns of another land and culture had me feeling very vulnerable. But at that point in my journey of following Christ, I knew He had something to not only teach us but planned to also use us for His glory.

Now, these long years later, I still own a chicken heart and it shows up in many areas of life. (What would I ever do without my freshly ground French Roast?) But I’ve answered the call to at least talk and write about being brave if not occasionally doing something that takes a bit more than the average ounce of courage. (I lead a team of millennials at my work – call me brave.)

This is why I write. And I write fiction because nothing speaks to the conscious as well as a good story. It’s the stories of Abraham, Sarah, Hannah, and Esther that inspire me to go against the grain of culture and do something outlandish for God.

I wish to inspire others to even bigger, braver things than I can fathom.

I hope this story of Isa striking out to find answers, even when she can’t trust anyone around her, inspires you to be brave and lean against the Lord while doing so.

Human Nature

God’s Word has a lot to say about the nature of man. Here are a couple of examples:

Jeremiah 17:9  “The heart is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick;

Who can understand it?”

Psalm 14:1  “For the choir director. A Psalm of David. The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good.”

In creating Isabella Phillips, I wanted a character that human nature had left a frightening mark upon. Like too many young girls today, Isa grew up in a household of neglect and abuse. But with an early exposure to Christ through the generosity of neighbors, she received a glimpse of true love. It is in that encounter Isa gained the hope to believe in Christ, even when it seemed He did not hear her prayers.

In El Padrino, the villain, I wanted to create a person who did awful deeds for what he believed were noble reasons. Without the Truth of God’s Word, our human nature can convince us that it’s okay to do some unbelievable things. We humans can believe the lie that noble outcomes justify evil means. In El Padrino’s case, he believes that by providing jobs for men who have lived in poverty in Mexico, he provides much-needed family and financial support. He affords this support through drug trafficking, but in his mind, he justifies the illegal and evil business trades with an outcome that the village life in Mexico couldn’t offer these men.

Scripture tells us that every deed, even for possible good reason, will be judged.

Ecclesiastes 12:14: For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

Discussion: Are you aware of other Scriptures that explain why we are all capable of sin?

The Intersection

          When Isa determines to step out of her comfort zone and into the drug cartel world, she encounters Awena Johnson, a quirky character that represents truth and not typical culture.

When I learned that much of my faith reflected American culture instead of Christ, I committed to read the entire Bible in a year, praying the Lord would cut through my preconceived notions about a life of faith and show me Truth.

And so it is through Awena’s character that I hoped to introduce the idea that Christian fellowship doesn’t have to look like it does in the church building down the street.

In a round hut in Africa, it looks like two hours of singing and multiple people sharing testimony and teachings. In the laundry mat in the inner city, it looks like unconditional care, even if you show up smelling like alcohol with your clothes soiled.

          Also, without leaning too much into Ted Dekker or Frank Peretti’s novels, I wanted to introduce the concept of demonic warfare because … well … it’s biblical.

Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Behind the lies told to Isa and behind the falsehoods sold to you and me, there are evil, spiritual forces at work.

Discussion: Are you aware of other Scripture that speaks of demonic forces or the Father of Lies?

The Purpose

It’s easy to forget that God has ordained a plan not only within our lives, but with our lives for his bigger purposes. In the mundane but also in the distractions of trauma, God is at work. In this novel, while dealing with some pretty unbelievable events, Awena points Isa to God’s purposes.

When I realize that God is orchestrating situations around me, and for me, that’s when I grab my sword and holler charge! I can do anything, anything, when I trust God is the mastermind behind it all.

Exodus 9:16 “But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

In the above Scripture, God tells Pharoah that it is by His will that Pharoah is in power and has become the opposition to the great Jewish Exodus. God has purpose in all things and all people, even those who resist Him.

Discussion: Are you aware of other Scriptures that speak of God’s purposes?

                   Is God using you in a difficult or challenging situation?


Ultimately, in every situation, the Lord wins and His purposes stand. Since this book was written to inspire and encourage, I needed to write a happy ending with Isa claiming victory. Plus, unhappy endings don’t sell many books, lol. Readers want to know that in the battles of good verses evil, the good guys prevail. In the Word of God, we are guaranteed that He will overcome all evil.

1 Corinthians 15:56-58: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be firm, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

Discussion: Are you aware of other Scriptures that speak of victory?

         Are you expecting a victory in an area of your life?

Last Thoughts

I hope you’ve enjoyed Calculated Risk and found some truth to chew on while experiencing a chuckle or two. I endeavored to keep this book real. Real life-like characters make lug-headed moves just like you and I do.

Watch for the next novel in this series, Calculated Encounters where Isa and Jacob go deep into the world of human trafficking.

And by the way, in research of drug and human trafficking, I discovered worlds that I didn’t want to believe existed. Though the characters are fictional in both books, the events and situations are taken from real life.

Be sure and follow my blogs for more out-of-the norm thinking at

Thanks for studying with me!

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