Spams from My Dear

Today I’m listing some of one of my spams that I get as blog comments.  My favorite ones start with, “Good morning, my dearest…”

I can’t help but laugh.

Here is one spam that I received from yesterday:





Dear Mr. Dario Nino,

I am so happy to be your dear.  Are you really from the World Bank of Switzerland? I didn’t realize that I had been a victim of a scam.

Thank you so much for alerting me!  I am more than happy to contact Dr. Mathew for my compaesetion.  That is, I’m assuming I’m getting some money from all this.  My eyes are swimming from the black box of ALL CAPS, so forgive me if I can’t read your entire missive.

All the best from your dear,



‘Have You Ever Wondered’ Answers Tough Questions about God and Life

I am so excited to welcome author Russ Whitten to today’s post at Sweetgum Life!  Russ is likable, humble, and has an easy-going personality and quick sense of humor.  Not to mention, he is married to one of my dearest southern girl friends from college, Charlene!  Russ’s book, Have You Ever Wondered: Christian Evidences for a Skeptical World, answers tough questions about God and life.  Densely profound but incredibly readable, the book covers Christian apologetics as well as questions such as “What is the Meaning of Life?” and “Why is There Suffering and Evil?”

Book signing, Have You Ever Wondered Answers Tough Questions about God and Life

What is the Meaning of Life?

SGL:  Hi, Russ!  Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us at!

Russ:  Hi Stephanie, what an honor!

SGL:  Have You Ever Wondered is very understandable book on the meaning of life and apologetics for the Christian faith.  I think people need simplicity when asking tough questions—rather than confusing, scholarly literature.

Russ:  Aw, thank you!  There is a quote from C.S. Lewis that, oh, I just absolutely love.  He said that to explain something simply, you have to understand it profoundly.  So, that was my aim, because I struggled with these questions, too.

And certainly, our college students, when Charlene and I were in campus ministry, were coming to us with these questions. I just decided to really try to understand this profoundly so I could turn around and explain it simply.

SGL:  What gave you the idea to write the book?

Russ’s Journey in the Faith

Russ:  I grew up in a Christian home and during the college years, I had a falling away period, I’m ashamed to say.  I really embraced the freedom of the college life and foolishly stopped going to church.  And really stopped reading my Bible…I just felt the emptiness of being apart from God.

SGL: You actually felt empty?

Russ:  Yeah.  That was a wakeup call.  I started going back to church.

At Auburn, I first began to understand who Jesus was and I absolutely fell in love with Jesus!

After college, I went to Jackson Hole, WY and lived out there.  I learned to ski and enjoyed the outdoor life.  Once again, that led me away from church.

I felt an emptiness again and started really going to church.  For the first time in my life, a minister asked me to have lunch with him and then to study the Bible.

This minister said, “You have more questions than anyone I’ve ever met!  You need to go to grad school!”

So, I went to David Lipscomb.

SGL:  Did you go there so you could be a missionary?

Russ:  I didn’t go there to be a minister.  I was terrified of public speaking! (“It seemed God had other plans,” Russ says in a 2013 Destin Log article, “The Reluctant Minister.”)


Does God Exist? Can We Trust the Bible?

In his quest to study the Bible one-on-one with others, which is really what he wanted to do, Russ eventually went to Ukraine.  By then, he had met his future-wife and fellow-missionary, Charlene, who put up a sign:  Would you like to learn English and study the Bible?  Russ says that 250 people came, glad to hear about the Bible after living under a forced-atheism regime for 70 years.

Russ:  We decided to address two issues:  God’s existence and Is the Bible a myth or fable?

The Ukrainian students were asking hard questions!

SGL:  So you wrote a book?

Russ:  I started writing in the Ukraine and started teaching the material.  We got home and the same questions came from our college students.  The work started developing from notes as sermons and lessons.  This was my project at Oxford, and I spent the year working on it.

So overall, it took about 20 years to write.

SGL:  It’s a work that I plan to pass on!

A Book Worth Sharing

Russ:  The highest compliment came from Eric Strippling—and I get emotional talking about it—who has terminal cancer. He bought a copy for every one of his kids and gives it out over and over.  It’s such a compliment.  A man who may be closing in on life, and he knows his kids will have these questions one day.

SGL: I think this work will help a lot of people.

Russ:  I just thought I was the only one with these questions and didn’t have enough faith, but great writers over the centuries have had these questions.

The Bible is not only true, but it’s logically compelling.

There’s a quote that I like to use from Christian lecturer Alison Thomas:  “I almost abandoned my faith in college because I was not sure if the difficult questions people asked me about Christianity had satisfying answers.”

So really, that was the idea behind writing this book—the most difficult questions about Christian faith.

About Russ

Russ Whitten has a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University and Masters of Arts in Religion from David Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN.  From 2005-06, he studied apologetics at Oxford University.  Russ served for 16 years as a college minister at the University of Florida and Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

He has performed mission work in Ukraine, India, Mexico, Ghana, and England.

Russ and Charlene live in Florida with their teenage son. Their adult daughter is an actress in New York City.


300th Sweetgum Life Blog Post Giveaway!

Welcome to my 300th Sweetgum Life Blog Post Giveaway! It’s hard to believe that I’ve posted 300 times!

I hope you’ll celebrate with me by entering my giveaway. All you have to do is tell me your favorite post in the Comment section, below. Of course, I also want to know why you like the post so much.

I started my blog in 2013 after reading Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. I related to it so much because of my life growing up in rural south Alabama. We did have “help” while Mom worked in my parents’ store, Jachin Grocery. Things were a little different for us than Stockett’s fictionalized account of growing up in Mississippi during the upheaval of the 1960’s–I grew up in the post-Civil Rights era of the 70s-80s.

I do have the fondest memories of our help, Vianna, my beloved childcare provider. I’m sure she had a positive influence on my perception of African-Americans. One of my childhood playmates was not nice to her maid. But I loved Mary Anne to death and loved to cuddle up with her when I visited my playmate. Not saying that I was a perfect little child, but I look forward to seeing Vianna and Mary Anne in Heaven one day, because I’m sure they’ll be there.

What is Sweetgum Life about? focuses on the beauty of a simple life with faith, warmth, nostalgia, and humor by sharing life and southern culture from a wife and mom’s perspective.

Sunflowers at Sweetgum House.

Sweetgumlife — A Southern Lifestyle Blog

No one can deny the cultural differences that are part of the United States. Television, film, and literature perpetuate these stereotypes–and I do too, at times. I also tend to romanticize life in the South. But just like the castles in Europe, no life is without problems common to the human race. I’m a very positive person, and I tend to focus on the good. We get enough nastiness from the news…that is, if we even bother to watch it anymore. I usually don’t and tend to get by just fine.


It’s true that southerners live in the Bible Belt, and for that I’m extremely thankful. It’s a great place to raise children. Faith in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit has brought me through some terribly dark days and nights. I hope my writing always reflects the Light in my life. 1 John 1:7


I wouldn’t be much of a southerner (or a writer!) if I didn’t fill my blog with stories! I like to include the occasional short story or flash fiction in a post.

Amazing People

I post a lot about amazing and inspiring people. Sometimes they are entrepreneurs of small mom & pop stores like I grew up around. (My Papa started Jachin Grocery in rural south Alabama, and eventually sold it to Mom and Dad.) Sometimes I write about other writers like my college friend and published author, Melanie Dickerson. Look around and you’ll find amazing people in every one you see.


Families are at the heart of life in the south. Each one is unique.

Pin It!

My Pin It section covers beautiful southern homes, antiques, crafts, DIY, and all of the stuff you’d find on HGTV.

White house in Five Points

The Giveaway

All you have to do is to pick your favorite post and list it in the Comments. You must be a resident of the U.S. and be 18 years old or older. I will draw names on Friday of all who enter. You get double points for mentioning why the particular post is your favorite. Win a $25 gift card to Amazon!

Black Angus cow.