Main Character Monday: Anna Marie Johnson

anna's songWelcome to Main Character Monday. Today my guest is Anna Marie Johnson from Anna’s Song by Brenda Gates. Welcome, Anna Marie. Let’s get started.

If you could choose only one thing to buy without money being an issue, what would you buy?

Oh, dear. That’s a hard one. At the beginning of my story, I’d have asked for enough to pay for the best private detective in the world. By the end of the book? What I would give for a car! But then, they hadn’t been invented yet. Then there’s antibiotics—but they hadn’t been invented yet either. Can you buy an end to war?

World peace, then? How much better would everything be if we could really learn to love each other. And it wouldn’t take money to do it. The New Testament tells the story of two sisters who react to Jesus visiting in very different ways. Mary chooses to spend her time with him, while Martha chooses to see to the physical details of his visit. Are you more a Mary or Martha?

Definitely a Martha. I’m very self-sufficient and am driven to solve problems. I usually end up making things worse for my meddling.

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27 – Do you think this verse, lived out would have made a difference in your life? If so, how?

Most of my life I found religion to be useless. I became bitter and trusted no one. Then I met the Dickersons. They lived out this verse to such perfection that it broke me. They constantly lived seeking to help others—me included. Because of this, they were able to face their worse enemy and love him anyway.

It sounds like they made quite the impression in your life. What scripture verse would you claim as a life verse?

Psalm 40:3. “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” Because of my synesthesia, I could often hear the songs that are the essence of different people. I don’t know how to describe it aside from maybe the sounds of their soul? My own “song” was a tangle of chords that made no music. By the end of my story, God gave me a song of my own.

If there was one message you could give those reading this interview, what would that be?

Nothing you have done, nothing that has been done to you, can make you unlovable to God.

That is a powerful message for sure. Now for a little fun.

Indoor or outdoor: I’m more of an indoor girl. Boy! Was I stretched out of my comfort zone!

Writing or reading: Reading. I’ll leave the writing to my mother and sister.

Apples or Pears: Apples. Hard and sour. Kinda like me? Pears are too mushy.

Early Bird or Night Owl: Night owl.

Anna Marie, how would you describe Brenda Gates in three words?

Passionate, adventurous, mean. Look at what she made happen to me? No sweet and kind person would do all that.

Thank you to Brenda Gates for allowing me the opportunity to interview Anna Marie. You can find out the rest of Anna Marie’s story in Anna’s Song, which is available on Amazon.

More or Less

It’s getting close to that time of year when stores entice customers with pastel colored jelly beans and chocolate bunnies. I know we haven’t passed Valentine’s Day, but I’ve already seen a few Easter treats taking up residence near check-out counters. I love Easter candy. It’s better than chalky conversation hearts and blobs of peanut butter cups that are supposed to be hearts but somehow lack that tell-tale shape.

My favorite confections by far are made by Cadbury. Mini eggs are addicting. And for a long time it wasn’t spring until I had my first crème egg. I like the caramel ones as much if not more. But as I’ve aged and developed a few stomach issues, I can’t enjoy these treats in abundance like I used to. A full-size egg makes me queasy. The person who came up with the bite-sized versions deserves a Nobel prize. They took everything I love about a crème egg and put it into a perfectly proportioned miniature version that doesn’t offend my tummy’s sensitivities. Add cute packaging that resembles a dozen eggs, and you’ve got the best Easter treat on the market. It’s perfect when I want to enjoy a favorite treat without feeling sick after.

I’m learning bite-size can be great for a lot of different things. Since Christmas, I’ve enjoyed two books made up of three novellas each. I love to read, but I also have a lot of demands on my time.  I work 40 hours a week as a receptionist. Local ministry needs take up time. I have a family and a writing ministry that both need my attention. There are times I want to be able to sit down and enjoy a good story in a sitting or two, and all of these things prevent that. Or they did until I got my first compilation.

My most recent foray into the world of multiple novellas in one book was just what I needed. To Have and to Hold is, according to the cover, a collection of three autumn love stories. Each stands on its own. Love Takes the Cake by Betsy St. Amant is a sweet story about a baker (see what I did there?) who has been less than lucky in love. But her luck may change when she’s thrown together with a difficult bride’s best man to plan the desserts for all of the wedding festivities.

The Perfect Arrangement by Katie Ganshert is a fun story about a chance meeting and a friendship that starts by accident. It’s reminiscent of one of my favorite movies, with the main characters developing their friendship through email. And though they don’t find out that they’re mortal enemies, they do have a few roadblocks in taking the next steps in their relationship. The story leaves you with a smile on your face and a list of old movies you need to watch.

Becky Wade wrote the final novella in the set. Love in the Details brings former flames back together in order to help plan a friend’s wedding. Two broken hearts that never healed and a secret reason for the break up mean neither of the main characters can move on and trust is fragile to try to move forward. There’s no escaping a hard look at their real feelings for each other as they work together to make the day special for their friend. And neither can deny the love they still feel for each other.

All three stories were the perfect length to let myself dive into them without worry over having to set them aside in favor of other activities. All three gave me the time of relaxation and enjoyment I look for in a good book. Am I going to abandon full-length books in favor of shorter compilations in the future? No. There is a depth that can be achieved in story and character development only when time is given to it. There is something comforting about following a loved character through various seasons of life as you read additional books in the series. I will always make time for full-length novels and book series.  But I guarantee I won’t turn away a good collection of novellas like this in the future either. There’s a place for both in my reading life.

There’s also a place for this type of thinking in my spiritual life. Busy lives pull us in many directions leaving us exhausted and unable to think clearly. Too often we may be tempted to neglect time in God’s word because we can’t dive in deep.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

From books to apps on our phones we have a variety of devotional materials at our fingertips. We can find them on any subject we desire. They’re bite-sized nuggets of truth from God’s word to turn our hearts and minds to Him. Using them can help change our attitudes for the day ahead or convict us of sinful behavior from the day we’ve finished. They can foster praise and worship in our hearts as we go about our day. And they’re perfect for us when we need a little reminder of God’s presence in our lives.

We also have books that serve as guided studies for us. They may lead us through a subject or scripture and expand on a theme. They present questions and allow us time to participate in the learning process. They take us deeper than devotions, but they tend to be lighter in the actual study part with a heavier focus on explanation. More time is required, but we will come away with a bit more complete understanding of the subject.

But we don’t have to stop there. We shouldn’t stop with what someone else tells us about scripture, whether it’s a devotion, sermon, or book. We have the scriptures at our disposal. We also have the Holy Spirit living in us to testify to the truths contained in God’s word. Devotions and books are wonderful tools, but there is something special about diving deep into scripture on your own. A good study that leads you to search out the context and meaning of a scripture for yourself is invaluable. As with the books mentioned above you a participant in the learning process. Because you are uncovering the truths for yourself, they become part of who you are. To dig deep into a passage and find out the answers to who, what, when, where, why, and how, to understand the words in the context of the surrounding scripture, and to ask yourself “what does it mean for my life” are all powerful elements of study that will change the way you live.

It’s amazing to know whether I have time for a little or a lot, there’s always a way to spend time with God.

If you’d like to read To Have and To Hold you can find it here:

Torn in Two

Tonight is our local writing group’s monthly night to meet. I decided halfway through my work day that I wasn’t sure I would make it. I was sick Monday night and yesterday. Today, I went back to work, but I still wasn’t feeling quite up to par. At the end of the day, I knew I didn’t have it in me to attend. I’ve not eaten much and I haven’t slept well the last two nights. My spirit wanted to go, but my body just didn’t allow it.

I can’t help wondering what they’re doing tonight. Are they reading the latest chapters on their works in progress? Maybe brainstorming ideas for turning the journal pages of one member’s mother into a fictional story? Or they could be participating in one of the great writing exercises Brenda, our host, comes up with to challenge us and get our creative juices flowing. I love those writing exercises.

It’s amazing to me how we can all take the same assignment and turn out completely different results. It gives a lot of insight into our writing styles and personalities. I have to admit a couple of us may tend to take a darker turn with our assignments. They tend toward the serious or mysterious. One writer is almost always rainbows and sunshine. I love sharing what we’ve come up with. It’s encouraging that we can all go different directions and all still be writing well.

Because of this camaraderie and sharpening of each other’s abilities, I find myself sitting here wishing I could be there. At the same time, my eyes are drooping and I can’t keep from yawning. I have no energy. The last remnants of being sick. I know I could not have made it through the evening. But I miss it nonetheless.

We all face those times at points in our lives. We’ve been sick or crazy busy or stressed by whatever happens to stress us out at that particular point in our lives. Whatever is going on, we just can’t do one more thing. The desire is there, but our bodies betray us.

It reminds me of a spiritual problem we too often face. Paul wrote in Romans 7, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” We find out why he battled if we look back to the words of Jesus in Matthew 26. “Watch and pray, let you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Jesus was speaking to the disciples about their inability to stay awake and pray with him in his time of need, but it was a lesson much greater than that. Jesus was reminding them, reminding us, of the battle that rages between the natural, sinful man and the new creation that takes place when we accept His work on the cross for the redemption of our sins.

Scripture tells us as believers we are no longer slaves to our sinful nature. We have the power to resist because of the Holy Spirit living inside us. But Jesus’ message and Paul’s reiteration of the same message is a warning that it is not easy. We may be made new in Christ, but the world we live and operate in is still mired in the old sinful ways. We are hounded by them. We are tempted by them. And though no believer would start off the day thinking, “I think I’ll spit in the face of my Savior today by choosing sin over His sacrifice”, we find ourselves doing exactly that.

Our spirits want to do what is right, but in our humanness we find we are entirely weak. But even weak we are not without hope. Jesus reminds us to be watchful and prayerful to avoid the trap of temptation. Scripture tells us a way out is always provided if we will only take it. The armor of God is ours to pick up and use faithfully. And the more we exercise it, the better we get at using it for our spiritual protection. But more than these things, we have forgiveness for the times we fail. God is faithful to forgive the repentant heart. He wipes the spiritual slate clean and allows us to start again.

This isn’t a license to sin without thought. By definition a repentant heart desires to turn away from sin. But there is a battle between what our spirit wants to do and what our sinful nature tempts us to do. It’s a battle that even the “greats” of faith like Paul faced. Knowing these things can help us learn to accept the forgiveness God offers with grace when what we want to do and what we end up doing are two very different things.

Full of Character with Brenda Gates

nh brendaToday I have the pleasure of interviewing Brenda Gates, author of Anna’s Song, a great new time slip novel that takes readers from current day to the Civil War. Welcome Brenda.

What character from the books you’ve read has impacted you more than the others?

The one character that has impacted me the most of any I ever read, is Hadassah, in Francine River’s book Voice in the Wind. As a young slave girl who has lost everything, she had such a love for God that it spilled over into loving even the most unlovable people around her. Her relationship with God and how she spoke so intimately with Him struck me in such a powerful way. It spoke a truth to me and inspires me to want a relationship like that.

I’ve not read that one, but I’ve heard great things about it. I’ve read some of her other books, and she does a great job of creating her characters. Speaking of that, what character was the easiest for you to write?

I love writing villains and Jethro was super easy to write. Yikes! Hope that doesn’t say something sinister about me!

Scripture is full of real people with character to spare.  Which one do you most relate to or enjoy reading about?

I think I relate most to Ruth. She loved intensely, was very loyal and willing to do whatever it took to take care of her family. If that meant moving to a strange land and face possible rejection and unknown dangers—so be it. Her faith that God would care for them was remarkable. Two women, alone—in those days! Wow.

Do you plan your characters and their backstories before you begin writing or are you as surprised by them as your readers?

I do plan my main characters and their backstories before I begin writing. It often starts as an idea that I mull over for an extended period. The why this and then that. As I write, characters are added because they are needed. Some of those end up needing stories of their own, so I. work on them as I did the main character, but not quite to the same level of detail. As I wrote Anna’s Song, I added several characters that I loved so much I decided they needed a book of their own. Hoping to follow through with Sofia’s story, Jacob’s story and maybe a mystery involving Chachi.

If someone wrote a movie about you, who would you like to play your character? Why?

I can’t imagine a movie about me. BORING! I’m also one of the last to remember Hollywood actresses’ names. If fact, I had to google “Actresses over 50 with dark hair” to find someone to fill in here. I’m going to say Jennifer Connelly. Why? It’s a pretty random answer. Because she’s dark haired and pretty, (that google picture doesn’t look like she’s over fifty!!) and I would love to look like her?

I’d like to thank Brenda for joining me today. Come back next week for an interview with Anna Marie, the main character in her book, Anna’s Song. You can get your own copy of Anna’s Song here: https://www.amazon.com/Annas-Song-Cries-Earth-Travel/dp/173256020X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1547515654&sr=8-1&keywords=Anna%27s+Song+Brenda+Gates

Brenda’s blog can be found here: https://gatesgalwrites.wordpress.com/

Where to Belong

home-429571_1280My grandparents owned a farm. By the time I came along, the livestock was severely diminished. I remember chickens and maybe a few cows early on but not much other than that. My brother remembers a peacock or a turkey, not sure which. The only reason he remembers is it because the thing chased him around the barnyard. That’s traumatizing to a kid.

I don’t remember the animals, but I remember the house and the land. We spent Sunday afternoons there when I was little. My brothers and I would play with two of our cousins if they were there. If not, we would hike through the pasture and into the woods to explore.

There was a drawer in the kitchen by the sink that always had bubble gum in it. This was back when Hubba Bubba and Bubblicious contained only real sugar and made the best bubbles ever blown. My brothers preferred orange and grape. I loved the rare occasions when my grandma would stock the drawer with watermelon.

The house itself was nothing special, just your average old-fashioned farm house. But even though I’ve not stepped foot in it for thirty years, I can remember each room. I even made it the home Katie grew up in my book, Faith’s Journey. One day I would love to see it back in the family, but it wouldn’t be the same. The new owners renovated, updating the look and removing the memories. But it will always be the same in my mind.  It’s amazing what one can remember when fueled by pleasant memories.

That’s why I immediately felt connected to Where She Belongs by Johnnie Alexander. Shelby Kinkaid has similar feelings about the home her grandparents owned when she was a child. She made sweet memories there that helped her in the dark times. It’s a home that was ripped from her family by others who took advantage of her grandparents and left the home abandoned and in disrepair. The disappointments of her present make the pull of the past’s joys even stronger. Determined to give her daughters the same beautiful memories she treasures, Shelby arranges to buy her grandparent’s home and restore it to its former glory.

Though there is a lot of work to be done, it doesn’t deter Shelby from her plan.  But the descendants of the man who took her family’s home are working against her to regain the property for their own benefit. Add to that the mystery of the past that continues to haunt and hurt the current generations, and Shelby has to determine friends from foes all while trying to make the house her home once again.

Shelby’s story starts with a house and her memories, but it doesn’t end until she comes to understand where she belongs.  And I think that’s something we can all relate to.

The desire to belong starts young. Even on preschool playgrounds children want to be part of the group. It can tempt us into friendships we would be better off without. As we age, I’d like to say we outgrow this desire, but I don’t think that’s true. For those who never quite felt they measured up, it may be a life-long battle. Sometimes even our faith can leave us feeling like we don’t fit.

We’re called to have the mind of Christ. This means we strive to live the way Jesus lived, love the way He loved, and have the same standards and priorities. It’s a tall order that we fail to meet, but even if we only live it a small percentage of the time it’s enough to set us apart. We can see it at work, with our friends, and with those who aren’t believers in our families. Our language can set us apart. Our unwillingness to cut certain corners can make us stand out. Our refusal to participate in certain activities or watch certain things can leave us on the outside looking in.

Sometimes we may wonder if it’s worth it when all we want to do is belong. In these times it’s important to remember we do belong, just not to this world or the things in this world. First and foremost we belong to God. We are His children, and our home with Him in eternity is the home we were created for. That is where we belong, and until we reach it, there will always be the feeling of not quite fitting in. We aren’t supposed to fit in with this world. We were made for more.

We also belong to the body of Christ. Believers aren’t meant to be on their own. We’re meant to encourage, teach, and challenge one another to walk in faith every day. We’re to celebrate each other’s victories and support each other through the hard times. Ministering to each other is why God blesses us with spiritual gifts. We need to seek out other believers to be in fellowship with. Shared faith experiences can strengthen us and give us a glimpse into what this world was supposed to be.

When the differences between our faith and the world we live in leave us feeling alone, we need to look to Jesus. With Him, we always have a place to belong.

Write Stuff Wednesday with Micki Clark

Welcome Micki Clark to Write Stuff Wednesday. I had the opportunity to read Micki’s book, Don’t Ask Me to Leave. I’ve reviewed it, and you can find that review in my archives. I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and I even bought it for my mother-in-law for her birthday. (Who later told me she really enjoyed it too.) Here’s what Micki Clark has to say about a quote that’s inspired her in her writing journey:

MRP-Micki-Clark-Dont-Ask-Me-to-Leave-360x570 Ernest Hemingway once said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

            I think for many writers that’s absolutely true. I can still remember when I first wanted to be a writer. It was more of wanting to be a journalist, you see, than a creative writer. I would make up these fantastical newspapers and sell them to people at my church. One of my best “clients” was a blind man and his wife who paid me a quarter for all the best news.

            In elementary school, I wanted to be a teacher. I would get old teacher’s edition textbooks from the school where my mother worked and give my poor little brother lessons in our playroom (however, you can all thank me now that he’s such a brilliant computer scientist, ha ha).

            I’m not sure when it was exactly that I first decided I wanted to be an author. I think it was more of a vague dream than a concrete belief, mostly because I realized that it was a lot more difficult than most people said it was. First there was the fact that you had to have an idea (ugh) and then be able to say three hundred pages’ worth of things about it. And then, horror of horrors, you had to find someone ELSE willing to read those three hundred pages and say they liked it!

            As I write this, it’s been two years to the day since the cover of my debut novel, Don’t Ask Me to Leave was written. I’m still at times in shock that it happened, but I’d love to share with you the story of how (and why) that book came to be.

            Several years ago, in 2012, a friend of mine and I challenged each other to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. I had this nugget of an idea to write a story based on Ruth and Naomi, since my husband and I had used their words as our wedding vows in 2002. I faithfully sat down at the keyboard and banged out a manuscript.

            When I finished, I felt a sense of release–I mean, it was done, after all–but not a sense of accomplishment.

            And that’s where I realized that I had misunderstood Hemingway.

            In 2012, I had “bled” out my manuscript in the sense that I spent hours working on it. But I hadn’t really poured out my soul. When I went back five years later and revised the manuscript, I realized that was the thing that was missing–soul.

            I’ll also admit that soul is why I haven’t thrown myself into a second writing project. I’m too busy in my professional and personal life to give something that passion again at the moment. However, I can’t wait until that day, one day soon hopefully, when I’m able to sit down at the keyboard and bleed.

Micki Clark is the author of Don’t Ask Me to Leave (2017), published by Mantle Rock Publishing. She lives in western Kentucky with her husband and three children, and she teaches high school English.

Don’t Ask Me to Leave is available from Amazon and other major booksellers. (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06X6J7QLZ)

Roads and Choices

path“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

I’d be hard pressed to find anyone who attended high school in the United States that has never read “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. Students across the nation and through the years have written essays on the poem and its meaning. Experts have written the same, likely with more finesse and insight. But whatever Frost’s deeper meaning, the actual incident of choosing a path found me and my husband on our way to a local Mexican restaurant to meet friends. It went something like this:

Our car zipped through the intersection heading north.

“What are you doing?” It was time for passenger seat driving.

“I’m going to the restaurant.”

“But you didn’t turn. You’re supposed to turn right at the light. Turn onto Wall, then Grand, then you’re at the restaurant.”

“Or I could go straight up to Grand and turn right. Go down the road a little bit, and I get there just the same.”

“Yes, but that’s not the way we get there.”

“Maybe it’s not the way you get there. But it’s how I get there.”

“But it isn’t right. You went the wrong way.”

You’re right. It’s not as poetic as Frost’s choice of roads, but we, of course, made it to the restaurant. I don’t think it was any quicker to go my husband’s way, but I don’t think it took longer either. There were pluses to his way. There were merits to my way. Contrary to what I indicated in our discussion, there was no right way to get there. There wasn’t even a best way. There were just multiple paths to reach our destination.

And isn’t that what Frost’s poem is really all about? Isn’t that what writing is about?

In March my first book, Faith’s Journey, was published. It was something I’d worked years to accomplish. I published with a traditional publisher, Mantle Rock Publishing. I wrote my manuscript in the evenings after working a full-time job and getting dinner for my family. I wrote on the weekends when I didn’t have to work my day job. I sent out query letters to multiple publishers. I didn’t use an agent, though I queried some of them as well.

In November, my friend Brenda Gates published her first book, Anna’s Song. She wrote it while caring for her elderly father and taking care of her family. She considered traditional publishing, but chose instead to self-publish. She went through all the necessary, professional steps to assure the highest quality book, and the result is a wonderful book I loved from page one.

Other authors work only on their writing. Some work only through agents. A few began writing and ended up with publishing companies. Some authors self-publish while others go the traditional route. Our paths are different, but the destination is the same. As with anything, what the end results look like will vary greatly depending on what went into the journey. But however different our basic paths to reach it, the basic destination is the same.

We all belong to that unique group of people known as authors. We’re all moving at different speeds. We all have personal messages and styles. But we can still come together and support each other because we have one thing in common. We are authors. It’s great to have a group of like-minded people to belong to.

And it’s wonderful to know that our writing isn’t the only place to find it. As believers, we are all part of the body of Christ. We have been given different talents and gifts. God put s a passion for different ministries into our hearts. We all have the gifts of scripture and prayer to help us grow in our faith. But we don’t all grow in the same way or at the same speed.

I have heard God speak clearly to me through Christian musicians. Others seem to draw more from listening to the messages of great theologians. Hearing God’s voice comes easier for some when they’re sitting silently in nature. Whatever way God speaks to you, it’s okay. As long as the message is supported by scripture, it’s still God’s message for you.

I have a heart to see women grow in the faith they already have. My mom’s passion is for spreading the gospel to the lost. I know some who have a heart for the little ones in our lives and others who serve the teenagers. It’s okay. There’s a need for each of these things, and God uses our different personalities and interests to fill those needs.

There are multiple roads in our wood of faith. There is one out there that is uniquely yours. You aren’t meant to walk down mine. God didn’t design me to go down yours. Our individual paths may look different, but we are still called to come together in support and encouragement of each other. We have something greater than our differences holding us together as one. We are Christians, and our faith brings us together.

By the Book: If you have one, what does your writing path look like? What about your path of faith?

Heirlooms of Faith

I have a favorite cookie recipe passed down from my grandma. I have a handkerchief collection in an old candy box passed down from my great-granny along with all the stories she told me about the origins of each one. I also have several pieces of her costume jewelry, though the jewelry box I played with as a child was destroyed when a basement where I had it stored flooded.  I have my mother’s class ring and a charm bracelet she had growing up. I have things from each of the women in my family, but none have been passed from generation to generation. As far as I’m aware we have no family heirlooms.

I love the idea of a family heirloom. An item so treasured that it passes from generation to generation like a baton in a race. I can imagine the stories and secrets the item would share with each owner. I love the idea that the one possessing the item adds their personal chapter in the tale before passing it on to a new owner.

It’s this continuing story that weaves together the lives of several women across several generations in The Christmas Heirloom, a book of four holiday novellas written by Karen Witemeyer, Kristi Ann Hunter, Sarah Loudin Thomas, and Becky Wade. Each author’s novella is a story of love that takes place during the Christmas season. Each story is from a different time period but they all focus on the women of one family and a treasured gift, an amethyst brooch, passed down from mother to daughter after its first gifting from an elderly woman to her caretaker.

The stories of loss, hope, and love are enough on their own to bring both laughter and tears. Each novella is worthy to stand on its own. Each is enjoyable. I loved watching each woman’s life and love develop on the pages.

But it adds depth to each woman’s story to see how the brooch plays its part in their lives and makes them a single chapter in a story that is bigger than their individual part in it. The history the individual stories give to the ones that come after bring depth to their themes. True, an author can use well-placed back story to fill in the blanks, but it falls short. It’s like reading the Cliff’s Notes instead of the whole book. You don’t get a chance to connect with the characters that way, and the whole point of The Christmas Heirloom is connection. The brooch comes when each woman is ready to connect with the love of their life, and it connects them to their family’s past like a treasured heirloom should.

I may not have a family heirloom rich with stories to pass on to my children, but the idea of the heirloom brings to mind a scripture my mother shared with me tonight in our nightly prayer time. Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

It’s not a physical treasured item passed down from believer to believer. But just as the brooch in the story reminded the women they were part of something bigger, this verse reminds me there were others before me and there will be others after me. We are part of the same family as adopted sons and daughters of God. Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross we gain more than forgiveness for our sins and reconciliation with God, though that is more than enough. We also become part of a story that is much larger than ourselves, and the Creator of the universe is its author. Each believer’s story is unique but intricately woven together with the story of every other believer. It’s a connection we too often fail to realize can bring understanding and depth to our own chapter of the story.

 

Courage to Be

I may have used this quote in the past. If so, I apologize. It seemed fitting for this second day of 2019. It’s something I definitely want to get better at this year. I hope you will too.

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”  e.e. cummings

For a long time I had trouble accepting the title of author or even writer. Mother was no problem. Wife was easy. I never stumbled over the title of daughter, sister, or even receptionist. Though I have to admit I never really aspired to earn that last one. Life simply took me there. But writer was another story.

Writer was, and still is, the dream. But dreams are full of unknowns. Dreams hold the possibility of failure. What happens if you reach for the dream, accept the title, and then fail? You’ve become associated with the name only to lose it again. For an introvert who doesn’t like attention, especially negative attention, this would be a humiliation hard to live down.

I didn’t run from the action of putting words on paper. Reading and writing have been part of who I am from the beginning. I think it must be in my DNA like my height or my green eyes. I cannot imagine not writing. But the act of writing is very different from accepting the title writer or author.

Like any dream that tries to define us in life, it brings with it the fear of failure. It is this fear that causes us to hem and haw when confronted with the innocent question, “What do you do?” It’s much easier to spout the easy answers, wife, mother, and even receptionist. The first two cannot be denied. The fact that I am married and have given birth means I belong to those clubs. The last one is easy to admit because it’s what I spend most of my time doing and it’s secure. But the thing I want most? That thing that is so deeply a part of me? To try and to fail at that would be like losing part of who I am.

This is why it takes courage to accept the title. This is why it takes courage to answer the questions with, “I am an author.” To live beyond the fear and not only accept that part of myself (accepting is easy) but to make it known to the rest of the world, this is what it means to grow up and be who I am.

You may not be an author. That’s the dream God gave me. That’s the passion He planted inside my heart. It doesn’t matter. What passion did He give you? What do you feel He is calling you to do? What do you feel if you couldn’t do it part of yourself would be missing?

Are you going after it? Are you praying about how and when God would like to use it in your life and the lives of others? I hope you are. But I also hope this coming year you find the courage to live out loud what you know God has called you to. I hope you find freedom from fears that hold you back and find yourself able to answer the question, “What do you do?” with whatever dream  God has blessed you with.

Crooked Calendars in 2019

calendarChristmas gifts added several things to my writing space this year. I got a new lap desk to use with my lap top, almost a necessity since I refuse to write at an actual desk. Although it arrived a few days after Christmas, I received the latest edition of The Christian Writers Market Guide. And even though it couldn’t be wrapped up in a shiny box under the tree, I was also given membership in ACFW. Now, if I can just find time to use the site to its fullest potential, it will help me in my writing journey.

I asked for all of these things because I believe they will be beneficial to me as an author. But there is one gift, or maybe four depending on how you look at it, that has already started helping me in more ways than I originally hoped it would. I spent part of the day after Christmas hanging four dry-erase wall calendars on my office wall behind my writing chair. Four? Yes, four. If I wanted to track that many months at a time, why didn’t I simply get a planner? I’m horrible with using planners. I start off with great intentions, but I fail before I’m out of January. Dry erase boards are different.

These four calendars help me track a quarter of the year at a time. And I put them up for a specific purpose. One of my goals for 2019 is to improve in my marketing ability. With a full-time non-writing job, it’s hard to keep on top of things. With purple representing people scheduled to be guests on my blog and orange showing times I’m scheduled to appear on other people’s blogs, a quick look at my calendars can give me all the information I need to determine where I need to step up my game and where I’m doing alright.

I also don’t have to find my calendar every time I want to record something. I grab a marker out of the marker basket hanging on the wall and fill in as much or as little detail as I want. A planner is always a bit inconvenient. You have to carry it with you at all times or go find it every time you need it. I don’t have time for that. Besides, I’m notorious for losing things. I can’t count the number of times in a week I have to grab my spare keys because my main set is not where I thought I left it.

I asked for these four calendar boards for these reasons, but they’ve also proved useful in an unexpected way. If you actually look at the boards hanging on the wall, you can see the boards on the right are about ¼ of an inch away from being level. I purposely hung the bottom right one that way so it matched the top right one. I figured it would bother me less that way! But originally, all four boards were meant to be straight and level. I measured each one with a tape measure and pencil. I even measured multiple times before drilling the holes I needed in the wall. My first attempt left me feeling pretty good about my abilities. I placed the calendar on the hooks, and it lined up perfectly. The second one deflated my ego a bit as I realized I’d miscalculated somewhere. Maybe I stepped on the end of the tape measure with more pressure and forced it further into the carpet? I don’t know. But it’s a little off.

Why didn’t I use a laser level to project a beautifully, perfectly straight line on my wall to mark my drilling spots? It makes sense. It would have been nice. My calendars would all be straight. There was just one problem. I don’t own a level. The tool I needed to do my job efficiently and completely successfully was missing from my tool box. The result is a functional wall of calendars that would drive some people crazy due to ¼ of an inch.

When I look at my calendar, I’m reminded how important the proper tools can be. In writing this doesn’t mean I can’t write without the physical tools like my wall calendars or my lap desk. These are frills that make things easier, but they aren’t the tools that will improve me as an author. Taking time to learn from and network with other authors who are farther into their writing journey can help tremendously. Reading books on the craft of writing and the marketing side of writing will help equip me to be more proficient and efficient in what I do. Taking part in local writing groups, interacting on ACFW boards, and attending conferences are all tools authors have available to do their job and do it well.

As we come into a new year, I want to become better about using the tools I have as a writer. But more important than that, I want to apply the lesson to my faith walk. I’ve been given all the tools I need to live a life of faith that will add up to hearing “well done good and faithful servant” when my time on earth is done. There are churches on every corner, apps let us take the Bible with us everywhere, devotions and Christian living books are easily found on every topic, Christian radio can fill our cars and homes with praise, and guided journals provide easy ways to track our ups and downs. But all of these are just the extras. They aren’t the tools we have to have. They are the tools we use to make the journey a more pleasant experience. They help us, but just like my tape measure and pencil were not the perfect tools for hanging my calendars, these tools alone are not the perfect tools for growing my faith. When Jesus went back to heaven, He promised help in the form of the Holy Spirit to live in the heart of each believer. The Holy Spirit teaches and corrects us. I need to commit to listening to His quiet voice with more consistency. God gave us prayer as the way to communicate directly with Him.  It’s a powerful tool that too often gets relegated to the equivalent of rubbing a genie’s lamp and making a wish. I need to be vigilant to fashion my prayers and my reasons for them after the examples given in scripture. And that’s the final tool I need in my toolbox of faith, God’s word. Without scripture we can’t get the full picture of who God is. Scripture is able to cut to the heart of the matter and show us where our motivations fall short of our loving God. It is God’s word to us about how to live like Jesus lived. It gives us encouragement, strength, comfort, and correction. It doesn’t stop at leading us to salvation. It provides the instruction we need to live a life of faith and walk in close communion with God.

Have I been using these tools the way God intended when He gifted them to me? Do I study His word, listen to the Holy Spirit, and pray with the motives of His will being done? I have all the right tools. I need to use them. What about you?

By the Book: Read the following scriptures referenced in this devotion. Matthew 25:14-23, Luke 22:41-42, John 15:26, Acts 1:8, Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16