Holiday Help Wanted!

christmasThe only thing better than getting cozy and watching the newest Hallmark Christmas movie is getting cozy and reading a great Christian Fiction Christmas book. I’d like to use my review days this month to highlight some great holiday reads.

Here’s where my “Holiday Help Wanted” comes in. Maybe you’re an author with a book that fits this description. Or maybe you’re just a person who loves to read as much as I do, and you’ve read the best CF Christmas book on the market. It doesn’t matter how you found this book. I want to know about it. It doesn’t mean I’ll be able to read them all before Christmas, but it will give me a place to start. So, think about your Christmas favorites and let me know the title and author in the comments. Thank you for your help!

In It Together

Today I had the opportunity to share in a special celebration. This morning I spent time at a local library with an author friend of mine who was launching her first book with a reading and signing. Nine months ago, it was her sharing in my book launch. It was an honor to share in her day as she did in mine.

Over the last couple of years she and I, along with the other members of our local writers’ group, have stood beside each other in the ups and downs of the writing process. We’re all in different stages, and we each have our own goals and focus. It doesn’t matter. Each member of the group has their own writing strengths and weaknesses. We’re there for each other to encourage each other when the writing gets tough or we find ourselves frustrated and discouraged. We energize each other for the next step. We learn together. And on days like today, we cheer each other on and share in the joys of success.

Writing tends to be a fairly solitary endeavor. It is made much sweeter knowing there’s a group of people in my corner cheering me on and picking me up when I fall.

gates2This feeling is something Anna Marie, the main character in Anna’s Song by Brenda Gates, hasn’t known since her mother and father disappeared without a trace. When her twin sister goes missing too, Anna Marie feels more alone than ever before. Refusing to give up on her sister and confused by mysterious and seemingly impossible clues to her sister’s whereabouts, Anna Marie begins to find people in her corner though she is unsure how she feels about their involvement.

When Anna Marie slips into the past her hopes of finding her sister grow, but the road to finding her isn’t a guaranteed success. And it definitely isn’t easy. Plunged into the middle of the Civil War, she faces dangers and obstacles she is not prepared for. But in these times, Anna Marie also finds what she’s missed in life. She finds people taking the journey by her side. They encourage her to be her best self. They hurt with her when she’s in pain. They teach her about herself and faith through their examples and words.

If she never makes it home and even if she never finds her sister, Anna Marie finds something that makes the sweet things sweeter and the tough things easier. She finds what friendship and family should be, and it makes all the difference.

That’s how it’s supposed to be. Not just for Anna Marie in Brenda’s book. Not just for writers and the writers’ groups they belong to. It’s supposed to be this way for believers too. Actually, it’s supposed to be this way especially for believers. 1 Corinthians 12:26 encourages us with these words. “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”  This is just one of several instructions followers of Jesus are given in how we should interact with one another, and each scripture comes back to loving each other the way God loves us.

When we find this in our churches and with the believers in all areas of our lives, we experience one more amazing gift from God. Allowing God to use us to be this for others makes us the gift to them. Both work in our lives to ease the burden of hard times and increase the joy in the good. And it makes all the difference in the journey of our faith.

 

Full of Character with Erin Howard

Author PictureToday’s Full of Character Author Interview guest is Erin Howard. Erin is the author of The Seer, a great Christian fantasy story that takes you into the spiritual battle raging that only a select few characters can see. Welcome, Erin. Let’s get to it.

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

You know how to ask some tough questions! I’ve read so many wonderful books, that it’s almost impossible me to narrow it down to just one. That’s one reason why I think reading is so wonderful, we can take something away from every book we read, and it’s always different depending on what we may be going through at that particular time in our lives.

I’ve not received that answer before, but I like it. What character you created was the easiest to write? The hardest?

The easiest character for me to write was Viktor. I think that’s because I was able to show the conflict that Viktor has raging inside of him. Who he was and what he’s done is the core of who he is, but he also has this desire to have peace, to leave those ways.

I think the hardest for me was Matthias. I love his character, and I’ve always been fascinated by angels, so I wanted to make sure that his character was just right.

I have to say, I loved Viktor. I’m anxious to see where he goes in the next book. Scripture is full of real people who had character to spare. Which one do you most relate to orenjoy reading about?

I think Paul is one of my favorites because before he had an encounter with Jesus, he was the worst of the worst. He has a fantastic redeeming story.

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

I think it’s a little of both. I have a general idea when I start writing, but then they surprise me. I love digging deep into their backstory, and see how they respond to what is going on around them.

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

Oh my goodness, what a hard question! I would have to say, Melissa McCarthy. I loved her playing Sookie on Gilmore Girls. She was so funny and clumsy in that role. I like to joke around with my family and friends, and I’m definitely clumsy!

Thanks for having me, Heather!

Keep reading to find out more about Erin Howard and The Seer. Then, head over to Facebook on November 26th for A Literary Feast. This event is an online book party. You’ll be introduced to new authors, have an opportunity to chat with them, get great ideas for books to add to your Christmas list or to give to others, and have a chance to win great prizes. You can sign up to attend the party using this link https://www.facebook.com/events/283923535583862/.

Author Bio

Erin R. Howard is a Developmental Editor, Fantasy/Speculative Author and has earned a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing/English from Southern New Hampshire University.

When she’s not writing, Erin enjoys spending time with her family, being a youth leader, and teaching crochet and cake decorating classes. Erin resides in Western Kentucky with her husband, three children, and a cantankerous tabby cat named Jack-Jack.

Erin is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the KenTen Writers Group.

Social Media Links

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/E.R.H.Fiction/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ErinRHoward

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/erinrhoward/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/erinrhoward/

Blog/Wordpress:  https://erinrhoward.wordpress.com/

Website: https://erinrhoward.com/

FC-The-Seer---LargerMore about The Seer:

Viktor has one order to follow:
Kill the girl before her eyes are opened.

For thousands of years, his job has been to torment and kill seers: humans that have the gift of seeing the spiritual realm. So it was no surprise when his brother Matthias was once again sent to stop him and protect the girl.

Now the last of the seers’ bloodline hangs in the balance, as the estranged demon and angel brothers are forced to work together to save a girl’s life and escape to the sanctuary city of Bethesda.

Change and Hope

hopefortomorrowI drove down the narrow tree-lined road and past the trio of houses from my childhood. They looked the same way they’ve looked for years. But they’re not.

I live in the same place I lived when I was a child. I don’t mean the same neighborhood or the same city. I mean I live within a couple miles of the home I lived in until I was five, and I live across the field from the home I lived in from the time I was six until I got married. I walk down the same road, past the same houses, that I used to ride my bike down when I rode to my grandma’s house. It looks the same. But it’s not.

The houses are still there. The flower gardens still bloom in the spring. The roads still rise and fall and twist and turn as they always have. But everything has changed. The houses on that narrow tree-lined road are filled with people I don’t know. My grandparents and aunts and uncles don’t call them home anymore.

At one time I knew everyone on the road by my house. My other grandparents, my great-grandmas, a slew of great-aunts and great-uncles, and family friends that had known each other for years filled ninety-five percent of the houses along the road. I trick-or-treated down that road without coming to the house of a stranger. There are still some I know. A few family members still live there. But I no longer know a majority of the families living there.

The changes wouldn’t be visible to someone who didn’t know the area personally. What’s outside is similar enough, but what’s housed inside is vastly different. Those are the changes that make a difference. Those are the ones that give the neighborhoods a completely different character.

Some changes are like that. They leave what’s on the outside untouched, but the internal changes affect everything. It’s a lesson Logan De Witt is confronted with when he returns to his childhood home in Hope for Tomorrow by Michelle De Bruin. With his father’s unexpected death and no other males in the household, the responsibility of keeping his family’s farm running for his mother and sister falls to him. It’s a duty he’s more than willing to accept even though it takes him away from the church he pastors.

Arriving home, Logan is greeted by the familiar. The farm, the work, and his home are all as he remembers. But the people are not left untouched by the same grief he faces. When the town’s new teacher arrives to board with Logan’s family the toll their father’s death has taken on his sister becomes glaringly apparent. Instead of finding solace and friendship with the new woman in the house as Logan expects she will, Tillie’s internal struggle is vented in her direction. The more the internal bitterness is given space in her life, the less she acts like the sister Logan remembers.

Logan finds himself in a life that looks like it used to on the outside while struggling to make sense of the truth that life will never be the same again. Financial struggles, discontent in his home, fear to love and possibly lose that love, and this new, unwelcome side of his hurting sister combine to make Logan’s transition to this new reality rocky at best. And even if the storms cease, the real substance of their lives will never be the same.

Change is inevitable. We can fight it, or we can grow through it. We are not meant to stay the same. God sent His Son so we can be different. He wants us to become a new creation. He wants the old, sinful things to pass away. God’s desire is for those who believe to develop the mind of Christ.

God doesn’t really care about our outer packaging. Just like with David, God looks at our heart. He wants us to seek Him first. Our priorities, beliefs, and actions should be shaped by His word. When these changes take place, they may not be noticeable just from a look, but it’s the inside that makes us who we are. What is in our hearts determines our character, and our character determines our actions. These are the changes God desires. These are the ones that will make all the difference.

Main Character Monday: Lucy Dixon

regina1Welcome to Main Character Monday. Today’s guest is Lucy Dixon from Carolina Mercy by Regina Rudd Merrick. Thank you for joining me.

If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?

Oh my. I’ve been a lot of places already! Dad and I visited the British Isles a few years ago, so I can mark that one off the list! I was born in Atlanta, but my dad was a plant manager and we moved around a lot. Before we came to Kentucky, we had lived in Silicon Valley in California, and then in Chicago. We saw a lot of the US. Kentucky was home, though. It was where I went to high school, where I learned that being a Christian was more than just going to church, and where I met my BFF Sarah Jane Crawford! But if I could pick any place? Probably Australia. Mainly because it’s the farthest away, and the idea of visiting the Southern Hemisphere in our winter – their summer – is intriguing. While I’m there, can I go to New Zealand, too?

I don’t see why not. I’d love to visit New Zealand for purely geeky reasons. I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan. But anyway, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Which of these traits do you find easiest to display in your life?  Which of them is the hardest to display?

You’re going to start meddling, now. Here are the ones I usually (can I underline that usually?) find easy to display: love, joy, kindness, and faithfulness. The harder ones? Peace, patience, goodness, gentleness and self-control. Not that I’m ANTI any of those things. They’re just the ones I have to work on. Especially, right now, patience. Have you MET Tom Livingston? He’s adorable, but let me tell ya, he’ll try a girl’s patience and self-control! I know he’s got a lot on him, but seriously? To not call me for EIGHT MONTHS? Okay, now I’m having trouble with peace and gentleness, too. Grrr.

Eight months would try any girl’s patience! What is your favorite story from the Old Testament?

I have two, actually, and they are SO not surprising for a girl. Esther and Ruth. Esther, because she didn’t question what God had in mind for her, she just obeyed. I want to be more like that. Ruth? I love Ruth because she was loyal, and submitted herself to both God and her mother-in-law. I’d love to have a mother-in-law like Naomi. If a certain sheriff’s deputy would get in line, I could have that. Don’t get me started!

What is your favorite book in the New Testament?

Acts. For one thing, I’m a very active person, and the book of Acts is the story of how the church started. Reading about Pentecost, and Paul’s conversion and missionary trips are fascinating to me. I guess I love it because it tells me that we’re not supposed to just sit around and wait for someone else to share the love of God and the free gift of salvation that Jesus made possible, but we’re to be out there, in our daily lives, showing and telling what He did for us! There are so many ways to do that!

If you could leave us with one message, what would you want us to know?

After my dad died in an accident, and my best friend had moved away, I realized that home wasn’t a place, and that if I’m going to make major changes in my life, I need to seek God’s guidance. I need to be fully engaged in prayer and scripture, even when I’m a little angry with God. God is good, all the time, and guess what? He just wants me to do the next right thing and trust Him.

Just for fun:

Sunrise or sunset? When I’m visiting Sarah in Murrells Inlet, SC, I’m all about a sunrise. It’s gentle, and the colors are muted. The smell of sea and marsh are so alive, but in a comfortable way. I love it here.

Pie or Cake? Pie. Especially pecan. Maybe I could make that for an event coming up . . .

Tulip or Iris? Tulips are interesting because they are pretty exotic and don’t last long in the south, but I prefer Iris. They’re stately without being too fancy.

Chocolate or Vanilla? Ha! Did I just snort? Oh, sorry! Uh, Chocolate!! The darker the better, and if you want to pile chocolate on top of chocolate, that’s okay. When I get to pick sundae toppings, I’ll pick chocolate ice cream (or fro-yo, or custard), then top it with hot fudge sauce and Heath bits. Death by chocolate!

What three words would you use to describe Regina?

Loyal, Creative, and Unexpected.

Thank you to Lucy and Regina for agreeing to this interview. I’ve loved reading Lucy’s story in Carolina Mercy, and it was a pleasure getting to know her better through this interview. Keep reading to find out more about Carolina Mercy and author Regina Rudd Merrick.

Book Blurb:

She’s always gotten everything she’s wanted. He thinks he has to give up everything.

Her best friend’s wedding is foremost on Lucy Dixon’s radar. Her biggest concern is once again meeting Tom Livingston, who has ignored her since an idyllic date on the boardwalk of Myrtle Beach the previous summer.

At least, it is her biggest concern until tragedy strikes. Where is her loving, merciful God, now?

When Tom Livingston meets Lucy, the attraction is instant. Soon after, his mother is diagnosed with an untreatable illness and his personal life is pushed aside. His work with the sheriff’s department, his family – they are more important. He knows about the love of God, but circumstances make him feel as if God’s mercy is for everyone else, not him.

Can a wedding and a hurricane – blessing and tragedy – bring them together?

 Bio:

Regina Rudd Merrick is a writer, church musician, wife, mother, former librarian, and reggrateful follower of Jesus Christ. Having lived most of her life in Western Kentucky, she dreams of the sound of crashing waves and sandy beaches. Married to her husband of 35 years, she is the mother of two grown daughters, and the keeper of a 100-year-old house where she lives in the small town of Marion, KY. She is the author of three books: Carolina Dream (Apr. 2017), Carolina Mercy (July 2018), and coming in Feb. 2019, Carolina Grace in the Southern Breeze Series.

Main Character Monday: Charlotte Stanton

Book Cover _ Under Prairie Skies (Final) (1)Welcome to Main Character Monday. Today’s guest is Charlotte Stanton from Under Prairie Skies by Cynthia Roemer. Thank you for joining Charlotte.

If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?

I’ve spent my entire life on the Illinois prairie. I can’t imagine traveling too far. However, I would enjoy visiting the mountains I’ve heard about out west. The prairie is flat as far as the eye can see. But I love it.

I grew up in Illinois too, and I’ve never seen the mountains out west either. But I’ve heard they’re beautiful. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Which of these traits do you find easiest to display in your life?  Which of them is the hardest to display?

Oh, I could use more of all of these traits. Given certain circumstances, I can be gentle and loving. Patience and self-control are definitely not on the top of my list of virtues.

What is your favorite story from the Old Testament?

I love the story of Esther. Her courage and willingness to do the right thing, despite the dangers she faced, is so inspiring.

Doing the right thing even when it’s hard. You’re right. It’s a great lesson for all of us. What is your favorite book in the New Testament?

I’m ever so convicted by the book of James. He gives such practical advice on how one should live. If only I could put it all into practice!

If you could leave us with one message, what would you want us to know?

I want you to know that change it possible. That God can soften hearts and mold us into the people He wants us to be. Just as iron sharpens iron, he uses people to sharpen each other’s lives.

It sounds like you know this from experience. I guess readers will have to check out your story to get all the details!

Just for fun:

Sunrise or sunset? Sunset

Pie or Cake?  Cake

Tulip or Iris? Tulip

Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate

What three words would you use to describe Cynthia? Quiet, loyal, outdoorsy

Thank you Cynthia Roemer for allowing Charlotte to visit with us this evening. Please keep reading for more on Charlotte’s story and Cynthia Roemer.

BOOK BLURB FOR UNDER PRAIRIE SKIES

~ Beyond shattered dreams lies a realm of possibilities ~

Illinois prairie ~1855

Unsettled by the news that her estranged cousin and uncle are returning home after a year away, Charlotte Stanton goes to ready their cabin and finds a handsome stranger has taken up residence. Convinced he’s a squatter, she throws him off the property before learning his full identity. Little does she know, their paths are destined to cross again.

Quiet and ruggedly handsome, Chad Avery’s uncanny ability to see through Charlotte’s feisty exterior and expose her inner weaknesses both infuriates and intrigues her. When a tragic accident incites her family to move east, Charlotte stays behind in hopes of becoming better acquainted with the elusive cattleman. Yet Chad’s unwillingness to divulge his hidden past, along with his vow not to love again, threatens to keep them apart forever.

AUTHOR BIO: 

Cynthia Roemer is an award-winning inspirational writer with a heart for scattering seeds of hope into the lives of readers. Raised in the cornfields of rural Illinois, Cynthia enjoys spinning tales set in the backdrop of the 1800s prairie. She writes from her family farm in central Illinois where she resides with her husband and their two college-aged sons. Under Prairie Skies is Book Two in her Prairie Sky Series.

 

Contact Info:

 

Cynthia Roemer can be contacted at:

 

Website:  http://cynthiaroemer.com/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com@cynthiaroemer

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorCynthiaRoemer/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16785237.Cynthia_Roemer

Author Newsletter Sign-up: http://cynthiaroemer.com/

 

Purchase Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=cynthia+roemer

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/under-prairie-skies-cynthia-roemer/1128471176?ean=9781945094446

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/cynthia-roemer

Dread and the Bad Haircut

haircut-834280__340Have you ever had a bad haircut? If you haven’t, you’re lucky. If you have, do you remember the moment of dread that comes before this experience?

You’ve signed in and are waiting for your appointment. Doubt flickers when the person who calls you looks like their own hair was cut with a weed trimmer. Still, you march bravely forward and sit in the chair. You show the stylist a picture of what you want. You’ve searched the internet for days finding the perfect style. You ask if this cut will work with your hair. You’re assured it will, and the stylist rattles off some simplistic description of your holy grail of hairstyles.

As the stylist picks up scissors to begin working on your transformation, she mentions something that doesn’t make sense.  No, you don’t want only an inch taken off. Your hair is down to the middle of your shoulder blades and the style in the picture barely grazes the shoulders.  On what planet is that an inch?

The tiny doubt you knew when you saw the stylist blossoms into dread. That dread is multiplied as you watch your haircut’s progression. How is this going to turn into the style in the picture? Can that even be possible?

The stylist you see in the mirror is the picture on concentration. And doubt. It’s the doubt that takes your feeling of dread to near panic. You know this is going south at an alarming rate, but there is nothing you can do about it. You can’t walk out mid-cut.  And there’s only so much hair you’re willing to lose.

Why did you come to this salon? Why did you agree to sit in this stylist’s chair? When are you going to learn? You give a weak smile. It’s too late anyway. You pay and leave. Once in the safe confines of your car, you pull out your phone and google how long it will take the bangs that are now two finger widths above your eyebrows to grow back. Then, you reschedule your family pictures for a couple weeks later than that. Next time, you’ll listen to that feeling of dread. Maybe.

Olivia, in A Desperate Love by Jessica McCarty, knows the feeling of dread that comes withMRP-A-Desperate-Love-360x569 poorly made decisions all too well. When her fiancé’s ship is attacked by pirates, Olivia mourns his loss while still maintaining the hope that he lives. When her father and mother decide it’s time she moves on into an arranged marriage, Olivia wants nothing to do with it. Desperation drives her to leave home in disguise. Her choice brings with it apprehension, but Olivia pushes through determined to do what she must to find her fiancé.

When her journey leads her to an inn filled with rough men, she feigns confidence and joins them in their gambling so she can glean information from them. She gets more than she bargains for when a strange offer is put on the table. Join the captain’s pirate crew to help them with a job, and the captain will help find her lost love. Instinct tells Olivia this isn’t a wise plan. She does it anyway.

In her time on ship, Olivia fights the demons of fear inside her, grows from skillful to masterful with a sword, finds bravery she didn’t know she had, and learns what life can be like when you allow yourself to lean on friends. But these revelations don’t keep the dread from popping up every time she’s faced with a new, less than moral choice. Olivia does her best to limit her involvement in the things she knows are wrong while living up to her end of the bargain she struck with the pirate captain. Learning to balance the two is the only way she can hope to save her fiancé.

Olivia faces her moments of dread after each step down the bad paths laid in front of her. While we may not face impossible choices with life or death consequences, I’m sure we’ve all known that catch in our spirit when make a poor choice and veer from the path God intended. It’s that feeling of heaviness that tells us we’re making a mistake. It’s God warning system for His children.

When Jesus was living on earth, He was able to show His followers how He expected them to live. When they made poor choices, Jesus dealt with it. When the disciples let fear steal their peace in the storm, He reminded them to have faith. When Peter denied Jesus, he went out and wept over his failure. When Jesus returned to them after His resurrection, He restored Peter. Jesus was with them to warn them and guide them back when they strayed.

We don’t have Jesus walking the earth with us, but He didn’t leave us alone. Jesus said He would send a helper to live inside every believer. The Holy Spirit would take up residence and work as our teacher, warning system, and the one to guide us back to the right path. When we make a sinful choice or a series of sinful choices, the Holy Spirit is there creating that feeling inside that tells us what we’re choosing is wrong. It’s a gentle nudge that if listened to can help us avoid painful consequences. That gentle nudge becomes a persistent sense of conviction when we stubbornly cling to our chosen path.

It’s not pleasant, but it can’t be. The Holy Spirit means to get our attention. He wants to keep us from sinful choices. It would be wonderful if we listened to the quiet prodding when we felt the first stirrings. Too often we don’t. Then, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict us of the sin we’ve let in. This dread or conviction is heavier because the situation demands it. But when we heed the warning and turn back from our sin, God restores and we are freed from the guilt and dread that weighs us down.

Trust Issues

tieAs a probation officer, my husband has to dissect his clients’ words in effort to find the truth in any given situation. Before that he spent years as an addictions counselor, another profession that requires carefully weighing what you hear someone say against what you see going on in their life. After over twenty years in these professions, this way of interacting with people has not filtered into his non-professional life. By nature he trusts. Optimism comes easily for him and with it a generally positive outlook on people and their motives.

I am my husband’s opposite. Well, almost. I would argue I’m not a pessimist but a realist. I see the negative outcomes as possibilities while still holding onto hope for and working towards the good. It’s a fine line, but that’s a discussion for another day. When it comes to people, I freely admit, I don’t trust easily. That task of weighing and dissecting words and their meanings that my spouse has had to learn comes all too naturally for me.

For some, like Nat Montgomery in Tie-Dyed by Amy C. Blake, experience teaches them not to trust. Nat’s grandma is the only stable thing in her life. Her mother is a functioning addict who has been in and out of her life since she was a child. Even when she was with Nat, her motives were often selfish. Nat doesn’t know her father. When her grandmother dies it feels like the only sure thing in her life other than faith has been taken from her. As she delves into a message her grandma left her, Nat if forced to question if she could even trust her beloved grandma.

Her grandma’s story plunges Nat into a dangerous quest for answers. Pains from the past mingle with the present pushing those around her to questionable and sometimes illegal acts. Nat’s lack of trust influences her to make poor decisions that could cost those she loves, and it keeps her in a state of confusion about those who seek to help her. When events seem darkest, Nat even questions the trustworthiness of God who has taken so much from her. For Nat learning to trust turns into a matter of life and death.

I doubt my instinct against trust will ever lead to a life or death situation. But there is another issue Nat faces that my own issues could lead me to if I’m not careful. When things go horribly wrong in her life, Nat doubts God’s ability to love and care for her. Is she worth God’s love and if not can she say for sure He does? For those who are a little less trusting, either by nature or because circumstances have taught them to be, the danger is in letting the storms of life erode your trust in the only One who is absolutely trustworthy.

How do you build trust that’s unshakeable? Know the one you’re trusting. God tells us everything we need to know about His nature. He gives us examples of times when He’s miraculously rescued people from circumstances, but He’s also shown us how He’s remained faithful to His children even when the situations remained the same. These examples and hundreds of promises have been given to us in His word. When we spend time in scripture finding out who God is and burying His promises deep in our hearts, we strengthen our trust. As hard times come we can hold onto the things we’ve learned. We can pray them back to God, and we can rest knowing He is the same God in our lives that He’s been throughout history. Each time He brings us through our faith is strengthened and our trust grows leaving it stronger for the next challenge of life.

By the Book: Try keeping a journal of God’s provision in your life. Detailing His work in your circumstances will provide a tangible reminder of who God has been to you for your next dark time.

Where’s your Hope?

sara 1Sometimes loving hurts.

As a mother I’ve watched my children make choices that are not only wrong but can also have devastating effects in their lives. My instincts may be to protect them from themselves, but this isn’t always the loving thing to do. There are occasions when mercy is called for, but there are also times when we try to dress up our enabling actions as the more godly characteristic of mercy. When our children are so enmeshed in patterns of poor choices, whether they are sinful or just not the best route to take, we reach the point that loving them means stepping back and letting them face hard consequences. At times like these, loving hurts.

As a friend I’ve had to respectfully and lovingly disagree with choices or beliefs held by those closest to me. When their beliefs are not in line with God’s word, the loving thing for me to do is approach them about it. It hurts to love them when they choose to continue in the wrong direction, especially when those choices are harmful to them beyond spiritually.

As a wife I’ve experienced disappointment with my spouse. We’re human, and we fail each other. At times, those failings can be devastating to our ways of life, our emotional connections, or our trust. If behaviors are repeated we can pray for our spouse but we can’t make them change. In any of these times loving someone can mean hurt for us.

If loving others can cause such pain, how can we even stand to choose love? It takes hope. Just ask Amy Dawson from Camp Hope by Sara Foust. Her childhood was marked by events that told her love wasn’t worth it. Due to a couple special people in her life, Amy was able to choose love anyway by dedicating her life to run a camp for foster children who need a safe haven and a lot of love. It isn’t always easy, especially given her own issues, but she does it every summer.  At the start of her story we also see Amy has chosen to give love to another needy child by becoming a foster mother. Balancing both takes effort, but Amy is determined.

When the unthinkable happens and her foster daughter is kidnapped, Amy once again faces the pain of loving. Her friends and the authorities blame the only man Amy ever loved, and at times she considers him a suspect as well. Due to the kidnapping, she faces losing her foster daughter forever even if she is found. Authorities think the search is pointless believing her little girl is dead.  Amy doesn’t believe them.

Making it her mission to find her foster daughter Amy takes off into the wilderness with meager supplies and the prayers of her friend to carry her through. The challenges of the terrain, the need to determine who she can trust, the pain of her past, and her fears for her foster daughter all push Amy further than she can handle on her own. She has to let go and find her hope in God despite the circumstances.  Learning where her hope comes from allows Amy to continue opening her heart to love even when loving hurts and the outcome is unsure.

We can find the same hope in the times when it’s difficult to love and we’re doubtful of how everything is going to turn out.  Scripture doesn’t say God will take away all the difficulties we face or smooth out all the wrinkles in our personal relationships. What He will do is change our hearts and attitudes if we let Him. He will give us strength and peace that doesn’t make sense to the world around us. When we come boldly before Him and lay our requests at His feet, He listens. When we draw near to God, He promises to draw near to us. When we focus on Him and open our hearts to what He wants to do in us through the things we face, the circumstances may still be painful but we also begin to see Him working. We see the truth that no matter how long the painful situation remains in our lives, we are not facing it alone and it is not in vain. God will bring beauty out of it, for us and for those we love when we let Him. This is our hope when loving hurts.

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both secure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” – Hebrews 6:19-20

By the Book: Take time to learn God’s promises for us. Commit them to memory or write them on a notecard. Use them to draw near to Him and meditate on them during the painful times in your life. Let His words remind you of the hope you have.

Moving through the Fear

key-west-81664_1280Recently, my husband and I had the opportunity to attend a marriage seminar. The focus was how to handle conflict and get out of the cycle of pushing each other’s buttons. One of the goals was to show us that most of our arguments are not really about the thing we’re arguing about. For example, we might argue about whose turn it is to wash the dishes and be angry that the other person didn’t do it when they were supposed to. And while we might need to come up with a plan to keep this particular disagreement from happening in the future, the speakers encouraged the participants to figure out why we react as we do to this kind of situation.

Participants were encouraged to examine the types of reactions we have and what internal needs drive us. But our self-examination didn’t stop there. We were also asked to consider our strongest fears. I’m not talking about the fact that a spider can send me fleeing from a room. I’m talking about the fear of not having my needs met. The need to feel respected can lead to a fear of being mocked or ignored or simply not measuring up. The need for trust can lead to a fear of betrayal.

Whatever the need is there are opposing fears that come into play when we feel that need is not being met. Little things that might not otherwise get a reaction from us are suddenly a big deal because the fear buttons associated with our need have been pushed. Fears can cause us to react in unusual and sometimes damaging ways. Left unchecked fears can cause us to cling to things we shouldn’t, react with uncalled for emotion, or push away something we really desire.

Lucy Dixon and Tom Livingston from Carolina Mercy by Regina Rudd Merrick understand this principle all too well. After a promising meeting thanks to their mutual friends, Lucy and Tom return to their separate lives with the memories of the spark between them fueling their dreams of what might have been. But when their friends’ wedding gives them the chance to come back together again, a roller coaster ride of emotions begins.

Though they both feel that initial spark upon meeting again, Lucy and Tom both have fears they have to face in order to even see if a relationship will develop. Lucy struggles with knowing the right path for her life. She still has feelings for Tom, but she doubts his. She also fears what could happen if they were to get together since they are literally from two different places. Tom’s issues come from his past. His perception of how things were as he grew up have made it hard to see how past and present can both have a place in his life. He fears the perceived responsibility and weight of his family’s needs will be too much for Lucy. He doesn’t want to ask it of her, and he ends up keeping her at arm’s length.

When fear of physical danger is added to the mix due to a natural disaster, Lucy and Tom have to decide whether or not they can overcome all their fears and give their relationship a chance. Neither is an easy path, but learning to deal with fears never is.  It isn’t for Tom and Lucy, and it isn’t for us. But when we allow God to take us down His path for our lives despite our fears or doubts, the result is the peace and joy that comes with knowing we’re living inside God’s will.

By the Book: Has God ever asked you to do something that caused you to fear or doubt? Did you give those to God and move forward? How did God work in that situation?