Be Like . . .

We’ve all seen them. They flash across our Facebook and Instagram feeds trying to lure us in with their cleverness. Their goal is making a sale based on our nostalgia for a particular television series. Love like this character. Be brave like that character. Remember to laugh like this character. On through the cast the list goes until each of the show’s characters is given a trait we remember them for most. It’s a way to announce our show loyalty to the rest of the television viewing world. Tonight I’m taking a page from their playbook.

While I could easily make a list of favorite movies or television characters, I’m a reader. Instead, I’m going to give you a list of the characters I love from my favorite author. Why? Because more than any television show or movie I’ve ever watched, these characters impacted me. They showed me parts of myself or things I wish were part of myself. I learned lessons beside them. I grew in my understanding of faith right with them. They have challenged me and encouraged me through the years, and I want to thank them (and Kristen Heitzmann, the author who created them) in this small way.

I want to . . .

be RESILIENT like Abbie Ferrel (Rocky Mountain Legacy series)

be PASSIONATE like Carina Maria DiGratia (Diamond of the Rockies series)

learn to “WANT THE WAY (THINGS) WORK OUT” even when it hurts like Morgan Spencer (A Rush of Wings series)

be a completely WILLING vessel God can use like Lance Michelli (Michelli Family series)

and finally,

be REAL like Grace Evangeline who messed up big time but owned it, repented, and kept letting God use her despite the fall-out. (Told You series)

What about you? Is there a character who has touched you in a major way? How do they inspire you?

 

What I’m Reading – A Bound Heart

Ever read a book that’s so well written you come away from it thinking it was a simply beautiful story to read? That’s what I experienced reading A Bound Heart by Laura Frantz.

The cover caught my attention first. It has a very Scottish or Irish look to it. If that wasn’t enough to tempt me into buying the book, (and really why wouldn’t it be? I’m fascinated with anything Irish or Scottish) I realized the author was Laura Frantz. I’ve only read one other book by this author, but A Moonbow Night was a wonderful book.  The author’s style was impressive. I hoped it would be the same with A Bound Heart.

I was not disappointed. The story, which takes place in Scotland in the 1700s, drew me in immediately. Lark’s life on the Isle of Kerrera is simple and sweet. Raised with Magnus, the laird of Kerrera, Lark has known privileges others of her station did not. Her friendship with him changed when he married, but Lark still serves faithfully raising and preparing the herbs for the castles medicinal and culinary needs.

Rory is a ship’s captain, smuggler, and friend. Though questioning how it fits with her Christian beliefs, Lark helps him avoid capture when he brings his ship to the island. Can it be all bad when he’s taking from those who have much in order to feed those who would otherwise have little? This struggle is one issue holding Lark back from giving him her heart, though she believes it would be easy to do so.

When circumstances land all three in legal troubles, they find themselves indentured and sailing for the colonies and Jamaica. Each struggle to adapt to new surroundings and ways of life while fighting homesickness for the land and people they love.  It’s especially hard for Lark as one of the men she cares about seems bent on choices that could lead to his end and the other is in an unknown land with a reputation for putting the indentured servants in an early grave due to illness.

Lark’s faith remains throughout these trials. She turns to God for answers and strength. She trusts He has a plan for her future, but what will that future look like?

Pick and Choose

I’ll admit it. I only bought Thorn in My Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs because of the setting. Ireland and Scotland have always been areas of interest to me. So, I bought the book. I bought the rest in the series because of the story in the first.

I bought The Silent Songbird by Melanie Dickerson because someone at the book store recommended it. I bought more of her books because I enjoyed the stories.

It was the cover of Carolina Dream by Regina Rudd Merrick that first drew my attention. It’s beautiful and inviting. The images on the front made me want to visit the world within. I’ve visited twice more since then as the next two books in the series were published.

I’ll buy anything with Kristen Heitzmann’s name on it. I’ve yet to find something she’s written that I don’t enjoy. In fact, she is re-doing one of her earliest sets, and I will get those when they become available. It doesn’t matter that I have the originals. Her skill has earned her books a place on my shelves every time.

Whether it’s the setting, a recommendation, a cover, or a name there is always something that draws a reader to a particular book. Occasionally we stumble onto a new writer by accident. I found Morgan Busse when I won a copy of Tainted. The book is not in my preferred genre, and I would not have purchased it for myself. It would have been my loss. I couldn’t put the book down, and I bought book two immediately. But happy accidents like this aside, most of the time some element lures us in and inspires us to choose a particular book.

In a similar way, we tend to gravitate toward certain scriptures or books of the Bible. I love a good story. Genesis, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles overflow with stories. The four gospels in the New Testament all tell the story of Jesus’ life.

I don’t like cliff-hangers. That’s why Jonah tends to frustrate me. It just sort of ends. I’m also not a fan of having to decipher between literal and figurative. I like it when things are clear and easy to follow. Though I have read it, Revelation isn’t usually my first choice because of this.

I will always have my favorites and the reasons I love them. I think most people do. But I don’t want that to stop me from seeking out God’s truth and wisdom from the entirety of scripture. The Bible, while separated into individual books, is meant to be taken as a whole as well. Each part backs up and enhances the message in the rest. It’s when the parts are put together that we get the clearest picture of who God is and what His plan for us is.

Besides, sometimes the most impactful lessons come from the place we least expect them.  Much like I was surprised by Tainted when I read it, I’ve been surprised by scripture. Doing an inductive Bible study of Romans was not something I looked forward to. Our group finished Kings and Chronicles which I loved. There was story after story to learn from and enjoy in those books. The idea of going to Romans was not as appealing. But I joined the study and gave it my best, and I came out with a new appreciation of the book. The lessons I took from that Romans study have had a big impact on my faith. Years later, truths I learned come flooding back with clarity when I need them most. I would have missed these if I’d decided not to take part.

How do you choose the books you read? Have any surprised you?

Which books of the Bible are your favorite and why? Have you ever been surprised by scripture?

What I’m Reading – The Wedding Dress

About a year ago, I had my first introduction to Rachel Hauck with the book The Writing Desk. I loved it. It’s one of those books I’ll keep and re-read in years to come. And that is why I didn’t hesitate to snatch The Wedding Dress off the shelf as I perused the shelf at a used bookstore just two days ago.

I began reading it that night, though I admit I didn’t get very far into it before I needed to put it down. Last night was a different story. After spending a lazy day with my husband, spending a lazy evening reading sounded just about perfect. At one a.m. when I finished the last page, I knew I had made the right choice. Even this morning, tired as I am from my late night, I’m not sorry I didn’t put the book down in favor of a good night’s sleep. Sometimes, you simply need to stay up late reading a good book.

That’s what The Wedding Dress is, a good book. Though the gown has been worn by four different brides over the span of around a hundred years, the book fleshes out the stories of the first and current owners of the dress, Emily and Charlotte.

Charlotte’s life is about wedding dresses. She pairs each bride who enters her shop with the perfect dress for them. Not content to make cookie cutter brides, she finds the unique dress to match the spirit of each bride. She considers this a gift God has given her to help each woman’s special day be as wonderful as it can be.

Her own life is a little messy though. Charlotte and her fiance seem a little off. Plans are not being made in a timely way for their wedding. Charlotte, the lover of wedding dresses, hasn’t even found her own. In what she believes is a desire to seek out answers, Charlotte goes to a special place from her childhood for solitude. What she finds is an auction, a mysterious man, and a battered trunk that she pays more money than she believes it’s worth to win.

As her engagement and relationship with her fiance fizzle, Charlotte opens the trunk to a beautiful, antique wedding dress that seems shrouded in mystery. In her current state she doesn’t believe the dress is for her, but she is driven to find out what she can about the history of the dress.

One hundred years earlier Emily is also engaged. In a time when racial tensions were high and women were pushing for the right to vote, Emily faces her own doubts about marriage to Phillip. On paper, he is her best choice. He’s from a good family that will raise her own family’s social standing. Everyone is in favor of the marriage. But something feels off.

When her first love comes back into her life, matters are complicated. Truth tries to come into the light, but Emily feels trapped. She’s made her choice, and she will honor it. She longs for freedom, but she can’t seem to find it even in something as simple as obtaining her wedding dress.

Emily’s mother and her fiance’s family have chosen the best wedding dress maker to create a gown suitable for a wedding of the highest social caliber. Emily finds the woman rude and conceited. Her design leaves Emily feeling constricted and weighted down, trapped.

Against social norms and possibly even laws she seeks out a woman of color to design her dress. Gifted in much the same way Charlotte feels gifted in the future, Taffy designs and sews the wedding dress Charlotte finds years later in the trunk. The dress is a perfect fit and style for Emily, but her mother insists it cannot be worn for her wedding to Phillip.

Emily and Charlotte, along with the other two owners, struggle to fully embrace what the dress means for their lives. For different reasons courage and faith are needed by these women to accept the dress as theirs and live with the events it brings into their lives.

Rachel Hauck does a wonderful job telling the story of Emily and Charlotte, but she doesn’t stop there. The gown is a character in it’s own right, and it’s story is rich with history and meaning as it weaves together the lives of these four women. The Wedding Dress is a beautiful story of love, betrayal, brokenness, and redemption that will be as timeless as the gown it’s named for.

Write Stuff Wednesday – Cynthia Roemer

Newspaper photo Book 2 - Copy (2)Cynthia Roemer, today’s guest on Write Stuff Wednesday, shares a quote from one of my favorite children’s book series. Of course, I really don’t think this series is only for children! Thank you for sharing Cynthia.

It comes from C. S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew.
“For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”
~ Why I like this: As a writer, perspective is everything. I hope to make readers experience what my characters are experiencing, hopefully in an intriguing sort of way. As a person, it’s my prayer that I will look for the good and not the bad in situations and others.
Here’s a little more about Cynthia:

Book cover - finalBook Cover _ Under Prairie Skies (Final)

 

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. Her Prairie Sky Series consists of Book One: Under This Same Sky and Book Two: Under Prairie Skies. She is currently writing Book Three in the series, Under Moonlit Skies due to release in September, 2019.

 Contact Info:

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

 

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.

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.

 

A Foreign Way to Worship

martialFrom the time my middle son was five until he turned twelve, my three sons and I were involved in martial arts .Their dad joined in later, and he is the only one still practicing. But for those early years, it was me and the boys participating in classes and tournaments. We traveled to Indiana, central Illinois, and even Tennessee for tournaments. I loved watching the boys compete.
My oldest is built differently than his brothers. He wasn’t the one whose forms showed long, lean lines. He was built for power, and his favorite area of study highlighted that. More than the Tae Kwon Do forms, he enjoyed weapons. More specifically, he enjoyed the Korean sword art known as Gumdo.
My middle son was built for forms and loved breaking. One of my favorite pictures that ended up in the paper is of him doing a flying kick towards a board. He enjoyed breaking and sparring. And he was good at them.
Their youngest brother was only a little guy when he started competition. His first one was when he was about three or four. He just wanted to have fun. He knew his forms. He sparred as only a kid who isn’t aggressive can, standing there letting his competitor score all the points and being happy about it. But he could draw a room’s attention with his musical forms. He would take his mini bo staff and start as soon as the music played. It wasn’t that he was so proficient. Really, he made it all up as he went along. But he was so tiny and cute, the adults in the room would stop to watch him perform. He just wanted to do what his brothers were doing.
My boys are completely different, and their martial arts interests and styles highlighted those differences. But the great thing was that they could enjoy the competitions together. They could cheer each other on and help each other out. They didn’t have to excel in the same events. They were unique in their talents, and the competitions had a place for each of them.
I was reminded of this while reading The Christmas Bride: A Legacy of Love Novel by Melanie Dobson. In this historical fiction the main characters were part of Moravian religious group that moved to Pennsylvania in the 1700s to evangelize the Native Americans in the area. I understood their desire to remain neutral in the skirmishes between European settlers and the native people. I could relate to their passion to share the gospel with those who’d never had a chance to hear it. But from the first page, I was drawn into a story that showed a way of living completely foreign to me.
Christian and Susanna didn’t meet until their wedding day. In fact, Christian wanted to marry someone else, but the elders deferred decisions like that to the lot believing God would guide the choosing of the slip of paper that would read yes, no, or wait. Christian’s first choice received a no, but he felt led to missions work in the colonies and a wife was needed for that. Elders led him to Susanna, and the lot agreed.
But the lot wasn’t the most intriguing difference in how the people lived and served God. At a time when Susanna and Christian are strangers to each other trying to figure out how to love each other, they’re kept apart by the rules of their religious group. In effort to keep its members focused on their calls to serve God, men and women lived separately. Strictly enforced tasks kept Susanna and Christian from each other through the day, and their nights were spent in separate homes called choirs. Even children were separated from their parents to be raised by women in the group gifted for the task.
Add to these marital roadblocks to intimacy the harshness of the mostly unsettled land, the tensions between English and French settlers, and the tensions between all European settlers and the native people, and it’s easy to see why Susanna and Christian struggle to make their marriage something they can take joy in. All of this doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that the woman Christian desired to marry and still desires is his wife’s best friend who has also accompanied the group to Pennsylvania.
While I couldn’t relate to the way the people lived, I could relate to the struggle to do what God would have them do. I could empathize with Susanna when doubts and fears plagued her. I could call to mind my own frustrations as I considered Christian’s overwhelming passion to live out the calling he felt God had for his life only to be held back by forces beyond his control.
My life may be very different from the lives of Susanna and Christian, but their story was intriguing because of these differences. But just because our circumstances and choices in how to live are very different, it doesn’t mean their story was without meaning for me. As I read of their journey, I found myself and my struggles in theirs.
What Christian and Susanna or my own sons have shown me is that there is a place for differences in our faith. As long as we are sinners saved by grace through the sacrifice of God’s Son made man, Jesus, on the cross our differences don’t have to keep us apart. You may take communion every week while I may take it each quarter. You may have a rigid, methodical style of worship and mine may be more flexible. Your preacher may dress in a full suit while mine wears jeans and a polo shirt. It doesn’t matter. We’re all part of the body of Christ. We can come together to pray for, encourage, and challenge one another to deeper faith.
While false teachings and perversions of the gospel message should hinder our worship together, we need to start looking past the superficial differences in how we choose to worship. We need to start working together and caring for each other as a unified body. There’s room in God’s family for you whether you raise your hands in worship or sing reservedly, participate in responsive readings or simply listen, take communion weekly or quarterly, have small groups or Sunday School, sit on pews or in chairs, dress us or dress casual, or if your preacher remains calm or shouts and walks the aisle. We need to start loving and serving others together as a way to bring the light of God’s love into the darkness of this world.

By the Book: Do you frown on others’ worship styles because you don’t “get it” or are you open to working together for the sake of the gospel?

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.