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Memorial Day

I’m not military but have had family members who were. In spite of that, I have held great admiration for our men and women in uniform. So many have died to protect the freedoms we hold dear and today is our day to pause, reflect, and remember their sacrifice.

And maybe we need to ask ourselves: Are we helping to preserve our freedoms from within? Do you vote? Have you read the constitution? Some have said, and I believe it, that if our nation is to fall, it will be from within, not without. Day by day, and week by week, we see the values our soldiers have fought and died for being trampled.

In honor of them…we too should be willing to fight for our country in our own way, in our own communities.

Have a blessed day of remembrance.

Lessons Learned While Writing: The Necessity of “Tough Stuff”

A story that is all sunshine and happy times doesn’t keep the reader engaged. As an author I need to find an inciting incident to start my story. A disturbance of some sort to draw the reader in and make them want to take this journey with me. Obstacles need to be faced because this forces my character to make choices and face consequences—good and bad—for those decisions. Without conflict, the story would be boring. Without challenges the character doesn’t grow and change to become a better person emotionally and spiritually.

The challenge of living in this world filled with sin is we face conflict regularly in real life and sometimes that can be a royal pain. Sometimes we create our own conflict. Sometimes events happen over which we have no control and we are forced to deal with and react to them. Every choice leads us down a path filled with more choices.

The darkness in this world, the grief and heartache we face, serves to remind us of how human we really are. How far from heaven we’ve fallen due to the ongoing and exponentially growing prevalence of sin in the world. But the ups and downs of this life also help us appreciate the good times, the happy moments, the blessings that come along as well.

The stars don’t cease to twinkle when the sun is shining, even though we can’t see them. When darkness falls and we are way from city lights, the stars sparkle in the heavens. So too when life is dark do we sometimes see things clearer. The harshness of death, expands the depth of love. The threat of a terminal illness makes us cling to what really matters. 

Without the difficulties of life it would be, well, boring. At least on a page of a book. We don’t want to read about everything always going great on social media, do we? It’s not real. Everyone has some heartache and challenges they face from within or without. Maybe they won’t share it but it’s there. Sometimes we only get the highlight reel.

It makes me wonder how Heaven in all its glory will compare to this world filled with tears and sorrows, gains and losses, pain and healing. We will be awestruck. We will have work to do as we worship the King of kings and Lord of lords. But there won’t be the struggle, the pain, or the tears.

If you are struggling, hang on. It won’t last forever because we have something wonderful to look forward to.

Lessons Learned While Writing: God Never Forgets Me

A few years back I was writing the book Whitney’s Vow, which released last summer. I was in the middle of a scene where I had my character, Whitney, hanging off the edge of a cliff. I ran out of time and needed to get to church for a ministry obligation I had.

The entire time I was doing my task at church I kept thinking about poor Whitney! I was worried about what was going to happen next (because unlike God I don’t know what I write until after I’ve written it). I had a concept and a plan but due to my obligations, I couldn’t write it until the next day. So, Whitney, albeit a fictional character, was stranded on the side of a cliff for a long time.

God in greater fashion than me, cannot forget. He is always aware of where I am even if He is waiting for His perfect plan to unfold. While I’ve not been stranded on the side of a cliff like my character, I have waited for years for rescue from a painful situation I was in. All the while my writing has reminded me that God was fully aware of my circumstances and pain during that time. And all the time.

He will never forget me. He created me, called me to be His child, and while He remarkably also never forgets anyone else, He remembers me and my challenges, pains, and yes, joys.

What a blessed gift that even in the process of writing a story that hopefully people will enjoy, I’m reminded that God doesn’t forget me. He won’t forget You either.

What other ways are you reminded that God is present and aware of your circumstances?

Lessons Learned While Writing: God Led Me Down a New Career Path

When I started my writing journey, I was a stay-at-home mom with a master’s degree in counseling psychology leading a ministry to women at my church. I didn’t anticipate going back to work for a few more years as I firmly believed in being there for my kids, even though it involved steep emotional and financial sacrifices. Not need to dredge that all up here.

I wrote a book. Gothic Regency Romance. I wondered if I could write contemporary and tried it. Then I wrote another Regency. Then a contemporary and on and on it went. Flip-flopping back and forth and trying to keep my language straight: not putting modern words in a story taking place in the early 1800’s and not putting Regency-era language in a modern romance. Then, of course, cultural differences. And I was enjoying myself immensely. And learning more and more about the craft and editing.

I fell into editing because a friend suggested a position to me. I applied and after much prayer accepted the offer. I could work from home. I set my own hours. Oh, but I only got paid when the books sold and based on the book’s sales. It wasn’t much but I was learning more and more with every novel I not only wrote but edited. And then I started teaching on faculty at Christian Writer’s Conferences as well as meeting with and encouraging other authors who were where I was not that long ago. Again, not a huge financial boon to my family, but I was making an eternal impact in the lives of my readers, my authors, and those who read those books.

I’ve added teaching a continuing education class at my local state university and that’s been well received. And I keep writing.

I don’t know what I thought I’d be doing by the time my kids left the proverbial nest, but writing is perfect for me as my retired but very busy husband likes that I’m home, and travels with me when I speak. He understands the bigger picture of what I do and supports that endeavor regardless of how much, or little, money I might make.

I may not have gone to school to become a writer, but writing well is what allowed me to succeed in school and in my first career. I still use those skills more than you might think. None of that degree was wasted. And the Hard Knock School of Writing doesn’t give out degrees until you’re dead so I’ll keep plugging away at it.

Have you seen God take you down a different career path from what you originally intended or went to school for? What happened? Please share!

The Most Important Thing: The Gospel

I was getting ready for a craft fair and decided to include an excerpt from one of my novellas inside my brochure that lists all my books and contact information. Why? Because whether someone likes my stories or not, the most important thing is their relationship with God. Hopefully, all my stories have some thread or truth of the Gospel in them without being preachy it is usually covert. In my novella Slam-Dunk Christmas, I had a more overt moment, so this is the excerpt I took from that story.

“So tell me what’s on your mind.”

How did he know? “I think God is trying to get my attention.”

Blake grinned. “He’s been trying that for a long time, Sam.”

“Maybe so. I was too busy to listen. I guess I want to make sure I’m not heading down a wrong path. I’m trying to pray…”

“That’s a good start. Let me ask you a few questions.”

Sam nodded. “Go ahead.”

“Do you realize that you are a sinner who can in no way match up to God’s holiness?”

“Duh. Of course. I’ve done and thought unconscionable things. I’m sure every day I screw up in some way in spite of my best of intentions.”

“Do you believe that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again as the perfect solution to your sin problem?”

“Huh?

“Maybe I’m doing this wrong. Hold on.” Blake rose and left the room, returning with his Bible. “Here we go. Romans 3:23 says, ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ Do you agree with that?”

“Of course, after all the evil we’ve seen on this planet, it would be hard for anyone to deny that.”

“Romans 6:23 says, ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”

“I’ve seen enough of death,” Sam said. “I want to know more about that life part.”

“Great. Romans 5:8 says, ‘But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’”

“So like a criminal who is convicted of a crime, Jesus has taken my death sentence upon himself.  Interesting. A substitution.” Sam marveled. He’d read stories about Jesus, but he’d never really studied the Bible or its tenets.

“Exactly. In Romans 10: 9-10 it says: ‘If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.’”

“So, I just need to accept the gift. Believe and state it out loud, much like we professed our commitment to the military once upon a time?”

“Correct. Verse 13 states, ‘For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ And when we look back at chapter 8:38-30 we see a wonderful promise, ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”

“Whoa. That’s amazingly all-encompassing. So the punishment for my sin is gone, I can live a life with Jesus forever?”

Blake nodded.

“I want that.”

“Would you like me to pray with you?”

“I think I need to do this myself. Thank you, Blake. Can I borrow your Bible?”

“You can keep it. I have several, and the verses are underlined in here.”

“Thank you.”

“Let me know how it goes.”

Sam nodded, took the book, and his coffee and headed to his room. Once he was inside, he closed the door. How did someone do this? He placed the book on the bed and knelt on the rug that was there, leaning against the mattress he folded his hands. He hadn’t read that this was important but he’d seen images of people praying that way so he figured it wouldn’t hurt.

“OK, God. You’ve been trying to get my attention and I’m ready. I know I’ve made some big mistakes. What did Blake call it? Oh, yeah, I sinned. I am a sinner, and desperately need You to rescue me from that. You’ve already done that, and I need to accept the gift You graciously offer me. So Jesus, I proclaim You to be the Lord and my Savior. My rescuer. My salvation. I desperately need You to help me live the rest of my life in a way that would honor you, my Commander-in-Chief. Thank you for dying for me, rising again, and finding me, calling me, to be Yours. Amen.”

How about you? Where do you stand with God? HE is the greatest gift of all. Let me know if you’ve taken that step. I’m praying for you!

Lessons Learned While Writing: I’m Not As Good As I Think I Am (aka Humility)

I had started writing in a way many in that genre write, from an omniscient narrator perspective which meant I’d hop from one character’s thoughts and experiences to another without pause. Well, if older writers could do it, why not me?

Oh, how wonderful I thought my first book was, until I began to get the critiques back. What was head-hopping? What do you mean I have too may points of view? What is a point of view anyway?

Because that was then and this is now. I read, and got feedback and I rewrote the book taking out one character as it was too long. Then I rewrote it again with only two points of view. I revised it another time sparsely adding the point of view a villain who appears in subsequent books to give it a darker, more suspenseful tone. Instead of writing a lighthearted Regency-era romance, my novels were more Gothic!

Every time I write a story there is a mixture of pride and fear mixed into the process. Will it be good enough? Will the story resonate with readers?

Sometimes I wonder if big sales have eluded me because I’m poor at marketing or because God is protecting me from pride—that erroneous belief that I wrote those books and I’m wonderful.

I did write them—with God’s help and that of others. And I am wonderful, as a child of God which means I’m also a flawed human being.

Every round of edits can bring up fears of not being good enough. But in reality, I’ll never be good enough. I can only hope to grow to be better than the last book I wrote.

My daughter told me not to worry: “You’ll be famous when you’re dead.” I laughed. Guess I’m not in a hurry to be famous then because I have a lot more living to do should the Lord allow me to remain here.

Sometimes I wonder when it will end. Writers don’t really “retire,” so as long as I have the ability and the imagination, I suppose I’ll keep writing, and leave fame in the hands of God.

What projects do you struggle with to find humility? What works for you to keep you from wallowing in self-pity or puffing yourself up too much?

Ode to Benji

Benji – a rescue we adopted as a senior dog in September 2020 with many issues, put down in March 2022 due to biting combined with neurological decline.

Benji was an old pup, overweight, beset with quirks
Peeing in the house was high on the list of what would irk
He could be kind of bossy, and a bully when he played,
But most of the time he snuggled, my Velcro dog by day. 

Spoiled rotten he was and a piggy to boot
He'd scare himself whenever he'd toot.
He lost the weight and the allergies too
But with focal seizures and shaking, his brain was going to-da-loo.

He'd nip and growl if he didn't get his way,
Or perhaps when he was surprised, 
Instead of moving out of the way
He'd lunge and with his teeth - swipe. 

He'd finally crossed a line with the one he loved most
One quick movement and his future was toast.
He took a bite out of my calf, through jeans he left his mark
It was with relief and sorrow that we'd finally come to part. 

I never thought it'd come to this
The decision needed to be made.
A dog that bit was too high a price
For what I'd have to pay. 

To walk around my home in fear
Out of love for a dog so dear
And worry about our friends who came
It was time, but just the same

To say good bye is hard, even when you're hurt
To lose a loved one so cute and bury him in dirt

But I've learned things and know I tried
To give him his best life before he died.
He was loved and cared for, free to run,
And now his journey is over and done.

Bye-bye, Benji with those big soulless eyes
Your whimpers will no longer awaken me before the sunrise
I will not miss your belly bands or cleaning up your pee
But I will miss you snuggling right up next to me.

All Understanding

I was cleaning up a workspace that had been left for over three years. I tossed out so many boxes of garbage! It felt soo good tossing them into our wood stove/boiler. I even found some things that I’d thought were lost forever.

This was a poem I wrote back in the spring of 1990. I was so young back then, but it still speaks to me. Maybe you’ll enjoy it as well.

All Understanding

Broken people

Broken hearts

The sin of our parents

Now tearing us apart

Satan doesn’t have to work too hard

The damage has been done

The patterns long established

Started before our lives had begun

Yet Lord, You give the courage

To help us right our past

Convicting us about our status quo

You bring healing and peace that surpasses all understanding

So we struggle

With hurts from long ago

Satan has to work harder now

He doesn’t want to let us go

Yet we belong to Jesus

Our hearts washed white as snow

We are cleaning out our closets

The skeletons must go

Yet Lord, You bring the strength

As we change our wrongful ways at last

Encouraging us by Your Spirit

Bringing healing and a peace that surpasses all understanding

You understand us, Lord

More than we ever could ourselves

With compassion, You look upon us

As You bring us to Yourself

Your love abounding always

Though we slip and fall at times

Your grace still reaching out to us

A love that doesn’t constrict or bind

Lord, continue to give us the stamina

To change the grains of time

Gifting us with wisdom and patience

Bring healing and peace that surpasses all understanding.

Have a beautiful week trusting in Him.

One Word: Empowered

I have a heavy writing schedule this year and part of that terrifies me. For the most part, over the years when I’ve written it has been because I wanted to–not because I needed to. When I focus, like with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month nanowrimo.org) I can write fast and finish a full-length novel or at least go over the 50,000-word goal for the month. But now I have a contract for four more books and I need to write, write, write.

I prayed about this before agreeing to this contract. Part of the challenge is that I’m co-authoring with a dear friend, DeeDee Lake. But our lives and schedules sometimes conflict for even basic brainstorming of ideas. We’ve set up a schedule for how things pass between us but then there’s this thing we can’t account for called LIFE.

I usually pick one word for the year and this year it is: Empowered. I cannot accomplish these tasks on my own and I want to make sure that in the process of doing this I don’t miss what’s really important in life: time with my husband, kids, friends, and family. My dad died in October and maybe I’ll write about that another time, but it drove home to me the importance of making every day count.

I select Scriptures to put on my screen savers so I’m constantly reminded of my dependence on God for these tasks. The first uses a verse from 2 Corinthians 9:8 which says: “And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may exalt in every good work.” (HCSB)

The second uses a verse from 2 Timothy 1:9 which proclaims: “He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” (HCSB)

I don’t know what you’re struggling with today. But maybe those Scriptures can help. I’ve found that when I’m overwhelmed by the tasks the best thing I can do is write them down and pray and ask God: What would you have me do next? And then do it. One task at a time.

I’ve accomplished a lot in January because God has enabled me to. I’ve been frustrated at what I couldn’t do sometimes due to circumstances out of my control so after I have my own little internal temper tantrum because things didn’t go according to my plan, I pray and adjust my goals for that day, week, and maybe even month.

I had hoped to start writing last week on a novel but didn’t get the information I needed. So today, I’ll be working on a different project I had planned for later in the year. I shuffled my schedule and plans around and have built-in buffers because so much, wait, really ALL of life is beyond my control. So I will pray, focus and get to work to do what He has led me to do and trust Him for the outcome.

What is overwhelming you? Can you lean on God to empower you? He does give us more than we can bear simply so we need to lean on Him. Our Lord is faithful and generous in His grace and mercy to us! Embrace that and press on. Do you have one word for the year? Why is it important to you, I’d love to hear about it.

The Value of a Day

I’m a proactive worrier. A planner. I want to understand all the contingencies and be ready.

Life doesn’t always allow that though and nothing I’ve worried about has ever come to pass. I’m not superstitious enough to believe that my anxieties and preparation had anything to do with that.

Worry robs me of peace and joy. It takes me out of the present into an invisible (to me) future.

Leaving worry aside and focusing on the here and now can bring me greater contentment. That is if I truly value the work I’m doing right now.

As I’ve grown older, (not grown up), I’ve had to re-think what’s important. I’ve always been a doer and getting things accomplished were a measure of my worth at least in my own myopic perspective.

God has brought me to a place where I can savor more of the less remarkable moments. Yes, I sometimes make a list of all I’ve done to reassure myself that I wasn’t lazy at the end of the day when I don’t have anything tangible to show for the time that’s passed.

Getting work done around the house, completing projects and even finishing a book or having one come out are all tasks that recycle. They never end. There’s always more laundry to do. The dogs track in mud on a freshly washed floor, my daughter needs something for school right away and the grass keeps growing and when that stops the snow will keep me busy. When the kids were younger I struggled to find value in keeping them clean, clothed, and fed. And there are more stories and books in my head than I can possible accomplish in the time God has given me today.

While I still need do all the necessities of daily life, cleaning, grocery shopping, looking after kids, paying bills, helping my husband, and doing contracted writing/editing/teaching work, I’ve found that sometimes the seemingly smaller things are more important:

  • My time with God each day.
  • Hanging out with my dying father even while he sleeps.
  • Giving my mom a break so she can get away from the 24/7 burden of caring for my dad.
  • Playing mini-golf with my husband or sitting and watching television together and date nights.
  • Spending time with my daughter shopping or working on something together.
  • Girls-night out (or in!)
  • Hosting the small group that meets in our home.
  • Having people over for dinner or playing cards.
  • Being aware of people around me wherever I go. Who would God have me bless?

I’m finding that while the daily stuff is important, making time for the eternal stuff, the relationships, is even more so. Even though I hope my stories will impact lives, encourage people to grow in faith, or see the world a little differently, and they may outlast me, I firmly believe relationships are more important than all of it. When I teach writers I emphasize this often. Don’t overlook the people in the rush to accomplish a task. It’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way.

I like to get things done. But sometimes sitting back and valuing the moments in a day with another person, even if it is silence, has the greater value. It won’t happen unless I’m intentional about it.

I doubt I’ll ever have regrets about a dirty house, or a messy lawn when we are in the process of making changes. I won’t regret the dust that sits undisturbed. At the end of my life I won’t think about any of that. All that will matter are the people. If this were my last day on earth would I be happy about how I left the people around me? Would they know without a doubt how loved they were?

I’m not saying to abandon cleaning and caring for those around us and for the material possessions God has given us. I’m suggesting we find greater value in the people than things or tasks. It isn’t easy and I still don’t always do it well, but I’m growing in it.

What are you learning to value in your day?