Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Leave of Absence

Obviously, it's been a while since I posted last - over 2 months to be exact. This post is to let you know I'm taking an indefinite break from blogging. If I'm at my computer I must be writing. With being a wife, mama, and teacher, I have to use every second I get! Please, if you aren't already, follow me on facebook. My facebook page will allow me to get to know you and vice versa as I will post questions, thoughts, prayer requests, and of course updates on the books. Speaking of which, The Heart's Lullaby is coming along well. I have a beautiful cover that is up on facebook - take a look and leave a comment. The release date is May 2nd, 2011. Can't wait! Talk to you all soon!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Want a GREAT Read???

I recently read a book that has easily jumped to my Top 5 ever list. That is not an easy feat because I'm a self proclaimed SLOW READER. If a book is not good, I can't finish it. This book titled, The Weight of Shadows, was phenomenal. Listen to me. RUN, don't walk to your local store to get this book. It's powerful and captivating and, well, made me think about a lot of things in a whole new light. Let me start by introducing you to Alison Strobel, the very talented author (with a great first name, spelled exactly the same as my Ali's! :o) ). Then I will give you my review of the book. So, without further ado, please welcome Alison Strobel!

Q. Alison, when did you first discover that you were a writer?

A. I started writing stories when I was in kindergarten, but I didn't think of myself as A Writer until I was in high school. Until then it was just something I liked to do, but I took a creative writing class in high school (thank you, Mr. Leece!) and at that point began to think maybe this was something I actually had a talent for, and not just something I did as a hobby. It wasn't until I got my first contract, though, that I thought I could be a career writer, and I think that's when I started to consider myself a professional and not just a dabbler.

Q. What other books/short stories/articles/poems have you written, whether published or not?

A. Oh gosh, floating around in some Illinois landfill are all sorts of beginnings of novels and stories! I probably started a new book every summer, including one that was very similar to the show "Party of Five" (but mine came first!). I completed my first book in junior high, full of all sorts of tween drama--the world is a better place for its disappearance. :D In high school a friend and I (Meg Gronau, actually, who is also part of the blog tour) wrote two stories by going back and forth and picking up where the other left off. Meg is much funnier than I am, and it was always very clear what sections she wrote--they make me laugh out loud to this day.

I had a couple articles published a few years back in Relevant magazine, and a couple years ago I wrote 2 different 8-page booklets with Easter themes for Outreach that churches can order and use as invitations to their Easter services.

And, of course, I have three more books coming out over the next 18 months--Reinventing Rachel in September, Memory of the Heart next spring, and a currently untitled novel coming out next fall.

Q. Do you have an all time favorite book? Which genre do you prefer to read and why?

A. If I could only have one book to read for the rest of my life...probably Microserfs by Douglas Coupland. The expression of community the book portrays is really beautiful to me. And Coupland's just a great writer. In terms of genre...just plain old contemporary fiction is probably my favorite, because the stories typically ask some really intriguing questions and challenge how I think.

Q. How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?

A. Quite often I feel like I haven't kept my sanity. Run, run, run is a pretty good description of what my life has been like for the last year. Just in the last few months I've made some changes so that I don't get completely burned out. No more working on the weekends, at least not while the girls are awake. I take an entire month off after I finish a book. I try really hard (though quite often fail) not to spend too much time on the Internet when I've got the girls in the morning (my husband watches them in the afternoon so I can work), and I try to give them as much of my time, energy, and attention as I can. I took up crochet--partly because I wanted to have a hobby, partly because I really love making things with my hands, and partly because I think it's important to have a variety of skills. I've found it's really relaxing, though, too, which was a great plus!

Q. What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?

A. I have to cheat and give two: my daughters. I love them so much. Though I guess technically they're God's accomplishment and not mine! So that being the case...I think having a successful HBAC (homebirth after cesarean--Abigail was born via c-section, and Penelope Jane was born naturally at home) is an accomplishment I'm extremely proud of. A close second is actually getting published!

Q. What was your greatest roadblock in writing this book and others, and how did you overcome it?

A. Trying to balance writing an accurate portrayal of domestic abuse without making the reading too heavy and graphic. I didn't want my readers to get depressed, or give anyone nightmares--but I also didn't want to gloss over it, because I felt like that wasn't doing justice by the women who have experienced it. I achieved that (I hope I did, anyway--you readers will have to tell me what you think!) by not describing the abuse blow-by-blow, but in more general terms, and then trying to let the reader into Kim's head whenever possible, to sort of give them an escape.

Q. What advice would you give to an author just starting out?

A. Write and read, write and read, lather, rinse, repeat. Write when you are inspired, when you're not inspired (that's an even more important time to write), when you're totally and completely stuck...studying the craft is important, but if you never implement what you learn then what's the point? And don't just read books on the craft, or books that are similar to what you want to write--read the best in a lot of different genres, because even if that genre isn't what you most enjoy reading, that author may be really good at a particular facet of the craft and you'll learn a lot by reading their work.

Q. Tell us about the featured book - back cover blurb plus what this story means to you.

The book is The Weight of Shadows--here's the back blurb:

After a difficult childhood, Kim has built a successful life for herself ... but she'd leave it all if it meant being rid of the guilt she harbors over a tragic mistake she made years ago. When she meets Rick, she finds everything she needs---including a way to pay for her sins every time he hits her. Kim and Rick's new neighbor, Joshua, knows more than Kim realizes about Rick, but Joshua has battles of his own to fight. Soon to intersect Kim's and Rick's lives is Debbie, who has saved countless women from abuse through the shelter she runs, but Debbie might be as desperate for love as the women she serves. Meanwhile, as Rick's wrath extends to their baby, Kim must decide if her penance is more important than protecting that innocent life---and if she should dare leave Rick when he has the power to bring her hidden crime to light.

This book means a lot to me, though not exactly because of its themes or story line. It represents a big change in the kinds of stories I write, as well as highlights the ways in which I've grown as a writer. If you've read my first two books you'll see quickly that this is a very different story. It also represents what I hope will be some big growth in my career. I really do want to make my living doing this--very, very tough to do, but with four compelling books coming out over the next two years I think I may have a chance of at least establishing myself as a writer to be watched, and that's the first step.

Q. Please give us the first page of the book.

A. Unfortunately I only have a PDF of the first chapter, so I can't easily copy off one page--BUT you can download the ENTIRE first chapter on my website at http://www.alisonstrobel.com/downloads/.

Q. How can readers find you on the Internet?

A. My website, AlisonStrobel.com, has everything a reader might want--my blog, my books, trailers, first chapter downloads, calendar of events, stuff for book clubs, newsletter sign-up, etc. Stop by and leave me a note in the guest book!

Bonus question: Tell us one interesting fact about you that your readers would find interesting, and maybe even surprising.

A. When I was in college, I was addicted to an internet-based roleplaying game (a "MUSH" -- multi-user shared hallucination) called Shadowrun. It was set in the 2050's and was modeled after the cyberpunk literary genre--super high-tech, somewhat dystopic (though I think I may be inventing that word--spell check thinks I am, anyway), with some magic thrown in. What I loved about it, though, was that you were basically writing a story by playing your character. It was all text-based, no graphics at all, so when you walked into a room you got a description of what it looked like, and then you just wrote what you did, dialoged with other characters...I think the fact that I got to be creative in such a different setting was as addicting as the social aspect of it. I really enjoy that literary genre now--William Gibson and Neal Stephenson are two of my favorite writers--and I never would have even tried it had it not been for that game.

Thanks for stopping by, Alison! To find out more about Alison, check out her blog: http://www.alisonstrobel.com/alison-blog/2010/6/12/let-the-tour-begin.html

To find her book on Amazon, click here: http://www.amazon.com/Weight-Shadows-Novel-Alison-Strobel/dp/0310289459/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

To find her book on Christianbook.com, click here: http://www.christianbook.com/the-weight-of-shadows/alison-strobel/9780310289456/pd/289456?item_code=WW&netp_id=636667&event=ESRCN&view=details


Now, just in case you need a little extra incentive to get this book, here's my review:

In The Weight of Shadows, Alison Strobel tells a powerful story that vividly illustrates the torture that comes when we fail to leave our burdens at our Savior's cross. As a result, of a terrible, unresolved event from her past, Kim, succumbs to abuse, first at her own hand and then at the hand of another, as a means of justification. Likewise, Debbie is a stranger at love because of the guilt she harbors from a tragedy she feels she could have prevented. Ms. Strobel delicately interweaves these characters lives and circumstances, eventually leading to a shocking twist that left me breathless, and ultimately proving that God's mercy and goodness will truly guide a lost soul home. The Weight of Shadows made me want to cry, scream, laugh, and dance. It will definitely minister to anyone who has ever had a tortured spirit, and it will remind us all that shadows only occur when WE STAND IN THE WAY OF THE LIGHT. Well done, Ms. Strobel! I'm sincerely looking forward to your next release!

PRAYER REQUESTS: Unfortunately, I have quite a few. Please forgive me today as I simply list them and ask that you pray mightily however you feel led.

Please pray for: Wilma Hohler and Sandy Venable who were both recently diagnosed with breast cancer and will begin treatment soon, Megan Allen and Andy Marino who recently lost their not-quite-three-year-old, Monica who suffered with a cardiopulmonary condition from birth, Connie Maxwell Scoggins and Carolyn Koch who both recently lost their mothers, Karisa Martin Strickland who was recently in a car accident, and Marilee Joy Neal who has just left the states for a five week long mission trip to Albania a poor area that has a strong, primarily young Muslim population.

If I have missed your prayer request, please forgive me. This summer is turning out crazier than I expected. Crazy is good, but I'm often feeling like I'm losing my mind! :o) Thank you for stopping by when you could be hangin' out at the pool! Don't forget to leave your comment for a chance to win The Weight of Shadows by Alison Strobel and I'll be updating you about The Heart's Lullaby in just a week or two!

Monday, June 21, 2010

What a Difference You've Made in My Life

What a difference I've made in this blog, too! What can I say? It was time for a make over.

Did I ever tell you why I named the contest "What a Difference You've Made in My Life"??? Well, it seems appropriate in many ways for me to take just a sec and tell you now.

My daddy was that person for me. The day after Father's Day is not the easiest for me to talk about him because I still miss him so much every day. Well, Ronnie Milsap was one of our favorite singers. I can remember listening to 8 tracks of Ronnie in his old Cougar. Yes, I know I'm dating myself. Once he told me a bedtime story about a little boy who became bind and here it was the biography of Ronnie. When we'd go on vacations we'd listen to Ronnie, Alabama, and Randy Travis. After Daddy died, Ronnie's song "What a Difference You've Made in My Life" took on a whole new meaning, as you can imagine. Listen to the words, and I hope it takes on a whole new meaning for your very special loved ones - parents, children, siblings, friends, teachers, pastors, whoever that person is for you.

A few hours ago my second contest ended and I HAD to draw 2 names from a hat, though the entries were all so very touching I wish I could just put them all in the book . . . don't think my publisher would like that too much! :o) I had a low number of entries this time - 7 females and only 4 males. I want this to be a part of every book I write. Selfishly speaking, getting to know Cassie's and Dan's family for The Heart's Journey Home was one of my biggest blessings in writing the book. They are my friends now and I will always carry Mindy and Tammy (Cassie's mom and aunt) and Brenda and little Jon (Dan's wife and son) and the rest of their families in my heart. If your nominee wasn't one that was drawn, please don't let it stop you from entering him/her the next time I hold this contest, I'm just guessing in about a year. Nothing would make me happier than to see some of the same names.

Okay, so onto the winners of my 2nd "What a Difference you've Made in My Life" contest for my second book in the Harvest Bay Series, The Heart's Lullaby, scheduled for release in March 2011. Drum roll please . . .

For the female entry the winner is . . . Janet Haase who nominated her grand daughter, Stephanie McCorkle. Congratulations, Janet!

For the male entry the winner is . . . Lou Ann Gibson who nominated her daddy, Bill Gibson. Congratulations, Lou Ann!

Bios for Stephanie and Bill will be posted here after I get them written.

Again, thank you all for sharing your precious loved ones with me! I sincerely wish there was room in my book for you all, but trust me when I say there IS room in my heart for you all and you've ALL touched my heart with your stories.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Changing Seasons

Finally! After the excitement of Memorial Day weekend, with graduation and all, we are finally starting to settle into a routine that feels like summertime. I've been reading by the pool while the girls play ALL afternoon. LOVE IT! And working a lot, too, but it's different that school year work. Most of my work now consists of cranking out as many words as I can on The Heart's Lullaby, which is coming along well. I wrote a pretty important scene last night that I'm actually happy with, so that's good! I just LOVE the laid back, easygoing feel of summer. It's one of my favorite times of the year.

Amazing how in just a few weeks, we'll all be complaining about how hot it is and more than ready for the changing leaves and slight chill in the air that autumn brings. Then the leves get brown and crusty and we're ready to see that much anticipated first snow. That gets real old real fast and soon we're craving the warmer temperatures of spring . . . until we're tired of the allergies and ready for school to be out again. What exactly is the point I'm trying to make???

Everything changes. Not just the seasons, but our lives. Kids grow up in the blink of an eye. We go from elementary school to high school to college to "the real world". We may move to a different state or just down the street. Some lose their jobs, some get promoted. Babies are born, loved ones pass away. That's the hardest change of all. I don't have to tell you that. And quite obviously from my last post, many are going through that difficult change as I type. I've gone through loss and many of you have, too. Loss that you felt like you just couldn't get through . . . but you did, right? Or you're getting through it one day at a time, maybe one moment at a time, right?

Sometimes change stinks royally! Believe me, I know! As a kid, there were times when I wished that my mom and dad would get back together so I wouldn't have to go from my mom's house to my dad's. It was a weekly change, that's all. Now, let me be quick to add that my mom and my dad made our situation as good as humanly possible, and I have wonderful step parents that have helped raise me to make me exactly who I am today. But, still, EVERY kid wants their parents to get back together. It's as sure as Newton's law. Now that I'm a rational thinking adult (most of the time) I can see how different my life would've been if that change hadn't occurred.

You all know by now that my daddy passed away 9 1/2 years ago . . . when I was 4 months pregnant with Alison. I had A LOT of change go on at that point in my life. Too much for me to handle on my own. Thankfully, my pastor helped me deal with some of it. Some of it I had to deal with on my own. Some of it I'm still dealing with. Like the fact that on a hot summer day like today I can't go for a boat ride with my daddy. We used to love that! Like the fact that I'll never get a call from him on special occasions again in this lifetime. That's some hard stuff to swallow. I didn't want that season to change, but it was just time.

See, sometimes the seasons in our life change NOT when we want them to, NOT when we expect them to, certainly NOT when we're ready for them to, but always in the Lord's perfect time. And as children grow with the change of the physical seasons, we can use these difficult changes to grow, too - in the Lord. I'm growing little by little every day. Are you?

The Lord brought a new friend into my life, literally. It's a story I'll share with you another time, but, in the meantime I'll just tell you she is "Ethan's author", Ms. Sherry and she has agreed to be a guest blogger on here at an undetermined date. She will be able to shed light that I just can't on a little of what Ethan went through and how he and his family changed lives in the process. It's really a tragically beautiful thing to have witnessed and through her I believe you'll be able to have a little taste.


Other updates, The Heart's Lullaby is coming along well, as I said earlier. It still has a ways to go though by my deadline, so please pray for inspiration for me. We did the photo shoot for the cover a few weeks ago. I have the same team working on this cover as on The Heart's Journey Home so I'm excited to see what they come up with! ALSO, DON'T FORGET ABOUT THE "WHAT A DIFFERENCE YOU'VE MADE IN MY LIFE" CONTEST. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS EMAIL ME (jen@jenstephens.net) THE NAME OF A MALE AND/OR FEMALE THAT HAS MADE A DIFFERENCE IN YOUR LIFE. ON JUNE 21ST, I'LL DRAW THE NAME OF A MALE AND A FEMALE TO PUT A SHORT BIO IN THE FRONT OF THE HEART'S LULLABY AND MAKE THEM A MINOR CHARACTER IN THE BOOK.

PRAYER REQUESTS: Please pray for Howard Holt who has resently been diagnosed with cancer in his lungs, pancreas, adrenal glands, spine and hip. He has a strong faith and a positive attitude, though, which sometimes can mean more than anything the doctors can do! Please pray for strength for Howard as he goes through treatments. Pray for peace for him and his family, for comfort in their moments of weakness. Pray for wisdom for the doctors to do exactly what it takes to get him better.

Please pray for my new friend, Lou Ann Gibson and her family, especially her mother Wilma, as they grieve the passing of her father. Father's Day is quickly approaching and I understand the loss she will feel on that day, and every Father's Day after this one. I can't imagine the grief Wilma has experienced/is experiencing. Please pray at this point for strength for their family, that they will draw ever closer to the Lord and to each other, that they will find comfort in the promise of everlasting life through Jesus Christ.

Also please pray for the family, friends, and students of Bill Kruger, high school teacher, varsity football coach and junior high wrestling coach, who recently committed suicide. This is a change that won't make sense to Bill's loved ones for a very long time. Help them to deal with it the best they can until the time comes that they can say, "I still don't understand it, but I HAVE to move on." Pray that our Father will wrap His loving arms around his loved ones and comfort them, give them strength when they are weak, give them rest when they are weary and they feel like they can't go on a minute longer. Please, remember to pray for them in the days, weeks, and months ahead, when the rest of the world has gone on with life and their world remains unmoving.

Change isn't the only guarantee in this life. Thank heavens we are guaranteed hope in Jesus Christ . . . through EVERY season.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Emotions Running Wild

Whew! What an emotional couple of weeks it's been! For a lot of reasons, really, but the end of the school year is always emotional for me and, in addition, this year my baby graduated from Kindergarten. What a special little girl! I'm so ridiculously proud of my Olivia!!! Livi's graduation reminded me of two things: #1, time goes WAY TOO FAST and #2, chapters close, everything on this earth MUST come to an end.

Okay, so I'm gonna get right to the prayer requests and updates because this also is part of the reason why the last couple of weeks have been so emotional.

UPDATES: I'm so sad to report to you that our 9-year-old friend, Ethan Bibb, went Home on May 16th. He battled his cancer bravely for about 15 months. I didn't know Ethan personally, but I'm telling you, he moved an entire town like I've never seen before! A whole town uniting in prayer is a beautiful thing, even if the reason is unbelievably heartbreaking. This was really hard for me to deal with as a teacher because he was about the same age as my students (including my Alison) and my students prayed diligently for his healing. How do you explain this to a third grader when I don't understand it myself??? Somehow, though, my class handled it with the faith of a child - okay, so he's in Heaven now. In fact, when I told my girls, my Livi said, "So you mean Ethan's happy but his family is sad?" Yeah, that's about right. That's not to say the kids weren't shaken a little. They just were at peace. It's the only way I can explain it. His family I'm sure is doing about as well as can be expected. It was very bittersweet because at the services, I'm told, they were given one last gift - a rainbow. Not just any rainbow, but a double rainbow. From what I understand, Ethan wrote a story with the help of a family friend, called Ethan's Rainbow. It was touched upon at his service and as the family and friends left, they were greeted by a beautiful double rainbow! Isn't it amzing how even in our darkest times, God will give us signs of His amazing love for us? I'm going to see if "Ethan's Author", as she is so lovingly called, will make a guest appearance on here to elaborate on what a special gift that was. I can't do it justice. In the meantime, please pray for Farris (daddy), Robin (mama), and Lanna (sister) Bibb in the weeks and months ahead as I know they will go through waves of grief. I can't imagine what they are goign through. I just can't wrap my brain around it. I'm praying for them to find strength first in the Lord and secondly in each other and for them to experience a peace that passes all understanding - one that could only possibly come from our Lord. If you've been through the loss of a child, you would know even more specifically how to pray. Please, leave a comment to give us some insight. But above all else, just pray for these precious people!

Also, just as heartbreaking, our friend Tyler, has lost his battle with cancer jus a few days after Ethan. He was almost 3. I'm really at a loss for words for this one. I've been shaking my head for two weeks now. 3 years old! That doesn't even make sense! But I've learned that it is when we continue to trust the Lord WHEN IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE that exhibit true faith. I'm being honest here, I have a hard time with this. I'm a very cause and effect type person. When my girls make a bad choice, my first question to then (whether right or wrong of me) is, "Why did you do it?" When things happen like an innocent baby getting cancer and dying from it, I want to know why. We can't know why. That's just life and life just happens sometime and often it stinks royally, but I am choosing to trust our Lord. My prayer for Tyler's family is that they are leaning on our Lord right now, too. I pray that they will draw close to each other and to the Lord through this very difficult time.

Also, please pray for Robin Baughman, who is nearing the end of her battle with cancer and is struggling with leaving her young children. I guess she needs peace more than anything right now. Peace, assurance of her salvation, and the hope that Jesus himself spoke of in John 11:25, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live."

Please pray for my sister, Karen Pantaleo, who miscarried at 12 weeks. Obviously, she's taking this loss pretty hard. My prayer for her is also that she will draw close to the Lord through this unique grieving process and that her faith will be strengthened in a way it couldn't be otherwise.

Please pray for my friend, Krista Phillips, whose baby DOES have significant heart problems which will require surgeries after birth and later on, too. Krista appears to be holding it together well, but I can only imagine the worry that must constantly lay on her heart for her baby. We need to pray for Krista and Scott and especially for Baby Annabelle.

Now for NEW PRAYER REQUESTS: Please pray for 15-year-old Rachael Barman who was recently diagnosed with melanoma in her eye and will be starting radiation on the 11th. How scary that must be for her! And I know her parents are worried. Please pray for quick and complete healing. Pray for wisdom for her doctors. Pray for peace for her parents and a comfort that can only come from the Lord for our precious Rachael.

Also, I need you to pray for the family of 18-year-old Sierra Barrier who was killed in a car accident late last week. Pray for her family as they try to make sense of this tragedy. Pray that they will rely on their faith. Pray that through this loss they will grow in the Lord, pour themselves into Him until He is all they can think about.

Really that is what we all should be doing everyday anyway, isn't it? I admit, the hustle and bustle of my everyday life (And there is no time more hustling and bustling than the end of the school year!) sometimes get in between me and my Lord. If this heavy list of prayer requests have taught me anything it's that the hustle and bustle should be my second thought, and that's exactly what I'm gonna spend this summer working on. How about you???


Saturday, May 8, 2010

It Is Time

For what, you might ask? It is time for my second "What a Difference You've Made in My Life" contest! For those of you that have read The Heart's Journey Home, you might've noticed at the front of the book the bios of Cassie Ground and Dan Olien and, a little farther on in the book, met their characters. A few summers back I ran this contest, wondering how it would go, and I'll tell ya, it's been a wonderful blessing to me! Cassie's aunt nominated her and Dan's wife nominated him. Through their memories and stories I feel as if I got to know Cassie and Dan. Their families became friends that I will always cherish. Actually getting to meet Brenda and all of Cassie's beautiful family was the highlight of my trip to Ohio this past March. Hopefully they would say they've been equally blessed.

So, I'm doing it again. Beginning tonight at midnight CST (which would be Mother's Day) and ending at midnight CST on June 21 (the day after Father's Day) I will be taking nominations for the person/people who've made a profound difference in your life. All you have to do is send me a personal message through facebook or email (jen@jenstephens.net) telling me about the person/people. You may nominate a male AND a female - thus beginning it on Mother's Day and ending it on Father's Day. I just thought it was appropriate - but NOT two of each. Monday morning, June 21st, I will draw a name from the list of females and one of the list of males. Those two individuals will have their bios in the front of The Heart's Lullaby and they will be a MINOR character in the book. That's all there is to it! So what are you waiting for??? :o)

Last time I did this, I told you who I would nominate if I could and they were my daughter, Alison, and my daddy. So I suppose I should do the same this time, too, eh??? For the male nominee, I would have to pick my husband. Chris is just an amazing person, which isn't too surprising because he comes from an amazing family. He's a wonderful father. He reminds me a lot of mine, actually, in the fact that he plays with the girls even when I know he doesn't really feel like playing. He does a much better job at that than me. It's too easy for me to forget to I won't have my girls little forever and it doesn't take long to play a game of Rummy but it means a lot to them. (He wrestles with them a lot, too, as you can tell by the picture!) He works very hard to provide for us and to maintain our humble little house. And, most of all, he's always supported my dream of writing. He understands it like no other because he is a writer and he sets a good example for me by his perseverance and determination. He's just "the one". God hand picked him for me and I'm so thankful.

My female nominee would be my very best friend in the whole world, Patty (Spears) Smith. Here we are in our Senior year of high school. That was prom, I think. Patty would know. She remembers everything about high school! And here we are at our 15 year reunion this past October. I only just realized the color scheme was just about the same! But that's the thing about Patty and me. LOTS of things have changed over the years, but not our friendship. If anything it's only gotten better, stronger. Patty made high school bearable for me. I was teased and picked on, but I knew that if Patty was there, I had someone on my side. We were inseparable. Our poor English teacher tried to keep us apart by putting us on opposite sides of the room, but we'd find a away to sit by each other again. Imagine her surprise and maybe dismay when we drew each other's name for a class project! :o) After high school, we just slowly drifted apart, I'm sorry to say. Still, all along, even though the phone calls and letters grew fewer and farther between, I knew she was there. Then one day a few years ago now, my mom heard from another classmate that Patty had cancer and that she was having a hard time with it. When Mom told me I just had to get back in touch with her . . . and I did! And I haven't been out of touch with her since! Rarely a day goes by that we don't text or message each other on facebook. She's taught me more about true faith than anyone else. I don't think she'd mind me telling a little of her story in hopes that it gives someone else hope. Patty was married shortly after high school and had a son. Unfortunately, her marriage ended. Fortunately, the PERFECT guy for her came along a few years later. It was FIVE MONTHS into this blessed marriage that they found she had a rare form of ovarian cancer. I can't say everything she's been through, and is still going through, with it, but she is always thanking God and praising Him for the good reports AND THE NOT-SO-GOOD ONES! With all she's been through, her attitude is so uplifting that it makes me feel like a better person just to be around her. Her husband Ken and his three kids just magnify the positive energy. And in the midst of juggling her son, his kids, and cancer stuff, they adopted the most precious boy you'd ever want to meet. My in-laws invited them over for Olivia's birthday party because I was so busy I didn't know if I'd get to spend any time with her otherwise and everyone there, most of whom had not met them, were so touched by her and her family. Her faith and strength, kindness and compassion, her nurturing spirit and forgiving nature, everything about her is exactly what I wish I could be. I just love her.

PRAYER REQUESTS: Please pray for the people in Nashville and the surrounding areas. I cannot tell you what devastation so many has seen here in the past week with the flood. If you haven't seen pictures Google it. It has been one of the two worst thing I have ever seen in my life.

Don't forget to get those nominations in and TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS! Also, leave a comment with last week's post right below here and you'll be entered to win Shawna K. Williams's book No Other. That contest will end this Friday the 14th.

To my mom, if you're reading this, happy Mother's Day! I love you very much! And to all the other moms that had touched my life in one way or another I hope you have a very blessed day!

Friday, April 30, 2010

No Other

I'm excited to do something a little different this weekend. I had the distinct pleasure of previewing Shawna K. William's debut novel, No Other. This was my review:

No Other is indeed a story like no other. Shawna K. Williams has succeeded in telling a heart-warming, and often heart-wrenching, story of love, compassion, acceptance and redemption. This well-written story dates back to 1947 when World War II was still fresh in everyone’s mind the lines between social classes and ethnic groups were clearly drawn. A modern day Romeo and Juliet in many ways, No Other beautifully illustrates the promise we have that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

--Jen Stephens, author of The Heart’s Journey Home

Guess what. I invited her to be a quest on my blog today! Without further ado, I'd like to introduce to you, Shawna K. Williams. (Applause! Applause!)

Welcome, Shawna! Tell me, when did you first discover that you were a writer?

I was struck with the desire to write about eight years ago after a really bizarre dream, unlike any I'd ever had. Prior to that, this wasn't something I'd ever considered doing.

The dream was a complete story, in scenes, of a man and woman's life. First as they fell in love, then as young parents, then they faced the challenges of career and family, and last was from the perspective of an old woman, who watched her children from afar because she was a stranger to them. Weird, huh?

I couldn't stop thinking about it. For about six months I pondered on it, trying to fill in gaps about how they met, why did they choose certain career paths, why did she end up estranged from her family? It eventually grew so complex in my mind that I couldn't keep track and had to start writing. When I first began I didn't want to tell anyone, including my husband, because I thought they'd think I was crazy. As the story progressed though I eventually shared it with my husband, who was supportive from the start, then a few close friends.

By the time I was done, the book was around 167,000 words. And it was awful! I just didn't know it at the time. Over the next six years I revised, put away, pulled out and revised again, put away. Finally, a little over two years ago I felt like God was telling me it was time to get serious. That's when I started studying the craft of writing through books and critique groups. I also started submitting short stories, and was blessed to have several accepted for publication right away. That gave me the encouragement to rewrite the first part of my awful novel into a separate book, which comes out in May, and the sequel will release in November.

What an awesome story! We'll hear about No Other in a minute, but first, tell us about other books/short stories/articles/poems have you written, whether published or not?

I've had three short stories published. The first was called, My Father's Oldsmobile (which is also the name of my blog), the second was, What Happened Next (which was actually published twice), and the title of my third published short was, Anticipation. I've written a several articles and short stories for blogs and newsletters too.

As far as books, No Other is my debut novel. In All Things is its sequel. It's nearing completion and will be released in November. I also have another book I'm working on which is an expansion of a novella length story. It was accepted based on that, with the publisher knowing I wished to make it longer. It's a Christmas themed story called, Orphaned Hearts, and it will come out in December.

I'm also currently working on a novella length story with the working title, The Summer of '51. This will be available as a free download. It involves the characters from No Other and In All Things, and covers a transitional time between the two novels. This period is referred to in In All Things, and while it isn't necessary to read the novella to understand the book, I thought readers might enjoy an in depth account.

Do you have an all time favorite book? Which genre do you prefer to read and why?

My favorite all time books, are the three from the Mark of the Lion series; Voice on the Wind, Echo in the Darkness, and Sure as the Dawn. The series works so well together that I can't break them apart. I love Redeeming Love too! Bet you know who my favorite author is now, huh?

As far as reading, I actually don't have a favorite genre I think. I've been able to get into suspense as easily as romance. I love scifi, and plan to try my hand at writing it one day. I enjoy a good fantasy tale too. The only genres I don't read are horror and erotica.

As far as writing, I think almost everything I write will have a degree of romance in it because finding the love of your life is kind of a big deal. Having said that, I want my stories to be about life. Romance is a part of life, but so are a lot of other things.

I'm a bit of a history buff, and super nostalgic, so I do gravitate toward historicals set in the first half of the 20th century. Being a fan of science fiction, I do want to write one. I have a story brewing, but it's still very foggy.

How do you keep your sanity in this ridiculously crazy world?

Who said I was sane? Lol! Love to say I'm joking, but...

Honestly, this is a real struggle and I haven't figured out that balance. My family is most important, and we have teens and an active 12 year old that are always on the go. Sometimes I can't do everything they want and I feel guilty for that. My house is never as clean as I'd like. I worry about the kids' schooling (we homeschool). I'm so entrenched in writing two books at the moment (deadlines looming) that I forget to check on my friends who are going through rough times. I feel like my dog doesn't get enough attention. I forget to appreciate the beauty of where we live, and I wonder when I'm going to get around to all of those other projects that have nothing to do with writing. I'm definitely not the person to ask advice from on this question. I just do the best I can, and usually end the day thinking, "Tomorrow I'll try to do better."

Thank you for being so candid. I feel the same way much of the time, and I think many other women do, too!

So, what is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?

Raising my kids. Hands down! God gave me such wonderful kids, and they've been such a joy. They're really great, and I'm so very proud of them. All three! I know I've made a lot of mistakes, and am far from being the perfect mother, but God seems to have worked it out okay.

As for me, personally, I can't really say. I'm very excited about this book -- and my future ones -- but I feel more blessed than proud.

What was your greatest roadblock in writing this book and others, and how did you overcome it?

One word. Clarity!

I have the story before I have the spiritual theme. And while I know there is a theme, I'm not exactly sure what it is. It's like life in that way. What will God teach me through my experiences? Same thing with my characters.

My first drafts are always just the story about what happens to my characters – with maybe just a vague idea of the spiritual message -- and they're never complete. I only write two thirds – three fourths of the book. The reason is the last third or fourth is where all the intricacies are woven together, and until I know the spiritual theme in full clarity I can't do that. I liken it to building a house. A builder never closes up the walls until an inspector signs off on the plumbing and wiring and such. Once I know the story's plumbing and wiring are just right, I can start closing up the walls, float, tape and texture, and trimming with a nice coat of paint.

Now, finding that message is like untangling and stringing miles and wire, and assembling a network of pipes. And to get there sometimes I have to ramble. I have so many files full of gobbly gook where I've hashed out my character's motivations. Why they feel what they feel, and how it led them to certain actions. I just blather on and on, like a therapy session, until I start to see what my character needs spiritually, because if he/she is like me, there is always something. The part where they learn, and God provides seems to work in naturally after that.

What advice would you give to an author just starting out?

Hmm...first off, be true to yourself. Write what's in your heart. Second; study, study, study, Third; don't be too scared to go for it. Fourth; be prepared to get your feeling hurt, and know that it does get easier. Fifth; find others who share your goal. They'll pick you up on those down days. And the most important is to pray about it – the downs, the ups, when you struggle with a story, for balance, all of it -- pray, pray, pray! You can do it!

Yes, six very good tips - all of them so important to success, but I especially relate to being true to yourself. Many writers starting out tend to want to write what's in, what's selling, but it may very well NOT be the story the Lord wanted them to tell. Thank you for sharing that!

Now, here's No Other. Isn't it pretty??? Shawna, tell us about the featured book - back cover blurb plus what this story means to you.

In the aftermath of WWII all Jakob Wilheimer wants is to get over his pain, get on with life, and if at all possible, forgive those who've wronged his family -- including himself. But it's hard to do when there are constant reminders. One of them being his former schoolmate, now teacher, Meri Parker -- Miss Port Delamar Pearl, Mayor's daughter, Belle of the town -- Meri Parker. After enduring the stigma and isolation associated with the internment camp, the awkwardness of going back to school should've been a cake walk. But Jakob didn't expect to find himself inexplicably drawn to Meri. Or to discover that the pain and loneliness of her life surpassed his own. She needed to be rescued from the domineering people seeking to control her life. And more than anything, he needed to be the one to save her.

I wrote No Other because I wanted to tell an inspirational story about getting up after you fall. About how Christians don't just struggle, sometimes we blow it, but God doesn't abandon us. Even when our efforts to right things fail, He's still in control. Him, and No Other.

Can you give us the first page of the book?

Stop shaking.

Crouched next to his small oak desk, Jakob clenched its side to steady himself, and took in a deep breath. Then he reached into the narrow space between the desk and the wall, and pulled the envelope from its hiding place and fell back onto his bed. The paper was folded into a square the size of a matchbook. Jakob studied it as he turned it in his fingers, but didn't open it. Instead, he held out his
still-trembling hand, holding the paper in his palm.
What was wrong with him? Now, after everything, he had the jitters? Good heavens, he was supposed to be the strong one, the provider. Thank goodness his brother, Joe, had come back and assumed those duties. Jakob could drop the fa├žade before he managed to ruin what was left of his family.

Letting out a sigh, Jakob unfolded the envelope -- little by little -- revealing the bold words stamped onto its surface. The knot in his stomach tightened with the unbending of paper, forcing the last remnants of breath from his lungs.

He knew every bleed of the scarlet ink, every wrinkle made from angry, crushing hands, but the letters still served their purpose.

Within him hatred stirred. It paced and tested, like a caged animal sensing opportunity. Soon it would try to m
aul its way loose -- unless he stopped agitating it with this thing he held in his hands.


A snarl pull
ed at the corner of his mouth. Why not stamp traitor? Or to be more specific: Nazi. With a last name like Wilheimer, the internment camp address, and the giant label 'enemy alien' -- what other assumption could be made?

It's what everyone thought. And if there were a few who weren't convinced, plenty of town folk would attest.

The FBI don't
snatch people from their home without good cause. No siree, I tell ya. A person gotta be downright dangerous to drag'm away like that, leaving all those little Hitler lovin' Krauts behind. Serves'm right, being booted from their house. Otta chase'm all out town while we're at it.

Jakob's lungs burned with the need of air, and heat flamed in his cheeks. His nostrils flared, expanding his chest, only for his lungs to seize again. The envelope was doing its job.
But wasn't that why he kept it?

As a reminder? One he could use -- when needed -- to justify, fuel his rage. Hadn't the emotion been his faith
ful companion for the past five years? Motivating him. Pushing him to work harder, endure more. Didn't he need it for the sake of his family who depended on him? He owed them.

It was your fault.

Ah, the little voice. Why couldn't it just leave him with his anger? That's all he wanted.

Because it's the truth.

Wow! Awesome! How can readers find you on the Internet?

Readers can find me at my website,http://shawnakwilliams.com/;
my blog,
http://shawnawilliams-oldsmobile.blogspot.com/ (There's a funny story about why the word 'oldsmobile' is in the title.)
Here's my Facebook fan page. I post a lot on it.
And I'm on twitter,

Time for a bonus question: Tell us one fact about you that your readers would find interesting, and maybe even surprising.

Oh boy...I'm so dull. One interesting fact, huh?

We're often asked why we moved to Mena, AR. It's a beautiful little town, nestled at the base of the Quachita Mountains – looks like it belongs on a postcard. But, it's one of those places that I think you have to move to from another area to fully appreciate. The economy isn't great. There's not a ton to do in terms of "exciting" stuff. I'm not a huge shopper and I like quiet moments along a hiking trail, so it's perfect to me. When people ask us why we moved here -- with that bewildered look on their face -- the truth I tell them, is that we pretty much did it on a whim. It was something my husband and I had talked about in the sense of, "Wouldn't it be great if..." but financially it didn't make a lot of sense, so it was always just one of those 'what if' sort of things. However, after losing two friends – my age – to cancer in a relatively short amount of time, we decided that there are some things you just have to close your eyes and jump into. We didn't want to be those people who looked back and said, "Wish I had done that when..." So, here we are, living on a ranch with cattle, horses, goats, and rabbits. We had pigs and chickens for awhile too. It totally suits us. My kids are happy with lots of friends. I'm still a girly girl, but I've picked up a few ranching skills along the way. For example, in an emergency, I can deliver a foal. My friends in Texas still can't imagine that.

I understand you're holding a contest. Tell us about that.

Here are details of a contest I'm running throughout the month of May:

On the last day of the month I'm doing a drawing for three prizes. The first includes:
Grand prize
Book, Poster, Notebook, Sterling silver-gold overlay Locket, Goat's milk Soap & lotion, Postcards, $10 Amazon Gift certificate, Pearl bracelet and earrings.

2nd Place
Book, Poster, Notebook, Postcards, Pearl bracelet and earrings, Honey Soap. $5 Amazon Gift certificate

3rd Place
Book, Notebook, Postcards, Pearl bracelet and earrings, $5 Amazon Gift Certificate

This contest runs the whole month, and you can enter multiple times. For everyone who leaves a comment today on Jen's blog, there's one entry (please include your email with the comment. I promise these will all be destroyed after the contest). If you follow me on twitter, my blog or my Facebook fanpage, that's an entry for each. Throughout the month, check my blog for a question (
http://shawnawilliams-oldsmobile.blogspot.com/) or the latest blog I'm touring on (like Jen's today) and email me the answer (Shawnawilliams(at)allegiance.tv) and you either get one to three entries, depending on how hard it is to find the answer to the question. Leave a comment on any blog on the day I'm touring, (like Jen's today) and that's an entry. If you want to know where, check my blog. If, at some point in the month, you decide to purchase my book email me (honor system) and I'll enter your name five times. And last, if you post this contest on your blog, let me know and I'll enter your name three more times.

The question for one extra entry today is, "What is Jakob burning in the first chapter of the book?" You can read the first chapter on my blog, click the coverart and it will take you there. A sample can be downloaded for free on Kindle and you can also read the first 4 chapters on Freado.

Wow! That sounds great! So get searching for those answers, and make sure you leave a way to notify you should you be the winner of one of Shawna's cool prizes!!!

Shawna, I always close my blog entries with prayer concerns and/or updates. Is there anything you might need us to pray for?

Yeah, I'd love prayers that God will pull me through these next two books, and pour HImself through me. And, the balance thing, while trying to write these other two books. It's wonderful stuff He's blessed me with, but I just stink at finding a balance.

You got it!

PRAYER REQUESTS: Please pray for Shawna today as her debut novel releases. It's such an exciting time for her. Pray that she can soak it in and enjoy every moment of the accomplishment her hard work has produced. Pray in the weeks to come that she will experience clarity and balance in all of the areas of her life, and when she starts to feel herself get off kilter, pray that she will run to the sturdy arms of our Lord. Pray that she will have clarity to know exactly what the Lord wants her to write, the themes He wants her to stress, the story He wants her to tell.

Please pray for my friend Sandy Bradley, who recently lost her brother, Bill. Bill had a rare genetic disease and was not expected to live to his teens. He turned 50 in February. He was much like a toddler, and he loved to play and laugh. He had been wheelchair-ridden for probably 20 years. He only spoke a few words. Over the last few years, he had several bouts of pneumonia and contined to have declining health. Eventually, he became resistant to antibiotics, and the doctors said there was nothing else they could do for him, so he was put in hospice care, and recently went Home. Pray that Sandy and her family will be comforted by the fact that they had so many more years than expected to spend with Bill. Pray that the Lord will hold them close to Him during this time of grief.

Please pray for the family of Carter Cummings, a three-year-old little boy who past away earlier this week of a type of cancer. Please visit his Caringbridge site http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/cartercummings to find out more about this sweet little angel and in the meantime pray for strength for this family in their time of great weakness. Pray for a peace that passes all understanding. Pray for heavenly comfort to surround them like a warm, soft blanket. Pray that they will draw closer to each other and to the Lord as they walk through this valley.

Sadly and strangely enough, please pray for the family of Dylan Pospisil, another little boy with a type of brain cancer. This was his latest Caringbridge update: "I'm updating for Ryan (Daddy) and Felicia (Mama) while they spend time with their sweet son. Dylan has stopped responding to light and touch. The tumors the MRI showed are inoperable and are causing considerable pressure on the rest of Dylan's brain. They sent him down for another CT this morning to check on the changes they've seen in the last 24 hours. The results show his condition is worsening. They're now sending Dylan for an EEG to check for brain activity. They suspect he may already be brain dead. Praise God, the doctors have said Dylan is not in pain right now. Please pray for their family as Kailyn (Sibling) (so sorry if I spelled that wrong) struggles to understand what's going on, and the Pospisils have many difficult decisions ahead of them. They are spending every minute with Dylan that they have. Please begin to pray for peace for them if you haven't already." Unfortunately, I found out from my friend this afternoon that little Dylan went Home sometime today. I'm including his site because I like to have a mental picture of those I pray for. http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/dylanpospisil

Just pray, friends, however you feel led for both Carter's and Dylan's family. I just can't even imagine the heavy grief they must be feeling. Thank goodness we have the hope of Jesus Christ, and the promise of eternal life. I just can't imagine.

I will give updates of those already on the list next week as well as make a pretty exciting announcement! I want to thank Shawna for the privilege of spending this time getting to know her. Now, go find the answer to her question and enter to win!

Until next time . . .

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What Am I Thinking?!?!

So last weekend I took a deep breath . . . and registered to walk/run (but mostly walk) a half marathon in Nashville on September 25th. And then came the question: What am I thinking?!?!

This is what I'm thinking: I have 1 body in this life and I wasn't taking very good care of it. It was too EASY to grab fast food on the way from here to there with the kids. It was too CONVENIENT to sit on my butt and wait to be inspired to write more in The Heart's Lullaby. I have finally had it with feeling dumpy. So, after talking with Chris, I decided I need a BIG goal with a date attached to work for. Chris said to me, "If you're going to do this, you have to look at your writing and your training as one otherwise writing will always trump walking." Amazingly, the two really are connected. Some of my writer friends have said that it has something to do with getting an increase of oxygen to the brain. Whatever the reason, in just one week of eating right and exercising regularly, I not only feel so great, I'm more inspired than I have been since I started The Heart's Lullaby.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, I figured out every twist and turn of The Heart's Lullaby (But mark my word, there'll be more that surprise even me. There always is.) I thought you might like a small, unedited snippet of what is to come. So . . . here's the first page:

The clock on the wall ticked off the seconds. Still the three minute wait seemed unending. Elizabeth Truman sat on the edge of the bathtub, pressed her hands together and slipped them in between her knees.

"This could be it. The wait may finally be over and in just three minutes our lives could change forever."

She glanced down at her flat belly, imagining how she’d give Elijah the good news, smiling at the thought of how happy he’d be. Just the other day when they were strolling through the mall together, a ball and glove caught his eye from the window of the toy store and he made a comment about playing catch with his son someday. He was ready to be a daddy.

And there was nothing she wanted more than to be a mother. Over the past several months the deep longing had intensified, preoccupying her thoughts during the day and her dreams at night. Her arms ached to hold their baby—a perfect combination of her and Elijah. Her soul yearned to nurture their child, to watch him or her grow day by day. She already loved this little miracle that she was sure the Lord would bless them with.

The second hand finally returned to twelve for the third time. Her heart thudded inside her chest. A hard knot formed in her stomach and she pressed her hand against it in a feeble attempt to ease the discomfort. She stood and slowly moved to the sink where the results were waiting on the end of a little plastic stick. Hand trembling, she reached for it and examined it closely.

One line.

I want to encourage you today to reach for your dreams whatever they are and no matter how unattainable they seem. Believe it or not, the saying the words "What am I thinking?!?!" can be a good thing. A very good thing! :o)

PRAYER REQUESTS: Please pray for the family of Cindy Conatser who was recently killed in a motorcycle accident. She had 3 children and 1 grandson. Pray mightily that her family will feel the love of Jesus all around them. Pray that they will feel His arms around them, comforting them in their time of grief. Pray that they will find rest and solace in Him. During this time of questions and confusion, when they want to ask, "Why?" pray that they will find their answer in Proverbs 3:5 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."

Also pray for the family of Tommy Williams who died at age 46 from a massive stroke. Again, pray for comfort and peace. Pray that his family will feel Jesus in their time of need like never before. Pray for these families not just in the days ahead but in the weeks and months ahead as those of you who've lost a loved one know, the pain and sorrow may weaken, but it never really goes away.

I'm also asking you to pray for the families of 8-year-old Devynne Seale and 10-year-old Sierra Littrell-Ellenberger, siblings who recently died in a house fire. Pray especially for their mother as I could not even begin to imagine the pain she must be feeling at the loss of two of her children. Pray that these children didn't die in vain, that their community will take the extra precautions to make their homes safe. Pray that our Lord will draw this family and the community close to Him during this terrible, terrible time of loss.

I also want you to remember my writer friend, Krista Phillips, who is expecting her FOURTH baby girl in August, I believe, and has to go in for special PRECAUTIONARY tests on the baby's heart this week. Krista seems as calm and positive as can be, which is much better than I would be doing, but please send her some prayers that will bring her peace and that of course Baby Girl Phillips will be just perfect! :o)

Please also pray for my sister, Karen Pantaleo, as she has recently found out she is pregnant with their first baby (YAY!) but has hurt her knee badly and has to have surgery (BOO!). Please pray that the doctors will know exactly what to do to help her knew without harming the tiny little life (my niece or nephew) growing inside her.

UPDATES: I'm so sorry to report that Sarah Dotson has gone to her home in heaven after battling cancer. Please pray for her husband and little girl and they grieve this loss.

If you or someone you know is in need of prayer, please send me a message and I will be happy to include them on our list. I truly believe there IS power in prayer!

In the next couple months, I will be interviewd by several different bloggers. I'll give you a list of dates and web addresses in the next post. Until then, keep reaching for your dreams!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Who Am I?

Happy Easter, my dear friends! I wanted to come up with something super inspiring and insightful to post today (especially since it's been TWO MONTHS! :o/ ), but nothing was coming to me. That's disheartening to me because writing is my tool to inspire. Bottom line is lately there's been too much stuff and too little me. I'm not complaining (well, not really anyway) because I love, love, LOVE all of my "stuff". But you know what the middle of Gumby looks like when you pull on his arms and legs at the same time? There's not much of him left, is there???

So we were on the way to the children's Good Friday service this past Friday. After a week of cheerleading practice, fiddle lessons, children's choir practice, and soccer practice in addition to the everyday duties of a wife, mama, teacher, and now a writer, yes, I was a little thin. No, my attitude wasn't where it should've been, but I'm being an open book for you (and me) right now. I had a new praise and worship CD cranked up (lately my sanity saver!) and I want you to know that a song came on that spoke right to my bad attitude and my ugly heart. It was called Who Am I by Casting Crowns and these are the lyrics I heard:

Who am I? That the Lord of all the earth,
Would care to know my name,
Would care to feel my hurt.
Who am I? That the bright and morning star,
Would choose to light the way,
For my ever wandering heart.

(Bridge)Not because of who I am,
But because of what you've done.
Not because of what I've done,
But because of who you are.

(Chorus)I am a flower quickly fading,
Here today and gone tomorrow,
A wave tossed in the ocean,
A vapor in the wind.
Still you hear me when I'm calling,
Lord, you catch me when I'm falling,
And you've told me who I am.
I am yours.
I am yours.

Who am I? That the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love
And watch me rise again.
Who am I? That the voice that calmed the sea,
Would call out through the rain,
And calm the storm in me.
(Repeat Bridge and Chorus)

This song reminded me that I am a wife, a mama, a teacher, and a writer, but there are two more things that I am. One of them, my dear friend, Patty Burris, who I'm privileged to teach with, opened my eyes to. Ladies and Gentlemen, I am Barabbas. No, I've never murdered or robbed or raped, but I was sentenced to die for my sins. Imagine what it must have been like for that man that DESERVED TO DIE to suddenly be told, "You're free." That is me and because of Jesus I am free. It also reminded me that I AM HIS!!! Folks, there is nothing else in this whole world that I'd rather be.

Update on The Heart's Journey Home: Well, it's been out for 2 months now. I've had a lot of events which has been super exciting, and I've gotten quite a bit of positive feedback which has been rewarding. At the beginning of March, I had the distinct honor of sitting in with St. John's Book Club in Donelson, Tennessee. (See picture to the left.) It was so much fun! They are a very special group of ladies.

Then, just a week later I went to Ohio where I had several events scheduled. One of which was a signing at a Borders store in Sandusky. I had a great turn out. These next three pictures are of some very special people who came out to see me. First is Brenda Olien and her sweet son, Jon. She won the What a Difference You've Made in My Life contest and nominated her husband, Dan Olien, who became a minor character in the book. She is truly an inspiring woman and little Jon is just as cute as can be!

Next, I got to meet Cassie Ground's family. Her aunt won the contest and nominated her, who then also became a minor character in this book. From left to right in the picture are: Mindy Nutter, Cassie's strong, beautiful, and faithful mother (also very inspiring); Gunny, Cassie's sweet grandmother; Tammy Ruthsatz, Cassie's wonderful aunt who nominated her; me; Carlie Ground, Cassie's beautiful sister; and Terry Harvey, Cassie's other wonderful aunt. What a distinct honor it was to meet this special family!

And last, but certainly not least, I had my very best friend from high school, Patty Smith, who we've been praying for for a while now, and her beautiful family with me at two of my events and at a birthday party! We had a lot of fun making some wonderful memories! I love her!

The Heart's Lullaby is in the works . . . S-L-O-W-L-Y. Fortunately for all of my readers, my "due date" with this one has been moved up fro fall of 2011 to MARCH of 2011! My deadline is still the same, so that's good. I just need the words to keep coming. Prayers for continuous inspiration would be appreciated! My wonderful, talented friend Terri and I are going to shoot the cover for this one (hopefully) in about a month! AND, there is a POSSIBILITY that my extremely talented husband will write a lullaby/love song for this title that will be available as a free download, but we're still working out details on that. Still, it's all super exciting and I'm just thrilled to pieces to share God's message of Good News yet again!

PRAYER CONCERNS: Please pray for the family of Josh Cable who went home to be with the Lord a few weeks ago after a very brief and sudden battle with cancer. I'm just at a loss on this one. Healthy one minute and gone a month or so later. God in Heaven, I don't understand why!!! But I know that You do and some things aren't for us to understand on this earth. Dear God, I pray right now that oyu comfort Josh's wife, Sherry, as only You can. Bring to her mind sweet memories and caring friends and family to help her cope during times of unimaginable grief. Be with his little children, Holy Father, and be the Father that they are missing now. Fill that void with Your love and mercy. We thank You, sweet Jesus, that because of what we celebrate today all who believe in You will NEVER die! We thank You for Your promises.

I also need you to pray for Sarah Dotson, who is facing her own battle with cancer. I ask You, dear God, to heal her body and restore her to good health accordign to Your perfect will and in Your perfect timing. I ask that You give her a peace that passes all understanding and strength to make it through each day, moment by moment. I pray that You comfort her husband, Dave, as it is never easy to see the ones we love so much suffer through so much. I pray that You help their little girl, Bella, to understand during this confusing time. I pray right now for Sarah's doctors and I thank You that You are our Great Physician. There is NOTHING bigger than You. There is NOTHING that You don't know, and I pray that You help the doctors to know exactly what to do to help her.

If I've forgotten any prayer concerns in the two months since I've been on here, please forgive me! If you send me a note via email, I'll be happy to put them up right away!

UPDATES: Unfortunately Dezarae Dittmar, who bravely battled cancer for 2 years has gone home to be with the Lord. Please pray for her family and friends in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

On a positive note, Erica Foster, who was diagnosed and underwent treatments for MDS, is doing great, got remarried, and is expecting a baby! Praise the Lord for new beginnings!

Also, Kitrick Schrader, who was in a very serious snowmobile accident, is out of the hospital and doing great! He is truly a walking talking miracle! Praise God!

Until next time, my friends, always remember who you are. YOU ARE HIS!

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Day is Here!

February 1st. I've waited for this day for so long! It's been pretty quiet. We actually had a snow day so I spent the day at home with the girls and in most ways it was just like any other day . . . except that today is the day that The Heart's Journey Home is officially released!

I can't tell you how excited I am, but . . . Well, I have to admit, while it truly is a wonderful dream come true to have my work in print, it is somewhat nerve wracking, too. The very idea that all of my hard work, my heart and soul, is available to whoever wants to take a gander at it is really sobering. I'm just being honest with you.

Having said that, I'm also trusting in the Lord that He will use this book to touch a lives. And THAT is the very exciting part! I'd love, love, LOVE to hear from you! Please, let me know how The Heart's Journey Home has affected your walk with the Lord or your relationship with others or just your outlook on life. One of my dear friends who actually received her preordered book on Thursday posted this on my facebook wall, "Jen, the book was wonderful!!!! I am just upset that I have to wait so long for book 2 to come out. You brought the characters and their faith to life with such ease. It was a joy and pleasure to read and made me want to examine my faith a little more!!!!!! A job very well done, your Dad would be so proud!!!!!" Another friend texted me and told me she wished she could move to Harvest Bay! Just like when someone tells you how impressed they are because your child did this or that, every writer is thrilled to know how their "baby" caught your attention. So if you have a moment after reading The Heart's Journey Home, please leave a comment here or (if you're on facebook) on my wall.

And if you feel compelled, please tell your friends just as I am going to tell you about a wonderful, moving book that I just finished reading from my friend and author, Joy DeKok. Joy's book is titled Rain Dance. Rain Dance is a gripping story about the power of love. This book turns the impossible into the possible through the power of Christ's love. In the most dire of circumstances, when two women at complete opposite ends of the spectrum are at their lowest, they reach out to one another. In that moment a seed is planted that forever changes their lives. What I love about this book is that the characters are very real. Everything doesn't end up in a pretty package tied up with a bow. It isn't a fairytale, BUT everyone does live happily ever after because of the promise Christians have in Romans 8:28. While the topics may be tough for many to consider, I highly recommend Rain Dance to all women because of the underlying theme of the true bond of a very special friendship. You can find Rain Dance at any online book seller or through sheafhouse.com.

PRAYER REQUESTS: A very special thanks to Susan Johnson of Susan Johnson's Photography and Rebecca Brewer for allowing me to post a picture of our first prayer request. This handsome young soldier is Justin Richardson and has just left for Afganistan. This will be at least his second tour on that foreign soil. Also, another young soldier, Chris Knight, who is from the same area has recently been deployed. Aren't you just so grateful for what men and women like Justin and Chris have done for us??? When I put my girls to bed at night I can rest easy knowing that they will be safe all night long. It's not like that in other parts of the world. When you get up on Sunday morning and go to your church home, do you think about the fact that without our military men and women, we all quite possibly would have to go to a church that the government chooses? Christ died to free us from the bondage of sin. These men and women fight AS THEIR JOB, knowing that death is a real possibility for many of them, to prevent us from living in a country of bondage. Yes, I'm on a soapbox! Why aren't you??? Please pray right now for Justin and Chris. Pray this very moment, that a mighty hedge of protection will surround them while they are in that foreign land. Prayer warriors, pray that these young men will FEEL the Lord right there alongside them, another Soldier in a hostile world. For strength, pray Isaiah 40:31 over them: "but (insert name) who hope(s) in the LORD will renew (his) strength. (He) will soar on wings like eagles; (he) will run and not grow weary, (he) will walk and not be faint." For peace, pray Isaiah 26:12 over them: "LORD, you establish peace for (insert name); all that (he) (has) accomplished you have done for (him)." Also, please don't forget to pray for the mamas of these fine young gentlemen - Rebecca Brewer and Chris's mother. Pray right now that their minds will be able to rest at ease. Pray that they know without a shadow of a doubt that their babies (because every mama's child is her baby no matter how old they are or how far away they go) are SAFE IN THE FATHER'S HANDS. And while they are at home missing their babies, pray that these wonderful women use this time to draw even closer to our Lord and Savior.

Also, prayer warriors, please pray for Adam & Karla Henry as they have recently lost their 19-day-old baby, George Emory Henry. Georgie was born prematurely with a form of dwarfism, and though he fought hard, he just couldn't make it. Pray for them now, but more importantly in the weeks and months to come when reality begins to set in and they find the world just keeps spinning and the people on it just keep moving on. Pray for them at every holiday when they long for their baby to celebrate with. Pray that they can find strength in the Lord and comfort in each other until they see their sweet Georgie again.

And I just received this message from a friend: "If you can will you put my niece Emily Crowl on your prayer list. She has been fighting ulceritis colitis for years now and is in remission. She is 18 yrs old and plays bb for Motlow State College. She got really dizzy yesterday and sick so they took her to the ER. My sister is taking her to her regular doctor today to see whats wrong." Please, cover Emily in prayer right now. Pray for wisdom for her doctors to know exactly what's wrong. And above all else, pray that it is NOTHING SERIOUS! Pray for quick and complete healing and recovery so she can get back to her basketball and pray for her family to have peace of mind while they wait for the news.

UPDATES: I have great news to report! According to my friend who asked prayer for Nadja Welch, they really thought she was going to have to have major surgery on her heart and thanks to God's healing, it wasn't necessary. She is doing fantastic! Awesome! I love taking names off the list due to answered prayers!!!

Also, Kitrick Schrader, is at home! He still has quite a bit of recovering to do, but he WILL recover! Praise the Lord! I'm going to leave his name on the list as he continues to recover.

Unfortunately, Robin Baughman is not doing so well. Previously ALMOST cancer free, the doctors have discovered a spot on her liver, and apparently at this point, with all she's been through she doesn't have much along the lines of treatment options. I don't know about you, but I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES!!! Pray for one right now! But, also, pray for God's perfect will to be done. Pray for strength for Robin and pray that her pain is minimal. Pray for her to be bathed in heavenly peace. Pray that her children and husband can know that same peace. Pray that, though the separation may at times be unbearable, if that is in fact God's will, pray that they can rest in the hope they've been given of ETERNAL life.

As I close for the night, let us all rest in that hope, for we don't know what tomorrow might bring. Until next time, my friends, enjoy the journey!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Waiting . . . And Waiting . . . And Waiting

Is there anything at all worse than waiting? Seems like everywhere you go, inevitably you end up waiting - in traffic, in line at the grocery store, and, of course, I always get behind the guy that has a bar code that won't scan so that have to call a price check and, well, that's just RIDICULOUS! (Can ya tell I'm not too patient???) I wait for my kids - hurrying them along rarely works. Every year I can't wait for summer vacation to come . . . and then every year I can't wait for it to be over! :o)

I've started doing some walking lately and one of the songs that have become sort of my theme is "While I'm Waiting" by John Waller. Many of you know it from the movie Fireproof. I'm one of the few living, breathing humans left on this earth that has yet to see the movie, but the song itself has moved me greatly. This is the first verse and chorus: (I've bold-faced some of the words that speak the most to me.)

I'm waiting
I'm waiting on you, Lord
I am hopeful
I'm waiting on you lord
The wait is painful
but patiently I will wait
I will move ahead bold and confident
taking every step in obedience

While I'm waiting (I will serve you)
While I'm waiting (I will worship)
While I'm waiting (I will not fade)
I'll be running the race
even while I wait

Waiting is painful, isn't it??? I think of children at Christmastime that can't even hardly sit still. Oooooo, they just can't wait!!! (And, to tell you the truth, I can't either!) Waiting is especially painful when we are waiting on the Lord. Does this sound familiar to anyone? "Okay, God, if I don't get an answer from You by 5pm, I'm going to know without a doubt your answer to this situation is (fill in the blank)." Sometimes that may work, but most of the time for me it's just to ease the burden of waiting. I mean, at least I'm doing something . . . even if it's not really God's will, right? WRONG! I'm being completely honest with you when I say that I still have a lot to learn on my faith walk, but at this point in my life I'm closer with the Lord than I've ever been before and I can tell you from my own stupid experiences that there is nothing, NOTHING in this world more satisfying than OBEDIENTLY waiting on the Lord.

How many of you are just waiting to run a race? Ha! NOT ME! I'm got three totally "Wonder Woman" friends that are waiting (or have recently waited) to run a race. (Waving at you, Dawn, Alice-Lyle, and Jen!) Kate, my main character in my book, is involved in a race. Races are so symbolic of a Christian's time here on this earth, or even just through a struggle they might be facing, because of the preparation and training that goes into it, the journey of the race itself, and the wonderful, elated (and I imagine exhausted) feeling when you've finished. Bottom line is you have to keep moving while you're waiting for whatever it is you're waiting for.

So . . . what are you waiting for??? A job promotion, maybe? A wedding? A baby? Our Seniors at our school, I know are just waiting to graduate. It's such an exciting time. Maybe you're waiting for healing - physically, emotionally, spiritually. That's what my characters in The Heart's Journey Home are waiting for, too, each in their own different way. You all know what I'm waiting for . . . MY BOOKS!!! Ha! Ha! (And I'm like that kid at Christmas, too!) But lately I've been waiting for something else, too. Maybe it's because I have this really special thing about to happen for me, but more than ever before I'm waiting for Heaven so I can fall on my knees at my Savior's feet and then fall into my Daddy's waiting arms.

PRAYER REQUESTS AND UPDATES: Please pray for the family and friends of Janice Brew who went home to be with the Lord earlier this week leaving behind a husband and a 16-year-old daughter. I ask you dear friends that you pray mightily that Janice's family and friends would experience a peace that passes understanding, that they will be comforted by the Lord's promises in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Those of you that have lost a loved one know that this wait is the hardest of all. I ask you to pray that they can keep running the race while they wait to be reunited with Janice in the presence of the Lord.

Update on Kitrick Schrader: He's still in the hospital, but out of ICU! Praise the Lord!!! Please continue to pray that his recovery is quick and his healing is complete.

Until next time, dear friends, I pray that we can all obediently serve the Lord and run this race . . . while we wait.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Quick Update

I'm very sorry to tell you that Bill Ruffing passed away today. Please pray for his family during this very difficult time and most importantly in the weeks and months ahead when life keeps moving right on. Pray for strength and peace. Pray that they are comforted during this time of grief. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians Chapter 1, starting at verse 3, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." Be a comfort to this family with your prayers. Thank you.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Do You Believe in Magic?

Happy New Year! I can't believe it's been TWO MONTHS since I posted last! Shame on me!!! And Now I have so much to catch you up on!!! 2009 has certainly been a MAGICAL year and 2010 is shaping up to be every bit as MAGICAL, if not more!

So . . . do you believe in magic??? I've heard that word a lot between Christmas and New Years because, as you can see, Chris and I were able to take the girls to Magic Kingdom for two days! Oh my goodness, did we ever have a wonderful, memorable time! (And with only one trip to the First Aid station, I think we did alright!) But there is that word right in the name of the park: MAGIC Kingdom. So the question remains: do YOU believe in magic?

I believe that as Christians we are taught that "magic" is not godly, that it is evil, and I'm certainly not disputing that!!! According to one dictionary, "magic" is defined as: "The art of producing illusions as entertainment by the use of sleight of hand, deceptive devices, etc." No one can argue the fact that there is NOTHING godly at all about illusions and deception! Magic is synonymous with witch craft and sorcery, which the Bible warns against. So . . . what if I change the word to "magical"? The most special of evenings are often described as "magical". Definition? "Mysteriously enchanting." Sound better? Less evil? You decide.

As a teacher, I KNOW that to be effective, you have to use a VARIETY of learning tools to successfully teach different concepts and skills. And the fact of the matter is that there are some "tricks" to learning the 9 multiplication facts among others. Plain and simply put, whether wrong or right, kids like tricks and I'm pretty confident that my students won't ever forget the trick with the nines.

Now, I could be embarking on a controversy that I certainly don't need to do, so let me clarify. Do I believe in "magic"? As a noun, NO! And, this could just be my naive way of thinking here, but I don't think most others do either. I think people are fascinated with figuring out "how'd they do that". Do I believe in "magical" moments that impact and change our lives forever? This picture should answer that for you! Look at that face! Olivia was so filled with joy and awe and excitement to see what the ladies had "magically" done to her at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique! And, let me tell you, that kind of magic is contagious because Chris and I both felt it in our hearts!!! The real difference for my family is that it wasn't a mystery to us at all. When it's a FEELING, I believe it's a gift from God and we thank God for making this trip possible through the generous Christmas gifts of our family. It was truly a MAGICAL experience!

Update on The Heart's Journey Home: Everything is on schedule and I should have my copies in my anxious little hand in just a matter of DAYS! Now, THAT will be a magical moment! I have several events scheduled with more sure to come so please check back with my website to get the latest information and to check on updates with The Heart's Lullaby, which has been started and is TENTATIVELY scheduled for release in Fall of 2011. Of course, I will let you know when my package arrives and, please, I'd love to know when you get yours! If you haven't preordered, it's available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, christianbook.com, and, of course, sheafhouse.com. After February 1st, EVERY bookstore, though they may not have it on their shelves, should have the ability to order it for you. If you have any trouble, please let me know! You better believe I'll take care of it! ;o)

PRAYER CONCERNS AND UPDATES: Since I've been so rotten about updating this over the past two months, I have quite a few to add and several updates.

CONCERNS: Please pray for Kathy Kanue who was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and is now on 3 different types of chemo, which is making her very sick. Pray for healing for Kathy and pray for our dear Lord to ease her sickness. Pray for her to be able to rest in Him and pray for her loved ones. Her son is having a very hard time with all she is going through. Please pray for the Lord to fill his heart and give him a peace that passes all understanding. Miracles are NOT magic and they still happen all the time! I completely believe in miracles!

Another person in need of a miracle right now is Kitrick Schrader, a 29-year-old man who was involved in a snowmobile accident with a car. The last info I received on him is that he has a broken leg and pelvis, internal bleeding, and is still unresponsive. Please pray first of all the the Lord will spare this young man, that God can be glorified through his healing. Please pray that his recovery will be quick and that the pain will be minimal. Pray for his family and friends that are riddled with worry for him now. Pray that their hearts are filled with peace, and their minds filled with the promise that our God is always with Kitrick, holding him in the palm of His hand.

Prayer warriors, I need you all to pray mightily for Dezarae Dittmar, who is nearing the end of her 2 year battle with cancer. Hospice has been called in and her family is with her. She is married and has 4 kids. FOUR CHILDREN are having to prepare to be without their mama!!! My heart aches for this family! What do you say? What do you pray for? All I know to do is to pray for PEACE. Pray for strength for all involved. Pray for Dezarae and her family to find comfort and rest in the promises of the Lord. Pray that her pain in minimal. I'll update you on Dezarae as soon as I get one. In the meantime, pray, pray, pray, my friends!!!

Along those same lines, please pray for Bill Ruffing who is also nearing the end of his battle with cancer. Pray, above anything else, for his salvation. We don't know his heart, but God does. Pray that God will work in his heart and make Himself known to Bill in a mighty way through this illness he's been facing. Pray for his family to know how to minister to him in his last days on our earth. Pray that Bill will committ his heart to the Lord (if he hasn't already) before he takes his last breath. I thank the Lord that it is never too late to receive the awesome gift he gave us through His Son. Pray for his family to rest in the promise that the Lord will never leave us . . . even when we've turned our backs on Him. Pray for Bill's pain to be minimal and for comfort to cover him and his family like a soft, warm blanket.

Unfortunately, I also have several to add to the "For Those Grieving the Loss of a Loved One" list. These all happened in the month of December and first two weeks of Jan. We all know to pray for peace and comfort for those grieving family members. I don't mean to be casual or heartless in anyway, but rather than repeat myself over and over, I'm just going to give you the names and set you free to pray as you feel led. PLEASE, REMEMBER, THESE INDIVIDUALS NEED PRAYER TODAY, BUT WILL ALSO NEED IT IN THE DAYS, WEEKS, AND MONTHS TO COME AS REALITY SETS IN.

Please pray for Teresa Diseker and her family at the sudden and unexpected loss of her father. Also pray for Julie Munroe and her family at the loss of her grandfather. Please pray for Daon Johnson and his family at the sudden loss of his mother. Also pray for Stephanie Tuschl at the loss of her mother very close to Christmas Day. Please pray for my step-mom, Shirley Dominick LaVoie and her family at the loss of her mother on New Year's Day. Please pray for Don Osborne, his daughter, Danni, and son, Matthew, at the loss of his wife and their mother, Bea. Also, please pray for the wife and two young children of Jeff, an editor from Baker, who passed away today after having been in a head on collision. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you and will be in the days and weeks to come.

UPDATES: Are you ready for some good news??? Well, let's start with Robin Baughman, Romney McLellan, and little Tyler, all having battled some form of cancer and all CANCER FREE!!! I've been told that Robin's doctors are saying she is in remission because they are cautious to say the words "cancer free". You know what? We'll take that!!! Little Tyler's parents had been told to take him home and enjoy what time they have left with him and now they can't find a bit of cancer in his little body!!! Not a bit!!! YAY, GOD!!! (Still, I'm not taking them off the list yet, as I'm sure there are ongoing issues - financial, emotional, etc. that they need prayer for.) Similarly, Erica Foster has finished her treatments and is in remission, but she is struggling a bit with her emotional and spiritual side of post-cancer. I'm happy to report, though, that she is engaged to be married and I will definitely keep you up-to-date on wedding plans. Chris Dekker, the young man sick with H1N1 and pneumonia, is doing much, much better! I'll keep him on the list until I get the word that his is officially back to good health, but I'm pretty sure he is out of the woods at least. Reagan, if you're reading this, maybe you can post a comment on the latest with him. Amanda Belsich is reportedly doing well with her treatments. Keep praying for a cancer free report! Ethan Bibb, unfortunately, is in the hospital with a high fever and vomiting. Please pray mightily for this little man! I'll update his status as soon as I can. Karianne Peltier has had her baby, a beautiful boy, and mama and baby are doign very well, so I'm going to take her off our list. My dear friend from high school, Patty Smith, has had some ups and downs, but she just had a doctor's appt that went well. She's having bloodwork tomorrow. Keep praying for restored health and complete healing for my dear, dear friend.

Well, my friends, I've taken up enough of your time. Please keep checking my website for updates and scheduled events. Also, I vow NOT to let 2 months go by before I make a new post. Things will be getting busy for me, but I'll do my best to put something new up here every week, at least so, stop by again soon. In the meantime, please keep praying. There IS power in prayer!

Warmest blessings to all during these cold, cold days!