December 5, 2016

A holiday eucharisteo


The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, and one spastic author is tearing out her hair. Wrapped in Red IS coming, ya'll. It's coming. I sit here pausing in my furious finishing of the thing after quieting my heart and really hearing the lyrics of a classic Christmas hymn...

And in despair I bowed my head: 

"There is no peace on earth," I said,

"For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,

With peace on earth, good will to men."

Just as we wait for Christ to come again, so we labor and watch and wait thru this December flying by, as we do every year.
We live in an especially weary world right now and it can be hard to rejoice. The hustle and bustle drown out the wonder at the Love that came down.
Rejoicing in the miracle of our Savior's birth is hard to do some days--but that is when we *must* fall on our knees, cling to His strength made perfect in all our weaknesses, quiet our hearts, and hear the angels voices. They sing Glory to God in the highest--and is that not our highest calling on this earth?
I pause now in this true labor of love I'm working on to put out a new God-gifted story to the world--to watch, take heart, hope and pray.
That God's will might be done, in me, on earth, through my paltry words, as it is in Heaven. For He is a God of restoration, the truest hope we have, the greatest love we will ever experience--and He is bringing about a new and glorious morn.

November 27, 2016

Ordinary Snowflakes by Jennifer Rodewald | My Review

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everybody! Today we kick off THE holiday season with my first holiday novella read (and there will be more):
Ordinary Snowflakes by Jennifer Rodewald.
About the Book:
Someone has noticed me. A secret admirer? A man with a good heart, who sees how much I actually need help, even though I never admit it? Maybe this is the beginning of a beautiful story—a romance full of hope and second chances and love.  Maybe… 
A secret Santa gift left on Kale Brennan’s front porch opens up a fresh view of her ordinary life, and perhaps of God. Maybe she does matter. Maybe God sees her—as does a new-to-town music teacher who has her seven-year-old daughter gushing and her own knees buckling with his killer smile. But as Kale embraces new possibilities, a staple in her life—a man who is kind and steady, not to mention necessary for her injured daughter’s recovery—also snatches her attention in an unexpected way. Will the one pursuing her with his secret gift and kind gestures be the one her heart longs for in the end?
***
My Review:
This story touched my heart more than I had prepared for. Many holiday novellas are filled with delightful, good, uber-sweet fluff. It's why we love the genre, right? It's why we love Hallmark movies. But it is rare to come across one with such heart and smack-you-in-the-face-with-God's-truth such as Ms. Rodewald's. Written in such a way that keeps us close to the heart of Kale--but also getting to see not one but two men pursue her in beautiful ways--Ordinary Snowflakes was a breath of fresh, winter air. I laughed, I cried--it moved me from beginning to end. Even though I am not a mother yet, a lot of what Kale went through and her thought processes hit very close to home for me, and it was so beautiful to see her fierce love for her absolutely adorable daughter. There needs to be more stories like these. That tackle hard topics and themes, but tempered with comedy, anecdotes, sweet romance--in this one it took on two distinctly different forms and I was quite torn about which guy to root for.
There are no ordinary snowflakes, just like there are no two holiday novellas alike--but this one sparkles so very brightly and will leave you thinking, praying, and warmed through with the truest love of a God who makes no mistake. And always, always provides--sometimes in the most unexpected way.

November 24, 2016

Thankful for...Dream Chasing (Wrapped in Red Sneak Peek)


Remember my Super Secret Project?
Well it all started about a year ago. And God is too crazy good. And so sufficient in spite of the less than sufficient sleep I've been getting the last few weeks finishing this novella and prepping it for release smack in the middle of this holiday season.
I wanted to say thank you. For showing up. For reading.
I am wordlessly grateful for you. And for this dream chasing God dropped into my lap with this latest story and all the learning that has come with it.
There's way more to the story behind this story, which I will talk about more very, very soon.
For now, here is a special Thanksgiving scene from my novella, Wrapped in Red.
***
            Inhaling the bracing, frigid air, Merry put one hand on the doorknob, turned, and pushed it open. To the instantaneous shushes of her youngest siblings who had the end of the parade streaming loudly from the TV.
            “Happy Thanksgiving!” She pecked Lydia quick on the cheek and ruffled Ricky’s hair to their squawks of protests that they were too old for such things. Much as they all got on each other’s nerves—they were two of the six people Merry didn’t know what she would’ve done without. Especially the last five years.
            There it was again—that slippery, cool whisper of regret and longing and sadness all rolled into one. Memories of the Last Holidays she had been almost engaged—and still had Grandpap around—had almost kept her in bed just hours earlier. But she had literally pulled herself up by her red cowboy boot bootstraps, triple checked the work she’d need to do on the weekend at the library, and left her apartment.
            Slipping her scarf and cloak onto the banister, Merry snuggled deeper into her old hand painted Turkey Day sweatshirt. Mum could be heard banging around in the kitchen, and Merry just breathed in. Her favorite room of the house smelled of a special, once-yearly holiday kaleidoscope of aromas: a turkey turning golden in the oven, yeasty homemade rolls rising, and warm, cozy cinnamon from multiple family heirloom pie plates and casserole dishes.
            “Need any help?”
            “Oh! You scared me, Merry Grace!” Mum whipped around, still in her red terry-cloth bathrobe, and flecks of mashed potatoes went flying to land smack dab on Merry’s shirt. Which had seen better days. But it wasn’t a holiday if someone didn’t spill something or burn/cut themselves. All of which contributed to a giggle fit that stole her breath.
            “I’m…oh, sorry.” Wheeze-laughing, Merry caught her mom up in a hug.
            She’d never admit it—but one of Mum’s catchphrase-like platitudes was right on the money: laughter was the best medicine. And as Merry took over spooning the freshly whipped mashed potatoes into a crockpot, she purposed to stomp away the niggling dreams that had not yet died in her heart that sought to destroy her contentment.

-->
Contentment that smelled like turkey, sounded like laughter, and felt like home.

November 7, 2016

Through the Dark

"I brought The Message Bible!" Barbara singsongs as she flits down to sit cross-legged on the floor of small group one Sunday. Through out the afternoon of baring hearts, becoming friends, praying for and with one another, we also read verses from the study, occasionally exploring what some might call a paraphrased Bible has to say about the topic of our identities in Christ. (I have called this a paraphrased Bible and stuck my nose up at this edition. But am now eating humble pie.)
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Friday morning. Too excited to sleep the night before, I wake up to have three full hours to get work done before going into work. A fantastic new day job that I am loving. I watch the sunrise illuminate the trees outside the living room window, typing away, checking messages, and find that Danielle has sent me this article from The Thought Catalog: 27 Beautiful Bible Verses for Every Woman.
The 4th one is simply, this:
I have loved you at your darkest. Romans 5:8
So I go online to search if my assumption is correct that this verse is from The Message Bible. I think of Barbara. I smile at both that new friendship, the renewing of a 16 year one with Danielle, and keep looking.
It's not The Message Bible version. This is, and a truth bomb hits my warm, fuzzy still-waking-up heart processing what exactly "I have loved you at your darkest" means.


My darkest, to God, was not what I consider my darkest.
What comes to mind when you think of your darkest times?
Our darkest to our most loving Heavenly Father was when we did not know Him. Just look at the verses above. He presented Himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready.
Um, okay, ouch? 
I don't know about you but this Type A, perfectionist work in progress over here hates not being prepared. And tries to out-plan a lot. So much so that paralyzing fear and self doubt sweeps in with too-strong common sense and a slippery whisper of, "Why bother? Don't be unrealistic."
Yet if only I cultivated faith merely the size of a mustard seed.
And yet, He didn't, and doesn't, wait for us to get ready.
He has bridged the Great Divide and made a way for us to approach His throne with confidence, not fear, not with self-sufficient pride that keeps us to our own devices before we fall on our face and realize our need.
Confidence. And humility.
But what happens when, after we come to know Him, life kicks us down in a major way? We are not promised anywhere in Scripture an easy life--if anything we're warned that A: it's a temporary home and B: we will have trials of all kinds.
So our darkest to God was when we did not know Him.
But what about the times in our life that were so dark our hearts almost broke? Or were broke. Or pain was real and throbbing and exhausting day in and day out, whether physical, heart, or both. When our faith that God was good, all the time--a phrase perhaps you grew up with--was crumbling?
What happens when we have no strength to walk and approach His throne of grace?
He reaches down. Touches us. Pierces through the dark. He sees us. Never, ever judges us or tell us to get up and get moving and count our blessings.
He loves us through the dark.
Because His love ran red, and our sins washed white for all time--He pursues us. Even when our hearts are weighted down in darkness.
He is jealous for us. His love is to be the defining, hope-filled life's blood getting us through our days. He is as near as breathing. Yet how often do we forget? Trust me I'm speaking from experience.
He has loved us at our darkest. Our most rebellious. Before we chose and turned to Him and began walking with Him.
And He loves us still.
Through the dark. The pain. Nothing is too big, or too small, for us to trust into His hands. It may take time for the light to shine through. It may take time for your trust to grow again after being so severely tested.
And He can take that too. He can take you through the dark. All the angry railing, the silence, the tears of "Why can't I just forget and move on once and for all?"
He is the one to move us on. To lend us perspective. But His grace means that there is no timeline for grieving, for processing--for standing back up again, fully, after being knocked on our rear ends. For recovering from life's blows.
He can take it all.
He has loved us at our darkest.


November 3, 2016

The Cautious Maiden by Dawn Crandall | My Review

This fourth book in Dawn Crandall's critically acclaimed Everstone Chronicles series did not disappoint. A beautiful mix of passion and purity set against the vivid backdrop of America's Gilded Age, The Cautious Maiden was quite possibly my favorite of the series. I don't know what it is about a reformed rogue--or perhaps the appeal of finally learning Vance's story!--but this book was so very exciting to read from start to finish.
The tug of war that our heroine, Violet, goes through and we, as the reader following closely along with her, is a well-balanced struggle between trust, discernment, passion--and loyalties? Nothing less than stellar in execution and heart.
An unlikely match, unforeseen romance and, as always--a fantastic, keeps-you-guessing mystery from start to finish from an author who has now firmly established herself in the hearts of inspirational romance lovers with her stunning Everstone Chronicles series.
Find it here:



ABOUT THE BOOK:
The Everstone Chronicles Series Book 4
Violet Hawthorne is beyond mortified when her brother Ezra turns their deceased parents' New England country inn into a brothel to accommodate the nearby lumberjacks but when Violet's own reputation is compromised, the inn becomes the least of her worries. In an effort to salvage her good name, Violet is forced into an engagement with a taciturn acquaintance&, Vance Everstone.

As she prepares for a society wedding, Violet learns that her brother had staked her hand in marriage in a heated poker game with the unsavory Rowen Steele, and Ezra had lost. Now Rowen is determined to cash in on his IOU.

With danger stalking her and a new fiancé who hides both his emotion and his past, Violet must decide who to trust, and who to leave behind.
*Disclaimer: I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.*

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dawn Crandall is an ACFW Carol Award-nominated author of the award winning series The Everstone Chronicles, which currently consists of: The Hesitant Heiress, The Bound Heart and The Captive Imposter. The Cautious Maiden is her fourth book and released October 4th, 2016.
Apart from writing, Dawn is also a mom of two little ones and serves with her husband in a premarital mentorship program at their local church in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
A graduate of Taylor University with a degree in Christian Education and a former bookseller at Barnes & Noble, Dawn Crandall didn't begin writing until 2010 when her husband found out about her long-buried dream. It didn't take her long to realize that writing books was what she was made to do.
Dawn is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the secretary for the Indiana ACFW Chapter (Hoosier Ink), and an associate member of the Great Lakes ACFW Chapter. She is represented by Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency. WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER 

October 27, 2016

The Captive Imposter by Dawn Crandall | My Review

Estella Everstone is incognito, now "serving" as a companion to the elderly Mrs. Granton who unwittingly vacations at one of Estella's father's estates--Everston. And what ensues is a tumultuous tumble into love, matching of wits, deception and growth of character for both Estella and Dexter Blakely. A romance not dissimilar to Lizzie and Darcy--except Dexter lacks the more jerkish attributes of one of classic literature's beloved heroes.
The Captive Imposter was unique as compared to its predecessors, thanks to the seclusion of the hero and heroine at Everston resort. It almost read like a vacation read, somewhat easier to follow than the other two books with it just being Estella and Dexter through out the story--but still a wealth of intrigue, romance and touching spiritual themes.
Prejudices are overcome, faith is strengthened and forgiveness is had against the backdrop of Victorian-era New England and gothic-like mystery, leaving me excited for book four!

ABOUT THE BOOK:

The Everstone Chronicles Series Book 3

For her own protection following the murder of her brother Will, hotel heiress Estella Everstone assumes the alias of Elle Stoneburner and takes a job as companion to an elderly widow. Never did she imagine that her position would lead her back to her beloved Everston, a picturesque resort property tucked away in the rugged mountains of Maine. Living below her station in a guise of anonymity has its struggles, but her spirits are buoyed by a newfound friendship with the hotel manager, Dexter Blakeley. And his distaste for the spoiled socialites who frequent his hotel causes her to take a close look at her own priorities and past lifestyle. When Estella finds herself in need of help, Dexter comes to the rescue with an offer of employment she can't refuse. As the two interact and open up to each other, Estella feels a growing attraction to Dexter; and increasing discomfort over concealing her identity. Yet, in spite of the false pretense she's putting forth, she's never felt freer to be herself than in his presence. But will he still love her when he learns the truth about who she is?

*Disclaimer: I received a free copy from the publisher. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.*

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dawn Crandall is an ACFW Carol Award-nominated author of the award winning series The Everstone Chronicles, which currently consists of: The Hesitant Heiress, The Bound Heart and The Captive Imposter. The Cautious Maiden is her fourth book and released October 4th, 2016.
Apart from writing, Dawn is also a mom of two little ones and serves with her husband in a premarital mentorship program at their local church in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
A graduate of Taylor University with a degree in Christian Education and a former bookseller at Barnes & Noble, Dawn Crandall didn't begin writing until 2010 when her husband found out about her long-buried dream. It didn't take her long to realize that writing books was what she was made to do.
Dawn is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the secretary for the Indiana ACFW Chapter (Hoosier Ink), and an associate member of the Great Lakes ACFW Chapter. She is represented by Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency. WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER 

October 24, 2016

to dwell in hope


Ever read/hear something and it smacks you fresh and new and applicable all over again even if it may be the dozenth time you've read it?
Be it a story, a song you've loved for ages, an article, a quote or a Scripture verse, I have a feeling God loves to teach us, His children, with a spiral approach.
Typical the spiral approach is used in textbooks. My homeschool colors are showing here.
But I am learning this method of learning is used in life. Whether we like it or not.

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

Last year, especially around this time, was when I learned what the "In my weakness, He is strong" really looked like when the lesson manifested itself in my immense physical weakness post-surgeries. Now though? What goes around comes around.
The last two weeks or so have been full. Mainly with good. But one disappointment in the midst of me just trying to do my best by my job, my family, my friends, my edits, et cetera. And that disappointment left me reeling, if I'm honest. I've tried to write it out in a post three times now. This is what I've come up with finally.
Have you ever been there?
After being in a place where you thought you heard God's voice loud and clear, the peace was inexplicable and bright and so you followed through. Dusted off hopes cautiously, took them off the shelf and tried to open your heart, keep expectations reasonable and just enjoy the process. But then it was not to be--and it wasn't your choice.
It hurts.
Doubts swell, trust dwindles, but you power through, do the next thing, busy yourself and zero-in on work. Anything to take your mind off those nagging thoughts of, What wasn't I enough of? What was I too much of? Am I not deserving enough? What did I do wrong? among countless others.
I think a more apt term for this type of exhausting disappointment is a hope deferred. And even Scripture talks about how hope deferred makes the heart sick. It's in Proverbs.
I will never not entirely forget the fact that my ultimate hope for eternal salvation is Christ. That that is my end goal, that this life is just a temporary home. I asked Jesus into my heart at five years old and even with everything that's happened to me and my family thus far in my young life, I have never renounced that. My faith and trust in the Lord has had its fair share of blows. And I'm sure before I die there will be many, many more.
But can I be honest here?
Keeping an eternal perspective is incredibly hard in the day to day. Especially if you're like me and can swing too far to one extreme in this thinking and stomp on your heart's hurts with a harsh, "It's not the end of the world. Be grateful. So many people have had it worse than you. How can you claim to be a Christian if you don't trust God unswervingly and happily 24/7?"
There is a difference between self-pity and being kind to yourself--treating yourself and speaking to yourself in such a way as God wants you to. And I'm still learning that. Can I get an amen?
But that's a topic for a different time.
This last week after this latest particular hope deferred has seen me tired. Both physically and in heart. I've tried to keep my eyes on eternity, count my blessings, preach truth to myself--but I've failed. I'm that weak. It reminds me of how baby-deer-like my legs were this time last year. When it's a physical weakness, especially of such magnitude, we're forced to rest it. Why don't we do the same with our hearts when they're tired, wrung out, hurting, stretched too-thin or drowning?

We dwell on the hopes deferred and insecurities, the anxiety and worry, the pain and soul fatigue and let it consume us. Until we're paralyzed. It's just like what I was cautioned to be aware of last year in physical therapy: keep up with the exercises. Even if its just one set one day if you're sore. Keep it up or the muscles will atrophy.

And for hearts? Especially the sore ones? This may mean just simply crying and admitting your pain, bewilderment and weakness aloud. Because even in this communication that can feel like we're far from "good Christians," we are uncurling our arms from around our middle, opening up, glancing up if even for a few seconds, and letting God carry us. It is humbling, it is hard, but we have to let God carry us. He can take our weakness, our feelings of utter failure and disappointment and insecurities battering our thoughts.
For those of us that know Him, our hope for eternal salvation is secure. Unmoving.
But more than this--oh, so much more--the hope our gracious Father God extends goes before us, hems us in from behind and flanks us on either side to light our way. We just have to remember to look up to see it and not dwell on the hopes deferred for the umpteemth time--but on the Truest Hope whose name is Love. The sweetest of Loves that came down and is never not pursuing our weary, wayward hearts.

October 20, 2016

Keep Holding On by Melissa Tagg | My Review

An apple orchard, a Midwestern autumn, homecomings, family strength in the midst of brokenness, and holding onto the source of hope.
All this and more has made Melissa Tagg's third Walker Family novel my favorite. And it moved me to tears. Twice.

Beckett Walker and Kit Danby grew up together in Maple Valley, Iowa. Two peas in a pod, they stuck together through thick and thin during high school. But years later into their late twenties find them out of contact entirely for six years after one fateful night. And until one wedding day where Beckett Walker finally returns home to Maple Valley for his cousin's wedding and to set things right with his past in his hometown that, if left ignored, could affect his future. Before he can see his cousin get married, he's arrested. By Kit Danby's ex.
And Kit sees all this. Bowled over by Beckett being home--and at the same time, no less--Kit is feeling the lull of the land where her grandparents' apple orchard farm sits in disrepair.
And neither she nor Beckett know quite how to resume a long ago best friendship that never should've ended, mutually missed the last six years of their lives. Only further complicating their hearts and futures that surely must be anywhere but in Maple Valley.
What follows is a breathtaking journey into the fact that God laughs when we try and tell Him our plans, a journey of restoration, healing and replanting.
Replanting two scarred hearts that once found refuge in each other, and want to again, but will too much time have passed to allow each other back in again for Beckett and Kit?
Will tragedy tear apart the tender shoots of an old love that feels new? And will they both have to hold close to the surest and strongest hope of the sovereign Lord that only requires their willing hearts?
Find out in this warm, touching story from Melissa Tagg.

ABOUT THE BOOK:
Swoon-worthy Romance. Small-town Charm. Best friends reunite in Tagg's latest novel of second chances and enduring love. 

Beckett Walker hasn't stepped foot in Maple Valley in years. There's no getting past the painful memories, and there's every chance he'll be arrested as soon as he shows his face. Which is exactly what happens when he finally returns. Suddenly his dream of adventure as a military lawyer comes skidding to a halt. 

Horticulturist Kit Danby has spent too much time missing home and her childhood best friend--Beckett Walker. Now she might have a shot at reclaiming both. After years of living abroad, she returns to run her family's apple orchard. She has one season to turn a profit and impress the father she barely knows. But she can't do it alone. 

It should be simple: Beckett needs community service hours. Kit needs a helping hand. But there's more at stake than either of them planned. With a tangled past and futures that look nothing alike, they'll have to find a way to weather the storms of the present . . . or risk losing everything.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Melissa Tagg is a former reporter, current nonprofit grant writer and total Iowa girl. She writes romantic comedies in the banter-filled style of her favorite 1930s and 40s classic films. The second book in her popular Walker Family series, Like Never Before, was named by Publishers Weekly to their spring 2016 "Religion and Spirituality" Top 10 list. When she's not writing she can be found hanging out with the coolest family ever, watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next book. Melissa loves connecting with readers at www.melissatagg.com and on Facebook and Instagram.