Because HE lives, I can face tomorrow

February 8, 2016

Tomorrow I get a new hip.
To be perfectly honest I never have been able to picture this day. Nor, to be frank, did I ever pray for it to come quicker than expected--some time in my 30's or 40's is what we assumed, per the doctors once upon a time ago.
Now though everything has changed, the last two months have been upside down and December was a dark month for me. A dark month with moments of light I simply had to allow into my hurting heart. I am still processing, I confess. But when I quiet my head, merely have my heart beating and not writhing in worry--I have peace. That is the peace that passes all understanding if I simply shut up long enough to listen for it and tap into it. It is a facet of the Living God, the Great Physician--the One who is always there, near, even when I turn a cold, shuttered shoulder. I am a work in progress human--a sinful one. One who after years and years and trials and chronic pain and disappointments still struggles to trust the Lord in full. Even after writing a book entitled God's Will I still wonder why He allows what He does into my life. My family's life. Just being real.
I must choose HIM. His joy that abides deep. His peace always near. His love pursuing me at my most rebellious moments. I must choose to preach truth to myself even as tears flow down my face. Even when I'm quiet, tight-lipped--fighting against fear threatening to overwhelm--He is near and I must turn my heart around to fall into His Everlasting Arms.

Tomorrow I get a new hip. Hopefully only a one night hospital stay before I am home again tucked in my bed healing up. Again. I get a new scar tomorrow, and four screws removed. Here's hoping I do not get an infection and I have a nice and routine total hip replacement. And even if not--God is still good. With every broken bone--just like the ones I'll have broken/removed tomorrow--I live. Because HE lives I can face tomorrow. And I pray the same for you, whomever may be reading this, that you embrace and hold to the most perfect hope found in Jesus Christ.

The Life Giving Home by Sally Clarkson | Book Review

February 3, 2016

If we look at the lovely world that God designed for us, we can see a pattern for what He has always intended for us—a home environment filled with color and creativity and order, a welcoming provider of laughter and refuge, a space where memories are made and shared. Instead of creating us to live in a house of weariness and colorlessness, God has made us to live in a home full of soul-beautiful elements.

Sally Clarkson, The Life Giving Home: Creating a place of belonging and becoming
Having grown up in a life-giving home of my own thanks to my amazing, mom/teacher/mentor/best friend, I couldn't pass up the chance to read and promote the latest release from one of our favorite authors.The Clarksons books have quite a place on my mother's bookshelves, and it's been a joy to see my amazing mother poured into and encouraged in her motherhood and homeschooling journey via the written words of Sally Clarkson. Having following the books along with Mum growing up, there are a number of books such as Educating the Whole-Hearted Child, The Ministry of Motherhood and Seasons of a Mother's Heart that will make their way onto my married-with-children bookshelf someday. Mrs. Clarkson's 2015 release, Own Your Life was a fantastically convicting, inspiring read no matter what season of life the reader finds herself in, one I could not recommend highly enough.

Today I am pleased to share my thoughts on her latest book co-authored by her oldest daughter Sarah--The Life Giving Home.

Two authors, each trading off chapters speaking on the same thing but from widely different points of view. Sally Clarkson: married for thirty-four years with four children and years of making houses into homes for her family. And Sarah, a young adult who grew up in a nurturing, warm home. The contrast is subtle, the message profound from each of them as they share stories, insights, lessons learned but above all--the heart of a God-centered home.

These two inspirational women shed light on the heart of God, His love and creativity in our lives. In HIS creation--us. The sub-title of this book is, Creating a place of belonging and becoming. Such a lovely phrase; Sarah, the daughter, became who she is largely because of the home her mother created and invested in, in turn, investing in her children and their hearts. Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the book was when they wrote about their traditions such as tea time and their love of books.

I found I could relate to Sarah's chapters in the book while at the same time gleaning from both hers and her mother's. When Sarah though wrote about the importance of homemaking, my heart swelled. Both for the future, and thinking on how utterly comforting and safe my own home felt/feels still. I am so grateful to be able to live at home, yes even at my age. It's home. All the many photos on our walls, our heritage and memories. Delightful clutter and heirloom antiques and written reminders to Be still and know that He is God, Be Kind, Today is a gift from God, remember to thank Him and more are constantly in view. It's not orderly all the time nor does everything match and it is far from a minimalist style--but it is lovely. Warm. And within it's walls I grew up, stayed up late crying/talking with my parents thru times of transition and change, heartbreak, celebrated birthdays, milestones, clung to each other during the dark times. I love this home of mine. And after reading this book, taking notes for my future when I have a house of my own to make into a home for a great guy and sweet children--I am left with hope. And so much gratefulness to my loving Father Who placed me in my family, in this home that my amazing mother pours so much into day in and day out.

I cannot wait to read this book again in the far future and see what I glean then.

About the Authors:

Sally Clarkson is co-founder of Whole Heart Ministries (with her husband, Clay) and serves as its women’s ministry director. She’s the author of many popular books, including Own Your Life and Desperate (with Sarah Mae). As a mother of four, she has inspired thousands of mothers since 1998 through her Mom Heart Conferences and small groups.
Website || Amazon || Facebook

Sarah, Sally's oldest and first daughter, is a writer and currently studies theology at Oxford University in England. Besides co-authoring The Lifegiving Home, she speaks and writes about a story-formed life on her ministry blog. Her personal blog and books inspire women all over the world. Her personal blog is at Thoroughly Alive.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Here's to the Flowers

February 1, 2016

Here's to the strong ones. The women with the biggest, fiercest hearts. For their pasts, the lessons, their refining, even their hurts. For realizing it is not shameful weakness but brave strength to let God be her strength even amidst heartbreaks. Disappointments. Fallback upon fallback. Dreams falling through. Trusts being broken. Other sinful human beings wounding these glittering, beautiful, sometimes fragile hearts. Here's to us. YOU, that strong one reading this.

We all can aspire to have the wit and backbone of fictional heroines like Lorelai Gilmore, Elizabeth Bennett, or real-life may-as-well-be-fictional women like Leslie Knope Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Taylor Swift who seem to take the world by storm. We watch fictional heartbreaks unfold on our screens and in paper pages and shake our heads at watching the heroine's journey unfold, doubting we could ever, ever emerge better, stronger if we went through the same. This other-wordly fascination with made-up characters. Women who oftentimes other women wrote to live vicariously through, to aspire to be. What I hope I never lose sight of though, is that by God's grace--I am enough. Just the way I am. All my sisters are more than enough. They are all magnificent creations of the Living All-Powerful God who makes no mistakes. Him whose plan is, yes oftentimes confusing and frustrating and even heartbreaking in the moment--but His plans are never ever wrong and always serve a purpose. Preaching truth to myself here because there's quite a distance between head and heart, and often it takes a while for such truth to sink in down deep.

Here's to my sisters, both by blood and by heart. For their tenacity of spirit, their fierce loyalty, smiling through the tears, saying nothing at all and just being. To my sisters who I wish I could heal their hurts, soften the bruises, make the sun shine again. Its for such freaking amazing women of God that I ask Him, "Why?!" with tears when one more thing falls through, when I can't help the hurt. For these amazing souls I do not know where I'd be if not for God. For them. For their fighting love and presence and just being who they are, through thick and thin, for many years and even more to come.
Here's to the fighters. The fearless.
The ones who think they are the farthest from strong as their heart cracks, for it's the flowers that bloom in adversity that are the most rare and beautiful of all.
And yes I "stole" that last line from Mulan.

Hope in Fiction

January 28, 2016

via Pinterest
I love Christian fiction. I've been reading it since a very young age--Heartsong Presents novellas I cut my teeth on. As time went on, authors like Cathy Marie Hake for historical rom-com, the renowned Lynn Austin's rich historicals made their way to a permanent place on the bookshelf lined walls of my heart. At the insistence of some dear friends in high school I branched out of historicals into the world of contemporary Christian fiction with Karen Kingsbury's Baxter Family series and I was hooked. I devoured them, watching the redemptive story lines and family saga unfold through the first three series following the Baxters. Historical fiction will always hold the highest place in my heart, but of late the likes of Melissa Tagg has kicked my butt back into loving contemporary fiction. Historicals though, well...unlike any other genre, often times when I've read a Lynn Austin novel for the fifteenth time or a Jocelyn Green story, I close the book, sit back and wonder why I bother writing. But in the best, inspiring way.

Through blogging for so long and figuring out my vision for this space, I've so enjoyed making it a place of sharing. Both my heart, my writing, my faith--but also others' stories. Fellow indie-authors and historical authors' blog tours, cover reveals and reviewing their books has been amazing fun. Melissa Tagg is a new contemporary favorite, and honestly if I had to choose, she's gone up above Karen Kingsbury now. Brittany don't kill me? There I go digressing again...
via Pinterest
Books have come and gone on my bookshelf. Some childhood favorites are boxed up in the attic, many have been given away after buckling down and thinking hard as to if I'd really ever reread them. A very tough process, lemme tell you. The ones on my bookshelf right now though, the paperbacks, the ones in my Kindle app (I caved, but am a paperback loving gal chiefly), those are the ones that have left an impression.

Books that leave an impression are special. Whether you're a reader or a reader-writer hybrid, you take lessons with you upon reading the final pages of one of those special novels. The greats. Not merely the classics, no--but the ones with themes that resonate deeply, the ones that take you in to the story world so you're walking alongside each character. Some stories you just want to smoosh the hero and heroine together and make them see they belong together. But you're along for the ride, watching it play out beautifully and finishing to a happy end.

My favorite part though about Christian fiction of any/all genres? There is a thread of hope. Redemption of some sort. But always, always hope. That there is something bigger than every conflict, every character's past and present and daunting future. Whether it be a somewhat fluffier rom-com romance or a family saga or a hard-hitting story with difficult themes from page one--there is always hope. It's grace in each and every page the author pens, and that is why I love Christian fiction. Why I am so grateful to be a part of the CBA as a reader and writer, a part of American Christian Fiction Writers and wherever else the Lord may lead to make an impact through stories. Whether it be more of my own down the road (please Lord!) or helping other authors polish their work to be the best stories they can be. 

What Does an "Open Heart" Look Like?

January 25, 2016

Via Pinterest
No matter where you are in life, at some point or another you've probably heard the cliched encouragements of:

  • "Keep an open heart."
  • "The best things come when you least expect it."
  • "God loves to surprise us!"
  • "Remember, all things work together for good..."
  • "Delight in the LORD and He will grant you the desires of your heart."
They can sound like fortune cookies sometimes. All of these words, however, have merit. Too often though people hold out these phrases to those wandering in a season of waiting, hope waning, and these souls receive such words with wrong attitudes. I speak from experience and still struggling with these... We can all-too often compare our current situation against that of the well-meaning friend or family member and grow resentful, bitter, discontent.
But why can't they just stop saying these things?! I am so sick of hearing them! I get it. All of these words though have merit. They are truth. It is us fallible humans who miss the timeless, grace-filled truth in such words. Because we view them like fortune cookies. Our brains are wired to hear such things and think, "If this is true then why?"
"If all things work together for good why hasn't this happened?" Insert your own thing where the word "this" is in that last statement. And resist temptation to go down the road of comparing. It is a very lonely, isolated road.
Where am I going with this? Is she seriously going to quip, "Keep an open heart!"
Yep. But that is because having a closed heart will eat you up. It's lonely. It puts God in a box of your expectations and know it all-ness that says He couldn't possibly...not with my luck...He hasn't yet.
The heart the Lord wants us to have is one that desires and strives to keep connected to HIM 24/7. A heart open to whatever His will may be. Open to whatever His answer is, whether it be a quiet "Wait" or a firm but still so loving "No."
The word "delight" in that Psalm I referenced above can chafe when we read it. We hear it and think gleeful enjoyment akin to Pollyanna's optimism and constant cheerfulness. And for those of us not blessed with that inclination, it's work. But we must keep an open heart. To not only receive what God has for us, but to continuously give back to HIM whose love is deeper than the ocean, higher than the heavens, farther than the reach of the stars. He who made the stars holds our hearts, but it is us who have a choice every minute of every day to keep it open. To keep connected to HIM--He sees the good, the bad and ugly in us and yet because of Christ, loves us anyway. It's the least we can do to honor Him out of gratefulness, to keep an open heart. Come what may.

Chase Down Your Story

January 21, 2016

What writer hasn't had a story that, as precious as it is, has been about as difficult as a toddler in the terrible two's? Or better yet--are you darned and determined to write the book, have all the ducks in a row, but something nameless is still needed. A muse, perhaps? Inspiration? Or maybe the novel's difficult because there just isn't enough time in the day. Are you stuck even now--in your first book or tenth--struggling to find that fleeting piece of story to make the book come together and be finished.

What I listed above are legit "trials" every single author of every genre, for all of time, face. However, going to level with you--we can't use them as crutches. Excuses to not buckle down and just write the darn story. Oftentimes some of the best plot twists in both the story and in the writing are unexpected whether you're a strict planner or a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-er. Our stories though are just that--ours. They're not beings with their own free will that we, the hapless author, can blame for them being unfinished.
That's not to say some books aren't meant to be unfinished for a time, to be dusted off and finished at a later date. There is a time for every season under heaven--including for each and every book you're writing.
The first month of 2016 is very nearly over already, and perhaps those writerly resolutions are waning thin or life has constantly interrupted getting thousands of words logged these last three weeks. Can I just encourage you in chasing down and finishing your story?
Keep writing.
Snatch those moments in between classes to jot, scribble or type a piece of plot or dialogue in a notebook. No matter what season of life you're in, there is always something else you can do besides write. A load of laundry, emails needing answered, reading, researching--none of these and more are inherently bad! But if you're struggling to get that story written, feeling like you're chasing your tail--just write. You can't one day edit a blank page.

Four Ways to Chase Your Story ( And get it written! )

  • Time travel into the future of your story--The End. Think of where you want the characters to be at that great conclusion. And then backtrack. 
  • Think/daydream about your story-world. Even if you're an outliner/planner, before sitting down to write you still need to think about where you're at in the story and what you are going to write. Just make sure to not spend a whole day thinking about writing. 
  • Know another writer? Set up weekly check-in emails about your stories! Cheer each other on, share snippets of writing, "word war" with each other. Even if it's 15min of just writing, it's writing. Not to mention it's fun. Purpose to chase your stories together--it's an immense help.
  • Make a reward system. TV shows are slowly coming back onto the air after the holiday break. No doubt you're excited for a few of them. Write 500 words (or however many!) before you settle down in the evening to watch TV. Same thing. I'm working on the self discipline area of writing (and in life LOL) if I'm honest, and it's hard. But it makes a huge difference. 
Remember a minute what first sparked the story within you. Perhaps it was a song being streamed over speakers as you watched your kids play, or a snippet of a dream that you woke up from and thought, "Oooh, I could build a story around this." You got the memory of that first spark of story? Hold onto it. Fan it back into flame by writing.
See? There's really no need to chase your story down because you've had it in you all along.

Hope Does Not Disappoint

January 18, 2016

"I've been better" has been my reply to kind souls who ask, and genuinely want to know, how I am doing of late. Waiting on two new hips, through the remnants of a crushing disappointment that my hip is coming out of its socket. Being on crutches, not able to walk without aid--again.
Depending on the asker, I can spill out a portion of what's been on my heart and verbally remind myself, "BUT GOD has got this. I don't know what He's doing but I have to believe He'll provide." Some days its hard to believe that--but its those days where I lose sight of the purpose behind my pain, the hope not in seemingly bleak circumstances--but the Lord of the universe. The author of time. The Great Physician who specializes in heart and soul work.

Disappointment is a paltry word for the sheer magnitude of everything I've been feeling this last month. That word though, FEELING? It's because I am human. Many of those feelings I've had to fight against, let go of and throw myself onto the strength of the Lord who knows my frame, and my heart, better than I ever could. By God's grace I can say that now, I am no longer needing to know why, or resenting the facts. The facts that God is all over--just like He is for you
Do the odds seemed stacked against you? The future darker than ever? Trial after tribulation piling up? I preach to myself here because it's so easy to do...
Do not wallow. 
Yes, Mum, I do listen when you beat me over the head speak truth to me.
For God calls us to trust, obey, and glory.
In every trial, every loss--this does not mean be happy or gleeful about it or even on the hardest days thank Him for it right away. Not unless it's from a pure heart--God knows what lip service looks like from even the most weathered Christian who knows how to react to life's trials.
Focus and stop fighting--and glory--in the love, provision and constant faithfulness of our Savior.
 Just glory in HIM. Each and every tribulation God allowed, for our ultimate good and for His glory.
Our ultimate good, how?! 
I get it. That question may come to mind every day for you facing a new diagnosis for you or a loved one, a job loss, chronic pain, loss of a loved one, an injury, a wayward child or friend, or as you go through a long, arduous season of waiting for a desire of your heart. Each and every trial, tribulation and even those muddy waiting waters of life produces perseverance. We must persevere--even when we are bone-weary, persevere to look up and allow yourself to rest in the arms of our Lord.
This perseverance produces character--not once and for all, but a lifelong process of a better character. Perspective, contentment, a strengthening of faith even when Satan throws more darts our way. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power (perseverance), love and a sound mind. Glory in HIM. For He alone is our hope. Not our circumstances, not "down the road apiece" when things surely must get better, for they very well may not.
True hope never disappoints, because the source of our hope is God. All we have to do is look up and behold His glory. Thanks to Jesus Christ the veil of separation is torn and we do not have to work our way to Him, but simply look up. Take hold of His love and grace, rest, take heart for He has overcome the world--conquered death for all time--and hope in Him.

With This Ring?|Quadruplet Book Review + Giveaway

January 14, 2016

It's been years since I've read a historical romance set in the Wild West and each and every one of these novellas were a treat to read from beginning to end. The length of a novella is short and sweet, but I didn't feel like any of these books lost their effectiveness or were at a disadvantage because of length. They were the perfect pair with tea, coffee--and essential oils and Kleenexes for me as I fought a bad sinusy cold last week and couldn't think straight to write much at all. LOL
If you've read any of these authors before, you will be delighted to see mention of their novels' characters in each book. Mary Connealy, for instance, has a lot of characters from her Trouble in Texas and Kincaid Brides series make an appearance in her novella, and since the novella was the my first experience with her writing, made me very intrigued to one day read more of her full length novels. Yes I did have a favorite novella...can you guess which one? ;) 
When I read the subtitle of this collection, Proposals gone awry, I had no idea what I was in for, but had expectations that, like in most romances, the proposals would occur near the end of the book as part of the happy endings. I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case with these unforeseen proposals for the four couples. I'll try not to giveaway spoilers in the bite-size reviews below, but I will be giving away a copy of this novella collection at the bottom of this post, so read on.

Description from Amazon:

Sometimes Love is Found in the Most Unexpected Places!

Love isn't always a fairy tale, and it doesn't always go as planned. Sometimes the best stories, though, are the ones that are the most unexpected. Join Karen Witemeyer, Mary Connealy, Regina Jennings, and Melissa Jagears for novellas that celebrate the power of love to triumph . . . even when circumstances go awry! 
All Author Bios & About the Books are taken from the book's Amazon page }

Don't forget to check out the giveaway below my reviews!

The Husband Maneuver by Karen Witemeyer When ranch foreman Daniel Barrett seems ready to leave her life forever, Marietta Hawkins decides to grab the reins on their relationship. But to have any hope of maneuvering him into a proposal, she has to act fast or risk losing him completely.

This is a lighthearted star-crossed lovers tale set in the Wild West. Marietta is a blithe, darned and determined heroine with her heart set not on fictional heroes despite her affinity for dime novels, but solid as an oak tree foreman Daniel Barrett. Torn between his promise to his boss, Marietta's father, Daniel reins in his strong feelings for Marietta but proves to be just the hero she needs. Perhaps I've read more than my fair share of historical romances, but this story was a wee bit predictable. Very sweet, and how the author described and built the attraction/tension and conflict between the characters was done very well.

About the Author: Karen Witemeyer is a winner of the Carol Award and has been a finalist for the RITA Award and National Readers' Choice Award. She lives with her husband and three children in Abilene, Texas.
Her Dearly Unintended by Regina Jennings Josiah Huckabee just wanted to make sure Katie Ellen Watson was safe, but when the only bridge to her farm is washed out, the two find themselves alone. Alone, that is, until a menacing stranger appears. Maybe by pretending to be newlyweds, they'll save their reputations--but can pretending to be in love turn into the real thing? 

This story was so great. Oh my word--Josiah and Katie Ellen reminded me a lot of Gilbert Blythe and Anne Shirley. But in the West. Miscommunications, stubbornness on both parts--this story was delightful. The characters--believable, the suspense/conflict kept me turning the pages, and the ending, rather than a happily ever after, was more open happily ever after which I loved. But you'll just have to read it and see for yourself.

About the Author: Regina Jennings is the author of five acclaimed historical romances. She lives outside Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with her husband and four children.
Runaway Bride by Mary Connealy Hired to help Carrie Halsey escape from a dangerous man intent on making her his wife, Big John Conroy never expected the job to interrupt his solitary Texas Ranger life. But now that he's promised to keep Carrie safe, he discovers he may just want to make a few more promises. 

Such a lovely, Western twist on a damsel in distress and hero situation--but the damsel can hold her own. This perhaps out of all the novellas felt most like a classic Western movie to me and I loved every minute of it. Big John Conroy has a soft heart of gold, and his tenderness and protection for Carrie was precious to read as I watched their love unfurl even after their marriage of necessity. 

About the Author: Mary Connealy is well-known for her award-winning, bestselling historical romantic comedies. She lives on a ranch in eastern Nebraska with her husband and has four grown daughters.
Engaging the Competition by Melissa Jagears Harrison Gray and tomboy Charlotte Andrews have been rivals for years. With Charlotte intended for someone else, it seems they'll never settle their differences until an accident changes things completely. When Charlotte breaks Harrison's glasses--without which he's nearly blind--she must help with his teaching position, and working together forces these former adversaries to reconsider everything.

This tale more than the others had me in stitches, and shaking my head at the stubbornness of the two characters. The competition between them was fierce, as was miscommunication at the beginning. It made for an especially sweet romance to watch both characters realize their feelings for each other and finally communicate them! It was a great read, to see--as the reader--that the two main characters Charlotte "Charlie" and Harrison belonged together, complemented each other--but watch hijinks unfold and lessons be learned before the I Love You.

About the Author: Melissa Jagears, author of the Unexpected Brides series, is a homeschooling mother of three little ones on a tiny Kansas farm with a fixer-upper house. Her first novella, "Love by the Letter," won the 2014 Carol Award for Best Novella.
Giveaway open to US entrants only.
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*Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for my honest review, as well as a copy from author Regina Jennings in exchange for my honest review*