Operation First Novel Contest Winner Book Reviews ~ Snow Out of Season

I am delighted to introduce you to some newly-published authors. I was honored to be named along with them as semi-finalists in the 2014 Jerry B. Jenkins Operation First Novel Contest. Over the next few weeks, you’ll meet the winning books here. First is Christy Brunke, author of Snow Out of Season. That title intrigues me. “Out of season” always means something is awry. Here’s the book blurb:

“Two pregnant women separated by time . . . Are they more connected than they know?

Cemetary PathShannon Henry is just starting to put her life back together after the death of her infant daughter when she discovers she’s pregnant again. Afraid of losing another child, at first she hides the news from her husband Wade.

When her doctor presents her with the choice of either raising a child with Down syndrome or terminating the pregnancy, Shannon is torn. Then things strangely start going missing—their wedding picture, a bracelet with charms for their three children, Wade’s clothes on the floor which she’s always complained about. And why is she having nightmares about losing her husband?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Leslie Gardner is a high-school senior in 1979 who dreams of becoming a professional ballerina, but she discovers she is pregnant too. If she has the child, her chances of a dancing career and college are over, but her friend shows her another option. If she secretly has an abortion like her boyfriend wants, her problems will be over and her life can go on as planned.

While Shannon wrestles with her sanity, Leslie struggles with whether or not to tell her parents. Each must make a decision that will alter both the future and the past forever.”

SNOW out of Season Cover

SNOW OUT OF SEASON has just about all the things I like to see in a novel and very few of the things I don’t. I like believable characters, evocative settings, intriguing storylines, lovely writing, spot-on symbolism, crackling dialog. And always appreciate a dash of charm and humor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe riveting story that unfurls for Shannon Henry kept me up reading well beyond a wise bedtime. I just had to know …  Continue reading

Seeing God Across Your Years

As a child I talked to Jesus all the time ~ especially when I was sick, which was at least a couple months a year. I got strep throat with every change of weather. My nose tickled for weeks at a time. I was constantly scrunching up my face, twisting my mouth, and wiggling my nose to try to make it stop. So I was give yucky-tasting yellow medicine to get rid of my “tic.”  I had terrific allergies, but no one realized that was the cause.

Behold, He comes on the cloudsBanished to bed for weeks at a time, I read a lot and lived in my imagination. Often I’d stretch out on the bed, curtains wide open on my large window, and talk to Jesus. By day I’d ask if he was riding a particularly fluffy cloud. By night I’d ask if that bright star was him and was he coming down to earth.

I’ve no idea where these thoughts and questions came from. When I was 4 my parents joined a Presbyterian church where I was baptized. I went to Sunday School – or I think I did. Though I have a pretty good memory and remember things about my toddler years that surprise even my family, I have zero recollection of classes. I do remember standing in church next to my mother and loving when we’d sing the Doxology. The organ thundered the powerful, lively music; and I thought Mom’s voice was lovely. But I have no memory of actually being in children’s classes.

Grow in Christ Bookends from Guymon

Grow in Christ bookends from Guymon

We didn’t discuss Sunday morning sermons at home. In fact, Sunday was the day my father would take me and my girlfriends (Catholic, so we weren’t in church together) for banana splits or sundaes at the ice cream stand in town.

So church and the Bible were not part of my daily fare. I did go to Vacation bible School summers when I’d visit cousins in Oklahoma (hence these ancient bookends). And one Christmas I was given a children’s Bible story book ~ typical narrative recounting of Bible miracles. The book long ago met its demise in a flood or a flurry of mother’s spring cleaning. I have no idea how accurate the stories were.

As apparently minimal as my exposure to God was, in my heart we were close. I knew He was near, watched over me, and listened when I talked to him. How does one explain this?

I can’t.

I believe it’s a God thing. God never ignores a sincere seeker and is particularly tender with children. I believe he communicates with them in ways they can understand. And in Psalm 73:23 Asaph says he is always with God, so close that God holds Asaph’s right hand. That sounds as reasonable to me as any reason that I sensed God so intimately. And maybe that’s why, despite efforts to force me to use my other hand, I grew up left-handed!

Looking over your life, can you see: Was God ever taking care of you ~ even though you didn’t see it at the time?

I’m praying we have the vision to see God at work in our lives, our families, our world. Would love if you’d share ways you’ve seen God’s presence when you look back.

 

JOY in the Fractured Days

I had many goals this week and plans to reach them ~ until they were demolished.

We’ve had a fractured week, with conked out computer, busted car, blown up to-do list, and battered bodies. And we’re rejoicing. Why?

GLEN EYRIE - Garden steps

 

Because God has us. He’s got it all covered. Not one of these nuisances surprised Him.

 

 

He says to us:  “I am leading you, step by step, through your life. Hold My hand in trusting dependence, letting me guide you through this day.

 

KARL plus crew in Sierras

 

Your future looks uncertain and feels flimsy—even precarious. That is how it should be.”

Hallelujah! We’re right on target.  He continues:

 

Secret things belong to the Lord, and future things are secret things. When you try to figure out the future, you are grasping at things that are Mine. This, like all forms of worry, is … doubting My promises to care for you … I will show you the next step forward, and the one after that and … Relax and enjoy the journey in My Presence, trusting Me to open up the way before you as you go.” [Jesus Calling, Sarah Young. emphasis mine.]

GATE - stone walled garden crop

Vision for a tough Valentine’s Day

Ever feel left out on Valentine’s Day as waves of affection pour from radio, TV, even the grocery store? The expressions are meant to convey appreciation and love. But it can be a brutal day. When one is alone, the sentiments floating about the universe fly right past—aimed like Cupid’s arrow at someone else.

Years ago I was a struggling single mom living in a city away from family, and I cringed as the day full of hearts approached. One year our church planned a banquet—but unlike most year’s, billed it not as a Valentine’s Banquet but a Love Banquet. Everyone was invited—whole families, not just couples. Continue reading

TENDER MERCY

 

Truth:  You are loved.

“The dog” had been adopted from the local pound only 12 hours earlier and hadn’t even been named when he slipped out of the house as his new “mommy” left for work. Our son and his wife tried chasing him, scoured the area, and alerted friends and the staff at the pound. But over days and weeks, they heard nothing. And “the dog” didn’t come back.

Trams & Echo

                           Trams & Echo

This adoption was an attempt to fill a huge hole left in the family when beloved Echo, aging and going deaf, was hit by a car and killed on Thanksgiving Day.

Too much sadness at dogs leaving, and the kids didn’t try again. Just focused on living without feeding and walking and playing with a dog.

After a month, a call came from a vet. “The dog you adopted has just been found 35 miles away. He’s in very bad shape and even with a couple surgeries may not survive. Do you want us to put him down?”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

DOLLATR sign for blog smallKarl and Sandy went to see the dog, learned the vet’s prognosis, and discussed if they could afford the expected $2000+ for the surgeries. Apparently this frightened animal had been hit and dragged by a vehicle, assaulted by a pack of coyotes, and been limping around scrounging for food for a month. For some reason, they told the vet to fix the damaged and dislocated hip, clean his wounds, surgically repair where his tail had been severed, and do the dental and plastic surgery to his muzzle so he could eat and drink normally.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter weeks of recovery, the dog, still so accustomed to being unable to use his left hind leg, he never tried to do so after healing. The kids took to gently rubbing and stretching it, and using a trick they learned about. By leaving the leash on even while in the house, the dog was often forced to use the leg he was favoring. They very tenderly encouraged, coaxed, and comforted while trying to make the dog do something he clearly did not want to do.

Now that dog does everything a normal dog does ~ and more. He follows close behind Sandy or Karl, and is happiest curled at the foot of whichever one is seated. Once he sits on the feet of his chosen “healer,” he leans into their legs and finally relaxes. And in tribute to the experience, they named the dog Achilles.

ALBANIAN ROAD - rocky DukaIn Jesus Calling, Sarah Young writes (as if Jesus’ words) “You are really just beginning your journey of intimacy with Me. It is not an easy road, but … The Glory of My Presence glistens … along the way. Hardships are part of the journey too. I mete them out ever so carefully, in just the right dosage, with a tenderness you can hardly imagine. …”

So, friends, whatever your hardship is today ~ waiting for a reluctant teenager to share their struggle, pain talking at you and preventing sleep, facing Valentine’s Day knowing your loved one is no longer here to share those special rituals … I hope you can sense the tender hands stretching your vision, soft voice speaking comfort … and know our hardships are meted out in just the right dosage to tenderly lead us to some place better. I hope you can lean into your healer and rest with peace. Because if Karl and Sandy would invest so much time, money, and love into a battered, nameless dog, how much more tenderness will God display with each of us?

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither to they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? [Matthew 6:26, KJV]

If you need more encouragement this Valentine’s Day, visit Lysa TerKeurst’s 5 Ways to Survive Love Season.

*photo credit, rocky road – Aurel Duka, others – Karl & Mary Kay Moody

Basic Training for Heroes

Danger stalked Winnetka, a wealthy Chicago suburb, in the early morning of May 20, 1988. A woman delivered poisoned snacks to dozens of people. Then she moved from one location to another trying to trap people in fires she started. She shot children at an elementary school. After that, news reports told the city that her location was uncertain, but she was believed to be in a particular home, holding the family hostage.

When my teen-age son got home from school, he asked us to drive him to Winnetka. With common teen-age audacity, he was certain he could confront the killer and end the day-long siege.

Legion of Honor -French medalWho among us hasn’t fantasized of some highly visible way we’d like to be heroic? Maybe rescue someone from a burning car. Or pull a drowning child from an icy pond. Isn’t some daydream touched when you hear about the three American men, friends from their youth, who restrained a terrorist on the Paris-bound train and were awarded the Legion of Honor Medal?

Those are big deals. Television news big. But most of us don’t live out such grand daydreams.

Jill Stanek, Pro-life Advocate

Jill Stanek

My friend Jill got a brick thrown thru her window. Sounds like some random act of vandalism. But it wasn’t. She was targeted.

She’d been a nurse, so it was strange she was sent a note on a brick. An ordinary nurse in the Labor & Delivery unit of an ordinary hospital ~ until the night a co-worker was carrying a small baby to the soiled utility closet to die. You see, this tiny boy lived through an abortion. Typically when that did happen, the parents or hospital staff held the child until it died. That night, the nurse didn’t have time to hold him.

Dr. Alveda King

Dr. Alveda King

So Jill held the hand-sized child. And as he slipped away, Jill’s determination to protect life grew. She’s become a prominent pro-life activist. One might say she’s reached that rarefied air of fame. She’s spoken around the world, testified before the US Congress, attended signing ceremonies at The White House. I mean, I learned about the brick incident when Dr. Alveda King ~ a woman I dearly love and respect & Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s niece ~ posted it! (Does Alveda King tell the world about your life? Not mine either.) But Jill’s fame also brought her a brick through the window. Being well-known isn’t always fun. And it isn’t Jill’s goal. But it is a consequence of her taking a stand.

I’m convinced that as Jill went to work that day, she had no idea a David-and-Goliath battle would appear.

And, dear sisters, neither do we. Yes, God prepares his children. Perhaps occasionally we sense that “something” is coming. But every day we’re given opportunities to be prepared. Opportunities to build our faith muscles, practice right thinking. Right attitudes. Right responses. I know I’ve missed noticing the majority. They often come disguised.

They look like my friend Clarice getting lost in the hospital parking garage visiting her husband who is fighting leukemia. They look like being asked to provide an excuse for your boss when s/he’s late to a meeting. Getting your finger slammed in the closet door. Knocking over the bottle of olive oil.

Your calling, your path and mine may not lead to invitations to The White House or the Legion of Honor Medal bestowed by French President Hollande. But as discussed in last week’s blog, the little acts matter. Choices in routine matters multiply in impact. Let’s go forward in that confidence. Stay faithful, keep reading and applying Scripture, being on the look out for the choice points in your day ~

So that we may be prepared ~

When a friend looks at you through tears and says, “I can’t hang on any more.”

Or in the night hours, your child telephones saying, “It’s all falling apart. I don’t know what to do.”

What obstacles are you facing today that may be opportunities in disguise?

If you’d like to learn more about Jill, Alveda King, or Clarice James, click on their name & you’ll connect with their blog or Facebook.

Photo credit, Legion of Honor: Alexvonf, public domain on German Wikipedia 

DON’T LET THE DAILY DERAIL YOUR DREAMS

Do you ever feel like your dreams get buried beneath a mountain of mundane? Your goals glide right off a cliff of daily duties? Sometimes it’s difficult to hang on to the enthusiasm. To persevere in the face of oceans of time spent apparently accomplishing nothing because you just need to do it again tomorrow.

DAVID replica, Florence

DAVID replica, Florence

Let me offer you some encouragement to rekindle your joy. Your resolve.

~ The “big dream” isn’t achieved until all the parts are connected.

~ The “big goal” isn’t reached in one giant jump, but in the accumulation of hours, days, months of small steps.

I imagine Michelangelo ate a lot of dust before David finally emerged from the marble.

 

Assumption of the Virgin by Titian

Assumption of the Virgin by Titian

 

 

I wonder if Titian ever tired of mixing pigments and dyes, or experimenting with additions of finely ground glass or metals to his paint. The magnificent David or impressive Assumption of the Virgin, masterpieces of the Renaissance, wouldn’t exist if the sculptor and painter just got tired of the repeated chiseling or swiping paint on panel.

 

 

Our family friends Bill & Lori Smith run a large, multi-faceted ministry in Papua New Guinea. Last week was Teen Camp which means Lori and a few women needed to “cook over 100 kilos of rice each day” for the 500 hungry teenagers and counselors. Over 220 pounds of rice! That’s an awful lot of boiling and stirring and pouring and scooping to do, and then repeat it 3 hours later. My mind reels.

TEEN CAMP Smiths PNG

Amazima Ministries, which reaches thousands in Uganda, recently posted:  “Yesterday we fed 1,351 children during our daily outreach in Masese, Uganda! “ Again a lot of work was done BEFORE the 1,351 children were fed.

AMAZIMAs Lunch table 1351 meals

But Katie Davis and her team choose not to see 1,351 bowls bought, and filled, and handed out. Instead they see: “1,351 faces, 1,351 names, 1,351 stories that God is writing, and we’re just grateful we get to play a small part.”

The big goals are accomplished by the accretion of small (often mundane too!) steps culminating in the outcome aimed for. And it’s easier to persist in pursuit of the goals if we keep our focus on the reason behind what we do, not on the daily ordinariness, the mind-numbing repetition.

And the REASONS?

            1. For the goal

            2. For the people

            3. For God Who asked us in the first place.

Today is a somber day of remembering that 30 years ago, 7 men and women “slipped the surly bonds of earth”* and perished in the Challenger explosion. Hardly a “big dream” like we’re talking about today. But hang on ~ it is relevant. The horrific explosion that destroyed that mighty rocket resulted from a defect in an O-ring. An O-ring!

O

A very small part compared to the huge rocket.

LEARNING TO WRITE crFor most of us the majority of days are of the mundane variety with the occasional fire-cracker, red-letter day thrown in. But masterpieces are mostly created that way.

How many hundreds of hours of feeding a baby, teaching him to hold a spoon, a pencil, a steering wheel before you see the wise, kind, loving man your son becomes?

All the small parts are important, exponentially so.

So if you feel your feet are jelly-stuck to the kitchen floor instead of soaring through the heights, if you feel buried beneath mounds of laundry or bills, can I hear your hearty cry:

“This matters! This is important. Hallelujah ~ God is weaving something                   great from this.” Because He is.

Hang your heart on this, friend. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

We will reap. That’s a promise. It’s just sometimes hard to wait for that “due season,” yes?

If you need more reminding, check out this video. Packs a powerful “Thank you, Mom” message. Will pour some needed balm on your tired soul. Perhaps even pour some cleansing tears.

What dream or goal feels buried to you? What is 1 thing you can do today to ease it toward fulfillment? 

*Quotation from “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., 1941, made familiar by President Ronald Reagan on January 28, 1986 as he spoke after the Challenger disaster.

Photo credit of David replica and Assumption of the Virgin ~ Wikipedia.

VISION BEYOND THE DEAD-ENDS

2014 - YOSEMITE WINTER - writers refuge FEBHow are things going for you in this new year? Had any hopes, dreams, buildings raised ~ and then dashed?

Bad news and burdens just keep piling up like a snowdrift against the door. It could get you down, yes? As one dear friend said, “I think I’m a bit depressed.”

The comfy chair beckons. We just want to collapse in it, sip cocoa, and wait to feel better. Wait for circumstances to change. Wait for the phone call.

 

PATHWAY w timbered stepsBut before you decide to just park, may I offer you a different vision?

~  A bend in the path ahead often appears to be a dead-end, but isn’t.

~    New hopes can grow like a phoenix from the dashed ones.

~   “Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but actually you’ve been planted.” *

 

FOG in color

These chirpy little sayings might appear to be silly platitudes. But they contain nuggets of truth. Sometimes we all need reminders of a truth that, at the moment, is foggy to us. Nudges to persevere. Words to revive our hope.

 

 

Often “dead-ends” are meant to make us pause, look around, evaluate. Not quit. But if we stop in our tracks when we see the closed gate ahead and sit down, we’ll never see the new path, new sights, joys, mercies, or miracles that wait just over the horizon.

So I invite you to pause and remember:

~It was not raining before Noah, working on the             plain, built an ark.

~Moses and the Israelites didn’t reach the Promised Land without plenty of walking.

~The walls of Jericho stood tall and strong until Joshua and his army, in faith and obedience, walked around them and blew their trumpets.

HORIZON over water w mntns

~”Be patient. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. One step at a time. In the right direction. No pressure. Just keep moving. You’ll get there.” Johnnie Morris

Or in the words of that brilliant theologian, Gracie Allen: “Never put a period where God has put a comma.”

What small step can you take today to move beyond an obstacle?

Tweetables ~

Need a fresh vision? Sometimes a dead-end is really just a bend in the road.

You won’t see the mercies or miracles God has just over the horizon if you quit at the first roadblock.

* Quote seen on Facebook. Author unknown. If you know who said this, please let me know so I can give them proper attribution. Thanks.

 

LIVING ON TIP TOES

A young lad named Edward, just a toddler, grew up in sunny California and, at 2 years old, had seen little rain. While visiting his grandparents in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, one afternoon a rainstorm broke out. Delighted, he ran to the porch and squealed and giggled as rain poured and a huge clap of thunder—well, thundered.

STORM CLOUDS - MountainsPointing to the sky, he called out, “Thunder again.” But only the rain tapped on the roof. He turned to his grandmother and asked her to bring the thunder again. She told him she couldn’t. So he bellowed at the sky once more.

“Edward,” she said, “only Jesus can make it thunder.”

He raised his arms to the sky and hollered, “Jesus, make it thunder again.”

And a boom of thunder came rolling over those mountains, louder than any his family ever heard. *

I had determined I wanted to live this year (And, why not from now on, really?) in eager anticipation of what God would accomplish and how he’d bring good out of what appears to me as sad or disappointing. I call it: living on tip-toes. And now I have my role model.

[Story told on January 3, 2016, by Johnnie Morris about his own son. Johnnie’s message can be heard here for the next 4-6 weeks.]

FLOOD IN THE DESSERT

Ed at Yosemite - falls close up brtAre you needing guidance from God? Perhaps a word of encouragement, hope, or comfort? Sunday Johnnie Morris preached an encouraging message from Leviticus. (Yes, encouraging. Yes, Leviticus.) One point was ~

God leads us into a dessert to re-introduce us to Himself before he leads us to our promised land.

I asked God for a word for 2016. Then I asked for confirmation. I sincerely wanted his reassurance that I’d heard right.

Well, over the next days he flooded me with signs of reassurance. It was as astonishing and powerful as encountering a Niagara Falls in the dessert. So many Scriptures, ideas, stories, people, information that on Sunday evening I actually whispered, “I have to unplug. My brain is jangled trying to grasp it all.”

[Can’t help smiling as I write this next bit.] On Monday morning as I was working on this blog post ~ a gigantic wrecking ball flew out of nowhere and smashed through our family. The devastation is severe and will be long lasting.

It’s taken a couple of days to get back to writing this post. And though there are likely more consequences of our wrecking ball to be revealed, we are at peace. Also incredibly grateful.

Grateful that as each of us learned the hard news, the first thing we did was call to God, “Help!” And he did. Many of those lessons and words and Scriptures he’d poured over me on Saturday and Sunday were just what was needed on Monday. Amazing.

Grateful that, as bad as the situation is, we all see it could have been much worse.

And I’m so grateful that God flooded us on Sunday knowing Monday was coming.

Silly, childish me, fearing that the God who answered my request so wondrously might drown me with blessing!

TREE in Fog POSTER - No Vision 2 crMy word for 2016 is vision. God certainly gave me a glimpse of life through his eyes. I aim to remember it as we walk through this dessert. I fall into “Be Thou My Vision.” Here’s a link to a lovely version.

Our words matter to God. I hope you can take encouragement from this experience of ours. I pray you see God’s flood of provision over you and your family. Please, let me know if you have a need I can pray for.