July 30, 2012

Encouragement from the Word

**Thanks to all who visited and commented on Keli Gwyn’s interview last Monday. The winner of the giveaway (your choice of Keli’s book or a copy of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons) is Donna Pyle! Donna, I’ll contact you for your info.**

Sometimes, life is uncertain. It gets us down. We aren’t sure of anything.

But then, we read something from God’s Word or hear a song with Scripture, and it does something to our souls.

It renews us.

Invigorates us.

Reminds us that there is more to this life—to this moment—than what we can see.

I wanted to share with you some of the Bible verses that have meant a lot to me lately. I’m going to share with you why they’ve spoken to me as a writer, but I fully believe they can speak to you whatever, whoever, you are.

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

My understanding is so limited. I can’t see what is ahead on my writing journey. I only know that if I take the next step—the one He’s illuminated for me—I am on the right path.

Philippians 4:4, 6-7
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I’m not supposed to be anxious, even when I’m waiting for an agent or editor to respond to my submission. And I’m supposed to be thankful—and rejoice—at all times. Yep, even when I get rejections.

Because it’s an opportunity to turn over my turmoil, my doubts, to Him, the only one who can give me peace.

Philippians 4:13
I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

This one gives me chills. Every time. He’s promised me that I can do this. In His strength. Not on my own. And that’s so often how I try to do things.

Such a good reminder.

Psalm 37:5
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this.

If my desire as a writer is truly to honor and glorify Him, I need to give it to Him, and trust Him to take me wherever He wants—which, ultimately, is where I desperately want to be.

Jeremiah 29:11b (The Message)
I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.

Again, He’s got this. Why do I worry? He wants good for me, not bad. He wants to hold me, not let me go. He wants to give me the desires of my heart. I just have to make sure the desires of my heart are in line with what He wants for my life.

Hebrews 12:1-2a
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…

Sometimes I find myself wanting to write for the wrong reasons. Instead, my heart wants to forge ahead with nothing in sight but Jesus.

To know Him and make Him known…

Philippians 1:6
…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Amen and amen.

Your Turn: What verse has been speaking to you lately?

July 27, 2012

Fun Friday: Special Songs

Music has always spoken deeply to my heart. God has often used it to touch my spirit right where I’m at, to bring me back to Him, to give me encouragement.

So it’s no surprise that it delighted me to no end when my husband—not normally a singer (though I love his voice)—sang to me at our wedding reception.

He sang a Steven Curtis Chapman song I’d never heard before, but the lyrics have stuck with me ever since, and it’s sort of become our song.

Every time we’re apart for any length of time (like last week when he traveled for business), I play the song and I’m comforted.

Here are the lyrics. Aren’t they beautiful?

We Will Dance

I've watched the sunrise in your eyes
And I've seen the tears fall like the rain
You've seen me fight so brave and strong
You've held my hand when I'm afraid

We've watched the seasons come and go
We'll see them come and go again
But in winter's chill, or summer's breeze
One thing will not be changin'

We will dance
When the sun is shining
In the pouring rain
We'll spin and we'll sway
And we will dance
When the gentle breeze
Becomes a hurricane
The music will play
And I'll take your hand
And hold you close to me
And we will dance

Sometimes it's hard to hold you tight
Sometimes we feel so far apart
Sometimes we dance as one
And feel the beating of each other’s hearts

Some days the dance is slow and sweet
Some days we're bouncing off the walls
No matter how this world may turn
Our love will keep us from fallin'

And we will dance
When the sun is shining
In the pouring rain
We'll spin and we'll sway
And we will dance
When the gentle breeze
Becomes a hurricane
The music will play
And I'll take your hand
And hold you close to me
And we will dance

The music will play
And I'll hold you close
And I won't let you go
Even when our steps
Grow weak and slow
Still I'll take your hand
And hold you close to me
And we, will dance

Your Turn: Do you and your significant other have a special song? What song has been special to you lately, whether you’re single or attached? How has God used music in your life?

*Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

July 25, 2012

Names of God: Yahweh Shammah

Like most of you, I woke up last Friday morning thinking it was going to be just like any other day.

And then I heard the news. A gunman had opened fire in a movie theater full of people.

Overwhelming, gut-wrenching news. News that has the power to destroy. News that drove me to my knees.

Some ask, “Where was God?”

His name is Yahweh Shammah: The Lord Is There.

Where was He?

He was there. In the movie theater, bringing a peace to those who cried out to Him.

He is there, comforting families of the victims, comforting those who now live in fear.

He is there, in the midst of the darkness, shining His bright light of hope, hope that there is more to life than this destruction, this tragedy.

He is there, reminding us that this world is not our home, that there is a world beyond this one with so much goodness and light, we can’t even imagine it.

He is there, proclaiming justice, helping us to remember that He is the ultimate judge and will punish evil accordingly someday.

He is there, helping us make sense of the tragedy…or at least, to understand that when nothing else makes sense, He does.

He is there, in our hearts, showing us the difference between darkness and light.

There, giving us a foothold, a rock to build our lives on, a foundation that will not crumble.

There, holding us tight in His arms so we do not drown from the aching sadness this world sometimes brings.

There, giving us joy despite the pain.

There, bringing beauty from ashes, as only He can do.

Your Turn: When has God shown Himself to really be “there” in your life?

*Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

July 23, 2012

Getting to Know Author Keli Gwyn (and a Giveaway!)


I could not be more excited to have with us today author Keli Gwyn—whose book, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, just released on July 1.
 
I haven’t even met Keli in person yet (although that will change in about two months, yay!), but I have been profoundly impacted by her. She’s touched my heart in more ways than I can count; she’s encouraged me when I was down, reminded me that God has a plan for my life, and in general just brightened my entire week whenever I get an email from her.

And I know anyone who knows her feels the same way.

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Award-winning novelist Keli Gwyn writes inspirational historical romance. A California native, she lives in the Gold Rush-era town of Placerville in the Sierra Foothills with her husband and two skittish kitties.

You can connect with her on her website, Twitter, and Facebook.
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Being the gracious person she is, Keli agreed to answer some of my questions and host a giveaway (see details below):

Tell me about the first story you ever wrote, no matter how old you were! How old were you, what was it about, and what was your inspiration for it?

Although I wrote stories for my teachers, the first story I remember writing on my own was an entry in my high school’s Creative Writing Club contest. If you’re into school bus crashes at Christmastime, you might have enjoyed it. The idea came from third-grade memories of our school bus being forced to wait for a couple of hours on a narrow mountain road while a bad accident in front of us was cleared.

I didn’t win the contest, and hindsight has shown me why. I had lots to learn about crafting a compelling story. And, no, I haven’t any plans of resurrecting that sorry tale, so you can breathe a sigh of relief.

Aw, I’d kind of like to read it! Music plays a fun role in A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, so it makes me wonder: Do you play any instruments? If not, what instrument would you love to learn and why?

I played a bright red recorder in fourth grade and a sleek black clarinet in sixth. That’s the limit of my instrumental experience.

Wait! Memories are resurfacing. We bought a house with an old, out-of-tune piano in the garage when I was in the fifth grade. Some neighborhood kids taught me to play “Chopsticks.” When I was in high school, I babysat for a family with a gleaming upright piano. I used to pick out tunes the best I could after the boys were in bed. One night I managed a recognizable rendition of “Alouette,” albeit in slow mo, and I rejoiced. Quietly, of course. I did not want to wake those rowdy youngsters.

I used to dream of being able to play the piano. I never learned how. Instead I endowed the heroine of my first story with tremendous skill in that area. When I wrote A Bride Opens Shop, I fell in love with violin. There have been a few moments when I wished I could play, but I haven’t the time to learn and write stories, too. I content myself by listening to violin music by the hour.

What a fun story! I love how parts of your book were inspired by real life. I’m always interested to know: what was the first part of your story that was solid in your mind? Was it something in the plot or a certain character you couldn’t get out of your mind that led to A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California?

I’m a character-driven writer, so it’s usually characters that grab me first, as was the case with A Bride Opens Shop. I came upon a huge basket full of historic photographs at a local antique store. After doing a happy dance, I spent a couple of hours going through the pictures one by one, studying each intently, and pulling out any featuring people who captured my attention and set my creative cogs spinning.

The four people who became Miles Rutledge; his mother, Maude; Elenora Watkins; and her daughter, Tildy, jumped out at me. I imagined a widow with a daughter, and a widower whose mother lived with him. I knew I wanted the story to be set in El Dorado, where a successful mercantile owner had lived. Miles became that man, and the story ideas took off from there.

Speaking of Miles…I’ve often heard it said that, as writers, we add pieces of ourselves or people we know into our stories. So I’m curious: In what ways, if any, does Miles resemble your husband?

There are some similarities. Gwynly is 6’2”, and so is Miles. Gwynly is musical, as is Miles, and he plays a number of instruments, although violin is not one of them. Like Miles, Gwynly is well liked and amiable. My guy has the same liking for practicality. Gwynly is definitely a no-frills kinda guy.

Unlike Miles, Gwynly is by no means a dandy. He does not have a thing about his hair, doesn’t give the condition of his collar much thought, and is not obsessed with having shiny shoes.  Those traits are all Miles’s.

Aw, I love that you used some pieces but merged them with other characteristics to form your MC. Switching gears a bit, what’s the best piece of writing advice anyone has ever given you?

Study craft and produce a polished story before submitting if you want to improve your chances of success.

I was privileged to talk with Deeanne Gist for a full fifteen minutes when attending the Romance Writers of America® conference back in 2008. Despite being a double finalist in the Golden Heart®, my pitch sessions were pitiful. I told Dee I knew my stories weren’t ready and that I wasn’t going to query any more until I felt they were. She told me she didn’t like rejection either, and gave me the advice above.

I took Dee’s wise counsel to heart, spent a year studying craft, pulled out the best of my five completed stories, and rewrote that story for the second time. Not until I felt it was ready did I send it out. I learned that taking time to learn was the best thing I could have done. The story took first place in a number of contests, garnered me several requests for fulls, and led to my offer of representation.

Lest you think everything was peaches and roses after that, here’s the rest of the story. Rachelle told me I’d let the tension out a quarter of the way into my story and that I needed to delete the final three-quarters and start over. She was right! I rewrote the story, sent it to my critique partners, revised it, and sent it to Rachelle, who said it was ready to go out on submission. That story is now called A Bride Opens Shop, and I’m a firm believer in the value of taking time to study craft before sending our work out.

Your story of perseverance is an inspiration to me, for sure! Okay, time to get to know you on a more personal level. And what’s more personal than food? *grin* It’s no secret to any who know you that you absolutely adore Taco Bell. When you go, do you stick with the same order every time or switch it up? What is currently your favorite item on the menu?

I pretty much stick to six items. My top three are the Seven-layer Burrito, the tostada, and the crunchy taco. When I’m feeling the need for veggies, I’ll have a Fiesta Taco Salad. When I’m nostalgic, I’ll order an Enchirito, an item no longer listed on the menu. And when I could care less about counting calories and just wanna have fun, I add an order of nachos with a side of jalepeƱos.

My current favorite is a tostada with extra cheese and Fiesta salsa. It’s yummy and doesn't make me feel too guilty after I’ve completed a Curves workout. :-)

And we’ll end with a fun question: You’re locked in a room for a week and only allowed three items (no people allowed!). What are they?

I’m going to assume I have the basics: food—preferably some from Taco Bell—and clothing, along with TP, tissues, toothbrush, and toothpaste.  (Can you tell I’m a detail person? :-) )

OK, now that we have that out of the way, I can have some fun.

I’d take my laptop with power cord attached. That way I could work and keep in touch with my friends. (I’m assuming you wouldn’t take away my Internet connection, since you’re such a nice person. :-) )

I’d take plenty of sweet tea so I wouldn’t go into withdrawal.

And I’d take my down pillows. I’ve had a thing for my pillow since I was a teeny tiny girl. My mom tells me I used to squeeze mine in the middle and call it my dolly.

I almost said I’d take my Bible, since I read it every day, but I’m sure I could find a version online.


Thanks so much for hosting me, Lindsay. Spending time with you and your blog’s visitors is a treat. I’d like to end with a question for all of you.

Do you play—or have you ever played—an instrument? If so, which one(s)?

If time, space, and money were not issues, is there an instrument you’d like to learn how to play?


Keli has generously agreed to give away EITHER a copy of her book or a CD of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons plus a bag of lemon drops to a random commenter! Only U.S. residents are eligible. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments to be entered.

Widow Elenora Watkins looks forward to meeting her new business partner, Miles Rutledge, who owns a shop in 1870s El Dorado. But Miles is shocked to see a woman step off the stagecoach. His rude behavior forces Elenora to reconsider—so she becomes his competition across the street. Can Miles win her heart while destroying her business?


July 20, 2012

Fun Friday: Changes!


Last Tuesday, my golden retriever puppy, Chloe, turned 1.

She’s changed so much, both physically (as evidenced by her photos!) and in her level of obedience.

Chloe at 9 weeks
Chloe at 6 months
Chloe at 1 year

I remember the days of jumping up, licking voraciously, and in general not listening AT ALL. It’s like it was just yesterday. Wait, it was… Just kidding—sort of. So she isn’t perfect, but she’s improved a lot!

So in honor of my pup’s birthday (I know, I’m cheesy), I wanted to celebrate ways WE’VE changed this year for the better. Too often we dwell on what we need to work on, but rarely do we look back and relish the triumphs.

I fully realize that boasting and being proud is not normally something we want to do. But boasting in the Lord and what He's done in our lives? Bring it on!

For me, God's taught me more patience, especially when it comes to Chloe (What? I've never had a puppy before, and I don't have kids yet!) and dealing with difficult people. God has given me a lot of opportunities this year to improve in this area--where, I'm sorry to admit, I've often acted in less-than-desirable ways--and I think it's really cool for me to see what He's done so far.

Now, patience as it regards all the waiting I have to do in the writing life...well, that's still under construction. But you know what? Even if He's brought me from one point to another--however small that step may be--it's something to celebrate. With every step closer to Him, we glorify Him. And isn't that what it's all about?

Now I want to hear about the positive changes in your life!

How have YOU changed for the better in the past year? It can be any kind of improvement: spiritual, practical, emotional, physical. I can’t wait to celebrate with you.

*Today I’m hanging out with Jessica Patch on her blog. We’re having a summer beach party, so come on by and say hi!

July 18, 2012

Oh, the Hats We Wear

We’re busy people.

I work full time. I’m married. I try to write and blog and connect on social media. I have a house to take care of. I try to maintain some sort of social life outside of Facebook too.

We all have so many responsibilities, so many hats we wear. Sometimes, we throw extra hats on our heads—these hats are usually nothing but extra pressure we place on ourselves to succeed.

And each of these hats has a label that we use to define ourselves.

For me, it’s labels like

Wife

Sister

Daughter

Friend

Writer

Rejected Writer

Editor

Teacher

Desperate Dieter

Singer

Doggy Mama

Imperfect Perfectionist

Cook

Housemaid

And the list goes on and on…

But what if, instead of all of THOSE labels, we started thinking of ourselves not in terms of what we do…and the success we garner…but rather in terms of WHOSE we are?

What if instead we wore hats with labels like

Daughter/Son of the King

Triumphant in Him

Beloved of the Father

Precious in His Sight

Spotless and Clean

Worthy of Love

What effect would it have on our lives to change out the labels that define us? I think it’s a pretty safe bet that the disappointments we feel, the lack of success, the lows, the embarrassments—might fade in the light of His glory.

Yep. A pretty safe bet indeed.

Your Turn: What labels do you wear that you want to replace? What would you replace it with?

*Next week, I’ll resume my Names of God series. Sorry I took a few weeks off, but God just placed some cool stuff in my mind and on my heart to share.
**Photo by Sira Anamwong

July 16, 2012

The Element of Surprise

I’ve had a relationship with Christ for 21 years—almost my entire life—but you know what?

Sometimes, God still pulls a sneak attacks on me.

And by “attack,” I don’t mean something gruesome or even unnerving. He just has such a way of surprising me.

When I shouldn’t in be surprised in the least.

It’s funny—I go about my day as if I’m the center of the universe. I worry, worry, worry about me, me, me. About the things that affect MY life. That will uproot and inconvenience me. I’m not entirely selfish, but I do have lots of moments where I’m consumed with thoughts about and prayers for myself.

But despite this unassuming behavior, I often think that God couldn’t possibly be interested in what’s going on with me. Why should He care about the details of my largely blessed life when there are people across the world—heck, across the city—who are suffering?

I start thinking that maybe I don’t matter to Him after all. Even though He blatantly tells me in His Word that He takes care of the sparrows, so surely He’ll take care of me.

And obviously He cares for me, because Jesus died for me.

But sometimes, that doesn’t feel “personal” enough. Completely and totally blasphemous, right? But He died for everyone, not just me. So I start thinking it was a general act of love, not geared specifically at me, but in general to all mankind.

And here’s where the sneak attack comes in.

Because God, in His infinite kindness, decides to show me that He specifically loves me. That He cares about the details of MY life.

It usually appears as someone reaching out at the moment I’m drowning, or a message that’s repeated over and over again (you know, like when you hear similar themes in a sermon, a blog post, and a conversation or book all within a few days of each other).

It’s in these moments that I stop, pick my jaw up off the floor, and fall to my knees.

Because He does care. About me. Specifically. Not because I’m amazing, but because He is.

He does want good things. For my life. Specifically. Because He wants me to live my life to glorify Him.

And even if I had been the only person on this planet, He would have died.

For me.

Specifically.

Know what?

He also died for you. Specifically for you.

And that truth is the best surprise I’ve ever received.

Your Turn: When has God surprised you?

*Photo by Suat Eman

July 13, 2012

Vacation in the Caribbean: Part 3

The resort where we stayed one night in Puerto Rico.

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some of my trip this week! Today I’m going to post a bunch of photos ranging from our stay in Puerto Rico (the port we left from) all the way to the island of St. Maarten (as you’ll see, gorgeous water here!). 
Mike and I in Puerto Rico
A very common shot of me. About to read on the beach. Yep, that's Short-Straw Bride in my bag.
In Old Town San Juan
Everyone waiting to board the ship!
Mike and I in Magen's Bay, St. Thomas. Look how far in the water I am, Jessica Patch! So there.
Dancing at dinner. The waiters made us do it.
The way-cool iguana we saw in St. Thomas. Just chillin' like a villain.
Formal night! I might wear this dress to the ACFW banquet too.
Welcome to Barbado! I mean, Barbados (my husband took the photo...).
Crane's Beach on Barbados. Everyone went boogie boarding. The waves were insane in the membrane.
The Piton Mountains on St. Lucia. Most beautiful island of the trip, imo.
Yay for the Pitons!
Diamond Canyon Waterfall on St. Lucia. Part of our Land and Sea excursion.
St. Maarten. Ah-mazing water.
See the cruise ship in the background?
Love this photo!
Don't we look so relaxed? In St. Maarten

Your Turn: Do you take a lot of pictures when you go on vacation, or instead get so caught up in the experience that you forget?

July 11, 2012

Vacation in the Caribbean: Part 2


Here’s the second vlog I taped on my trip. Here I am in St. Lucia. It was so beautiful there; it was probably one of my favorite places on the whole trip. I would consider going back here for a whole week (they have three Sandals resorts. Yes, three.). It’s exquisite.

So I realized my video skills need work; when I talked to my friends in the water, I totally missed them for the most part. They did wave and call back to me, but it’s off camera. Ha.

But at least in this video you aren’t subjected to the brilliant whiteness of my skin. You’re welcome. ;)

Friday I’ll be posting pictures of my trip with fun captions. Yay! Thanks for journeying to the Caribbean with me this week. I truly wish I could have taken you all along with me, but this is the next best thing!

Question for You (since I couldn’t think of one when on the boat!): Have you ever been on a catamaran? Or any boat for that matter? Did you like the experience or do you get sea sick?

July 9, 2012

Vacation in the Caribbean: Part 1


Hey all! Well, I just returned from a Caribbean cruise and I’m exhausted…but in a good way. In a way that reminds me how blessed I am to have had the time off work to relax and spend good times with friends.

I made a few vlogs in the Caribbean that I’ll be posting this week. I’m not promising they’re great. They’re done very much on the fly, but I really wanted to share some of the awesome places with you. I really did miss interacting with you all last week!

Oh, and I apologize in advance for the extreme pasty whiteness that is Lindsay’s skin. It’s like…gleaming. And yes, I did get sunburned that day despite my attempts to lather up. Oh well. Tan I was not meant to be.

My question for you: What beach or tropical vacation are you just dying to take?