December 2, 2013

One Word 2013 and 2014...and God's Dreams for Us

It's now December. Time to think about the season, Jesus' birth and all that means, gifts, family, and more. And it's time to reflect back on the last 11 months.

Last year about this time, I chose a word.

I determined to focus on this one word throughout the year. It was the first year I'd done this and I wasn't sure what to expect. Would I really be able to do it? Would I forget about the word come March or April?

But as the months wore on, I found myself clinging to the word. Claiming it as a promise. Thinking on the command evident in it.

The word was "REJOICE" and the verse to go with it was Philippians 4:4: "Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again, rejoice!"

And when I look back on 2013, I can see so many things worth rejoicing over:
  • Being able to attend two writing retreats and one professional writing conference.
  • Spending time with good friends.
  • Taking a week-long beach vacation with my husband.
  • Signing with a LITERARY AGENT! (I announced this amazing news last week on Facebook: I am signing with Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary Management.)
But the thing is...we are told to rejoice not just in the good times, but in the bad as well. In the difficult and the trying times. God continually brought my One Word to my mind throughout times like these in 2013. He reminded me that He had brought all of the good stuff to pass...and that He was allowing the bad stuff for a reason too.

This year has been an amazing one, but not just because of amazing things happening. It's also been a year of growth for me. Of wandering and wondering. Of waiting. And for an impatient girl like me, waiting is the worst.

But it's also the best. Because it's in the waiting and the questioning and the comparison and the doubt that God does something awesome.

He reminds us that His dreams for us are SO MUCH BIGGER than our own dreams for us.

His timing is not our timing...it's BETTER THAN our timing.

The mountain highs are that much higher when you've been stranded -- or felt stranded, anyway -- in the low valley.

And the thing is...I know He's only just begun to work in my heart, to bring me to an understanding of who He is and why He does what He does. I'll always be on that journey, but I want to be as purposeful as I can be in walking it.

That's why my One Word for 2014 is "LEAN." 

As in, "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." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

When I feel faint, I want to lean into the Lord. When I wonder where He's leading me, I want to lean on his understanding, not my own. When I am tempted to sway one way or the other, I want leaning in his direction to be my first instinct.

Oh Lord, may it be so!

Your Turn: What did you learn in 2013? If you chose a One Word for 2013, what was it and how did God use it in your life? Do you have a word for 2014 yet?

*Given the busyness of the holidays, I'll be taking the rest of December off from blogging. I'll see you back here in January! Have a wonderful Christmas with your loved ones.

*Jeanne Takenaka is the winner of Amy Matayo's giveaway for The Wedding Game. Yay, Jeanne!

November 25, 2013

What Would You Do for $2 Million? A Guest Post {and Giveaway} by Amy Matayo

Sometimes you meet those awesome people in life whose Facebook status updates you really care about ... and look forward to. Amy Matayo is one of those people. I met Amy at an ACFW conference recently. She's sweet, funny, and real. And even cooler...her debut novel, The Wedding Game, just released.

I asked Amy to visit today on the blog, and she agreed. She's also doing a giveaway of her book, so check out the details and enter below!

Here's a bit about Amy:
Amy Matayo is a graduate of John Brown University and holds a degree in journalism. After graduation, she went to work at DaySpring Cards, where she worked for seven years as Senior Writer and Editor. After the birth of her first child, she became a freelance writer for David C. Cook before pursuing novel writing full time. Her newest book finaled in the 2012 ACFW Genesis contest. Two of her other books semi-finaled in the 2011 Genesis. As the mother of four children with a husband immersed in political life, Amy has very little free time. She prefers to spend that time enjoying intellectual pursuits such as watching television with her feet propped up, watching movies with a bucket of popcorn, and watching her laundry pile high--with no desire to do anything about it. Connect with her at amymatayo.com

Sometimes in life we have to make split decisions. Like whether or not to let your teenager catch a ride home with another kid who hasn't been driving all that long because you're stuck in traffic across town. Or whether to buy the cute skinny blank pants you found at Banana Republic or the wide leg ones at Old Navy that don't exactly look as great but are a whole lot cheapter. Or whether to stick with the creamy peanut butter you've trusted for years or venture into the unknown world of crunchy and organic.

Or whether or not to sell your soul for money.

Now, I haven't exactly been faced with this last dilemma, but I know people who have been. Good people. Kind people. Smart people. Well-intentioned people.

Fake people, but that's beside the point.

In my new book, The Wedding Game, the main characters sign up for a reality show with one goal in mind: to win the competition and walk away two million dollars richer. All they have to do to win: marry a complete stranger and stay that way for six months while working hard to convince the viewers they're in love. Simple, right?

Not so much.

But it got me thinking--what would you do for that kind of money? Sure, it's easy to say "nothing that bad," but is the answer really that simple? What if you needed money for medical bills or your child's education or to pay off your home or to fund the Botox injections you've been waiting on for the past decade (hey--don't judge).

What would you do? I, for one, would never marry a stranger for money. Ever. Not in a million years. No way, no how, no chance it's gonna happen.

Unless a personal chef/housekeeper/masseuse/gardener is involved. In that case, sign me up yesterday. I only hope my husband doesn't mind...

Cannon James has a plan: Sign on as a contestant for his father's new reality show, marry a blonde hand-picked by the producers, and walk away two million dollars richer. It's all been arranged. Easy. Clean. No regrets. Until Ellie McAllister ruins everything by winning the viewer's vote. Now he has to convince America that he's head over heels in love with her. Not easy to do since she's a walking disaster. 

Ellie McAllister has her own problems. She needs money, and she needs it now. Despite her parents' objections and her belief that marriage is sacred, she signs on to The Wedding Game...and wins. Now she's married to a guy she can't stand, and if she wants her hands on the money, she has six months to make voters believe she loves him. Not easy to do since he's the most arrogant man in America. 

It doesn't take long for Ellie and Cannon to realize they've made a mess of things...even less time for their feelings for one another to change. But is it too late for them? More importantly, can the worst decision they've ever made actually become one of the best?

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:
Amy's offering up a copy (Kindle or print) of The Wedding Game, and there are lots of ways to enter! Use the Rafflecopter box below to enter by
  • Liking Amy's Facebook author page
  • Liking my Facebook author page
  • Tweeting about the giveaway
  • Sharing about the giveaway via Facebook
  • Leaving a blog post comment
The contest is open to U.S. residents only and ends at midnight on November 30. There must be at least 10 entries for the contest to be valid.

Your Turn: What would you do for $2 million? What would you NOT do? Or, what would you do with $2 million if you had it?

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November 18, 2013

Three Reasons My Marriage Has Survived

Today is my seventh wedding anniversary.

I am so incredibly blessed to be married to a wonderful man who cherishes me and treats me as a partner in life. I know not everyone has that. Believe me, I'm grateful.

I sat down to think about the hard things we've been through together: law school, grad school, disappointments, health issues, disagreements about our future, and more. I wanted to pinpoint what it was that allowed our marriage to survive -- and thrive -- for the last seven years, despite the trials.*

Here's what I came up with.

1. We remember we're on the same team. It is so incredibly easy to start to feel like a marriage is a me vs. him thing. Like I need to fight for what I want. Like he's just out for himself. But when I stop to think about it, I remember: he's a good-willed person. He really does want what's best for us, even if it's not exactly what I want all the time. We are a team and need to work together. The hard part is that we are both selfish beings, since we're human. But God has given us the ability to be selfless, and when we focus on what we can bring to a marriage instead of what we can get from it, everyone "wins."

2. Love and respect. Ephesians 5:33 says, "However, each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." When we were first married, we read Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. Changed our marriage! Its premise is that most women need love above anything else (other than God, of course), and most men need respect above anything else. When we can give our spouse the thing he or she needs most -- and we give it unconditionally -- we speak to them in their love language. I try to focus on respecting my husband, since that's what God has called me to do. He wants me to do this regardless of whether my husband loves me. That's not always easy. I fail at it a lot of times. But thankfully, forgiveness is a part of loving and respecting.

3. God. I really should have put this first, because the Number 1 reason my husband and I are still together is God. We came into marriage with the same foundational beliefs, and were able to build our marriage on something other than our own whims, desires, and what not. Not only that, but God has given us forgiveness, selflessness, and grace when we needed it. When we're both following after Him, we are able to see the bigger picture and remember that our marriage represents the union between Christ and the Church.

Your Turn: If you're married, what's been something that has helped your marriage survive and thrive over the years? If you're not, what is something you admire about a married couple you know? Or, for fun, who is your favorite married couple in a book or movie and why?

*I in no way mean this as a bragging post. I give God all the glory for our marriage. I know there are a lot of believers out there who tried to do these things and it didn't work out for whatever reason. My heart goes out to you. I'm only speaking to what has worked in my own marriage.

November 11, 2013

The Real Reason We Get Jealous...and How to Have Joy Instead


Last week, I guest posted on the American Christian Fiction Writers blog. I forgot to link to it here on my blog, and it's a post that really came from my heart: it's about jealousy...and how to choose joy instead. So, I thought I'd direct you to it today. You can come back here to comment or leave a comment there if you'd prefer.

The cool thing is, the topic of jealousy and joy doesn't just apply to my writing life, but my life as a whole.

Here's a snippet from the post:

I'm pretty sure we've all been there. It's that emotion no one wants to feel, because it makes us feel icky inside. Plus, only terrible people have such tendencies, right? Unfortunately, no. As a writer, it's a feeling that will most likely strike at some point in your career.

Jealousy.

I was recently doing a Beth Moore Bible study on King David and one lesson focused on jealousy -- specifically, that which King Saul had toward David. Beth pointed something out that really struck me. She said that jealousy initially coms because we perceive a threat -- and from that threat comes fear, which leads to jealousy.

It make sense, right? When a guy is dating a girl and she's friends with another guy, it's easy for the boyfriend to become jealous. But why? Because he perceives that other male as a threat, and he fears his girlfriend leaving him for this other dude.

But even more than that, he fears that in comparison -- at the core of who he is -- he isn't enough.

Click here to read the entire post and share your thoughts!

November 4, 2013

The Heart of a Lonely Writer: Guest Post by Wendy Paine Miller {and Giveaway!}

Sometimes in life, you're blessed to meet people who instantly make you feel welcome. Wendy Paine Miller is one of those people in my life. When I was new to blogging and writing, and commented on her blog, not only did she welcome me, but made me feel like I belong. I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Wendy in person, but I can't wait for the day I do!

Wendy just released her first novella, The Disappearing Key. I can't wait to finish reading it myself! Today, we're offering up a copy to one lucky winner. See details below.

Here's a bit about Wendy:
Wendy lives with her husband, their three girls, and a skunk-dodging Samoyed. She feels most alive when she's laughing, speeding on a boat, reading, writing, refurbishing furniture or taking risks. She's authored ten novels and is currently writing what she hopes will be your future book club pick. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies and online sites. Wendy graduated with a BA in English from Wittenberg University, where she earned an Honor of Distinction for her accrued knowledge of literature. She is represented by Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary Agency. 

Visit http://thoughtsthatmove.blogspot.com or connect with Wendy on Facebook or Twitter (@wendypmiller).

Take it away, Wendy! And thanks for being here today.

Sometimes I swear I'm masochistic -- committing to a career fraught with rejection, with anonymous spews disguised as reviews, and a wait that rivals the time it took to build the Great Wall.

Still.

I'm here.

I'm in this.

And I'll be the first to admit it can get insanely lonely. Yes, social media has provided wonderful opporrtunities to connect with fellow writers. And yes, more than ever before, writers seem to be supporting one another rather than exhibiting cutthroat competition.

However, in all this literary love there's still the grind.

There's the blank page and the exacerbated bouts of jealousy because of overabundant access to fellow authors' platforms, etc., and the scrunched up faces of everyone who's ever told you you're not good enough bleating your life of failures whenever you sit to write.

It's combat, this BIC (butt in chair) stuff. Bushwhacking through the lies for the sake of getting at the story.

Because for writers who are truly called, this is what it will always come back to -- the story.

The story pulses the lonely writer heart. Immersed in the story, characters provide company. Word flow unblocks the dams of defeat, despair, and dried up prose. The story quickens the lonely heart, pitter-pattering, reminding the writer the benefits of remaining committed.

Writers are cursed, you know. We're given the uncomfortable task of entertaining you as we tell the truth. Sometimes the truth looks like the planter's wart on the bottom of your foot. This is a lonely vocation. No one likes pointing out planter's warts (except maybe podiatrists...they may get into doing that).  

It's only when the reader embraces that we're all ridden with warts, able to see truth for what it is, that the bloody beat of a story is made beautiful.

Lonely as it is, it becomes less so the moment a reader connects with the mess of our hearts poured out on the page.

The heart of a lonely writer gets a little less lonely the instant a reader is infected by the story. This is where the curse gives way to blessing.

This is what it's all about.


Gabrielle Bivane never expected parenting a teenager would be this hard, but she never expected stillborn Oriana to live to see fourteen, either. The night of Oriana's birth, Gabrielle and her husband Roy fused their genetic and engineering geniuses to bring back all that was lost to them -- at a cost.

The secret must be kept.

Oriana Bivane senses she's not like the other girls her age, but the time has come for her to change all that. She's tired of secrets, but does she confide in the wrong person?

The life-giving key, suddenly missing, must be found.

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:
I'm offering up a free copy of The Disappearing Key (winner's choice of Kindle or print version), and there are lots of ways to be entered to win! Use the Rafflecopter box below to enter by
  • Liking Wendy's Facebook page
  • Liking my Facebook page
  • Sharing via Twitter
  • Sharing via Facebook
  • Leaving a blog comment
The contest is open to U.S. residents only, and ends November 10 at midnight. There must be at least 10 entries for the contest to be valid.

Your Turn: Have you ever considered how your role as a reader influences the heart of a lonely writer?
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October 28, 2013

Ever Patient With My Mess

This is Pascal. His "serious face" cracks me up.
As many of you know, I have two golden retrievers. Chloe is 2 years old and finally starting to settle down a bit.

And then there's Pascal. He's 1 year old and the sweetest little (well, 70 pounds) ball of fur. He snuggles up to us. He wants to be near us. He loves other dogs and people...especially kids. He's rambunctious sometimes and super calm at others.

But Pascal has a vice.

He loves to dig in the mud.

And since we have a doggy door that lets the pups come and go as they please...let's just say, mama no like that vice.

Because it's kinda not cool to come home after a long day to find mud all over the couches, newly washed floors, and well, Pascal.

And unfortunately, I'm not the best at controlling my temper. I get angry and so frustrated with him. It's even worse when he tries to jump up on me and greet me with mud on his paws.

But then I look at his face. He's sorry, he really is. He gives me his "serious face," the one that says, "Mama, are you gonna stay mad at me forever? Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?"

And my heart just melts.

And of course, I forgive him, clean up his mess, and give him a bath.

When I think about it, that's just how God responds to me when I mess up -- except God doesn't get angry and yell at me when I've come slinking to him with my tail between my legs.

He doesn't make me feel worse about myself. Instead, he opens his arms and calls me to him. He gathers me in his arms, mud and all. He doesn't care that I leave muddy footprints on his robe -- he washes them all clean with the power of his majesty.

The way he feels about me doesn't change. He forgives me and my mud -- my sin -- is as far as the east is from the west. He's removed it, scrubbed it clean. I may remember the effects of it, but I no longer see the stain on the couches and floors.

It's something I do not deserve, but something I am so incredibly grateful for...that he sees my mess and loves me anyway.

What patience. What grace.

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see."

Your Turn: Can you relate? And anyone else have a dog -- or kid -- that loves to track in the mud?!

October 21, 2013

The Ultimate Dream: To Stand Among the Millions

So. The last few weeks have been less than awesome.

I've just felt...stuck. Had some not-so-fun waiting with my writing. Felt like I didn't fit in.

Basically, I've been throwing myself a pity party. Praying for God to take away my pain, my wait, the unpleasantness in this life.

But then, yesterday, I sang a song with the choir at my church. It's called "Stand Among the Millions." Here's a group singing it (it's a great song, even though this version sounds like it's sung by a 1990s boy band...still very powerful) if you'd like to listen to the words:



Anyway, the song is basically about how one day, those of us who believe in Jesus will stand before him...with all the millions of other believers. We will stand...and then we will bow. Our entire purpose will be worshipping Him.

As I sang the song yesterday -- the instruments and voices of my fellow singers swelling around me -- I was so overcome with a sense of awe.

And it struck me.

Worshipping shouldn't just be my entire purpose when I'm gone from this life.

It should be my entire purpose while I'm here too.

So that pity party? I mean, yeah, it's only human to be disappointed and sad sometimes. But I can't let those pity-party moments take away from my worship of Him.

I can't let myself become so entrenched in what I want for my life -- and what I'm waiting to happen -- that I miss those opportunities to worship Him.

And I can't let the sum of my life be defined by what I do, what I don't have, and those long waits.

Instead, I want the sum of my life to be defined by my worship of Him.

I want it to pervade every crevice of my life so that I'm utterly soaked in and surrounded by worship.

I want to worship in the wait. In the good. In the bad.

I want to see the beauty in every circumstance of my life -- and I'm discovering that THAT comes through worship.

The more I worship Him, the more I know Him. The more I know Him, the more I recognize His presence in my life...the more that becomes enough.

The more it becomes my dream not to achieve and to fit in and to NOT have to wait. Instead, my dream is to live daily in constant worship so I'm prepared for that day when the only thing I have to do -- the only thing I GET to do -- is stand before Jesus, in awe of my King, and then bow with millions of others...fully satisfied, fully immersed in Him.

Amen and amen.

Your Turn: How do you turn personal pity parties around?

October 14, 2013

A Game of Would You Rather with Author Melissa Tagg {and a Big Giveaway!}

Sometimes in life, there are those people you just connect with instantly.

Author Melissa Tagg is one of those people for me. When we became craft partners over a year ago, we hadn't even met in person. Since that time, we've seen each other several times, and our connection can only be described as God-given.

Melissa's first book, Made to Last, just released September 15 from Bethany House Publishers, and I couldn't be more excited for my friend. To celebrate, we chatted over Google Hangouts and played a game of "Would You Rather" with her three main characters: Miranda, Matthew, and Blaze.

In the video, Melissa gives a quick overview of her story and the three main characters. We hope you enjoy! And don't forget to play along and see the details below to enter the giveaway for a copy of Melissa's book AND a $25 gift card.



Thanks for hanging out with me, Melissa!!

Miranda Woodruff has it all. At least, that's how it looks when she's starring in her homebuilding television show, From the Ground Up. So when her network begins to talk about making cuts, she'll do anything to boost ratings and save her show--even if it means pretending to be married to a man who's definitely not the fiance who ran out on her three years ago.

When a handsome reporter starts shadowing Miranda's every move, all his digging into her personal life brings him a little too close to the truth--and to her. Can the girl whose entire identity is wrapped up in her on-screen persona finally find the nerve to set the record straight? And if she does, will the life she's built come crashing down just as she's found a love to last?
 
GIVEAWAY DETAILS: We are giving away a copy of Melissa's book to one lucky winner. And if that wasn't an awesome enough prize, the winner will also receive his or her choice of a $25 gift card to Home Depot, Lowe's, Hobby Lobby, or Michael's!

Use the Rafflecopter box below to enter by
  • Liking Melissa's Facebook page
  • Liking my Facebook author page
  • Tweeting about the giveaway
  • Sharing about the giveaway via Facebook
  • Leaving a blog comment below
The contest is open to U.S. residents only and will close at midnight on October 20.

Your Turn: Would you rather go way back in time and meet your ancestors or go way into the future and meet your great-great-grandchildren? Why? (Or you can answer any of the other questions we asked in the game!)
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October 7, 2013

Learning to Accept a Little Help

It's funny how I'm still learning stuff about myself. It feels like I should have a firm grasp on who I am, but sometimes life throws a situation at me -- and it changes my perception of myself.

Over a week ago, I had one of those days. You know the kind I mean. Nothing went right.

It started when I had to bring my dog Chloe to the eye specialist -- again -- because her eye had been watering and infected for two weeks and the medicine wasn't fixing it. The vet took a look and declared that she needed minor surgery...and he could do it right then.

We knew the surgery was a possibility, but man, having to make a decision so fast -- especially when we found out how much it cost -- threw me for a loop.

So I left my dog there and went home to finish up some work. Then I cleaned my house because we were having small group (aka twelve people) over that evening. I turned the oven on so I could pop the lasagna in the moment I returned from picking Chloe up after her surgery.

However, by the time I got all the recovery instructions explained to me and fought traffic to get home, I had only one hour until small group.

And the lasagna would take two hours to bake.

I had nothing to feed people.

I got desperate. Called Olive Garden, but to feed just 4-6 people, it was going to cost $54. Considering I'd just spent a lot on my dog's eyes, well... that wasn't an option.

I was about to call and order some pizzas from Pizza Hut when a friend from small group called and offered to make something. She was already making a smaller dish for the people in our group with allergies and knew of my plight (I'd texted frantically!)...and she had extra.

So my friend brought the food and everything worked out.

Thing is...it was hard for me to accept that help. Like, really hard. I felt guilty, like I should have had it handled. Like I'd be irresponsible. Like I'd inconvenienced her.

See, I love helping other people when they're in a bind. It comes naturally to me (my spiritual gift is mercy).

But I saw something in myself that day that smacked me in the face...I like giving help but not receiving it.

God wants us to reach out to others, yes. But I think He also wants us to accept help from others when we need it. Just like it gives ME joy to help others, it gives them joy to help me. I don't view it as an inconvenience to help out a friend, and the same goes for them.

I realized something else. The underlying reason I don't like accepting help...is pride.

I like feeling like I have it all together. Like I don't need help. Like I've got stuff covered.

I don't want people to think I don't.

Wowza.

I don't like that about myself. Because the thing is, this translates not just to my not being able to accept help from other people...but also from God.

And ironically, the moment I think I have it all together and don't need someone else -- that I don't need Him -- is the moment I've truly failed.

Your Turn: Do you have trouble accepting help? I'd love to hear of a time that a friend blessed you in some way!

*Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

September 30, 2013

Avoiding Fear & Pouring Our Energy Into Knowing Him

I'll admit it.

Sometimes, stress and fear get the best of me.
Sometimes, the reason for the fear is based on circumstances. Like an unexpected bill that makes me wonder, "How are we going to pay for this?"

Sometimes, it's based on my own personal doubts about myself. Like when I've got my work submitted to literary agents and editors. Oh, how I can drive myself bananas with wondering if they've read it yet and what they're thinking...and worrying that I won't measure up.

Sometimes, my fear is simply based on the fact that the future is unknown...which basically boils down to ME not being in control.

Lately, I've experienced fear for all three of the reasons mentioned. But I know that God has not given us a spirit of fear. He tells us over and over again not to fear. But it's one thing to KNOW God says that and another to actually DO it. I mean, isn't it often true that when someone tells us NOT to think about something (e.g., Don't think about a blue elephant.), that's exactly what we think of?

Thankfully, God never commands us to do something that He doesn't give us the power to do (with His help, of course).

This week, I read through Jesus Calling, a daily devotional. So many of the messages in that book are exactly what I need to hear. Some lines that popped out at me this week:
  • "Pour all of your energy into trusting Me."
  • "Since I am your strength, I can empower you to handle each task as it comes."
  • "Relax in my everlasting arms. Your weakness is an opportunity to grow strong in awareness of My Almighty Presence."
  • "The human mind is the pinnacle of My creation, but so few use it for its primary purpose--knowing Me."
I love how each of these quotes leads me back to Him. They challenge me to know Him more. If I'm spending daily time in His word, praying to Him, learning more of His heart, then that means I trust Him more.

Trusting Him more means I focus on Him instead of my fears.

It means that, instead of looking at the road looming ahead of me as a scary unknown, I picture it as a windy autumn road--even though I don't know what lies ahead, I trust that it will be beautiful, because it's the path He ordained for me.

 Your Turn: How do you battle fear of the unknown?

*Photos courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
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A few notes:

September 27, 2013

Dr. Seuss, Cave Divers, and Dark Chocolate: An Interview (& Giveaway) with Dani Pettrey

About a year and a half ago, I started hearing buzz about a new romantic suspense author named Dani Pettrey. Her first book was releasing soon and it took place in Alaska. Since I have relatives in Alaska and have visited, I was immediately intrigued. Plus, I love suspense and I love romance, so I decided to check her books out. I'm so glad I did!

Dani's third book in her Alaskan Courage series, Stranded, released September 1. I read it in one sitting, it was that good. (And besides all that, I got to meet Dani this year at a writer's conference and she was just the sweetest!) Dani graciously agreed to answer some questions for me and give away a copy to one reader. See details of the giveaway below!

Here's a bit about Dani:
Dani is a wife, homeschooling mom, and author of the acclaimed Alaskan Courage series. She feels blessed to write inspirational romantic suspense because it incorporates so many things she loves -- the thrill of adventure, nail-biting suspense, the deepening of her characters' faith, and plenty of romance. She and her husband reside in Maryland with their two teenage daughters. Visit her website at www.danipettrey.com.

LH: Hi, Dani! Welcome here. So, tell me about the first story you ever wrote. How old were you, what was it about, and what was your inspiration for it?

DP: It's funny you should ask. I was going through a memory box of my mom's a few months back and I found what had to be one of the first stories I ever wrote. It was a book titled My Book About Me by Dr. Seuss. It asks a variety of questions which I answered when I was six. The funny part was how my answers evolved into stories. My husband and girls were with me and we were laughing so hard. Guess I started storytelling young. :)

LH: I wrote my first book when I was six too! So, since that first story, how has your writing journey unfolded? Tell us about the lowest low and the highest high along the way.

DP: I've always loved daydreaming and making up stories and I jotted several down, but rarely finished any. I always got sidetracked with a new one or time with friends. I wrote a lot of poetry in high school and did some creative writing, but it wasn't until a bout with a serious illness a number of years ago that I really felt God stirring me to write seriously. From that point, I spent seven years learning how to write before receiving my first contract. The wait was hard, but it truly was the book of my heart that sold and I couldn't be more thrilled.

LH: And what a book it was! Whas was the first piece of your Alaskan Courage series that was solid in your mind before you started writing it?

DP: The Alaskan Courage series started with me watching a movie about cave divers. I thought, who would do something so dangerous and exciting for a living? I've always been fascinated by adventure athletes and I thought, why not write a series about them?

LH: The books have definitely been exciting to read! They must have been exciting to research too. So, what theme is prominent in Stranded and why did you choose it?

DP: I never start out with a theme in mind. I always wait to see what it is after the story is written. In Stranded, I would say the theme is hope. Hope that God can heal our hurts. Hope that He will give us a future. Hope that He has our time in His hands.

LH: Okay, time for a few random questions. Would you rather winter in Alaska or spend the summers in Arizona (where I live, coincidentally)? Why?

DP: Summer in Arizona. I'm a summer girl through and through. I did live in New Mexico for a number of years so I don't mind the dry heat at all. :)

LH: Awesome! That'd be my answer too, but I'm slightly biased in that way. :) Okay, one more, and this may be a hard one. If you could only have one treat for the rest of your life, what would it be?

DP: Dark chocolate, hands down.

Thanks so much for being here, Dani! I hope everyone here reads Stranded and loves it as much as I did!

When her friend goes missing, every minute counts. Darcy St. James returns to Alaska to join a journalist friend undercover on the trail of a big story. But when Darcy arrives, she finds her friend has disappeared. Troubled by the cruise ship's vague explanation, Darcy uses her cover as a travel reporter to investigate further.

The last person Gage McKenna expects to see during his summer aboard a cruise ship leading adventure excursions is Darcy. And in typical Darcy fashion, she's digging up more trouble. He'd love to just forget her -- but something won't let him. And he can't help but worry about her as they are heading into more remote regions of Alaska and eventually into foreign waters. Something sinister is going on, and the deeper they push, the more Gage fears they've only discovered the tip of the iceberg.

GIVEAWAY DETAILS: Dani is offering up a copy of Stranded, and there are lots of ways to be entered to win! Use the Rafflecopter box below to enter by
  • Liking Dani's Facebook page
  • Liking my Facebook page
  • Sharing via Twitter
  • Sharing via Facebook
  • Leaving a blog comment
The contest is open to U.S. residents only, and ends October 3 at midnight.

Your Turn: If you could only have one treat for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

September 25, 2013

A $25 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway -- Just Because!

This house is pretty. And so are the leaves. :)
So, as most of you know, I just returned from a writer's conference. I also spent a week in Iowa with my awesome friend Melissa Tagg so I could attend her book launch party.

In Iowa, the weather was beautiful. The leaves hadn't started to turn colors yet, but fall was definitely in the air.

I returned to 90-degree weather in Phoenix. Now, I'm not complaining too much, because it means it'll only be in the 60s in December -- and since I'm not a fan of snow, this works for me.

But the mornings and evenings have started to hint at autumn, which is my favorite time of year (hmmm, maybe my birthday, anniversary, and Thanksgiving have something to do with this?).There's something fresh and crisp about the fall months.

To me, fall signals time to refocus my goals, to spend time with loved ones, to settle into the rest of the year...and lots of reading!! Because as it gets chillier (and yes, 60 degrees is chilly to me), I love curling up with books at night on my back porch.

So in contemplating all this, I thought...why not share the autumn love with books? And even better, a gift card to buy books (or whatever else makes you happy)!

I am so incredibly grateful to you, my readers, followers, and friends, and want to say thanks by running a giveaway. The prize is a $25 Amazon gift card. I'm running the giveaway through Rafflecopter on Facebook.

Simply go to my Facebook author page here, like the page if you haven't already, then enter! You can earn extra entries by sharing about the contest on Facebook and tweeting about it on Twitter. I'd appreciate your help in spreading the word! The contest will run for a week (it ends October 1, 2013, at midnight; only U.S. residents eligible).

Thanks again for all the love and support! I'm so incredibly blessed by you.

Your Turn: Is it feeling like fall in your neck of the woods? What's your favorite thing about fall?

*Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

September 23, 2013

My Pinterest Board for *The Song Inside*



For a long time, I avoided the world of Pinterest.

I know, I know. As an aspiring author, shouldn't I want to be on yet another social media site? (Can you sense the sarcasm???)

But seriously. I'd heard how addicting Pinterest was and I just didn't have time to figure it out.

I finally started using it as a way to keep track of healthy recipes and articles on fitness. Truly, that was its only usefulness for me.

But recently, I've branched out and tried something new. I created a Pinterest board for my novel, The Song Inside. It was actually a fun way to share with you, my friends and readers, some images of what I pictured as I wrote my novel.

The board includes pictures of my characters, my setting, and different parts of my book. It doesn't give away any secrets or surprises, so no worries there. :)

To give you some context, here's a brief description of my book:

Aspiring Los Angeles singer Stacy Mills is desperate to keep a promise, but her chances seem slim when she's blacklisted in the theater community. Near-divorcee Marcy Mills is tired of failing and will do anything to finally bring harmony between her and her daughter. But when she enters Stacy in a local televised singing contest, she's shocked to learn they've both won spots. She figures there's no better way to grow closer to her daughter than to be near her, but Stacy's having a hard time letting go of the past and understanding her mom's motives for competing. For one to succeed, the other must fail. What will it take for their two hearts to beat in perfect rhythm at last?

I'd love for you to check it out and tell me what you think!

http://www.pinterest.com/lindsayharrel/novel-the-song-inside/

Your Turn: Are you on Pinterest? If so, what types of pins/boards/topics are your favorite to pin? Also, feel free to leave your Pinterest handle below -- I'm always looking for interesting boards to follow!r

September 20, 2013

American Christian Fiction Writers 2013: A Whirlwind Recapped

Last weekend, I attended the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Indianapolis. It was my second time attending this conference, and for whatever reason, I felt calmer overall. I had some great pitching appointments and God really met me there and gave me some encouragement for the coming year.

But the best part was seeing all of my writing friends! Here are some pics to recap the weekend.

So fun meeting online friends in person for the first time! Me with Amy Drown and Jill Buteyn.

Fangirl moment! I got to chat with Becky Wade several times. Love her and her books!

Love these ladies! Me with Jennifer Major, Jeanne Takenaka, and Gabrielle Meyer.

I got to play the Tin (wo)Man in a My Book Therapy rendition of
The Wizard of Oz. Here I am with Dorothy, aka Susan May Warren.

Me and the Cowardly Lion, aka Jim Rubart, getting into character.

Me with the agents of Oz, Amanda Luedeke and Chip MacGregor.

Waiting for pitches...


I got all dressed up for the gala, since I was a Genesis finalist.
I didn't win but it was such a privilege to be there!

Me with some of the My Book Therapy crew.

Me and the Jills (Jill Kemerer and Jill Buteyn), two other Genesis finalists!

Love me some Katie Ganshert! I got to have lunch with her one day.
Heart of gold, that one.

Me and Gabe! We've been at every major writing event together so far in
our careers. It's awesome walking this road with her.

Jessica Patch and I get silly around each other.

Snapped a pic with Bethany House editor, Raela Schoenherr. Sweetest girl ever!

Poor Ash may have had on a cast, but that didn't stop her radiant smile! Love her!

Rachel Hauck won Mentor of the Year. She totally deserves it. She's made a huge
difference in my writing career this year.

My GLAM girls!

Me with Joanne Bischof.

Me and Jess being normal for once. :P

Roomies!

Great group of ladies right here.

My craft partner, Melissa Tagg, and I hamming it up for the camera.

We can be normal...

Gabe and I participating in genre night. She dressed up historical and
I dressed up like Stacy, a character who participates in a televised
singing competition in my book The Song Inside!

September 18, 2013

Proud, Proud, Proud: Melissa's Book Is Out!!

Me and Mel!
Have you ever been sooooo proud of someone else you just think you're going to burst?

Well, that's how I feel about my craft partner and friend, Melissa Tagg. Her debut novel, Made to Last, released through Bethany House Publishers (a major Christian publisher!) earlier this week.

Melissa worked for years on her book before it became published and it is an AMAZING book! Seriously. Go out and order a copy right now. It'll have you laughing, swooning (the hero is quite swoon-worthy), and thinking a lot.

Mel's got such a great way of communicating. Her message is largely based on experience and deals a lot with faith and our true identity in Christ.

I'm going to have Melissa on the blog in mid-October, but couldn't wait to shout praises about her book -- and her -- from the blogosphere rooftop!

Your Turn: Who are you proud of? And have you gotten your copy of Made to Last yet?!

Miranda Woodruff has it all. At least, that's how it looks when she's starring in her homebuilding television show, From the Ground Up. So when her network begins to talk about making cuts, she'll do anything to boost ratings and save her show -- even if it means pretending to be married to a man who's definitely not the fiance who ran out on her three years ago.

When a handsome reporter starts shadowing Miranda's every move, all his digging into her personal life brings him a little too close to the truth -- and to her. Can the girl whose entire identity is wrapped up in her on-screen persona finally find the nerve to set the record straight? And if she does, will the life she's built come crashing down just as she's found a love to last?

September 11, 2013

Worship Wednesday: Mandisa's "Overcomer"

This week is a hard one for a lot of us. Twelve years ago, we lost our sense of security. And people lost their lives, their loved ones.

This week is hard for me because nine years ago yesterday (September 10), I lost my mom to cancer.

Mom and me
She fought that cancer for years, first when I was young and then again when I was a teenager. A lot of people say she "lost her battle to cancer."

Personally, I hate that phrase.

Because in my book, my mom didn't lose. She overcame a lot. She fought the pain every day. She loved fiercely in spite of it. She didn't complain.

Last week, I watched the new video from Mandisa for her song, "Overcomer." It's so inspirational and features a lot of people who had horrible things happen to them -- like Gabrielle Giffords, for example -- and who overcame them with God's help.

For my mom, "overcoming" didn't look exactly the same. But that doesn't mean God was any less a part of her story. He was there, helping her overcome day in and day out until He called her home.

Today, let's celebrate all that we have overcome -- all that we have yet to overcome -- through the strength and grace of God, who never leaves us nor forsakes us.

Here's a link to the video:

Mandisa's 'Overcomer' Music Video World Premiere | Video - ABC News

Your Turn: When has God helped you or someone you know to overcome?

*I'm headed to the American Christian Fiction Writers conference tomorrow, so will be taking a mini blogging break. I'll be back next week!

September 9, 2013

What I Learned from Jody Hedlund's *Rebellious Heart* {and a Giveaway!}

When I received my copy of Jody Hedlund's latest, Rebellious Heart, I was eager to dig in. I've enjoyed her past novels immensely.

She writes inspirational historical romance. I love how each of her books takes me back to another time in history and provides sigh-worthy moments between the hero and heroine.

This book did not disappoint.

But this book also really got me thinking (not that her others didn't!). You see, it is based loosely on the courtship of John and Abigail Adams (yes, as in the second President of the United States and his First Lady). It takes place several years before the Revolutionary War. The two main characters are dealing with an oppressive government and wrestle with whether it is okay to disobey an earthly authority when that authority seems to go against rights endowed by the Creator.

The preponderance of these issues is not new to me -- after all, just think about Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement -- but something in Jody's book really struck a chord with me.

Now, I've very blessed that on a daily basis, I don't have to choose between following the laws set before me and doing what is right before the Lord. Of course there are some laws I don't agree with in our country, but none that really affect how I live my life day in and day out (as in, I don't have to make a choice between the the two).

And yet still, Jody's book got me thinking. And there's a theme that's very, very relevant to my life.

At one point in the book, a character says, "No matter what happens in the days to come...you can't let fear take hold and stop you from doing the right thing." 

That quote challenged me. Because how many times do I do just that...let fear control me? Stop me from speaking up when I should? Cause me to speak when I should be quiet and trust in the Lord?

God has set a path before me -- one that requires me to put all of my faith in Him -- and to be honest, the lack of control is often scary. I'm so grateful I have a God who is trustworthy, who is able to keep my fear at bay, who gives me courage.

Because even today, even in the little things, I can be brave.

GIVEAWAY DETAILS: Jody has graciously offered to give away a copy of Rebellious Heart to one commenter. Please leave a comment (and your email!) by Saturday, September 14 at midnight and I'll notify the winner next week. Please note that only those in the U.S. can qualify for this prize.

Your Turn: How can you be brave in your own life? And are you looking forward to reading Jody's latest?!

Jody Hedlund is an award-winning and bestselling author of inspirational historical romances. As a busy mama-writer, she has the wonderful privilege of teaching her crew of 5 children at home. In between grading math papers and giving spelling tests, she occasionally does a load of laundry and washes dishes. When she's not busy being a mama, you can find her in front of her laptop working on another of her page-turning stories. She loves reading almost as much as she loves writing, especially when it also involves chocolate and coffee.

September 6, 2013

My Awesome San Diego Vacation

Like I said on Monday in my Pale Girl's Guide to Surviving at the Beach, my husband and I went to San Diego for a week at the end of August. It was so much fun...we relaxed, slept, read, hit the beach (a lot!), and went to SeaWorld! Here are just some of the pictures from our trip!

Pacific Beach!

Mike and I on the beach...it was chilly for this AZ girl.

The view from our balcony. I know, right? Ah-mazing!

The obligatory feet on the beach picture...

I love Mexican food, and there are so many yummy restaurants in SD!

Our beach setup

What I do on the beach...read.

I think we ordered too large of a pizza...

We DEFINITELY ordered too large of a pizza!

And yet...we get ice cream. We are vacation fatties.

A local farmer's market. We got cheese, grapes, and bread. Yum yum!

A magician nearly set me on fire.

At SeaWorld! What a fun day.

We're like two little kids!

I had my husband take pictures of me with actual sharks above my head
(just for you, Jess and Ruth!), but they didn't turn out.

Beautiful sunset view from our room.

Heading out for a nice dinner at Seaport Village.

Had to make it legit by taking a picture in front of the sign.

Handsome hubby!

Don't you love my floating head? My husband is 6'5" and tends to cut me off...
Your Turn: Did you take a vacation this year? If so, where? If not, where are you hoping to head sometime in the next few years? Or what's your dream vacation?

Happy Friday!