This blog post has been pre-empted by…

THE FLU!!!!

Ugh. Miserable, horrid, no good truly bad bug that has kept me up nights for days…well, not technically days because it’s night and I’m normally awake days and sleeping nights except when I have this flu and I can’t sleep because the crackling in my chest keeps waking me up! Gah!

owl

 

So I’m a night owl but not as wise as an owl because clearly I’m not making any sense.

lost girl

I’ve done a lot of reading though. Discovered this awesome author and a new Nancy Drew meets Veronica Mars in 1924 type of story which I absolutely love!!! Hope this is the first of many.

So, anyway, no blog post today (other than these ramblings).

Happy reading!

 

Mirror, Mirror

My reflection in the mirror reveals disheveled hair and a face devoid of makeup. Wrinkles that never used to show now line my forty-something skin. Dark bags hang beneath my insomnia-racked eyes. Man, I’m a mess!

This is not who I think of when I think of me. Where have I gone?

Do we all get to that place where what we see in the mirror is not who we remember being? Age, time, and life happens, and suddenly we don’t look the same. Don’t feel the same.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall…” I whisper.

Although I write fantasy, I know there isn’t a voice that will answer my question of where the fairest me of all went.

I point to my reflection and stick out my tongue.

Heart and mirrorAre you not created in my image? I can hear God asking me midst my frowning dismay. That head of gray hair? It is your glory. (Proverbs 16:31) Wisdom can be found among those strands and those lines. (Job 12:12) Look not to your outer being, but seek that which is inner to judge your beauty, child. It is worth more than you know. (1 Peter 3:3-4)

I glance in the mirror one more time and to try to look beyond my blemishes and gray hair. Why is it so hard to give myself the same grace I give to others? Is it a plot from the beauty industry that makes me believe I need to use this cream or that new and improved dye to color my hair? Is it a societal flaw that we don’t respect and honor ourselves when we begin to show a little wear and tear?

I’m so glad God doesn’t judge me on such a superficial basis. I’m so glad He looks at my heart and sees my intentions. Time can be a thief, but only if we let it be. I make another face at myself in the offending mirror.

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall. You’re not so truthful after all.”

 

The Same Power

A few weeks ago, I was feeling apprehensive. Depressed. Fearful.

I knew why: It was shortly after the presidential inauguration. Political leanings aside, the past election year and subsequent inauguration showed that the United States is deeply divided over serious issues. Every time I turned on the news for the first month after January 20, I saw hatred, name calling, fear mongering, and lying, on both sides of the political aisle.

It felt like the country I had grown up in was no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave, but a land of the people who yell the loudest and are scared of anything different from their beliefs.

I literally went to bed each night with a sour feeling in my stomach, only to awaken with dread at what the next day’s news cycle was going to bring. I wasn’t sure what to say to my coworkers or what to write on Facebook, as it seemed whatever I said would be met with either scorn, apathy or more hate.

SpiritI felt this way for probably about a week of more. In fact, I found myself at church early one morning, rehearsing for that morning’s worship service with the praise team, not feeling I was in much of a mood to praise anything or lead anyone to the Holy Spirit.

It bothered me a lot, because worship through song is how I feel closest to God. The feel of air rushing through my lungs, my voice rising through the notes to form words is the way I can express my thanks, my praise, the feelings of my heart to my Savior. Not being able to do so just felt wrong.

One of the songs we sang that morning is called “The Same Power,” by Jeremy Camp. I had sung it many times before, but that morning, my heart actually listened to the words I was singing. Here’s the chorus:

The same power that rose Jesus from the dead

The same power that commands the dead to wake

Lives in us, lives in us.

The same power that moves mountains when He speaks

The same power that can calm a raging sea

Lives in us, lives in us.

He lives in us, lives in us.

Such an incredible message! The same power that pulled a man from hell and the grave to resurrected life, the same power that brought creation into being and flooded the earth and parted a sea, and gave an old woman a newborn child, and a virgin a baby, and healed the blind and the sick, and cast out demons, and a thousand other miracles– that same power lives in me as the Holy Spirit.

That was a message I sorely needed to hear that morning. I wrote in my journal during the sermon: “The same power can give me strength to stand up to the political rhetoric. To speak out for those who can’t. To be strong when things are wrong and the rest of the world is against us. God’s power lives in me, so I shouldn’t be afraid to stand up. Lord, help me to feel your power in me, and to have the confidence to express it. I will not be silent, or be cowed by hate. Hate cannot win, and will not win.”

I hope that no matter what you are fearful of, that you can take heart and courage knowing that God’s power lives in you as His Holy Spirit.

If you’re so inclined, give a listen to the whole song by clicking on the photo below, and take heart: He has overcome the world, and so can you.

same power

Make a Joyful Noise

Beautiful strains of music filled our church building last night as the  York College Concert Choir performed. The fifty plus a capella chorus sang songs of praise that brought tears to my eyes.

I was blessed to once be part of this choir, as were my son and daughter, and Dawn’s son. Next year, our youngest, Emma, will be on their risers. All of this reflection made me think about how important music is in our worship.

In Col. 3:16 it says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Did you notice the types of songs are differentiated? I believe that’s because all three types of songs feed a different part of our souls. Let’s take a look.

psalms

Psalms: Psalms are scripture, and besides singing the Psalms in the Bible, I think this idea can expand to all scripture. Singing songs based on scripture helps us commit them to memory and recall God’s word when we need it. Many psalms are also songs of praise, and nothing is more important in our worship than praising our Creator.

hymn

Hymns: A hymn is song a praise, but unlike psalms, they were not written under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Hymns are filled with important spiritual truths. We might be singing about the power of God, the joy of our salvation, His amazing grace, or recalling the sacredness of a rugged cross.

Some people think of hymns as “old” songs, but that isn’t true. They are as relevant today as ever. They provide a depth and wisdom. They help put spiritual truths and doctrines into our hearts and minds that we will never forget. They touch us intellectually.

sing

Spiritual Songs: Spiritual songs touch our emotional core. Whether it’s a praise song or needing the Lord, our modern praise songs “move” us. We can express our joy or praise or brokenness through these songs.

The Bible repeatedly encourages us “to sing a new song to the Lord” (Psalm 96:1, Isaiah 42:10, Rev. 5:9, Rev. 14:3). Our God is a God of creativity and He continues to bless His children through creative expression. Psalm 40:3 says, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”

By singing all three kinds of songs–psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs–in our worship, music finds its highest purpose. It allows us to glorify our God. Nothing else moves us or lets us express our adoration and thankfulness like music.

And the best thing is that God doesn’t care whether your notes are pure or a little off key. He hears the song in your heart.

Let’s chat now. What’s your favorite hymn or spiritual song? What role does music play in your worship?

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Branson Retreat

Two weeks ago I met up with former Inkspers Brenda Anderson and Stacy Monson in Branson, Missouri for a writing retreat. We stayed at an amazing resort at The Cliffs at Long Creek, a short but curvy drive from downtown Branson.

The first night we were visited by a masked intruder. Lucky for us it was a friendly animal critter, not a criminal critter. This little guy was very dedicated to climbing up the beams that hold the screen for the basement patio, and he almost made it had we not gotten too close and scared the poor guy away.

Racoon at BransonEach of the seasons were represented in the seven days we spent at the resort. There were 70 degree days, a hail storm to rival any we’ve had in Iowa, a windy day that would blow the hair off of your head, and a day of massive snowfall. You just can’t beat the Midwest for changing seasons in short order.

I managed to get two of my floundering manuscripts tore apart and pieced back together to into stronger, more interesting stories. I also started a Middle Grade novel about a Troll Princess who learns that beauty is more than warty skin deep.

After our group, which included Brenda’s daughter Sarah and another friend Mari Keisling, spentMoses musical Moses the majority of our week writing, we ended our retreat on a high note watching Moses, a musical at the Sight and Sound theater. Brenda got us a backstage tour after the show, and we got to meet the actor who played Moses. I can’t say enough about the musical and Sight and Sound theater. Moses was an amazing production, the actors incredibly talented, and they even had live animals that traversed the aisles. It was probably a good thing I didn’t have an aisle seat! I wouldn’t have been able to not reach out and touch the camel as it plodded past.

Alas, the last day came and went and I am back home building on all of the work I managed to get done during our luxurious stay. Next year we plan on having the retreat at a resort in Minnesota, but I will always remember the incredible stay we had at Long Creek.

Below is a video I took when I first entered the resort. Be jealous. Be very, very jealous.

Who’s your Irish Ancestor?

On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone wants to be Irish. It’s not necessary to prove your ancestry to participate in the fun. However, most Americans are descended from a huge melting pot mixture of different cultures, so you just may have some “green” blood in your system after all!

The stern gentleman in this picture may look familiar  if you have studied American (or Texan) history. Yes, this is General Sam Houston, the famous war hero, congressman, governor of two states, and president of the Republic of Texas. He is also my most famous relative. I grew up counting the “greats” when trying to explain how we are related. Though he is not in my direct bloodline, we do share a common ancestor, his grandfather was my sixth great grandfather who came from Ireland before the American Revolution. General Houston’s aunt was my fifth great grandmother.

So other than feeling entitled to wear a green party hat on March 17, why do the faces in our family tree really matter?

For me, it all comes down to the stories. General Sams’s grandfather came to America because he was not the oldest son, and had no inheritance in his home country. With all the wide open spaces here, there was a chance for everyone to be a part of something great. General Sam himself must have felt this sense of opportunity himself, as he traveled from where the family had settled in Virginia to Tennessee, even becoming part of the Cherokee nation along the way. He ended up in the Arkansas Territory, and then famously, in Texas. Meanwhile, he fought, both as a soldier, and as a politician to defend the American ideals of freedom. No more being tied to birth order. Everyone should have the same opportunities.

The aunt who was my ancestor married into another Irish family, the McKees. This family provides a legend for us, as they were involved in a tragic Indian attack in Virginia in 1765. The story goes that the husband and wife sent their six children ahead to safety, and reluctant to separate, they were both killed in the savage attack, first the mother, and several days later, the father.

My mother faithfully documented the names and dates associated with these events. But  it’s the stories that have always mattered the most. They tell us who we really are. They explain the tough, never say die attitude of our forefathers. Freedom was worth fighting for. And, though it isn’t always well documented, I know that their faith in God must have sustained them through these un-believably tough times. That spirit, that faith is what continues, what we pass along to future generations.

Who’s in your family tree, and what stories have sustained you? It’s something to celebrate, as sure as you’re born! Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Birthday!

So, not to brag or anything, but today is my birthday.

Yep, “beware the Ides of March,” because that’s the day that I was born!

Aren’t birthdays interesting? Like any holiday, we celebrate them every year, but each year brings something different, depending on what age we are, what day of the week the birthdate falls on, heck, even what the weather is like that day. Being born in March, the weather could be a balmy 70 degrees, or a freezing 28. This year, March is going to stick to it’s “lion-like” weather on the 15th.

I was thinking back to some of my most memorable birthdays and thought I’d share a few of them.

Age 5- My cousin Jamie and I were born three weeks apart, so the year we turned 5, our parents arranged for us to have a joint birthday party together, complete with clown, cake and lots and lots of kids. Probably the biggest party I’ve ever had to celebrate a birthday, although my parents tell me I was pretty cranky due to getting my kindergarten shots the day before.

Age 16- Other than the fact that I was finally old enough to drive, this birthday is memorable because it was the last birthday I celebrated with my Grandma Queen. She had been in declining health for some time and recently ill, but on my sixteenth birthday, she was feeling good. She spent the evening with my family, having dinner, eating cake, and giving sass back as good as she got. She passed away 11 days later, and I will always treasure the last memories I made with her.

Me and Frodo in my college dorm room.

Age 19- My first birthday in college and away from home was made special by the efforts of my friends. I really into (re: obsessed) with Lord of the Rings at the time, so my group of friends banded together to get me a cardboard cutout of Frodo. Since I had an 8 a.m. class that day, my friends waited until I left, then snuck the cardboard  hobbit into my dorm room. However, they neglected to open my curtains, so upon stepping back into my room later that morning, all I could see was the dim outline of a person! I screamed, causing several people to come running, only to turn on the lights and realize I had been terrified of nothing more than a four-foot tall paper man with a flimsy sword. Yeah, that was humiliating. On the plus side, Frodo accompanied us on lots of adventures throughout the rest of my college career, including a trip to the local drive-in theater to see the next installment of (what else?) Lord of the Rings, and a starring role in one my student films, “When Your Date Falls Flat.” Frodo is now happily living out his golden years in my office at the symphony.

Age 21- Spring Break. Mexico. Not nearly as epic as it sounds. I had accompanied my campus ministry to Mexico for a mission trip that year, and unfortunately, caught a terrible cold the day we left. After doing manual labor all day in the hot sun, wiping my nose until it was raw, all I wanted to do was crawl into my sleeping bag and pass out for a few hours. My group had other plans, however. To celebrate my birthday and another guy’s, they had purchased a piñata, and made he and I take turns trying to break it. Blindfolded, no less. I was less than enthusiastic to make a fool of myself, and after several attempts, finally hit the stupid thing. It didn’t break! After the guy took a turn and it still didn’t crack, we realized the piñata was empty! I could have cried (and I think I did, a little) from exhaustion and disappointment. At least some candy would have helped sooth my weary soul!

There have been a lot of fun birthdays since those formative years, such as the time my coworkers decorated my office with streamers and hid Reese peanut butter cups all over it (truth– I literally found one two years later…and I plead the fifth on whether or not I are it [I did]). I usually have a celebratory dinner with my parents and brother’s family each year, and a bouquet of daffodils, my favorite flower. This year, I’m going to have lunch with one of my best friends, and see the new Beauty and the Beast movie in the theater on Saturday with my love.

What has been a memorable birthday for you?

When History and Literature Collide

My story begins last Saturday night.

Marion, KY is a very small town. I mean, like, 3,000 people small. Some claim that there’s nothing to DO here. So, the library (ahem) is trying to offer more recreational activities to spice things up. Last Saturday, however, was NOT a library activity, but our local Community Arts Foundation offering a Chautauqua speaker portraying Daniel Boone!

DanielBooneFP

Some of you who know me know that Fess Parker, who played Daniel Boone in the 60’s television series, was my first crush. I’ve been fascinated with Daniel Boone since I was about 4 years old.

Daniel_Boone_book._copyThis, however, was NOT Fess Parker, but actor Kevin Hardesty portraying the character of Captain Boone much more realistically. He told of the hardships and triumphs of the frontier, stories of his family and of the many trials they faced. I was captivated.

You can imagine, then, how enthralled I was to begin reading Laura Frantz’s latest book, A Moonbow Night. I started reading that night after being immersed in the frontier with Daniel Boone. In my mind I went straight to 1777 Cumberland Falls, in Eastern Kentucky, and the very area where A Moonbow Night takes place, but it meant even more, now.

MoonbowLFI’m so glad I was in that place at that moment. The literary descriptions, turns of phrase, and deep point of view of Laura’s stories consistently hold me in a state of attention that literally makes me lose track of what time, era, place, I’m in.

As of today, I’m only halfway through , but I wanted to share what I’m reading right now, because I’m so excited about it. If you like to lose yourself in a good book, pick this one up – or any of Laura’s books, for that matter! Every time I declare one “my favorite” of hers, I read another that replaces it!

Oh, and if you’re ever in Eastern Kentucky (which to us Western Kentuckians is a “whole ‘nuther country”), check out Cumberland Falls. It’s a beautiful place in the daytime, but now my dream is to visit it when I can actually witness a real-live “moonbow!”

Falling in love with Love Inspired

While we are talking about what is up and coming in our reading world I want to give a shout out to the Love Inspired lines — Love Inspired (Contemporary romance), Love Inspired Historical and…my all time favourite…Love Inspired Suspense. I read a selection of these lines every month. This image is of my most recent purchases — order came in yesterday.

 

proYou’ll notice two suspense novels by Jessica Patch in the mix. That’s because I just ‘discovered’ her a few weeks ago and loved her writing style so much that I had to check out her backlist as well as her most recent release. Jessica delivers a Dee Henderson style of romantic suspense in her shorter word count stories. I don’t know how she does it…her writing is…so smooth. Which seems like an inadequate descriptor. I guess what I mean is her writing flows so fluidly that the story unfolds at an unhurried pace even though it’s full of gripping suspense scenes. And I love the way the romance gets as much ‘air time’ as the intrigue.

 

And look here — our friend Shannon Vannatter has another new release. It’swinn getting hard to keep up with her Cowboy stories but I sure enjoy trying. This author knows how pummel my emotions while making me laugh and groan and fume and swoon. All with a captivating cowboy hero to ride roughshod over my heart. What’s not to love?

 

You’ll find a lot of familiar authors in the Love Inspired lines too. Authors who publish with other Christian publishers as well. Like Lisa Carter, Irene Hannon, Lisa Harris, Ruth Logan Herne…even Dee Henderson wrote for the line.

So, how about you? Do you read any of the Love Inspired series? Have any favourite authors you just can’t miss?