Posted on May 14, 2013 - by Stacy Monson
My husband is a certified rock hound. Okay, so maybe there isn’t a certification for that, but he’s definitely certifiable! While his interest doesn’t lie so much in archaeology, like Rose’s hero in her newest release, Wedding on the Rocks, he’s definitely crazy about rocks. We have rocks of all shapes and sizes in our yard – surrounding the fish pond, as stepping stones through the garden, decorative boulders, from every state we’ve ever set foot in. Big ones, small ones…you get the picture.
He’s retrieved all of the large boulders in our yard on his own. Seeing rocks piled in a farm field, he’ll go right up to the front door to inquire of the owners if they want to get rid of said rocks. Not too many say no! For the larger ones, he’ll roll them all the way to the van where he’s rigged a way to roll the boulder up a makeshift ramp and into the back. Just like God goes looking for us, finding us in unexpected places, left out in the field, seemingly unimportant.
But lest you think my husband is not the discriminating type, every boulder – indeed, every rock – has some unique characteristic, along with its own story. Just like us. We have our own unique characteristics and our own story in the making.
Of all our rocks, boulders, stones, pebbles and chunks, his favorite has always been the Lake Superior Agate. Before they’re cleaned, they’re actually quite ordinary-looking. But my rock hound can point one out in the midst of a pile of rubble. Somehow he sees the beauty within long before the rest of us can (like God sees our beauty buried beneath our ordinariness).
After collecting a bucketful, he puts them through a process that would take too long to explain here. They get washed and tumbled and smoothed until there isn’t a nick to be found. Just like God puts us through a process called life that washes us, tumbles us, and smooths us until we’re fit for heaven.
On a trip up north last summer, we stopped at what seemed to be a little roadside rock store. Imagine my surprise when we discovered several rooms of gorgeous “rocks” – some worth tens of thousands of dollars! The owner collects them from trips around the world, buys and sells them, makes them into jewelry or simply conversations pieces (if you can imagine talking about a $14,000 rock on your shelf!).
So while most of us will never pursue the life of an archaeologist, we can be our own kind of rock hound. In the ordinariness of life, we can search for and celebrate the hidden agates – in a shared laugh with a friend, in the peacefulness of sunshine after rain, in the dirt-smudged face of a child, in the unexpected kindness of a stranger.
Now, does anyone need any agates??
HOW CAN YOU WIN A COPY OF WEDDING ON THE ROCKS?
Rose is generously offering not one but TWO copies of Wedding on the Rocks and TWO copies of her previous release Rose of Sharon to readers who comment during the next two weeks and let us know about their most unusual job or a beauty secret and/or mishap. That’s four chances to win a book every time you post here at Inkspirational Messages in the next two weeks.
Contest closes Friday, May 17 at midnight (central time). It is open to readers in the U.S. and Canada only.
Posted on April 30, 2013 - by Stacy Monson
I grew up in a family of four kids – girl, boy, girl, boy. Raised by a single mother who was working full-time and putting herself through six years of college, it could have been a recipe for disaster.
Not so, Grasshopper. All four of us actually turned out pretty good, if I do say so myself. Sue, the oldest, has been in Human Resources for her entire career. Steve, second born, has been a highly successful and recognized college track coach. Me, third born – well, you can decide. And Scott, the “baby” is a popular college professor on the East coast (and a PhD to boot).
My sister and I are four and a half years apart. She’s the typical first born – responsible, focused, driven, big heart. The “put your head down and work” kind of person. The family protector. I’m the typical third born – a peace maker, afraid of my own shadow growing up, happy to just go along so we’d all get along. But even being so different, we were still good friends. (During thunderstorms, when we were young, she’d let me crawl into her bed. Her twin bed!)
She married a year or so out of high school, when I was just barely into high school, and went off to live a grown-up life while I was still growing up. When she moved to Chicago, we kept in touch often. She came home for visits, I went there for visits. Our first-borns are just seven months apart.
I was thrilled when she moved back here. While “the boys” have lived away their whole adult lives (one in Iowa, the other in Virginia), Sue and I were happy to be back in the same place, raising our kids together, hanging out with our mom. Little did we know we would become each other’s lifeline during a particularly difficult and painful journey.
The four of us siblings have stayed close all these years. When we’re all together, which is about every other year, we cram in as much life as we can. Makes our spouses crazy but we love it. Our greatest bonds have been around our faith, our mom, and our shared sense of humor (which our mother had in spades).
So when Mom started showing signs of forgetfulness, we burned up the phone lines sharing our concerns, making plans, and being worried together. Sue and I, however, had the job of physically caring for Mom. And we did it in tandem.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a particularly difficult disease because there’s no treatment, no way to slow it down once it starts. From her early seventies until she died at 79, Mom slowly faded into someone we didn’t recognize. It would have been unbearable dealing with it alone, but together my sister and I were able to face it side-by-side, even finding things to laugh about. (If you don’t laugh sometimes, you’ll cry the whole time.)
From having Mom’s license taken away, to moving her into assisted living, then memory care, then behavior care, Sue and I made all the hard decisions together. Paring down Mom’s belongings. Finding the right next place for her to move. And making sure she always had cookies available – when she got ornery, the staff could wave a cookie in front of her and she’d change her tune in a heartbeat. (They called her the Cookie Monster.) And while “the boys” couldn’t be with us often, they were always there in spirit, agreeing with our decisions, encouraging us, appreciating us from afar.
Through years of watching Mom change from an extremely independent, bright, articulate social worker to a tiny, confused, toddler-like being, Sue and I held onto each other. God did an amazing thing during that time – when I had reached my limit and simply couldn’t deal with one more issue, Sue was there to take care of it. And when she was at the end of her rope, I stepped in. Over eight years, that pattern never wavered. We held each other up while walking the awful journey of Alzheimer’s with Mom.
During the week Mom was dying, we were with her nearly every minute. If there had been a baton, we’d have been handing it to each other as one came to give the other a break. At the end, all four of us kids (along with a mix of spouses and grandchildren) were there to say goodbye with laughter and tears. It was an amazing end to an amazing journey.
The best part? Sue and I are stronger because of it – as individuals, as sisters, as friends. While we’d all like Mom back as she used to be, we know she’s in a far better place now, healed, whole and talking God’s ear off. And Sue and I? We know without a doubt we have each other’s back. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
**REMEMBER – Each time you share a sister story during this Sisters series, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a copy of When Love Calls for yourself and a matching copy for your sister. Contest closes at midnight central time on May 3rd, and is open to U.S. and Canadian residents. Name to be chosen by Random.org. **
Posted on April 16, 2013 - by Stacy Monson
I’m all for new things – like warm weather and sunshine (we don’t have either yet here in Minnesota). So along those lines, I’m looking forward to reading books by authors I’m unfamiliar with. There’s always that little excitement when I read something from an author I don’t know – perhaps this person will become one of my go-to authors in the future. We’ll see!
Marrying Kate by Kimberly Rae Jordan (March 3, 2013 release)
She has loved him for years, so when Jared asks her to marry him for the sake of the orphaned children of his brother and her sister, Kate says yes. The foundation of their marriage is a mutual love for their nieces and nephew, but Kate hopes for more. As they learn about God’s ideal for marriage and how it works for them, danger from Jared’s past threatens their family. Will they have the chance to see if respect and affection can blossom into love before it’s too late? Or will a man’s need to protect his secrets rob them of the marriage Kate dreams of?
Sounds like a sweet story – and I’m a sucker for stories with kids.
Then there’s Beth Wiseman. Yes, all of you have probably read at least one of her many books – but not me! So I’m really excited to see why she’s so popular. Her newest release is The House That Love Built. (April 2, 2013 release)
Brooke has only loved one man, her late husband. Owen is rebuilding after a painful divorce. Can a mysterious house bring them together for a second chance at love? In the charming town of Smithville, Texas, Brooke Holloway is raising two young children on her own, supporting them by running the family hardware store. The last thing on her mind is falling in love. But she’s intrigued when a stranger moves to town and buys the old Hadley mansion. She’s always heard that house holds a secret—maybe even a treasure—and she can’t wait to see inside. When she meets the new owner and they spend time together, she can’t deny the attraction. Could God be giving her another chance at happiness? Or is she betraying her late husband’s memory by even thinking that way?
Owen Saunders bought the Hadley place to spite his cheating ex-wife. She’d always wanted to restore an old house in Smithville. Now he’s going to do it without her. But if anything needs restoration, it is Owen’s heart. Then he meets Brooke and her kids and finds himself tempted by love. Can he bring himself to trust a woman again?
Throw an eccentric uncle into the mix, along with the town’s teenage troublemaker, and even a finicky cat—and one thing becomes clear: God is bringing them all together for a reason.
So here’s to new books, new authors – and new things, like maybe SPRING???
Posted on April 2, 2013 - by Stacy Monson
I love to laugh. I hope I’m that grandma with laugh lines deeply imbedded in her face (which shouldn’t be hard – I’m well on the way). Obviously it’s not always appropriate to laugh, but sometimes those can be the times when it’s hardest not to. Like during communion when your grandma drops her little plastic cup and it bounces its way across the sanctuary (and bounces and bounces…), pinging off the granite floor in the silence.
Or during a sermon on a summer morning, when the sun reflects off the floor and makes a giant silhouette image of a friend of yours on the back wall (and they don’t know they’re bigger than life).
Or trying to be solemn while assembling for a graveside service right after someone comments about the Rolloff family being buried at the top of the hill (they had noticed the marker of someone buried long ago in that tiny town’s cemetery).
I have a file of “Keepers” in my inbox where I store emails people have sent that struck me particularly funny. More than once I’ve opened it and read a few – sure enough, I was soon smiling and feeling better.
Here are a few YouTube links that I hope will make you laugh today. Who can NOT laugh when a baby lets loose with that adorable belly laugh? Or when twins crack themselves up (and leave us out of the fun!)?
Life can be pretty rough on occasion. I thank our God for laughter (He must have a sense of humor – He created the hippopotamus, after all!).
Posted on March 19, 2013 - by Stacy Monson
Just hearing the words “writer’s block” is enough to strike fear into a writer’s heart. It’s a big, ugly, dirty, hairy beast that thrusts itself into our lives and takes up residence in our computer. The brute steals into our mind, numbs our fingers, and fills our heart with dread. We KNOW, at that moment, we’ll never write another decent word in our life.
Cue the music. Any music. Whatever music calms your spirit and speaks to your heart. Then sit back and let it wash over you, soak into you, speak to you.
I’ve been wrestling for months with the beast of writer’s block. You’d think, being unemployed, I’d be writing my brains out. Instead, my brain has turned to mush, my fingers wobble over the keyboard in search of words. The beast has had me by the throat.
So I’ve called out to…Josh Groban. Seriously. One of my stories is about an up-and-coming singer and the now-spotlight-phobic model he falls for. Listening to the powerful music of Josh Groban helps me visualize what life might be like for a struggling performer. It loosens the beast’s grasp on my throat.
In another story, an ex-con builds a ministry for kids on the street. Listening to contemporary Christian music from Sanctus Real, the Robbie Seay Band, and Big Daddy Weave drowns out the beast’s whispers that have kept me paralyzed. It allows me to enter my story world and be the characters.
I love to sing. I’m not good at it. People will move away if I sing too loudly in church (just kidding). But I still love to sing. Sometimes I go far from my computer (where the beast lies in wait) to play worship music and just sing. It reminds me to take the focus off of me and put it where it belongs – on the One who called me to write in the first place.
And when the beast finally slinks away (I know he doesn’t go far, but at least he goes), I play music to thank God for bringing me through.
Do you have any particular music that soothes your beast?
Posted on March 5, 2013 - by Stacy Monson
My current writing journey started with a television show. Oprah’s, to be exact. But let’s back up. I’ve written “my whole life” as have so many. While other people would draw amazing things, I’d doodled with new ways to write the alphabet. Honest! (and yes, a little weird)
While working in downtown Minneapolis, I wrote stories on the bus or read new books. I loved having that me time to just be in my head with characters – mine or someone else’s. One day, six years ago, I had to drive since I was picking my dad up from cataract surgery. Usually I got off the bus about 4:45, but after picking up my dad, we were back to my house by 3:30.
While he watched TV, I sat at the computer nearby, working on a story. At 4:00, Oprah came on. Since I was always on the bus at that time of day, I hadn’t watched the show in years. This particular show was about women and midlife crisis – what they were calling “midlife opportunity.” I loved the positive spin on where I was in life (only a few years from 50).
One thing you need to know about me is that very few people knew how much I loved to write. I could count on one hand who knew that writing a book was a secret dream of mine. Over the years, I had prayed (now I think rather haphazardly) about publishing a book, but I’d never moved on the idea. I basically wanted God to write the best seller and put my name on it!
So I listened to the show with one ear while still writing at the computer. Several stories caught my attention. One was about a stock broker who had picked up an antique chocolate mold at a flea market during the summer – just for fun. Six months later she got laid off. That impulsive purchase became her focal point. At the time of the show, she’d been running a highly successful, upscale chocolate shop in New York City for a year or so. And to top it off, she met her fiance in the elevator of the building where her shop was (at 48, she’d never expected to get married!).
Another was about a female radio DJ who’d always wanted to open a flower shop. Now she was happily creating flower arrangements. Story after story told of women’s secret dreams and how midlife (along with other extenuating circumstances) had made them look at their future in a new way.
By the time the show was over, I was sitting on the couch with my dad, tears running down my cheeks as I told him, “I’m supposed to write. I know I’m supposed to write seriously now.” (Poor Dad – he just patted my hand and told me that sounded like a great idea.)
It was clear that God was calling me to write. I’m still not sure that He’s calling me to publication but He has definitely called me to use the gift of writing. Within days, I had signed up for a novel writing class at The Loft where I received wonderful feedback from the bestselling author-teachers and met a gal with whom I’ve been in a critique group ever since.
I learned about RWA (Romance Writers of America) and joined the local chapter where I’ve been the lone inspirational writer among 80 members. Then I learned about ACFW. I traipsed off to Denver for my very first conference – all alone (a very brave thing for scaredy-cat me). By the time I left Denver, I’d agreed to start a chapter in Minnesota, now called MN-NICE.
Every step of the way I’ve questioned God. Am I doing the right thing? Would He lead me to the next person, place or idea to move my writing forward? Should I quit writing? (after a particularly difficult rejection)
And every step of the way, He’s been faithful. The answers haven’t always been clearly written in the sand. There are times I still question what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. But through these six years, I’ve met amazing, talented, wonderful people with a passion to glorify God with their writing. I’ve been to conferences, won contests, been rejected, found an agent, and made friends with people across the world I’d never have had the chance to meet otherwise.
God answers prayers we didn’t even know we had, or had given up expecting an answer for. Even when I’m not faithful, when I question everything that happens, when I flail after a painful rejection – He’s there. He put the passion in my heart and gave me the gift of words. It’s up to me to do something with it. I’m glad He’s there to guide me through the journey.
Posted on February 19, 2013 - by Stacy Monson
I am not the typical standard romance reader. Much like Dawn described in her post a few days ago, I’m not drawn to typical stories with typical heroes.
For most women, the point of reading a standard romance is to live vicariously through the heroine to win that perfect man. In most of these stories, the hero is self-confident, uber successful, swooned over by many, distrustful of women until the heroine comes along, wears only stylish clothes, can do anything he sets his mind to (fly planes, run large companies, ski only diamond runs in the Alps, cook seven-course meals), and basically never fails. Not only do I not know anyone like that, I find myself rolling my eyes as I read about them.
I do enjoy reading romance stories but I read them to make the journey with characters I come to love, rooting for them when they mess up, cheering when they succeed, and sighing in delight when they finally fall in love. I like unconventional heroes – real guys who are doing the best they can with what life hands them. Even if it means they face the day unable to find socks that match.
And like their socks, these guys can be difficult to find. But that’s okay – it just means I have to work harderto find my kind of hero. And usually I love the book because of the hero.
One such unconventional hero is Ragnar from Michelle Griep’s book, Undercurrent. There are two heroes in this story. The first one we meet is Alarek (the epitome of tall, dark and handsome, and funny to boot). But it’s his cousin, Ragnar, who captured my heart. This tale of a modern-day woman stuck in the Viking era is interesting, funny, and poignant. Ragnar, the wounded, reluctant hero is a Christian amidst his Viking contemporaries which sets him apart from the beginning. The fact that he was brutally disfigured by his own father sets him apart in another way.
He struggles on so many fronts – trying to protect and clear his cousin, Alarek, from murder charges; protecting the strange, foreign heroine with whom he falls in love; protecting his countrymen from the evil that threatens to overtake them all. Yet his stoic demeanor, steadfast faith and unwavering loyalty make him a true hero.
Another of my favorites, in a very unconventional way, is Pastor Alex Armstrong in Judy Baer’s Forever Hilltop series. He’s a single guy, ditched by the love of his life. A city guy trying to figure out how to pastor in a farming community. He’s cuter than he realizes, funny enough to make me laugh out loud, and sweet enough that he manages to win over the congregations of both churches by the end of the series. You can’t NOT fall in love with this unassuming, sometimes bumbling guy who loves deeply, goes out of his way for others, and is determined to let his faith lead – even when it’s to an unexpected place like Grassy Valley, North Dakota.
Do any of your heroes wear mismatched socks?
Posted on February 5, 2013 - by Stacy Monson
Okay, I’ll admit it up front – I am a huge fan of The Voice. I love the concept of aspiring singers being mentored by professionals. I love watching contestants learn and grow and change through the season. I love seeing them find their voice. But as much as I’d love to debate the idea of Shakira being a new judge, that’s not what this post is about.
Today I’m talking about the voice of a writer (some people might call it their style). Every writer has a voice that’s unique to them. (This applies to singers, songwriters, artists and actors as well.)
At some point, we finished a book that we’d fallen in love with and sighed with pleasure – and a yearning to write “just like that.” But that’s an impossible dream. Why? Because while you fell in love with the characters and the story and all the engaging parts that had you hooked, you also fell in love with the author’s voice. You can copy the story but you can’t copy the voice.
I don’t believe you can truly love a book without loving how the story was told. There have been plenty of books I really, really enjoyed but couldn’t honestly say I “loved” because the writer’s style was a bit off for me. I might have thoroughly enjoy the characters and the storyline, but there was something that kept me from saying, “Wow!” That’s not to say there was anything wrong with their voice – I just couldn’t connect with it. Plenty of others could.
Case in point: A year or so ago I joined an on-line discussion group that was reading and discussing a non-fiction book. It’s a bestseller, acclaimed by many. While I learned a lot from reading it, and found many points I could apply to daily life, it was a huge struggle to reach the end. Her voice was too choppy for me. She seemed to write and think in bullet points. I found myself wanting to finish the abbreviated sentences, complete her thoughts, go into more detail on a topic.
Others in the discussion group LOVED the book. They had no problem with her voice, her style of writing. They were able to see beyond it and absorb her message. I had to work at it. Was there something wrong with her voice? Not at all. Was it just different from what I enjoy? Yup.
So how do you know what your voice is? Write. And write some more. Let yourself tell the story to its end, then look back (after you’ve let it percolate for awhile). Did you write in lovely, flowing prose? Did you write from your heart, even if it’s a dark and dangerous place? Did you write with a comfortable, down home kind of voice or was it concise and to the point?
Are any of these voices right or wrong? Nope. They’re just different. And that’s why our libraries are lined with books – every writer has their own unique, God-given voice (and an audience who loves it). Just think if we all wrote with the same voice. Borrrrring.
The contestants on The Voice are often scolded by the mentors for not being true to themselves. They’re told to be who they are. We need to do the same – figure who we are, what our voice truly sounds like, and be that writer. So sing your story in your own voice. And don’t let anyone try to change it. It’s yours for a reason. The world needs to hear it.
What’s your voice like?
Posted on January 22, 2013 - by Stacy Monson
Girlfriends rock. They make us laugh and cry, they hold our hands and give us hugs. Occasionally they make us crazy but they always have our back.
I just returned from a long weekend with 6 of my very closest friends, all sisters in Christ. It was our third annual Girls Getaway where we head “up north” about two hours and stay at the Grandview Lodge in Nisswa, Minnesota.
We had grand plans for this weekend. The resort was offering dog sledding, snowshoeing and other fun activities. I have a brand new, and as yet unused, pair of snowshoes – couldn’t wait to try them out with the girls. Food assignments were planned (a dinner out the first night, our own soup and salad dinner the second night, lots of snacks including chocolate – of course), drivers set, bags packed.
Then came the forecast. It’s cold in Minnesota in January. We get that. We’re a hardy group up here, even those of us who aren’t particularly outdoorsy. Winter is best experienced by being out there enjoying it. So even though it was going to be cold, we were still game to try a few activities. However, there’s a limit – even for Minnesotans.
Saturday morning we headed northwest on I-94 and, after our usual pitstop for coffee and the restroom, arrived around 1:00 for Nisswa’s “Stop, Shop and Stroll” extravaganza. It was about 30 degrees when we left the Twin Cities. By 2:00, in Central Minnesota, the winds kicked in and the temperature dropped 20 degrees. We literally ran from shop to shop. A little blustery wind and light snow can’t stop these gals from finding bargains!
After shopping, we checked into our 3-bedroom cabin, laid out a spread worthy of the Queen, and got busy chatting and eating. One of our group of 7 is single, so we had a riot looking at her “matches” on eharmony, and agreed on one we thought would be perfect for her. She “smiled” at him.
After a lovely meal at the local supper club (honest – there’s a supper club in Nisswa), we settled in with wine and chocolate, chatting into the night. Sunday morning we woke to below zero temps and decided to forgo outdoor activities. We’re hardy but we’re not stupid! Instead we shopped the local towns then settled back in to celebrate that the “match” had smiled back at our friend. This dating stuff is serious business so we helped her decide what questions to ask for step 2.
Monday morning we woke to -17 degrees. The only reason we left the cabin was for the fabulous resort brunch. More chatting, eating, and celebrating over a response from the “match” and helping her answer his questions (like she couldn’t do it on her own!). It’s always amazing that, after almost twenty-five years together, we never run out of stuff to talk about.
Now we’ve returned to our respective homes and families, back to the real world of work, laundry, pets and cooking. But we didn’t return the same as when we left. We shared laughter and tears, told stories, asked questions. We traded pieces of our lives and chunks of our hearts. Because that’s what girlfriends do.
God blesses all of us in a million ways every day – in big ways and small. One of those blessings comes in the shape of a girlfriend. Round, short, tall, thin, dark, light – doesn’t matter because they are gift-wrapped in the light of God’s heart.
Girlfriends. What a blessing. (And yes, we’ve already got our reservation set for next year. Bring it on!)
Posted on January 8, 2013 - by Stacy Monson
I’ll admit it up front – I’m a small groups proponent in a big way. I think it’s one of the best ways to get to know people (and yourself) at church, at work, in the neighborhood, etc. And I salute every volunteer small group leader because of the time, energy and even money they give toward making the group the best it can be.
The world can be so big and impersonal, making us feel small and insignificant. That’s where small groups come in – they are a place to belong, to learn and grow, share yourself and care for others. A place where we matter, and “where everybody knows your name.” (now I’ve got you humming the song, right?)
At my former church, I held a position with a lofty title – Director of Connecting Ministries. But it’s what I did – connect people. I trained small group leaders, helped build small communities in our big church, developed a variety of ways for people to connect. And God made the pieces fall together – we had small groups that met just for dinner and conversation. Others met to study the Bible. There were prayer groups and knitting groups. Mens and Womens groups. Groups that gave teens a place to belong and be accepted.
Several times we had church-wide small groups around a common study. One year half of the congregation read and discussed the same book – either in small groups at church or in homes. There were small groups that God used to bring people into His light for the first time or to return to Him after an absence (Alpha made a huge difference in our congregation).
Pretty much every small group spent time volunteering together, a great way to cement those budding relationships. Some served meals at inner city churches. The quilting group auctioned off their quilts and gave the money to a church camp. The knitters prayed over and gave away the prayer shawls they created. Many groups adopted a family during Christmas and provided gifts for the children. They were part of Habitat for Humanity, Feed My Starving Children, local food shelves, community events. A few groups even went to Tanzania to work and learn (including me).
If you aren’t part of a small group, consider starting one. What better way to give of your time and yourself than to encourage others, grow together, and share the joys and concerns of life? Find a Bible study you’d like to work through and invite some neighbors to join you. Form a group of wanna-be writers and learn together. Look for needs in the community and create a group that will meet those needs.
The ideas are endless, the results life-changing. And God gets the glory through the bonding of His people. I can’t think of anything better. Hmm. Maybe I need to start another group…