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.

I 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

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?

Spring reading list

Is there anything more delightful than getting a big box of books delivered to your doorstep?

Well, there are a few things, but since we’re all ardent readers and writers here, book deliveries rank pretty high on the list. I know fellow InskperKav lives for the days when the postman delivers multiple packages of books, and I can’t say I blame her. Say what you will about the convenience of e-readers, but there’s just something so satisfying about getting a physical book in the mail, versus an e-book delivered to your Kindle or Nook.

I am expecting a large delivery of books this week, thanks to the wonder of Amazon Prime and a gift card that had been burning a hole in my pocket. I was able to order eight books all for myself, all for the low, low price of $6 out of pocket (thank you, Christmas gift cards!). Since spring is just around the corner, I thought I’d share some of the books on my spring reading list, and books that I can hopefully recommend in just a few months. Enjoy!

A Note Yet UnsungA Note Yet Unsung by Tamera Alexander

A master violinist trained in Vienna, Rebekah Carrington manages to wheedle her way into an audition with the maestro at the newly-formed Nashville Philharmonic. But women are “far too fragile and frail” for the rigors of an orchestra, and Rebekah’s hopes are swiftly dashed because the conductor–determined to leave his mark on the world of classical music–bows to public opinion. To make matters worse, Adelicia Acklen Cheatham, mistress of Belmont Mansion and Rebekah’s new employer, agrees with him.
 
Nationally acclaimed conductor Nathaniel Tate Whitcomb is Nashville’s new orchestra leader. And despite a reluctant muse–and a strange buzzing and recurring pain in his head–he must finish composing his symphony before the grand opening of the city’s new opera hall. But far more pressing, he must finish it for the one who first inspired his love of music–his father, who is dying. As Tate’s ailment worsens, he believes Rebekah can help him finish his symphony. But how do you win back a woman’s trust when you’ve robbed her of her dream?

You can’t go wrong with anything by Tamera Alexander, whose stories are immersive, her research impeccable, and her writing sweeping. And since this story revolves around music and an orchestra? I can’t pass this one up! (Side note- isn’t that cover gorgeous? I’d pick this book up for the cover alone!)

DelugeDeluge by Lisa T. Bergren

It’s one thing to battle for life… WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN DEATH ITSELF COMES HUNTING? The Bettarinis and Forellis have found rich fulfillment, together in medieval Italia. But after fighting off countless enemies, they now must face the worst foe of all. As the Black Death closes in upon them, threatening everything and everyone they hold dear, Lia and Gabi–and the knights they love–must dig deep within to decide how they might remain safe…and if they need to risk it all in order to truly live as they’re called. DELUGE, the finale in the best-selling, award-winning River of Time Series: #1 WATERFALL #2 CASCADE #3 TORRENT #4 BOURNE & TRIBUTARY #5 DELUGE.

Yes, I know it’s weird to recommend Book Five in a series, but man, oh, man are these books addictive! The River of Time follows two sisters, Gabi and Lia, who fall back in time to the middle ages, fall in love with knights, and must decide whether to stay out of their own time. These YA books are fast-paced adventures, and I can’t wait to read what happens in the final book!

FirstbornFirstborn by Tosca Lee

Face-to-face with her past, Audra Ellison now knows the secret she gave up everything—including her memory—to protect. A secret made vulnerable by her rediscovery, and so powerful neither the Historian nor the traitor Prince Nikola will ever let her live to keep it.

With Luka in the Historian’s custody and the clock ticking down on his life, Audra only has one impossible chance: find and kill the Historian and end the centuries old war between the Progeny and Scions at last—all while running from the law and struggling to control her growing powers. Love, action, and stunning revelation reign in this thrilling conclusion to The Progeny.

The Progeny was another fast-paced thriller I couldn’t put down. Full of twists and turns and unforgettable characters, it tells the story of Audra, a girl with no memory of her past, who is being hunted by unknown forces as she scrambles to figure out why they want her dead. It ended on a cliffhanger, and Firstborn, out May 2, will conclude Audra’s story.

Caramel CrushCaramel Crush by Jenn McKinlay (A Cupcake Bakery Mystery)

Love is in the air at Fairy Tale Cupcakes as Angie prepares for her wedding, but co-owner, Mel, is preparing for a breakup. Her old friend, Diane Earnest, is dumping her fiancé after discovering he’s only marrying her for her money. She wants Mel to personally deliver a batch of caramel breakup cupcakes to the louse and give her a play-by-play of his reaction.
 
When Mel finally tracks the man down, the look on his face isn’t the reaction she was expecting: he’s dead. After the police arrive and see the incriminating cupcakes, Diane becomes their prime suspect. If she hopes to taste freedom again, Mel and Angie must make sure the real killer gets their just desserts…

Book 9 in the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries, these books are a lot of fun, with great characters, witty dialogue, intriguing mysteries, and cupcakes! This book comes out April 4.

So, what’s on your spring reading list?

What’s in a name?

When Marilla Cuthbert first meets Anne Shirley, she asks the 11-year-old orphan girl what her name is.

“Will you call me Cordelia?” she asks.

Anne goes on to explain that she despises her “plain, sensible” name, but thinks it would be perfectly lovely to be called what she considers such an elegant name. Marilla declines, and Anne reluctantly accepts being called by her real name, although with the caveat that it always includes the “e” on the end.

Thus, Anne “with an e,” though plainly named, cements herself as one of the most beloved of literary characters.

One of my favorite parts of writing is naming my characters. I have always loved the history of names. I read my first baby name book cover to cover when I was 8, loving the discovery of their origins and meanings. So when it comes time to naming my own characters, I have a lot of fun! But just as one poorly conceived plot device ruin a good book, so can an ill-named character take the reader out of the story.

Here’s a few of my rules when naming characters:

ShakespeareChoose a name you like. 

Seems kind of silly, doesn’t it? But just like naming your children, this is a name that is going to stick with you with for a long time, depending on how fast you write, or how successful the story has been. Make sure it’s something you’re going to like for the long haul.

Choose a name that suits the character. 

In early draft of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, her spoiled Southern belle was named “Pansy O’Hara.” Can you imagine “Pansy” vowing to never go hungry again, or helping Melanie have a baby while a battle raged on around them? Thank goodness someone made her change the name to the now iconic “Scarlett!” When I started writing my murder mystery, the protagonist’s male co-sleuth was named “Reed Spencer.” But after writing just a few pages of “Reed,” I just couldn’t stand him. He wasn’t a Reed! Today, “Drew Spencer” is helping Mira solve murders!

Choose a name that works with your story’s genre and time period.

Seems simple, but I hate, hate, HATE it when I read a story that features a protagonist named something that utterly doesn’t fit with that time period or genre. Think of a cowboy romance with a heroine named “Tiffany” or “Arwen.” Or maybe a futuristic sci-fi adventure with characters named “Herman” and “Mabel.” Just doesn’t seem to work, right? It goes the same way with modern fiction: if your character was born in the 1980s, most likely her name would be something like “Jennifer” or “Jessica,” two of the most popular names of that decade, rather than something funky, like “Legend” or “Naveah.” And if you want a funky name, make sure there’s a reason for it, other than “I’m a writer and I can do what I want.” (Good reason, but probably won’t hold up with your publisher.) A great resource is the Social Security website, which lists the most popular names by decade going back to 1880.

AnneChoose a name that your readers or target audience can pronounce. 

This one’s a personal pet peeve of mine. Don’t spell your character’s name in such a way that your reader doesn’t know how to pronounce it. Unless they are listening to an audio book, it’s hard to know how an oddly-spelled name is pronounced. The exception: fantasy stories often have unusual names, but there is usually a hint from others on how to pronounce it (“rhymes with BLANK,” etc.).

Of course, sometimes we can’t control our character’s names any more than we as writers can control them. L.M. Montgomery stated in her autobiography, The Alpine Path, that the character of Anne Shirley just came to her, fully fleshed out and named, down the all-important “e.”

So, how do you decide what to name your characters? Are they named after someone in particular? Or do they just come to you?

The center of the wheel

I decided to take the art class the last semester of my college career. Beginning Ceramics, it was called. With two of my close friends signed up to take it with me, I felt sure this would be an easy A to cap off my four years of college.

Of course, the professor made it look easy. Slap a bit of clay on a wheel and in minutes, you can make anything: a vase, a plate, a bowl, a cup.

However, four weeks into the course, I was still struggling to make something that didn’t bear a passing resemblance to a mudpie. How did he do it?

Everyday, I went to the art lab, determined that today was the day I would finally make something out of that wet lump of earth. I dutifully set out my tools, shaped my clay into a ball and slapped it down on the wheel. But a funny thing seemed to happen: no matter how hard I tried, my clay would end up either flying off the wheel (only funny the first three times it happened!) or would end up looking like a lopsided modern art creation (but worth much, much less).

As the deadline drew near for my first projects, a simple bowl and cylinder, I felt so frustrated that I just couldn’t seem to get it right. My creations were all lop-sided, one side bulging out slightly, formed when I couldn’t find the perfect hub of the pottery wheel.

The Bible often uses the imagery of God as the Potter, crafting his children lovingly with his hands. But after my own feeble attempt at being the potter, I learned that the center of the wheel is the key to creating something beautiful.

shaping-the-clayThink about it: do we really center our lives and souls on Christ’s love? Or are we vainly trying to let God shape us into His creations while we’re lop-sided balls of clay on His wheel, in danger of flying off  because we want to go our own way?

I know I have very rarely been at the middle of the wheel. So many things push me off-center: worries, doubts, the stresses of life. Thinking I can make do it all on my own.  Sometimes I feel like that slippery, muddy mess of clay, inching closer to the edge of the plate with every turn of the wheel, helpless to stop and crying out to the Master Potter.

And God’s gentle, loving Hands are always there, patiently nudging this stubborn ball of clay back to the Heart of His wheel.

I can’t say I’ve mastered the technique of staying centered on God but I do know the secret; it’s spelled out pretty clearly in Galations 2:20.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Guess what? The wheel of life moves fast. Just like a ship can get dashed against sharp rocks if it is not securely anchored, so can the Christian get splattered against the wall if he or she is not securely centered on God. But the good news is that since God is the Potter, he’s also controlling the wheel and its speed, and He’s not going to let it move any faster than what He knows you can handle.

Here’s to making God the center of our 2017!

Reading time!

As any book lover knows, there is an almost physical ache that occurs when you go for a significant amount of time without reading.

That’s been me for the past several weeks.

Since I started working for the symphony four and a half years ago, my Decembers have been consumed with one thing: the orchestra’s annual Christmas show. There were six performances when I started; we’re up to 10 now, over two weekends. My job as PR Manager is to promote the daylights out of this Broadway-caliber show, from getting our conductor on as many radio stations as possible and taking our performers to TV sets, to attending dress rehearsals for behind-the-scenes photos and posting it all to Instagram and Twitter. It’s a job I love, but it definitely takes its tole.

Which is why the two-week vacation I have that started yesterday is that much more precious!

That’s right, for the next two weeks, I can just sit around in my jammies, watch Netflix, and read to my heart’s content. Oh, I’ll probably do some housecleaning, more Christmas decorating (I finally got the tree up a week ago, but my Nativity set is still in its box next to the fireplace), and probably some last-minute Christmas shopping, but reading is going to be my number one priority.

Last year, I was very excited to read Kate Morton’s The Lake House, which I had received in early December, but put off reading until my “Christmas break.” I don’t have a particular book that I’m just dying to read these next two weeks, but there are a few that I’m excited to tackle:

12-cluesThe 12 Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen

Sixth in the Royal Spyness Mystery series, the books follow Lady Georgianna Rannoch, 34th in line to the English throne in the 1930s. Georgie is penniless, and must use her wits (and the occasional assignment from the Queen!) to survive.

While her true love, Darcy O’Mara, is spending his feliz navidad tramping around South America and her mother is holed up in a tiny village called Tiddleton-under-Lovey with droll playwright Noel Coward, Georgie is quite literally stuck at Castle Rannoch thanks to a snowstorm.
 
It seems like a Christmas miracle when she manages to land a position as hostess to a posh holiday party in Tiddleton. The village should be like something out of A Christmas Carol, but as soon as she arrives things take a deadly turn when a neighborhood nuisance falls out of a tree.  On her second day, another so-called accident results in a death—and there’s yet another on her third, making Georgie wonder if there’s something wicked happening in this winter wonderland…  

 

change-of-heartChange of Heart by Courtney Walsh

I read Walsh’s novel Paper Hearts last year, and this is set in the same town. I’m looking forward to visiting Loves Park again!

A Colorado senator’s wife, Evelyn Brandt seems to have it all. But her carefully constructed life comes toppling down when the FBI crashes her society brunch with news that her husband has been arrested for embezzlement, and he’s far from repentant. It turns out this was only the start of his indiscretions―for which he has little regret.

As the weeks following the scandal turn into months, Evelyn withdraws, even shirking her duties with the philanthropic Valentine Volunteers. The inquisitive women of the group are determined not to let Evelyn’s divorce destroy her. They have big plans for her to use her long-forgotten artistic talent to reimagine the city’s iconic lamppost hearts. But doing so will force Evelyn to work closely with Trevor Whitney, her ex-husband’s former best friend. Though she and Trevor used to be close―and he’s been letting her hide in his guesthouse―his gruffness conveys his unease with the situation.

Amid the beauty of Trevor’s farm and the comfort of a paintbrush, Evelyn starts to reclaim the dreams she sacrificed to become the perfect politician’s wife. And as creativity inspires them both, Whit begins to see the girl he fell in love with before his friend―and his own mistakes―stole his chance. Possibilities for a new beginning emerge, but long-kept secrets threaten to ruin everything. After so much time, is a change of heart too much to hope for?

 

poldarkPoldark: A Novel of Cornwall by Winston Graham

This one is actually on my Christmas list, so I hope it’s under the tree on Sunday! My husband and I discovered BBC’s recent TV adaptation of Winston Graham’s 12-book Poldark series this summer, and we literally binge-watched the entire first season in a weekend. We loved it! (And let’s be honest– Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark is pretty easy to binge watch!). The characters are layered and the story exciting, so I’d love to read the source material for a deeper appreciation of it.

In the first novel in Winston Graham’s hit series, a weary Ross Poldark returns to England from war, looking forward to a joyful homecoming with his beloved Elizabeth. But instead he discovers his father has died, his home is overrun by livestock and drunken servants, and Elizabeth-believing Ross to be dead-is now engaged to his cousin. Ross has no choice but to start his life anew.

Thus begins the Poldark series, a heartwarming, gripping saga set in the windswept landscape of Cornwall. With an unforgettable cast of characters that spans loves, lives, and generations, this extraordinary masterwork from Winston Graham is a story you will never forget.

What about you? What books are you looking forward to reading?

 

The research behind the writing

Have you ever read a story that is so immersive in the time, place, and setting, that you could swear the author must have lived through what they were writing about?

First off, that’s the sign of a good writer. And secondly, that means the writer did such a fantastic job of researching their subject and setting that nothing ever jarred you out of the story because it felt out of place. In fact, it felt natural.

Honestly, as an unpublished writer, research is something I both love and hate.

I love it because, hey, I love to read! I love to learn new things! I will happily spend an hour diving down a rabbit hole about Henry VIII’s wives, and emerge on the other side knowing far more than I ever needed to about cleaning practices in the 16th century.

But I also hate it because it takes time away from the actual writing of a story, making that dream of publication seem even further out of my grasp.

However, if I want that dream to become reality, I have to make sure my story won’t be picked apart by a well-meaning editor just doing their job.

A lot of people think that historical writers are the only ones who need to research. And while, yes, historical fiction writers bear the brunt of research, since the setting of their stories is critical before they even put one word on the page, almost any kind of writer benefits from a helpful librarian, a good search engine, and free time to browse Wikipedia.

mistletow-webFor example, I’m working on a Christmas romance novella that takes place in the Mt. Hood area of Oregon. I wanted a specific landmark to be covered in mistletoe, but then I had to stop and think: Does mistletoe grow in Oregon? (Yes, it will grow pretty much anywhere.)  There is a snowstorm brewing that strands a few characters in my fictional town for several days. I had to do a quick search of typical winter weather in that area, because the last thing I need is for the whole thing that sets the story in motion to not be possible because Oregon only gets an average of two feet of snow a year (it doesn’t, by the way). Even the livelihood of one of the characters has to be researched: I want the hero to be an Iditarod competitor who trains dogs and takes tourists on dog sled excursions during the off-season. But wait– is that even a thing outside of Alaska? Thanks to Google, I now know that it does, and that I need to convince my husband that we need to take another trip to Oregon in winter so we can take a dog sled ride (all in the name of research, of course!).

violin-webAnd don’t get me started on my symphony murder mystery! A lot of the research in that story has taken the last four years, because it’s literally the job I do of a living every day. I’ve learned so much about my field, and I can channel that into my story. However, the only things I know about murder are what I’ve read in other murder mysteries and seen on TV, so that part of the story definitely requires some research. (You all will vouch for me if the FBI confiscates my computer for disturbing web searches, right?)

So, the next time you fall down a rabbit hole in the name of research, just tell yourself: it will make your story better in the long run.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I am thankful for all of our bloggers and readers here at Inspirational Messages!

 

 

Behind the Music

Working for a symphony orchestra, I come across a lot of interesting characters. From the musicians who make up the orchestra to the patrons who attend our concerts, the full spectrum of humanity’s quirks are on full display.

hector_berlioz_1857

But one of my favorite parts of my job is reading and writing about the people who wrote the music we perform today. From Beethoven’s hearing loss to Mozart’s mysterious patron requesting what would be his final Requiem, the real life stories of the composers whose genius birthed the greatest music we’ve ever known is often stranger than fiction.

For example, this past weekend, my orchestra performed a piece called Symphonie fantastique, by French composer Hector Berlioz. While the music itself is beautiful, haunting, and bewitching (especially the final movement), it is the story behind it that is the stuff novels are written from.

In 1827, Berlioz was a 24-year-old struggling composer in Paris. After attending a performance of Hamlet put on by a troupe of traveling English actors, he fell immediately in love with the play’s Ophelia, a beautiful young actress named Harriet Smithson. Berlioz wrote her countless love letters, to the point of filling her dressing room with them, but the actress, frightened of this obsessed stalker’s fan’s attentions, never answered them.

the_irish_actress_harriett_constance_smithson_1800-1854_by_george_clint

For three years, Berlioz held on to his unrequited passion for a woman he had never met, despite becoming engaged to another young woman who ultimately broke it off (Berlioz actually planned to kill his former fiance and her mother, but got cold feet. That’s a story for ANOTHER day.). The composer eventually found an outlet by writing Symphonie fantastique, the story of a young artist in love with a beautiful woman. The artist attempts to kill himself through opium, instead producing a horrible vision in which the artist kills his beloved and is surrounded by a hideous throng of sorcerers and devils before he awakens (cheery stuff, eh?).

When the work premiered in 1832, Smithson just happened to be in the audience. Upon realizing the piece was written for her, and that Berlioz still loved her, she relented and met the composer the next day. Get this: Smithson and Berlioz ended up getting married a year later. Crazy, right? (FYI, they didn’t live happily ever after, since Berlioz didn’t speak English and Smithson didn’t speak French, and apparently Berlioz eventually realized that worshipping his lady love from afar was much more fun that actually living with her.)

liszt

Take another composer, Franz Liszt. Insanely talented as a pianist and composer, Liszt gave concerts across Europe, often four or five a week, and was showered with honors and adulations. A true showman who had a mesmerizing stage presence, Liszt’s audiences adored him. Women fought over silk handkerchiefs and velvet gloves that Liszt had worn. Broken piano strings from his concerts were made into bracelets. Swarming fans tried to attain locks of his hair, and even fought over his coffee dregs and cigar stumps. Women fainted and went into hysterics in his presence (kind of like the reception Elvis had in his day).

Medical professionals even coined a term for the hysteria in 1842: “Lisztomania.” Unlike “Beatlemania” of the ’60s, Lisztomania was believed to be an actual contagion, and doctors sought to immunize the public against it. Of course, Liszt was just the rock star of his day, and much like “Bieber Fever,” it died out when his popularity waned.

I just adore learning the stories behind classical masterpieces and the people who created them, much like finding out what inspired my favorite authors to write my favorite books. Since I’m writing a symphonic murder mystery, I’ve considered having a blog on my future website dedicated to anecdotes about composers. I’d love to call it The Decomposing Composer. What do you think?

 

Where were you on 9/11?

My parents can tell me where they were when they heard about the moon landing. My mom remembers when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. My grandparents have distinct memories of December 7, 1941.

On September 11, 2001, I became one of those people who can answer where I was when I heard about the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history.

I was a freshman at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, a small, state-run college in central Nebraska. I was 18 years old, and after a summer of feeling unsure about this new step into adulthood, I had finally found like I was settling in. I’d made new friends, gotten involved with a campus ministry, and felt like the world was full of possibilities.

unk
With my parents on my first day of college, about three weeks before 9/11.

The night of Sept. 10, 2001, a friend I had known since we were third graders at church camp hung out. We climbed to the top of a hill overlooking campus and sat in a brick gazebo, watching the lights of the city and the stars come out. The air was just turning cooler, and I remember he and I had a long talk about God, our futures, and what we wanted out of life. I don’t remember any of the specifics, but the one thing that has stuck with me for fifteen years was a feeling of peace, and certainty that all was right with the world.

The next day, the world flipped upside down.

I had an 8 a.m. class, and went to the computer lab to check my email when it got out at 9:15. There was a news headline about a plane hitting a building in New York, and I thought it was probably just some small Cesna with a poor pilot that killed a handful of people. I didn’t even click on the article.

A few minutes later, I went upstairs to my dorm room, and was greeted by one of my friends, in her bathrobe and pacing the hallway.

“Have you seen the TV?” she asked.

wtcwebI said I hadn’t, that I had just gotten out of class, and she pulled me into her room. There, on the TV, was the image that has been burned into every American’s brain since that day: the two towers of the World Trade Center afire, smoke billowing into the bright morning blue sky.

The rest of the day passed by in a blur. I called my parents, reached out to friends. Prayer vigils were organized, the Red Cross was taking blood donations, and professors hollowly lectured to classes whose minds were elsewhere. We might have been insulated in the heart of Nebraska, but everyone’s spirits were in New York City.

I wrote in my prayer journal later that day, “I have this horrible feeling that it might change life as we know it in the US. Are we going to war? Sweet Jesus, we need you to intervene and give this nation over to you. It doesn’t seem fair that last night was so wonderful and perfect, just talking to Phil on the hill and looking over Your creation. And then today this horrible terrorist attack happens.” I closed the entry with “You are an awesome God who right now is very busy listening to the prayers of others.”

I remember imagining that the US was going to war, that World War III was just around the corner. I wondered if all of the college boys I had just met would be drafted, and fight unknown enemies overseas. I (selfishly) wondered if I would become a spinster, because all of the men would die in combat.

Life has changed since 9/11, in ways that I couldn’t have predicted. My innocent childhood came to an abrupt end that day, and I learned what it was like to be an adult, to know that evil was real, that hatred drove people to do unthinkable things.

in-god-we-trustBut you know what? Although the world changed, God remained the same. He was and still is good. He is still the King of Kings and the Prince of Peace. He wept with the families who lost innocents in the attacks, and grieved with those who went to war to protect our freedoms. He held the broken and the hurting in his hands. And He guided the military to seek justice against the criminals who planned the attacks.

Someday, when my children ask me where I was on September 11, 2001, I want to tell them my story. But instead of ending it with  the image of fire and smoke, I want them to know that evil doesn’t win. That the story didn’t end with two collapsed buildings, a burning Pentagon, and a downed plane in a Pennsylvania field.

They need to know that it’s been fifteen years, but we’re still here. That God is still in control. And evil never wins.

A Library of Friends

When my husband and I moved into our house two years ago, we knew had a lot of books to box up. But after packing everything in our apartment up for weeks on end, we realized that we had at least 30 boxes full of books!

On moving day, our movers dutifully carried the couch, television, tables, chairs, and other furniture to the moving van, and then readied themselves for the mound of boxes. Wrinkling his nose when we told him that the large stack in the dining room contained our library, one of the movers asked us, “what do you do with so many books?”

“We read them, of course,” we replied.

He shook his head, then muttered something about having to carry all of those books down three flights of stairs.

Book artBut what else would you do with books than to read them? I’ll admit, my husband and I are somewhat book hoarders. If there’s a sale at a bookstore, you can bet we’re there. When we moved to the house, we also acquired four brand new, seven-foot tall bookshelves, to contain our growing library. We currently have 11 full bookshelves, two short shelves, and a cube unit. They aren’t all full, but there’s room to grow.

Guests often ask us if we’d read all of our books. I don’t know about my husband’s collection, but I’ve probably read about 60 percent of mine. But there’s always room for more!

Unless you’re a book lover, you don’t really understand the lure of library full of books. When I see my shelves full of books, it’s like walking into a room full of friends. Some of them are dear to my heart, because I’ve read them so often, such as my original copy of Anne of Green Gables, while others are casual acquaintances that I may glance at but probably only skim if I open their covers again. And as for the books I haven’t read, they are strangers that I can’t wait to get acquainted with!

One thing I DON’T have are books that I didn’t like. I have a rule: if I know I will not read a book again, I won’t keep it (Twilight, anyone?). I usually either donate them to the Goodwill, or trade them in at my local Half Price Books.

I may also be a harsh critic when it comes to books. I have a friend who will finish a book no matter what, but I refuse to continue reading a book I’m not enjoying. My motto is, “There are too many good books out there to waste on reading a bad one.” The comparison there is don’t waste time on people that bring you down.

So, what books do you consider good friends, or perhaps strangers you can’t wait to get acquainted with?