Posts Tagged ‘Unexpected Blessings’
Posted on April 22, 2013 - by Shannon Vannatter
When the topic of sister’s came up, I was at a loss for a moment. I’m an only child. No sisters. Or brothers. So, I have to go way back for this post. Bear with me.
Shortly before I was born, my parents planned to move to Michigan. Mama knew a woman with a daughter named Shannon. She asked the woman if she’d mind Mama naming me Shannon since me and the other Shannon would probably never know each other.
Twelve years later, we moved back to Arkansas. Seven years later, I married the other Shannon’s brother. Though we look nothing alike, our shared name has confused many over the years. Long ago, I went to my boss’ bank to cash my check because it was closer than my bank. The teller told me she couldn’t cash the check unless Shannon was there. For a long time, our butane deliverer thought my husband and his sister lived in our house. And now, even though her name hasn’t been Vannatter in a really long time, people think my sister-in-law writes books.
For the first few years my husband and I were married, Shannon and I had a good time together. We embarked on exercise plans, went to see a Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton concert, and turned her hair every color under the sun—including Bozo orange. Relax, I was a hairdresser and she’d turned her hair green trying to do it on her own. I had to get it to orange to get the green out. In the end, it turned out a nice natural looking dark brown. Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home.
But then she married a man from Memphis and moved there. Then they moved to Mississippi. During those years, we went to visit each place once. She came here about once a month, but there was never enough time to really enjoy being sisters-in-law.
Last year, she moved back. At first, I didn’t take advantage of the situation. I was used to not having her around. And I run in fifteen directions most of the time with book deadlines on top of everything else. But it finally hit me, my sister-in-law is back and I need to make time for her.
So far, we’ve entertained her grandson and my son on a road trip with my mother-in-law. We’ve gone flea-marketing and shopping. She and my mother-in-law brought our son to visit, when my husband was in the hospital. Together, his sister and I went to pick him up after his release. We’ve stayed after church and just talked.
We’re planning to have lunch soon and maybe we’ll set up a date for me to turn her hair orange just for old-time’s sake.
This time spent together made me realize, I missed her. Who could I possibly have more in common with than my husband’s sister? We both love the same man.
Now its your turn. Every time you share one of your sister stories in the next two weeks, you’ll be entered in the drawing for a copy of When Love Calls for yourself and a matching copy for a sister. Contest closes at midnight, central time on Friday, May 3 and is open to those in the U.S. and Canada. Name chosen by Random.org.
Posted on April 10, 2012 - by Shannon Vannatter
I’m celebrating Drop Everything and Read day by sharing some favorite lines from recent reads:
From Buffalo Gal by Mary Connealy:
Posted on December 6, 2011 - by Shannon Vannatter
Our Christmas season is even more stressful and hectic than usual this year. My husband is transitioning from bi-vocational pastor to full time pastor. This transition affects our finances, our lifestyle, and his mental peace. It’s scary to put your finances in the control of a hundred people. Christians are just people. Humans. Our finances are in the control of a hundred humans. Yes, I earn a little with my books now, but publishing is very inconsistent. My income would get us on food stamps fast.
This was our plan. We had some spendable money in savings. Grant needed time off after leaving the dental lab where he’s been a technician for 26 years. We planned for him to have two weeks between his last day at the lab and his first day at the church. Two weeks with spendable money. At the time, since Heartsong Presents was ending in December, I didn’t have any deadlines. We were going to relax, spend some time together, and enjoy ourselves.
We planned a trip to Texas for Thanksgiving. In Rodeo Dust, my hero’s ranch is in Aubrey and he rodeos at the Fort Worth Stockyards. We decided to stop in both places for book signings. It was perfect timing since Aubrey was having Christmas on Main—a festival with booths, crafts, and lots of people milling about. Aubrey’s city secretary got all excited and put my signing in several newspapers. It was during the day, so I could be at Fort Worth that night. Then we’d go on to San Antonio to see family. We wouldn’t have to worry about funds and we’d do some Christmas shopping when we got back.
Reality turned into a mixture of good and bad:
- Heartsong Presents extended the line.
- My car went kaput. The bill $1200.00.
- The booksigning in Fort Worth didn’t come together.
- Grant ended up with three checkless weeks off instead of two.
I’d cried over my two seemingly dead books, so miraculously having them resurrected was a blessing. Suddenly, I had a deadline, plus edits. But I had to work during Grant’s time off.
Our spendable money had dwindled. At least we had the money to get my car fixed, but we had to limp to Aubrey since it had already been in several newspapers that I was coming. We couldn’t afford to go on to San Antonio.
In the two weeks after we got back, we couldn’t Christmas shop or even eat out much.
How it turned out:
It was an awesome day in Aubrey. Nancy Downes, the city secretary had outdone herself with a 4′ by 8′ poster of me and the book. It was much bigger than it looks in the picture. The people treated me like royalty. My signing was in Moms on Main, the restaurant where my characters eat after church in books 2 and 3 of the rodeo series. I got to eat a yummy Philly Cheese Steak sandwich there and see where the peanut festival is held, which is in all three books.
For Rodeo Dust, I’d written blindly, since I’d never been to Aubrey, so Nancy critiqued my scenes to make sure I had Aubrey right. It was great meeting her and the Murrays who own Moms. They bought 30 copies of Rodeo Dust to sell in their restaurant and a small Christian bookstore bought copies also. In the end, I sold 58 books, some at full price and some for resale.
Though I sold books, the trip cost way more than I made. But the research was priceless. Actually being in Aubrey was so worth the trip. I can capture so much more for book 2 and 3 since I’ve actually been there. The Christmas tree decorated with American flags at the top of this post was in Moms. It’s definitely going in book 3.
The family member we were going to see in San Antonio ended up in the hospital during the very time we’d planned to be there for our visit. It would have been nice to be with her in the hospital, but it wouldn’t have been a very good visit. She’s fine, but still tired and sore, so having company would have been an added stress once she got home.
My contact from the Stockyards e-mailed me the week we got back. She’s missed my e-mail, but said I was welcome any time. Oh the irony.
We spent the two and a half weeks after the Texas trip with me working and Grant bored. But every year, our son gets a week out at Thanksgiving. With Grant off work, we got to share it as a family this year. And I worked after they were in bed at night, so I enjoyed the week with them both.
An added bonus, Saturday was the annual Christmas parade where we live. Our church always enters a float.
In 2009, our huge, 8′ by 16′ King James Bible won second place. In 2010, our blue lit city of Bethlehem won 1st place. This year, we had a live nativity in blue lights on one end. An empty cross, Roman soldiers and mourners in the middle with red spotlights. Then a red carpet leading up golden stairs guarded by sword wielding angels at the foot of the throne where Jesus sat. We won first place again. Our prayer is always that we touched souls with our message. The banner along the side of the float said, “Believest thou this?”
Our horizon isn’t any less hectic. Grant went to the church today for his first week as full time pastor. I still have half a book to write by January 16th. I’m trying to get the first draft done by the 20th when our son gets out of school for Christmas break.
- Tonight is our church association pastors and wives dinner.
- Tomorrow night is our ladie’s prayer group Christmas party.
- Wednesday night is church.
- Thursday night, we’re loading up in the church van to drive 45 miles and see a live nativity and city of Bethlehem.
- Friday, my family is going to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas concert. Our 7 year tradition.
- Saturday, my guys are going with the church to Branson to see The Miracle of Christmas. I’m going 45 miles to a book signing I’d already committed to before the church trip came up.
So things aren’t perfect in Arkansas this year. But life is good. We’ve prayed for Grant to go full time at the church for several years and never dreamed it would happen this soon. I have two more books coming out in 2012. We should have more family time since Grant only has one job. And in the end, we have to put our finances, stresses, and peace on God’s shoulders and trust Him to handle it all for us.
Posted on August 30, 2011 - by Shannon Vannatter
Shannon here: I sat across from Jennifer Rogers Spinola at the Barbour Author Reception in Indianapolis last year at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. The first thing I noticed was how much she enjoyed the food. With each bite, her eyes closed as she savored the tastes exploding on her palate. After striking up a conversation with her, I noticed she’s just as pretty inside as outside. I learned she’s from South Carolina/Virginia, a former missionary who married a Brazilian she met in Japan, and she currently lives in Brazil, where there aren’t as many food choices. I featured her on my real life romance blog in February and she’ll back again in October to celebrate the release of her debut novel, Southern Fried Sushi. I haven’t gotten to read it yet, but my copy is coming as soon as it releases. Jennifer charmed me again with this interview. Some of her lyrical answers made me teary-eyed. She’s promised to pop in from Brazil today, so feel free to ask her questions. Without further ado, prepare to be charmed by Jennifer Rogers Spinola:
Q: What’s it like living in Brazil? What’s a typical day like?
A: Well, for starters, it’s really HOT! We live in Brasilia, which is a raised plateau with elevation of over a thousand feet, so it gets a bit cool in the evenings and sometimes the days, too, during winter—sort of like a desert. But during the days it regularly gets up into the 90s and higher. I’d say 85-90 is probably a good average. In Brasilia the air is extremely dry, so during the dry season (winter) it can go a hundred days without rain. Which means gorgeous blue skies, but also dry, brown grass, withered plants, and lots of blowing red dust. When rainy season begins, it’ll rain almost every day, scattered showers, or sometimes harder downpours.
Brazil is a hard country to capture in a description, but one that gets in your blood and stays there, for better or for worse. When I visited Brazil in the year 2000 as a writer/reporter for the International Mission Board, I immediately fell in love with its beautiful brown-skinned people, the warmth of the air and of the smiles and kisses, the dusty roads and simple family gatherings, and the passion for God and Brazilian soccer. I was so captured by Brazil that I couldn’t wait to come back. And then when I met a handsome young Brazilian exchange student in Japan… well, I did!
Now my image has changed a little after seeing what it’s like to really live here. I mean, the country is the same as it was on my first visit, but digging in over time has opened my eyes to things I didn’t notice back then: crime (lots of crime), poverty (LOTS of poverty), the huge gap between the elite rich and the millions of shockingly poor, the huge amounts of political corruption, and the immense difficulty for a person of even modest well-to-do means to accomplish things that are simple in the U.S., like buying a car (they cost 3-4 times our amounts here), buying a house, or even renting an apartment. I have been insulted and shunned for being an American, had two cell phones and my wallet stolen out of my backpack, taken my life in my hands by getting on buses driven by speed-breaking maniacs, taxis driven by “pirate” (i.e. fake) taxi drivers, and public vans that swerve up onto the sidewalk and around the stoplight fixture to avoid waiting at the light. It has not been easy! But I have never been mugged or “lightning-kidnapped,” as is common here, so I can count my blessings! And our little miracle baby, Ethan, is so much worth it!
A typical day for me is to get up and help my husband and son get ready for the day, all the while enjoying the beautiful Brazilian blue sky and breeze, early morning sunshine. We eat tropical fruits like papaya and pineapple for breakfast often, sometimes with coffee or tea and cereal, and I love this! :) Then I take care of Ethan for the day in our little rented apartment: wash the dishes, make lunch (usually typical Brazilian rice and beans, salad, and a fried egg or some chicken/beef), make dinner, clean the floor from tracked-in dust, do laundry and hang the clothes to dry (dryers aren’t common here), take Ethan out to play, teach him Bible stories and letters, write, teach an ESL class in the evenings, catch up on my blog, clean the floor after potty-training accidents, give him a bath, and so forth. I have no car during the day (my husband has it) so Ethan and I can’t go anywhere (a big frustration of mine), and I don’t even have a driver’s license because the process is so involved to get mine translated, and for five years out of seven we didn’t even have a car yet.
Apartments/houses run only cold water except in the shower, and we drink bottled water. When it runs out we either pick up fresh bottles at the store or have it delivered. Water pressure in the showers is weaker than in the U.S., and electrical outlets have poorer contact, so we have to jiggle things in plugs multiple times or hold the cords a certain way to get them to work. Power outages are fairly common—about once every two weeks or so, recently. I sometimes get tired of re-setting the microwave clock. :)
On weekends we visit my in-laws’ farm on the outer edge of town, which has horses, a crop plantation, pigs, and lots and lots of red dust. Athos’ parents have a house there with hammocks, and we enjoy letting Ethan ride his tricycle in the yard while we talk and enjoy the breeze. One of my favorite perks of Brazilian life: housekeepers. Athos’ mom pays a sweet Christian lady to come and do basic housecleaning/cooking every day, and she “lends” her to me twice a week if she doesn’t have guests or visits. What a blessing! If it weren’t for her coming, I’d get almost no writing done!
Q: What is the biggest writing challenge you’ve encountered this past year – craft, career, writing life, etc? How did you solve it?
A: I think my biggest challenge this past year was simply trying to write in the midst of life: computer viruses, a nearly destroyed laptop that Best Buy was SO incredibly gracious to fix FOR FREE, financial issues here in Brazil, learning how to juggle potty training and two-year-old needs with my wish for unbroken hours of time to concentrate and write. But it’s been wonderful, and God is good!
Q: What is the one thing you’d like to share with other writers?
A: I wish I could let unpublished writers know that just because their books aren’t published doesn’t mean their writing isn’t as good—or better—than many published authors. It’s all a question of God’s timing and everything coming together at the right moment—sort of like a woman waiting an extra-long while (like I did) to get married. And it isn’t about us—it’s about God and His plans for our life. He knows when the right time is, and when it comes, everything will fit together like pieces of a puzzle.
Q: If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be?
A: Definitely a landscape designer. I love plants and flowers! It was always the second thing on my list after writing, and something (I hope) one day can be a second career. I’ve collected seed and plant catalogs since my childhood, planning the colors and species and layout of gardens I’d like to plant. If not a landscape designer, then I’d choose something like a forest ranger – like my dad – or a park service worker. I love the outdoors!
Q: Where is the coziest spot in your home?
A: I’d have to say our bedroom. It’s small, but gorgeous – lots of paneled cabinets and a roomy bedside table. My favorite part: the plant-filled, glassed-in veranda that runs along the side wall, closed by a sliding glass door and floor-length curtains. When I open the veranda window, air billows out the curtains. Lots of natural light! I love it.
Q: What is your favorite time of the day?
A: MORNING! I love anything in the morning – the earlier, the better. I used to get up at 5:30 a.m. every morning to write, and I miss seeing the sky turn from black to blue to gray to glorious gold. Everything smells so fresh, so clean. The streets are silent. Beautiful! I like to run while the air is still fresh and cool.
Q: In what ways do you think your writing journey has benefited your family? How does your writing affect your family?
A: Well, it affects my family in the sense that I’m not always as “accessible” every single second as I used to be, because sometimes during the day I’m either writing or editing, building up my website or doing a guest post, or critiquing one of my crit partners’ chapters. However, it’s been a tremendous blessing because I’ve been able to STAY home with my son rather than go out and work—all because of this unexpected gift of a three-book contract (and a fourth since that series). Here in Brasilia (which is currently more expensive than New York City) we feel a lot of financial strain, so it’s a big deal that I’m able to stay at home and write—especially since my husband’s parents both work full-time, which means I don’t have access to family babysitting. I don’t know a single other mom who works exclusively from home in Brasilia.
Q: If you could pick a theme song to play every time you entered a room, what would it be?
A: Well, this might be weird, but I really like Handel’s Messiah—the END part, with all the “Amens.” There’s this gorgeous piece right before the end called, “Worthy Is The Lamb,” almost all of which is taken straight from the book of Revelation, and it has all these fabulous crescendos. Put together with the gorgeous “Amen” chorus that comes next, which builds to this momentous climax, it just makes me feel like angels are falling in worship, the heavens are opening, and I’m stepping through the door to heaven. The conductor’s wand poised in mid-air. Goosebumps on my arms. Dirty laundry forgotten in a breathless hush. I guess that’s not a bad feeling for stepping into a room.
Q: What is your most laughable dating story?
A: Well, it’s kind of funny since Athos and I actually weren’t allowed to “date,” per se, when we met. I was a missionary in a program for young people, and one of the rules is that we refrain from dating while we’re on the field. So when I met Athos, I was so confused at what God was doing because while HE was all right, the timing was ALL wrong! Or so I thought. In fact, it turned out to be the most amazing thing ever because, without “dating” and cordoning ourselves off as a couple before we were ready, we got to know each other as friends—without all the pretension and attempts to impress. He helped our mission team often as a volunteer (he was a foreign exchange student at a nearby university) and attended mission church services, so we got to see each other under those circumstances, and occasionally a walk around town or a coffee in Starbucks. We were never, ever alone in either of our apartments, for example—even for five minutes.
So we did everything in reverse: became friends, felt seriously about each other, decided to marry—and then dated. Ha ha! We had our first “date” in the pouring rain at a dinky Tastee-Freez restaurant in my redneck small town after I’d just said “yes” and accepted his ring, and our first kiss was in front of the church on our wedding day.
Q: What woman in your life has had the greatest impact on you?
A: I’d have to say my mom. She passed away when she was 43 (I was nineteen) but I learned so much from her. I knew her life wasn’t perfect, and neither was she, but the one thing I really admire about her is that she loved God so deeply—and she loved my sister and me as well. I remember clearly one conversation we had when I was a child, where she told me she’d always love me no matter what I did. “What if I killed somebody?” I asked her. And her response was so perfect: “I’d be really sad if you did that,” she said. “But I’d still love you anyway.” That boggled my mind and stuck with me forever.
Q: Which TV family is most like your own?
A: I don’t really know because I’m so out of TV these days, especially American TV… Maybe “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” is sort of like us, since I’m from a relatively quiet Southern family married to a Brazilian with a big, loud, partying, laughing, fighting, hugging, kissing Brazilian family—all thrown together with a gorgeous adopted child of a noticeably different and beautiful color, a first for both of our families.
Q: Which amusement park ride is your favorite and why?
A: I like roller coasters, but I love the Ferris wheel the most. I love sitting in that bucket, suspended over people like ants below, the golden rays of summer evening shining out their last bursts over the dusty ground. Higher and higher, up and over, against breathless blue twilight, and then down again. Slow enough that you can hear your thoughts, smell the cotton candy, but fast enough that your stomach jitters just a touch.
Q: What do you think is the greatest invention of all time?
A: Easy – the disposable diaper. I do cloth diaper as well, but oh, how I’d like to shake the person’s hand who invented disposables.
Q: Would you rather live a week in the past or a week in the future?
A: Definitely the past. I’m always so curious about how people lived in the past—what they ate, what they wore, how they experienced hopes and failures and births and deaths with the inventions and realities they knew at the time. I’m grateful that our modern progress in medicine, technology, and education has come so far, but at the same time I think we miss out on some of the beautiful simplicity, clean and unpolluted air, and less harried lifestyles that our ancestors of the past enjoyed.
Q: How do you balance writing, exercise, home, etc.?
A: My family comes first in everything. That’s the only way I can do it. Because if they don’t come first, then I think I’ve missed my purpose as a wife and mom. But they don’t need me 24-7, and there are lots of creative ways I can incorporate other aspects of my life into my family. I write when my son sleeps and when my husband gets home from work and spends time with him, and before my husband and I go to bed. If I’m on tight deadline I’ll get up early. I also take my laptop to my in-laws’ house so that when my brain’s tired of Portuguese, I can work (with other eyes helping me watch Ethan). Exercise – I run every other morning while my husband watches Ethan, and I take Ethan outside twice a day (at least) to play and swing and run. Which, with him being such an energetic kiddo, gives me pleeeenty of exercise.
Q: What’s your favorite family tradition?
A: My dad started ordering cheeses, sausages, and other goodies from a special holiday catalog at Christmas when I was a teenager. My mom didn’t slave all day cooking Christmas dinner—we just nibbled Swiss cheese and crackers, fancy mustards, and put a salad or fruit on the table and spent Christmas relaxing. But when my mom passed away in 1996, nobody felt like having Christmas anymore. My dad, however, still ordered the cheese and sausage, and we sat around the uncomfortably empty table, eating and remembering how much we’d enjoyed those days together. And year after year, as our hearts warmed again to holidays, we’d always order something from the catalog for Christmas.
This tradition has continued, nearly unbroken, for almost fifteen years now since my mom’s death. When I moved to Brazil with my husband, my dad still shipped—at great expense, sometimes totaling nearly a hundred dollars—a heavy box of the same special cheeses, mustards, sausages, and peppermint-chocolate layer cakes we’d enjoyed with my mom. And instead I ate it with my husband and then my beautiful Brazilian son, remembering and creating new memories. My husband loved the idea so much that he said we’ll continue it always—and I’ll never have to cook a Christmas dinner.
Q: Would you rather meet your great grandchildren or great grandparents?
A: Now in this question I might answer differently from the one about the week in the past versus the week in the future. Why? Because I want so much to know how my son’s life will be used for God’s glory. Every single dirty diaper, missed night of sleep, and day of tears and frustration will be worth to know that Ethan will have spent his life following the Lord, changed the world through Christ, and either been a single man who honored God with his life or raised a godly family that will continue spreading the message of grace and salvation. All of this, and I will die a happy woman.
Q: What role have your friends played in your success as a writer?
A: I am absolutely indebted to several people: Roger and Kathleen Bruner, who first encouraged my “Sushi” manuscript, edited it, and showed it to Barbour; my police-officer cousin, Lessa, who’s been my writing partner and endless idea machine ever since our first crazy childhood days together; and my four amazing crit partners who make my jaw drop with their talent and editoral suggestions. They are ALL incredible. I would never, EVER be where I am today without them.
Q: Who is your biggest cheerleader?
A: My husband first, who gives me time to work because he believes in what I’m doing (and tells me so). Even Ethan, who tries hard to be patient while I’m working, and often prays for “Mama’s books” at breakfast. And then definitely the friends I’ve listed above. I couldn’t do it without any of them.
Q: If you could ask God one question, what would it be?
A: I think my question would be, “Why me?” And I don’t mean, “A tree fell in the parking lot and smashed my car. Why me?” Although I do feel that way quite often. What I mean is, “Why would You choose me, Lord?” Why would He leave His home in glory and die for me, a sinner, who the Bible says “was His enemy”? There are so many people in the world who have never heard of God’s grace and forgiveness—who not only die without Him, but live their lives without the compassion, peace, strength, and joy He gives for daily living. Why was I allowed to grow up in Sunday school, reading His Word? Why did I get to meet Him early in life and change my sinful, self-centered life accordingly? Why eternal life instead of hell? Why me?
Q: If you could make up a holiday, what would it be and how would you celebrate it?
A: I think I’d create a holiday called “Really Cool Single People’s Day.” I know so many awesome singles who want to be moms and dads, and would make great ones, but they never get to celebrate Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. And while all the other couples are making out over chocolate and fondue for Valentine’s Day, or kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas, these people are patiently and reverently waiting for God’s timing. So I’d give them the works: chocolate (lots of chocolate!), fireworks, a day off, flowers, a parade, an amazing dinner.
Q: What is the best book you’ve read recently, and why did you like it?
A: I really love “Just Do Something.” It’s a quirky little fast-reading book about the will of God. The main message of the book is that we don’t have to agonize over finding (or missing, more specifically) the will of God and His plan for our life. Instead of wringing our hands and paralyzing ourselves over which direction to take or which decision to make, the author says, in essence, “Just do something!” It was a refreshing, liberating book for me after so many years of doing exactly that – agonizing, wrestling, worrying. The very things we’re called NOT to do.
Q: What or who makes you giggle and why?
A: Two things come to mind: Ethan’s funny comments, and my cousin Lessa’s hilarious sense of humor. Cases in point: A few days ago Ethan picked up a shelled walnut half, and gasped in joy. “A pterodactyl!” he said, enraptured. This was right around the time he said, “Bye, poop! I love you!” while flushing, asked for ketchup on his apple, and called a buffalo a “dinosaur.”
As for Lessa, one of her most recent posts on my Facebook page said this (quoting): “Saw some roadkill. Thought of you. It was a skunk.” For somebody to think of me while seeing roadkill, it has to be good.
Q: What is your favorite season and why?
A: I used to always say spring and summer growing up, but since moving to Brazil I say fall. Why? Because I live in eternal summer, and I miss the change in seasons. I miss the hint of longing and sorrow that comes with the falling leaves, the bittersweet glory in bright fall colors, the apples and pumpkins, the chill, the frost, the glow. I miss it all.
Q: If you made a list of ten things you’d like to do yet with your life, what would be on it?
A: Oh, my… plant a garden, write more books, lead more people to Christ, have/adopt more children, buy a house, become a part-time landscape designer, learn to play the violin better…
Q: Besides writing, what are you passionate about?
A: Easy—adoption. Adopting Ethan has changed our lives forever. Actually I’ve wanted to adopt since I was a child, and my husband decided he’d like to adopt when he was a college student and went on a mission trip to Cambodia, where they worked with an orphanage. We talked about adopting when we talked about marriage—as well as having birth children. In our case Ethan came before our birth children, and since I’m past 35 now, I’m starting to wonder if he might be our only child…? Unless we’re able to adopt again in the future?
My reasons for wanting to adopt have nothing whatsoever to do with infertility, though. To me it’s simple: James says that caring for the widow and orphan is “pure religion” – and yet so few ever do it! As Christians we should fiercely guard the sanctity of life and oppose abortion, yet not many people seem to think about what happens next. Sure, those unborn children should be given life… but then what? I say they’re our responsibility—we who have argued (and rightly so) for their lives. We should give of our time, our families, our very lives to see that those precious souls, created in the image of God, might find love, hope, a chance at new life with a God-fearing family.
I wish so many more Christian families would adopt!
Q: The biggest challenge in writing this book?
A: Whew… there were a lot! I had a computer virus that set me back a while, and then I spilled water (seriously) on my brand-new laptop. It’s a sheer miracle of God that Best Buy was able to repair it since it was still under warranty, and my friend Vanessa offered to take it back to the U.S. during her summer vacation. In the meantime I used a borrowed laptop from my sweet brother-in-law, Kyle, but it was an older one that doesn’t run quite as smoothly as mine, so it took extra time to work with (as well as understand the Portuguese operating system). I was so grateful to have anything at all to use while I waited for mine to be fixed… and unspeakably glad to have mine back!
Q: What do the Post-Its around your computer/screen/ bulletin board say?
A: Grocery lists, the water delivery number (drinking water must be bottled), notes on Japanese fans and colors for the third book in my series, and editing notes as I work on finalizing that manuscript in (eek) just two weeks!
Q: What is your favorite research or reference book or tool?
A: The net! I’m an addict! I use it for everything—online dictionaries and good thesauruses, the Bible online, Bible commentaries, Google for Japanese culture questions, cowboy boot brands, types of pasture fencing, and so forth. I look up everything!
Q: When you were a child, what did you dream of growing up to be?
A: A writer! Really! I’ve wanted to write since I was about 4 or 5 years old, making little books out of paper and stapling them together (with illustrations). I’ve written my whole life—just gobs and gobs of stuff. Notebooks stuffed with novels and poems. Stories. So publishing this series with Barbour is a dream come true!
Q: If you were given $10,000 to give away, how would you spend it?
A: If using it to adopt an international child counts, I’d do that. If not, I’d break it up into little parcels here and there and surprise people anonymously: medical treatments for one friend, a trip home for another with her family, a new car for someone else.
Q: What is the most unusual costume you ever wore at a Halloween party?
A: I never did Halloween much. I vaguely remember dressing as a ghost when I was five or six years old, and then neighbor kids started throwing eggs at tricker-treaters, so we decided not to trick or treat after that.
Q: If you could have free unlimited service for one year from a cook, chauffer, personal secretary, housekeeper, or masseuse, which would you choose and why?
A: MASSEUSE!!! Why? Because every single thing on the list besides “masseuse” I can do myself! I can cook and drive myself, and so forth. And while it would be a great benefit to have a housekeeper, for example, I can do it. However, I physically can’t massage my own back, and I get very stiff shoulders. Ahhh… just thinking about a masseuse is making me sleepy…
Q: Which character in your books is the most like you? How?
A: Actually none of them, so much. The main character in the series is Shiloh, a fashionable journalist go-getter stuck in Redneckville. She’s got a biting wit, a touch of snobbiness, and sort of tough outer shell. I’m like her in the journalist sense (I used to be one) but my personality is much less acerbic. And I’m not nearly as fashionable. I liked Adam’s character a lot because, with him being a landscaper, I got to live out my second dream by writing about his work.
Q: What jobs have you had in your life? Which did you like most? Least?
A: Oh, soooo many… waitress and bookseller (like Shiloh in the series), shelver of government documents, secretarial/typing work, assistant copyeditor in a major TV and satellite guide, missionary, tutor, ESL teacher, middle school and high school teacher, coffee server, barista, restaurant hostess, hotel front desk clerk, computer lab monitor, journalist/staff writer, and… I’m sure I’ve forgotten some.
My favorites: The staff writer for the International Mission Board, the Southern Baptist mission-sending agency. I absolutely LOVED this job. Writing has always been my thing, but writing about mission work around the world—something supremely positive and exciting and international—was just amazing. I enjoyed being a missionary, too, but it was really difficult because you “are” your work—you’re never off-duty, and you have to start all over from scratch with languages and everything, as if you know nothing. A surprising like: waitressing. I worked for a little place where everyone was friends and absolutely loved it. And the front-desk clerk position at the hotel was really neat, too.
My least favorites: I worked for a year at an American-based school here in Brazil, and I was so exhausted I’d often skip dinner and sleep at 7 p.m.—and still not get all my grading, correcting, test-prep, class-prep, and lesson planning done. I liked the actual teaching, but not the strenuous pace. Teaching at an English school in Brazil was only slightly less stressful because they kept Brazil work laws regarding breaks and other requirements for teachers.
About Jenny: Jennifer Rogers Spinola, Virginia/South Carolina native and graduate of Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina, now lives in the capital city of Brasilia, Brazil, with her husband, Athos, and their son, Ethan. Jennifer and Athos met while she was serving as a missionary in Sapporo, Japan. When she’s not writing, Jennifer teaches English to ESL students in Brasilia. Find out more about Jenny at www.jenniferrogersspinola.com.
About Southern Fried Sushi: Ride the rollercoaster of Shiloh Jacobs’s life as her dreams derail, sending her on a downward spiral from the heights of an AP job in Tokyo to penniless in rural Virginia. Trapped in a world so foreign to her sensibilities and surrounded by a quirky group of friends, will she break through her hardened prejudices before she loses those who want to help her? Can she find the key to what changed her estranged mother’s life so powerfully before her death that she became a different woman—and can it help Shiloh too?
Giveaway: For those of you who stop by to chat, you’ll have an opportunity to win books by a couple of our guests: Deep Cover by Sandra Orchard, Love Remains by Kaye Dacus, and The Colonel’s Lady by Laura Frantz. PLUS, we’re throwing in two additional books from the Love Inspired line: Marrying Miss Marshall by Lacy Williams and Hearts in Flight by Patty Smith Hall.
Now, there are a few small rules you need to follow if you want a chance to win the books, but no worries, they’re not too difficult:
Comment on our “Company’s Coming” topic dated August 29, 2011 through September 9, 2011. Every time you comment, your name will go into a drawing for the books. Contest closes Saturday, September 10, 2011 at midnight. The winner will be posted on Sunday, September 11, 2011. Winner must provide a mailing address in an email to Brenda AT brendaandersonbooks DOT com. Do not post your address anywhere on this blog.
Posted on October 26, 2010 - by Shannon Vannatter
Our ladies prayer group at church set a goal of thirty shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. Some of us have struggled financially this year. Some could only afford to fill one box, some no boxes, and some several boxes. We decided to all buy however little or much we could, then bring our gifts to the church and fill the boxes together. We ended up with a closet full of donated toys, jewelry, crayons, coloring books, school supplies, and hygiene products.
Before everyone arrived to fill the boxes, we decided we didn’t have enough items for older kids. Some people had donated money, but the treasurer hadn’t arrived yet, so we didn’t know how much. On faith, a couple of us went shopping and ended up spending more than we thought we should. When the treasurer arrived, the donations amounted to almost exactly the money we’d spent.
By the time we ran out of boxes, another donation had come in to pay for more. Another shopping trip only brought in four more boxes. Apparently several of the churches in my town are participating in Operation Christmas Child. Once we find more boxes, we should be able to fill a total of fifty.
We didn’t make any plans on who would buy what, how many, for a boy or girl, or what age group, but it all worked out above and beyond our goal. See what happens when you surrender the details to God?
Posted on September 8, 2009 - by JerriLynn
If you’re paying attention, life is full of unexpected blessings. The sudden desire to pull off at a rest station while traveling just to find when you’re back on the road that you narrowly missed an accident. The check you didn’t know you had coming that shows up in the mailbox about the time the checking account hits a $.68 balance. The stranger you meet standing in line that turns into a lifelong friend.
Just a prevalent are the unexpected blessings that you probably don’t recognize. The warmth of a hug from Jesus in the rays of a sunny; His whispers of reassurance carried on the wind. The complete conviction of His glory as you stare across an ocean our mind can’t begin to measure or the certain knowledge that He is merciful when a disaster just misses you.
Unexpected blessings is almost an oxymoron to me. Unseen blessings exist, and as we move through each day, I believe that we miss some of the most blessed blessings that God has to offer. Because those blessings are unseen doesn’t mean that they should be unexpected. How…human must we be not to expect the best blessings from our God.
He promises blessings to us. Deuteronomy 28:2, Proverbs 10:6, Proverbs 28:20 and so many other verses promise that God will bless those who are faithful to him. And despite these promises, we don’t expect Him to bless us; we expect just the opposite. We expect His wrath and His disapproval; we expect Him to be hands-off. But we don’t expect His blessings.
Or maybe that’s just me. I am shocked and amazed when He blesses me. Recently, my dryer died. Well, it didn’t die completely, it just stopped heating. I have to admit, I griped at God a bit about that. I mean, the timing was bad, bad, bad. I couldn’t afford to replace the dryer, and even if I could I didn’t have any way to move the old one out or the new one in. And I didn’t have a man around to help me fix the appliance that’s pretty much the center of your life when you have a teenage daughter at home. I wondered, didn’t God realize I’m single?
This was not a blessing by any stretch of the imagination. So, I did what most people would do were they in my situation, I whined about it to my friends. But my friend Amanda has never been one to be restricted by the concepts of roles. “Can’t you just fix it yourself, Jerri Lynn. It’s not like it’s that hard.”
Um. Well, truthfully, I hadn’t thought about doing it myself. I’m so accustomed to having someone else do those things for me that I went straight from denial to despair. Could I really change the heating element in my dryer by my self?
The short answer is yes. I could. I did. And then I looked at Jesus and said, “I see what you’re up to.” I struggle with not having a spouse. But God felt like I needed a lesson in self-sufficiency. “My grace is enough for you,” he said to me. My blessing? The dryer broke. I fixed it. Alone.
So maybe, if I change my perspective a little I’ll see those ‘unexpected’ blessings. Maybe, instead of wondering why the bad things happen I could just look at those challenges and expect the blessing that God uses them to bring. I can learn to expect his blessings. I just have to change my view and know where to look.
Posted on September 4, 2009 - by Linda Fulkerson
It’s a scary thought that the entire Baby Boomer generation, large as it is, is going through a mid-life crisis simultaneously. Because my husband determined that the world has enough bikers with gray ponytails, our crisis consisted of starting a hobby farm. And it all started with a handful of eggs. . .
Before we go any further, please note that I am a city girl. Born in East LA, just like the song. I had a few country adventures during childhood summers spent on my grandparents’ dairy farm in Missouri, but, with the exception of my pre-teen years spent in a rural community, I’ve resided in large cities. My transformation into a farmer is probably the most unexpected thing that has happened in my life, yet watching the daily miracles of life on a farm has been one of my best blessings.
For the first few years after we moved onto our quiet 32-acre plot in central Arkansas, my citified lifestyle had, for the most part, remained unchanged. After all, our property is less than three miles from town and just a half-hour’s drive from the nearest Lancôme counter. My life changed dramatically, however, about six years ago when my husband discovered a nest tucked in the brush near the bank of our pond. It held eight eggs. He’d noticed a pair of mallards swooping around the property, but to actually have them claim our land as their home was a thrill.
When we checked on the nest the following day, only five eggs remained. Some snake, turtle, possum, or other varmint must have discovered the nest and feasted sumptuously. The discovery of the missing eggs prompted the purchase of an incubator. We placed the remaining eggs in it and turned them faithfully day and night, just as the Internet instructed, all the while watching for any signs of peck marks.
During the days leading up to the event, I Googled every possible combination of words dealing with the successful hatching of mallard ducklings. When the day arrived, I was ready. We converted one of our bathtubs into a make-shift brooder, complete with a large plastic bowl for the little ducklings to swim in. When they began to feather out, we moved them into a former dog pen with a log doghouse and a kiddie pool. I was amazed at how quickly they grew and how drastically they changed along their journey toward adulthood. Soon, they were testing their wings. And soon afterward, to our dismay, they left home.
But due to that April morning, a farm was born, complete with goats, ducks (Muscovies instead of Mallards now), chickens, geese, and a turkey. Yes, just one. But that’s another story. And, I suppose, much to my surprise, a country girl was born, too. Who knew someone like me could learn to stop and smell the . . . well, there is no end to the variety of smells on a farm. Owning a hobby farm has been an unexpected blessing in my life, even though I balked during my conversion to country living.
I developed a simple test to evaluate the progress of my adaptation process. If you’re a city transplant, you may find this helpful:
You know you’ve been out of the city too long when . . .
- You can back a one-ton dually without scratching the trailer hitch.
- Your favorite pair of shoes is now reserved for the goat pen.
- You can identify four breeds of ducks, but can’t remember the name of the new handbag line at Dillard’s.
- You have more charges on your credit card for feed than footware.
- They call you by name at the Co-op.
- In the mornings, you feed ten goats, thirty ducks, three geese, two pot-bellied pigs, and a llama before you feed yourself.
- You no longer need an alarm clock.
- You watch eggs hatch instead of fry.
- You silently pray the new perfume Hubby bought you contains Deet.
- You can cross a ditch on a fallen log without a handrail.
Whether it’s Harleys or Holsteins, I guess a mid-life crisis is really about resisting the changes that life brings instead of accepting whatever path God has placed before us. I hope, like our mallards, I’ve come to terms with the changes that go with each of life’s milestones. If nothing else, I’ve adapted to life in the country.
Or maybe I’ve just been out of the city long enough to relax and enjoy the unexpected blessing God helped us hatch.
Posted on September 3, 2009 - by Marlene (aka Marlo)
Unexpected blessings? When I first saw the theme of the week, I panicked. For the life of me, I couldn’t think of any big event worth writing home about, but then I thought “Wait a second. What is an unexpected blessing anyway?” I mean, do I compare it to an expected blessing? I hope not, because I sure don’t recall any expected blessings in my life, either.
So I decided to skip the adjective unexpected and concentrate on the word blessings. That opened a whole different path. I started counting my blessings: a wonderful husband, great kids, amazing friends, a passion for writing, and the chance to indulge in it even if I’m hardly making any money with it.
Then I began thinking about all those little moments in time, those tiny blessings in disguise, that make you lift your head up and say “Thank You, Lord”, like…
The day my daughter came home and showed me her beautiful engagement ring, the stars in her eyes shined brighter than all the diamonds in the world. The love and happiness of a child is a mother’s dearest blessing.
An evening, I told a long time friend that I needed a special dress for a blessed occasion, she knew right away that one of my kids was getting married and she asked “Which One?” When I told her it was my youngest daughter, she blurted out, “Can’t be. She’s the baby on my fridge with the cute pink bonnet.” A friendship that survives a lifetime is a special blessing.
Any cold winter days when the temperature drops below -40F, I stay in my warm nightie and spend the day reading or writing by the fireplace. Peace and serenity are blessings I usually find in the dancing flames.
The impromptu phone calls that I receive that often start with “Just wanted to know how you were doing” and the surprised emails that brighten my day. Many of them come from dear friends whom I’ve never met or met only once or twice in my life, but that I’ve known in my heart forever. A call, a word, an email, a thought, a letter, a prayer…they may all be only speckles in time, but they’re the light shining in a foggy night, the anchor of our soul. To be able to share our dreams and our struggle with someone without fear of ridicule or judgment is a blessing.
One night this summer, I was awoken by a frantic phone call. My teenage son had been attacked at a train station by five thugs. He had fought them off and fled. The thugs had chased him across the neighborhood. Two hours later, my son had managed to lose them and return to his car waiting less than a minute away from the train station. Once safely home, he realized his feet were cut and bleeding. To run faster, he’d lost his sandals and continued bare feet.
You’re probably wondering where is the blessing in there, because it doesn’t sound like something anyone would want their kids to endure. Well, the voice at the end of the line was the blessing. It wasn’t the voice of a policeman or of an emergency doctor, it was the voice of my son telling me that he would be fine. That night, a teenage boy was shaken and big feet were injured, but I still sent a huge Thank You to Heaven that no knives were pulled and no lives were taken.
Life is the greatest blessing of all. Cherish every second of it!
Posted on September 2, 2009 - by Dawn Ford
Men! All of my life I have been surrounded by men. Disgusting habit wheedling, dirty sock wearing, testosterone pumping creatures. I grew up with three older brothers, had more male cousins than female ones and ended up having, yep-you know it… three boys.
I spent most of my pregnancy months in prayer for a daughter. I ignored all the opinions of the ultrasound techs and doctors who all stated, “Congratulations, it’s a boy!” Bah, humbug. It seemed to me that everyone I knew (at least those I cared to count in my mind) could have daughters. My husband’s sister Lori had two, Nichol and Heather, both blue eyed blondes just like I prayed for. I loved my nieces, but surely God wasn’t listening to me.
My husband didn’t want any more children, but seven years after my middle son Dylan was born, I talked John into trying to have that girl. I vowed if God didn’t give me a daughter then, I knew He was telling me no. Colton was born in September of 2000. God succinctly told me no; there was no more denying it.
Back in the fall of 1994 my sister-in-law Lori died in a horrible car accident. She left behind her then 4 and 6 year old daughters with a father who was unable to take care of them. They ended up in the care of his mother and step-father.
Two years after Lori died, my mother-in-law died leaving us to care for John’s disabled father Ronnie. We stayed in close touch with the girls, keeping them for birthdays, holidays and anytime we were able. We maintained a close relationship with them, and between Ronnie and his granddaughters. Then three years ago John’s dad along with his grandmother died, both a day apart. To make matters worse, their grandfather (their father’s step-dad), whom the girls were very close to, died a few months later.
It was a dark time for all of us, but mostly for the girls, whose lives began to unravel. Their grandmother’s health began to decline and the girls began to rebel. We were finally told some of the incidents that were happening and in a swift moment of decision became the guardians of Heather. Having lived on her own and after making many bad choices, Nichol moved in shortly thereafter. The girls had a tough time fitting into my strict/religious household. I didn’t know if they were going to love me or hate me because I stood firm on what I thought was right. I questioned the reasons why I stepped in to take over for a spirited and headstrong 16 year old, and allowed a wild 18 year old to come live with us.
One afternoon Heather asked if she could call me mom. She was so young when her mom and John’s mom died that she didn’t remember them much, and she and her guardian grandmother had never really seen eye to eye. She told me she knew I was doing what I thought was right for her, even though she fought it. I was the closest thing she would come to having a real mother. I cried.
Now every mother’s day and on my birthday I can count on Heather to call me, give me a card or take me out. She still calls me mom. I do many mother-daughter things with both her and Nichol and am a surrogate grandmother to Nichol’s children Ryan and Olivia.
I know it’s not what I asked for, but it’s what He gave me. It is more precious than gold. My unexpected blessing. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Posted on September 1, 2009 - by Shannon Vannatter
When I was fifteen, my father, a school board member, received a call from a desperate mother. Her son had gotten into trouble and quit school. Now, he wanted to come back and finish. This dropout, two years my senior, would be in my class. Drifting off to sleep that night, I wondered what he would be like.
The next day, I saw him and he was beautiful. Most guys are handsome, this guy was more than that. All of the boys at my school wore buzz or bowl cuts. Neither was popular back then. This boy had black, naturally wavy hair to his shoulders, and the greenest eyes I’d ever seen. I decided on the spot, though quite shallowly based on looks alone, to marry him. Several other girls made the same vow and he was soon the most popular guy in school.
As the months passed, the new guy finally noticed me and we began going together. We didn’t go anywhere together, since I couldn’t date until I turned sixteen. As my birthday neared, rumors began to circulate that my boyfriend drank heavily and smoked pot. Raised in church, I never tasted alcohol or tried smoking cigarettes, much less marijuana. Of course, when asked about such things, my guy denied the rumors. I refused to believe the gossip and gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Finally, after months of waiting, my birthday came and my parents allowed me to date. The rumors continued and a strange aroma surrounded me whenever my guy was near. When I mustered the courage to ask about it, he told me the kid sitting behind us in class smoked a joint that morning.
I think I knew, but didn’t want to know. As the school year came to a close, the truth could no longer be denied. We hashed it out, no pun intended. Given an ultimatum, drugs and alcohol or me, he didn’t pick me. I spent the summer in tears and prayerfully placed the relationship in God’s hands.
The week before school started again, my ex-boyfriend came to my house. Claiming to have quit drinking and drugs, he could no longer live without me. Though cautious, I could soon tell the difference in him. Once back together, he even started attending church with me. We dated throughout high school and graduated together.
Fast-forward. My husband and I entered into parenthood later than most couples. After sixteen years of marriage, our lives changed for the better with the birth of our son.
Shortly afterward, I began attending monthly writer’s group meetings. As a stay-at-home-mom, the excursions served as my Mom’s night out. While I learned to write, my guys hung out at a local bookstore and Wal-Mart.
On a typical night, they dropped me off, then went to eat supper at their favorite restaurant before visiting their regular haunts. As usual, my meeting ran late. By the time I strolled across the parking lot, they’d been waiting thirty minutes. Once in the truck, hubby told me of his evening. At the restaurant, secured in the highchair, our little guy threw up. Not just a little, but apparently everything he’d eaten, all day long.
My husband wiped our son down, detected no fever, and ordered their food. Both ate, then raided our emergency clothing stash, and went on their way. Though he’s always a very hands-on father, I would have expected him to grab our child, pick me up early, and head home. I would have.
That night, thoughts of my high school boyfriend made me wonder if he would have coped so well with the events of the evening. You see, that long ago pothead and my incredible husband are one and the same.
During the intervening years, he recommitted his life to Jesus. That pothead I dated all those years ago is now a Baptist pastor. Though, he still has the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen, his hair is buzzed and thinning. He wears it well. In fact, he’s even more beautiful to me now. Not only does the heart of a father beat within him, but the heart of a man of God.