Thursday, February 01, 2018

And the word for this year is ... JOY!

2017 was hard for a lot of people. Natural disasters, perplexing politics, personal family drama in buckets.

The year started difficult, with a marrow-deep weariness I couldn't shake no matter the prayers I prayed, or Scripture I read, or worship I entered into. But--through all, I knew God was there. In so many little ways He'd make His presence known, and in retrospect, He really was enough.

But it was hard.

Didn't help that North Dakota winters are long and cold, and this one seemed particularly rough. I had to keep reminding myself in February that spring was coming. Eventually. No matter how far away it seemed.

My writing went through a similar winter. Unlike natural seasons, though, I had no reassurance that spring would ever come, and my fervent prayers for clear direction on whether or not I was to continue writing for publication met with answers having to do with trusting God no matter the circumstances, and learning to put my hope truly in Him and not in that thing I thought I wanted, however good and noble it might be.

In February, the daughter of our former pastor gave birth to her first full-term baby after three successive losses, under near miraculous circumstances. Many of us would say no "near" about it, given the threatened miscarriages, bed rest, and other trials Laura had to endure. But not long after that baby's birth, during a particularly intensive time of prayer, I sensed God pointing to Laura and saying, Look! Laura is holding in her arms this baby that she carried to term when nobody believed she would. If I can do this, I can do anything. Anything.

And so, that became my reminder. Instead of begging God to do something, I thanked Him for being the God of the impossible. Couldn't help contemplating all the ways that this truth could work itself out in our family, but came to a place where I knew, even if I never published another story, I would be okay. I'd have to be okay, if that were the Lord's will. And honestly, with all that was going on, I was more than willing to lay down my own dreams if it meant God would bring a needed breakthrough in the lives of my children.

Not that a parent necessarily needs to do that to see God work, but what parent's life isn't more or less about sacrifice, right? And I was just ... so ... weary.

Fast-forward to early May, after the wedding of my third-oldest in March, where I got to hold Zion, that little miracle of Laura's, and late in our North Dakota spring. (Full summer doesn't really arrive here until late May or early June. But we have such exquisitely beautiful summers, it's totally worth it to me!) An email came from one of my dear friends and critique partners, letting me know she'd recommended me for something to our editor. Ha, I thought, down deep in my skeptical self. Why would that matter? We had a proposal we'd sent to this editor nearly a year before and she hadn't responded, so it was obvious she wasn't interested in the era I write ... :-)

Less than 15 minutes later, I got an email from that editor. While in Walmart with my daughters.

I skimmed through the email--an invitation to submit a proposal for a new project this editor was putting together--and the first thing, honestly, that my brain snagged on was the fact that someone else had "my" era. And the entire time we walked around the store, I wrestled and wrangled with the Lord over that, until finally I had to just say, OKAY, Lord! Help me to be willing! Help me to surrender to whatever it is You want of me here.

Then I tucked the matter aside (as much as I'm capable of, LOL) and finished shopping.

After dropping the girls off where they were going, I went by the church to use the internet and work on a few things, but after parking out front, pulled out my phone and read through the editor's email again. Thoroughly this time. Somehow it had escaped my notice that this was not for a novella collection (as I'd first presumed), but a series of full-length novels, all standalones but connected by family to the couple in the first book, to be released February 1, 2018. Yes, that's today.) And, the editor suggested a few titles/concepts but said I was free to come up with something else. One in particular snagged my attention, The Cumberland Bride, and my brain was already whirring away ...

Would you like to submit a proposal for this series? the editor asked.

Would I?

Still inside my vehicle, my music was still playing. I'm holding on to hope, I'm holding onto grace ... fully letting go, I'm surrendered to Your ways. The anchor for my soul, Father, You will never change! I love You, I love You ...

And I went facedown, right there in my seat, broken wide open as the sobbing took me. Realizing this was a door God had opened--that only He could have opened--and if He wanted me to walk through it, He'd give me the story. Help me find the research. Give me word count.

There was more He whispered to my aching, weary heart that seems too intimate to put here. But I tell you--this happened on a Wednesday, and by the weekend, I had a story idea. Within two weeks had a synopsis and first chapter written. Sent it off to the editor then didn't hear a thing until July, though my friend assured me this was a pretty sure thing and I needed to be writing already. But--oh! that wasn't the only surprise God had for me that day. That novella collection proposal we'd submitted to her the summer before? We got word late that afternoon that the editor was offering us a contract! So I had to get that one written, first.

In early July, then, while my husband and I were off on a getaway to northern Minnesota for our 30th anniversary, the editor contacted me again to let me know she was confident she could get the story through the publishing board, and would I fill out this cover background sheet?

The contract came and was finalized in August, about the time finished up the novella. I started in working--a handful of author friends referred me to some wonderful resources--but the going was oh-so-slow. So much "real life" going on ... church obligations, homeschooling my three youngest (now all teens), taking the soon-to-be-20-year-old daughter to Bible school in Minneapolis, meeting a grandbaby for the first time. God kept reminding me that if He opened this door for me, He wouldn't abandon me in walking through it ... and that if He could speak the universe into existence, it was a very small thing for Him to help me with word count!

Here I am, the evening of my deadline. I finished the book, had enough time for a couple of people to read and critique, and with historical notes and all, got it all turned in two nights ago. TWO. Y'all. God really can do the impossible!

So, something He told me last summer ... you know how people often pray and seek a "word" for the year, something that will provide them a focus or illumination or whatever for the coming months? Mine usually comes in September, around the time of Rosh Ha'Shanah, or the Jewish New Year. Well, this time, He told me a few months in advance that although my word for last year was humility, my word for the coming year would be ... joy.

JOY. And I tell you, it has been.

Also, those areas of my children's lives where I was pleading for His intervention? Some breakthrough is happening there, too. Details on those later, but for now ... take a look at these beauties, and rejoice with me!

The Backcountry Brides Collection, including my novella, The Counterfeit Tory, releasing May 1, 2018!

The Cumberland Bride, Book #5 in Daughters of the Mayflower, releasing October 1, 2018!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

On Christmas, a new year, and turning 50 ...

Some of us tend to be more, shall we say, passionate about God, and our faith, than others. Not that I think I'm anything special ... this is more from the perspective of, he who is forgiven much, loves much.

But shoot, we’re more intense about everything. Which is not only exhausting for those around us, but for ourselves as well.

Couple that with an upbringing where I learned to question and second-guess every thought and feeling, and it’s pretty much added up to a lifetime of not being sure I ever said or did the right thing, or knew whether my own opinions have any validity.

And then, the day after New Year’s, my mom passed peacefully to Heaven during her afternoon nap, leaving me without the one person whose love and prayers were a constant.

It promised to be kind of a weird year, anyway. Aging had never particularly bothered me—at 30 I felt a kind of relief at leaving the 20’s behind, and 40 didn’t faze me, either—but for some reason I’ve had a hard time with the idea of turning 50. Part of it was watching my mom’s health deteriorate so much the last few years, and finding I wasn’t as strong physically as I wanted to be, to care for her, but on my 49th birthday I was having a serious pity party, until God pointed out to me that my life really wasn’t over yet, and even suggested that the year between 49 and 50 would be my “jubilee” year. For those not familiar with Old Testament law, that was the year according to Hebrew reckoning where God commanded the freeing of slaves, the forgiveness of debts, the returning of lost property to its rightful owner—a general renewal and resetting of society. Somehow, thinking of the coming year in those terms really helped my perspective, and I was able to look forward with an attitude of expectation and not dread.

And then ... Mom’s passing.

I miss her terribly. I miss her constant prayer cover. And for weeks I struggled with wondering how many “good” years I had left, given that my own body seems to be failing as hers did. (Diabetes is a terrible thing, and one’s body doesn’t always do as well on the medications as the pharmaceutical commercials lead you to believe.)

But the Lord is gracious not to leave us in a place of crisis. As I slowly grappled with the loss I thought myself prepared for but discovered I wasn’t, and all the implications of now being for all intents and purposes the family matriarch, God met me—and fed me—in a thousand different ways. I’m still not the intercessory warrior she was, but ... I’m growing. And when my birthday came, He provided such an outpouring of good wishes (thank you, Facebook) and peace, and a reassurance that my journey is by no means done, despite the year’s losses and missed timing and misunderstandings.

But there were also things this year (and last) that the Lord seemed to be unearthing from inside me, shaking off the detritus of years and holding them out for me to face, things I thought I’d well healed from or at least buried deeply enough to not affect me again. Loves and hopes that had died, leaving me with only the whisper that I just wasn’t good enough, would never be good enough, that I would always be too much or too emotional or simply unsuitable in some other way.

I really did not appreciate those ghosts resurfacing.

But again, the Lord didn’t leave me to myself, and His tending culminated in a pair of beautiful Christmas messages, one from Christmas Eve and the other delivered by my own husband the next morning. Both highlighted how amazing it is that God stooped to be born as a human baby, not just for some nebulous “hope” but to live as one of us, to become the once-for-all atonement for the wrong we could never make right, indeed to redeem us and make us His own forever. “And to those who believed on Him, to them He gave the right to be called children of God.” We are heirs to His glory! We have the very right to claim Him as Father—even to address him as “Abba,” a tender and intimate Aramaic term that translates in our language as “Daddy.” And this is a Daddy who’s never distant, who never disappoints, who never allows hurt without purpose ... who’s always so delighted just to have us come lean on His knee and invites us to throw in His lap every little thing that upsets or weighs upon us! Which of our human parents was ever all that for us, without fail? Mine certainly never could be. My own mother tried but was so painfully human, too. I had a natural father who was smothering and predatory by turns, and an adoptive father who was loving but reserved.

I’ve often wondered if those who had close, loving relationships with their earthly parents could really appreciate the magnitude of what our Heavenly Daddy can be to us. I’m sure there’s a dimension of trust they experience that I still struggle with. But this Christmas, and facing a new year full of even more uncertainty than usual, the magnitude of this perfect Daddy love, breaking over my soul and spirit, washing me in glorious peace ... I feel the hurts of the past soothed as never before, as I realize God really has taken me from a terrible past and written me into the most beautiful Cinderella story ever imagined. That by His stripes my wounds truly are healed.

I am a princess on the way to her throne.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

I Will See You Again

When did it get to be September?

This is the month, a year ago, of Mom’s long hospital stay after her big “event” (heart attack, several TIA’s, whatever else they were or weren’t able to ascertain that she’d suffered). A year since I attempted to bring her back and care for her at home again, then gave up ... yes, it still feels like that. A year since the close of that last, precious summer with her, mid-May to late August, and the memory still haunts me of how the exhaustion eroded the edges of my gratitude for that time.

We aren’t supposed to waste time angsting over our failures any more than we should linger over our accomplishments ... “one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” ... but sometimes the guilt and questions and insecurities swamp us.

I am weary with my groaning;
All night I make my bed swim;
I drench my couch with my tears.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
It grows old because of all my enemies.

And the grieving is a palpable, physical thing sometimes.

God never leaves us, I know this. I know. And He doesn’t abandon us to our grief and guilt—but the deliverance isn’t always immediate. In fact, it rarely is. And I find myself thinking about that lately, what it looks like when “My grace is sufficient for you” doesn’t mean deliverance at all (Paul’s thorn in the flesh or the heroes of the faith referred to in Hebrews 11) but instead is the searing core inside that shoves us from one aching, weary step to another on this journey.

The month hasn’t been completely without consolation, though. Another budding branch of the family has come to visit, then sent on their way after a wonderful week. Leaving us with another layer of mourning.

Sometimes I feel like life is nothing but layers of mourning.

And then, today, I was reminded of this verse:

Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.

Just as we look forward to the next time we’ll see our older kids—the occasion of a wedding—there’s another reunion coming, the ultimate in family reunions with all who believe in Christ. The ultimate wedding, when we join our Redeemer and Lord, the One who shed His own blood for us. And then, as I said elsewhere, there will be no more pain, no more misunderstandings, no more worrying about appearance or performance, no more sorrow or separations.

And I, for one, cannot wait.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

On asking why ...

Story, Lord. I don’t get it. Is it really just all about the story?

Here you made me a writer, and I’ve spent years now, studying story. Here I am reading Accelerant, and thinking ... Haegan, poised on the edge of doubt and fear, longing to be released from his own calling ... yet guarded unseen by two Deliverers. Why? Why Haegan? Why don’t the Deliverers just mete out divine judgment, and be done with it? Why the long, terrible, painful journey?

Why my own journey? Why do You choose fallible men to carry Your word and do Your will? Why do You continue to let us slash and hurt each other, disappoint each other, trample Your grace and spurn Your mercy, and yet ... You love us? You choose us and draw us into Your kingdom, to have us do Your work and eventually make something of us?

I don’t get it. What’s the point? Why not torch the word into oblivion? It’s what we deserve.

And later—much later—I’m thinking about the propensity of life to set us up for heartbreak. Is that You? Just as we writers search for the great dramatic irony that fuels our stories, are You also building that into the story that is our lives?

... when I am weak, then I am strong ...

... God’s light shines brightest in the darkness ...

... after death, then resurrection ...

 ... His loss, our gain ...

... humble yourself, and He will exalt you ...

Really, why? What is the point?

And He whispers to me, You don’t need to know that yet. Just trust.

I realize, maybe that IS the point. To trust. To walk. As I’ve said before, not the destination (at least not any that we perceive with our human minds as a destination, here on earth), but the journey.

Every step of the way toward the One who, as He told Abraham, “I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

Because HE is the point. He is our destination.

And I guess that really is all I need in this moment.

Monday, August 01, 2016

On Books: To Review or Not To Review

For anyone who follows me on Goodreads, you may have noticed how terrible I am about updating my reading lists. Several reasons for that. One, my reading habits are often random and sporadic. Two, as someone who's trying to walk a fine line between being honest and yet not putting a stumbling block in front of others, I may not always want to admit what exactly I'm reading ("do you have freedom? good, enjoy it between yourself and God and not before those who would be offended"--a rough paraphrase about "meats offered to idols" issues). Three: I might be reading for contest judging and can't really SAY that.

Of the ones I admit to reading, I review even fewer. Part of that is because I know I'm picky ... I hate hurting people's feelings ... and I'm blessed with SO MANY writing friends that I can't possibly read everyone's stories, much less be perfectly objective about the writing. I did recently offer to read and review a novella written by a fellow Colonial Quills author, Tamera Kraft. It was a very good story, lingered with me long after I finished it, and yet I only gave it 4 stars.


For starters, Goodreads has a slightly different rating style than, say, Amazon. 4 stars according to Goodreads is "I really liked it" while 5 is "it was amazing!" I rarely give books a 5-star rating anymore unless I'm just head-over-heels in love with it ... but I've read a lot of perfectly good stories, perfectly enjoyable ones, that might not peg the "amazing" in me because of some nitpick or another. So they get 4 stars.

I'm a writer too, for crying out loud. And studying the craft tends to bring out the nasty internal editor. It's been a hard fight to regain the love of reading for its own sake.

Also, I'm picky. Did I mention that I'm picky? :)

This year, because of the prodigious (for me) number of books I've read already (many of them contest reads), I decided to keep track. As of last night I've read a total of at least 65 novels and novellas, just this year. If that seems excessive, I assure you my husband and children read a lot faster than I do! I won't tell you everything I read but I might, just for fun, tell you about some new favorite authors, and what I like about what they do.

In the meantime, if I've reviewed your work in the past, or if I happen to offer a review in the future, please try not to be disappointed if I "only" give you 4 starts. Because after all, 3 stars on Amazon might translate as a "meh," but Goodreads says it's "I liked it." :) But if I feel like I can't give you at least 4 stars, I probably won't write a review.


Resurrection of HopeResurrection of Hope by Tamera Lynn Kraft
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A young woman still grieving the loss of her fiancĂ©, a young man determined to take care of her as penance for that loss ... he knows he’s no substitute for his friend, who died in the Great War, but he’s loved her forever.

One problem, though ... he can’t risk telling her how he really feels.

The opening scene of this story sucked me right in. The rest is a little slower, a little less emotionally gripping, but this is a very sweet story. I could feel the ache and weariness of Vivian’s grief, of her struggle for Henry’s attention and approval. Though painful at times, the emotional and spiritual journey of both characters is brought to a beautiful and satisfying conclusion.

I was given a copy of this book by the author for an honest review.

View all my reviews