Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Little Game of Tag

A journal from my mom. So true.
A few weeks ago, my dear friend and fellow writer, Laura Smith, asked me to be a part of a game of tag—a writerly game of tag. (But wait!! It’ll be fun! Really!*)

Laura has authored six books (and counting!) that deal with real teen issues: divorce, date rape, eating disorders, death. She could write about anything, really--fiction with a deeply carved niche, a genre with a popular following--but instead she chooses this genre of Christian-rooted, college-age fiction that, much like the girls she writes about, struggles to find its place. Why? Because she knows that this is what she is called to write. And so she writes, regardless of what rejection letters or royalty reports say. It's just one of the many reasons I admire her so much. She lives the words of James 2:1 (a verse she shared with me when I needed it most): "My dear friends, don't let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith" (MSG). But maybe this post, from Laura herself, says it best. 

Laura was “it” last week, and she talked about what writers do in the summertime. (The secret’s out: we play!) And then she tagged me. So, here's my backyard, summertime sprint through some questions, before I tag a few other authors whom you'll definitely want to hear from.

Onyamark! Get set! GO!

What are you working on now?
Breathing. (Seriously.) This has been a whirlwind year--and we're only halfway through! I’ve finished writing and co-writing four books (Frederick, Fireproof Your Life for Teens, another teen book, and a Bible storybook), wrapped up four big editing projects, saw Frederick through to printing, wrote oodles of DVD copy, started a little writing and brainstorming with my amazing church, and lots of other odds and ends. 

And, now--ahh--I'm breathing. I'm soaking up some summer fun with my boys and letting my brain refuel for the scariest and funnest part of this job: dreaming up new ideas. I'm currently dipping into my ideas folder, pulling out my favorites that have been oh-so-patiently waiting, and shaping them into full-fledged proposals for my oh-so-patient agent to pitch. So, pray for me. Pray that I spend my time on what matters, in a way that would bring James 2:1 to life.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Ha! It's probably the simple fact that I don't stick to a genre! I've written everything from simple rhymes for toddlers to heartrending adult nonfiction from the other side of the world. I've been told that a "successful" author would stick to her genre, but I didn't listen. (See James 2:1. :) Which brings me to the next question . . . 

Why do you write what you do?
I write what I do because I'm moved to, inspired to, nagged to until I can no longer ignore the beautiful nagging. I write because I want everyone from toddlers to teens to adults to know the overwhelming love of God and the hope that it brings. I want every single person on the planet to see the beauty right here among us. I want to love on this big world. And I've found that, for me, right now, putting words on paper is the best way to do that.

How does your writing process work?
Process? There's a process?!

Sometimes I get an idea (more accurately, an idea is given to me), then there's a lot of watching the trees sway and listening to the birds chippering and feeling the wind as it moves across the water. And then, seemingly from out of nowhere, words form into sentences or lines, and a book is born.

But sometimes, as with my most recent project, Frederick, there's an overwhelmingly inspiring idea, research, one crazy meeting, research, a trip across the world, hearts broken and healed, hours and hours of international calls, research, countless emails, photos, and an infinity of BIC (butt-in-chair). And somehow, in the end, when everything seems crazy and chaotic and impossible, all of the leaves of paper float gently down into place, and--just like that--it is finished. (Well, okay, the writing part is finished. Now, on to the publicity!) 

The elusive writing process is different every. single. time. But every single time, it requires work. It requires practice. It requires learning something new and refueling the creative tank. It requires messing up and getting your feelings hurt. But you can never, ever allow your soul to grow timid or your skin to grow tough. Because when you do, you lose the very thing that makes you a writer: the bravery it takes to see and feel the world as it really is.

Next stop on the World Blog Book Tour?

The bad news: This is the last question. The good news? I'm just the opening act! 

Next week, these three writers will give you their take on the writing world: 

  • Alice Sullivan: A hilariously snarky writer friend and editor with a knack for notorious first (and last!) dates. Trust me. Get to know her. (And set her up with your friend, if only for the entertaining story that will result.) Catch her post here next week.

Did I answer your question? What else do you want to know? 

Tag, you're it!

              *Okay, maybe not as fun as running around barefoot in the backyard, but still fun. ;)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Little "I Love Yous"

With just a few days to our loveliest holiday, I wanted to share a few ways to say, "I love you." 

1. Free Valentines: These adorable I Love Yous from Tommy Nelson feature the dog and cat from An "I Love You" Prayer. Just click and print.

2. An "I Love You" Prayer is a red-foil, heart-shaped board book that holds sweet reminders of the many ways that God shows us His love. You can take a peek at it here. And it just so happens to be on sale right now--along with lots of other great I Love Yous

3. If your child is more into e-books, there's a sale on those too! You can snag it here for only $2.99. (That's $3 off the regular e-book price.) 

Valentine's Day is one of tangible I Love Yous--candy and cards and, of course, books! But we all know that the absolute best I Love Yous don't cost a thing: a big hug, a snuggly storytime, or simply saying, "I love you. I really do." 

Happy Valentine's Day to you all. You are loved more than you could ever know. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Learning to Listen

Oh, here is the secret of becoming much like God
by remaining long alone with God.
If you won't stay long with Him, 
you won't be much like Him.

R. A. Torrey "The Power of Prayer"
from January 22, The Listening Heart

On January 1, 2014, I declared my word for the year to be Listen. (It really wasn't that dramatic. I simply wrote it on paper . . . and on my heart.) Then as I was searching for a new devotional for the year, I "just happened" to see that my friend Judy Gordon Morrow had a new release called The Listening Heart

So I listened. I ordered the book immediately.

The book was on backorder at Christian Book, my first stop for Christian books (shameless plug*, but true), so I just received it yesterday. This morning, as I dug in, I was really blown away. 

I was amazed to learn that this book is purely organicmore than that, even. "Every word in this book was penned while on my knees in prayer," Judy tells us in the intro (read it here), and she's not joking.

She goes on to explain that this book was never intended to be a book; it is compiled from her daily prayer journalstwelve years worth condensed into onein which she wrote not only her prayer requests, but God's response to her.

Handwritten, on her knees, in the presence of God.

This is a book I want to read.

As she explains, 
In today's culture God has been so misconstrued, and He entrusts us with the privilege and joy of being His light and love, shining with the truth of who He isthe God who loves beyond measure, forgives beyond reason, and helps beyond imagining. 
This is a God I want to know better. And I can only hear Him when I listen.

You can read a sample of The Listening Heart here and buy it here.

*I'm an Affiliate with Christian Books, meaning that I get a teeny percent if you order a book through a link I post. Since they almost always have the lowest prices on the books I recommend, I call that a win-win. :)

Monday, December 16, 2013


First of all, thank you, thank YOU, THANK YOU for your entries in the My Christmas List contest. You have inspired me, the judges, and my readers with your stories of helping others not only during the Christmas season, but all year long.

Another huge thanks to my panel of judges. We judges--two from B&H, author Laura L. Smith, my intern (also an Amy :), and of course, myself--all had different favorites, but in the end, we only had one $200 LifeWay gift card to give away. 

That gift card and an autographed copy of My Christmas List goes to [drumroll]:
Kevin Butler, for his submission, Keith, the Traveler. Kevin's entry was not only about reaching out to those in need, but it also helped us all to see "need" in a different light. Congratulations, Kevin! 

Coming in a close second and receiving a signed My Christmas List is Janice Pianki, who submitted Following the Call, an entry that tells how missions can work both ways, forever changing the hearts of all involved.

Third--and one of my favorites because I met this little guy's mommy--is Little Hands Make a Big Difference from Austin Richardson. His mommy had me crying right along with her after I spoke to Austin's school that day.

Mandy Mullinix also receives a signed copy of My Christmas List for honoring her son with an entry: Eagle Scout Inspires a Community. Aiden is such a positive role model for teenagers and a source of hope for the rest of us.

And one final signed copy of My Christmas List goes to Diane Stockard for A God-Sent Christmas Miracle. Although Diane's family had lost everything, she poured her heart into Christmas gifts for loved ones. Coincidentally, Diane received a miraculous Christmas surprise herself.

Thank you so much to these and every other submission for telling us what was on your Christmas lists this year. Together, you've inspired us all to think a little beyond ourselves when we pen our lists for Christmases to come.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Changing the World, One Penny at a Time!

This My Christmas List contest entry comes from a growing church in Kentucky that's teaching its kids how to be "change agents" one penny at a time.

At Vanceburg Bethesda we are missions minded, both our little people and the adults. Our little ones participate in BGMC (Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge). BGMC is a program for kids that instills a heart of compassion to reach the lost through praying, giving, and going. All funds raised go to meet critical needs around the world, such as feeding programs, water wells, Bible schools, curriculum, and whatever else missionaries need in their part of the world.

All month long you can find our kids digging in couch cushions, emptying cup holders and car ashtrays of change, even doing chores to collect as much change as they can to fill their Buddy Barrels for BGMC Sunday. This is a picture of our pastor talking with the kids (and a few dads and grandpas to even out the boys' side) about what BGMC is all about. 

Every third Sunday of the month, our kids bring in their Buddy Barrels they've been collecting change in all month and dump all of the change out on the floor. After a short message from our BGMC Coordinator to remind everyone of why we support BGMC, the "change agents" (kids) race to gather it all up, boys vs. girls. 

This was our first year. Last year at this time, our church had 12 people. We now average around 70. We started BGMC with an annual goal of $250. The kids have been collecting and donating about that amount every month since this summer. 

This Sunday, December 15th, if the girls win, our pastor will shave his beard he's been growing for over a year. And if the boys win, the pastor's wife gets a pie in the face. 

So Bethesda kids are learning to be compassionate givers, one penny at a time! 

Love God, Love People!

Thanks to some great leaders, these kids are learning that no matter how little we are or how little we think we have, we can make a BIG difference in this world. Thank you, Vanceburg, Bethesda!

Following the Call

This My Christmas List contest entry comes from Janice, a mother who always wanted her children to follow God's calling. Then, God came knocking at her own door, and her family's life--not to mention the people of Honduras--was forever changed.

As a mother, I have always tried to teach my children to obey God’s calling. Based on this, I was extremely proud when my daughter began going on mission trips to Honduras every summer. However, the tables began to turn when she would ask me to go with her. For a long time, I argued that it was a medical trip and I was not in the medical field; therefore, it must not be my calling. However, one year the team needed a cook. I had cooked for Army soldiers and large church groups for over 20 years. I could go be the team cook, and this changed everything. That year, I submitted to God’s calling and decided to go on the trip. As a result, my husband and son also decided to go with us. It was a whole family adventure and we were forever changed. 

While on the trip, the team served in a remote village by hosting medical and dental clinics, having tent church services and just loving on people in need. Every day, I cooked with no electricity or running water for over 120 people. After serving the first meal to our team members, I was told to fix plates for our guards. These men volunteered to stay up all night every night to watch over us and our supplies in exchange for only a flashlight and meals! At first, we gave them what we had left after each meal, the leftovers. Plates were loaded with simple meals like hamburger and fries, but you cannot imagine their gratitude.  

Later, I went around the corner to throw out some water and saw a guard feeding his entire family of five from the single plate of food he had been given. As the tears rolled down my face, I thought about the love a parent has for their children. I have shared food from my plate with my children many times, but always because they wanted it-- never because they needed it and definitely not because that was all we had. From that point forward, I began fixing the guards huge plates of food first, every meal, not the leftovers. My heart was broken, and I couldn't eat my own food that trip because all I could see were the hungry families everywhere I looked.

Several years later on another trip, I noticed a little boy was at the gate every day eating the food we were serving, but I couldn't figure out how he was getting the food. My daughter is fluent in Spanish, so I had her ask him. He replied, “This is my daddy’s plate. He gives it to me every time.” Needless to say, that guard got two plates every meal. What a sacrifice that daddy made by giving his plate that he worked for to his son, all the while, not knowing if he himself would eat that day.

These fathers gave everything they had, their own food to their children. Yet our Father in Heaven has given us so much more by sacrificing His Son. Honduras has changed mine and my family’s perspective about anything, but more importantly it has changed our hearts. Even in the comforts of the United States, we now give more than we used to, and we cherish our blessings so much more. My son asked me one day, “Mom, why don’t we take family vacations like we used to?  I think we should go to Hawaii.” I explained to him that we couldn't afford both trips, and we would have to give up Honduras. Without hesitation, he said, “Never mind; it’s not worth it.”

We do make sacrifices to go on this trip each year and to give to missions throughout the year, but the blessings we get back far exceed what we give up. This is our offering of ourselves to God, but it is nothing compared to the sacrifice Christ made for us. During the holidays (and all year), we need to remember that baby Jesus in the manger is God the Father’s gift to us, the ultimate sacrifice given in His great love for us, his children.

It is God’s love for us that compels us to love others. As we strive to do this, I am impressed every year at the way God draws others to serve alongside us through BMDMI and the work they are doing in Honduras. My immediate family continues to go to Honduras every year, but now members of our extended family and our church family are also blessed by serving in this way. Baptist Medical and Dental Mission International (BMDMI) is carrying out the great commission and providing a path for normal people, in all different professions to be the hands and feet of Christ. In fact, Amy Parker’s mother is one of the nurses on our trip each summer.

These stories don't even begin to express the depths of how my life and so many other lives have been impacted by this ministry. Serving the people of Honduras has become my passion. It is my heart and my mission field. My Christmas wish is to have more money to help meet basic needs of people in Honduras, like feeding the hungry and providing medicine to the sick, as a means of pointing them towards Christ.   

P.S. Amy Parker’s mother is one of our nurses on this trip. Thank you, Betty, for giving for this trip.

Thank you, Janice (and MOM!), for being the hands and feet of Jesus, not only to the families of Honduras, but to your own family as well.

Eagle Scout Inspires a Community

This entry in the My Christmas List contest comes from Mandy, the mom of a prospective Eagle Scout. For his Eagle Scout project, Aiden's goal was to send thirty care packages to the troops. But his project inspired a community to do so much more.

Aiden brought the Tiger Cubs on board
to make cards for the troops
I want to share briefly what my 15-year-old son did this Christmas. He was collecting items to create 30 care packages for our troops stationed abroad this holiday season. It was a project with a lot of moving parts, and he was responsible for all parts--from the planning, collecting, sorting, packing, and then mailing.

Thanks to many others in the community, he was able to pack 40 care packages for U.S. soldiers stationed all over the world in the military. That was over 472 lbs. of holiday cheer to active duty soldiers.

I'm really proud of him for this. But here’s the biggest thing that made my heart sing. I wanted him to write up a note to put in each box explaining his project. He told me, “Mom, it’s a better blessing to do something nice, but not to get credit for it.”

Aiden with FORTY boxes,
packed and ready to go
Wow! He’s right. Still, I did tell him we needed to share a note so maybe we can hear back from them (and that helps us know they arrived). He did it, but I’m glad his first response was simple humility. 

Aiden's project even made the paper! Read more about it here. Thank you, Aiden, for being a selfless, serving teenager--a species believed to be extinct until now!