Wednesday, December 24, 2014

This Is Christmas . . .

I often tell people the story behind the My Christmas List dedication to Frederick because it was such a shift in perspective for me. 

While we were working on his memoir a few Christmases ago, I asked him, "What's on your Christmas list?" He didn't seem to understand. I explained, "You know, what are you asking to get for Christmas?"

"Oh." Pause. Laughter (as he does when he's a little uncomfortable). "I don't get anything for Christmas. I buy rice and beans for the people on the streets."

"Oh." And that's when my perspective changed.

Fast forward to today, Christmas Eve (not-so-coincidentally), when I received photos of Christmas in Rwanda. While Frederick was here, we sold a lot of the crafts made by the people at the UCC. "Every penny," I promised the enthusiastic buyers, "will go back to the people of Rwanda." Some of the money goes back into buying craft supplies, some goes directly to the crafters, and some goes to support the UCC. We also had some donations to add to the craft sales, to be used wherever Frederick and Zacharie saw the most need.

So this week, Frederick and Zacharie used that money to buy food and supplies for the families in their home visit program. 

And here's what Christmas looks like: 

But that's not all. 

When Frederick and I visited Mrs. Mears's girls Bible class at Middle Tennessee Christian School, the girls wanted to know how they could help. And when they heard that some of the people in the home visit program were bedridden and spent most of their time on a dirt floor, they put the Sweet Dreams program into action. For about $25 each, they could purchase a mattress for one of these people in Rwanda. 

And just in time for Christmas, thanks to some selfless teenage girls in the United States, some precious people in Rwanda will be having those Sweet Dreams.

So this Christmas, please remember, if you have food to eat and a mattress to sleep on, you've already had your Christmas. Everything else is just icing on the sugar cookie.

Friday, December 19, 2014

How to Love a Sinner: A Christmas Story

Christmas 1995
We hear a lot about hating the sin and loving the sinner these days. And I sort of agree with the notion—as long as we're really clear about how to love that sinner.

Of course, the Bible tells us who the sinners are. For easy reference, here's a list from Romans 3:23: 

  • "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (NIV). 
So if you happen to know anyone on that list, maybe you can relateand learn how to love a sinner.

I was a divorced nineteen-year-old. Single mom to a toddler. And it was Christmastime. I had obviously broken a commandment or two in the past couple of years, and let's just say I wasn't feeling like Mom of the Year. God was already preparing to send me the man who would complete our little family, but I didn't know that. And I was feeling quite lonely. 

Don't get me wrong: that toddler was my joy. But sometimes being with people who speak in complete sentences is a plus, especially on a too-quiet Christmas morning.

I don't remember how it came about. I don't even remember if they brought gifts. But I do know this: early on Christmas Day, my grandparents showed up just in time to celebrate the joy of the morning with my little boy and me. 

It wasn't the first time my grandparents had shown me how to love a sinner. And it certainly wouldn't be the last. But that one act spoke volumes—not so much because they were my grandparents, but because they were leaders of the church, a pastor and the pianist. 

If a couple so steeped in God's Word and worship, these leaders of His church, could love me, then maybe so could I.

Loving a sinner isn't only an “I'll pray for you” kind of love or even a drop-some-quarters-in-the-red-bucket love. It's love that shows up at a teenage mom's house with breakfast on Christmas morning. It's a love that leaves His throne in heaven for an animal trough on earth. It's a tell-the-people-how-much-God-loves-them-until-they-kill-You-for-it kind of love.

It's messy. It's scary. And it's beautiful.

That's the love of Christmas. 

And that's how you love a sinner.

Friday, December 12, 2014

My Morning Trifecta

the morning trifecta
In a series of coincidences (God's way of helping a girl out), I've built a morning routine that starts my days with peace and hope and God-given guidance. For the past five years, I've begun (almost) every day with a little time with God, and my life will never be the same.

What started as a simple reading of the Bible each day has grown into a routine of reading, prayer, devotional, and reflection. For me, it is the perfect combination. So, if you're thinking about starting a quiet time or if you're looking for a change to your own, here is what has worked wonders for me.

When I sit down to spend time with God, this is my routine: 

My daddy gave me
this KJV in 1991.
I'm reading it now.
1. Reading the Bible. I've read a different version of the Bible every year. I love The Message. As a "thought for thought" translation, the translators are allowed a little more license in the language. The result is a passionate rendering of God's story and love for us. If you're wanting more of a word-for-word translation, the NASB is a good place to start. Or just grab whatever Bible you have on your shelf. It doesn't matter--the message is all the same. Whatever Bible you will read is the best Bible for you.

There are also a variety of formats available: audio versions to listen to in your car or while you exercise, an app that will remind you to read AND make it easy to share your favorite verses on social media, and of course, there's always the good ol' paper version. You can even have Johnny Cash read the New Testament to you! (No joke. Look.

2. Prayer. Whether you use fancy-schmancy words that you memorized as a child or eke out indecipherable whimperings, He hears your heart all the same. That's the magic of it. Just show up. He's already there. He already knows. He just wants you to know that. And knowing makes all the difference.

My mom gave me a daily planner (that I thought I'd never use--that I use every day) with a section for prayer requests. I date the request, write the request, and before I know it, I'm filling in the "Date Answered" column. Talk about a faith-builder. This is one tool that will do it.

3. Devotional. Browse the devotional section, and find one that speaks to you. Jesus Calling is wonderful. So is the one I'm currently reading, The Listening Heart. (I talk more about it here.) Both of these devotionals really allow you to hear God's voice speaking into your heart. They remind you of God's everlasting, grace-soaked love for us. Even if you aren't able to hear His response to your prayers, a devotional reminds you that He's there, He's listening, and He truly cares about your life.

Any guesses as to what "socks" means?
4. Reflection. The reason I thought I'd never use that daily planner is because my calendars are all electronic. I loved that this planner had a prayer journal section and even a Bible plan to follow--not to mention the embossed pink paisley. But what would I do with all of that blank space for each day? 

Well, I'll tell ya: I made a DID list. I got tired of feeling like I'd gone in circles all day, creating nothing but dizziness, so I decided to record whatever I had accomplished (however off-task it may have been). 

It became part of my quiet time, reflecting on the day before to see what I had done, reminding me of what still needed to be done, and letting me know what all I can do in a day. Plus, it's a pretty cool record to look back on, no?

Sounds like a lot, huh? Believe it or not, I'm usually done in thirty minutes--depending on how abundant the prayers are that day. And the results last me all. day. long. 

Actually, longer. I grow as a person--as a mom, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a Christian--every time I sit down and look at my life through the timeless lens of God's eyes. I'll never know how much it has changed me, how much it has steered my career, how much peace it has brought to my life. I only know that it has. 

So whatever your process, set aside some time today and spend it with God. He knows you better than anyone ever could. Isn't it time we get to know Him?

What do you do to spend time with God? How has it helped?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Seeing the Future

"I have a phone call at 3:30," I said.

"How do you know?" quipped my child. "Can you see the future?"


"Who am I going to be married to?" He wants proof.

I laughed. 

And then it hit me.

When you plan, sometimes, you can see the future.

I'm a go-with-the-flow girl. God's timing. God's provision. Divine intervention.

But there's also the verse that says, "The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty" (Proverbs 21:5 NIV).

Yeah. So as much as it goes against the grain of my free spirit, planning is a good thing. 

There's also the saying, "If you expect nothing, you'll get it every time."

Expect the best. Plan the future. Set a goal, then draw a map to it. 

Absolutely, you should consult God. And don't be surprised if you've misunderstood His counseling or if He throws your plans in the air just to remind you that He's in charge.

But when you do a little planning (I'm telling myself), you'll be surprised at how often you'll be able to see the future.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

* FREE: Signed Bookplates! *

In the spirit of Christmas and Small Business Saturday, I'm sending out signed bookplates for any of my books that you're giving away (or keeping!) this Christmas season.

For Frederick: A Story of Boundless Hope, I'm sending bookplates signed by Frederick as well!

The Christmas books (My Christmas List and A Christmas Prayer) have lovely Christmas-themed bookplates. And if you're shopping ahead, the plain white oval looks like a little Easter egg added to the page of An Easter Prayer. Whichever book you choose, I'll create a coordinating bookplate and send it straight to your door. 

Want one? Just email the details (which book you've purchased and the mailing address), and I'll send the bookplates out right away!

Hope you have a happy Christmas season!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Does Your Button Say?

We're all guilty.

Of that quest for perfection, of the nag you feel each time you pass the laundry hamper. That inner chastising (or outer cursing) when dinner burns. Or the red pen that stabs your heart with each mark on the manuscript. (It's a DRAFT, for goodness sake!)

But this week, I was given the benefit of a little perspective when I slugged pre-coffee into my son's school to fulfill yet another (over)commitment. I was making buttons for the upcoming award ceremony. The students had written on, colored, and cut out a paper circle celebrating their accomplishments for the quarter, and I was sticking them in a button machine, turning them into a little award (and cringing each time they didn't come out perfectly straight).

Then I started reading the buttons:

  • "Made the musical!"
  • "Got a B on my math test!!!"
  • "Improved my reading speed!"

What?! No straight As or perfect attendance or error-free manuscripts? 

Nope. These elementary school kids (and this school) get it. They know that progress, true progress, isn't a flawless report card or a perfectly cooked meal. It's improvement over time. It's being your personal best. It's just sliding in the right direction on the spectrum of lifewhatever that may look like for you. 

And we don't celebrate it enough.

Well, that ends here. Right now, I want you to make your button. 


  1. Get out a piece of paper. 
  2. Draw a circle.
  3. Write SOMETHING to celebrate. ("I drew a great circle.")
  4. Color it.
  5. Cut it out. 
  6. Hang it up. Or if you're really brave: pin it on your shirt.
  7. Let people ask about it, and explain. ("I'm awesome" will suffice.)
  8. Do it all again tomorrow.
There's nothing really wrong with striving for perfection. But don't let the quest drown you in guilt. Don't let the setbacks knock you down. Take time to celebrate each step forward. 

And hey, be sure to occasionally pin a button on someone else. Because, really, by the time we've reached perfection, it'll be too late to make our difference here on earth.

So tell me! What does your button say?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Today Is the Day the Impossible Happens

If you had asked me seven years ago, I would have said, "It's impossible!" that:

  • I would travel the Northeast in a van with Jack Hanna and some very pampered animals to help write his autobiography.
  • Through Jack, I would learn about Frederick, a teenage boy in Rwanda who chose death over harming complete strangers.
  • Frederick would live through the genocide, having his hands cut off, and a suicide attempt.
  • Frederick, all the way in Gisenyi, Rwanda, would meet Americans who would fly him here to get new "fingers."
  • Charlie Gibson would cover Frederick's story on Primetime.
  • Frederick and his business partner would find the means to build a gorgeous community center, preschool, and primary school to pull "people like me" out of the darkness of society.
  • The community center would revolutionize the way disabled people were treated in that corner of the world.
  • Frederick would embark on a bicycling campaign, through the steep hills of Rwanda and beyond, to show that "disability is not inability."
  • He would answer the phone.
  • He would trust me with his story.
But Luke 1:37 tells me that "nothing will be impossible with God." And I am seeing that truth in all of its glory today. 

Please, take a minute to get to know Frederick. If nothing else, his story will convert you to a believer in the impossible.

If you're in Middle Tennessee, you'll have two opportunities to meet Frederick in person and shake hands with the impossible: 

We'd love to see you there.

He also has an extensive tour scheduled in October throughout Southern California. Comment below for more info.

Friday, September 5, 2014

It's Addicting **Guest post from Laura L. Smith**

Today's post is from my dear friend and fearless writer, Laura Smith. Her fiction is raw, relevant, and real, tackling tough issues for teen and college-age girls. (I talk about why she writes what she writes here.) But more importantly, she is a wise counselor, an unconditional friend, a faithful cheerleader, and the sweetest soul. Get to know her; you'll be the better for it. OH, and as a bonus, if you comment below, you'll be entered to win a signed copy of It's Addicting for yourself or someone you love.

What are your little addictions?

Mine include:
  • Starbucks
  • Music
  • Nail polish (no chips please, different colors on toes and fingers)
  • Exercise (I don’t care with who, or what or when, but I crave it.)
  • My phone

Maybe yours are: 
  • Nachos
  • Getting all As
  • Your job
  • A sport/instrument/club/activity
  • Instagram
  • Your bestie
  • A TV show
  • A relationship
  •  Chocolate

Our lists could go on and on with the fun little interests, innocent cravings, and even important responsibilities and relationships we’re “addicted” to. But how do you know when a passion or interest becomes an “addiction”? When do these things that fill our minds and hours become modern-day idols?

When we over-desire them.

See, it’s not wanting them that’s the problem. God created coffee beans and cocoa beans and the guy you have a crush on (yup, husbands count too). He created your brain and your body and wants you to use them to glorify Him. 

But when our little addictions create tension with our family, our wallet, our values, our faith, when our innocent little craving becomes more important than God, when we OVER-DESIRE it, we’ve got a problem.

How so?

I often plot out my morning to include a stop by my local Starbucks. I love my coffee. I get excited every morning when the aromatic smell wafts towards my nose, when the bold, rich flavor hits my tongue. And this is okay. God wants us to have pleasure, to enjoy this world and this life. He gave me taste buds that are receptive to the flavor of an iced venti with mocha and nonfat milk. But when I skip my quiet time with Him in the morning to make sure I get a coffee, when I’m late getting my kids to school or I show up late to a meeting, because I “needed” a coffee, this is a problem.

Do you have a friend you adore? Someone who makes you laugh and truly gets you? It’s great to spend time with them, to text them throughout the day about funny things, things you’re stressed about, or to plan weekend adventures together. But when you lie to someone who’s close to you so that you can go somewhere with that friend or to cover up for that friend, there’s a problem.

See the pattern?

So how do we rein in our addictions? How do we keep our pleasant little everyday desires from becoming something we obsess over?

First, we can ask ourselves if we are seeking affirmation from these things we adore. Because we do sometimes, don’t we? We seek affirmation from the coolest nail art to the fastest time on the 10K to the most followers on Twitter. We do. 

But our entire identity, all of our affirmation, should come from Christ who created us.

That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
Gal 5:26MSG

Once we wrap our arms around this truth, we need to turn it over to Him in prayer.

When I have a morning where my Starbucks craving will stretch my wallet, make me late, or cause unnecessary stress, I can say, “Jesus, You are the only thing that truly satisfies me. Please let me drink You in this day, and feel You working in and through me. Let me taste Your goodness. Amen.” And then I can brew myself a cup in my Keurig and be thankful.

When your friend wants you to do something that compromises your values--whether that’s gossiping or drinking or blowing off an assignment--and you’re craving their acceptance, pray something like this, “Please Jesus, I long for companionship, for love. I know that You are my constant companion, that You love me always. Please remind me of that love. Please fill me up with it. Let me realize it is better and fuller and more satisfying than any earthly relationship.”

And then turn to the ultimate truth of your Bible (better yet, memorize a few verses) that will remind you of these things: that Jesus is enough, that in fact He’s everything we need. That we should crave Him, long for Him, seek Him and seek to please Him, and we will be valued and loved and treasured.

Here are some that help me:
  • For you formed my inward parts; 
you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:13-14 ESV) 
  • God not only loves you very much but also has put His hand on you for something special. (1 Thessalonians 1:4 MSG
  • It matters very little to me what you think of me, even less where I rank in popular opinion. I don’t even rank myself. Comparisons in these matters are pointless. (1 Corinthians 4:3 MSG)
  • For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 ESV)

But sometimes it's more helpful to see these principles in action. Kat, Claire, Hannah, and Palmer--the characters you'll meet in my new novel, It’s Addicting--encounter their own types of addictions, fun little things that seem innocent enough. And I hope that as you read about them, you'll learn, as they do, how to overcome your over-desires by putting some of these principles to work.  

How about you? What innocent cravings sometimes take over your life?

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. :)