Please Welcome Guest Author Irene Hannon…

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Greetings, everyone. And thank you, Mary, for inviting me to be a guest today.

I have to begin this post with a confession.

I didn’t set out to be a writer of Christian fiction. Not because I didn’t want to be part of the genre, but because the genre didn’t exist when I began writing novels. (I’ve been at this a long time!) I simply wanted to write hope-filled stories featuring heroes and heroines with solid values and a strong, traditional moral code—what the mainstream market calls clean books.

Ultimately, after multiple rejections, my books found a home in the genre of Christian fiction, which was in its infancy. And I couldn’t be happier about where I landed. I’m honored to be part of a genre that’s filled with thought-provoking, uplifting and entertaining novels.

Although I began my career writing contemporary romance, today I write in two genres—romantic suspense and contemporary romance/women’s fiction.

So what will you find in my stories? Characters who are dealing with formidable challenges. Diverse settings, from a sun-kissed beach in a seaside Oregon town called Hope Harbor to a deserted railroad bridge high above a raging river. Touches of humor—because how would we survive without the ability to laugh and smile despite the adversities we face? And most of all, hope-filled endings. We live in a difficult age, but people of honor, principle, character and integrity do exist. You’ll meet them in my books. And I hope they’ll convince you that happy endings are possible.

 In terms of style, I compare my romantic suspense novels to Nora Roberts’ books in that genre—but without the profanity and explicit sex. Those who liked Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series should also enjoy my suspense books. In terms of contemporary romance/women’s fiction, fans of Debbie Macomber, Robyn Carr, Susan Wiggs and Becky Wade would find my books appealing.

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My April contemporary romance, Sandpiper Cove, takes place in the charming Oregon seaside town of Hope Harbor and features a police chief and an ex-con who join forces to keep a young man from falling into a life of crime. Sparks fly, but given their backgrounds, it’s not a promising match. However…in Hope Harbor, anything is possible!

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My next suspense novel, Dangerous Illusions, will be out in October. It’s about a police detective investigating a tragic death and a grieving woman with apparent memory lapses who face a deadly foe determined to protect an evil secret at any cost.

I hope you’ll give one—or both—a try!

Irene Hannon

http://www.irenehannon.com

 

 

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High School Faith by Julie Arduini

I confess, I enjoyed school. I liked learning and for the most part, it came easy for me.

If you exclude math and science.

Anyway, I had a photographic memory and when I’d do my homework, I would retain a lot of the information. I’d throw in a few minutes for studying, and I had pretty decent grades. When I went to college, I was warned it would be very challenging. Although I had more papers to write, I enjoyed the reading and did well with the quizzes and tests. Academics were not a huge stretch for me back in the day.

I realized lately I’ve applied my high school work habits to my faith. I’d throw up a prayer or two and consider it good. If I made time for devotions, I skimmed because there was so much I’d already read on that theme, or I knew the verse. Pride snuck in because I am a huge reader and Bible study participant. There hasn’t been a lot of major revelations for me when it came to my reading time.

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High School Faith/pixabay image

I was so off track I was giving myself a little pat on the shoulder for taking the time to try, despite knowing all there was to know.

Groan.

Pride absolutely comes before a fall and I feel what I’m learning lately has me in a spiritual free-fall. I can pray for so many people and situations and believe God, but when my kids are hurting, I’m undone.

And it hit me, my high school approach to faith won’t cut it.

What worked last year isn’t enough anymore. Not even three months ago. Probably not even three days ago. There are so many situations in our home and with people we care about that a little time on my Bible app and a quick “Hey, God, bless her…” prayer isn’t enough.

With that revelation, I’m thirsting after Him. I still do the “quick” verses from my Bible app reading, but I am journaling more. I have a 90 day devotional I am reading from, and I am also taking my time with Anne Graham Lotz The Daniel Prayer. Although my first thought is to think I know the book of Daniel already, I am putting my pride down at the foot of the Cross and I’m ready to learn an additional or new way to approach my heavenly Father.

I also moved my prayer place. I had an office a couple years ago, but my husband now works from home and he truly needs the space. My son is done with his freshman year of college, so he’s home. In a matter of weeks, our middle schooler is done with her school year, and she’ll be home. Having my prayer books and devotionals in the dining room isn’t going to cut it anymore.

I brought my books upstairs to the bedroom and decided as I air dry my hair, I’m going to be reading and praying. By then my husband is already working, so the room is mine. I can hear the birds and feel His presence. And I can go after Him hard.

This is something I just started and I feel different already. My senses are opened and I’m ready to receive. No more high school read and remember approach. I want to take the time. Learn. Change. Grow. Already challenges are hitting that threaten my peace and make me contemplate going back to old ways. But an old “wineskin” can’t keep new wine. I’ve got to press in. Life is too precious and the call on my life to pray and believe God is too important to be mediocre about it.

So, that’s my confession and game plan.

Did you study like I did in high school? Do you struggle with pride when it comes to spending time with God? Share away, I’d love to read your story.

***

Later this month I’m releasing the e-version of ENTRUSTED to newsletter subscribers as I prepare for the third book’s release in June, ENGAGED. If you’d like to receive my monthly-or-so newsletter featuring reader news, encouragement, author updates, giveaways and freebies, subscribe for free at juliearduini.com.

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A Belated Mother’s Day Wish To My Second Mother…

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Yesterday we celebrated our mothers and everything that they do for us. I hope you all got a chance to see your mothers, and if you are a mother, I hope you were appreciated for all the hard you do.

For many of us, Mother’s Day was a bittersweet day. My mom passed away four years ago. I still think of her and all the times she was there for me growing up. I miss her so much.

But there are other women in our lives that touch our heart and become like a mother to us. That was my Aunt Mabel. She passed away almost twenty years ago but I still miss her. She was five foot tall, and as feisty as they get, but she loved God and truly lived a giving life. She didn’t have a lot of money, but what she did have, she gave generously. Whether it was to my sister and I or a total stranger.

Aunt Mabel, I know you are in heaven, probably stirring things up there.

I’m sure everyone has those women in your lives. They may not be related even, but they have touched us greatly and our lives wouldn’t be as rich without them in it.

Whether you’re a mom, stepmom, grandmother, aunt, or friend, chances are you’ve made a difference in someone’s life and you may not even know it. And I wanted to take this time to that you and wish you all a happy and blessed belated mother’s day, and my prayer is that each of you will realize just how important you are to someone.

Happy Belated Mother’s Day…

 

Mary Alford

www.maryalford.net

 

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Mother’s Day

When Mother’s Day approaches, I’m sure many of us recall the sacrifices our mothers made for us and wonder how they survived our “growing up” years. My own mom was a widow at the age of 29, left with three small children—a six-year-old son, a seventeen-month-old daughter and me—I was six weeks old when my father contracted spinal meningitis and died. To this day, I marvel that my mother not only survived that tragic event, but continued to overcome many other obstacles with grace and dignity. I could go on and on about her many good deeds and sacrifices, but suffice it to say that she loved and served the Lord, as well as her family, with an unrelenting fervor. She was quite a lady. The picture of my mom, brother and sister is one of my favorites.

Of course, I couldn’t let Mother’s Day go by without a bit of history about the “mother” of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis of Grafton, West Virginia. Having family who hailed from West Virginia, we frequently traveled Route 119, the road that fronts the Jarvis homestead. My ties to West Virginia run deep enough that I set one of my recent books, The Potter’s Lady, along the banks of the Tygart River in Grafton, West Virginia.

While doing a bit of my research, I discovered some things I didn’t know about Mother’s Day. The following is from history.com and speaks to the forward-thinking ideas of Ann Marie Jarvis, the mother of Anna Jarvis:

The origins of Mother’s Day include Ann Marie Jarvis, the mother of Anna Jarvis. In the years before the Civil War, Ann Marie Jarvis helped start “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to teach local women how to properly care for their children.

Her Mother’s Day Work Clubs raised money for medicine and hired help for moms suffering from tuberculosis.

During the American Civil War, Ann Marie lost four of her children to disease; in total, eight of her 12 offspring died before reaching adulthood. Despite her personal tragedies, Ann Marie never stopped her community service.

These clubs later became a unifying force in a region of the country still divided over the Civil War. In 1868 Jarvis organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” at which mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation.

The official Mother’s Day holiday arose in the 1900s as a result of the efforts of Ann Marie’s daughter, Anna Jarvis. Following her mother’s 1905 death, Anna Jarvis conceived of Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children.

After gaining financial backing from a Philadelphia department store owner named John Wanamaker, in May 1908 she organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia. That same day also saw thousands of people attend a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Philadelphia.

Following the success of her first Mother’s Day, Jarvis—who remained unmarried and childless her whole life—resolved to see her holiday added to the national calendar. Arguing that American holidays were biased toward male achievements, she started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and prominent politicians urging the adoption of a special day honoring motherhood.

By 1912 many states, towns and churches had adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday, and Jarvis had established the Mother’s Day International Association to help promote her cause. Her persistence paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

So, there you have it. A bit of my personal history, and a little history of Mother’s Day. To each of you mothers out there, I hope you have a blessed Mother’s Day.

~Judy

 

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Finding Rest by Tara Randel

I did something a few weeks ago I haven’t done in ages. I took a day off and went to the beach. That’s right. I packed up a chair, sunglasses and a jug of water and hit the sand. And enjoyed every precious moment.

The sad thing is, I live about twenty minutes away from a beautiful beach and I can’t tell you the last time I drove out there. It took a visitor from up north to get me out of my normal schedule and take a day off. Granted, I work from home and set my own hours, but I’ve been writing steadily for the past few years without many breaks. As I sat under a gorgeous blue sky and gazed out over the Gulf, I realized I need more days like this. Downtime is important. Our minds need to rest so our creativity can find room to soar.

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It also occurred to me that I need to appreciate more the picturesque world God has created. I make sure to spend quiet time with God daily, no matter the number of pages I need to write or how many deadlines are approaching. But to visit God while sitting under the sun? Time well spent.

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

I didn’t realize it, but I needed my spiritual strength renewed. I needed to rest in the Almighty.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.  Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:5-8

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Doesn’t this look like a great place to work? Or read? Or daydream?

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands. Psalm 90:17

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Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

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Sometimes we need a reminder to rest in the Lord. Whether it be at the beach, hiking through the mountains, sitting quietly on your back porch, or gazing at your children or grandchildren, there are many ways we find Him. I encourage you to find your special place of rest in the Lord this week. Keep returning there so it doesn’t become a long overdue trip to the beach, but a way of life.

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Tara Randel is an award-winning, USA TODAY bestselling author of fifteen novels. Family values, a bit of mystery and, of course, love and romance, are her favorite themes, because she believes love is the greatest gift of all. Look for her newest Heartwarming release, The Wedding March, available now. Visit Tara at www.tararandel.com. Like her on Facebook at Tara Randel Books

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Test Your Geography Skills

As I mentioned the last time I posted, I’ve been reading about some of the experiences of women around the world. Let me just say it’s reminded me to get down on my knees in gratitude to God for having been born in America! Here, we can open or run businesses, go into politics, science, art, or education by tapping into the gifts we were born with to make this world a better place. Women can truly be just about anything they want to be if their passions and talents are in sync.

The other day I returned to an educational site I’ve visited from time to time, simply because the Middle East is so often in the news. There is unrest in many places, but somehow it seems even more common in this spot. Syria. Iraq. Sudan. Yemen. And of course Israel and the Palestinian Territory.

If you’ve ever wondered where these places are which are mentioned so often in the news, here’s a link to a fun, educational site that can help you sharpen your knowledge of geography. Have you ever wondered why Turkey is having so much trouble with the Syrian crisis? Why there were so many refugees in Lebanon? Where Afghanistan is in relation to Iraq?

The site is called Rethinking Schools, and it’s a map “test” just for fun. I’ve visited this site often to increase my geography skills, but ever since learning about how women are treated in many of these countries, I’ve also begun to pray for each country, and in particular for the women.

 

If you want to test yourself, simply drag the name of the country to the spot on the map where you think that country is and see how many you get right. It’s easy to keep trying until you get them right! Then send up a prayer for the people who suffer there, the birthplace of Christianity.

Please note, the picture below is simply a screenshot and to play the game you must click on this link (also linked above).

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Do You Need a 36-hour Day? by Hannah Alexander

Do you ever feel so rushed that you don’t know if you can get everything done today that MUST absolutely be done? I’ve managed to slow down a little lately, but I’ve been reading posts from friends who have the “but-first” syndrome. And I get it. So does this little stray kitten, Prancy, who had been left outside to wander alone, untouched by a vet, where she became “with child” far too young. Like us, with our avalanche of duties, she wasn’t prepared.

For instance, you’ve got a whole novel to finish by the end of the month, but first you have another rewrite due tomorrow, but first you have to feed and clothe your family, and then the music minister asks you to prepare a song to sing next Sunday morning, and then…well, let me just say I ‘m glad that isn’t the case for me right now because I’d be running through the Nebraska Sand Hills yelling, “Take me away!”

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I know we all realize we take too much on ourselves from time to time–or some of us all the time–and we find our lives a little upside-down, sort of like young Prancy.

The wise people I know are willing to ask for help. I have friends who know to ask online for prayer when they’re struggling. Those who ask already know the prayers will be there for them, and those who receive that request know to pray right then. Those prayers are powerful. I have other friends who have been wise enough to ask for an extension on their manuscripts, or even ask certain friends for help with their manuscripts. Yes, all their other writing friends are usually busy with their own work, but we do get together to brainstorm and help each other out. I find that energizes me.

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Simply allowing others to help carry the load can make all the difference. Sure, as a writer, you still have to write your own story, but friends can help with other things, such as encouraging, working with you, cooking for you or bringing food to the airport when you’re traveling on a tight schedule and won’t have time for dinner. I have a friend who is doing that very soon. How wonderful it is to have friends.

Prancy with Sasha, Ruff, Reddy, and Roamer

In the ongoing saga of the kittens, Prancy and her four kittens nearly died because she was too young to feed them as often as they needed to be fed. We saw her going down far too quickly, the kittens had no milk and were always crying, so I rushed to the local farm store and bought cat milk replacement. I ended up giving that milk to Prancy to drink. She now drinks three bowls every day. Though she’s emaciated, she now has the energy to get out of their playpen and walk around the garage with me, even into the house. The kittens are thriving and are very happy to see us when we visit.

I can’t end without urging you to pay it forward. Taking care of a stray cat in trouble was the right thing for us to do. You might see someone struggling, and yes, a few words of encouragement might be all they need. Prancy needed more. It’s a hardship on us, but it’s also a blessing. You might find that if God points out a struggling person–friend or acquaintance–who is typically a hard-working, strong person, but might be at a standstill for some reason. I have a very dear friend who lost her husband recently. They were married over sixty years. I’m more than a day’s drive away from her and all I can do right now is keep in touch and make sure to encourage and show her my love. I can only pray that someone nearby will pull her out of the house and help her with her grief.

Maybe there’s someone who is a new widower or widow who is suddenly lost without a spouse. You can reach out in a physical way and be there for them. Actually offer to do laundry or help freeze all the food neighbors and friends brought, or just get that friend out of the house for a day so the grief doesn’t become too heavy.

I’ve found that the rewards of paying it forward–even anonymously at times–are great. I’ve been rewarded for the slightest kindness I’ve shown. But I don’t do it for the rewards. They’re just an side-effect.

Here’s hoping God directs you to someone soon who could use your help–or if you’re in need of help, here’s hoping God directs someone to your side to share the burden. It’s all about sharing God’s love.

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Tale of Two Men by Vicki Hinze

Tale of Two Men, Vicki Hinze

 

In the past year, I’ve watched a tale of two men unfold on social media. Actually, it is still unfolding. I won’t get specific because it’s political, and politics is not the focus, or the reason for the close observation.

 

The focus is on the character of two men, and how others react to them. The emotions they evoke, the loyalty they conjure, the inspiration they offer. I wanted to see how bonds form between people who have never met. I’ve spent over a year studying this, because it’s a significant thing in today’s society and that makes it significant to any writer who creates stories that emulate real life.

 

I expected attachments. We get interested and involved, we empathize and care for those with whom we associate and relate. And we form snap and hostile opinions toward those who treat them unfairly. Our initial instinct is to jump in and defend—and many do. But just as many respond with an emoji laughing, weeping, or expressing their agreement or disagreement. Sometimes elegantly, sometimes vulgarly, but nearly always bluntly and with an honesty often tempered when interacting with someone face-to-face.

 

And then there are those who don’t respond, but because you’ve been watching them you can clearly imagine their reaction. They’re smiling like Cheshire cats or rolling their eyes heavenward on the other side of their screens because they know better or because they’re fed up or amused that someone is so far off-base.

 

Doing such research isn’t for the feint of heart or those who require coddling. You see and hear raw emotional reactions, all the things people used to think but never say. There’s something about the anonimity of being behind a screen that emboldens some to just spill every thought that flows through their mind without a hint of internal censor. In that way, it’s uncivilized a lot of the time. But it’s also fascinating to see unfiltered thoughts. Those too are critical for realism in writing.

 

Interestingly, we find the range of emotions and emotional reactions we see in everyday off-line life. Trust, faith, compassion. Betrayal, backstabbing, dishonesty. Social-climbing, spin, lies and everything else in between. We also see great acts of love, small and enormously huge kindnesses. We see a full cross-section of humanity. It’s messy. So are we.

 

The only reason I included all of this in this article is to share an open-eyed assessment of some of my observations. Bottom line: When online, beware. All the good and bad in off-line life exists online also. And online we lack the intuitive responses of body language, tone inflections, and visual hints to guide us to judgments on honesty and deception.

 

That said, I’ve watched some people for a long, long time now, and when you do that, you glean insights into those individuals’ character. Good is still easy to spot—and actions bear it out, confirming goodness. Evil is a bit trickier because ulterior motives are often at work. Like in life, few are pure evil, but if they are, they are easy to spot (and to stay away from). Actions speak most loudly, so watch and see how people treat others. How they respond to others. And that brings me to my tale of two men…

 

These men, A and B, are competitors. One, A, risked everything to start an online business and is moderately successful but struggling. B chose another path and revealed hints of nefarious practices and an absence of character. But only hints.

 

Both men have loyal followings, supporters who stand with them, and, staunchly defend when criticism arises—and it often does. That’s normal for online, where emotions are heated and typically raw.

 

In glimpses, we see A speak frankly about his struggles. Not in a ‘poor me’ kind of way, but in a ‘these are the facts and they’re often not pretty but they are real’ kind of way. In B we get more of the ‘poor me’ glimpses, and diversionary tactics employed to change the subject when the heat gets too hot.

 

Observers don’t miss the glimpses and they call the men out. A defends his positions and actions. B can’t.

 

Some would simplify this tale as a classic battle of good versus evil. That wouldn’t be an inaccurate assessment. And yet we see A, who struggles to get things right, to hold back what does or could do harm, often get the proverbial short end of the stick while B, who simply doesn’t act responsibly, seems to flourish.

 

Isn’t that the way of it? Good suffers and evil flourishes?

 

In life, the watchers tend to avoid those behaving irresponsibly. We recognize truth-tellers and gravitate to them and away from the opportunists with ulterior motives. So sometimes we see the fallout created and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we see the reckoning.

 

Online, it’s more difficult to determine truth-tellers. Some who are not truth-tellers are very good at deception. But eventually they out themselves and then there is a reckoning. Observing, we see it unfold. The deceptive tapestry woven begins to unravel and gaping holes appear. In those holes, the truth is exposed.

 

When that reckoning comes, an explosion of emotion in others comes with it. A is vindicated. Those loyal followers are vindicated to themselves and others—truth has verified their faith in this human being was and is just. B is exposed, disgraced, and despised by those who always opposed him. His loyal followers are shocked by the deception, angry, incredibly disappointed, and suffer a very real and intense sense of betrayal that reshapes their perspective on not only B but on all he espoused.

 

These emotional reactions are all real. The impact on the people having them is real. And, as in off-line experiences, these online experiences do alter perceptions and views in people overall—on or off-line.

 

That impact, I think surprises some people, but it shouldn’t. The anonymity of online removes or lowers guards and filters. Assumptions that others are acting under the standards we hold dear are made. False assumptions. People conduct themselves according to their own standards, not to ours, but online that is easier to forget.

 

My intent in sharing this article was two-fold. First, to speak honestly about some of what we see in social media, and secondly, to share the tale of the two men. In reading this, I see I have done the first and fallen shy on the second, so let me sum it up:

 

A is a man of character who struggles, expects to struggle and holds himself accountable to the highest possible standards by just about anyone’s measure. He is for truth. Whatever it is, it is, and the chips fall where they may. He is responsible, and will not share info that he determines could put others in jeopardy or cause harm. Admirable and noble and—and this is what makes him incredibly special—unassuming. He doesn’t shine in limelight or enjoy huge financial rewards. He’s just a good man doing what he believes in and what he is convinced is right. (In many ways, this makes him a hero.)

 

B is a man of questionable character who is bent on fortune and fame and willingly uses whatever, whenever, however to do it…subtly. He is for himself. And if he must use another or twist the truth to manufacture benefit to himself through sensationalism or other less than honorable means, so be it. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day and, when he can, he exploits that to seed favor with his loyalists. He’s rewarded greatly. He’s a man out to make a name for himself and to secure a future that offers what he sees as the best of everything—mostly reliant on money—and he, he believes, richly deserves it all. If he has to knock-out and walk over a few bodies to get there, okay.

 

My point is we each have to decide which kind of person we want to be. These aren’t decisions only these two men face. We all face them.

 

I’m reminded of the tax collector who became an Apostle. A man hated for doing his duty, his job. A man tapped on the shoulder by Christ and asked, “Will you?” That man said, “Yes, I will,” and he did. His life was never idyllic or easy. He struggled mightily and he wasn’t always treated with the dignity and respect he deserved. But he did amass loyal followers. He did accomplish his mission through his life’s work. Was he “successful?” Well, he changed not only his life but the lives of countless others—then and ever since, including today. That’s significant success, wouldn’t you say?

 

And I’m reminded of Judas, the betrayer who sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver. His reckoning came, and he ended up hanging himself. He discovered he had a conscience, after all, and the magnimity of his actions proved too much for him to bear. It’s noteworthy that those who recruited Judas lied to him—Jesus wasn’t to be harmed—but he was harmed. That “safety” assurance, no doubt, acted as salve to the wound in Judas’s conscience that permitted him to betray Christ. But the harm to Christ was Judas’s reckoning. And the burden of his part in it was too much for Judas to endure.

 

I’m not saying B will suffer a similar fate or that he should. I hope and pray he doesn’t. I hope and pray he examines his goals and aspirations, weighs the spiritual impact of them, and makes a serious course correction.

 

I am saying the observation offers an opportunity for all of us to see the value of taking action. We should weigh the spiritual impact of our actions on ourselves and on others. None of us are islands, right? The Apostle proved an ordinary person can have an extraordinary, lasting effect.

 

So that’s the tale of two men and a snippet of what I’ve observed people-watching online. I do want to say that I’ve met some fantastic people I have come to care about a great deal. And in case you’re wondering if there are any great people left in this chaotic world, I can assure you there are. Many great people both off and online.*

 

 

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Child-Like Faith by Julie Arduini

This has been a year where I’m pouring everything I can into our children. More than basic life lessons, I’m trying to show them prayer strategies to draw them closer to Christ and believe not just in God, but believe God.

That is, until the kids are teaching me.

Our youngest is thirteen and has some life challenges that forces her to work a little harder than her peers in a few areas. She has a joy about her that is in her smile and eyes. Yet, she has felt the loneliness of not having a true friend in school. She has acquaintances, but she’s grown up watching my friend since kindergarten remain close to me. More than that, middle school is rough, and she’s wanted “God with skin on.”

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While praying, both her and her brother have had all kinds of experiences from bullying to transition to a car accident. As a mom, these things have rocked me like nothing else. But, we’ve pressed on. Right after the car accident I knew we were all angry that yet another tough thing was happening, and I didn’t want bitterness to take root. So we praised God. We listed every single thing that was good about the accident.

Turned out, there was quite a list.

And, I could tell it was breaking the pain.

Around the time of the accident, women from our church were waking during the night with our daughter’s name in mind. They would pray, not knowing all her circumstances. Presents landed on our doorstep, just for her. She’d walk into church and ladies would hand her gifts. Two of her favorite young adults handed her bags of clothes.

The favor was crazy, and I encouraged her that although that “best friend” prayer hasn’t been answered yet, this is God lavishing on her. Letting her know she is not alone, and He hears her prayers.

Recently another big request came to pass. There was a situation that wasn’t improving and we asked God that if it wasn’t meant to be for that situation to remain, prosper it somewhere else. She announced that out of no where, the situation was done. The result of everything about it prospering somewhere else.

I wanted to be elated. In a short amount of time I watched people rising up to pray for her. Encourage her. Sacrifice their time to spend time with her. That her second big request came to pass as fast as a finger-snap. But that one prayer. That one friend she could count on in a place that can be so brutal, it wasn’t there. Not even close.

And my faith was wavering.

I told her how awesome all this was and she admitted for all the times she questioned God if He even cared about her, He’s sure showing her how much He does. Her pain remains, but she hears His voice. She feels His presence. I went on to confess how I just wished that one prayer could be in the praise column.

Her face lit up. “Mom, don’t you see? So much has happened that I know He’s got an answer. It’s not here yet. But it’s around the corner.”

Wow.

You’d think I would have learned by now. Years ago after encouraging our then elementary-age son to trust God, he was talking about a school picnic after school. It had rained all day and the chances of that picnic happening outside looked slim to none. I blurted that out to him. He shook his head. “But Mom, we prayed. I believe He’s going to give us sun. See, the clouds are already leaving.”

I looked up and sure enough, the gray was parting, revealing blue. By the time we needed to leave for the picnic, it was sunny. It was a humbling, amazing lesson.

I don’t know how God is going to answer our child’s prayer. It could be in the form of a girl her age that stays her friend for decades. It could be mentors older than her that can give her so much love and wisdom so she can walk the school halls with God confidence. I don’t know. But I know Who does.

And I’m thankful for the reminder that came from a child, full of faith.

***

ENGAGED will be released next month and to celebrate, I will be offering book 1, ENTRUSTED, as a free e-gift through my newsletter in the coming weeks. I’d love for you to receive my contemporary romance about surrendering fear, loss, and change. Subscribe for free at juliearduini.com and watch your inbox. Newsletters are every month or so, and include gifts, giveaways, updates, recipes and exclusives just for subscribers.

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The Abundance of God

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Here in Texas, an early spring has brought us breathtaking wild flowers, gentle rain, and a crop of dewberries in our backyard that is truly a gift from God.

For those of you who don’t know what dewberries are, they are similar to blackberries in looks and taste, but dewberries grow on vines which run along the ground, a kind of ground cover. The biggest difference is they have spiky stems and very prickly vines that make it a challenge to pick them, especially at this time of year when the snakes are out and the dewberries grow along the ground usually.

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In fact, on a recent dewberry picking outing, my husband came face to face with a copperhead. Needless to say, we’ve both been on full alert ever since.

But the reward is so worth the risks, in my opinion. This year we’ve picked about five one gallon freezer bags full of dewberries. My husband and granddaughter love to eat the ripe ones right off the vine or on cereal. My favorite way to eat them is to make fresh dewberry cobbler. It’s amazing.

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Recently while on one of our picking outings, we ran across this little guy.

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I’m sure his mother was close by, watching us to make sure we didn’t hurt her baby. So you see, you never know where God’s abundance can be found. Sometimes, it’s right in your own backyard.

 

All the best…

 

Mary Alford

www.maryalford.net

 

 

 

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Novel Preparation 101 with Guest Author DiAnn Mills

deep extraction by DiAnn Mills

Novel Preparation 101 by Guest Author DiAnn Mills

We writers have habits that help us organize and get started on new writing projects. Today I’d like to share with you how I assemble my thoughts and preparations before writing chapter one, line one of a new novel.

Some writers are careful outliners. Some are seat-of-the-pants writers. I’m an organic writer, which means everything in my story rises out of the point of view character. The character charts the map not an outline. But some things I must know before I can begin.

  1. Idea! Oh, these come from so many different places—from a movie, a current happening in the news, overheard conversation, a what-if from everyday life, and dreams. In Deep Extraction, I learned a pacemaker is one of the easiest devices to hack into.
  2. Prayer. Not sure about you but if I’m not onboard with God, then my story will fail. He is the author of creativity and my source of inspiration.
  3. Premise. This is what guides me to brainstorm a story. For example in Deep Extraction: What if a female FBI special agent learns her best friend’s husband died of a heart attack. But now the investigators believe it was murder, and her best friend is a person of interest? What if the female FBI agent is assigned to investigate the murder?
  4. Character. Who is the hero or heroine of the story? Why would working through the premise and storyline (plot) be difficult for him or her? Why would this character be the only person who could walk through this story? What are the character’s weaknesses that make this journey necessary? What motivates my character into action? What happened in the character’s backstory that shaped who this person is in chapter one?
  5. Characterization sketch. This is a continuance from question number four above. The most important part of any story is the character. A powerful story is one in which the writer knows the character inside and out. We live with the character, breathe, suffer, rejoice, embrace truth, run, and the list goes on. A complete characterization sketch should be completed for every POV character. If you’d like mine, email me at diann@diannmills.com for a copy.
  6. Setting. Where is the best place to set the story? What setting forces my character to change and grow, catch the character unaware, and generally make life miserable?
  7. Research. This covers a lot of ground from the character’s occupation, the problem or goal, setting, and dialogue per the character’s personality and background.
  8. Summary. I don’t like writing a synopsis because I realize from the onset my story will change during the writing process. Yet my editors need an idea of where my characters are going and why. So it’s important for them to have a foundation of my story.
  9. Spreadsheet. Yes, writers, I create a spreadsheet that I will use long after the manuscript is turned into my editors. I have columns titled: Chapter, Scene #, short scene summary, blog ideas, contest ideas, Facebook post, Giveaways, Hashtags, Pinterest Board, Speaking Topics, Tweetables, Video, Images/Memes. I use only the first two columns during the writing process, and the others are completed during the final line by line editing to help with promotion/publicity efforts.

Once I have these things complete, I’m ready to place my fingers on my computer keyboard and create. What about you? How do you ready yourself to write?

 

DiAnn Mills

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Firewall, the first book in her Houston: FBI series, was listed by Library Journal as one of the best Christian Fiction books of 2014.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.

DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on Facebook: www.facebook.com/diannmills, Twitter: https://twitter.com/diannmills or any of the social media platforms listed at http://www.diannmills.com.

DiAann Mills excpect adverture

 

 

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One Little Starfish

This year, I’m involved in a reading challenge that has definitely expanded my horizons. The list includes stepping outside our favorite genre to read old books and new, fiction or non-fiction, classics or otherwise. In other words, those of us dedicated to meeting the challenge are trying to read a book we might not have picked up unless trying to check off a requirement from this diverse reading list. It’s been interesting, reminding me of when I first joined my book club. In that case, we’ve each taken turns choosing books, and many titles have pleasantly surprised me, including ones I probably never would have thought of reading.

Recently, I’ve read a couple of books that discuss the very serious issue of human trafficking. We don’t often think of slavery in modern times, at least I haven’t, but two books I’ve picked up recently have opened my eyes to just how horrific this modern-day blight really is.

The first book I read was Sold, by Patricia McCormick. Although it’s a fictional account, the author did her research by going to Nepal to interview survivors of the sex slave trade. She also visited several brothels. Rather than taking an actual account of just one girl, she chose to compile the tragic stories and compose a riveting tale from the similarities in many accounts. It’s amazingly well told, considering its tough subject. Patricia McCormick is a survivor of sexual assault herself, so perhaps that deepened her conviction to write about this subject.

Right now I’m reading Half The Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The title refers to the saying that women may hold up half the sky but aren’t treated as equals in too many cultures. This book has a broader look into the slave trade. What the two books have in common so far is that women are oppressed in so many countries and the best way to help is through organizations that know what they’re doing. International Justice Missions, for example, is working throughout developing countries to help entire families escape oppression.

So what does any of this have to do with a starfish, you might ask? There is a story retold in Half the Sky that’s taken from an old compilation of stories by Loren Eiseley that goes something like this: Once there was an old man who lived near the sea. He got up early one morning to see that a huge storm had washed ashore countless starfish. In the distance, he happened to spot a boy hurrying along the shore, tossing the helpless little creatures back into the water. The old man asked him what he was doing, and the boy said they would all die once the sun got too high if he didn’t help. The old man cautioned that the boy’s efforts were hopeless. He couldn’t possibly make much of a difference when there were so many to be saved. The boy picked up another starfish and tossed it as far as he could, back into the ocean. Then he looked at the old man and said “It made a difference to that one!”

So, yes, it’s true we can’t save all of the victims of human traffickers, but perhaps we can make a difference in the life of just one.

As Ms. McCormick said in one interview about her book, if you read it and at the end are depressed and sad that this kind of thing is still happening, then she hasn’t done her job. Her job is done only when we’re moved to do something. Please consider supporting such a worthy organization as IJM (International Justice Mission) to fight modern day slavery, oppression and violence.

Perhaps God has already touched your heart on this topic, and today’s post is only a reminder.

If you want to read more about this please visit either Patricia McCormick’s website or visit International Justice Mission to learn more about how you can help.

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Birth is Still a Miracle–by Hannah Alexander

Let me show you some pictures of our recent miracles, then let me tell you how these little miracles came to us, specifically.

This was not my plan, of course. Kittens? Another stray cat? We’ve had ten come to our home in the past eleven years. Some of them were old when they came to us, and they died. Some grew ill and had to be gently eased out of life to stop their suffering. Some were feral cats we tamed, but they still refused to come inside for long, so they were taken by coyotes. Our 11-year-old, very tame, very loving cat, Data, is NOT interested in sharing us with anyone since he now has us all to himself. It’s nice to be loved, and he effectively puts a stop to our having a house that always seemed filled with cats, as we had before we moved here to the wild, wild west.

When a frightened, hungry, needy young stray ginger tabby came to our front door begging a few weeks ago, I didn’t have the heart to turn her away. Data did. He tried very hard to let her know he didn’t want her here. I had hoped she belonged to one of the neighbors, but that was not to be. I asked them all.

So I fed the young cat–well under a year old–outside, simply because she was hungry. Then she started gaining weight. Did it occur to me that she was eating for five? NO! I only suspected someone else might be feeding her. That is, until Mel filled a box with towels and put it in the garage for her to sleep one night so she wouldn’t freeze in the below-freezing temperatures. It didn’t even occur to us that this was how we ended up with so many other cats when we lived in Missouri.

And then one morning, two Thursdays ago, ten minutes after Mel left for work, I walked out into the garage to see if our visitor was ready to go outside, and got the shock of my life to see three wet, golden babies in the box with our terrified little stray mother. I don’t think she knew where they came from or why they were there. Of course I didn’t think to take a picture of her wide and terrified eyes.

I ran back inside the house and called Mel. I left a message on his cell. “Honey, d-d-did you….uh….did you see…uh…Honey, there are babies! B-b-baby kittens!” He still has that voice mail on his phone. He listens to it when he needs a laugh.

When I returned to the garage, there was a fourth kitten. Now, why hadn’t I stayed out there to help her? But they had been licked dry, so instinct obviously took over. Three of the babies had markings like their mother (whom we now call Prancy because she prances with her front feet when she’s nervous–or maybe she’s trying to charm us into letting her stay.) One of the kittens, the girl, has Siamese markings. She’s going to be very hard to resist. Actually, all of them are.

Today the little ones and their mother are at the vet’s office. Here in cattle country there’s not a lot of time to spend on stray cats, so I just took them in and left them so the vet can get to them when he’s not tagging or vaccinating or helping brand thousands of head of cattle.

For the past few days I’ve been concerned that the kittens were getting sick because they sneezed when I picked them up. Today I was told at the vet’s office that they aren’t sneezing, they’re spitting and trying to hiss. Yes, the ingrates. Even with their eyes closed, they have been learning to protect themselves. Now their eyes are open, and they’re even more difficult to resist.

I should have known they were spitting, not sneezing, because it’s the same kind of sound I’ve heard Data make when Prancy first tried to come into the house. He still makes that same sound. It wasn’t the sound he made when he first saw one of the kittens. He tucked his tail and ran under the bed. Really? He caught a rat bigger than this little kitten a couple of weeks ago, and he’s afraid of a helpless baby?

Sorry the picture here is so blurry, but you try holding a baby still long enough to snap a still shot of it. Maybe Angie Hunt, photographer, writer, and friend, could do it, but not Mel and me.

These little babies will stay with their mother in our garage until they’re weaned and we can find homes for them. I will insist on the boys (three of them) being neutered, and the Siamese-looking female being spayed as soon as possible. Prancy will be spayed as soon as her kittens are weaned. No more of this kind of trauma for her. It will be a huge relief for everyone.

WARNING, some preaching here: I have always been very disappointed by the number of stray cats in the world because they’re dumped, unwanted, at the end of a road, where the dumper seems to believe a good, country farmhouse might need a cat. Or maybe they just don’t care because they think “Out of sight, out of mind.” Then those poor cats become feral–and who can blame them when they’ve been left to fend for themselves in a strange place? And of course, nature takes over and they mate and have babies and the feral population grows until coyotes or other dangers pick the off, one by one. But even that never cuts back on the feral population.

I’ve always immediately neutered or spayed any stray cat who came to us, even if I had to use a live trap. I want our little ones to never experience the trials of mating or fighting over a mate, the terrors of giving birth, the damage caused by fighting. You can always tell if a cat has been in the wild for a while because there’s usually a notch in an ear–this happens in fights. Prancy has a notch, young as she is. Many of our other strays had those notches.

I want these kittens in our garage, including Prancy, to have loving homes, so I will love on them and help Prancy teach them how to behave properly inside. The mama cat naturally teaches the babies how to use a litter box, even the stray, feral ones, so they’re naturally housebroken. I know this from experience.

The reason we will find good homes for these five? Because of this cat, Data. Cats are excellent mousers, and after recently being told by neighbors that they’ve set out live traps and trapped 20 to 30 mice a DAY around their homes, I’ve seen very little mouse activity here, and that’s because cats take care of that problem for us. I believe their scent frightens mice away. This picture of Data might make him look lazy, but don’t underestimate him. A few weeks ago this fifteen-pounder went outside and lovingly brought us a rat almost as big as he was. He’s our terminator. We want to keep him happy, and he isn’t happy when another cat is receiving too much of our attention. If you live in our area (Nebraska Panhandle) and need to keep mice out of the house, I’ve got just what you need: Tame young cats who can grow up in your home and become wonderful companions. I’ve read that I should sell them, because free cats are not considered valuable. Plus, I’m investing a lot of money into caring for these little ones. But all the cats we’ve ever had were rescued strays from the streets, and I always valued them. I think the price would be a loving home.

However, to keep the mice out of the house, you will need to keep the cat IN the house. All you need is a scratching post or two so they’ll avoid the furniture, a claw trimmer so they can get affectionate without damage to skin, and dry food so their teeth will remain clean. Oh, yeah, and a litter box that you can empty once a day–it isn’t difficult with the right litter that is dust-free and clumps. These young cats will become very loving company for you if you want them to. Or they could just stay out of the way and keep the mice at bay. It’s up to you.

After what I’ve seen of the mouse and rat population in this area, I think I’ll always have a cat around, but I just hope Data, who was our youngest rescue kitten eleven years ago, will live at least twenty years.

Oh, yeah, I’ve been told that the huge ranches around here are always looking for cats for the feedlot to keep the mice away, but because of the coyote population, these cats might not last more than a week or two. I don’t plan to invest time and love and energy on taming these kittens just so some coyote can eat them. I want them inside homes where they’ll be loved and safe. Take a chance. Take a kitten. See how the company of a cat can change your life as our cats over the years have changed ours.

 

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Spreading the Word in Chapel Cars and an Announcement by Judith Miller

I’m delighted to share that my most recent book, The Chapel Car Bride, released on April 6th. Writing this latest book was a genuine pleasure because I was able to include a piece of history that isn’t common knowledge. In fact, most folks I talk to have never heard of Chapel Cars. I was fortunate enough to have a friend give me a short piece she’d read in a news magazine years ago. And, then, as if the Lord was pushing me toward sharing the history of chapel cars, a lady who lives in Arkansas was kind enough to send me a large box of research materials about chapel cars. She’d gathered the books and articles while writing her thesis for an advanced college degree. Needless to say, her kindness saved me many hours of research time, and likely gave me some additional insight I might not have located on my own.

My particular story deals with a young woman who accompanies her father on the Herald of Hope chapel car into a small West Virginia coal mining town where she is confronted with the myriad challenges the miners and their families face on a day to day basis.

For those of you who enjoy history, I’ve included a little about the formation and use of chapel cars during beginning in the late 1890s and continuing until 1940.

In 1890, during a meeting between former Coleporter (Circuit Rider) missionary Rev. Boston Smith, who was in charge of Baptist Sunday Schools in Minnesota, and Dr. Wayland Hoyt, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Minneapolis,  an answer to the pioneers’ prayers for a religious presence on the western frontier was developed. The concept of The Chapel Car Syndicate, later known as the Chapel Car Ministry, was based on Dr. Hoyt’s experiences of riding with his brother, a railroad executive and tycoon, in his private railroad coach. In this ministry railroad coaches were refurbished as churches/chapels with pews, organs, pulpits and other religious symbols for religious services giving one a sense of actually worshipping in a church. Also, the front of the car was a small apartment for the minister. The Chapel Car Ministry solved the two major problems previous Coleporters faced, they could now travel year around and with a permanent minister assigned to the Chapel Car the coach could cover more territory with one minister and his wife.

The railroads were instrumental in the success of the Chapel Car Ministry. Not only did they pull the coaches free of charge but, they provided other valuable services. Some railroad companies gave special rebates on freight charges for building materials for new churches reducing the cost of building new churches and allowing for more churches to be built.

In 1891 The American Baptist Publication Society dedicated into service their first Chapel Car, The Evangel. Due to the overwhelming success of the Evangel their fleet soon grew to seven coaches. The success of the Chapel Car Ministry on the western frontier can be seen when by 1905 the ministry had helped to establish 135 churches, helped to build 112 meeting houses, organized 243 Bible schools and baptized 4,578 people. Due to this success it reduced the number of Chapel Cars needed on the Western Frontier and the American Baptist Publication Society began assigning the coaches to rural areas across the United States in need of a religious presence.

The success of the Chapel Car Ministry also inspired other churches to put Chapel Cars into service. In 1907 the Catholic Church Extension Society dedicated into service their first coach The St. Anthony. This was followed by two more coaches The St. Paul and the St. Peter. The Episcopal Church of North Dakota led by Bishop William David Walker placed into service a chapel car, Church of the Advent, for the North Dakota area.

Between 1890 and 1940 these churches on rails covered over eight million miles ministering to the religious needs of unchurched areas through the distribution of Bibles and other religious material and establishing new churches and religious programs such as Sunday School programs.

 

 

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I Believe, but I Need Proof by Julie Arduini

Every Easter season, I reflect on the disciples and their choices. Our church offers a Passion Play and no matter how many times I’ve seen it, I think about Peter’s transformation from foot-in-the mouth to feet on the ground to tell everyone about Jesus. About John and what a true friend he was. And Judas. What a heartbreaking end for him.

This year my mind camped at the thought of those three days and beyond. Mary Magdelene went to the tomb and found it empty, and she ran to Peter and John to tell them. They needed to see. Once they saw the grave clothes folded and no sign of Jesus, they understood what He had said to them. What the Scriptures foretold. But Thomas? He had to see Jesus and the nail marks.

I admit, I’m the same. There are promises over my life and those I love that even when they came to pass, I had trouble receiving it. I had faith the entire time I was praying. I did. Yet, when it was fulfilled, I had to check. Check again. Triple check.

One promise was having a daughter. I felt not long after our first child was born, we were to have a daughter. When I miscarried, I wondered if that was the end of that promise. Still, I felt a stirring that God was not done. After a lot of prayer, I was convinced I was going to have one more child, a daughter. I even had a month that I felt was God’s whisper for us, although I didn’t quite know what it meant. My husband didn’t have the heart to tell me that same month was in his mind, too. He was planning to sit me down that month and tell me we needed to stop trying. It wasn’t going to happen, and he didn’t want to have young children and be a senior citizen at the same time.

As only God can, there was only one opportunity that month for that desire of my heart, and weeks later when I took the pregnancy test, it was faint, but it was there.

And I couldn’t believe it.

Since the first test was an afternoon one, I bought another and took it first thing in the morning.

Another positive, even stronger.

I still couldn’t believe it. Our hot water tank decided to retire, and things were quite stressful. I figured somehow it was my hormones in rebellion, and it couldn’t possibly be a pregnancy.

100_0399After a THIRD test, I finally saw the situation for what it had been all along, an answer to prayer.

There is so much about Jesus time on earth that I want to condemn his earthly friends for their lack of understanding and faith, but I’m no better. Promise after promise comes to pass and I hesitate to believe it was His hand. Over the years I’ve seen people healed. Set free. Provision. So much, and yet, I am not sure when a prayer is about ready to be answered, or already has.

I believe the world is about to see the greatest ushering of His presence through answered prayer and Holy Spirit direction that we better get ready. I believe many prayers will be answered overnight, so subtle yet amazing, we will be dumbfounded.

I want to be ready. I don’t want to be one that needs to run to the tomb to make sure it is empty, or demand proof like Thomas. Like Joyce Meyer has said, “I’m not where I need to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be.” My faith has grown, but especially when it comes to loved ones, it’s so hard to believe in faith, even after the prayer has been answered.

How about you? Is this a struggle? What disciple do you relate to?

***

FFTSOne of my recent “Are you sure, God?” moments was creating a devotional to complement my contemporary romance series. FINDING FREEDOM THROUGH SURRENDER is a 30 day devotional featuring the characters from ENTRUSTED, ENTANGLED, and the June release, ENGAGED. It also features surrender issues from those books that we all can relate to: fear, loss, change, regret, and dreams. If you’ve read my romances, it’s a great visit with old friends to prepare you for ENGAGED. If you’re new to my series, the devotional will help you get to know the characters and stories.

FINDING FREEDOM THROUGH SURRENDER

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