Better Skills than Alexa by Julie Arduini

The one gift I heard most that was under the Christmas tree for adults was the Echo Dot. I received one as well. With simple voice commands you can have news, weather, jokes, music, radio shows, interactive stories and so much more. There is technology to have your Echo device control features around the house. Order items on Amazon. Now skills are opening up with restaurants, Uber, and so much more.

Each week I receive an email explaining what “Alexa” can do. There are skills on my Amazon Echo Dot account that I can enable, and then it teaches me the commands Alexa will respond to. I’ve enjoyed a mystery series, The Tonight Show, news headlines, nature music, Pandora, jokes, silly games, and more.

When I received this week’s email, it was the end of a long week. As a parent, I can take my “stuff” all day long, and there had been challenges. But when the kids are hurting and frustrated, it grieves me. The hard part is there has been a season full of adversity. We know there is purpose and growth in it, but we’re still human. It has been HARD. And this week nearly broke me.

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The Amazon Echo/Image from Amazon Product Page

As I sat down with our daughter, I explained to her elements of spiritual warfare. I talked about how dark can’t stand light, and my daughter has a joyful anointing that has come up against darkness more than once, even when she was too young to understand. I told her that when the true defeated one has a scheme to destroy, divide, discourage, or disrupt, he never wants to show his hand. So, when something happens, it truly is God allowing it to expose the enemy. Give us a key to a locked door. And in her tough place this week, we received a huge clue to why it was happening, and how to pray. I also gave her a visual of a snake. When snakes are threatened, they strike. I told her the defeated one is desperate because he knows he is just that, defeated. She understood that in that desperate place, he’s going after God’s beloved.

As we came up with a prayer strategy, that email came to mind. With Alexa, you have to enable that skill. For us, in Christ, those skills are there because of Christ. Christ is in us. With His authority we have the same resurrection power He has. The problem is, many of us don’t use it. Like Alexa, we need a voice command. We can’t be silent and hope God does something on our behalf. We have to pray it down from heaven to earth.

Our son had an equally frustrating week. There are so many promises over his life, but the stressors sometimes overshadow them. Our conversation was the same. Don’t let the words lie dormant. Speak them aloud. Declare His word out loud. Praise Him. He enjoys watching sermons online and has been watching the Code Orange revival series on YouTube. Pastor John Gray spoke about sound. The walls should vibrate and absorb our praise. The saying, “If these walls could talk?” Well, whatever words we’ve put out there, I’ve encouraged the kids to make sure they are words of life. Declaration. Praise.

If you’ve had a week like us, I know the temptation to play dead when it comes to faith. It is exhausting. But we aren’t like the Echo product. We are already enabled. The war is already won. I challenge you in the name of Jesus to use your voice and make some commands in His precious name!

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My new release, Finding Freedom Through Surrender: A 30 Day Devotional, contains the surrender themes and characters from my Surrendering Time contemporary romance series. If you’re looking for encouragement when it comes to letting go of fear, loss, change, regret, and the future, check it out!

 

 

 

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The Dance by Mary Alford

dancer4

About a year ago, my seven year old granddaughter was certain she wanted to be a dancer after she watched Angelina Ballerina.

Unfortunately, for the dancing world that has since changed when the movie Frozen came out. She heard Idina Menzel sing Let It Go. Now she wants to be a singer.

I was about my granddaughter’s age when I read my first Nancy Drew mystery and knew that I wanted to create stories when I grew up. That was it. Career settled. Life put into place.

If only it were that easy. Fast forward six years and then I discovered Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt and became hooked on the romantic suspense genre.

I had no idea when I decided to write that I was about to embark on the dance of a lifetime.

Just like dancing, writing requires a lot of discipline and training.

First, you must learn the proper steps: There is nothing scarier than sitting in front of a blank computer screen for the first time and trying to write…something. It’s a huge leap to go from reading inspirational romantic suspense to actually writing it. When I wrote my first story, I had no idea all the intricate steps involved in creating a suspense story, but I wrote, I read about my craft, and I found a great network of seasoned authors who willingly shared their knowledge.

Practice, Practice, Practice: It you don’t use it you lose it. In other words, to improve as a dancer or a writer, you have to work through all the self-doubt and times when life gets in the way.

In the beginning, writing was a trial and error experience for me. I confess I tried other genres in the process before I came back to my first love, inspirational romantic suspense. Some wise author once told me, write what you enjoy reading and then perfect it. In other words, if you don’t read contemporary romance, then don’t try to write it.

Submitting a manuscript the first time can be a frightening experience. After you’ve polished and perfected your baby, it’s time to send it out into the world and let it stand on its own. And that’s just the beginning. You wait and wait until one day you receive news about your baby. Only it’s not what you were hoping. The dreaded rejection letter arrives and it feels as if someone slugged you in the stomach hard. This wasn’t what I expected. To quote my granddaughter, “Now what”? Well, some rejection letters are form letters. Those you file away. Others have comments from the editor who reviewed it. Those you can gain little pearls of wisdom to help you along your way…but you have to put aside your hurt feelings and listen. You can’t take it personal. Publishing is a business. A very hard one at that.

It’s finally Showtime! What do you mean I’ll be dancing by myself?

For me, ten years of writing came down to five minutes in the spotlight. In 2012, I entered the Speed Dating Contest that editor Emily Rodmell hosted and I was one of the lucky ones who got an appointment to chat with Emily. On the day of the pitch, I was on vacation in Colorado. At our cabin, internet service is nonexistent. I could have given up and said, well, that’s it, better luck next time, but I didn’t. My husband and I drove into the small town of Pagosa Springs where I did the entire chat on my laptop in the parking lot of the Ace Hardware Store.

Emily was kind enough to request a synopsis although I was so nervous she probably didn’t understand anything I told her. I promptly sent the synopsis out to her. Then she requested the first three chapters followed by the full manuscript. With each request, I tried not to get my hopes up.

In December 2012, Emily called. To this day, I can’t tell you what she said to me other than that she wanted to buy FORGOTTEN PAST for Love Inspired Suspense. It was a surreal moment. One that still hasn’t fully sunken in yet. It’s a great feeling to have your dream become a reality and even greater to hold your book in your hands.

Since that time, I’ve sold several other books to Love Inspired Suspense, but I will never forget the dance that got me here and through it all, God has been there beside me, guiding each of my steps.

To quote Garth Brooks’ famous song, The Dance, “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance”.

And what a dance it is.

All the best…

Mary Alford

 

 

 

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Introducing Christian Suspense Author Rachel Dylan

I’m excited to announce a new feature here at the Christians Read Blog. Each month, we will be introducing you to a different Christian author.

This month, we’re happy to have Christian Suspense author Rachel Dylan with us to tell us a little about herself and her writing.

Welcome, Rachel.

rachel dylan

Hello, everyone! Rachel Dylan here. Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog today. I’m a lawyer by day and a Christin fiction author by weekend. I say weekend because that’s my special writing time.

I write a couple of different series. My latest book is Fatal Accusation, and it’s book 2 in the Windy Ridge legal thriller series. This series is different than the rest of my books because it tackles the topic of spiritual warfare. My Danger in the Deep South series is a more traditional romantic suspense. And I’m super excited about my new series—Atlanta Justice which will debut this September, which is a legal romantic suspense.

Rachel Dylan book cover

I was asked the question of what drew me to write Christian fiction. It was definitely not a direct path, but it’s one I’m so thankful I’ve taken. I’ve always loved to write. I wrote poems and stories as a child. I was also a voracious reader. But not until my fourth year practicing law at a large firm did I decide I was going to write a romance novel. I was jaded by so many things at work, that I needed to do something for me. Something that let me explore a totally different part of myself. The first manuscript wasn’t faith based, and it wasn’t particularly good either—LOL. But I found that the more I wrote, the more I enjoyed it. Writing became an important outlet for me from the high stress and pressure I was under working at a big law firm.

Then as it usually happens, the Lord intervenes when you don’t expect it. Life also intervened with a series of events that changed me and caused me to re-evaluate things. It was at that point that I found myself re-connecting with my faith. A faith that had at one point faded into the background.

Once I started down that road, then I decided that I wanted to focus my efforts on writing stories of faith. I was literally growing in my faith through the writing journey, and it felt like I had really found my voice. I also write stories about lawyers because it’s what I know best and I have so many stories to tell!

I’m often asked why do I spent my weekends writing when I could be doing other things. And the answer is that writing is my passion. And writing stories of faith with characters that have real struggles is important to me. I love connecting with readers. You can find me at www.RachelDylan.com.

Why do you write or read Christian fiction? Who are your favorite authors?

This is a Christians Read Guest article hosted by Mary Alford

 

 

 

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True Fiction by Hannah Alexander

I once was told by an editor that when a true story is written into a novel, it was called factionalization. My dictionary tells me that’s not a real word, but it fits for me. I recently read a rich and detailed novel based on fact about a couple, a doctor and a nurse, who fell in love and got married just before they were shipped out to different locations during WWII.

As an aside: This handsome man in the picture was getting his master’s degree in Homeland Security when I snapped it. He knows what it’s like to be separated from his loved ones in service for his country. He’s been a hero to me since he was ten. Those who risk their lives and give up the comforts of home for the benefit of our country are all heroes in my opinion.

The title of the fictionalized story I recently read is With Love, Wherever You Are, by Dandi Daley Mackall, the daughter of the couple in her story. One thing that kept me hopeful as I read the book was knowing that Dandi was their child, and I could look forward to a happy ending.

I knew for a long time that she wanted to write this story, which was based on the 600+ letters written between her parents throughout the war, so I was delighted when she finally announced that she was sending me an unedited copy to read for endorsement. Unfortunately–and this will not surprise you if you have read many of my blogs–I cannot manipulate the computer into giving me a picture of the actual book. I even tried to upload a picture of her. Couldn’t do it. My computer just barely tolerates me. I can only tell you that she has a great website, and you can find some of her 500 plus books on Amazon at her Author’s Page, as well as her personal website. Have I warned you I’m not a techie? The shortened Amazon address is:  2nBE12I

With Love, Wherever You Are gave me such a great insight into what Dandi’s parents endured, how close and how often they came to death, how hard it was to have a marriage when they seldom saw each other and rumors flew between them faster than letters. Though I find it hard to read about the atrocities of war, Dandi personalized this novel to the point that, knowing the story was based on her parents’ letters, I was totally engrossed in their stories as they struggled to keep their love alive.

Since many of my uncles served in that war, the book had extra special meaning to me. I had an uncle who survived Iwo Jima. My father worked on the Spruce Goose, and my mother was a machinist for Hughes Aircraft in their efforts to support family who was fighting. Because of that I can understand how Dandi prized the letters between her parents. Remember the title, With Love, Wherever You Are, because someday you might find it in a movie theater.

 

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When Books Become Personal by Judith Miller

As I mentioned in my last post, I truly love researching history. While writing my last series, Refined by Love, I populated the books with characters who reflected a bit of my own Scots-Irish heritage. After doing some searching, I discovered that my “McCoy” ancestors came to this country back in the 1700’s, settled in Pennsylvania and then migrated to West Virginia, the state where I’ve set all three of books in that series.

Where did my ancestors come from, you ask? Well, maybe you don’t actually ask, but I’ll tell you anyway. Prior to arriving in America, I discovered they were among some of the “planters” who migrated from Scotland to an area in Northern Ireland referred to as Ulster. Only 30 miles separated the lower coast of Scotland from the coastline of Ulster in Northern Ireland, so they didn’t have far to go. Research tells me that by 1612 ships were traveling back and forth with the frequency of a ferry and that the people in Ulster and Scotland had been interacting for many years across the small stretch of water, because it was an easy crossing.

Fast forward to 1632 when Charles I demanded the Presbyterians join the Church of England. All those who disagreed with his demands were called “Dissenters.” This policy met with such resistance that an army was raised to force Scots out of Ulster. Some emigrated to America; others went home to Scotland. Those who remained faced imprisonment. The Irish resented the intrusion of Scottish interlopers in Ireland, and their resentment exploded in 1641 in bitter insurrection, when an estimated 250,000 Scotch Irish Protestants were massacred by the Irish and many of the remnant fled to America.

In “The Brickmaker’s Bride,” Ewan McKay has already arrived in West Virginia to escape the harsh conditions that remained in Northern Ireland in the 1800’s. His knowledge of brick making sets the scene for this first book. Needless to say, I knew little of brick making back in the mid-1860’s, but after visiting a few old kilns in the hills of West Virginia and reading some early books on the subject, I knew enough to take my characters into some predicaments that were almost as hot as those kilns.

In “The Potter’s Lady,” I remained in West Virginia, but moved to another town. To write this book, I needed to develop my knowledge of the potteries that existed in the area during the nineteenth century. While researching, I learned that workers were subjected to lead in the products produced in the potteries. When I read this, I knew it was a plot twist I wanted to address in the book. While the danger was known by both the workers and the employers, women, men and children continued to toil in the potteries for long hours because they needed to eke out a living. Unfortunately, even today, in some places, making enough money to support a family means facing long hours and horrible working conditions.

As I began the final book, “The Artisan’s Wife,” I set the story in a tile making company in Weston, West Virginia. I based the tile making business upon the Moravian Tile Works, a place I had visited many years ago and located in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. I chose Weston because I wanted to include the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, later known as the Weston Asylum. It, too, was a part of my personal history. While going through the change of life at a time when far too little was known about depression, my grandmother entered the asylum and died there due to heart failure. While I had no great desire to enter the actual building (it is now open for ghost tours), I wanted to include some of the early history of the asylum to reveal that when mental hospitals first began, they were a much better option for those who truly needed help.

All three of these books deepened the knowledge of my ancestry and provided me with a continuing admiration for the men and women who toiled to make this country into a great nation.

Having the opportunity to research is one of the many reasons why I love to write historical fiction. How about you? Have you attempted to trace your ancestral line? If so, did you find any tidbits that surprised you?

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The Expectation of Privacy by Vicki Hinze

Expectation of Privacy, Vicki HInze

Not too many years ago, people had an expectation of privacy that was mandated legislatively and widely respected.  Some are under the illusion privacy is still respected. Others have experienced incidents that prove to them, in their own personal case, it is not.

 

 

Recently, I had two experiences that put me in the “not” category.  I received a phone call from a pharmacy in the State of Washington.  My prescription, the voice mail said, was ready for pickup.  Quite a feat since I haven’t been in Washington for years.  So I phoned the pharmacy and reported the error.  My first thought was identity theft.  (Another brush with it, I did not need.)  But in a call-back, I discovered this pharmacy had access to my private medical information.  That was a bit of a shock.  It also reported that there had been a mix-up in that the prescription was for a woman with the same name. A bit of revealing her medical information occurred in explaining the mix-up to me.

 

The point driven home was that my medical information was available to a pharmacy I’d never been in, never purchased a thing at, or had any prior contact with.  The point, for me, was punctuated. My private information is not private. And that raised the question, to whom else is it available?

 

So far, I’ve narrowed down accessibility to any government entity, insurance entity, or medical entity.  But that doesn’t include the pesky little phrases in the disclosure statements that authorize sharing my information with others as these entities see fit.  So, the bottom line I’m reading is:  at the discretion of others, my private information is totally accessible.

 

A couple years ago, non-medical information was “compromised” in a hacking incident that impacted a very large number of people. Two members of my family were strongly impacted.  One had a fake charge account opened and used. Thousands of dollars were charged to this account in one day of purchases by the thief or his/her successor.  The challenge was removed and time-consumptive steps were taken for prevention. But any illusion of privacy was shattered.  There is none.

 

Several years before that incident, a friend was the victim of identity theft and someone in the country illegally assumed her identity to pay federal income taxes. This created havoc for her for two years—with her own tax payments being refused and returned to her. Each time, getting to a resolution took time, energy and money. That incident still necessitates special actions on her part to pay her own taxes under her own identity and for those payments to be accepted by IRS.  The thief who stole her identity has also stolen a lot of her time, dealing with this, and her money, paying professionals to assist her in dealing with all this.  She’s first in line to say there is no privacy. (Her information was stolen from an office she visited for professional services.)

 

In another case, a man was refused medical treatment because he had supposedly already received it.  Only he hadn’t.  Someone had stolen his insurance information and his identity and had received treatment while impersonating him.  Straightening out what happened took time and money, but he did finally do it and get his medical treatment.  (Apparently, this is or is becoming a trend, so when you get those explanation of benefits statements, review them!  They’ll give you a heads up if something like this is happening to you.)

 

Yet these are not the sum of the challenges to our personal lives relatable to issues privacy or the lack thereof.  Just yesterday, an article emerged stating that every PC has a backdoor into your system. Everything on your computer is accessible through that back door.  A photograph of the owner of Facebook was also making the social media rounds. The camera on his office computer screen was covered—preventing anyone “looking” to snap photos of him in this private setting.  On seeing this photo, I was reminded of a briefing that the FBI’s Comey gave late last year in which he stated that people knew they should keep their computer cameras covered to prevent being photographed when at their computers.  Some heard the briefing, some remain clueless that this photographing and privacy invasion is possible.

 

Also, an article was published yesterday (others have appeared earlier) revealing that mobile phones, televisions, and other electronic devices are capable of spying on owners—in their homes. At the location of the devices.  Locations where people have an expectation of privacy. Like when the door is open on your microwave, others can listen to what is being said in your kitchen, or wherever it is that microwave is located. Same goes for “smart televisions” even when they’re turned off. And in yet another article, in an offhanded comment, a man said dishwashers would soon have spying devices. The proverbial “they” would be able to see and hear what’s going on in your kitchen—or wherever you have the dishwasher installed.  That our own entities are invading our privacy is bad. But there are reports that some entities are foreign—like the reported deal with Samsung on its smart televisions and a European intelligence agency being used to spy on Americans in America.

 

Recently, the media disclosed Facebook added code to its software in an attempt to open up a new market for its social media site in China.  This coding addition, the report said, is present in the program but not active in the US.  Whether or not it is currently active, it’s a logical deduction that if the code is there, someone will use it.  They’ll find a way.

 

The bottom line is that while collectively we cherished and protected privacy, we clearly do not now or we wouldn’t condone these invasive privacy breaches. We would insist, even demand, our privacy be respected.

 

It is true that the media isn’t reporting on this to the level the breaches warrant. That is a disservice to the people the press is supposed to inform. But a lot of information is available for those who seek it.  Now Wikileaks, with its hundred-percent document accuracy rating intact, is dumping documents on these matters.  With one-seventh of what it has already out, the level of privacy invasion is jaw-dropping. And writers of fiction and nonfiction should seek and study it. Why?

 

Because readers today are making it their business to be more informed.  They’re trusting less and accepting the word of others less, tossing aside political and media spin and slant, and going directly to sources, seeking truth and then making their own deductions.  That means writers—nonfiction and fiction—must seek the truth and present an evenhanded case with insights evident in their writing, or the writer will lose credibility with readers.

 

As for the expectation of privacy, in my estimation, it’s pretty much shot—at least, for now. Whether or not the people will insist on its return remains to be seen. Either way, wise writers will stay informed to accurately portray what’s going on in their works. Otherwise, the writer loses privacy and readers—for failing to meet their expectations.

 

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Vicki Hinze, Newsletter Graphic© 2017, Vicki Hinze. Vicki Hinze is the award-winning bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest release is The Marked Star. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s website: www.vickihinze.com. Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact. KNOW IT FIRST! Subscribe to Vicki’s Monthly Newsletter!

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Note to readers:  Vicki Hinze is in today for Elizabeth Goddard, who will return to her usual posting days shortly. 

 

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Lessons from the Oscars by Julie Arduini

It’s been over a week since the Oscars and people are still talking about the jaw-dropping end to the show when during La La Land‘s acceptance speech they were interrupted and told they did not win. Moonlight was the real winner, and that group stumbled on stage, shocked as everyone else.

As you can guess, producers, account executives, and amateurs like me are trying to figure out what happened and how can they avoid such a gaffe again. Thing is, that wasn’t their only mistake. It was such a big one it overshadowed the others, one that deserves a jaw drop just the same.

The other big blunder was during the “In Memoriam” segment when a very-much-alive woman was pictured as dead. According to Harper’s Bazaar, Janet Patterson is the deceased costume designer. The picture was of producer Jan Chapman.

These are issues professors warned me about my first year in college. The means to avoid these mistakes aren’t that hard, but I know I’ve goofed big time in my work. Here’s what I gleaned from the Oscar flubs, and my own.

  1. Triple check your work. Hand it over to someone else and make them triple check. Then give to another person and repeat. You can’t proofread enough. Look at all text and pictures. Go line by line. Push it aside and go back to it. Let others look so you have fresh eyes. In public speaking, I’ve forgotten people who were a huge part of the event. In writing, Windows can get funky and if I rest my hand a certain way, it will delete text and paste something else in place. The back cover of ENTANGLED shows that played out for the world to see and I missed it. Ugh. I know better. For the Oscar slides, check, check, check that the pictures match the name of the deceased person.
  2. Remember pride goes before a fall. With the Oscar snafu at the end, there have been rumors that one of the accountants was a bit star-eyed with his role. He was on Twitter sharing pictures of backstage. I read that there are whisperings this guy went to producers asking to be put in a bit with the host, Jimmy Kimmel. If it’s true, he lost focus. He had one job, and he blew it. Oh, I’ve been there. Writing is a lonely job. When someone notices your work for the right reasons, the temptation to think you are a rock star is there. What’s that saying I hear these days? “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.”
  3. Font matters. With the pageant Steve Harvey made an error last year and last week’s Oscars, I saw both cards. Font and size were an issue. I guess with the Oscars, people complained before the show as it was a different design. It doesn’t seem like a big deal until it is. With writing, I researched cover design and I’ve seen what I read about. You don’t want multiple fonts, all so fancy and out there that your cover is too busy. Use a fancy font, and a simpler font. It makes for easy reading and a quality design.

Do you have any lessons learned from your own experience or a live performance you’ve seen?

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The Mountains Are Calling… by Mary Alford

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As a child, I grew up loving to go to the beach. Every vacation my family went on had to be to the beach…until one year when my husband and I visited the mountains. That was it. So long beach. I was hooked on the mountains.

I think we all have places like that. It’s where we go to recharge. Grow close to nature and to God. For me, it’s staring up at a mountain and feeling so small amongst the majesty before me.

Every time my husband and I visit our cabin in Colorado, I’m reminded of John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High.

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He climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below, he saw everything as far as you can see.

Now he walks in quiet solitude, the forest and the streams, seeking grace in every step he takes.

His sight is turned inside himself, to try and understand the serenity of a clear blue mountain lake.

And the Colorado Rocky Mountain high, I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky.

You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply.

Rocky Mountain high, Colorado. Rocky Mountain high.

I never really understood that song until I visited the Rocky Mountains. The mountains get in your blood and they won’t let you go. If you’ve ever climbed to the top of a fourteen footer, you know, you can see God’s handiwork everywhere you look.

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I think that’s why when I start a new book, I always gravitate towards the mountains as the setting. Such is the case in my new release from Pelican Group entitled, Grace And The Rancher.

The book is set in the fictional town of Delaney Mountain, Colorado. A small mountain town where everyone knows each other. The perfect place to start your life over again.

Which is exactly what happens for Grace Bradford, the heroine in my story. Grace is running away from a tragic past that took away her career as a singer and almost ended her life. She hit Delaney Mountain with nothing but her dog Lizzy and her car. What she eventually finds there is a second chance.

Kyle Delaney has a past he’d just as soon forget. But returning to his hometown of Delaney Mountain brings back the mistakes he’d ran away from all those years earlier. Kyle’s looking for redemption, what he finds is love.

 

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Blurb for Grace And The Rancher: Grace Bradford is living a lie. To the world she has the perfect life: A promising country music career and a husband who adores her. But her husband isn’t the man everyone believes him to be. When a car accident widows her and ends her career, Grace escapes to Delaney Mountain. But moving to the remote town doesn’t wipe away the ugly secret of her marriage. Kyle Delaney never intended to return to Delaney Mountain, but he promises his dying father that he’ll turn their land into a working cattle ranch. He uproots his life in Austin, sells his flourishing business as a music agent, and returns to the Colorado town of his childhood. Can a runaway singer and a makeshift rancher, thrust together by circumstance and held together by the common thread of loss and a love of music, find hope and a happily-ever-after under the stars of Delaney Mountain?

Buy the book at Amazon, Barnes And Noble.

So the next time you need to feel God’s presence. Go to the mountains…They’re calling.

All the best…

Mary Alford

http://www.maryalford.net

 

 

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Lent: A “Don’t Miss” Opportunity by Vicki Hinze

Vicki Hinze, Lent, Christians Read

It’s the Lenten season. The time of year when believers acknowledge they are sinners and have a savior in Christ, and that we were created from ashes and will return to ashes and dust.

 

Until then, we have lives. And in those lives we have hopes and dreams and challenges. We also have chances to improve the quality of our lives. Lent provides us all such a chance—a huge don’t miss opportunity.

 

Traditionally, Lent is a time of deep reflection where people examine their lives. They review their actions and the impact of those actions on themselves and on others. It’s a lot of assessing, and assessment is valuable, but assessing is not all that happens during Lent.

 

Acknowledgement that others sacrifice for us also happens. Its root is in Christ’s sacrifice of all for everyone else. As we assess ourselves, we are aware of this acknowledgment and we know millions of others are assessing themselves, looking inward and outward.

 

Because millions are participating, focus is intense, and the big picture on many things—our lives and family, our work and purpose, our nation—becomes clear to us. Clarity always ushers in opportunity.

 

Sacrifices were made for us, and it is customary during Lent, for us to sacrifice something significant to acknowledge them. Some give up specific foods or drinks and some give up habits they enjoy. The sacrifice varies but it is personal, meaningful, and important to the individual.

 

As a kid growing up in a Catholic community, Lent was an exciting time of discussions. Everyone asked everyone some rendition of, “What are you giving up for Lent?” People asked not to judge but to share information. Everyone wanted reassurance something more important than their own planned sacrifice wasn’t being overlooked or missed. Lent was and remains serious business.

 

Back then, the young often gave up candy or colas. Teens gave up driving cars, dating, cussing. Adults fasted, forfeited free time to serve others, quit drinking, replaced ball games, golf or bowling with fixing a widow’s fence.

 

Of course there were the class-clowns that gave up homework and vegetables. But honestly, that never went over well. Like I said, Lent is serious business. Even as kids, we understood it’s a powerful time where great transformations are possible. That’s nothing to joke about or to make light of. Few did—at least, without repercussions.

 

As we grew up, what we gave up for Lent changed, but what didn’t change was the certainty of the power and transformation possible during Lent.

 

Some insist that power was intense focus and the transformation was an outgrowth of it. While there’s merit in such a conclusion, it’s not the whole story. Yet my purpose here is not to defend faith. I’ll leave that to theologians who are far better equipped to do it than am I. My purpose is to simply share that if you acknowledge the power and transformation possible during this season, then you can add your voice to it.

 

For believers, adding your voice is invoking the law of momentum. “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.” Matthew 18:19

 

This tells us the power of two. Now imagine the power of 2 million, 20 million, 200 million. All focused on a single thing. What, do you think, happens to the potential for transformation then?

 

We all know when we work together to seek solutions to difficult challenges, we find answers. That’s the power and transformation in Lent’s momentum. Whether or not we’re people of faith, we can seek personally (inward) and collectively (outward). An example:

 

After 911, Americans experienced a resurgence of patriotism and a renewal of American spirit. We came together, united by tragedy but focused on protecting ourselves and one another. Neighbors reached out to neighbors. Heroes emerged. People from all walks of life expressed compassion and their humanity. We might be this or that, but first we were Americans.

 

Like then, during Lent, many mature individuals look outward, and what they give up has them focusing on the whole of our nation. Division, disagreement and distrust fall away and people seek those post-911 bonds, embracing the motto, “United we stand. Divided we fall.”

 

Now these people are many and their focus to stand and unite is intense. Momentum is strong. Adding your voice to theirs, the momentum expands, grows stronger. And that is an example of the don’t miss opportunity possible during Lent.

 

It is a chance to unite and help build momentum. To acknowledge and respect the sinner and savior in this season, and to also acknowledge the power and transformation available to everyone.

 

We’ve seen lives transformed. We’ve seen power scattered and, when it becomes laser focused, its impact. We’ve seen miracles. Experienced them, whether or not we call them miracles.

 

What some might not know is that in every instance where a miracle occurs in the Bible, it isn’t an out-of-the-blue event. It’s a two-step process. We do our part—seeking, requesting (focusing)—and then God does His part and intercedes.

 

Why must miracles work that way?

 

There’s a multitude of suppositions. A simple one that rings true to me is free will. God gifted us with free will. He never breaks His word or His promises so, before He can act, our free will must be determined and then respected. When we seek and request intercession, or focus, we are expressing our free will choice—to Him and to ourselves. Then, He can act—and we can see and experience that power and transformation. That miracle.

 

And all this makes Lent a “don’t miss” opportunity for everyone. For respect and reverence, for appreciation and gratitude, and for hope and transformation.

 

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BROKE… at Christmastime! by Yvonne Lehman

Yvonne Lehman

Yvonne Lehman

On December 12, I became literally broken – physically. Then I discovered the truth in 1 Corinthians 12: 12, 26 (NLT): “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up only one body… If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it…”

There I was, 20 minutes before 14 Sunday school class members were to arrive for a Christmas party at my beautifully decorated home, the flocked Christmas tree beside the fireplace, two tables set with lovely china, crystal glasses, cloth napkins, aromas of meat concoctions in the crock pot and oven, candles glowing and emitting their holiday scents. Dirty Santa gifts festively wrapped. My Let It Snow novel ready to be given to each. Perfect!

So, in my upstairs bedroom I swung my left leg onto my high bed and tied the laces of my black 4” heeled suede ankle bootie. As I was leaning back to bring the shoe off the bed, the covers clutched my bootie, I lost my balance, but my leg wouldn’t come with the rest of my body and the covers of the unmade bed wouldn’t turn loose.

A fleeting thought of don’t break your hip or back prompted me in a nanosecond to fall to the side while my bootie is still on the bed. The next thing I know I’m gaping at a weird twisted thing where an arm used to be, a band of swelling flesh replacing a wrist, and limp extremities instead of fingers.

My goodness, that was as freaky as when a writers group critiques a manuscript and you can only sit silent, feeling the horror and pain while your “perfect” creation is becoming something unrecognizable and you know it will never be the same again.

Anyway, the next minutes are filled with contortions, crawling, squirming, elbowing across the room, getting a workout more strenuous than my 30-Day Shred DVD, wondering how to stand or find the phone while left hand holds an appendage that might drop off or if gets fatter could explode.

Long story short—finally managed to contact my daughter, Lori, and we get ready for the trip to the hospital while guests are arriving. Lori, our Sunday school teacher, tells them to stay and enjoy the party which they seem delighted to do. After all, everything looks and smells perfect…except me.

At the ER, the arm is confirmed to be broken (hmmm), and we’re sent to the aptly named Waiting Room. The entire process lasted over five hours. Lori took pictures, emailed family, friends, partiers, et al, giving them an overview of happenings. She’s a scriptwriter, and you know, to a writer everything is a story

She wrote, “I hate to say this, but it was a wonderful time with my mother, despite the circumstances. She was given great numbing medication. We brainstormed for her next book, Broken Moments, and made plans for a New Year Sunday school party in January. I prayed while the doctor and nurse pulled mom’s arm back into place and the doc was impressed with how well she handled the setting of her wrist.”

My perception was slightly different. The smiling doctor is coming toward me, holding a weapon that looks like a skewer, or spike, or rod and he’s saying, “We’ll see about numbing this,” and the nurse is telling Lori she has fainted twice while watching the procedure. Lori asked if there’s anything she can do. I say, “Pray.” She prayed aloud while I’m watching, and feeling the doctor gouge, shove, grimace, saying he’s trying to find the crease in which he will dispense pain-killing medication. He’s taking a looooong time and what comes to my mind is “sadistic.”

I do think the prayer worked – the nurse didn’t faint.

Finally, after being pulled apart, wrapped, x-rayed, I have incapacitation inside a cast from above the elbow to below the first knuckles on the five-pronged appendage. It’s as useless as that story having been rejected by an editor or critiqued by a writers group.

My broken book is like an arm in a cast—useless. Like the body, if one part is broken, all other parts suffer with it. To be functional, readjustment is necessary.

During the weeks that followed, I had to rely on others at times, was challenged to learn new ways. My writing looked like a child’s in first grade. But they learn. With time and effort, I could learn.

After removal of the cast, the doctor said there might be nine months before the arm regains previous strength. Hey, don’t we call our books our babies? Think of all the changes that take place, leading to that delivery when many women say, “Never again!” But that’s forgotten as they hold the most wonderful miraculous of God’s creation in their arms.

Book delivery is something like that. All the “helpful” criticism, changes, lovely words deleted, new ways of presenting the initial idea, the cutting, adding, and the book will never be the same and you feel like Mark Twain who wrote, “If I’d known what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn’t a tackled it and ain’t going to no more.”

My arm hurts when I force movement, weight bearing, flexibility. But I’m told that if I endure the pressure and pain, in time it can be stronger than ever. Hmmm, isn’t that what was said about that manuscript?

I get my books all gussied up, but after discovering it’s weak, going to be incapacitated for awhile, has broken parts, and healing will take time, it will hurt. I can’t take my creative/craft expertise for granted. I’m just one move away from needing to be worked on, body or book. At any time I might have to say, as did David in Psalm 31:12 (KJV), “I am a broken vessel.”

During my recuperating time I read a comforting devotion of Charles Stanley’s based on Matthew 14:22-34 and he commented that we should ask the Lord for his presence in the midst of our trouble. He will provide strength to endure and wisdom as we go through the storm. And, like I said, to a writer, everything is a story.

See, I got a blog out of the experience. Oops! Better wait to find out if it’s usable, or if it needs… surgery.

Yvonne Lehman

 

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March Blessings by Tara Randel

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I’ve always loved the month of March. Here in Florida, the temperatures are warming up. The sunshine and clear skies make for beautiful days spent outside, allowing us to admire the handiwork of our Father. You can’t help but stand in the majesty of his creation and not give praise!

Psalm 136

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.

to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.
who made the great lights—
His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.

As an author, I give thanks daily for the creativity the Lord has blessed me with. I couldn’t sit at the computer for hours without the Father’s help and guidance. Knowing that God has blessed me with a career I love is only one of the many gifts I’ve can received in this life.

This month, I’m pleased to release my fourteenth book. I never imagined in the early days of writing that God would bless me as mightily as he has. But I’m thrilled His hand is upon me and I’m able to come up with new ideas and ways to express them. You don’t have to be a creative person to thank God for the skills and abilities He has given you. I’m not great with numbers and the ability to do math, so I’m glad He made us all with different strengths! Whatever gift he has given you, give thanks.

So while this post is celebrating my new release, it is also important that I thank the Father from whom all good gifts come. I know if it wasn’t for Him, I wouldn’t be where I am today!

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The Wedding March is now available from Harlequin Heartwarming. and not only is that a thrill for me, I also get to offer you the chance to win in the Love is Blooming giveaway sponsored by the three other Heartwarming authors with books out this month, as well as a debut Love Inspired author. Enter to win a fantastic gardening-themed prize pack and signed books. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1leP0qW_OCKAfJXKOVCqKFnSlGhXaMZVWlBLeBRYRG7Q/

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The Wedding March, available at:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2iggKQD

B & N: http://bit.ly/2j7NO20

Harlequin: http://bit.ly/2j7Rd0o

iTunes: http://apple.co/2igm8mN

Tara Randel is an award-winning, USA TODAY bestselling author of fourteen 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. She is currently working on new stories for Harlequin Heartwarming, The Business of Weddings series, as well as books in a new series, Amish Inn Mysteries. Visit Tara at www.tararandel.com. Like her on Facebook at Tara Randel Books

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Don’t Complain about Dandelions by Hannah Alexander

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You might remember a blog several months ago about how not to move, including many of the careless mistakes I made when packing to move 850 miles from where we lived. The injuries were not fun. Well, the second part of the story is just as important.

When moving to a new place of residence, especially if you’re moving from one small community to another, keep in mind that some things never change. Simply put, you don’t complain if you find a few dandelions in your new yard. (We didn’t find a single one.)

dandelion

  1. Attitude is everything. When meeting new people, keep an open mind and never speak a harsh word about the way things are done in your new community to anyone in that community. I realize this should be simple logic, but you’d be surprised how many newcomers I saw move to our former community who never had a good word to say about the shopping, the churches, the utilities. Before they knew it, all their claims came true because they had isolated themselves from any prospective friends. When we moved here, I was already in love with the beauty of the area. I believe people here are naturally friendly, but it didn’t hurt when I expressed my love for the place. All I have to do is ask someone for advice and they will not only give it to me, they will draw a map for me to get to the place I need to be.
  2. Family comes first. In a small town, especially like the one we moved to a few months ago, children don’t always move far away for work because they love their hometown. I can see why. Sisters and brothers and cousins and mothers and fathers make up the fabric of the town–everyone literally does know everyone else, and sometimes they’ve known them for fifty years or more. This comes in very handy when you need someone to help you with something around the house, or to mow the yard, etc. Our neighbor mowed our yard for us for free, just to help us out when we first arrived. My husband asked his nurse who was the best person to hook up our washer and dryer. She knew, even though she lives over 20 miles away. We called him, he came, and he’s in such demand that I now know to put myself on a waiting list. I don’t complain, because not only is he the best, but his wife is the sister of the former owner of our new house. He knows his stuff.
  3. Be friendly with close neighbors. I’ve found that our neighbors here in this country setting outside of town are kind and good-hearted, and two sisters live across the road from each other, while the son of the former owner of this house lives next to us. Yep, that’s the way small towns operate, and the “vibe” I get here is a good one. Even if it weren’t, I wouldn’t go around complaining about the weather or the hard water. Fact is, I love the weather, and we can work around the hard water. What matters is having a friendly place to live. Trite but true, you make friends by being friendly.
  4. Try not to tick off the natives. Yes, I know, it’s almost a repeat of #3, and maybe even #2 and #1, but I know a lot of people who would have welcomed this reminder. If someone is sharp with you and offends you–granted, a rarity here–don’t complain about it. Let it ride. Because in most cases, that person will be related to the very person you complain to. Not a good way to introduce yourself, and word will spread.
  5. Take part in community gatherings. Mel and I are planning to attend our first donkey basketball game next Monday night. We attended two Christmas parties in December, and though both of us are naturally shy, we pushed ourselves to make acquaintances. When they see you out and about–and everyone knew we were coming before we got here–they know you are interested in being a part of the community. The people at the town’s only grocery store know where my car is when they carry out my groceries–yes, they do THAT here, too. No wonder I’m in love with the place.
  6. Don’t expect your new house to work the exact same way your old one did. We lived in our former house for twenty years, and were accustomed to its foibles–every house has them. I’m presently waiting for our heating/air/plumber to show up to fix the heating system I probably broke because it is a radiant type heater and I’ve never had one of those before. So I’ve been working around the house with space heaters wearing as many warm clothes as I can get on. The other night, in the middle of the night, I made the mistake of running hot water into the nearest sink to get some moisture in the air, but I was wearing my earplugs, was half asleep, and didn’t hear when water began to spill over the top. The release duct in the sink was apparently plugged (most likely because of the hard water). I used every towel in the house to mop up the mess, but it wasn’t until the next morning that I found water dripping from the overhead light globe beneath the bathroom into the entryway, and the vinyl paint dripping and bubbling. Big point here–read all the directions about the appliances in your house, and have a talk with the former owners, if possible. Learn all you can about the house before you break it like I did.

I realize I’ve just given you some common sense suggestions, but I could have used a reminder or two before I broke the heating system and flooded the house. Now it’s time for me to start learning how to make friends in this new place. From experience, I know it will probably take 20 years to be considered part of the community, but you have to start somewhere. Internet makes it too easy to become a hermit. Fear of saying or doing the wrong thing in a new environment can turn natural shyness into near neurosis. But that’s for a later date.

 

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What it means to Pursue Righteousness

clark-young-143623I’ve always wanted to play the piano. Except I’m tone deaf. And have never had lessons.

I’d love to be fit and strong. Except I hate weight training.

I’d love to speak French fluently. Or Russian. Or even Greek. Only I’ve never taken a class, purchased a foreign-to-American dictionary, or any language learning software.

But to learn through osmosis while nibbling on tootsie rolls dipped in peanut butter, while book-2073828_1920nestled in the corner of my couch with my favorite quilt and novel … ah, that I could do!

Obviously, wishful thinking won’t get us far, whether our goals are concrete, like losing weight or mastering a new skill, or … far more profound and eternal, such as becoming more like Christ.

It was sometime between 63-65 AD, the cruel and tyrannical Nero had been in power for  ten years. Recently released from prison, Paul, the great evangelist, left one of his dearest companions, a young man named Timothy, to oversee a church in crisis.

Affronted by opposition within the church and persecution outside of it, there had to be times when Timothy wanted to simply skirt by. To spend his days at home, hiding away, and let the world around him come  undone.

Perhaps you can relate?

I imagine he felt quite ill-equipped for the task at hand, but notice, God never expects perfection. He knows we’ll never be superhero Christians (this side of heaven). He does, however, expect us to obey, and to keep moving forward. 

2 Timothy 6:11 says, “But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness” (NLT).

Paul wasn’t saying, “Keep going to church and reading your Bible, praying as you have time or happen to think to do so, until your heart and thoughts begin to change–though those are great disciplines that surely lead us in that direction. Paul’s instructions leopard-1337201_1920were much stronger and indicated a more determined intention.  Diōkō, the Greek word translated as pursue, means to “seek after something aggressively, like a hunter pursuing a catch (or prize).” It has the connotation of going after something with “all haste.”

I’ve never been a hunter, and certainly not a first century one, but I have gone hungry, and I know how focused I can become when my stomach starts to cramp.

What if I pursued righteousness with that same, hungry focus? What if I was intentional in regard to my growth. In regard to living as God desires and learning to better reflect Him.

This focus would permeate every part of my day–would impact how I organize my day. My growth would not be an afterthought, something that happens as I casually continue in my Christian walk, but rather, it would be my driving goal for every action and interaction.

I have a feeling, the results would be exponential.

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14 Days to Finding Freedom Through Surrender by Julie Arduini

If you’ve read my posts for any length of time, you know my heart is to follow God’s call. It’s never a straight line, and often I’m up too late, scratching my head, asking Him, “Are you sure you want me to do this?”

The latest obedience has been to press pause on my third contemporary romance, ENGAGED, and craft a devotional on the surrender issues featured in my Surrendering Time series. What makes it unique and caused me to keep asking God if I was hearing right was each reading is written from the POV (point of view) of one of the characters from ENTRUSTED, ENTANGLED,or ENGAGED. The themes include surrendering fear, loss, change, regret, and the future.

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My goal is to provide Finding Freedom Through Surrender on Amazon as a month long look at surrender. However, I wanted to give something to current readers first, so I have a 14 Day look already available.

In this preview, I offer a look at surrendering fear, loss, and change, something I struggle with as much as anyone. Five readings each week are from the characters, and on the sixth day I share my own surrender story. It wasn’t easy writing my experiences when it came to loss, being afraid, and transition, but I again felt it was what I was supposed to do.

I’d love to share this encouragement with you.

Click below:

14 Days to Finding Freedom Through Surrender.

What’s the hardest thing for you to surrender? Fear? Change? Loss? Regret? Or, the future?

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Something New: New Release by Mary Alford

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This month, I have a brand new release out from White Rose Publishing called Grace And The Rancher.

At the heart of the story, is the belief in second chances. From God and from each other.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in what we’ve done wrong that we forget God loves us no matter what, and He’s always waiting to forgive us. We just have to ask.

This is the story of Grace And The Rancher. Grace Bradford is living a lie. To the world she has the perfect life: A promising country music career and a husband who adores her. But her husband isn’t the man everyone believes him to be. When a car accident widows her and ends her career, Grace escapes to Delaney Mountain. But moving to the remote town doesn’t wipe away the ugly secret of her marriage. Kyle Delaney never intended to return to Delaney Mountain, but he promises his dying father that he’ll turn their land into a working cattle ranch. He uproots his life in Austin, sells his flourishing business as a music agent, and returns to the Colorado town of his childhood. Can a runaway singer and a makeshift rancher, thrust together by circumstance and held together by the common thread of loss and a love of music, find hope and a happily-ever-after under the stars of Delaney Mountain?

1 John 1:9 says, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

So, what about you? What do you need a second chance for? We all have those times in our lives when we need them. And they’re just a prayer away.

All the best…

 

Mary Alford

www.maryalford.net

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