Happy Release Day to my friend and fellow author, Laura Frantz, for her new novel, The Lacemaker! I'm tickled pink that today of all days, I received my copy of my February release, A Refuge Assured, as well. (Don't they look fantastic side-by-side?) The reason I love seeing them together is that our heroines are related! Laura's story is set in colonial Williamsburg on the eve of the American Revolution. Mine starts in Paris during the French Revolution and quickly moves to Philadelphia in 1794. The connection between the lacemakers was easy to imagine, because lacemaking is typically a tradition passed down from one generation of women to the next. Laura and I had a great time creating a family tree with roots in France, and determining where the branches reached to England before spanning the ocean to America. Our heroines don't interact with each other in either book, but eagle-eyed readers will catch the mention of great-grandmothers they shared in each one. You can read the books in any order--the family connection has no bearing on either plot. It's all just fun for the two of us authors, and hopefully for readers, too. We hope you enjoy reading the tales of both lacemakers! I'm reading and loving The Lacemaker right now. Here's the book blurb: When colonial Williamsburg explodes like a powder keg on the eve of the American Revolution, Lady Elisabeth "Liberty" Lawson is abandoned by her fiance and suspected of being a spy for the hated British. No one comes to her aid save the Patriot Noble Rynallt, a man with formidable enemies of his own. Liberty is left with a terrible choice. Will the Virginia belle turned lacemaker side with the radical revolutionaries, or stay true to her English roots? And at what cost? Historical romance favorite Laura Frantz is back with a suspenseful story of love, betrayal, and new beginnings. With her meticulous eye for detail and her knack for creating living, breathing characters, Frantz continues to enchant historical fiction readers who long to feel they are a part of the story. I'm so happy to have Laura on the blog to chat with us! Here goes: Jocelyn: I love the names of your characters in this book! Liberty and Noble are so full of meaning, and I know you take great care in naming your characters in each novel you write. Can you tell us a little bit about how these two characters fit their names? Laura: Love that these names resonate with you! Noble was simple as it so embodies this hero’s character though it took me quite a while perusing Welsh records for a surname that felt masculine and handsome enough. I’ve always liked the name Libby and felt it might be something her hero calls her outside the drawing room when not using the formal Lady Elisabeth. Naming characters can be tricky so I try to be very careful to the time period while not using the standard Marthas and Janes. Recently, I did a major switch in my heroine’s name for this next frontier novel. I’d begun using Rosemary but found something else far more unique yet historical that fits her far better. So out the window went Rosemary though I still find it lovely! Jocelyn: Ooh! Now I can't wait to find out the name you chose instead of Rosemary. (I do love that name, too.) What surprised you the most as you were doing your research for The Lacemaker? Laura: How far we have come from the handwork of the 18th-century and how different our machine-made lace is today! I’m afraid our 21st-century selves don’t have the patience for true lacemaking. Personally, I don’t have the patience for such detailed work and would probably have to give up everything to devote myself to making it. But it’s truly exquisite and I love the fact that even the humblest women saved for and dreamed about owning even a scrap of lace. Jocelyn: Oh my goodness, I'm no good with needles, even the one in my sewing machine. I can knit a scarf, and that's about it. If you could choose one truth or theme for readers to hang on to after finishing your novel, what would that be? Laura: That no matter how our world is upended through disease, divorce, death, change, etc., God is always working for our ultimate good and that circumstances are temporal but He and heaven are eternal. Romans 8:28 is only one of these promises! Jocelyn: What a timeless and timely reminder. That truth is always in season! Do you have any routines while you write that help get you in the creative mindset? A certain snack or drink, music, a lighted candle or fire in the hearth, time of day, anything like that? Laura: Funny that you ask as I’m writing this by the fireplace with a candle burning! I do reward myself with a 6 oz. Coke Life made with Stevia most afternoons as I’m trying to get away from diet soda. I used to write to music (The Colonel’s Lady was written to the Master and Commander soundtrack) but haven’t done that the past couple of books. Maybe I’ll return to that now that you mention it! Jocelyn: Great soundtrack! I sometimes write to music, too (Braveheart and The Last of the Mohicans among them). What books are on your nightstand right now? Laura: Yours! You’ve always been top of my list and I don’t exaggerate, Jocelyn. I admire your research and the way you layer a novel to lift it above the common historical to name just a couple of things. I also collect Joanne Bischof, Lori Benton, Joan Hochstetler, and too many others to mention here. Plus I’m over the moonbow about Amanda Dykes debut with Bethany House coming up. Anything she touches is magical so I’m thrilled for her and future readers! Heartfelt thanks to you and readers here for your heart for Christian fiction. So blessed by that! Jocelyn: Thank you, Laura!! And I absolutely agree about every other author you mentioned. I collect books by Joanne, Lori, and Joan, and I'm sure I will with Amanda, too! I was fortunate to be able to write a novella in the same collection as Joanne and Amanda last year, along with Heather Day Gilbert and Maureen Lang! Fantastic writers, all. Thank you for being here today, Laura! Get to know Laura Frantz at her Web site here. Find The Lacemaker at Amazon(link is external), Goodreads(link is external), and BarnesandNoble(link is external).
In January of this year, I set a goal for myself to read 50 books in 2017, which felt daunting since I also needed to write and release books of my own. But reading is really, really important to me, personally and professionally. I can't be a great writer if I'm not also a great reader. According to Goodreads, I've read 60 books, which amazes me! I'm sure my new addiction to Audible greatly helped. I've recommend books throughout the year on my Facebook page, but I thought it would be fun to put a bunch of them all in one place.* I've broken them down into several categories. Which of these books have you also enjoyed? Which of them catch your eye to add your to-read pile? *I have reviewed almost all of these books on Goodreads, so feel free to look up my thoughts there if you'd like. I'm skipping all the linking on this blog post, though, because...it's Christmas time, and I haven't started wrapping gifts. Oh also, I still need to write 1500 more words today in my current work-in-progress. Award Winners Left to right, we have winners of the Carol Award, a Christy Award, and the Goodreads Choice Award. I loved each of these! Contemporary Christian Fiction I lean heavily toward historical fiction, but I'm glad I made time to read these! Time-Slip Fiction This was a fabulous year for timeslip fiction (two stories, one historical, one contemporary, linked in critical and sometimes myserious ways). Historical Christian Fiction Boy did I enjoy my historical fiction this year! Some were newer releases, and some titles had been languishing in my to-read pile for longer than I'd like to tell you. Nonfiction I read LOTS of nonfiction that I didn't track on Goodreads (research for my novels), but here are some highlights I did. Mainstream Fiction My favorite from the mainstream fiction I read this year was The Nightingale and Ordinary Grace, although I will continue to read Geraldine Brooks (my favorite by her is Year of Wonders, but I read that years ago). Classics The first three in this batch were read-alouds to my kids. (It was my second time reading Anne and Laura.) Advance Copies I had the privilege of reading advance copies for several books this year. One was my critique partner's, one was to write the foreword (Chrsitian Publishing 101) and the rest were for endorsement. You're all in for a treat next year! Currently Reading Last but not least, here is what I'm reading now, in addition to the Bible, of course. Yes, it's a lot. This is my m.o., though, nothing to be alarmed about. I am a polygamous reader. What have been some stand-out reads for you in 2017?
Today I'm celebrating Susie Finkbeiner's new release,A Song of Home, the third and final book in the Pearl Spence series! If you are just now hearing about this series, I recommend starting with A Cup of Dust, and then find A Trail of Crumbs, and finish with A Song of Home.I first met Susie several years ago when I attended Breathe Christian Writers Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which she helped plan. (Hey, speaking of Breathe, you should join us in October 2018!) I have so enjoyed reading Susie's work, and A Song of Home is every bit as good as I was expecting it to be. Here's what I had to say about it: Susie Finkbeiner is a master at characterization. Few books I've read take me as deep into another person's experience as this author takes me into Pearl Spence's. As a reader, I gobbled this book up and found it completely and utterly satisfying as a book on its own, and especially as the culmination of this series. As an author, I will read it again, this time to take notes on how to draw and shade characters so richly. A Song of Home is the perfect ending to a series like none other. Original, fresh, immersive, and oh so compelling. Whatever Susie writes next will be an automatic pre-order for me. Lucky for us, Susie is HERE today, answering some of my burning questions! Let's get to it. One of the things that consistently strikes your readers is how you so deftly write in your child protagonist’s distinctive voice. How did you develop that? SUSIE: I remember writing early drafts of A Cup of Dust and being stunned by how naturally Pearl’s voice came out of me. That’s not to say that the writing was easy. Not at all. But her voice flowed. It was the one part of writing these novels that always felt right. Of all the characters I’ve written in my fiction career, Pearl has the most of me in her. I was a bit of a precocious kid and liked to think I was tough. But, looking back at my childhood, I’m aware of the sensitivity I had, the vulnerability. All of that went into Pearl’s voice. I don’t think I’ll ever have a character quite like Pearl again. Perhaps not, but I can't wait to meet the characters you're crafting now. Pearl’s father Tom is such a dear character. He has a subtle dignity and I love the way he parents Pearl and cares for the people under his responsibility. In some ways, he reminds me of Atticus Finch of To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. What kind of influence does or did Lee’s novel have on you as a writer? SUSIE: I first read To Kill A Mockingbird when I was in seventh grade. When I finished that first time, I went back through and reread all the parts with Atticus. Harper Lee was my first characterization teacher. When I set out to write Tom Spence I had no designs to make him an Atticus-type. What I wanted was a male character who was steady and good. I loved Pearl so much that I wanted her to have a good father. If that makes him like Atticus, then I don’t mind one bit. Harper Lee’s influence over me reaches farther than the character of Atticus Finch. Her novel inspired seventh grade me to allow my heart to break for a fictional character. She encouraged me to see the world for all its good, ill, pretty, and dirty and see hope in all those different corners. She taught me that empathy is a super power. Harper Lee made me want to write novels with depth of character and poetic narrative. In part, I’m a writer because I read To Kill A Mockingbird twenty-five years ago. That is so cool. Other than Pearl, who was your favorite character to write, and why? SUSIE: Goodness! How am I to choose? Can I tell you about a few of them? I loved writing Tom because he was good. Aunt Carrie because she was warm. Millard because he reminded me a little of my grandpa. I adored writing Ray because he was an overcomer. Mary Spence because she was complex. And I loved writing Beanie because she was so pure, innocent, and special. But I will say that I did not enjoy writing Eddie. He just plain creeped me out. Um, yes. He creeped the rest of us out too! A Song of Home is the third and final book in the Pearl Spence series. Can you give us a glimpse into what it’s like for you as an author to conclude this storyline that has been a huge part of your life for a few years? SUSIE: I’ve spent four years with Pearl. That’s how long I dated my husband before we got married. Isn’t that something? Since turning in my final edits to the publisher I’ve been in a season of mourning her. I miss her greatly. On the other hand, I’m glad. I’m thankful that I’ve told her story and that now my readers have it in its entirety. It’s also nice that I have all three books on my own shelf to read if ever I miss her too much. What are you reading now? SUSIE: Right now I’m reading two books, one with my kids and one by myself. Soar by Joan Bauer and Playing Saint: All Souls’ Day by Zachary Bartels. I need to read All Souls' Day, too! Thank you so much for being here today! Connect with Susie on her Web site, where you'll find links on the home page to where she hangs out on social media channels, too! Find A Song of Home at your local bookstore, Baker Book House, ChristianBook, BarnesandNoble, Target, Amazon, and Goodreads.
I'm thrilled to welcome Jaime Jo Wright to the blog today to talk about her new release, The House on Foster Hill (Bethany House Publishers)! I first met her at an ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Conference, but really got to know her last summer when we roomed together while attending a writers conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. Since she hails from Wisconsin, she's a fellow Midwesterner, which means we totally dig each other's denims and plaids. (hee hee) Here's what her novel is all about: Kaine Prescott is no stranger to death. When her husband died two years ago, her pleas for further investigation into his suspicious death fell on deaf ears. In desperate need of a fresh start, Kaine purchases an old house sight unseen in her grandfather's Wisconsin hometown. But one look at the eerie, abandoned house immediately leaves her questioning her rash decision. And when the house's dark history comes back with a vengeance, Kaine is forced to face the terrifying realization she has nowhere left to hide. A century earlier, the house on Foster Hill holds nothing but painful memories for Ivy Thorpe. When an unidentified woman is found dead on the property, Ivy is compelled to discover her identity. Ivy's search leads her into dangerous waters and, even as she works together with a man from her past, can she unravel the mystery before any other lives--including her own--are lost? I had the privilege of reading an early copy, and here's what I had to say about it: Riveting! With its dual storyline connected by a single house and the women it touched, Jaime Jo Wright delivers double the suspense, double the romance, and double the reasons to keep turning the pages far into the night. The House on Foster Hill has it all: robust characters, twists I didn’t predict, sky-high stakes, and a strong thread of hope hemming it all together. An outstanding novel from an author to watch. I had a few questions for Jaime Jo, so grab a cup of coffee and join us for a quick chat. Jaime Jo, in this time-slip story, you wrote two sets of characters, two plots, two time periods, and they had to connect in surprising and perfect ways. Be real with me now. How hard was that to do? JAIME JO: Have you seen how much coffee I drink? Lol! It was a tricky process for sure. I’m also one of those writers that hasn’t figured out the process of charting and bulletin boards and strings connecting dots. It’s all primarily in my head and random chicken-scratchings in a journal. I also have a wonderful writing sister who read the book two times, picking it apart so we could put it all back together again. All in all, though, the story really did come alive and sort of create itself. That’s something I just simply can’t explain very well without sounding suspiciously creepy. That does sound a little creepy. But that's OK, it's just part of the genre, right? This was double the mystery and suspense because of your dual stories. Did any aspect of the plot actually surprise you in the way that it turned out? What can you share with us about that without spoiling anything? JAIME JO: Honestly, it didn’t really surprise me. I try very hard to figure out how to build bad-guy decoys to get readers off the trail of who the actual “bad guy” might be. I also love to throw out red herrings, twists, do awful things to my characters, and it’s more of an evil “muah-ha-ha-ha!” than a surprise to me. What DID surprise me, was how the message wrapped itself through the rather dark story. I always want to bring shafts of light into the gothic-elements, but one of the character’s stories truly stunned me with her simple beauty and her steadfast hope in the midst of horrific circumstances. I noticed that and found it to be so beautiful, too. Your characters are so well-crafted, they were leaping off the page. Which character is most like you, and in what ways? JAIME JO: Ohhhh, I see! An expose on Jaime! Lol! I relate mostly to Kaine. She has my personality type which is extroverted, creative, and also over-the-top devoted to her people. In a way where you burn out trying to “save”. She also has my emotional side. The whole, logical but emotional combo that’s almost annoying. You can SEE the logic, but yet your emotions also become overwhelming and you hate that you have them because you know they’re not logical! Is that making any sense at all? That absolutely makes sense. The House on Foster Hill deals with some heavy issues, and yet you kept hope alive throughout the story so it didn’t feel too dark for the reader. I so appreciated that! When you personally encounter serious stuff, whether it’s in the news, or in your own life, where do you turn for hope? JAIME JO: Coffee. Wait! No. LOL! I mean, coffee is usually my physical go-to calming agent, however, I turn to my faith and my people for hope. My faith, because it’s the ONLY unwavering thing in my life. Or rather, God, in whom I have faith, that is unwavering. My people, because they talk me through any emotional spikes and get me down to proper perspective. Darkness isn’t something we can avoid. It will visit us at some point in life, if not multiple times. So rooting that faith into HOPE in things not of this world, is so critical. It’s why I often sign my signature, “Looking vertical”. Because a vertical perspective into eternity is where our long-term hope truly is. So true, and I love how you phrased that. What are you reading right now? JAIME JO: I read this, “what are you eating right now”? I must be hungry. READING! I am currently reading, Hunting Prince Dracula, by Kerri Maniscalco. It’s not for the faint of heart and isn’t inspirational fiction by any means, so I’m not throwing it out there as a recommended read. However, it is deliciously gothic in nature and if you enjoy the darker elements of a novel, it’s very well-written. I’m also reading Toni Shiloh’s Returning Home. This one IS inspirational, and a contemporary romance. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Her characters are delightful and sometimes, a girl just needs a good romance. Thank you for joining us, Jaime Jo! OK friends, if you haven't already, now would be a great time to pre-order The House on Foster Hill! It's official release date is November 21, so it will be available in a matter of days. Call your local bookstore, or find it at ChristianBook, BarnesandNoble, Lifeway, BakerBookHouse, BooksAMillion, or Amazon. Find out more about Jaime Jo and her books on her Web site.
As the days are getting shorter this fall, I can’t help but think back to the long winter nights I experienced as Coast Guard wife living in Homer, Alaska. I could tell a marked difference in my spirit. We lived pretty far south in the state, so on the shortest day of the year, the sun started rising around 10am, and started setting again around 3pm. I’m grateful I wasn’t in the dark any longer than that every day. Sometimes, though, we can feel like we’re in the dark no matter what time of day it is, can’t we? Maybe it’s uncertainty that blocks our view of the future. Or perhaps the darkness that crowds us comes from disaster, evil, or fear. There is a line tucked into my upcoming release, A Refuge Assured, that goes like this: “The dark grew less frightening as he learned to look for the light.” It’s referring to a little boy named Henri who has been traumatized by the French Revolution and is afraid to come outside. The heroine, Vivienne, coaxes him out in the evening to catch fireflies. He stepped into the dark because he was looking at the light. “…he learned to look for the light.” Such simple words, and yet they have been preaching to me lately. Just as Henri learned to look for the light in the darkness, we can too. When acts of terror or injustice threaten to paint the world in deep shades, we can still look for the light. It’s always there, in acts of kindness and grace, in people who sacrificially help their neighbors, in rainbows after the storm. And of course, in God himself. Psalm 18:28 (NASB) says, “For You light my lamp; The Lord my God illumines my darkness.” The NIV puts it this way: “You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” In John 8:12, Jesus tells us that He is the light of the world. And yet I know that for a variety of reasons, there are times when it seems like the light can grow dim. The fireflies aren’t pinpricking the night with their brightness, so to speak. Dawn seems a long, long way off. Some of you are there right now. May I bring you a word of encouragement? One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 50:10. “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.” When you can’t see your hand in front of your face, trust in the One who sees it all. He sees you. He knows you, and knows all the details of what you’re experiencing. He’ll carry you through. When I lived in Homer, Alaska, all the businesses put up Christmas lights in October and they stayed up until March, deliberately dispelling the darkness. And the only time I saw the Northern Lights—neon green brushstrokes across the sky—was in the dead of a winter night. Like the little boy Henri in A Refuge Assured, I learned where to look for the light. Many times, I found it in the smile of a friend, a shared cup of coffee, and quiet moments in prayer. More than we realize it, we can be the light in someone else’s life, too. What kind of light have you found in the darkness? What bright spots of hope or kindness have lightened your days?
During the past few months, I have not been nose-to-the-grindstone on what I call a “raging deadline” (which is the deadline for the first time I turn in a new book to the publisher). But I have had deadlines for revisions, edits, proofing, and a self-imposed deadline to finish the proposal for a future book. I’m pretty good at proofing right away, but if it’s heavy rewrites or synopsis-writing that calls my name, I suddenly find some other URGENT matters that must be addressed first. I might hear a tiny voice whispering, “You really ought to sit down and tackle your current work,” but then I will hear a much stronger, more appealing voice make a persuasive speech. In random order, here are thirteen I have heard—and heeded—in the last few months. 1. Paint the kitchen ceiling. I mean, you’re already going to change the light fixture, so when hubby takes down the old one, it’s a perfect opportunity to paint! What’s that you say? You’ve lived here 14 years with an unpainted ceiling and it hasn’t caused any problems? Oh sure, I know. But just think how nice it will look when it’s painted. 2. Bake baguettes. Over and over until you get it right, because after all, your heroine bakes baguettes and you need to know how it’s done so you can be accurate in the next round of edits. Try three different recipes, at least two kinds flour, find the right baguette pan at the specialty kitchen shop down the street, and order a bread lame to make those perfect cuts on top. 3. Re-organize the spice cabinet. Make impulse purchases at Aldi of clear plastic trays, including a carousel that will be just perfect for that top shelf in the corner cabinet. Organized cabinets increase quality of life. 4. Binge read. Now is the time. Read those books, fiction and nonfiction, as fast as you can! Accomplish more by listening to audio books while painting the kitchen ceiling. Accomplish EVEN MORE by speeding up the narration on your Kindle. (Don’t forget to post reviews after each book!) 5. Shop online for writerly T-shirts. Add to cart the one that says, “Keep Calm and Write On,” and ignore the irony that though you feel calm, you are not “writing on.” You are not writing at all. 6. Purge fridge of expired condiments. No time like the present. And really, it’s better that you do it, than anyone else. 7. Cook freezer meals. Cook extra meals on your own, cook them with friends. Cook them, cook them, Sam I Am. (Thirty meals in the freezer for when I actually do write feels completely legit to me.) 8. Clean the computer keyboard in the family room NOW because it has never been done, or at least it looks that way. Never mind the child playing Minecraft there while you wield your Q-tip between the keys. “Mom. You’re killing me,” he says. But that dirty keyboard could be the germ-infested death of him for realz. 9. Hunt for the perfect character inspiration photos to add to your Pinterest board for your upcoming release. No, not that guy, his hair is all wrong. Nope, not him either. Too broody looking. That lady could be a likely candidate for the hero's sister, but keep scrolling down because there might be a better fit. Keep scrolling . . . keep scrolling . . . 10. Rip out two entire flower beds and refill them with new plants. Maybe you can handle growing roses, after all. OK that’s good, but now you need to weed. Now you need to mulch. Now you need to tend those tender new plantings with regular watering. Oh, time to weed again. 11. Clean out the garage before the weather turns cold. How long can it take? The whole family it pitching in. Oh, now there is a pile of stuff to take to Goodwill. And another pile for the dump. And wait, the minivan has a flat tire, so . . . 12. Read all the cat bios on the local animal shelter Web site. Your parents are thinking about adopting a cat and it’s up to you to help them find the perfect pet. Oh, forget the Web site and just drive there to meet #allthecats in person. (Epilogue: mission accomplished. Harvey has a new home with doting human parents.) 13. Blog. You know once you start the rough draft of the next book, the whole blogging thing will totally fall through the cracks. Might as well connect with people while you can. This is a partial list. I cannot be the only one who is a professional procrastinator. What do you find yourself doing when you could be writing, or doing some other task, instead? You know, just in case I run out of my own ideas.
In honor of National Mental Health Awareness Week, I'm so pleased to be talking to Virginia Pillars today about her book Broken Brain, Fortified Faith: Lessons of Hope through a Child's Mental Illness. I first met Virginia at a writers conference several years ago, and I'm so delighted her book, which chronicles her journey through her adult daughter's schizophrenia, won the 2017 Selah Award for Memoir. I listened to the audio version of her book recently, and found it to be an engaging account of one family's heart-wrenching struggles, and the hope that saw them through. I appreciate having new insight into schizophrenia, an illness I knew next to nothing about. This well-written book is both brave and inspiring. I knew I wanted to ask Virginia more about it. Let's get to it! In the introduction, you mentioned that you longed for the day when we could speak as openly about mental illness as we do about diabetes or cancer. We’re not there yet, obviously. Why do you suppose there is still such a stigma around mental illness? VIRGINIA: Unfortunately, there is a still a general feeling that those who suffer from mental illness are dangerous, unpredictable, or unreliable. We read stories in the media about tragedies when someone with an untreated mental disorder commits a serious crime, such as murder. In reality, the mentally ill are often the victim, not the perpetrator of crime. Perhaps, stories of successful treatment could help change this misconception. Another misconception is that people can get better if they just try harder. I’ve heard remarks such as, “Just think positive, and you’ll feel better,” or “Just get up and go to work, you’re being lazy,” or “Pray harder, God will answer your prayers.” These attempts at help can heap guilt upon those who battle. In reality, I can’t think of anyone who would choose mental illness, a biological disorder of the brain. Telling someone to try harder to overcome mental illness is like telling someone with a broken leg that they can run a marathon if they think positive. In addition, sometimes the way we use words makes it harder for those who have a mental health condition to seek help. They don’t want the label “crazy,” “looney tunes,” “nuts,” “psycho,” “wacko,” or “cracked up.” One is five adults suffer from a mental health issue at sometime in their life, but unfortunately, stigma prevents almost 50% from seeking treatment. When someone breaks a limb and wears a cast, everyone signs their cast and is helpful. But what happens if that same person battles depression? Stigma exists. You really bared your heart and soul in this book, Virginia. Was the writing process healing in any way, or painful, or both? I would say it was both. Yes, it was painful to remember and write our story. Many times, I stopped writing, covered my face, and wept. Sometimes those tears came from the memories of my feelings during the hardest times, but other times, they came from the knowledge of answered prayers. Both types of tears enabled me to dwell on the miracle of my daughter’s return to an independent life, and her acceptance of her illness, schizophrenia. The healing came as I reflected back, and remembered things in detail. I saw how people became “God in the flesh” to me. I realized that answered prayers took place because of the right diagnosis, the doctors, therapists, and counselors who worked with us, as well as the family and friends who surrounded us. I asked for God’s help, and that help arrived in our situation through those who accompanied us on our journey. I also could see how the answers arrived in the daily devotionals that I read, and through my prayers. Ideas came to me for things to try with Amber as I prayed. I came to understand those ideas came to me through the Holy Spirit. Both, healing and sorrow as I wrote strengthened me as I go now to share our story. I can remember my own pain as I listen to others who share their lives with me, and offer them hope. Was there any part of your story that you were tempted to leave out, or gloss over? If so, what made you decide to put it in the book anyway? I struggled before I included both my daughter-in-law's cancer and my grandson Jack's part in our story. I almost left them out, but decided these two events played an important leg of my faith journey, and part of Amber’s recovery. I found Jack’s story one of the hardest sections for me to write. During that time, Amber had stopped taken the medication. I decided to share this common occurrence with mental illness, along with my fears for her because it illustrated the need for medication for recovery. In addition, I included the feelings when Amber stood and read at the funeral Mass, as well as my pain during those days. It allowed me to talk about the grief that accompanies all of us at some point in our lives. People ministered to me, which allowed me to focus on what I had to do. Also, I wrote a chapter about the activities I gave up during this time, and the events that surrounded my withdrawal from organizations. In the end, I decided it didn’t add enough to the flow of our journey to include it. I plan to add it to my blog in the future so if readers want a bit more, it’s there for them to learn more about that time in my life. At one point in the book, you realized that asking “why?” was the wrong, or unproductive, question. What were the questions you asked yourself instead, and how did that change your outlook? When I quit asking “why is this happening to me?” and instead dwelt on “What shall I do, God?” and “Show me what to do next,” I no longer felt paralyzed in my pain. Through reading the book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner, I realized we live in a broken world and I am part of it. So instead of “Why me?” I changed my attitude to “Why not me?” I had no immunity to the troubles of this world, any more than the next person. Once I understood that basic concept, I could look for ways to improve our situation and her health. It propelled me to read, to understand Amber’s illness, and to create an environment that gave her the best chance to recover. The Scripture verses you shared were so meaningful. Do you have a favorite verse or passage from the Bible? How does it bring you comfort or reassurance? I love so many different verses, so I found it hard to choose one. I hope you don’t mind if I choose several. Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who in unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tested in every way, yet without sin.” This passage gives me comfort. Jesus knows the troubles we experience. In his humanity, he suffered the same emotions I have, but He didn’t sin. It helps me turn to Him and talk about anything because He understands. Phil 4:8-9 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.” I like these verses. They help me stay focused when things around me seem to go wrong. I also try to remember the verse, Hebrews 13:14, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come.” These verses help me because I look ahead to the final destination as a goal, not my immediate one here on earth. There were times when I was reading when I was really worried not just for your daughter or your other adult children, but for you, because you were giving so much of yourself to those who really needed you. Since you’ve been there, what would you say to someone reading this blog whose health may be suffering due to an intense season of caregiving? Thank you, for your concern about me, Jocelyn. I guess I would say to readers who are caregivers to discover what gives them snippets of respite - perhaps coffee with a friend, a shopping trip, prayers, or music. We all have different things that comfort us. I found my few minutes of devotional time in the morning helped me stay focused. Music soothes me, so I listened to songs that strengthened my faith as I went about my day. Other times, I found silence helped me, so I kept the house quiet. Plus, I found that when I admitted that I needed help and allowed others to minister to me, it served two purposes. It upheld me, but in turn, those who assisted could feel like they did something to help the situation, too. One thing I learned, that I still try to remember all the time, is to “live in the moment.” No matter what my task, I try to put my energy and concentration on that one thing. I try to give my full attention to the person in front of me, or the job for that moment, and enjoy each part of my day. I tackle one thing at a time, which reduces stress for me. This helps me be aware of the joy that surrounds me, if I just take time to discover it. What do you hope readers gain from this book? I hope readers gain new understanding into the complexity of mental illness. I also hope that people will look for the families in their communities that struggle alone, and reach out to support them in any way they can. A card, a note, a short letter with a promise of prayers may be the lifeline for someone in a great deal of anguish. I’d also like to encourage those who keep mental illness struggles hidden, to reach out to those who they trust for support. I know the understanding and support I received, and that which Amber received played an important part of the journey to recovery for us both. Where can readers find support and education? NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) has chapters across the nation. Their website, http://www.nami.org has links for each state and their affiliates, along with numbers for Hotlines and helplines. NAMI offers a variety of free classes and support groups. The site also has information about mental illness. The latest research is found at the Brain &Behavior Research Foundation at https://www.bbrfoundation.org Thank you so much, Virginia, for writing your story, and for talking with us here today! *This week only, Broken Brain, Fortified Faith is 50% off the list price for Mental Health Awareness Week when you shop through the publisher, here. The book is also available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and more. About Virginia I write using the pseudonym Virginia Pillars at the request of my family. I volunteer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness organization as an instructor for the Family to Family educational program and lead support groups. Certified in First Aid for Mental Health, I speak on mental illness, operating a small business, and quilting for organizations, workshops, and faith retreats. I'm a mother of four adult children, grandmother of four, and live on an Iowa farm with my husband. I took writing serious in 2010 and have been writing since then. I have pieces published in Grief Diaries: Poetry, Prose and More. Visit me at http://virginiapillars.com.
Today on the blog I'm so pleased to welcome author and speaker Janet Thompson, whose new book is Mentoring for All Seasons: Sharing Life's Experiences and God's Faithfulness. I first met Janet when we roomed together at a conference several years ago and we've been friends ever since. (I'm pretty sure we bonded right away when we realized I had forgotten to pack pajamas--how did I manage that?--and she had packed two sets! Nothing like borrowing your roommate's PJs for a few days to bring two women closer together!) I'm convinced that we need her new book now more than ever before. Reading Mentoring for All Seasons was like sitting down at a table with Janet, and with all the women she invited to speak into the book with their own personal stories. One of mine was included. I was inspired by how God has used women mentoring women not just in ages past, but here and now. Mentoring for All Seasons is not just theoretical. The biblical wisdom and conversational tone are supported by very practical guides for both mentees and mentors. This is an invaluable resource I'll be referring to often. Without further ado, here is Janet's guest post: What to Do When You Don’t Like Your Life Season by Janet Thompson We’ve all heard it said, “There’s a time for everything.” Or “You’re just in a season, it will pass.” In fact, it’s Scriptural— “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”—Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 The good and pleasant seasons sound wonderful and just what God wants for us, right? It’s so easy to think that God couldn’t possibly want what we perceive as a bad or unpleasant season for us. And yet this Scripture passage tells us that God made both, and while we’re alive, we’re going to experience every season—the good and the bad—under heaven. Pastor Rick Warren often says that life is like a roller coaster: if you’re going up and experiencing a good season, brace yourself because in about three weeks you’ll probably find yourself going down into an unpleasant season, screaming all the way! We try so hard to hold onto those feel-good seasons, and there’s nothing wrong with that—we should have times of joy, dancing, laughing, loving, and peace. But when the not so good times roll, we need to remember that God has not left us. He’s walking right beside us through the mourning, weeping, uprooting, and war seasons, and that’s when a mentor is so helpful to remind us that she made it through her tough seasons and we will too. The focus of my book Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture has Forgotten is for us to remember how good God has been in all the seasons of our life. God never abandons His children. This is a message we need to share with each other and with the culture, especially during these challenging times we live in today. Reasons for Not Liking our Life Season Usually we don’t like our life season because: It’s painful or uncomfortable. We’re jealous and like what someone else’s life looks like more than our own life. We’re living with the consequences of our, or someone else’s, behavior or decisions. We’re discontent or discouraged. We’re not sure if God still cares about us. What would you add to the list? We all have difficult seasons we want to end. Or maybe we’re in a wonderful season that we never want to end. Many life seasons we have no control over, even though advertisers and the culture would try to make you believe differently. They set us up to fail either way by thinking if we just drink the right cola, take the right pill, own the right car, use the right cosmetics and anti-aging products, eat the right food, reach success . . . every season of our life will be heavenly. The aging clock is going to stop and somehow God made our life to be different from everyone else’s life. But that’s a lie and those who buy into it will never be content because everything God lists in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is a season that everyone will experience. What to Do When We Don’t Like Our Life Season We probably feel like crying, screaming, maybe yelling, getting depressed, ignoring, or trying to get out of it. If we’re honest, we’ve all been there. But soon we realize that the only thing that works when we don’t like our life season is to ask God how He wants us to deal with it, and then listen carefully to how the Holy Spirit speaks to us. It’s that still small voice we hear guiding us when we cry out to God. We might not know how to get through the season, but God does. So often He’s talking, but we’re not listening. Someone on a friend’s Facebook post asked how my Christian friend knew what God wanted. Did he have a direct line to God? I thought, Yes he does! Every Christian has a direct line to God the world doesn’t understand, and one we don’t use nearly enough: praying to Jesus who hears every word and the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us even when all we can do is groan. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.Romans 8:26-27 While writing this post, I met a woman whose husband has cancer. As she shared her story, I heard in my mind hug her and pray for her. Mind you, we had just met, and I had already told her I would be praying for her husband and their family since I understood having had breast cancer three times. But as she kept talking, I knew I was to pray for her now. So I said, “Let me pray for you,” and stepped forward to hug her; but she didn’t realize that I meant right then. I knew God meant right then! She needed it and she was so grateful. I had tried to talk myself out of it, and how many times is God trying to tell us what to do “right then,” but we’re dismissing His words of wisdom to see us through this season and on into the next one. That’s when a mentor can step in and do just what I was able to do for this woman, even though we barely knew each other. Can you imagine how much comfort can come from two women who have a personal mentoring relationship?! God doesn’t want us going through any season alone, but He also doesn’t want us listening to anyone who isn’t giving us biblical wisdom. That’s why in Mentoring for All Seasons: Sharing Life Experiences and God’s Faithfulness, every season has Scripture to study together that applies to the various issues women might experience in that season. Being a mentor, or a mentee reaching out to another woman for guidance, doesn’t mean the mentor has all the answers or the Bible memorized. It just means she’s willing to search God’s Word and pray together for Him to tell you both what to do in the life seasons you might not like right now; and then, you both reach out and help someone else going through something similar. And that’s exactly what Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us we need to do when we’re going through a life season we don’t like! Mentoring for All Seasons: Sharing Life Experiences and God’s Faithfulness is available at ChristianBook, BarnesandNoble, Amazon, or signed by the author. About Janet Janet Thompson is an international speaker, freelance editor, and award-winning author of 19 books. Her latest release is Mentoring for All Seasons: Sharing Life Experiences and God’s Faithfulness. She is also the author of Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten; The Team That Jesus Built; Dear God, Why Can’t I Have a Baby?; Dear God They Say It’s Cancer; Dear God, He’s Home!; Praying for Your Prodigal Daughter; Face-to-Face Bible study Series; and Woman to Woman Mentoring: How to Start, Grow, & Maintain a Mentoring Ministry Resources. She is the founder of Woman to Woman Mentoring and About His Work Ministries. Visit Janet and sign up for her Monday Morning blog and online newsletter at womantowomanmentoring.com www.facebook.com/Janetthompson.authorspeaker http://www.linkedin.com/in/womantowomanmentoring/ www.pinterest.com/thompsonjanet https://twitter.com/AHWministries
I don't know about you, but I've been holding my breath for days as we've watched Hurricane Irma pummel across Florida, affecting many family members and close friends. This morning I learned that our loved ones are unharmed, and their property has minimal damage, but they are still waiting for power. But before that, there were, and still are, the wildfires in the northwest to be concerned about. And we can't forget about those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Rebuilding after fires and hurricanes will be tough work, and for a very long time. And now we find ourselves on September 11, the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. that plunged our nation into more than a decade of war and deployments. When we consider all of these events in such quick succession, it's easy to be overwhelmed, isn't it? The word "refuge" has been on my heart lately, for a few reasons. First, I've been editing the galleys for my next novel, A Refuge Assured. But the concept of refuge has been a very real one as we've had natural disasters displace so many Americans lately. There are almost one hundred references to "refuge" in the Bible, but I want to share just one of them with you today. Psalm 73:28. "But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds." Normally we think of refuge as a physical location of safety. A haven, where nothing can harm the one who shelters there. The verse above reveals more layers of meaning to the word: 1) To be near God is to make Him our refuge. No matter where we are, whether we are in harm's way or time zones away from physical danger, we can dwell in the Lord by trusting His promises. 2) Our refuge is not just the Lord, but the Sovereign Lord. A turn in the hurricane's path may take the Weather Channel by surprise. A terrorist attack may catch us unaware. But God is still on His throne, and nothing surprises Him. He is never disoriented and at a loss as to how best to care for His beloved. He is sovereign. 3) There is a natural connection between taking refuge in God, and telling of all His deeds. On 9-11, we tell stories of where we were on this day in 2001, don't we? We remember the fallen. We thank those who served on that dreadful day and who continue to serve us. We #NeverForget because that day was so significant for us as a nation, and for many of us, it changed us personally, too. (I share my story here.) In the same way, reminding ourselves and each other of how the Lord has already provided for us in the past reminds us that He has proven faithful. He has been our refuge in the past, and He won't stop caring for us now. Please understand that I don't mean to minimize any of the hardships you might be experiencing. Far from it. I'm praying for your physical needs, whether it's related to a recent disaster, or it's a chronic illness, or a military deployment, or the loss of a loved one. I'm also praying that in the midst of it all, you will be near God, as the psalmist wrote. That His presence will wrap around you, whatever your circumstances may be. I pray His peace and comfort will be made known to you, surpassing all understanding.
I have to ask. For those of you who have read both The Mark of the King and Free to Lean: Making Peace with Your Lopsided Life--did you catch that I used the lesson the character Marc-Paul learned in the novel in the last chapter of Free to Lean? "Everything begins and ends with grace." Without taking the time to unpack that statement right here, I'll just say that this concept of grace is the perfect fit in both my novel and in my nonfiction book. Grace is always our perfect fit. It's always in season. And there is never a time when I don't need it. If you're not familiar with Free to Lean, it's my book for women that basically says it's OK to not do it all. Our goal should not be balance, but to lean into the priorities God has given us for our particular season of life. (Read more about the book here.) The entire last chapter of Free to Lean is devoted to exploring grace, along with some myths that keep us from embracing it. I do hope you have a chance to read it yourself, but let me just share a snippet with you today, from Chapter Ten: Grace means it's not about what we can do, but what Christ has already done for us. Grace means we don't have to earn His love, strength, or power. he has already declared us worthy of these gifts--and it has nothing to do with our striving. Grace means that when we fall short, all is not lost--because Jesus covers the distance between where we are and where we will someday be. I have motivational mugs and T-shirts that tell me to "Keep Calm and Write On," but my favorite one is the one pictured above. Because lots of days, I don't need a pep talk that tells me to be productive. I need grace. We all do. Below, I'd love for you to hear from my friend Susie Finkbeiner on this. I love that so much. Whatever we do, it's not by our power, but God's. There is such freedom in that truth! (You can view more videos on my Free to Lean YouTube playlist here. More videos will be added to it as Discovery House finishes editing them.) I want to leave you with a song by Sara Groves which I listened to over and over while I wrote Free to Lean. It relates so well, in fact, that I wanted to quote from the lyrics in the book. But alas, we were only granted permission for three years' time due to music copyright issues, so I'm just going to share it with you this way instead. (The video below is just audio, there's no real video component to it.) The song is called "I've Been Here Before," and it's from her Floodplain album. Listen closely to the chorus, and be encouraged.