Goodbye, 2014....Hello, 2015

Hard to believe it, but today is the last day of 2014. And what a year it's been! So many amazing lessons and experiences. Some have been extremely difficult, like learning to rely completely on God's provision for our finances month to month. Some, like the cultural stress I experienced earlier in the Spring, have been painful. Some, like the publication of my first novel, have been utterly satisfying. There is precious little I would change about this year.

Now, however, it's time to look toward the next year. Of course, our fervent prayer is that God will perform a miracle with regard to our funding and we'll be able to return to Mexico for our second term in July. That's a big goal. But we serve a BIG God!

Personally speaking, this year to come is a big one for me. It is the year in which I will turn 40 years old. 40! While it doesn't conjure the terror for me that it inspires in others approaching this decade mark, it is a tad more daunting than turning 30. I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it's because I don't actually feel like someone about to turn 40. Don't feel anywhere near mature enough for this age. At any rate, I have several goals in mind. Taking a page from my sister, I want to own 40. To do so, I want to meet the following goals by the end of the year:

(1) Regular, consistent, daily devotions.
(2) Exercising 45 minutes a day 4 x a week, and another 15 minutes 2 x a week
(3) Drinking at least 80 oz of water every day.
(4) 60 minutes of Spanish study 5 x a week, incorporating Spanish into my devotions 2 x a week.
(5) Reaching, and maintaining, a healthy weight. Sadly, I have gained back everything I previously lost (booo!). So, I have broken this last goal into a few mini goals - I want to be down 25 lbs by March 31, down 50 lbs by July 1, down 75 lbs by September 30, and at my goal weight by December 31.

If I can manage to reach all 5 of these goals, I will be able to say I "owned" 40.


'The Return' prologue

The prologue for my next novel, 'The Return'.


6 years ago

     Justin Bennet sat on the edge of his bed, head in his hands.
     As he’d only just begun his general surgical residency, there was a mountain of work stacked in neat piles on his desk. Notes to read through from both his class work and his patients. Leisure time was a luxury he didn’t have right now.
     And yet he could not find the strength to stand. To get up from where he sat and do the things he knew needed to be done.
     Who could, when faced with the loss suddenly thrust upon him this week?
     Slowly, his eyes tracked to the paper lying atop the nightstand. He stared at it for several seconds before taking it up. The paper shook in his hands, crinkled from repeated readings. Greedily, his eyes flew over the words, soaking them into his heart once more, like rain on parched soil.
        Little Brother -

            I’d hoped you’d never read this. The guys all write these goodbye letters to loved ones back   home before their first mission, counting on them never being delivered. Counting on surviving long enough to hug their wives, children, girlfriends, or parents on their next leave. We all know, deep down, however, that there are times when the worst happens. Guys don’t make it home. Families must learn to live without their husbands, fathers, boyfriends, or sons.
            And now, I’m one of their numbers.
            I know this will be extremely difficult for everyone. You. Mom and dad. My darling, beautiful Izobel. Promise me that you’ll look out for her. With her family all scattered across the country, the only family she has nearby now is the three of you. Watch over her and help her with whatever she needs. I can’t help her now; I need you to do that for me, bro. You know I’m depending on you.

    And then, the part of the letter that had clearly been recently added:

            I wish we could’ve had more time together while I was last on leave. There’s so much I’ve wanted to say to you, so much I’ve wanted to know. You’ve changed, Justin. You’re not the same carefree guy you used to be. What happened? Who hurt you? It was clear to me during our limited time together that you are just a shell of the man you were. I’m worried about you, little brother. Worried, and praying day and night that whatever has happened, you haven’t turned your back on the One who makes life worth living. I’m sorry we’ll never be able to talk about it, Justin. My prayer for you is, and will continue to be, that you find peace and joy once more.
            Take care of our parents, of Izobel. And please, Justin. Please take care of yourself. It has been my joy to be your older brother, even if only by a few minutes. I love you, bro.


     He carefully returned the letter to the top of the night stand and lay back on his bed, his feet planted on the floor. While he regretted not having more time with his brother during his final leave last year, especially knowing what he now knew, the wounds were still too raw. Watching Matt and Izobel together, especially after he’d finally proposed, would’ve been more than his broken and aching heart could handle.
     And now this.
     Justin knew that Matt’s final wish was that he would find peace and joy in his life again. With each day, the hope of reclaiming those two things was growing dimmer and dimmer. First the betrayal by the woman he’d loved. Now, the death of his best friend.
     This letter showed that his brother was concerned he’d turn his back on God. But what Matt didn’t--wouldn’t--know was that he’d turned his back on God a long time before now.
     For the first time since he’d received that horrible phone call, he was actually relieved. Relieved that his brother--the one whose faith had always been strong and an encouragement to everyone around him--would never see how far from God his little brother had wandered.
     Stuffing the pain even deeper inside, Justin opened the bottom drawer on the night stand, sliding the letter into it, then shoved it closed. There was work to do, after all, and he didn’t have time for grief.
     After all, what good would it do? Nothing would bring his brother back to them.


Still Longing for Home - Part 2

It's been a couple days since my last post, and I feel like God's been speaking to me about it.

A missionary friend of mine shared this with me on Facebook:  

You are right, it is absolutely a legitimate and beautiful desire as a wife and mother! When I feel very discouraged about it, I find that it helps me to remember that this lifestyle constantly reminds me of my longing for my heavenly home. If I lived in my own very comfortable home here, I would be tempted to lose sight of that. So, when I long to make my place a cozy nest, I remind myself that God has prepared a forever place for us!

She could not know that her words mirrored what the Lord had been speaking to my heart at the same time.

This morning, on the way to church, this issue was addressed again--this time, by the Christian radio DJ. She was talking about a book she'd recently read about the root of jealousy and discontent. When we look at others and are jealous about relationships, things, places, situations, etc. they have or are in, we are really saying to God that we are unhappy with the life He has blessed us with. We're really complaining to God that He hasn't given us what we want, instead of being thankful for the things He has blessed us with. The DJ said that this spirit of discontent is sinful and something that we need to give to God--daily if need be.

I hadn't thought about it like that.

Then, while I was still noodling what I'd heard, God gently suggested to me that perhaps this restlessness, this unfulfilled desire to make a home, is something He's allowed me to have. He knows me better than I do, so He knows that if I were to get comfortable here, I might have a hard time leaving. Comfort is a huge thing to me, and can be a blessing.....or a danger. If I get too comfortable, I tend to be less likely to immediately obey when He asks me to act. And I know that until God calls me Home to Heaven, He has placed me in Mexico City, not the U.S. I may be here for a time, but it's not to stay.

So while my God-given desire to make a home for my family is a good and wonderful thing, it can easily become a stumbling block if I let it. It might not be that way for other missionary ladies. But God has been showing me that for me, it is.

Therefore, the new way you can pray for me is that God will help me give this longing to Him each day and not let it distract me from the work He has for me today.


Still Longing for Home

Tonight, I've been scrolling through the "home" page on Pinterest, admiring all the autumn pictures and pins on how to decorate your home for the season. And I love it. Really. Honestly, it's been over a decade since I really, truly experienced a traditional autumn season (autumn in the South is not the same as a Midwestern autumn. For one thing, except in rare places, you don't have the wide assortment of colorful leaves. Pine needles don't turn gorgeous shades of red or orange), and we are literally surrounded by a forest of trees atop the gentle slopes the missionary homes sit on. Autumn will be great this year.

So what's the problem? I mean, I can think of several of my missionary friends serving on foreign fields who are ready to temporary block my Facebook posts if I make one more mention of autumn or share one more picture of changing leaves.

Tonight, I miss having my own home. The funny thing about that statement is that we've never had our own home. We've rented or lived in parsonages for all sixteen years of our marriage. My biggest dream before receiving my missionary calling was to get married, buy a home, and raise our family in the same home. And because that is a dream I've had to give up, as not too many missionaries own their own homes, I've learned to enjoy making our rental homes truly ours.

The problem, of course, is that this is not our house. Not our furniture. Not my kitchen stuff. Not even my linens. And certainly none of my decorations (every autumn, before departing for language school and the field, I had an entire bin of decorations I loved to put out. And in Mexico, there is another bin of autumn decorations waiting for us when we get back). Just two months ago, I couldn't wait to get here and finally unpack after two months of living out of suitcases and traveling around. I was so thrilled to have a place to put everything! Yes, when I think about what we could be doing--living with family members or friends--I am grateful for this home and the opportunity to be here as a family. To really be able to let our hair down at the end of the day.

Perhaps only another missionary wife will understand that this is not just a grown woman whining and throwing herself a pity party. I believe it stems from something deeper.

As missionaries, there are so many transitions we have to make. We pack everything up in our homes (or sell everything; I know many families who literally arrived in language school with what they could fit in their allotted baggage, having sold everything else before they left), say goodbye to our families, and settle in to language school (for those who learn language away from their fields, anyway). After we've completed language school, we pack everything up again, say goodbye to the friends we've made, and leave for our fields. At the end of our first four year term, we pack everything up, say goodbye to friends and teammates, and return to our passport countries for furlough--a process that involves many transitions as we travel to raise support, often taking a couple years. Then, we return to our fields after more packing and another round of goodbyes to start the process again. If the missionaries are blessed to be moving back into the same house, some of the transitions are easier. But if they must look for a new house with each new term...

We women are innate nesters. We have this inner desire to build a "nest" for our families. And when we can't do it because of circumstances outside of our control, we get antsy. Maybe even a little sad.

This is where I now am. It is not something I expected to feel when we came home from the field. Especially knowing we'd move into provided housing. I am, however, thankful for the cinnamon stick Yankee Candle I was able to get with my birthday money. And I'm thankful for the other autumn scented candles I'll bring back from my collection at mom's next month.

This is something else you can pray for when you pray for the missionaries you know and support. And if you have any friends who are missionary wives, just be patient with her when she unexpectedly gets the urge to redecorate your home when visiting. She probably can't help herself.


First Promotion

I'm in the middle of the third day of the first promotion of my book. On top of that, I paid a small amount of money to advertise on a daily blog that features discounted and free Kindle books available. Thanks to both of those, today "The Reunion" sits at #58 (in the top 100) for its category for the Kindle and #61 for the book! Pretty amazing, if you ask me!

While it's great that people are buying the book, I'm more excited that a larger amount of people (people I likely wouldn't have reached on my own) are actually reading it. What a cool feeling! The ultimate goal is for a wider range of readers who will leave reviews (so far only 6), which hopefully leads to more sales of the book. I'm not doing this for income, obviously, but for the thrill of knowing my book is being read.


Coming "Home"?

When we left Mexico almost two months ago, as much as I loved Mexico and knew I'd miss my friends there, I was excited to be going "home". We've spent the last two months traveling and visiting friends and family. The longer we're here, however, the more I realize that this really isn't "home" any more. I'm still excited to be here and look forward to seeing friends and meeting new people. But I've come to realize that "home" isn't really as cut and dry a concept as I used to believe.

Definitely, "home" is wherever my family is. Even the most temporary residence can feel like "home" as long as my family is with me.

We had people say to us when we arrived in Mississippi, "welcome home!" In the most technical sense, I guess this is the closest thing to "home" we've had since we first got married--it's certainly where we've spent the most time (at this point, ten out of our sixteen years of marriage were spent here). But even Mississippi doesn't feel like "home" anymore. Perhaps that's because we gave up our house and put all of our belongings in storage when we left for Costa Rica two years ago.

I can't tell you how many people said to me, "Just wait until you go back. It's not going to be the same. It won't feel like 'home' anymore." I listened but shrugged off this advice, reasoning to myself that, as it's only been two years, what could change? How could things be that different in such a short amount of time?

And for the most part, things are the same. Oh, there are new buildings and new people in the roles we left. And some folks have moved away.

The biggest difference is that we have changed.

I can't really say that Mexico is "home" yet. I'm not like two of my teammates who have served in Mexico for nearly two decades and feel very at home there.

I think that, as long as the States are "home" to me, I'll struggle with adapting to life in Mexico. Maybe this is not the case for everyone, but I think it is me. I'm not saying I can never feel at home here, but as long as I measure everything I do by how I used to do it in the States, I'll continue to struggle with culture stress on the field.

Last week, I realized that an important shift has taken place. In every place we visited, be it with our families, or at our headquarters in Indiana, or here in Mississippi, I kept waiting for that feeling of "home" to come. Sure, every place we visited (but Abilene--that's a new place for my in-laws since we left two years ago) was familiar. But not "home". Not anymore.

I was initially sad about this until I realized that it means I'm slowly letting go of my life here. The people will always be important to me and I'll always miss seeing them when we're away. But I also think this is a healthy--necessary--step for me to take in order to become the missionary God has called me to be.

And today, I'm grateful that God is helping to bring about this change in me. I look forward with great anticipation to returning to Mexico and really working hard to make the necessary steps to adapt to the culture.

Please pray that God will continue to keep me restless for "home" while we're in the States. We don't want to get too comfortable that we forget where our calling is. Thank you!


An Inspiring Author's Dream Come True

A dream I've had since I was ten years old was fulfilled this week. I am now a published author! Justin & Emma's story went live on Amazon (in both paper and Kindle form) this week.

It was very surreal to go to Amazon and, for the first time ever, know that there was an author listing for a book I've written. It's even more surreal to actually read that book on my Kindle! Let me just say, reading it on the computer as part of a draft is not the same.

In the short time it's been available, the interest and support of friends has been overwhelming. People I don't even know are sharing the Amazon links, and people I don't even know are actually buying my book!

Now that my baby is out there, the real work comes. I am so thankful for my new friends in the Christian Indie Authors group. They have a wealth of information and experience to share with newbies like me, and they've been incredibly supportive. I'm now working to develop a Goodreads author page and my own author Twitter account, just to aid in the marketing process. But I know I have a lot to learn in the coming months.

For now, I'm trying to do what I can in the evening hours, but I want to also enjoy our time with the family. More fun to come!


Promotional Posters for "The Reunion"

I created 22 teaser posters with content directly from the book. I also created several promotional posters that detail the imminent release of the book. These don't contain any content from the book:

Promotional Poster Number 1:

Promotional Poster Number 2:

Promotional Poster Number 3:


It Begins

I've said many times that I'm going to have to develop a much thicker skin if I want to be an author (which I do). I'm about as thin-skinned as a jellyfish right now. Must develop the thickness of a rhino if I want to avoid developing a critical spirit of my own when people decide they don't like my work. Yes, even before they've even read more than a few sentences. Haven't I, after all, read a few paragraphs of a story before and absolutely hated it? Haven't I been overly critical at times about other authors' writing styles....or lack of proper grammar? Yes, and yes.

There will be people who think my plot line trite and overdone. There will be people who think my book poorly written (although I hope not). There will be people--I can guarantee--who think my book too preachy, or complain about it being "Christian" (never mind the fact I plan to make it ABUNDANTLY clear what my book is and what it is not).

I think sometimes any excitement from friends or people who know me to read what I've written goes straight to my head, and I get "the big head". I try not to let this happen, of course, but it invariably does. So that makes it all the more difficult when there are those who have--already--expressed disdain. Before a word is even in print, and the only things actively representing my writing are this blog and the teaser posters I've made.

I need to remind myself that I am not a professional. I've never done this before. Any of it. Not the book. Not the publishing. Not the cover creation. And certainly not the teaser posters. A graphic artist I am not--unfortunately, artistic creativity in that sense has completely eluded me. And for crying out loud, a blog is at times nothing more than a glorified diary for grownups.

While I make every effort to find something positive to say in the reviews of even the books I dislike the most, I realize not everyone embraces this policy.

I will not wake up tomorrow with the skin of a rhino. This I know. I also know that it's a process. Just as I need to guard myself from getting "the big head" when I receive the positive reviews, I also need to guard myself from getting too critical or defensive when I don't. And maybe, just maybe, those negative reviews will have something to say that truly helps me in the long run.


Social Media Promoting

I've created a Facebook page and a Pinterest board just for the promotion of 'The Reunion'. As of now, I'm shooting for a mid-June book release.

Anyway, a fellow author in a Christian authors' group gave me the idea of creating teaser posters to share on social media as a means of promoting the book prior to release. Great idea! So far, I've created eleven posters, two of which have gone "live". I'm going to do another one or two in the next couple days and then restrict them to once a week until the book release. Hopefully, it'll help generate interest.

Teaser Posters

A friend in an online group for Christian writers gave me the idea to create "teaser posters" to promote the coming release of my book. Here are the posters:

Number One:

Number Two:

Number Three:

Number Four:

Number Five:

Number Six:

Number Seven:

Number Eight:

Number Nine:

Number Ten:

Number Eleven:

Number Twelve:

Number Thirteen:

Number Fourteen:

Number Fifteen:

Number Sixteen:

Number Seventeen:

Number Eighteen:

Number Nineteen:

Number Twenty: (and the most important)

Number Twenty-one:

Number Twenty-two:


Culture Stress

I remember the day not long after our arrival in Costa Rica where I had a complete emotional meltdown (yes, there's a blog entry about that). Then during language school, there were days where I had had enough of Spanish. I didn't want to hear it. I didn't want to speak it. I didn't want to read it. While those days didn't occur very often, unfortunately for me when they did, it was always within the first 10 minutes of my first class, which was grammar.

Again, I've had my moments here in Mexico (most notably during the house-hunting process. There is, again, a blog entry about that, but it was never posted. Some things I write and choose not to share with everyone), but they have, again, thankfully been few and far between.

And then there's today.

This morning, I am unaccountably weepy, irritable, and hyper sensitive. The littlest things set me off into bouts of tears or anger: the front gate left open, clutter, the kids' squabbles, a friendly "how are you doing?", the realization that I mistook color-safe bleach for liquid detergent.

I can't remember the last time I had a sound, full night's sleep.

And Spanish. Oy. Some days I feel like I'm making real progress. This weekend, however, it felt like everything I was trying to communicate might as well have been in French for all that was understood by my listeners. And those trying to speak to me might as well have been speaking in French, as little as I understood them. I am heartily tired of not being understood and not understanding what's said to me in return. I've been told that the only way for this to get better is to spend more time listening and speaking the language. But when you're discouraged or experiencing culture stress, the last thing you want to do is hear or speak it more. And so you avoid it like the plague, which only makes it that much harder to speak and understand. It's a vicious, vicious circle.

I truly do love living in Mexico. I love the people, most of the food (as long as it's not too spicy), and the culture. There are far, far, far more things I love about life here than I dislike (mostly the driving). But I find myself increasingly homesick, looking forward to seeing friends and family and having the chance to become reacquainted with familiar places.

I did a little research on culture stress. All of the above are symptoms of this emotional state. I'm not exactly sure how to make it better. I plan to spend time in prayer, listening to the sounds and music that soothe me and raise my spirit, and rest. I definitely covet your prayers in the next few days especially.


Inadequate for the Role

It is not often that I feel totally inadequate for the role God has placed us in these last months--pastoring a large (for us, considering the two other churches we've pastored were small, country churches with no more than 20 souls attending on a big event Sunday) church in Mexico City, in a language in which I lack complete confidence. But when I glance across the crowded sanctuary and see women weeping in brokenness, knowing that I haven't a clue what to say to them in Spanish, I feel completely inadequate.

Yesterday was one such occasion. I stood there and prayed as I watched her, tears sliding down my own cheeks because I knew the only thing I could offer her was a hug. Yes, there are times when this is enough. When the touch of someone who cares is more than enough to express the love of Jesus to a hurting soul. But it still doesn't take away my longing to be able to give real words of comfort.

I can speak Spanish, yes. I have studied many different tenses. But my own insecurities and laziness have greatly held me back from seeing improvement. I know this is something I need God's help with--I can't overcome this on my own. It is my goal to return to Mexico after our Homeland Ministry Assignment with a much better grip on the language. I know I'm going to have to work really hard, studying every day, and seeking out opportunities to simply speak.

I know those feelings of inadequacy will always strike when I least expect them. But my goal, my prayer, is that they are fewer and aren't as restricting. I want to be able to share a message of love in Spanish with my Mexican sisters when they are hurting and clearly in need of one. Please pray with me for God to help me in this process.

And pray with me that He will continue to prompt me to do what I already can do--let His love shine through a hug.


The Back Cover Teaser

While waiting for my editor to get back with the things I need to fix, I can't upload the manuscript to CreateSpace. So, this evening I worked on everything else I could so that the process goes faster. With some help from a missionary friend, I'll have the book cover finished tomorrow. I also wrote up a description for the back cover.

Emma Darcy had the perfect life--a blissful marriage, doting husband, and two adorable young sons. Then on the night of her 10th high school reunion, tragedy strikes. In a heartbeat, she's a widow left to raise her sons alone, all while facing an unexpected pregnancy and the return of a man from her past. As the months go by, her heart becomes increasingly hardened by anger--anger at the men responsible for her husband's death, and for God for allowing it.

Dr. Justin Bennet doesn't want to blow his second chance with the woman he walked away from years ago. But after the death of her husband, it doesn't seem like she'll be ready to fall in love again any time soon. If ever.

Will Emma's bitterness drive them apart for good, or will she finally find healing in forgiveness?


God's Strength is Sufficient

Today, the missionary team was invited to join one of the church planting teams as they did door-to-door evangelism in a neighboring community we're trying to saturate with the Gospel. When I say "invited", we really didn't have a choice. And at first, I was absolutely terrified at the idea. I mean, street evangelism in English is not my strong suit (I must prefer the less uncomfortable method of friendship evangelism). Throw in Spanish, and it really did feel impossible.

For two straight days, I was in a panic about this. Finally, it was agreed that I would be permitted to simply share my testimony in Spanish, something I've done, and my partners would make the actual Gospel presentation. I did feel better about this, but I was still pretty nervous. After all, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

Our group of Mexican church planters and missionaries met together for prayer and then relocated to the area we would be working in. Before we left, our field director's wife, Helen, handed me a devotional and encouraged me to read today's passage.

I stood there, tears streaming down my face. It is from "Jesus Calling" (by Sarah Young), a devotional book with a daily reading from the Bible, yet from the perspective of Jesus speaking to us. Here's the reading:

"Walk by faith, not by sight. As you take steps of faith, depending on Me, I will show you how much I can do for you. If you live your life too safely, you will never know the thrill of seeing Me work through you. When I gave you My Spirit, I empowered you to live beyond your natural ability and strength. (Emphasis mine.) That's why it is so wrong to measure your energy level against the challenges ahead of you. The issue is not your strength but Mine, which is limitless. By walking close to Me, you can accomplish My purposes in My strength. (2 Corinthians 5:7; Galatians 5:25)"

Was that not the most perfect reading for today?

I was partnered with Diana and Margaret, and we had the opportunity to talk to five women. Three of the women listened to everything we said and were interested in hearing more (we wrote down their contact information). The first woman we talked to had recently experienced a house fire and was in the middle of the cleanup process. She took a little booklet of the Gospel of John with Margaret's telephone number on the back. The fifth woman, however, was a very strong Jehovah's Witness and was not interested in anything we had to say. Indeed, after about 10 minutes of back and forth discussion (which Diana and Margaret handled superbly), we ended up leaving.

Between all of us, there were 5 decisions for Christ and over 10 new contacts made---quite a blessing from God and an answered prayer for open hearts. Despite the fact that I completely forgot everything I'd planned to say in my testimony, I did share with two of the ladies. God really helped me by taking away the fear. Yes, I was still nervous, but even that went away after awhile.

This is not something I ever would've volunteered to do on my own. Only because it was part of my job did I even have this experience. And if I hadn't, I would've missed out on the tremendous blessing I received by stepping out in faith and leaving my comfort zone.

What might God be calling you to do that is outside of your comfort zone? How might he want to use you in a situation where you are forced to rely not on your own strength but His?


One Step Closer

I've pretty much decided to scrap my original plan to pursue publishing through a traditional publishing house and just go the self-pub route. I haven't made the final decision yet, but will plan to pray and think about it over the week.

A friend of mine from college introduced me to a published author friend of hers who is a member of an online group for Christian "indie" authors. Today, I was accepted into the group and already I feel like I've gleaned some very helpful advice. In fact, I'm currently speaking with a professional editor about editing my manuscript. I suspect that once I have heard back from her and have made the necessary improvements, and or corrections, it'll be time to upload my baby to Createspace.

I'm excited to say I could have some big news SOON!


They Passed

After three months, I finally heard back from the publishing company. They've decided not to publish my manuscript. It's not what they're looking for at this time, apparently.

I'm not gonna lie---I'm totally disappointed about it. And a little stunned, too. Especially considering the list of requirements they gave me that most other publishing houses follow.

Here are the general requirements, if I decide to pursue another company:

1. A brief author biography, including an explanation of your spiritual walk and background, and any previous published writings.

2. A one-page summary or synopsis.

3. A detailed table of contents including paragraph summaries for each chapter (non-fiction).

4. The introduction and at least two sample chapters.

5. The manuscript word count (actual or projected).

6. A description of your intended audience, how you envision those readers responding to your message, and how you would see us reaching your audience.

7. A one-page overview of competitive titles on the market (books that are similar to or might be compared to yours).

8. A listing of potential endorsers for the book.

What in the world does this mean? And here's where my ignorance in how things work in the publishing world shows. Am I paying for the privilege to have my work published by a big name publishing house? If so, I get to keep most of the profits, right? (Somehow I doubt that.) So if I'm doing my own advertising, lining up people who will pay for the cost of publishing, and finding a target niche, what in the world is the benefit of going this route? If I'm doing all of this, I might as well self-publish.

Does it mean that I need to have people recommending my work? As a brand new author, how is this possible? I have had the privilege of "meeting" some great authors online in various online forums, but I don't know them personally. I certainly wouldn't feel like I could ask them to lend their name--their already published name--to something that may or may not have success.

Manuscripts should be neatly typed and double-spaced on white, letter-sized paper. Grammar, style, and punctuation should follow normal English usage. We use The Chicago Manual of Style (University of Chicago Press) for matters needing clarification.

Granted, I realize even the grammar nazi makes mistakes. But when I sent in my manuscript, I'd edited the thing to DEATH. Several other people had even helped in this process. And what in the world is the Chicago Manual of Style? Good grief, are there new grammar rules that I haven't learned about?!

Okay, I've got to end here before I just get angry. And I'm trying not to be. I'm thankful I at least had the opportunity to say someone in the publishing world has actually read my manuscript. But honestly? All of this makes self-publishing look pretty darn good.

I also know that regardless of how my novel is eventually published, I'm going to have to toughen up quite a bit--not everyone will like it. Am I going to bristle and sulk (or cry) over every bad review? Hope not.

I've got some more research and praying to do.

Edited:  After further reflection, I came to the conclusion that most of my blue comments were just plain churlish. The woman who sent the email doesn't deserve that from me; she was friendliness itself. So, I decided to delete all but the above two comments, mainly because they are legitimate questions I have. I certainly wouldn't want to turn away any potential publishers just because of a moment of anger and frustration. (Yes, I'm still upset about it. Naturally. But that's no excuse to go off on a rant, even if it is my own personal blog.)


More Than One Kind of Love

Tomorrow we celebrate Valentine's Day, a day that has long been marketed as a day for lovers. The day of amour. We are bombarded with commercials selling flowers, chocolates, jewelry, etc, all things guaranteed to romance that special someone you love.

And we ladies in particular wallow in it. I must admit that Valentine's Day has held a special place in my heart for a long time--17 years to be exact. It was on February 14, 1997 that my husband asked me to be his bride. And of course, his proposal was wildly romantic. A dozen sweetheart roses. Cards. A teddy bear. He even rented a tux to wear to our college's Valentine's Day banquet, an event I had helped to plan. Following the candle-light dinner and entertainment, we drove to Lake Red Rock, the exact sight of our second date....the night we officially became a couple (please don't read into that anything more than the fact that, after our date, he asked me to be his girlfriend. That's it. There was nothing sordid about that night). We sat at a picnic table overlooking the dam and spillway; he lit some candles, produced some sparkling cider and champagne flutes, and wrapped us in a big blanket to help us keep warm. After playing a couple of "our songs" on a little radio he'd also brought along, he got down on one knee--in the SNOW--and asked me to marry him. Of course I cried (but anyone who knows me knows that it doesn't take much for me to cry) and hastily, excitedly said yes. It was all so special and very romantic.

But during the years prior to meeting Troy, Valentine's Day was anything but wonderful. It was a day I loathed to a great degree. After all, nothing can make you feel more alone than being constantly reminded that you don't have anyone special in your life.

To the widows, divorced individuals, or never marrieds, I imagine Valentine's Day feels like a super secret club they aren't allowed to participate in. They can stand at the gate and see how great things look, but they're not welcome to enter.

Here in Mexico, however, I was reminded that Valentine's Day is not just about romantic love. Tomorrow throughout the country, we will celebrate--not Valentine's Day--but "Día de Amor y Amistad", literally translated "Day of Love and Friendship". This is a game changer that includes everyone.

By celebrating the day of love and friendship, we recognize that there is more kind of love out there than just romantic love. Sure, romantic love feels great and is something that everyone longs for. But it's not the only, nor do I believe it's even the most important love there is.

The Greeks have several classifications of love. Everyone is familiar with romantic love--or eros. It is the passionate love we feel for our husbands, wives, boyfriends, or girlfriends. It is based solely on emotion, omitting all reason. I tend to believe it is also a more selfish kind of love.

The second type of love is philia. It is a mental type of love that is usually between friends. There isn't anything romantic or passionate about this love. We feel loyalty and appreciation for our friends in a give-and-take relationship. Philia love is typically not selfish in nature.

Storge is the love parents feel for their children. In a healthy parent-child relationship, it closely resembles the last type of love, agape love.

Finally, the highest form of love, I believe, is agape love. This love is completely selfless and seeks the well-being and happiness of another without expecting anything in return. This is the love of God toward His creation--as we're reminded in John 3:16 - "For God so loved the earth that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life." God gave us the freedom to choose--to love and serve Him....or not. We are encouraged throughout the Pauline epistles especially to seek--with God's help--to love each other in this way. The best marriages are ones where the husbands and wives have moved past eros and have encompassed agape love toward each other. Each one seeking to build up and encourage each other without expecting anything in return. Selfless, not always insisting upon having one's own way.

I think as long as we only focus on the emotional kind of love, we set ourselves up for problems. We don't always feel that wildly romantic emotional high that we did upon first meeting our spouses or significant others. It takes more than just passionate love to make a relationship last. And when we completely romanticize all types of love--forgetting that the close bond we can have with our friends is also a form of love, we do ourselves and them a great disservice. As I've said before, not everything in life is about sex.

Tomorrow, I encourage you to be mushy with your husband or wife. That's never a bad thing. But let's not discount all of the other meaningful relationships in your life. Be sure to let your close friends and family members know that you love and care about them as well. Remind them that they are a special part of your life and deserve to be celebrated tomorrow, too.

After all, by celebrating the "Day of Love and Friendship", we further confirm that there is indeed more than one kind of love--and they are all worth celebrating.


I Need Driving Lessons

Babe, I really think you need to learn to do the airport run.

Once spoken, this simple sentence had the power to strike paralyzing fear into my heart.

Did I mention we live in Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world? And where there are, apparently, driving rules that only apply to foreigners?

I feel I must preface this post with an admission that I have never been a great driver. It's true that I haven't been pulled over in 15 years. And it's true that I haven't been in an accident with another car in over 20 years. But the absence of traffic violations or accidents does not a good driver make. And I must also acknowledge that Mexicans are in relatively few traffic accidents---at least as far as I've seen.

I think it's because they've grown up with it. Merging from six lanes of traffic into one is normal. An every day occurrence. Muscling your way into a space the size of a toothpick is a piece of cake. Dealing with bus drivers who, because they each own their own bus and are in business for themselves, will whip in and out of traffic WITH ABSOLUTELY NO NOTICE. Circumventing minor mountains known as speed bumps. Motorcyclists who will squeeze into the most infinitesimal spaces possible between a bus and a semi just to get around a slower moving vehicle. And understanding that sticking your arm out the window will almost always guarantee you the lane change you desire where a turn signal may as well be nonexistent.

I, on the other hand, was born in semi-rural Iowa. I learned to drive on roads overlooking cornfields. I had one parallel parking lesson in driver's education (parallel parking is HUGELY popular here) on the day of my 17th birthday. I biffed the orange cones so badly they were a tad misshapen after my lesson. We moved from Iowa to Jackson, a much larger city than the little town we'd previously lived in. There was an interstate that intersected the town and something called a Frontage Road on either side of it. I can't even tell you how terrified I was to drive on either when we first moved there.

But then I got over it.

Yes, there were always times of days I avoided driving--rush hour. Countyline Road at most times of the day (but especially at rush hour and on the weekends leading up to Christmas). And yes, there were the crazies on crotch-rocket motorcycles who would literally pop wheelies at ridiculously high speeds on a crowded interstate.

But it was my normal. For the most part, people stayed in their respective lanes. The buses did not dart into and out of traffic without warning. Speed bumps--especially on the road we lived on--might've been a nice thing to have.

Now here on the other hand...

I have to give myself a little pep talk each and every time I get behind the wheel of the car. There is no such thing as a relaxing drive "just for fun". I have said more than once that if we could afford it, I would gladly hire my own personal chauffeur. Dealing with all of the annoyances other drivers who have either (1) lived here for a long time, or (2) grown up with is enough to ratchet up the stress level. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that my blood pressure skyrockets every time I must drive anywhere. Throw in unannounced construction with lane closures and you may as well shoot me now.

I have agreed to learn the airport run because it's something my husband feels I should do.

But if I'm ever to feel confident about driving, if I'm ever to feel comfortable behind the wheel of the car, it will take a major miracle of God.

That, or driving lessons.



In October, I talked about an online Christian manuscript submission website. You create a proposal, include the first chapter of your novel with a synopsis, and submit it (for a fee). Publishers and their representatives can review your proposal and, if they like what they see, may contact you about your novel.

Since one publishing company already has my novel under review, I'd held off doing the final submission. Today, I considered asking the website for a refund of my money. After further consideration, however, I decided that it's not necessarily bad to have my eggs in more than one basket. To that end, I filled in the missing sections and submitted it to the website's database.

My money has purchased a period of six months. After that, I'll need to resubmit or else reevaluate what I want to do.

Now, there's nothing left but to wait.



Nothing More Important

For some reason, today I've been thinking a lot about Troy's years in seminary. We moved from University Park, Iowa to Jackson, MS in August, 2002, all because God called my husband onto further education. Along with our sixteen-month-old son, Clayton, almost 2 1/2 -year-old daughter, Tayler, and our four-year-old black lab, Duke, we schlepped a moving-van full of stuff across multiple states to this new world called Mississippi. And we had no idea what the next four years, in particular, would hold.

After six weeks of living in a one-bedroom town-house (the kids' beds and the only bathroom were all upstairs, Troy and I slept on an air mattress every night in the middle of the living room floor downstairs), we were thrilled to move into a 3-bedroom house a mere block or two from the seminary. I loved that house, despite the fact that it had the old-fashioned floor heating that poor Clayton once burned his little feet on, and a plastic ride-on firetruck's back wheels were almost completely melted down when it accidentally was left over the hot grate.

In order to make ends meet, however, Troy worked part-time at the seminary, pastored a church 40 minutes away, and cleaned an office a couple times a week. I also babysat in our home to make a little extra money. Between his many jobs, actually attending seminary classes (even in the summer), doing homework and studying for those classes, and participating in a weekly prison ministry, it often felt like I was a single parent. Friday nights after the kids went to bed, we'd cuddle on the couch and watch movies together. That was our time together. While he helped with the house and kids as much as he could, working 3 jobs and attending seminary left little available time for him. I mostly ran the house and raised the kids during that time. Even during my subsequent two pregnancies. After the last two babies were born, Troy would get all the feedings until midnight or 1 AM when he'd go to bed (I'd try to be in bed no later than 9 PM), and then I had the night time feedings after 1 AM so he could rest.

There wasn't an equitable division of labor. Troy worked 3 jobs to provide for our family so that I could remain home with the kids. My job, in turn, was to cook, clean, buy groceries, and raise our kids. There were times when I felt like I was missing something by being "just" a stay-at-home wife and mommy. Now that I'm older, I know better.

You moms with little ones in the house--what you are doing is important. Critically important. I'd say it's the most important thing you will ever do. Never let anyone convince you that what you do doesn't matter. Or that because you don't leave the house every day to work in an office and receive a salary means that you're not really working. Oh, we know better, don't we ladies?

I am so grateful that I married a man who knew (and knows) how important my presence as mom was (and is) to our kids. He was willing to work multiple jobs at one of the most stressful, exhausting times of his life to make it happen. I also know that not every family can do this. For some families, both parents must work in order to make ends meet or for insurance purposes. Troy worked three jobs, I babysat, and our children had state-issued Medicaid while we went without insurance. It's not for everyone. For you working moms, what you do when you are spending one-on-one time with your children is still the most important thing you'll ever do. Even if you are a pediatric surgeon who saves hundreds of lives in your lifetime.

I'm also thankful that I work for an organization that equally values the mother's role in the home. Even though our kids are all in school during the day, my first priority on the field is that of mom. And so, when my kids are home, I'm "off the clock". However, I'm now able to have a ministry separate from my family and keep my first and most important ministry: that to my family.

Again stay-at-home moms with little ones. I know there are days you don't feel like you are doing anything important. Be patient with yourself. Enjoy this time with your little ones. Have tea parties. Play games. Wrestle. Watch endless hours of "Dora" and "Blue's Clues". Color pictures. Read books. These are all vitally important things. Then, before you know it, your kids will be in school. And unless you are one of the brave souls educating them at home, your daytime hours while they're away will be free for you to pursue other ministries or interests.

Just remember that nothing you have done or will ever do is more important than what you're doing now: being a mommy. And never let anyone---even yourself---convince you otherwise.


'The Roommate' - Prologue

Just like with 'The Reunion', I wanted to post the prologue to the story.

The Roommate


    The young woman sat behind the wheel of her car, impatiently watching each worker rush past her red Toyota at the end of the day’s shift. The work week over, they were on their way to hot dinners with their families, the Denver night scene, or to the local watering holes around the university near downtown Cancun. She knew he wouldn’t be among these first workers to leave the sprawling building. No, not an upper level executive like Michael. He would be one of the last to leave.
    Finally, as the crowd thinned, she spotted him exiting through a side entrance. Her patience had paid off.
    He strolled briskly toward his car, completely unaware that she was close by. Watching. Waiting. She examined him with an appreciative eye as the wind carelessly tossed his immaculately styled hair, her fingers itching to lose themselves in its ebony richness.
    His handsome features suddenly drew into a frown and he slowed.
    He’d seen her.
    She swallowed and stepped out of the car, subconsciously tugging at her skirt and smoothing the low-cut blouse she wore.
    “Abi,” he acknowledged icily. “What are you doing here? I thought I’d made it clear that you were never to come here.”
    “I’m sorry, Michael. I had to see you--it couldn’t wait.” Why did he have to look so impassive and cold? Why couldn’t he just wrap his arms around her and say how happy he was to see her? And why didn’t his eyes light up the way they had that first night he’d taken her to his bed?
    He quickly threw a glance around the parking lot to determine whether or not anyone else was nearby. Assured they were alone, his eyes traveled up and down her body, focusing intently on the creamy skin exposed. Desire shown in their obsidian depths, melting away the displeasure and filling his expression with warmth.
    “No, I’m sorry, darling,” he murmured, pulling her tightly against him and nuzzling her neck with his lips. “It’s been a rough day, that’s all.”
    She clung to his broad shoulders, tingles of pleasure rippling through her body. He loved her, of course he did. Everything would be okay.
    It had to be okay.
    A fissure of doubt crept through her and she trembled. If he turned her away after this...
    When he forcefully took her mouth with his, all rational thought fled. Temporarily.
    She placed a restraining hand against his chest and gently pushed him away from her.
    His beautiful eyes crinkled in confusion. “What is it, Abi? Is something wrong?”
    “I’m pregnant, Michael.”
    A fleeting look of panic shot across his face, then his expression shuttered. He stepped away from her and leaned back against his car, parked next to hers. Arms folded across his chest, he peered down at her with disdain. “Impossible.”
    “I assure you it’s not impossible. I am pregnant.”
    “It’s not mine,” he stated flatly.
    She wheeled backwards in shock, feeling very much as if she’d just been slapped.
    “Oh yes. I know all about your artist boyfriend, my dear.”
    Tears filled her eyes but she refused to let them fall. Not now. Not in front of him. “You don’t know everything, Michael.”
    He didn’t know that once she’d started sleeping with him, she’d broken things off with Devon, who had promptly moved out of the apartment they’d shared. He didn't know that she’d been so in love with him from the very beginning. And he didn't know that the first time she’d seen him walk into the health club where she worked as a receptionist, she’d fallen hard. She’d mistakenly believed it had been the same with him. At least, that’s what he’d implied.
    But now... Now she wasn’t sure he’d ever loved her.
    His eyes narrowed briefly before he drew himself to his full height. “I think we’re done here. Go home to your boyfriend, Abi.”
    Desperation prompted her to speak when she would’ve preferred remaining silent. “I can’t. He knows about us.” He’d know the baby isn’t his, she thought miserably.
    “That’s your problem, now isn’t it? I haven’t time or patience for anyone’s castoffs.” Then, he turned and, without a look back, got into his car and drove away.
    She stood in the same spot for several minutes, bitter tears raining down her cheeks. Why, oh why had she ever told Devon about her relationship with Michael to begin with? If only she’d kept quiet--he never would’ve left. Never would’ve known the baby she carried wasn’t his. For all his faults, he would’ve stood by her. Helped her through these next tough months.
    Disillusionment opened her eyes to who the man she thought she'd loved really was. To what their relationship had really been based on. All those promises he’d made her were only to coax her into bed. Why had she been foolish enough to believe him? He was obviously nothing more than a skirt-chaser. A scoundrel in expensive suits. Still, the betrayal stung. Especially now that it didn’t only affect her.
    It also affected her unborn baby.
    His baby, whether or not he wished to acknowledge the truth.
    It didn’t occur to her that, had she not told Devon the truth about Michael, her betrayal would’ve been far worse than his was now. A shallow woman by nature, she generally only thought of herself and what she could get from life.
    Instead, she comforted herself by planning her revenge. He’d be sorry. One way or another, she’d make him pay for turning his back on her and their child.


The Next Story

I decided the other night that it's time for me to put Justin & Emma's story away for the time being and focus on the next story. Until I hear back from the publishing company--whether or not they are interested in publishing 'The Reunion'--there isn't anything more I can do.

So...moving on.

I'm very excited about the next story. It's one I started writing when I was 16 years old. Every study hall of my junior year, I would feverishly write in my notebook. Homework? Fughettaboutit. I even worked on it quite a bit during my early college years. And then, unfortunately, it was lost. The notebooks were thrown away. The old computer system it was written on became obsolete.

And so I'm starting from scratch, but not entirely from scratch. I still have the names of the main characters, the setting, and the main points of the story line from when I first conceived them over 20 years ago.

Like my last story, this one will take place in Cancun, Colorado, a fictional suburb south-west of Denver. Some of the characters from that story will even find their way into this one. We may even peek in on Justin & Emma and see how they are enjoying married life. I will say that this will not be anywhere near as emotionally intense as my last novel. It will be more of the kind of Christian romance novel I enjoy reading.

'The Roommate' tells the story of a woman named Adrienne. She leads a well-ordered, perfect life. The perfect career. The perfect fiance. The perfect home. The unexpected or unplanned rarely happens to her. Until she meets Devon Hunter. An artist whose devil-may-care lifestyle masks a mountain of pain and anguish, his presence threatens her perfect world. Each of them has something the other needs...if they'll only be brave enough to give the other a chance.

Edited to add: As it's good to have a goal, my goal is to finish this story by the end of December. In order to accomplish this goal, I have to write a little over 200 words a day. About a paragraph. Now, while this doesn't sound like much (indeed, it truly isn't), I know there will be crazy schedule days or writer's block days when I don't get anything written. In reality, I know there will be days I read back through what I've written and actually lose words previously written instead of add to them. It took me four years to write my first novel. I'd love it if I can finish this one in a fraction of that time.