Monday, December 21, 2015

Hitting Pause

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19

Life moves fast. We say this all the time and simply accept it as a fact. Busyness consumes us, especially this time of year. But it doesn't have to be that way. We need to practice the habit of hitting pause. We need to stop and take in the moments. We need to learn to let our memories become more than the busyness of our lives.

Which is exactly what I'll be doing over the next few weeks.

This idea of pausing to breathe and see those around me has been on my heart for weeks, and God keeps bringing it to mind. Who knows? Maybe it's my Word for 2016. What I do know is that verse above has impacted me more than anything else this Christmas season.

Life is busy. We could all make a list of all the reasons why our households are crazy...and they'd all be good things. Legitimate things. But we can get lost in the "doing" of those things and forget to enjoy them. To pause and savor them. We push on to make it through and then move to the next thing like our lives are one giant "to do" list we simply need to check off, and in the "doing" we forget to treasure the good. We forget to capture the moments.

We don't get this time back. We are only in this season for a season. So I'm pausing for the next few weeks. I won't be back until the new year, and in these next few weeks while I have a very real "to-do" list (moving over Christmas will create one) I'm going to make sure to stop, breathe, look around, and treasure each moment. Will you do the same?

Merry Christmas, friends!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Bookshelf Friday - Fear is Louder Than Words by Linda S. Glaz

I am a huge lover of suspense, so I was excited to see this book coming out by my friend, author, and agent, Linda S. Glaz. While she's written many books over the past few years, suspense has always been her heart, and this book has been percolating in the back of her mind for all those years. So here's the blurb, and we'll chat on the other side!

Rochelle Cassidy has the perfect life as a radio talk show host in the Detroit market, but her celebrity status doesn't stop an angry listener from wanting her ... dead. Ed McGrath's ideal life as a pro-hockey player doesn't include a damsel in distress until the night he discovers Rochelle being attacked in a deserted parking structure. 

Circumstances throw them together in more ways than one when Rochelle's producer plays matchmaker. A sick boy, a corrupt politician, and questionable medical practices put more than merely Rochelle in danger, and still, her attacker shadows her every step. 

Will Ed be able to break through her trust issues in order to protect her, or will she continue to see him as Detroit's bad boy athlete? Her life AND his depend on it.

This book starts as what appears a simply suspense but quickly thickens into something much deeper. While Rochelle and Ed remain the main characters throughout, other POVs are introduced--both good and bad. Stories converge from all angles, and Glaz handles winding their plots together seamlessly. And while there were aspects avid suspense readers might decipher early, the suspense writing is strong and entertaining, as is the romance thread. Rochelle and Ed are two characters who start at opposite ends of the spectrum and are allowed to grow both individually and as a couple. This was an angle I enjoyed.

A read I thoroughly enjoyed, I'm glad Linda S. Glaz finally dove into the suspense market and look forward to many other books by her! You can purchase Fear is Louder Than Words here.

Happy reading, friends:)

***And taking home a copy of The Proposal AND One Enchanted Christmas (given away last week) is JACKIE LAYTON!  Merry Christmas, Jackie!***

Monday, December 14, 2015

An Unlikely Choice

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them…” Luke 2:8-9

All year we’ve talked about how we are masterpieces to our Lord. We’ve strived to find our worth in Him, replacing lies satan whispers—sometimes yells—at us with the Truth of God. As we wrap up the year at Christmastime there’s one more lesson to be learned within the Christmas story itself.

The story in its entirety is filled with moments of God using the ordinary to do the extraordinary. There’s so many people and moments to chose from that we can see ourselves in, but it’s the shepherds that are taking center stage today. Dirty, excluded, secluded, lowest of the low class; to say they were looked down upon is an understatement. They were considered ceremonially unclean and were unwelcome everywhere they went. In short, they were worthless. No one expected anything good from them. No one chose them for anything.

And yet God…(my favorite words!)

And yet God chose them as the first to hear the birth announcement of His son. He saw past the dirt, grime, and mess of their lives to the heart of who they were. To their wonder and willingness to leave everything simply to follow Him. No one else on the planet believed shepherds worthy of their time or thoughts, but God looked at everyone on this earth and picked those shepherds to carry the most precious message of all time. The message that was for each one of us—even still today: the Savior had been born! In many people's eyes those shepherds were the last, but in God's, they were the first. God loves flipping things on end. He excels at picking the unlikely. And that's because He doesn't play by the rules of this world. He plays by His rules...and His rulebook is the only one that counts.

Oh, friend, too often we can’t even see past our own mess to believe God can choose us. But here’s the thing…not only can He…He already has. Your value shines beneath any mess trying to cover it, and God not only sees it, but He loves you through it, and He has a purpose and a plan for you. Stop believing what the world says about you and start listening to the One who made you. Let this Christmas season begin a new season in your life.

It will be the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received.

Lord, today let me see your Christmas story in a new light. Help me to understand that you can use anyone with a willing heart. Open my ears to hear you. Open my heart to believe you. Open my eyes to see myself as you see me, and give me your strength to follow the purpose and plan you created for me when you created me. Let this not only be the Christmas season, but a new season in my life. Amen.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Bookshelf Friday x 2! - One Enchanted Christmas by Melissa Tagg & The Proposal by Becky Wade

I love this time of year! Snuggling up on the couch, drinking cocoa, and reading a good book by the lights of your Christmas tree? Yep. A perfect afternoon or evening, so I'm super excited to bring you Melissa Tagg's new novella One Enchanted Christmas and Becky Wade's The Proposal. Here's their short blurbs, and we'll chat on the other side!

Last December, mystery author Maren Grant had the most perfect night of her life. On a glimmering winter evening, she got to watch the photo shoot for her very first book and ended up on a magical date with the cover model himself—Colin Renwycke. 

Fast forward one year. This December, with a looming deadline, restless spirit and her creative spark long since gone, Maren is desperate to get unstuck. And she can’t get Colin out of her head…or his year-old open invitation to spend a couple weeks writing at his family’s farm. 

Drew Renwycke never planned to come home and take over the Renwycke family farm. But he’s spent too many years watching his siblings unravel, including his brother, Colin, after one terrible family mistake. If moving to Maple Valley, Iowa, renovating an old farmhouse and switching careers is what it takes to put the Renwycke family back together, he’ll do it. 

But his simple plan upends when a scrappy author lands on his doorstep. And she just might be the key to coaxing his brother home. But what if he wants her all to himself? Drew will have to choose between his Christmas wish and the enchantment of a holiday romance that just might be the happy ending they all long for. 

Single mom Amber Richardson spends every holiday season working to give her young son the best Christmas possible and striving to ignore the empty chairs around her table, chairs she wishes her mother and father and extended family occupied.  

She'd hoped that this holiday would be fuller and happier than the rest. Her handsome firefighter boyfriend, Will McGrath, has brought immeasurable joy and love into her life. Up until recently, they'd even been talking about a future that included wedding bells. Lately, though, the wedding talk has been nonexistent and Amber can’t help but worry that Will's starting to have second thoughts....  

Until a fire station surprise brings very good tidings.

Both are such great reads that can fill one sitting. They're like the Hallmark Christmas Movies of books, and because these are two of my favorite authors and such great short reads--and it's Christmas!--I'm going to be giving a few copies away. These are e-reads only, so you'll need a Kindle/Kindle app (or Nook for One Enchanted Christmas), but as long as you have them, you're eligible!

So Merry Christmas, friends! Go ahead and leave a comment here or on this post on my Facebook page. I'm giving two lucky people a copy of both! I'll announce the winners on next Friday's Bookshelf.

Monday, December 7, 2015

To Be Like Mary

It's Christmas time, and I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary. About how she fits into this whole year of discovering our worth in Christ. Mary was a young girl whose life changed in one miraculous encounter with an Angel of God. In that moment she had a choice: surrender to God's plan for her life or run far away from it. If Mary had built her worth in this world, she would have run. But this young girl knew Whose she was...and her story amazes me.

Mary, mother of Jesus. Mary, a young girl who found favor with God. Mary, a girl who gave her all to serve her Lord. Can we be more like her?

She had to be living an ordinary life. At home with her parents. Betrothed, ready to begin married life. Friends she laughed with. Her own dreams and goals in front of her. All centered around her love for God. And then the angel came. The angel telling her that she would be with child by the Holy Spirit. She would carry Jesus. Her only question came from her confusion. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Once the angel explained God’s plan, her response was one of total submission. “I am the Lord’s servant.”

In that one answer, Mary gave up everything…

Her relationships: How many friends left her? What was her parents’ response? We know Joseph’s immediate response; he wanted to divorce her. Mary had no promise that God would explain things to her betrothed.

Her reputation: What must she have been treated like? She couldn’t hide her situation for long. I’m sure the people in town must have talked. Is this one of the reasons she ran to Elizabeth and Zechariah?

Her body: Morning sickness. Fatigue. Uncontrollable emotions. Her growing belly. Giving birth. Even physically she gave her all.

Her heart: Her firstborn, yet not her own. She carried him for nine months. She was given the gift of being his earthly mother. She cradled him the moment he was born. She raised him as her own. Yet he was not hers. He had a purpose; to die for our sins. He came for all. What must her love for him have been like? Her son. Her Savior.

Why? Why did Mary give everything up so willingly? Did she count all the costs first? Or did she simply say ‘yes’ because she wanted to follow God and his plan for her. Did she truly know what would come? Did she ever doubt her decision?

I look to her words in Luke. Words spoken while she was at Elizabeth’s house. She glorifies God. She sings of all he’s done for those who serve him. It’s almost as if she’s reminding herself that God is in control. She’s focusing on God and his attributes. She’s drawing near to him and his promises, his goodness. She’s speaking his truths to her heart and meditating on them. It could not have been an easy path, this path that God chose for her, and to walk it her eyes stay focused on him; not the world around her.

I love the Christmas song, “Breath of Heaven”. It’s sung from Mary’s point of view. She’s asking for God’s spirit, the ‘Breath of Heaven’ to hold her. To be near her. She questions if she should have been the one chosen for this job. Yet, even in her doubts, she offers all she is and cries out for the very Breath of God to touch her. What an intimate picture. To feel someone’s breath, that gentlest of physical touches, you must be intimately close with them. This is what Mary longs for as she walks this path. It is what she seeks. She doesn’t back away when it is hard, she draws only nearer to her Lord.

What path has God chosen for you? Are you the only one saved in your family? Is your spouse not walking with God? Maybe you're going through an illness that is taking all you have. Have you been called into the mission field? Into the ministry? Perhaps you’re the only one at your work who’s a Christian, or you’re one of the only people at your school who follows God. Whatever it is, God so desperately wants to be seen through you. Are you struggling with walking the path your on? Are you asking if you even want to? Or why?

Yes, ‘why’? (It’s a normal question). Why did Mary give up everything to follow God’s path for her? Why should we? It’s so very hard sometimes. We open ourselves to ridicule. We pray, and –at times - it feels like nothing changes. We love those around us, yet they hurt us. At times we have to give up our comfort zone. Our homes. Our relationships. Our bodies. Why?

Because, just like Mary, we want to bring Jesus to a hurting world. Messiah. Savior. We carry him with us. If we say no to God’s plan, if we count the cost to ourselves as too high, then who will bring him? In light of eternity, can we give too much?

Mary did not think so. And look, look at how God walked with her. He defended her to Joseph, giving her a husband to walk along beside her on this path. He protected her. Her gave her a friend in Elizabeth, a woman who could walk through the pregnancy with her and all the unknown changes she was experiencing. And, as she gave birth in that stable, he gave her a picture of heaven. The star, the angels and the shepherds; heaven and earth, praising her son – Savior to a lost world; our greatest gift. It was a glimpse of what God had used her to do and Mary took it, treasuring and pondering it in her heart. After all she gave, God gave this back to her, and he had to be smiling when he did it.

God has a plan for you. A path already mapped out. It will take drawing near to God, his very Breath, to accomplish. There will be moments that are hard. But there will also be moments to treasure. Moments where God smiles down on you.

Are you ready to give your all and follow? To bring Jesus into a lost world who so desperately needs him? His gift may have been birthed by a virgin on Christmas two thousand years ago, but it was meant for all, for every day. Will you carry that gift? Will you give it? Will you be like Mary? Let her song, “Breath of Heaven”, become your song. Because the gift she birthed, the gift God gave, it was meant to be re-gifted:)

Friday, December 4, 2015

Bookshelf Friday - Dubiosity by Christy Barritt

I recently returned from a trip to Florida which allowed me to sneak in a few book-reading hours I've desperately been missing! I caught up with some of Christy Barritt's novels and am reviewing Dubiosity today. Here's a short blurb, and we'll chat on the other side!

Savannah Harris vowed to leave behind her old life as an intrepid investigative reporter. But when a friend raises suspicions about two migrant workers who’ve gone missing from the sleepy coastal town Savannah calls home, her curiosity spikes.
As ever more eerie incidents begin afflicting the area, each works to draw Savannah out of her seclusion and raise the stakes—for both Savannah and the surrounding community. Even as Savannah’s new boarder, Clive Miller, makes her feel things she thought long forgotten, she suspects he’s hiding something too, and he’s not the only one. Doubts collide in Savannah’s mind: Who can she really trust?
As secrets emerge and danger closes in, Savannah must choose between faith and uncertainty. One wrong decision might spell the end…not just for her, but for everyone around her.
Will she unravel the mystery in time, or will doubt get the best of her?

I was looking for a contemporary romantic suspense to read, and between the cover and blurb, this book pulled me in. Plus, I've read a few of Christy Barritt's novels and find them typically solid reads with good wit--a mix I enjoy.

This story didn't disappoint. I liked getting to know Savannah who was a rich character with a painful past. Barritt always seems to marry her character development and suspense angles well, giving just enough on each page to keep you turning. Dubiosity opens at a strong pace that is kept up throughout. I enjoyed the few twists, though many were ones suspense readers may figure out early. However, they still made sense for all characters and kept the book interesting.

The relationship between Clive and Savannah grows at a believable pace with enough tender moments and chemistry to bring in the romance thread to this book. Barritt has a knack for writing strong, imperfect, and believable men who are perfect pairs to her heroines, which only brings further enjoyment to her books.

If you enjoy contemporary romantic suspense, I'd recommend Dubiosity, and I happily give it 4 out of 5 stars. Happy weekend, friends!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Broken Glass - Guest Post by Joanna Politano

I've had the joy of getting to know Joanna over the past few years. She's an amazing writer with the sweetest heart and love for her family and God. When I asked her to participate this year with a post about Masterpiece, she quickly agreed, and I'm so glad she did. This post is absolutely beautiful. So without further introduction, here's Joanna!


This is what broken glass looks like:

But we all know this image, because we’ve felt this way before. Perhaps you experienced a day where incredible weight built up until you broke under the pressure. Maybe it took years of stress for you to shatter. Either way, we’ve all had a time where we’ve known without a doubt that we are utterly broken. Crushed.
Nothing makes you feel more useless or discouraged. After all, what do you do with shattered glass? It’s difficult and tedious to clean up. You don’t want to let someone else clean it up—what if they cut themselves? So you collect the pieces and get them as far out of reach as possible.
But what if someone asked you for those shards as you snuck them out to the trash? My mom saves everything—EVERYTHING—because she sees a potential craft project in it. So what if someone looks at those shards and says, “yeah. I think I can use those. Would you give them to me?”
“Ok, sure,” you say. “Here you go.” And you wait to see what they’ll do with it. Lo and behold, they polish them. Not only that, but they infuse them with color. Wow, that’s incredible! I’m glad I gave this to someone who knows what they’re doing. Now someone has a collection of beautiful stones for their mantle, all because they were placed in the hands of a master craftsman. What was broken is now polished out into something useful and pretty.

But this artist has more in mind than merely pretty stones. “Just wait” he says. So you leave him to his work, finally beginning to trust his expertise. He has a very detailed plan on paper, with specific ideas for every single piece of glass. Ready to be amazed, you step up to look at his work when he pronounces it done. And of course he does not disappoint as he reveals…

You stand back in awe, tears in your eyes, as you see what the master craftsman has done with the shattered pieces of glass. The brokenness you wanted to hide away and move on from as quickly as possible. “I can use that,” he’d said, and now those words ring true. Here it is, all your pain and brokenness in a beautiful display, in a way that makes sense. The pieces fit together, in this master’s plan, to form an entire picture. They even tell a story to others looking on and communicate something to them. Amazing, you think. And truly it is. But he’s not *quite* done. “Just one more important touch,” he says, disappearing for a moment. And then light bursts through the glass from the other side, a prism of colors raining down on you.

And then you get a glimpse of his true plans from the beginning. For only a master craftsman can take your shattered, broken pieces, fit them together into the beautiful image He’d designed from the beginning, and then shine His own light through the prism of colors for a radiant display that will leave everyone who sees it breathless with the wonder of His artwork.
And imagine, He’s done all that through you. Through your brokenness. Because only broken pieces can be fitted together into something beautiful, just as empty jars are the only ones ready to be filled with something amazing.
And only a master can take the dirty, messy garbage you would love to discard forever and make it a stunning masterpiece that will prove to everyone around how great are His plans and His power.

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve been broken in the past, it feels like an “end.” The end of my strength, the end of a relationship, the end of my success. But in truth it’s a brilliant beginning. God cannot work with a person who feels “whole” on his or her own. It’s in our brokenness that we become useable, and it’s that brokenness that He uses to reach people, to create that larger picture we can’t see, and to make a glorious piece of art that fully reflects who He is as an artist. Personally, I can’t do much with broken glass besides line my trash can with it, but hand it over to an artist and our shame, embarrassment, and heartache becomes a masterpiece.

Meet Joanna (and her adorable family)!

I’m a work-from-home mom of one super cute baby girl, and I write novels. I married my hero Vince, who is my love and my polar opposite. I write, he tears it up with the red pen. I break cars and other mechanical things, he puts them back together. He’s nailed the “speak the truth” thing, and I bring the “in love” part. But the real spark to our marriage is that he does not like chocolate and I…  like it a normal amount. We love and live from our little house in the woods near Lake Michigan, which is undergoing a constant renovation.