Tuesday, June 24, 2014

2014 Christy Awards Presented

Last night in Atlanta, the fifteenth annual Christy Awards ceremony honored and promoted books that reflect excellence in Christian fiction. I keep up with these because I've been a Christy judge and have a particular affection for Christian fiction.

In a fun "my worlds are colliding" event, the keynote address was given by my Publisher's Weekly editor Marcia Z. Nelson, who assigns me (and others) Christian fiction for review. Author Davis Bunn emceed the event and was himself inducted into the Christy Hall of Fame in honor of his having won four Christys over the years.

And the 2014 Christy Award winners are:

•Book of the Year: Burning Sky by Lori Benton (WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group)

•Contemporary: Stones for Bread by Christa Parrish (Thomas Nelson, a division of Harper Collins Christian Publishing)


•Contemporary Romance/Suspense: Dangerous Passage by Lisa Harris (Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group)


•Contemporary Series: Take a Chance on Me by Susan May Warren (Tyndale House Publishers)


•First Novel: Burning Sky by Lori Benton (WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group)


•Historical: Burning Sky by Lori Benton (WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group)


•Historical Romance: Harvest of Gold by Tessa Afshar (River North, an imprint of Moody Publishing)


•Suspense: Outlaw by Ted Dekker (Center Street, a division of Hachette Book Group)


•Visionary: Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)


•Christy Award Hall of Fame Inductee: Davis Bunn (4 Christys)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Memorial Day Observed

Monday, my husband and I took the children and my mother (in town for a visit) out to the Dallas—Ft. Worth National Cemetery to attend the annual Memorial Day ceremony. It became obvious very quickly that we were first-timers ... the car line stretched about a half-mile outside the gates, then another half-mile down the main road to a makeshift parking lot. (Note to self: next year, wake up early, bring chairs and snacks...)

We joined hundreds of others gathered to hear Texas Attorney General (and candidate for governor) Greg Abbott give the keynote speech, listen to the impressive bagpiper play Amazing Grace, watch the Knights of Columbus lay a large wreath, and be jolted by the 21-gun salute brought to us by a Marine division on three Howitzer guns.
Surrounding us were hundreds of perfectly lined grave markers bearing the name, rank, dates, awards and faith symbols of the military veterans who had died. Some died at a nice old age, but on many we read "KIA." The saddest, to me, were those with a blank spot where the faith symbol was usually placed. 

Did you know?

  • Burial in a national cemetery is open to all members of the armed forces and Veterans who have met minimum active duty service requirements and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. 
  • Eligible spouses, widows or widowers may also be eligible for burial, even if they predecease the Veteran. Their names are engraved on the back side of the marker. When the veteran dies, the stone is turned around so that the veteran's information faces frontward.
  • Reservists who die while on active duty or while performing training duty, or were eligible for retired pay, may also be eligible for burial.
  • A veteran's placement within the cemetery is based on date of death (not service or rank). So sections can be measured by the years on the death date, but the veterans may have served in any of the conflicts.
  • On each stone is engraved the deceased's name, rank, birth and death dates, faith symbol, one chosen award if applicable, conflict arena (Korea, Iraq, Vietnam, WWII, etc),  possibly their division, and a brief epitaph.
  • Memorial Day pays tribute to those who lost their lives in combat, whereas Veteran's Day honors all veterans, living or dead.
  • Memorial Day started a couple of years after the Civil War as "Decoration Day" when officials and family members would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers. 
  • The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation. 

My husband and I reflected that, amazingly, we have not been personally touched by the death of an active-duty serviceman. We know and love many veterans—active, reserve, former, and retired—but none killed in action.

But many at the ceremony were there for very personal reasons. As the ceremony concluded and we all trudged back up the hill to our cars, then waited in the slow-but-friendly line that snaked out of the many makeshift parking lots, we noticed small clusters of people gathered here and there among the gravesites. Each stone had received a small American flag, but some sported patriotic red, white, and blue flower arrangements. Families and friends hugged, cried, tended to the mementos placed by their loved one's name, told stories. 

We spent the majority of our day off driving to/from and observing the respectful remembrance of our ultimate servants. Time well spent.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Words That Changed My World—a Guest Post

So, are you shocked to see another post so soon? Me, too. But this is just a tease. My writing friend Bronwyn Lea, who humors me when I ask to hear her lovely South African accent, invited me to guest post for her series, Words That Changed My World. I had been mulling over two options for several weeks, until recent events made clear which one to write about. Here's a sneak peek— be sure to click through for the full post.

Last week

Last week my family was touched by three significant events, all involving death of some kind. First, our elderly dog passed away in his sleep. (Do not discount the copious tears that I, more than any other in the family, shed. I had no idea I would be so heartbroken. See here for that story.)

A few days later, in his role as a chaplain for the Texas State Guard, my husband performed the funeral for the son of one of his guardsmen. The 13-year-old had accidentally overdosed himself.

The next evening, my Facebook feed blew up with the news that Christy, one of my childhood friends, had passed away in her sleep the night before. Our age. Unexplained. 

To read the rest, visit Bronwyn's Corner.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

An "Ode to Frisco"

Dogs' lives are too short. Their only fault, really. ~Agnes Sligh Turnbull


Earlier this week, our 15-year-old shepherd/doberman mix "puppy," Frisco, did not wake up. He had regularly been whining during the nights for weeks now, his poor kidneys demanding frequent relief. So when he did not cry out for 2 nights in a row I wasn't sure if I should rejoice or be concerned. The morning after the 2nd night of complete quiet, I opened his door hesitantly, turned on his light, and could immediately tell he was gone.

This week was his 15th birthday. We adopted him shortly after his first birthday, when I was 5 months pregnant with my first child. So that makes him, like, my first kid.

We have as many Frisco stories as we do children and friend stories. And we have as many "Isn't he cute?" stories as we do "THAT $^*?&?!! DOG!" stories. You know what I mean...

 

Isn't He Cute?


He was a big guy, as you can see from the photos. But he often thought he was still truly a puppy, trying to jump up on our bed or in our laps. He learned to settle for shoving his snout under our arms and demanding a hug or scratch behind the ears. He was a leaner ... you know, when enjoying a good rub his whole body would start leaning toward me til sometimes he'd either lose his balance or I would be supporting his weight. We called them Frisco hugs.

He loved being with his people. So much so that he would not eat without us. Early on, he would take a mouthful of his food, trot out to the living room or kitchen where we were, drop the kibbles on the floor, then proceed to crunch. Two more mouthfuls he transported like that before he would stay in his room to consume the rest. It became predictable.

If we were outside, he needed to be there too. During the years our TV was upstairs, we would often hear him creeping (read: pounding his 85 lb frame) up the stairs. We waited to see his head peer around the chair. If we didn't acknowledge him, or shoo him away, he would quietly curl up at our feet as if thinking, "They'll never notice." And if there was a storm, he was glued to my side no matter where in the house I was.

Frisco had a ferocious growl and an intimidating bark. When we lived in a home with a chain link fence surrounding our back yard, he wore a path along the alley fence line as he protected his people from dangerous neighbors, children and occasional strangers cutting through the neighborhood. We knew that we could leave our toddlers playing in the backyard safely because Frisco would protect "his people." No sane person got near our fence, much less attempted to enter the yard.

At the same time, Frisco allowed the children to do almost anything they wanted to him. Toddlers aren't gentle creatures: they pull tails, poke eyes, sit on bellies, pretend to be cowboys with a horse, hug you til you choke, use you as a pillow. We often marveled at Frisco's unending patience with the little people we brought home to him. If they got a little too aggressive, he would simply sit up and walk away a short distance to settle down again. Sometimes he just endured, looking up at us with a helpless expression as if to say, "Really? Can you help?"

And if you dared sit down in the middle of the floor to play a board game, or tie your shoe, or just watch TV—it didn't matter—he assumed you were there to play with him. He lived to wrestle with us, though if he ever actually captured an arm or hand in his mouth he would stop, let it go and lick it. The gentle giant.

 

That Blankety-Blank Dog!


Of course, he could drive us insane. Stay home and eat his own food? Whatev. One time I caught him climbing (not jumping—climbing) that chain link fence. He was tall enough to put his front paws on the top bar and strong enough to pull himself up. But he didn't count on getting his back foot caught in a link on his way down the other side. I was inside, with a 8-month-old, when I heard horrible yelping outside. Afraid he was dying, I ran out to see his predicament. I freed his foot, but that meant he was also free to run off and cavort around the neighborhood. I had to corral the baby, then chase the dog home.

Another time, he truly ran off, earning jail time in the pound for 3 days. We told him it was his only "get out of jail" card (because it wasn't free!). I also remember a day, when I was 7 or 8 months pregnant, chasing him around the living room because he did not want to go to his room (I was trying to leave for work). Jumping couches to tackle him in my condition did not make for a happy mama.

Frisco's height gave him the perfect leverage to find and steal food from the table and counters. An abandoned lunch was fair game. In recent years, he lost all sense of decorum and pretty much shadowed the kids around the kitchen, hoping they would just turn their backs for a second. He was known to have snatched food right out of the toddler's hand. Hey, it's right there on my level, so he must be offering it to me, right? I'm strangely proud of the fact that he stole his last sandwich the day before he died. True to self, til the end.

Frisco and I shared a weakness for pizza in particular. He begged, shook hands, sat, "talked" or lay down on command for a scrap of crust. Or he would just steal half a pie off the counter. Whatever he could get away with.

The Aftermath


The worst part of the first day was not discovering him in his room, nor carrying him out to the truck, nor watching my husband break the news to the kids, nor taking his body to the vet. Yes, I cried through most of those events, but something else was harder to take: returning home to an empty house.

It's not like he was a bundle of energy these past few months. But he was there. He still came to see me, still needed to be let out, still scratched or sighed. He was a companion til the end, and I miss that, especially now that I work from home most days.

I found myself ruminating over several themes the last few days:
Grief is exhausting. I know, it's just a dog. Right? No. I cried longer and more often the first day than I can remember in years. I am in fact impressed at my typing ability because the screen is blurry even now. My eyes were puffy for a couple of days. I understood in a new way why my mother kept so busy after the loss of my stepfather—activity distracts you from the pain, gives you something else to focus on. That's not such a bad thing sometimes. A good night's sleep helps too. 
Mercy: The loss is more bearable because we saw him decline over the last few months. The kids aren't traumatized—they can actually feel sad for themselves but glad for him. We all started sharing memories of his quirks and funny experiences, evoking smiles and laughs at times. But then someone would get teary-eyed. (One even created a Minecraft cemetery...a creative processing technique!). So it comes in waves and know it will get better, maybe enough to get a new dog within the year. But Frisco is remembered well.   
Friends: In times of loss, friends who understand and give us space to grieve are a gift from God, evidence of his grace. The ones I initially contacted all responded with compassion, allowing me to weep over a pet who has been part of our family longer than our children have. No matter what or who you lose, don't underestimate the power of compassion and empathy. Allow the grieving one to talk or not talk, acknowledge the loss, and be there.  
Answered prayers: I'd been asking the Lord for months to spare me the decision of when or if to take him to the vet to be euthanized, and to spare him unnecessary pain. I found him in his room—where he felt safest—early that morning, while my husband was home to help transfer him to our SUV (we made the swift decision not to make the kids have to see his body) and to break the news to the kids (he knew I would have choked and sobbed my way through that). So no hard decision to make, and an uncomplicated goodbye. Pretty much what I had begged for. Thank you, Lord.
Perspective:  While we love and will miss our pizza-thieving, playful pal, we realize that his loss is but a hint of what it is like to lose a child or mother or other loved one. Just this past weekend, a colleague's teenaged son died unexpectedly and tragically. My husband will be performing that memorial service later in the week. What will he say? There are not enough words in the English language that can bring that boy back and restore that family. We grieve with them, and I think experiencing our pet loss has made me more sensitive to the emptiness they are feeling. It pales in comparison, I know. But between the two events, I hug my kids a little tighter now.
Have you lost a beloved pet? What did you learn after that process?


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

IF God is Real, Then What?

Maybe you've heard about the IF:Gathering, a women's conference hosted in Austin, TX, and simulcast worldwide to over 40,000 women last weekend. Its theme: If God is real, then what?

Meant To Be 


I didn’t think I’d get to go to IF:Austin. Regular tickets sold out in 42 minutes back in November, so I asked if there were any press passes. They said they would get back to me.

But as February approached with no word, I began checking out the IF:Local groups in my area and wondering how I would participate when it would require taking a vacation day. (Sometimes full-time work is a real pain. I know, I should be grateful—and I am—but, just being honest!) Then I got the email: Could I come to Austin as a member of the press?

Two weeks. 4 kids. A husband on Guard duty that weekend. A boss to convince. No roommate to share expenses with.

Yes


I hopped on Facebook to ask the world if I had any friends in Austin (save money, see a friend?). My husband saw that post as he left work and called to inquire about my plans to leave town. I explained, and we discussed the challenge of arranging childcare for 2 days. 30 minutes later he arrived home—with assurances from his parents that the kids were covered. Woah. I could kiss him (and I did).

The following day, a friend I hadn’t seen in ages contacted me to see if I was going to IF and did I want to travel together. My boss, despite having a different agenda, gave me the day off.

God could not have spoken any clearer.

Why the urgent need to go? I couldn’t exactly say.

It wasn’t the speaker lineup, because no one knew the lineup.
It wasn’t to hang out with my besties, because they couldn’t make it.
It wasn’t to crank out articles for FV, because I was going on my own time.

But God carved a path before me.

Thankfully no one pressed me to explain exactly what IF was all about. I wasn’t completely sure, myself.

What is it?


I was not alone in my difficulty describing the essence of IF. Various speakers alluded to it jokingly, but the closing speaker, Tara Jenkins, addressed it directly. “So who had trouble explaining IF to your husband or friends?” The room collectively raised their hands.

Much like we wondered exactly “What is IF?” before the weekend started, the Israelites wandering in the desert wondered, “What is it?” when God sent manna to them. The flaky wafers fed them just enough each day, evidence that God was still with them, aware of their needs and ready to act for their benefit.

IF was spiritual manna to us that weekend. As Tara said, “Manna is blessing we can’t explain exactly, but is exactly what you need for the day you are in. That is what IF has been to us.”


Some of that manna can be found in these quotables that I am still noodling over:
Every parent knows, measuring sticks eventually become weapons.  ~ Ann Voskamp  
Girls can impale each other, but the sisterhood of women empowers one another. Ann Voskamp 
Why live in the wilderness, delivered, instead of in the promised land, free, so we can free yet another generation? ~ Christine Caine 
God doesn’t just want to use you, he wants to be with you b/c he loves you.  ~ Sarah Bessey 
We’ve heard it said that "hurt people hurt people." Well, free people free people!  ~ Bianca Olthoff
Run yo' race!  ~ Bianca Olthoff
 Your yes to God is deciding the future of many more people than just yourself. So lean in to God's call.  ~ Shelley Giglio
Calling is when your talent and your burden combine. ~ Rebekah Lyons 
Jesus is either a crazy person or He is the front door to a new life. ~ Jen Hatmaker
 You play your one note, and I’ll play mine, and together we’ll create a song that is freedom for the captives.  ~ Jen Hatmaker
That's some powerful stuff! To say nothing of the women who led out in this faith walk that is IF. Calling us to repentance, to unity, to acknowledging our calling, to moving forward as the hands and feet of Jesus—each of us in our own giftedness and calling—to bring the Kingdom ever closer.

Which of those exhortations is harder to do??

Which of those exhortations could be more rewarding, more fulfilling?

I'm still working through it. You might actually see more blogs from me soon!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

When Something Wicked Blessed Me

Beth Moore spoke the day before.
I drove back to the hotel late  last night, wearing my new shirt from the MOPS Convention marketplace — it says "Blessed" in a pretty cursive font — thinking how very appropriate to have a visual reminder of how I felt. It's worth writing about even if just so I don't forget.

The day started off well enough—decent sleep, good breakfast, arriving on time to get a good seat at Jen Hatmaker's session at the MOPS Convention where I've been all weekend. But my headache set in before the music started and was raging by the time I slipped out to get to my booth ahead of her.
Jen Hatmaker speaks.

Yes, Jen Hatmaker was coming to the FaithVillage booth for a book signing. (Blessing!) The line had already begun forming before I arrived. Soon, the line stretched through the Marketplace floor, weaving down aisles and between other vendors. The moms were so patient and happy to see Jen, who signed books and took pictures with her contagious smile never wavering. We took book orders, with a MOPS volunteer (one of several who were rock stars helping us out!) taking cash and I handling the credit payments on Jen's iphone. She had one of those Square card readers...so cool.

Jen's smile never wavered.
Soon I was feeling lightheaded and queasy, at moments wondering if I needed to leave the booth and go find a dark corner (pretty sure there wasn't one to be found). At times squeezing the bridge of my nose (a sinus problem?) or maybe the sides of my head (so it would not explode), I must have given my discomfort away to the chattering moms waiting in line. One of them asked (sincerely and rhetorically, because she was just being kind) "Oh, your head hurts?" I asked if she had any tylenol, and she and about 3 others whipped out their painkillers right there. A blessing. I gratefully went for the migraine stuff.
My MOPS group came too.

About an hour or so later I wasn't wanting to faint anymore, but I did want to feel human again. I sent my teammate, David, for lunch. One of the volunteers gave me her crackers. And yet another mom in line saw me suffering —I don't have much of a poker face—and offered me Aleve without me even asking. She kind of pushed it on me, though I gratefully accepted. And another online mom friend who couldn't get down to our booth sent someone with water (she had no idea I'd need it so badly, but what a divine appointment!).

Moms...they just take care of people, huh? A blessing.

Jen had to run off to a meeting but we continued to sell her books, and she returned awhile later for a surprise second round. What a trouper! Though unannounced, she sat there another hour as moms who had been turned away the first time learned she was back. All with a smile and genuine sparkle in her eye for each mom who came to see her. A blessing to them and to those of us who watched.

Caryn and me.
As the Marketplace hours wound to a close, I scurried through the booths looking for gifts for my kids. I've already mentioned to David that my big plans for our evening off was to stay in my hotel room and watch LSU play Ole Miss ... and sleep. What else would help this headache go away? I see Caryn, an author and FV contributor whom I met years ago at a Synergy Women's Conference. We've seen each other in person maybe 3 times over 6 years, but chat online regularly. We took a photo together, and then she says, "Hey, I got these tickets to go to Wicked the Musical tonight. But I'm by myself. Would you want to come with me?"

One second. Ok, maybe two. That's how long it took me to ditch LSU and say, "For real??? Uh, yeah!" I did momentarily think about how exhausted I might be and would my head be able to take it, but I just went by faith that it would be worth it.

Tracey is a hoot!
Back to the hotel I laid down for a bit, hoping for a short, restorative nap. Caryn's phone call woke me out of a dead sleep. I had Passed. Out. As I left my room I realized — my headache was completely gone. Vanished. Disappeared.

Thank you, Jesus. Such grace. Whatever it was that finally did it — the meds, the rest, the sleep, the quiet, whatever—I was so grateful for an unclouded mind. We met downtown at Starbucks, where I also got a quick visit in with my previously mentioned online friend who sent me water... Tracey Solomon, MOPS board member and enthusiast, a joy to be with, and a blessing in and of herself. 

The show was amazing. I only knew that it was a takeoff of the Wizard of Oz but nothing else. The music, the message about truth and reality, friendship, sacrifice, ambition, love ... all sung by some amazingly talented singers and performers. Wow! Just Wow.
Wicked

The final song between the two "witches" is called Changed:
..."who can say if I've been changed for the better —I do believe I've been changed for the better — because I knew you, I have been changed for good."
That's how I feel about today and the women who blessed me. I wish I knew their names, those two moms who handed me pain-killers at the booth. To Tracy and the volunteers who helped manage the line, to Jen who displayed grace and generosity, to Caryn and Tracey for helping finish off my night, to the writers of Wicked for telling a story of friendship that reminds me of Erin and Sandi and Jeni and Susie and Amy and ... and ...

I am indeed blessed.

(PS. Changed seems like a great theme song for MOPS International. Just saying.)
(PPS. It seems that missing the LSU game was itself a blessing—I heard they played horribly and lost.)

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

J is for Justice

You could safely describe my family as bibliophiles. Even the 3yo loves books, and his older brothers and sister annually smash the summer reading goals set by our local library...within a couple of weeks. So it was no surprise to find us all at Half Price Books on Labor Day, taking advantage of their 20% sale.

Only N brought money, so J and M had to settle for just looking. We remembered that J owed N a copy of A Wrinkle in Time, which he had borrowed sometime last year and brought to school only for it to disappear from his backpack. Luckily N found 3 copies and chose one in great condition to replace the lost book. Price: $3.50

At checkout, I turned to J and said, "I'll pay for the book and you can pay me back from your $10 allowance you'll be getting later this week." Commence the whining...

"Noooooo, I'll pay him back lateeeerrrr." 

Ignoring him, I finished paying, then took them outside to wait for Daddy and the little one. The I'm-not-done-with-you-yet-Texas heat soon drove us inside again. N went to find the others, so I showed J the receipt.

"Look— $2.78 with the discount. What a deal. You can pay me, say, $3 bucks out of your ten."

J immediately grabbed onto the original price I quoted and said, "No, I'll pay $2.78 like you said." 

"No, $3 is easier...no change involved, just dollars. Let's call the difference 'sales tax.' Plus it's still a deal from the original $3.50 price!" I couldn't help but smile even as his frustration level grew, but I quickly masked my amusement as his brow furrowed and started getting upset. 

"Mom, it wasn't my fault. I didn't take the book out of my bag. It was there all day because we weren't allowed to get stuff out of our bags during school. Then after school it was just gone when I went to open my bag. It's not fair!" 

J is going to be a lawyer someday. Or a politician. Or go to jail. I don't see much difference in the personalities of those three groups ... just the direction and purpose they're given. So we'll keep steering him toward honor and service and see how he changes the world. But in the meantime, he wasn't convincing me.

"J," I leaned in and put my finger on his chin, speaking softly but clearly (as we were still standing near the door of the busy store), "you borrowed the book. I believe you about what happened to it, but you still borrowed it. When we take someone's property and something happens to it —whether accidental or intentional — we are still responsible for it. You took the book and did not bring it home. It's not fair to N that his book didn't come home. So you owe N a new copy. He's not mad. I'm not mad. But you have to make it right."

To his credit, J simply hung his head for a moment —obviously disappointed— then nodded. I ruffled his hair and hugged him before N walked up. Parental moment over.

J is 9 years old. He's a smart kid ... people-smart. He gets relationships, understands the connections between actions and consequences. He may not always realize them beforehand, but when they are explained rationally to him, he gets it. And he has the biggest heart of anyone in our house, always concerned about the needy, the downtrodden, the poor. Maybe it's part of being the middle kid, but he's got a big thing about fairness. What I love is that he doesn't solely focus it on himself. He's just as likely to say "it's not fair!" about a bad call at a football game as he is about kids who don't have shoes because they can't afford them as he is about not getting an equal portion of ice cream as his brother. 

I see a heart bent towards justice. And I pray his dad and I can continue to point him toward the God of justice, who spoke through his prophet Micah "... And what does the Lord require of you? But to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" (6:8).