Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Purifying Ourselves

This week, my husband went to a friend's Bible study to see about helping them with recordings. Then the next day we went to our Bible study with other young parents. Then the next day, we went to church.

And those three days in a row, using three different scriptures, the same message was spoken. Purify yourselves.

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
          ~ II Corinthians 7:1 (NIV)

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.... Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.
            ~ James 4:8, 10 (NKJV)

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
             ~Titus 2:11-14 (NKJV)

The force of them all, in the various contexts, was the same. If we want to be something different...if we want to be set apart...if we want to avoid getting sucked down into the culture around us...well, this is how we do it. We purify ourselves of the things of the world. We get rid of all the contaminants.

How? In the first of those Bible studies my husband attended, that's what they were talking about. The how. And I love the answer they came to. That we do it by filling ourselves up with God. When we do that, when we fill ourselves up with Him, we don't have to worry about how to get rid of the earthly things. They just don't fit us anymore.

It's kind of like eating right. I don't know about you, but I love my junk food. And if I just try to cut out junk food, it's agonizing. BUT, if I instead focus on putting good stuff in--if I make up my mind that I WILL eat 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day, do you know what I've found? That I'm so busy eating the good stuff, which fills me up, that I don't have room or time for the bad stuff. It just stops mattering.

On the way home from church we were discussing the Purify Yourselves theme of the week, and my husband asked, "So why do you think this message is being preached right now? Is it something ominous? I mean why do we have to do this right now? What's coming?"

I can't really answer that, obviously. But to me, it didn't feel like a doom-and-gloom threat--purify yourselves or else. It felt like a key to a promise. So often lately we've been talking about how we can change our culture. How we get the attention of the world and point it toward Him. How we speak to this generation. 

To me, this message felt like a how-to. It felt like God saying, "Do you want to change the world around you? Then start with you. Get rid of the world inside you so that I can fill you up. And then you'll shine with Me, and others will see, and things will start changing."

It goes back to a saying we heard a few years ago:

I wanted to change the world.
But I couldn't.
So I decided I'd change my community.
But I couldn't.
So I thought I'd change my church.
But I couldn't.
I figured I'd change my family.
But I couldn't.

So I decided to change myself.

With God, I changed me.
And then my family saw and was changed.
Then my church saw and was changed.
Then my community saw and was changed.
And then the world saw...

We can't just change the world. We can only change ourselves. But WHEN we change doesn't go unnoticed, my friends. But I also believe this isn't a message just for my house. This is a message for the church.

Do we want things to change? Do we want the culture to realize where they're heading? Do we want to reclaim our spiritual heritage? To we want to embrace the full authority of the Holy Spirit and all He can do through us?

Then it's time we get off our rears and onto our knees. It's time we purify ourselves. That we wash away the filth of the world by filling ourselves with Him so fully that there's just no room for anything else.

And then...then we get to watch what He will do through His servants.

Pouring Water photo credit: Global Water Partnership - a water secure world via photopin cc
Overflowing Bucket photo credit: Kamoteus (A New Beginning) via photopin cc

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Remember When . . . History Was in the Works?

Some years, WhiteFire has a lot of contemporary titles...other years, a lot of historicals. This year is shaping up to be history-filled. And of course, I have my new historical series beginning with Bethany House in September. So for me, 2015 is going to be a year full of history!

I thought it would be fun to give you a peek at what will be filling my calendar for the year. =)

Gathered Waters
by Cara Luecht
I've already shared a bit about this one when I did a cover design post on it last August. (View the post here.) In short, Gathered Waters is set in the late 19th century, following some of the first Swedish Baptists from their home in Sweden to America. This book is a beautiful glimpse into what defines us, where we draw our lines in the sand, and what we're willing to sacrifice for our faith.

The Sound of Diamonds
Steadfast Love Series, Book 1
by Rachelle Rea
Set in the Elizabethan days, The Sound of Diamonds is about a Catholic lady who has taken refuge at a convent in Holland after her parents' murders...only to be caught up in the Iconoclastic Fury, when Dutch protestants hunted down any Catholics they could find and killed them, setting fire to Catholic churches and monasteries and nunneries. She has to get home--but the only man who can help her is the one she hates above all the world--the man wanted for the murder of her parents.

Adventure, romance, and look into a little-known side of the great Catholic/Protestant struggle...oh yes. =)
The Lost Heiress
Ladies of the Manor, Book 1
by Me (Bethany House)

I should be getting my cover for The Lost Heiress very soon--for now, this is my very much unofficial title image, just so I have an image to post. ;-)

I have official catalog copy for this now, so here it is!

Brook Eden has never known where she truly belongs. Though raised in the palace of Monaco, she’s British by birth and was brought to the Grimaldis under suspicious circumstances as a babe. When Brook’s friend Justin uncovers the fact that Brook is likely a missing heiress from Yorkshire, Brook leaves the sun of the Mediterranean to travel to the moors of the North Sea to the estate of her supposed family.
The mystery of her mother’s death haunts her, and though her father is quick to accept her, the rest of the family and the servants of Whitby Park are not. Only when Brook’s life is threatened do they draw close—but their loyalty may come too late to save Brook from the same threat that led to tragedy for her mother.
As heir to a dukedom, Justin is no stranger to balancing responsibilities. When the matters of his estate force him far from Brook, the distance between them reveals that what began as friendship has grown into something much more. But how can their very different loyalties and responsibilities ever come together?
And then, for a second time, the heiress of Whitby Park is stolen away because of the very rare treasure in her possession—and this time only the servants of Whitby can save her.

A Fair to Remember
The World's Fair Series, Book 1
by Suzie Johnson

Let's all admire the beauty of this cover photo--for which I can take no credit. ;-) The heroine of A Fair to Remember looks like the famous Edwardian actress, Lily Elsie. The above photo is of said actress...but colorized by a very talented Czech artist who granted us permission to use this one, and who will be colorizing old photos for the second two books in the series too! We're all very excited about using actual Edwardian photographs, given a modern twist, for these. =)

We're really excited about the concept of this series too. Each of the 3 books will be set during one of the World's Fairs of the early 20th century, beginning with the Pan-American expo in Buffalo, New York, where the president was shot...

The series will combine history and romance with a bit of suspense, and I for one can't wait to get my hands on it. ;-)

The Sound of Silver
Steadfast Love Series, Book 2
by Rachelle Rea

The cover for this is done, but not revealed you're just getting a wee little glimpse here. ;-)

The Sound of Silver will be the continuing adventure of Gwyn and Dirk from The Sound of Diamonds, taking the reader into the questions of new love and faith, and the price of proving one's innocence.

Giver of Wonders
by Yours Truly
I also already shared a bit about this one in my cover design post from just a little while ago. (View the post here.) =) Giver of Wonders will be the story of St. Nicholas that led to one of our beloved Christmas traditions--gifts in stockings--but will of course not be all about Nick himself. It will instead focus on the recipient of his gift, my fictionalized heroine named Cyprus and her twin sisters, Alexandria and Rhoda. A story of sacrificial love and the boundlessness of faith, this will be another installment of the Visibullis family's story.

It's going to be quite a year! And that's not even looking at the contemporaries and non-fiction on our plate. ;-)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Word of the Week - Raise V. Raze

A week or two ago, my best friend sent me one of those hilarious "someecards" photos on Pinterest that totally sums up my outlook on housework.
I love this. But I'm also enough of a grammarian that I had to point out the typo, LOL.

I was in college, reading all the ancient Greeks with their love of flattening opposing cities, when I came upon the word raze. While raise means "lift up," the homophone raze means "tear down." Don't you just love English?? LOL

Apparently raze, which dates to about 1540, is an alteration of rasen, a 14th century word coming from Old French that meant "to scratch, slash, erase." We see that meaning preserved in erase, which is quite closely related (who knew?).

Raise, on the other hand, comes from a Scandinavian source, likely Old Norse. It dates from about 1200 and has always meant what it means now, in the physical sense. The meaning like "raise from the dead" comes from a literal "make higher" that is taken from that physical sense, and is from about 1300. "Increase the amount" joined the fray in 1500s, usually speaking of money or price. "Bring up a question" dates from the 1640s. In the 1660s it was also applied to growing crops. It was applied to rearing children in about 1744 (though not everywhere--apparently American Southerners used it to speak of breeding slaves, and Northerners wouldn't use it of children at all, only of crops.) And finally, in the 1820s, it became a phrase used in playing cards.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Being Deliberate

I often, like many others, pray for a word for the new year as the old one draws to a close. Unlike most people I know who do this, I don't generally get my word before the year begins, LOL. Instead, mine seems to come the first time I go to church in the new year. Don't ask me why, but that's the pattern. ;-) This year, we were iced out of our first service of the year, so this past weekend was our first church of 2015. And lo and behold, on the drive in, it hit me.


This is an idea that has been coming at me from every direction in recent months. Our church is going from a branch church to a full member of our conference this year (hopefully), which requires that we examine our constitution and by-laws and make any changes we feel are necessary. As we spent hours pouring over this foundational document in recent months, there it was: be deliberate. We were engaged in a rather sacred endeavor, establishing how our church is to run until someone takes it upon themselves to change the constitution. We were setting up education, membership, and business practices. We had to be deliberate in how we did this, and where we wanted the focus to be. We had to be deliberate in giving the authority to whom it belongs. Ultimately God, and then those who follow Him.

It came up again in our Bible study that we have with friends. We're beginning a new study on parenting, were talking the other night about how we educate our children (those present on Friday were all homeschoolers). And it hit me again. Be deliberate.

What does that mean?

Well, it means that I'm not to be washed to and fro by the currents of the day. I'm not to just go with the flow. I'm not to do something just because it's how it's done. I'm not to call things "good enough" and leave them. I'm not to do things thoughtlessly, by rote.

In my world, there's a lot of routine, a lot of habit. All well and good...but not enough. Because I don't just want to be a leader, or a follower of God, or a writer, or a friend. I want to raise leaders. True followers of God. Focused and determined people. A man and a woman who know the value of friendship, of honesty, of sacrifice.

Will they learn just by observing? To a point...yes. But also no.

This is another something my husband and I were just discussing, as he reads the works of John Lake, a truly great evangelist whose teachings helped found several worldwide denominations. David had just gotten to the chapters where Lake was mourning the death of the movement he had helped begin. Where he was looking at these floundering church groups and realizing that there was no one to take up the mantle. That they had assumed, he and his colleagues, that others would follow like them, ready to lead and continue the work.

But there was no one.

I mused, as we spoke of this, that perhaps it was because great leaders are often so focused on their calling that they're not focused on raising up the next generation. Because they believe (idealistically--not badly, but not realistically) that just as they watched and were convicted and accepted a call, so will others be. They think they need to be always on the front lines, not behind them teaching those who come next.

We've been talking a lot about how to change a culture slip-sliding its way into decay. But you know what? No matter what answers we come to, they won't matter unless we also figure out how to keep it. Unless we figure out how to teach our kids that there's no such thing as "the way things are." There's just "the way things are going right now."

You can see it over and again in history--one generation feels a deep conviction, makes changes. They set up a society in a given way, and raise their children in it. But then, to those children, it's just the way it is. They don't remember the reasons. They live it, but they don't teach their children anything but the "facts" of their world...and so those children rebel. Go astray. Decide they'd rather taste this other way.

Because no one is deliberate.

We need to be! Oh, how we need to be. Because it doesn't take long--a generation, two at the most--for religion to take the place of faith. For prejudice and judgment to overcome us. For ideals to be overwhelmed by rules. It has happened countless times in the church, it has happened in society, it has happened in our schools. Good intentions slowly morph into legalism until the original intent is buried so far beneath the mountain of words no one can even remember what it is anymore.

I want to raise my children with deliberation. I want to raise them not to believe the lies of the world. The lies that say there's only so much we can do, so much we can change. The lies that things are what they are. NO. I want my kids to fully understand that the world, their culture, their lives are ever-changing and always able to be influenced. That their God is bigger than the enemy. That they can do all things through the strength of Christ. I want them to know that there's no such thing as second-generation faith. They need their own.

How to teach them this? Well not by a lesson in church every week and nothing else, that's for sure. Not just by setting an example. No, sorry--if I'm going to teach them these important life-lessons, then it's going to have to be through deliberate choices. Deliberate guidance. Deliberate words given at deliberate moments to usher them along their own path. Not mine. Theirs.

As a homeschooling mom, I'm not sure if this sacred charge is easier or harder. On the one hand, it's far more difficult because I'm with them every moment of every day--and it's hard to be deliberate 24/7. But then, it might be easier, because I know what they're being exposed to every moment of every day. I know what conversations to have when. There are no surprises when they get home from school and say, "Well Jake said that..."

When I pray for a word for the year, I don't always get one. But when I do, it's never just a word for the year. It's a word for my life, forever. Like "Shine"--I'm still living that one, working on it. "Deliberate" is going to have to be the same way.

Because if I want to be a woman of faith, I have to choose it every moment of every day. I have to make a conscious effort to listen to Him, to walk in His power and truth. If I want to be a mother who raises children who understand this, I have to deliberately foster them in their growth. I need to not accept pre-boxed, ready-made answers and instead encourage and help them in finding their own. I need to make sure they understand that faith is work.

I think a question for the ages might be "How do you overcome generational decay?" And I believe this is the answer: by not assuming our kids will understand what we've come to learn. By not thinking "just living it" is enough. No. We have to be deliberate--otherwise all we build will be forgotten.

Stone man photo credit: Travis S. via photopin cc
Winding road photo credit: bobarcpics via photopin cc

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Cover Design - The Sound of Diamonds

I posted in November about the photoshoot we did for an upcoming WhiteFire title by Rachelle Rea. Well, today the cover for The Sound of Diamonds goes live and will be revealed around the web! Kicking it off is a blog on how I designed it at Go Teen Writers.

Are you ready?


... Set?


... Here it is!

Check out the full how-I-did-it on GTW!!!

Curious what it's about? Here's the (not final) blurb.

In Reformation-era England, a converted rogue wants to restore his honor at whatever cost. Running from a tortured past, Dirk Godfrey knows he has only one chance at redemption. 
An independent Catholic maiden seeking refuge in the Low Countries finds herself at the center of the Iconoclastic Fury. Jaded by tragedy, Gwyneth's only hope of getting home is to trust the man she hates, and she soon discovers her poor vision is not the only thing that has been blinding her.

But the home Gwyneth knew is not what she once thought. When a dark secret and a twisted plot for power collide in a castle masquerading as a haven, will the saint and the sinner hold to hope...or be overcome?

You can find The Sounds of Diamonds for pre-order on Amazon. The book will release June 15.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Word of the Week - Biscuit

Last week, I made some truly beautiful southern-style biscuits (click the photo for the recipe). And oh, how delicious they were!! Of course, this being my family, the mere bread itself wasn't the only thing we worked on. My awesome children also had to ask, "So if they call cookies biscuits in England...then what do they call biscuits?"

I know I have some English followers, so perhaps Elisabeth will chime in (hi, Elisabeth! LOL), but from my research, here's what I found. As I stood there with flour on my shirt, the table still a mess, and my lovely white rounds rising in the oven. ;-)

The current spelling of biscuit is from the 19th century--earlier it was bisket (16th century) or besquite (14th century). It comes from the Old French besquit, a word from the 12th century that literally meant "twice cooked." The idea of a baked good actually came about in the French because it was so close a cognate with the Italian biscotto, which meant "(bread) twice baked."

The American biscuit is first recorded in about 1818. Our idea of calling the baked sweet cookie was taken from the Dutch koekje, which means "little cake." (You will in fact find many colonial recipes for things like "little sugar cakes"...which are just sugar cookies.)

But to answer my kids' original question, I had to keep looking. What do they call our biscuits?? Well, there are scones...but scones are generally sweet, not the type of thing to dip in soup. Rolls are yeasty, as are buns.

So we eventually found this answer: the American biscuit just exist elsewhere, LOL, so there's no name for it. There we go. ;-) And now I'm hungry!

Be sure to stop by tomorrow for links to a cover reveal for another of my designs!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Cover Design - Giver of Wonders

My Facebook friends may have seen my upcoming cover already, but I figured today I'd do a design post on it, just for fun. =)

You've no doubt all heard me talking about my idea for a biblical Christmas story. It will be set in the early days of the man who became known as St. Nicholas, though I'm calling him by his name as it was said in Greek, Nikolaos. Nikolaos is one of the key characters in the story, but this is me--I'm all about the fictional characters. =) So in this case, my protagonist is a young woman named Cyprus. A young woman with rare (in that part of the world) red hair that plays a rather vital role in how her life goes. A young woman who experiences a miracle...and then spends years wondering why the Lord healed her. What's her purpose? What life is she meant to live?

My search for a model photo led me to, and I'm oh so glad it did! I've discovered that a lot of the artists and photographers and designers there love to share their work and have permissions for even commercial use on their pages. Which thrilled me beyond all thought when I stumbled across the Greek queen collection by Kirilee Lennerts. She had many poses of herself in this fabulous green dress, but I fell in love with this one.

I love the draping of the fabric. I love how she's looking over her shoulder. And I love how her hand is right there by her hair, playing with it. Something Cyprus does whenever she's upset or distracted. Of course, her hair's the wrong color, but red is an easy change. So I deleted the background and reddened her hair. I moved her off to the side of my page so I'd have room for the title.
(You're seeing it here with some lighting effects added too...)

I was happy with how she looked there, but feedback on Facebook said her arm looked weird and a few folks weren't sure what her hand was doing there, so I decided to add a bit more hair to make it clear.
There she is--hi, Cyprus!

Now, background. As I was playing with this cover for the last month and a half, I thought I wanted a fireplace in the background, or candles. The main action of the book takes place during Saturnalia, the Roman festival of lights that led up to the winter solstice, which Christian scholars believed even then was also the birthday of Christ, though the celebrations we know and love were still centuries away from developing. I thought this would look Christmasy though...but try as I might to play and play with fireplaces and candles, it just wasn't it.

So I did a lot of studying of successful Christmas novel covers. I asked everyone questions. I learned that the majority of Christmas-story readers like things like snow on the covers.

Um...this is set in present-day Turkey, then part of Greece. They aren't exactly rolling in snow, LOL. But it's really the colors that shout "Christmas!", right? So I have the green, snow = white. White I can probably do.

I decided to head to Wikimedia Commons and search for Patara, the town it's set in. I find quite a few pictures to choose from!
I'm not sure if you can really see it in the screenshot, but there are lots of photos of the countryside and the ruins of Patara, some with archways, some with columns. (And a turtle??? LOL)

For once, the first one I choose ended up working out well. ;-) I chose the picture in the middle of that bottom row there, the one with the columns.
Photo by John Morgan-Evans
Of course, I don't want the people in there. And I also don't want the pillars to be in obvious disrepair. Plus, I need the perspective to be right. So that picture gets super zoomed and put behind my heroine.
Doesn't look very white yet, I know. But with some brightening and lighting effects, it turns into this.
I really liked how it looked both white and gold. It complements the gold on her dress just beautifully. =) Of course, in the image here, the top and bottom are faded out. That's because a bit later in the process I decided to fade the bottom to the creamy gold and the top to the same green as her dress. It ended up looking like this.
I was in love! LOL. The colors felt spot-on, and I had a lovely blank space with a nice glow to it for my words.

So. Title. By the time I started this round of the cover, I had it nailed down, but when I first started playing with it, I had no clue what I wanted the title to be. I started with The Gift from Nikolaos. Which...meh. I looked up things like The Gift Giver and Giver of Gifts...all used quite a few times. I liked the idea of Gift for a Christmas story...but I just couldn't think of how to make it sound right. So what else was Nikolaos known for?

His miracles. As a boy in Patara, he was called Wonder-Worker. (Can you imagine growing up with that for a nickname???!!!) Wonder...hmm. I liked the sound of that! It also evoked Christmas, but more beside. So how could I work with wonder? I decided to put it together with the gift idea and ended up with:

Giver of Wonders

What do you think? I really liked it. I liked how it could be describing God or a person (Nik), how it evokes thoughts of both gifts and miracles and the simple wonder we feel as we look at his amazing love for us. I decided that was my winner. =) So it was time to play with the font and positioning.

I won't lie. I tried a lot of different fonts! But I won't show you all of them. I'll just show you what I decided on--something bold and big, which would fill that space, be easy to read in a thumbnail. The font is called Bembo, and it's a rather traditional typesetting font. I really love the Ws in it. ;-)
The only fancy part is the "of" which I made just a shade or two darker and, in typical "me" fashion then rasterized so I could delete parts of it and make it look like it loops around the E and the O. (Not sure if you can see that on here, LOL, but it's one of those "well, I know it does!" things.)

So putting that overtop of our picture, we get this.

I actually put Giver behind the girl--it only slides behind her hand a bit, but I liked the interaction of model and font. So then I went ahead and put my name on there too. It's big solely because it filled up the space best that way, LOL. And to make it easily read in the thumbnails. Same font as Giver and Wonders.

We're getting somewhere. I liked the red of the font--I now had all my main colors. Red, green, white, and gold. How much more Christmasy can we get?? Yet it's subtle. It's not something that looks cheesy or over the top.

But Wonders didn't stand out very well. And when my hubby came over to look at it, he said, "I liked the way you had the title on your old cover." He was referring to The Gift of Nikolaos cover I first played with, which had Nikolaos on a banner. I headed back to Google to look up free banner vectors and decided to try out a gold one.
I plugged it in behind Wonders and voila!
Yep...definitely in love. =) My final step was to add a little subtitle (which could yet change). I used "A Story of St. Nicholas" to let readers know it's a seasonal story and that, despite the biblical flavor of the cover, it deals with a well known Christmas figure. Though I may yet also add a little something to the top left that says something about this being about the Visibullis family my biblical readers love so well. =)

So there we have it! The cover for Giver of Wonders, which will be coming to you late this year, in time for Christmas but not solely a Christmas story. =)

And just to make sure the amazing Kirilee had no issues which me digitally dyeing her hair, I did send the cover to her for approval, and she was incredibly stoked. ;-)