Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thoughtful About . . . The Right View of God

Our Bible studies are famous for getting off track . . . but resulting in some awesome discussions. Last night our study of Daniel led us to a conversation on why people might lose faith--why, specifically, God might put them in a situation where they end up losing faith.

It doesn't really fit our view of how God works, right? We have all those awesome sayings: God doesn't give you more than you can handle. God is always going to work things out for your better good.

But is that right? Is that what He actually says?

As my hubby (who loves to ask all the hard questions in our studies) pointed out, God never promises to work things for our good--He promises to work things for THE good. And He certainly never promises not to give us more than we can bear. He just promises to bear it with us, for us, when we turn to Him.

But what if we don't?

The example that got David asking this was from WWII, when some of the Righteous Among the Nations--the people who had gone out of their way to save Jews during the Holocaust--who had felt God calling them to help, then turned from Him, overwhelmed by the depravity of man and their own ineffectual actions. The Jews recognized them as doing great work, but they didn't see it. They saw only the horror, and so much of it that they decided that if this was what God had called them to do, then they wanted nothing to do with God anymore.

That's hard. Right? And optimistic me says, "But surely God drew them back to Him in the end!" But what if these folks really had hardened their heart so much against Him that they didn't want to turn back? I don't know if they did. I don't know if God treats these people in a different way, pouring mercy upon their souls. I don't know.

But what I do know is that we're less likely to be one of those people if we have a right view of God.

So often, I think Christians aren't worshiping God as He is--we're worshiping God as we want Him to be. We want to think that God is all mercy, when in truth He is also perfect justice. We want to think that God obeys our definition of "fair," when in reality He probably shakes His head at how limited our definition is. We think in terms of us. We have such a self-centered view of God, of Christianity, that it's hard for us to fathom that sometimes He asks us to die. He lets loved ones die. True, world-wide tragedy happens.

Yes, God asks us to work in a situation when we never see the good that comes of it.

Why? Because there's more than we can see. And because it isn't about us, it's about the people we're called to help. It's about the Kingdom.

Yes, God asks us to trust in Him when men like Hitler are out to obliterate the Good News. When thousands, millions are killed.

Why? Because men have the free will to fight Him and to kill His people in the process. God will "let" that happen . . . but never to the point where it will destroy His Kingdom. Don't you think Judah cried out at the slaughter at the hands of the Babylonians? That Israel thought God unfair, that He wasn't worth serving when the Assyrians destroyed them? Yes. I'm sure they did. I'm sure some, whose faith was in their own idea of God, lost that faith.

But the faith itself grew. Exile was what turned Judaism from a general religion to a personal faith. These terrible, awful, never-should-have-happened things were used by God to further the Kingdom, even though it means some lost faith . . . lost faith in their false ideas.

We've been studying the ancient world in school, learning about the greatest of the ancient kings. And do you know what made them great? They put the kingdom above all else. Above personal glory. Above love of one individual. They would fight wars or make odd peace treaties to preserve and expand their nation.

God is the BEST king. He is working, always, for the good of the Kingdom. That means making decisions we, as mere peons in His army, don't understand. It means people will die. It means war and famine and flood and cancer and dictators and atheism and . . . who knows what else. It means some will lose faith. It means more will come to it. It means the wheat will be separated from the chaff. It means so much more than we can fathom.

More, honestly, than most of us want to think about. We want life to be good. To be fair. To be easy. We want our loved ones not to die. We want our children to be perfectly healthy. We want respect and admiration.

Sorry, y'all. God promises us hardship. Disrespect. He promises that brother will turn on brother and father on son. He promises persecution and death and trial.

But He also promises peace and love and joy and a wisdom the world cannot understand. He promises to lift us above our circumstances--not to change our circumstances.

And that right there is one of the greatest epiphanies I ever had, a few years ago. We don't serve a God who changes circumstances alone--we serve a God who changes souls. He doesn't say, "I'll make the hurtful thing stop." He says, "I'll lend you My strength to get through it."

Sometimes--often--that actually means stripping away the things we thought were important. To get us back to the place where we have only that one truly important thing.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Remember When . . . I Learned the Details

While in England, I found myself making a list of the little details I hadn't known. The little things that aren't wrong in my books, but which aren't present.

The first to strike me:

I don't have nearly enough sheep in my stories.

Because seriously. While we were in Salisbury and then the Cotswolds, there were sheep everywhere. According to our host at the B&B, if you have a plot of grass, you just throw some sheep onto it to keep it trim. Apparently wool these days isn't worth what you have to pay the man to come and sheer them, so all the money in it is in lambing. And, I suppose, whatever you save in lawn mowers. ;-)

Not coming from a sheep-rich area, I found this pretty noteworthy. And it also meant I noted things about how they keep the sheep. In many places, there are no fences to keep them in the field--there are instead ditches dug around the pasture, which are called ha-has. Because while the sheep quickly learned to avoid them, unsuspecting humans often don't pay attention and fall in, to the amusement of their companions.

That was my big revelation in central England. When we went to the West Country and stayed in Cornwall, my revelations were different. Namely, I had way too many trees in the first draft of A Name Unknown.

Now, there are trees in Cornwall to be sure. But they tend not to be near the cliffs of the coast, and I have my estate in the story have coastal property. So I needed to do some rearranging of my fictional estate and move the woods to the opposite end. ;-) At least in the miles we walked or drove through, there's no emerging from the trees onto the cliffs. Between the two would be a large expanse of scrub, filled with heather and gorse and...


Wow. I don't know if it's always like this in Cornwall, but every day we were there was crazy-windy. Now, being accustomed to the beach, I knew there would be wind off the water. I had some. But not nearly enough. Much like sheep. ;-) So I turned up the wind and down the trees. And of course had to mention these beauties.

They look like palm trees, and Cornwall is "sub-tropical." But I put that in quotes, because it means temperate, not warm. Certainly not warm enough for real palms. These are actually a New Zealand species that are also called cabbage trees, as parts of them are edible and were part of the Maori diet. Though they're commonly referred to as a Cornish palm, and though you'll see them all over the place in Cornwall, and though they do give you an air of a tropical resort . . . don't let 'em fool you. "Sunny Cornwall" was gorgeous, but we saw just as much rain as sun when we were there, LOL. Maybe more, actually. Though it certainly didn't stop us from getting out and enjoying the beauty of this rugged coastline. Cornwall was definitely a LOVE!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

And a new character - Kira

In each of the first two books of the series, I had third point-of-view character who was the heroine's lady's maid. I obviously needed another third character to give us that below-stairs view in this books . . . but I wanted to shake it up a bit. So instead of getting to know the heroine's maid, I decided we'd get to know the villain's.

I loved introducing Kira Belova, who introduces us in turn to the mysterious Russian buyer of the diamonds that we've heard mentioned since book 1. Well let me just tell you, Andrei Varrenikov is quite the piece of work. And Kira is his mistress (though we never see them in any such situations, don't worry!). Once the prima ballerina with the famous Ballet Russe, a knee injury has left her broken and desperate to cling to the life she'd worked for. Willing to do anything to keep her pretty Parisian flat and the facade of wealth she'd gained through Andrei.

Even spy for him. Even though it means posing as a maid--a servant's position her family had worked generations to escape from.

Through Kira, we get a glimpse into Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution. A hint of a very different culture than the English one we've otherwise seen. And, I hope, a few surprises. =) It's also thanks to Kira that we get the 3 scenes in the book set somewhere other than the Cotswolds--PARIS!

Photo of the Eiffel Tower taken by my daughter, by the way. And we crossed right over the Place d'Iena and saw signs for the Guimet, the museum mentioned there! How cool is that?!

Now. Today begins the Celebrate Lit Blog Tour for A Lady Unrivaled, which means lots of chances to get some opinions about the book and enter my giveaway that's exclusively for Celebrate Lit!

Included in this giveaway is a tin of tea from England. But not just from England. From HRH Prince Charles's Highgrove Shop--a shop attached to his Cotswold estate, where he's an avid organic farmer/gardener. (All proceeds from the store go to a charity.) So this isn't just any tea, this is prince-approved tea. ;-)

Here's the Celebrate Lit line up!

September 22: 100 pages per hour
September 22: Smiling Book Reviews
September 23: Book by Book
September 23: Bibliophile Reviews
September 24: bigreadersite
September 24: Jeanette’s Thoughts
September 25: The Power of Words
September 25: Pause for Tales
September 26: Reading Is My SuperPower
September 26: Faithfully Bookish
September 27: Back  Porch Reads
September 28: cherylbbookblog
September 28: D’S QUILTS & BOOKS
September 29: Blossoms and Blessings
September 29: Heidi Reads…
September 30: The Scribbler
September 30: Karen’s Krayons
October 3: Colonial Quills
October 3: Blogging With Carol
October 5: Books and Beverages

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

And then there's Cayton . . .

I knew it would be  a little tricky, making my hero in book 3 a man who wasn't exactly likeable in the first two books. But that was part of the challenge.

In book 1, we see Cayton marry for money and break the heart of Brook's cousin. In book 2, we see him newly widowed and overwhelmed by the guilt of having never come to love his wife.

I do have a soft spot for characters who need redemption, and Cayton was certainly one of those! As A Lady Unrivaled begins, he has already repented, he has already determined to be the man God wants him to be . . . he's just finding it more difficult to accept forgiveness than it had been to ask for it.

Naturally, this is what makes him so much fun!

Interested in a giveaway of A Lady Unrivaled?

There's one going on right now at Overcoming With God! You can also read Noela's gracious review of the book on that site.

And on Friday, it's time for another Colonial Quills Tea Party! Join me on the blog for a giveaway and on our Facebook event for a chat at 12 noon EDT!

Monday, September 19, 2016

I'm Baaaaaaaack! (And Ella is here!)

Hello, lovely readers! I'm back from my tour of England and Paris and ready (er...something, LOL) to dive back into the world of blogging. =) And of course, last week A Lady Unrivaled released!

Bethany House and I will be hosting a truly spectacular giveaway soon--stay tuned for dates and details!

And beginning this Thursday, the book will be on tour with Celebrate Lit, along with another fun giveaway that includes a tin of tea from Prince Charles's Highgrove Shop in Tetbury!

My big blogging plans for this week are basically to share a few pictures we took that relate to the book.

In the very first chapter, we see Ella sneaking into the library at Ralin Castle. I had the pleasure of touring Knightshayes in Devon, and their library--oh my gracious. So my little visual tour of the book will begin with this.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Bon Voyage!

By the time this posts, my plane should be touching down in England. For the next week and a half, I'll be touring historic sites, exploring the countryside, and getting a couple stamps in my passport. =)

Which is to say, I'm likely to be quiet here on the blog. You never know, I might post a few pictures as I tour...or I might wait until I get back. Playing that one by ear. ;-)

In any case, I'd appreciate prayers for safe travels, and I'll definitely be back with lots of pictures soon!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Remember When . . . The Davies Sisters

If one researches art in Wales, one will come across two sisters--a lot. If one researches music in Wales during World War I, one will come across them again. If one researches how soldiers adjusted to life back at home after the war . . . you get the idea. You'll yet again end up reading about the Davies sisters, Margaret (called Daisy) and Gwendoline (Gwen).

So naturally, they have to be in my Welsh-set A Song Unheard.

Actually, they're what inspired it. When I was doing my initial research for how the arts were put to use during WWI, I ran across part of their story, and it intrigued me. It inspired my entire plot.

You see, in the first weeks of the war, Germany invaded Belgium--a country who only existed because it had sworn to neutrality. To violate those terms wasn't just a blow to the Belgians, it was a blow to civilization. No one could quite believe that the German leadership had so blatantly scorned an agreement made and signed. It wasn't how gentlemen behaved--it wasn't how war was waged.

The invasion of Belgium proved to Europe that Germany had no respect for the heretofore "civilized" way of doing things. It horrified the world when the troops marched in and began burning villages, beating priests, and killing innocent civilians. Refugees flooded into friendly nations like England.

And in Wales, these two sisters didn't just wait for refugees to come to them. They sought them out. Within a few months of the invasion of Belgium, Daisy and Gwen had sent friends into that devastated country to recruit Belgium's top musicians to come to Wales.

Musicians? you might say. Why??

The answer is two-fold. First, the Davieses were first and foremost always looking to better their "dear principality." They loved Wales and wanted to better it. They wanted to bring culture to the area often deemed a bit too rural. But that wasn't their only reasoning.

They also wanted to help. You see, everyone knew from the start that if Germany didn't relinquish its hold on Belgium, it would soon spell utter disaster for the small nation. Their food supplies wouldn't last beyond a few months. And with all trade cut off, its citizens would soon be starving. Aid was being organized within weeks of the invasion, much of it spearheaded by Americans (who were thus far otherwise staying as far from the war as possible).

Well, Gwen and Daisy wanted to help with the relief effort. So they put together a symphony orchestra of Belgian refugees and toured Wales, raising money for the Belgian Relief Fund.

This, of course, is where A Song Unheard was born. My hero is a violinist previously with the Brussels Conservatoire, now part of this orchestra touring Wales.

But even after organizing this, the sisters were by no means ready to sit back and say they'd done their duty. A few years later they moved to France, not far from the front, to run a cantina for the soldiers. And a few years after the war, they purchased and opened an estate called Gregynog, whose primary purpose was to rehabilitate soldiers returning from the war, to teach them art and crafts and music to help soothe the ragged edges wrought by violence.

These were sisters described by all who knew them as devout, faithful, focused always on the Lord--and on helping their fellow man. Today, the largest collection of art in Wales is on display because the sisters donated them to the university museum upon their deaths. Theirs is a legacy known far and wide in their dear principality.

Here's hoping my fictionalized versions of them can do them justice!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Word of the Week - Fast

What primary school student hasn't been correctly at some point for saying "fastly"? I know I was...and I know I've done the correcting too. But last week when my son said something about this, my husband and I decided to look it up (because really, why isn't that a word??).

Pretty interesting discovery too!

So the original meaning of fast, dating back to the 12th century, was "firmly, securely." We still use this occasionally, though it's old-fashioned. "It stuck fast" etc. Early on, fastly was then indeed a word and used in relation to this sticking definition. It didn't go completely out of use until the 19th century.

So where did the notion of "quickly" come from? Well, that meaning has been around nearly as long as the original, and came about rather organically. Etymologists believe it's because "to run hard" and "to run quickly" mean the same thing--and also perhaps because if you're running "fixedly," you're keeping up with anyone in front of you.

Regardless of how it evolved, it's certainly worth noting that fast was used both as an adjective and an adverb since the get-go, with that "fastly" fading from use a couple hundred years ago solely because the root word had been treated as both adj and adv for so long.

So sorry, kiddo. No need for that -ly. ;-)