Monday, December 31, 2018

Farewell, 2018!

As 2018 draws to a close, I thought it would be fun to look back on the year, month by month, and remember my journey. It's been quite a busy one!

The fantabulous Rachel Dixon
The year began with the release of A Song Unheard in the first few days of January. A book release always brings its own excitement...and extra work. Given all the deadlines I was under, this added load led my brilliant husband to say, "Maybe you should seriously consider hiring a virtual assistant." He's suggested this before, and I always waved it off. I can handle it, man! But I'd reached the point where I really couldn't. So a bit later in January, I hired the amazing Rachel Dixon as my VA, and it has been awesome. Not only is she great at picking up my slack, doing extras I never would have gotten to, and keeping me on schedule (seriously, I long knew I needed an extra brain...), it's always proven a chance to become friends with a great young woman with whom I click.

At the end of January, we went to our first whole-family professional sporting event--Penguins hockey in Pittsburgh. We all had a blast, and I was enthralled by the collective atmosphere at the event. In February I also read and reviewed the wildly successful and critically acclaimed The Alice Network. Which I loved...but it also got me thinking about the sacred in historical fiction. Namely, how we as historical writers have to choose what beliefs of our historical figures we honor. And how sad it makes me that authors can choose to dismiss what would have been so important to people 100 years ago.

In March, I got to re-release my first historical romance--previously Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland--under WhiteFire. Summerside granted me my rights back with the stipulation that I change the title and cover, which I did with a big, "Aw, shucks. The cover designer has to design a new cover?? What a shame." ;-) I had so much fun re-imagining the face of Lark's story!

In April, we got the news that another small press, Ashberry Lane, had announced they were closing their doors. I knew the owners of AL and had mentored Christina a bit as she got everything started, so I was sad to hear this--I knew she'd put together an amazing line-up of books and authors! My husband immediately suggested we contact her to see if she'd be interested in selling Ashberry Lane to WhiteFire. And within days, we had a verbal agreement! It took us several months to get everything completed, but we now have a three-pronged publishing company, with Ashberry Lane as our romance imprint. So exciting!

Me and Stephanie at the house
In May, it was time for one of the highlights of my year--my annual writing retreat with my best friend/critique partner, Stephanie Morrill. We met this year in Arnold, Maryland (close to the closest airport to me, though not really close to me...though Arnold is where we lived when our daughter was born, so it was fun to revisit the arera!). We rented a house through AirBnB, which worked out great, and we both finished the manuscripts we were working on! For me, that was The Number of Love. And I still had a day left after I finished, which was just enough time to get an idea hammered out for my second Guideposts book, All the Inn's a Stage. Also in May, I had the joy of attending the Gaithersburg Book Festival! It was raining and dreary, but several thousand people still turned out, and I had so much fun on a panel with authors Carrie Turansky and Cathy Gohlke. I got to meet some readers I've known online for years, as well as some fans who came just to see me, which made my day. 💗
Me, Cathy, and Carrie at the Gaithersburg Book Festival (weeeee bit muddy!)

In June, my daughter danced in her last ballet with Appalachian Ballet Theatre, where she'd been taking lessons since she was 5. Insert me weeping. The directors at ABT decided to close the studio after they received word that their landlady was selling the building. The mother of this team was ready to retire anyway, and the daughter was having baby #2. So it made sense for them...but still, we were heartbroken to lose our ballet home! Over the summer, the search was on for a new ballet class. It was made a bit trickier as Xoe was ready to transition to pointe, but we found a studio she likes. Frostburg Dance Academy doesn't focus solely on ballet, but their technique in it is great, and I'm confident that Xoe is getting wonderful instruction. Going on pointe has made her double-down in her love of dancing, and she'd been practicing at home a ton. Lovely to see!
Xoe with her class--she's the one looking at the camera, far left

Over the summer, I decided it was time to stop being lazy and finding excuses not to exercise. I in fact decided to find reasons to exercise. So I began listening to audio books and working out 30 minutes each day--all my sanity can spare, with the work always awaiting me. In the last six months I've listened to some amazing books! I asked for recommendations at the start of this new adventure and compiled a list of the results here on the blog. (Yes, I count my exercising success in terms of books listened to, not time shaved off my mile or something weird like that, LOL.)

In August, I began working on a series of book covers for Lauraine Snelling. This was not only fun as a designer, but it was exciting as a fan-girl. I grew up on Lauraine Snelling books. I read her Golden Filly Series for teens and adored it, but I also read her Red River books as a teen. I've got probably a dozen or more of her books on my shelf, so when her agent contacted me about doing these, I was a wee bit giddy. It was a 5-book series we were doing, so took quite a while, but what fun I had getting to know Lauraine and her agency team through the process! (My daughter is also in 3 of these covers...her hair in 2 [#2 and #5] and her entire profile/head/scarf/hair in #4, LOL.)

As an editor, I had the joy of representing WhiteFire Publishing at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference. It was a great time! The whole family went, and while I was teaching classes and taking appointments, David took the kids to Legoland and the aquarium. We'd planned on going into the city to see the Liberty Bell etc., but we were battling colds, and opted to just come home. We did, however, squeeze in a trip to the National Zoo in August, which was fun! And as we launched into our homeschool year, I was surprised to realize my daughter's work was all independent this year! She's doing a fabulous job with that, and I've been rather delighted to discover that the year I decided to redo with my son (one he's done before, but long enough ago that he didn't remember it all) is so much shorter each day than what we'd been doing! LOL. That extra time in my morning has been invaluable! September, I celebrated TWO book style at the beach! ;-) My first book in the Secrets of Wayfarers Inn series released from Guidepost, directly to consumers. Greater Than Gold is book 4 in the series. And the final book in the Shadows Over England series released while we were on vacation in the Outer Banks of NC, An Hour Unspent. We were vacationing this year with family friends, and we had lots of fun. Moreover, it was a much-needed time of refreshing for me. I'd been laboring under some intense deadlines and was running on empty. I came home from vacation rejuvenated, relaxed, and bursting with ideas again...which was great, because I'd just turned in my second Guidepost book and needed to get started on the second book in my next series for Bethany House!

Though October is usually one of my busiest months, this year was different. Thanks to a year of torrential rain here in WV, things like my family farm's fall festival were cancelled. (And also thanks to that rain, it was a year of SNAKES!! Ack! We spotted two venomous copperheads in our yard this year, in addition to the black snake that snuck into my office! YIKES!) So we enjoyed a more relaxed fall. You may have noticed a few changes on the blog round about then, though. That's when I decided to start sending out a weekly newsletter with my blog posts, focusing on my Thoughtful post. I've been touched by the encouragement and feedback I've received from readers as a result! Also in October, I got to reveal the cover of The Number of Love...which may possibly be my favorite cover ever!

November was, as always, a month to focus on gratitude. And one of the things I've been grateful for is the launch of our young reader imprint with WhiteFire, which we've called WhiteSpark. It went live in November with two books--a young adult by the prolific Melody Carlson, and a middle grade by debut author Bonnie Swinehart. I was tickled to be able to introduce my daughter to the world as an illustrator with Bonnie's book! She did small pictures at each chapter head and a few larger ones throughout the book as well. And what a great job she did! Pure Mama-pride going on over here...

In December, we got to go on an adventure to New York City. =) We decided that our kids could each choose a 13-year-old adventure around said birthday--something out of the ordinary, something we wouldn't usually do. Xoë (the older) decided she wanted to see a professional ballet--specifically, The Nutcracker. We'd toyed with the idea of taking her to Europe for it, but ultimately we decided on NYC. One of the things she really wanted was to dress up in a long gown, so even though this particular ballet crowd wasn't all that fancy, we went all out--and had a wonderful time!

2018 is ending with me finishing up that second book for my Codebreaker Series, which is due on January 2. I cut it a bit closer than I'd like, and the book is longer than I wanted it to be, but it's finished--phew!

Overall, 2018 has been a year of hard work. There have been so many unexpected blessings and opportunities, unforeseen growth with our publishing company, and lots of awesome reading and experiences. It's been a great year. One with many (literal) headaches as I spend too many hours in front of my computer, but when I look back at the growth, the many books written and read, edited and designed, I know they've been hours well spent.

When you look back over 2018, what stands out to you the most?

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Great Christmas Tree Hunt

Merry Christmas! Everything on the blog this week has been Christmas-themed, as I'm sure you've noticed. 😉 And as a final post before the holidays, I thought I'd just tell you about our little adventure...

See, in my family, we get a live tree. If possible, a blue spruce. This has been our tradition since my husband and I got married 17 years ago. And in general, it's played out the same every year: usually my hubby and his mother go out to fetch one, sometimes taking the kids along to help with the selection. Most of the time, they've just nabbed one from a lot in town.

Now, for the last 17 years, we've done this pretty much the same week--namely, two weeks before Christmas. Because let me just tell you, if you get a live tree from a lot any earlier than that, you're not going to have any needles left for Christmas. 😉 After a frustrating experience with a tree that lost half its needles during the decorating process, two years ago, I gently *ahem* hinted that they should go to a tree farm next time. The next year, yeah, um...they just came home with a tree one day from the same lot we always use. So, you know, whatever. 😉

This year I was about to start dropping the tree-farm hints again...and didn't have to. Because this year there were NO TREES to be found in our hometown! None of the lots had more than one scraggly example. Usually, you can still find them on Christmas Eve--this year, they were all gone by the first week in December!

So we started looking around at the many tree farms in the area...only to find that some had closed, some had never opened for this season thanks to no stock the right size, and others had sold out the weekend after Thanksgiving. Say what?

We thought we were going to have to drive an hour to find one--never mind a blue spruce in particular, we'd have settled for anything! Then my parents found a tree farm in the yellow pages Saturday night and gave them a ring (they also wanted a live tree). The woman assured them they had "little but blue spruces, actually" and told us how to get there: out Knobley Rd, cross over 50, then it's just two miles beyond that.

Well, on Sunday we followed those directions, and we found a tree a different name than the one in the yellow pages. Who had a few blue spruces, though certainly not many. We asked them if they were the same as the one in the phone book, and they'd never heard of it. Asked about the phone number...same story. No one in their family.

So while I have no idea where that tree farm is, LOL, we did indeed find one, and we found two beauties. Better still, they're half the price of the ones on the lots. Sounds like a new family tradition to me!

This year our experiment will be adding some Miracle Grow to the water and seeing if it helps keep the tree vibrant--someone on a radio program my husband listens too reported that they added a ton to their freshly-cut tree's water and it was actually growing roots by the time they took it down, so they planted it! Our kids think that sounds awesome. If we can pull it off, we're going to name it Bruce the Blue Spruce and put lights on it every year outside. 😉

So my house finally looks--and smells--like Christmas. (All our decorations are stored with the tree decorations, so we do it all at once.) It hadn't really felt so near Christmas before, but hopefully now it'll begin to!

This is my last post until New Year's Eve, so from my family to yours, have a very Merry Christmas! May the joy of Christ fill your hearts and homes this week and throughout the year. If you have any special plans--or just simple traditions you treasure that you're looking forward to--I'd love to hear about them!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Remember When . . .Christmas Was in the Air?

Since I did a bit of a round-up in this week's Word of the Week post, I thought I'd continue that trend today. 😀 Here you'll find a list of all my past Christmas-themed posts throughout the years (or all the ones my search turned up, anyway, LOL). Have you missed one? Now's the perfect time to catch up!

Christmas should be about Who is in our hearts, not about what's under the tree...or even what family is around us.

We hear so much about the spirit of Christmas...but what about the Spirit this Christmas season?

A quick look at the very different appearances of Christmas on the pages of A Heart's Revolution (formerly Love Finds You in Annapolis) and Ring of Secrets

How the Pilgrims and their descendants viewed Christmas

The reasons behind the red and green tradition

The real St. Nick and what he stood for(the inspiration for Giver of Wonders)

Commercial hoax or a real story?

Reflecting on the best gifts God has given 

A guest post on Colonial Quills about the Yule Log tradition

The histories of some of our favorite Christmas songs

A bit about the traditional 12 Days of Christmas, and the history of the Christmas Star

It wasn't Constantine! LOL Christians had a real, beautiful (if odd by today's thoughts) reason for naming December 25 as Christmas!

Why are we so upset when the non-Christian world doesn't understand Christmas?

Behind the scenes as I designed the cover for my one and only Christmas novel

Monday, December 17, 2018

Word of the Week - Noel

'Tis the season to look up any Christmas-related words I haven't already done. 😉 Knowing that noel is French, I suppose I figured there wasn't much more to know about it, so I hadn't looked into this one before. But I decided it was time!

For starters, I had no idea noel has been part of the English language for so long! Originally spelled nowel, this word has meant "the feast of Christmas" since the late 1300s. It does, of course, come from Old French noel, which meant "the Christmas season." It, however, was a variant of nael, from the the Latin natalis, which means simply "birth." In Church Latin, of course, "the birth" can only speak to one thing... 😀

Wondering what other Christmas words I've featured? Here's the list!

Friday, December 14, 2018

EBook Special!

A Song Unheard is on sale this month! Available for $2.99 from all retailers!
Follow the links below to make your purchase now. 

About the Book

If Betraying Her Heart Means Saving Countless Lives, Will She Find the Courage?

Willa Forsythe is both a violin prodigy and top-notch thief, which makes her the perfect choice for a critical task at the outset of World War I--to secure a crucial cypher key from a famous violinist currently in Wales. 

Lukas De Wilde has enjoyed the life of fame he's won--until now, when being recognized nearly gets him killed. Everyone wants the key to his father's work as a cryptologist. And Lukas fears that his mother and sister, who have vanished in the wake of the German invasion of Belgium, will pay the price. The only distraction he finds from his worry is in meeting the intriguing and talented Willa Forsythe.

But danger presses in from every side, and Willa knows what Lukas doesn't--that she must betray him and find that key, or her own family could pay the same price his surely has.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Word of the Week - Bran(d) New

This is another word that my daughter came running out to show me in her history book. And one I found even more intriguing when I looked it up on my own, as etymonline doesn't, in fact, agree with said history book!

So, according to A History of Us, the phrase brand-new was once bran-new. This because imported items were shipped in barrels that used bran as a packing material. So if something was fresh from the crates, just taken from the bran...

Other sources, however, say that the original was brand-new, dating from the 1500s...though the idea is actually rather parallel, in that it came from the notion of being straight from the forge (brand at the time meant "fire). Shakespeare actually used fire-new.

So whether it has a D or not, it certainly carries the same meaning--something freshly made.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Fridays from the Archives - Shopping

Original post published December 15, 2011

I'll just come out and admit it--I like getting presents. I do. That surprise of ripping open the paper and finding something underneath that you didn't choose for yourself. That feeling of appreciation that comes from knowing someone took the time to select something for you. And, well, just getting new things. 😉

I like giving presents. I like putting thought and care into what each person in my life wants and needs. I love finding those gems--like the year we gave my mother-in-law the leg lamp from her all-time favorite move, A Christmas Story. (Or as she calls it, Shoot Your Eye Out, LOL.) I love picking things that I know will make my kids squeal with delight.

But this year . . . I don't know. We're trying to clear some accumulated junk from our house, so I'm rather loath to bring in new junk. You know? In years past when buying for my kids, I would often just grab things to fill out the allotted funds from, say, my grandmother. To fill up the stocking.

After throwing out all the cheap toys that had broken and giving away many of the ones they just don't play with, I'm not doing that this year. This year, my thought is, "I'm not spending the money unless I know they'll love it."

I think it's a good philosophy--accept that it means I'm still not done shopping, and there are only ten days until Christmas. Aaaaggghhhh!

For someone who grew up in a family that celebrated Christmas with joy and generosity (even those lean years, my Mom managed to stretch each dollar so the under-the-tree looked bursting!), I feel downright guilty sometimes for choosing an approach that doesn't result in such bulk. I'm afraid my kids will be disappointed--though we've never bought them a whole lot for Christmas, given how much they get everywhere else.

They never are--my kids don't expect a gazillion gifts from us, and we try really hard to keep their focus on the giving, the giving in honor of Christ.

Still, this year . . . my daughter's dresser is literally bursting with clothes. Literally. I cleaned out probably half their toys, and there are still so many . . . And the rest of my family?? What do they really want, really need?

Well, we solved the dilemma for the kids with these little bundles of joy. The two grays will be ours. 😊

I was still stressing about some of the other members of our family, but last night my hubby and I went out on our annual Christmas Shopping Date, and we came up with good things for all, I think. Things that aren't just going to clutter, but are rather going to add meaning.

See, shopping with my husband keeps me in that mindset. He's from a family that gives only what, and when, they think will be special. I don't always like this approach, but shopping with him keeps me from buying junk. It makes me think about how I'm spending each dollar. I needed that--that shift in focus. Our shopping date is in its third year now, and it's a tradition I'm going to cling to just to keep myself in line. 😉

What are your shopping traditions for this often-hectic time of year?

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Thoughtful About . . . Not a Flower

Many times through the years, I've joked about being a "delicate flower." Generally, this is what I say when there's heavy lifting to be done that I don't want to do, LOL, or when my husband is teasing me and I'm trying to convince him (sort of) to stop.
I say it because it's funny...but it's only funny because we all know it's not true.

Now, I'm not a large person by any stretch of the imagination. I'm a whopping 5'3" over here, and not exactly a weight-lifter. So I do have definite physical limitations. There are feats I simply cannot perform. But I'm not delicate. Maybe I look that way, but ask my family when it's moving day--I will probably heft more boxes over the course of the day than just about anyone. Where I come from, you might be small, but you work your rear off when there's work to be done.

I've also long joked about my sensibilities. To a certain extent, I embraced naivete. There are quite simply things I had no desire to expose myself to, and I still don't. But I'm also part of a world that doesn't agree with my sensibilities. I've answered phones at an insurance office and occasionally had disgruntled clients using some very, er, colorful language. I could have chosen to be offended--and was, honestly, quite shocked that someone would call a place of business and talk like that. But I decided that I wasn't going to be a delicate flower there either.

Because if I choose to be offended at everything offensive in the world, if I choose to let it affect me rather than just lifting my chin and showing a better way, then I'm never going to get away from that, right? I'm always going to be offended. The Bible tells us time and again that offenses will come. The advice of Paul and Jesus? Just don't be the one by whom they come. #BeBetter than that. In the Gospels, this instruction is about not leading others into sin. But I think it also applies to our own minds--don't let other lead us into the trap of always focusing on what they're doing. We need to focus instead on what WE need to do.

I've mentioned before the book The Coddling of the American Mind, which I've been listening to on audio. In this book, the authors point out that many college-aged students right now have the mistaken belief that they're fragile. That they need someone to step in and stop things whenever ideas are too challenging and cause them emotional distress, whenever they feel any slight or bias against them, whenever something might be construed as dangerous--not just to their physical bodies, but to their peace of mind.

This is a sad trend, but one I can quite easily believe. I don't know how many times in recent years I've heard someone saying they can't imagine letting their kids do the things that they did when they were the same age. Walk three blocks alone to the local ice cream shop? Heavens, no! Go adventuring through the countryside without an adult? Are you kidding? And yet, the world is SO MUCH SAFER now than it was twenty, thirty, forty, even fifty years ago. Crime rates are at an all time low...but perception is something else entirely. We have it in our heads that we must protect our kids from...well, from everything. But studies have shown that when we do that, what we're really teaching our kids is that they can't handle it. That the world's out to get them. That they're fragile--they're delicate flowers, and the world's just waiting to crush them.

This is so untrue, my friends. It's untrue first because people are just stronger than that. And especially if we have the Spirit of God inside us, lending us His strength on top of our own. What did Jesus tell us to do when someone hurts us? To pray for them. When they attack us? Turn the other cheek. When they won't accept our beliefs? Shake the dust from our feet. Jesus told us NOT to be offended over every little thing, NOT to be delicate flowers. He told us to persevere. He told us to stand strong in Him. He told us to face dangers and persecution for the sake of Truth. That sounds pretty darn not-delicate to me, right? No fragility there. Faith makes us stronger, not weaker. Because we're grounded on the Rock.

I want to keep my kids safe...but I also want them to be fully functioning adults, capable of standing strong in the face of the world. I want them to appreciate the beauty of flowers without thinking they're as fragile as those blooms. Frankly, I want them to see how stubborn some flowers are as they cling to the cliff side, flourishing in the most adverse of conditions. And that means letting them take risks. It means teaching them that beliefs must be challenged if they're really going to understand why they believe them. It means knowing that they don't have to choose to be offended just because something is offensive. They can choose to be bigger than that instead. They can choose to lift their chins and keep pressing on.

There are abuses in this world--genuine, horrific ones. There are tragedies. There are crimes. But when we magnify every little thing to that level, all we're doing is teaching ourselves that we're more delicate than we are. And taking away from what we really should be focusing on changing.

We're stronger than we think we are. Our kids and grandkids are stronger than we often let them be. We are not flowers., maybe we are. But not the kind that flourishes in the meadow, here today and gone tomorrow. If we're flowers, then we're a heartier kind. Not delicate. Not fragile. We're the kind clinging to the Solid Rock, beautiful in the face of the tempest.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Word of the Week - Dub

We've been studying medieval history in our homeschool right now, which of course means learning about knights and the process they go through to become knights. Which naturally led to a question of where in the world the word dub came from.

Dub has been around since the days of Old English--its exact origins are unknown, but the theory is that it was borrowed from the Old French aduber, which meant "equip with arms, adorn." That, in turn, may have originally been a Germanic word, though etymologists aren't certain. At any rate, this borrowed word meant "to knight by ceremonially striking with a sword" as early as the 11th century.

By the late 1500s it had been extended to the less-specific meaning of "to provide with a name."

Friday, November 30, 2018

Friday From the Archives - Santa Claus and Giving

Original post published 12/4/2014

I admit it. Readily. I have occasionally had an issue with the Santa question. I have friends who never introduced the concept, and part of me always wished I had put my foot down on it too. Because I never really introduced it. I just let it creep in. Whenever my kids would ask, I would say, "Well, what do you think?"

And I was about to pull the plug. Then . . . then I looked it up. I looked up the true history of St. Nicholas, and how he became Santa Claus. And you know what I discovered? That of all the many Christmas gift-giving traditions, this is actually the only one I feel has its roots in the right place.

Nicholas was from a city in the Byzantine empire, born in the late 200s and living through the mid 300s. From his youth, he was always given to matters of God. His parents died when he was young, leaving him a very wealthy boy. But rather than live in style, he was raised by his uncle, a priest, and soon followed in his footsteps. (Sorry--no Mrs. Claus.)

Even as a boy, he was known as the wonder-worker. He healed people of things like withered hands and illnesses with simple prayers. He calmed storms. He worked miracles. And he's still hugely remembered for those things in Europe, where you'll be hard pressed to find a town without a church dedicated to St. Nicholas. But do you know what else he's remembered for?

His anonymous generosity. 

See, he had all this money . . . but a heart for the Lord. So what did he do? Well, whenever he saw the needs of someone in his community, he quietly met them. He threw gold through windows. Down chimneys . . . and on occasion, it's reported that some of this gold landed in a stocking left to dry over the banked fire.

Sound familiar? For hundreds of years, Christmas stockings always had gold--or a golden fruit, like an orange--in the bottom, to recall this story.

But the beauty of the thing is that Nicholas never claimed to be the gift-giver. More, when someone caught him at it, he would beg them not to disclose the secret, not so long as he lived. Because Christ charged us to give in secret.

After his death on December 6th, however, the stories came out. Story upon story about the generosity and gift-giving of Nicholas, who was soon named a saint and whose feast day was established as December 6th. So a new tradition was born. Whenever an anonymous gift was given, and especially on his feast day, it was said to be given in the name of St. Nick. 

Anonymously--because that's what Christ charged us to do.

Isn't that actually what gift-giving should be about?? Not the glory of saying, "Look, I bought you something you'll love!" but the knowledge that we're bringing joy to someone--better still, meeting the need of someone--without expecting anything in return. Even the joy of seeing their faces when they open it.

That is true giving. And that's what St. Nicholas represents.

So how did St. Nicholas become Santa Claus? Well, because of the proximity of St. Nicholas's feast day to Christmas, the two holidays eventually merged. But not right away. For hundreds of years, the gifts were given on December 6, and December 25 was reserved as a day of worshiping the Christ Child.

Then Martin Luther revolutionized the church and tried to do away with the saints' days altogether. He was the one who said we oughtn't to expect gifts from St. Nicholas. Instead, we ought to be grateful for the gift of the Christ Child. But in rather typical fashion, people weren't willing to give up all their old they just changed the name and began saying the gifts were from the Christ-kindl (German/Dutch for Christ Child). Which Americans later heard and thought was Kris Kringle. Which is how it became, ironically, another name for Santa. (Also note that Santa Claus is directly from the Dutch words for saint and Nicholas, Claus being a nickname for the latter and "sinta" the word for the former.)

So you see what happened? In effort to change a tradition, all we succeeded in doing was losing its meaning. Santa became a symbol of greed to many, when that's the last thing he ever was in reality. He became a symbol of Christmas-when-you-take-Christ-out-of-it, when his life was dedicated to putting Christ in everything.

When I read all this history, I was inspired (hello, future novel!), and I was also saddened. Because one of the most honorable traditions surrounding gift-giving is the one so often hated by the Church. Oh, we're happy to give gifts...but we don't want to lie to our kids. (And let's face it--we don't want to share the glory when we find that perfect something for them.)

Well, I'm not going to lie to my kids. Instead, I'm going to teach them who St. Nicholas was. More, why he did the things he did. And I'm going to hammer home that the beauty of the thing is the anonymity. Who leaves those presents? Well, that's for you and your faith and your logic to decide. But the most important thing as a receiver of said gifts is knowing they're given from love--not just the love of a friend or the love of a parent or the love of any other family.

These gifts represent the love of God. The love of Christ. Embodied by the anonymous generosity of man...a man like St. Nick.

I'm not going to lie to my kids. I'm going to explain that St. Nick is a real person, who did indeed appear miraculously to many people. That's it's not about's about miracles. That believing God can do the impossible is part of faith. And that another part is being His hands and feet. Being His vehicle.

Being St. Nick. Not just on Christmas--in fact, we're going to try to get away from making the day set aside for Christ being Present Day. But we're going to give gifts. We're just going to change up how we do it.

My challenge to you this year is to start taking yourself out of gift-giving. Start signing gifts "Anonymous"--or, as the case may be, "St. Nicholas." Start leaving them for people to find and never know they're from you.

Let's start giving for the right reasons. And let's give some credit to the memory of a man who always, always did. Santa isn't a symptom of the evils of a commercialized nation--we are. Our attitudes are. Santa, if you dig back to the history, is the memory of a man who knew how to do things right. And I bet if Nicholas of Myra could see how his image has been changed over the years, and even hated by some Christians, he would weep. Because all he ever wanted to do was show Christ's love to his flock. He would want us, just like I firmly believe God does, to get back to the roots of that.

Will this be hard? Absolutely. Why? Because of expectation. Because we'll feel cheap if we show up without something in hand and don't reveal we've already given something. But that's a symptom of the problem, isn't it? Giving shouldn't be about our pride.

Let me say that again:

Giving should be about Him.

Not me.


Not you.


If we're giving in our own name...well, then who's the gift about? Makes you think, doesn't it? Or at least, it made me think. Because giving gifts has always been, to me, about (a) the recipient and (b) my joy in giving it. Not really about God at all. And you know, maybe that's fine on a birthday.

But on Jesus's? I don't think it is. I really don't. And so I'm going to accept the challenge to myself. I'm going to figure out how to glorify the Lord and honor Christ on His day--on every day. And I'm never going to sell St. Nicholas short again. Because he understood all his life what it's taken me a lot of years to figure out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Two New Stories!

Once in a while, it's fun to pause from telling y'all about my stories and talk instead about the other books that make up my life. 😁 And this last month, I've been SUPER BUSY preparing two amazing books for publication. So naturally, I want to tell you about them. 😉

WhiteFire Publishing has just officially launched its young reader line, WhiteSpark. And our two launching titles are pretty fabulous. Leading the way is our Young Adult title, Gone Too Soon, by bestselling, award-winning author Melody Carlson.

Now, Melody has long been established as a writer of both young adult and adult novels, historical, contemporary, you name it. At this point, I've read quite a lot of her books. But I gotta say. This one. This one is my favorite. This one is something special. This one grabbed me by the heart within pages and just didn't let me go again. This one will rock your world.

It's about a family--a family on the brink of disintegration. Six months before the story opens, the eldest daughter, Hannah--the "perfect" daughter--was killed in a car accident. And now nothing is right. Kiera, the "problem child" middle daughter, doesn't know what to do. Their father barely ever comes home. Their mother is relying more and more on alcohol and prescription drugs. And her little sister, Maddie, is being shipped off for the summer. It seems like nothing will stop their family's tailspin...until Kiera finds a diary hidden away in her older sister's room. Then even what she thought she knew is turned on its head. Apparently, Hannah wasn't so perfect. Apparently, her last year was far from ideal.

And apparently, their family's problems began well before Hannah died. The question is...can her words now somehow help put things to rights?

I'll say up front that I'm not an emotional reader. I don't often cry when I read. But this one...okay, so I didn't cry, but I got chills, people. Genuine, "Oh my goodness!!" chills. Aimed at teens who are sure to see their world in the one between the pages, it's also suitable for adults. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Get it for your teen. Get it for yourself. Get it for anyone who needs to see the hand of God at work. It's available at a bargain price for your e-reader, in paperback, and also in hardback with dust jacket.


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Oh, funny behind-the-scenes. I did the cover design for this, of course--but as I tried out various options, Melody and I agreed we wanted to see the diary on the cover. But I couldn't find a single decent stock image of a diary like I wanted. I could, however, find one on Amazon. ;-) So I ended up ordering one and staging my own photo shoot. It isn't often I use my original photos for a cover! I had to purchase the keychain's not actually in the book, but it's representative of the car that plays a huge role in the story.

Next up is Benjy and the Belsnickel, a middle-grade story that the 8-12 crowd will LOVE. When this book was first submitted to us, I actually read it to my kids (9 and 11 at the time) as part of our homeschool day to get their take. (Hello, beta testing!) They both highly enjoyed it, especially my son.

Benjy is such a fun story! The title character is an 11-yr-old boy in a rural Pennsylvania town in the 1930s. He attends a one-room schoolhouse, where he is constantly pulling pranks and getting in trouble with the schoolmarm. The thing is, he's not sure why. He tries to be good--he wants to be good--but the allure of mischief is just too strong. I mean, who wants to do spelling when it's one of the last warm days of autumn and his baseball bat is calling his name?? Who wants to suffer through math when the first snowfall promises fun sledding?

But with every prank he pulls, Benjy is met with the same threat from all the adults in his life--he'd better be careful, or he'll earn a visit from the Belsnickel.

This is what I LOVE about this book--the Pennsylvania Dutch legend that comes to life! The Belsnickel, you see, is an old PA Dutch tradition that runs parallel to Santa Claus. We all know Santa is known for bringing presents to good kids and coal to bad ones. Well, the Belsnickel is his antithesis. He only visits the naughty children, and he comes with a whip in hand, a terrifying hat decorated with porcupine quills and bells, and a strict warning: make better choices or face the consequences.

Benjy's pretty sure the legend is just that--folklore. Except he keeps hearing bells at every turn and is pretty sure he sees the Belsnickel's shadow looming. Is it his imagination or truth? And is the threat enough to make him change his ways?

With just enough legend to make kids squeal, but plenty of humor, hope, and family love to keep them firmly planted, this is a must-read this holiday season for the young ones in your life!

AND...inside the book, there are illustrations at the chapter heads and between some of the chapters. Illustrations were done by my daughter! When Bonnie (the author) mentioned a few line drawings to me, I immediately thought of my budding artist of a daughter and wondered if her style would fit. I sent Bonnie a few samples of her work to see if it fit the style she had in mind, and she gave me an enthusiastic "Yes!" So my thirteen-year-old wowed us all with her talent (as usual) and produced the 23 pictures now featured in this book. Yes, I'm a proud mama. For good reason! This girl is GOOD!

Benjy and the Belsnickel is also available in three formats, though the hardback version is case laminate, not a dust jacket. Better for those younger readers, and more handy for lending and sharing. 😁

You can watch a fun interview with Bonnie HERE.


Barnes and Noble