Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Three Princess Fiona's and a Dream Come True

The Three Fiona's 
There's a scene in Shrek, the Musical when three versions of Princess Fiona are singing from her/their castle tower--the young girl, the adolescent, and the grown woman--longing for her dreams to come true. I love the musical; as you can imagine, it's pretty funny. Beyond the humor, this image has remained with me.

It poignantly depicts the fact that there is still a little girl in each of us, a high school student, a young adult, waiting for her dreams to be fulfilled. In fact, a couple of nights ago, I spent some time with a few twenty-something women, talking through and praying about what it means to wait on God's perfect timing for our dreams, while also living in the present He has given us. It's a holy tension.

With that said, I'm so excited to finally announce that one of my lifelong dreams (oh, the hours I spent writing in diaries as a young girl; the seasons, as an adolescent, I poured myself into really terrible tortured poetry; the calling I've felt as a grown woman) has come true.

My first book on overcoming shame will be published with none other than Zondervan (See HarperCollins Christian Publishing) in October 2015.

I'm as giddy as a little girl, pumped as a teenager, and the grown-up in me is ever so thankful to God for this great blessing. Most of all, I cannot wait to see how He brings healing and hope into the lives of SO MANY women who are suffering from shame.

This book is sassy, serious, and, of course, shameless. It's about developing a theology and identity of overcoming shame in Christ-- both for the big traumas of life and for those mundane-shames we all deal with (at the grocery store, the gym, while watching E! news, etc).

If you want to know more about the book, this was my proposal promo (starring The Sunday's and some of my lovely friends) and put together by the incomparable Megan Cody:


A special shout out to:
Heidi Mitchell at DC Jacobson, my fabulous literary agentess.
My amazing Redbuds.
Shannon Ethridge, for writing my foreword and for encouraging me along the way.
(Wow, I feel like I'm making a big speech right now... one more to go....)

At the top of the list is YOU, the faithful men and women who read this crazy blog. I am honored that you'd spend even a few minutes of your week with me, and I can't wait to share my heart with you through this book. My prayer is that it's a gift from God to the readers.

You may see less of me online the next few weeks, but I'll be back soon to update you as things progress. For now, I'd value your prayers as I write, write, write.

As always, live shamelessly!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Stephanie and Alexa, On Being the Sisters of a Child with Autism, and How They Remain Grateful...

The winner of Shannon Ethridge's Veil of Secrets, with the most shares, likes, and tweets is Renee...but I have several Renee's who read this blog...So, if the woman who commented and tweeted and liked could identify herself to me, I can send you your copy! :)  

Thanks to all of you for reading, liking, and sharing. I'm so thankful for each of you! 

I'm excited to share a new blog with you today. Sisters, Stephanie and Alexa Ruffino, are siblings to a brother they adore, Anthony. Anthony was diagnosed with West Syndrome and Autism at a very early age. The sisters, who love their brother deeply, decided it was time to be a voice for the voiceless and offer a sort of online support group for other siblings of Autistic children.  They write about life with Anthony at Life Doesn't Have to Be Ruff.

The Ruffino Siblings
1.    Tell us a little about Anthony's Story.
While Anthony was born completely normal, he developed an idiopathic epileptic syndrome (meaning no reason, no cause). It was called The West Syndrome. MANY failed medications later, we were introduced to the Ketogenic Diet in hopes to “cure” his disorder. Ultimately, the diet failed to work and took a great toll on Anthony's body.  

Our family turned to the one place in America we knew could help out: the Mayo Clinic. Although we had absolutely no money to think about hopping on a plane, we had to do it for Anthony. We are so thankful to the Mayo Clinic for all that they have done for our family. Unfortunately, the West Syndrome set Anthony far behind "normal" standards. 

When you’re focused on curing a seizure disorder, the normal day-to-day progressions, sadly, go unnoticed. With the help of the Mayo Clinic, the seizures lessened from sixty a day, to twenty, ten, and finally to zero. However, Anthony’s gross, fine, and cognitive delayed motor skills became apparent.

At the young age of five years-old, Anthony showed characteristics of being Autistic. This was another obstacle our family had to overcome. Another disorder; another thing we had to educate ourselves on.

If there is one thing we are completely educated about, it’s that without our family’s strong desire to fight and never give up, we would have never made it out of the lowest of lows.

2. What is it like being the sister of someone with Autism?  
Being the sister of an autistic sibling is far from being easy. At ages nine and twelve we felt a strong sense of responsibility to mature and educate ourselves to a new level of understanding. This was not just our parents' issue. In some way we (our oldest brother included) became for each other what our parents could not be. 

We provided emotional support and well-cooked meals for each other. It (both willingly and unwillingly at times) became our duty to care for our parents the way they had for us, pre-craziness. For those of you who have never experienced a situation like this first-hand, our parents never stopped loving and caring for us. Anthony had just taken over a great deal of their focus and responsibility.

When things get too tough to handle, we remember that someone out in the world has way worse issues going on. We’ve been through a ton, but we've made it out more grateful than most. Anthony is our world and giving up on him or our family has never been an option.

3. Why did you decide to start your blog? 
We wanted to share our story and inspire others who are in the same situation. We didn’t have anyone outside of each other to turn to, especially anyone our own age who truly knew what we were going through.

4. If you could offer one piece of advice to other siblings of kids with Autism, what would you say?
Things get tough, without a doubt. However, don’t turn away from your family. Instead, embrace the fact that you are growing stronger every day. You may find your story is different than others, but know you’re not alone. One day your story will change lives for the better.

5. What are your dreams for Anthony? 
We have many dreams for Anthony. The list is infinite. He may be different, but he is not less. We pray for his happiness and to one day find independence.

6. What are your dreams for yourself? 

Stephanie: I currently work as a hair stylist at a wonderful salon and spa, with hopes to one day travel the world while helping others find their own happiness. I aspire to write a book that encourages many others.

Alexa: I am currently living my dream by fulfilling my love fo​r writing at Columbia College in Chicago. By studying Journalism with a specialty in Broadcasting, I hope to one day inspire those around me with my words.

Be sure to encourage the girls with comments below 
and check out Life Doesn't Have to Be Ruff

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"Can a Woman Face and Forgive Her Own Painful Past...?" Shannon Ethridge, on her new novel, Veil of Secrets, and Another Summer Giveaway

Congratulations to Victoria Derybowski, the winner of Kenneth Ortiz's book, Redefined! 

Thanks to ALL of you who shared the love! I appreciate you!

This is turning out to be the summer of book giveaways, because I have another one for ya this week!

Shannon Ethridge, bestselling author, speaker, life coach, and advocate for healthy sexuality, has published a brand new novel, Veil of Secrets (Thomas Nelson, 2014). For any woman who has experienced pain in her past and residual shame, this book will minister to you.

Here's what Shannon has to say about the novel:

"Over the past 20 years of ministry, I've recognized a 'pendulum swing' effect among women. Some swing too far to the left--acting out sexually in ways that leave them walling in remorse and regret, guilt and shame. Others swing too far to the right--shutting down sexually and insulating themselves from potential pain or rejection. Either extreme is unhealthy. I know, because I've lived both extremes--extremes that have been vividly characterized in the new novel, Veil of Secrets, co-authored with award-winning professional fiction writer Kathryn Mackel.

Like one of the lead characters, Sophie Connors, I was hungry for attention and affection from older men due to a lack of connection with my father. Like Melanie Connors (Sophie's mothers), I gravitated toward abusive relationships and promiscuity--until I put a wedding band on my finger. And then my pendulum swung hard in the other direction as I withdrew sexually from my husband.

With the help of a counselor (like Beth Sierra, Melanie's therapist), I learned to face my sordid past...assign responsibility to the abusers..accept responsibility for my own choices...find the serenity to accept the things I couldn't change...and muster the courage to change the things that I could.

Through this process, I was able to forgive everyone--most importantly myself--and reconnect with my husband.

Now, I play the role of "Beth Sierra" to many other women and couples through my coaching practice. It is such a JOY to help others understand the psychological reasons behind their sexual history, make peace with their past, and find a healthy sexual balance where they can experience connection instead of isolation, pleasure instead of pain!

My hope is that this powerful tale will truly inspire both married and single women to make peace with their sexual past, and thrive in their current (or future) relationships! Thank you for sharing this hope with me, and for your prayers for this project."

To help spread the word about Shannon's book and enter to win a copy, Tweet, Like, Share and Comment! And as always, Live Shamelessly!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Guest blogger, author and pastor, Kenneth Ortiz, "God doesn't just do better; God does new!" ...and another Giveaway!

I met Kenneth Ortiz a few years go through our mutual mentor, Shannon Ethridge. As an itinerant evangelist and dynamic bible teacher, Kenneth has preached to nearly 85,000 people over the past several years. He has been a preacher, spokesperson, and master of ceremonies for notable Christian events and organizations across the nation such as Teen Mania Ministries’ Acquire the Fire, Compassion International, Gospel for Asia, YouthCanLead, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and several musical festivals across the nation.

Kenneth also works at a church whose ministry reaches the greater Orlando area, including the heart of Disney-- therefore, I am incredibly jealous of his life. 
Kenneth's new book, Redefined asks readers to not only examine, but also to live out who they are in Christ. 

I asked Kenny to share a bit of his heart with you-- and I'm so thankful for his words. As always-- any tweet, share, like, and/or comment will enter you to win an autographed copy of the book. The winner of our A Minor Giveaway was Miss Ashley Egler (Come on down!) Congrats Ashley and thanks for reading! 
“God loves you!”
If you’ve been around church any length of time, it’s possible you may have heard these words. But do you really believe it?
"God's love for you is unconditional!"
Sound familiar?
I have spent a considerable amount of time traveling, speaking at a variety of Christian events and seminars nationwide. I have had conversations with Christians and church folks in every region, from all sorts of different backgrounds. I discovered a tragic trend: many sincere believers do not truly believe they are loved by God. Others cannot simply come to grips with the fact that God's love is unconditional!
Most Christians have never embraced the label of “loved”.
Too many believers are weighed down by guilt and shame. Most never pray with any confidence. Most never walk in confidence. Most have never seen any great victory over sin.
Most believers live-out a feeble and powerless version of Christianity… 

The problem: Believers live far beneath what God desires!
The cause: Believers see themselves as dirty or unworthy, therefore never allow themselves to be embraced by God’s love.
The solution: Choose to believe what God says about you… choose to define yourself as God defines you… choose to see yourself the way God sees you!
So, that begs the question: how does God see me?
To answer that we go all the way back to the Garden of Eden. When God created humanity in the Garden, he created us as innocent. God defined us as pure, upright, and blameless. God declared that we were righteous; we were in right standing with God! We had access to God. We were entitled to have friendship with God.
Then something terrible happened. We sinned. Sin has radically corrupted humanity and has driven a wedge between us and God. Sin poisoned us and destroyed our ability to have intimate fellowship with our beloved heavenly Father. Sin caused humanity to be defined as impure, dirty, and guilty. Sin caused us to be unrighteous. Sin effectively redefined us!
Now, the story could've ended there. God could have allowed the story to end with our separation from himself. But God does not let the story end there. Why? Because he loves us!!!
God passionately and desperately loves you!
Sin redefined us in a negative manner, but God loves us so much that he made a way for us to be redefined all over again.
Every person who has genuinely committed themselves to following Jesus has been labeled as pure and righteous. We are now, once again, in right standing with God... our sins are forgiven...our friendship with God restored!
Sin had defined us as enemies of God… but faith has redefined us as children of God!
If you are a genuine believer, you have been transformed into a new creation. The Apostle Paul declares, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV).
You are not merely a better version of your old self... you are not just some "fixed-up" variety of your past self... you are BRAND NEW!!!
God doesn't just do better; God does NEW!
When God looks at you he sees you as a blameless righteous child, a child that he loves with great love. The Apostle Paul wrote these great words to encourage the church in Ephesus: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us." (Eph. 2:4 ESV).
The former Franciscan priest, Brennan Manning, wrote this simple but powerful challenge:
“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”
To view yourself in anyway other than God's child, is to underestimate the power of the cross. To defined yourself in any way other than belonging to God is to malign the Gospel message.
How does impact our lives practically? Well, this greatly influences our lives in many ways; self-image and self-esteem, worship, relationships, and several other areas. Allow me to highlight just two areas where this has personally impacted me the most.
1) Prayer:
If we believe God is mad at us for our sin or if we think that God sees us as dirty and guilty, then we'll be afraid to approach him in prayer. When we feel unrighteous, we also feel unworthy. That keeps us from approaching God. Our view of ourselves directly impacts our confidence in prayer. If we believe that he wants us to come to him, if you are confident that he sees us you as a precious child whom he has declared to be righteous, then you will find yourself being unafraid to approach him.
 2) Victory over sin:
Some people are nervous when you talk about grace and God's love. Many Christians find it hard to embrace the freedom God has given us. I was even once accused of offering "greasy grace" (still not sure what that is). There something freeing, yet simultaneously scandalous about grace and unconditional love! Grace has, undoubtedly, a scent of scandal.
I will make it clear: if you are in Christ, if you have genuinely placed your hope and faith in Christ, and in Christ alone, then you have been rescued, you have been forgiven, you have been redefined by the love of God, and you have been declared to be righteous. You have been declared to be innocent just like humanity was innocent back in the Garden before sin ever entered the picture!
And NOTHING you can do will ever change that... no sin... no behavior... no action.... nothing you do will ever make you more or less righteous than you are right now! When you come to faith in Christ, the record is wiped clean!
And it is this truth that will cause you to hate sin more.
Some well-meaning Christians say that we cannot preach a message of unbridled grace because it will cause people to sin more. The fear of "grace abuse" is rampant in our contemporary churches.
But I would contend the exact opposite... preaching unconditional love and raw grace does not cause people to want to run towards sin, preaching Biblical grace causes people to be intrigued with God and causes them to run towards him... and towards his holiness.
The more grace is preached, the more people will love God, and in-turn, the more they will seek to rid themselves of sin. Preaching too much grace doesn't cause more sin, it actually has the exact opposite impact.
Let me close with the words from one of my favorite authors Steve Brown:
"The only people who get better are people that know that, if they never get better, GOD WILL LOVE THEM ANYWAY. . . . God will not only love you if you don’t get better, He’ll teach you that getting better isn’t the issue; His love is the issue."
Enjoy his grace today... celebrate his declarations about you!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

#MyWritingProcess Blog Hop and a Giveaway!

I was tagged by my writer friend, Jen Pollock Michel, IVP author and Her.meneutics contributor, to participate in a #MyWritingProcess blog hop.
Writers are asked four questions about their process, and then they tag other writers. If you’re reading this as a writer, you’re probably interested how other people go about this work. If you are reading this as a non-writer, thank you for taking the time to read something you probably care very little about. On behalf of writers everywhere, we appreciate the support (since we are writers, we crave support in a borderline unhealthy/needy way.)  

If you are new to writing, or you're writing sermons, blog posts, or even just jotting down book ideas in the spare moments you have throughout the day, I'd love to hear your writing stories. Please comment below and/or join the #MyWritingProcess conversation. 
I'm also giving away an autographed copy of Margaret Philbrick's new book, A Minor: A Novel of Love, Music, & Memory Every comment, tweet, and share automatically enters you to win. 
“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.” 

 Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

My glamorous computer.
If this doesn't demystify the writing life, I don't know what will. 

Q: What am I working on?  I am currently working on my first book on overcoming shame. I’ll make a big announcement about it in the next couple weeks. I'm so excited to share that with ya! (I’m also in the process of fighting against shame so that when I type the words, "I am currently working on my first book on overcoming shame," I don’t immediately laugh at myself for trying to tackle such a huge topic.

Q: How does my work differ from others of its genre? It feels so arrogant even attempting to answer this question. The truth is, I’ve gleaned everything I know about overcoming shame from the Bible, Dr. Brené Brown, Dr. Sandra Wilson, Dr. Harriet Lerner, Dr. John Bradshaw, and one of my closest friends, who happens to be a therapist. (If you can have a gal pal and a therapist rolled into one, do it!) All of the above are much wiser than me, and I am in their debt.  

I’ve also learned a lot of life lessons from Tina Fey, Jack Bauer, and my own crazy life in which I wear my pajamas way more often than is appropriate, and cause brouhahas at grocery stores. 

In other words, I know what it is to experience shame and also to laugh at it. I think that’s why my take on the subject is different. So much healing takes place when we can recognize our own blunders in an author's or speaker's story. (Oh, she deals with that too, I must not be soooo daft, after all. Or, we're just both daft, and then there's nothing we can really do about it anyway....I'm currently loving the word "daft," by the way. It feels so British and important.) 

As you can tell, I attempt to share my blunders with gusto. 

3.Why do I write what I write? You might think this sounds crazy, but I literally can’t not write. (Do you like how I threw a "literally" into this "literary" conversation - gold star for me). If something is bothering me, weighing on me, has angered or embarrassed me, I will almost obsess over it until I can get it out on paper and work through how I feel about it. Putting words to my feelings is a therapeutic process for me—it’s prayer for me—and writing, honestly, helps deepen my faith. 

I write about shame specifically because I am passionate about helping women of all ages experience freedom from it. I see so many women burdened by pain from their pasts or by insecurities in their present. God has set me free from shame, and I long to see Him transform the lives every one of His daughters. 

Finally, I write because of something one of my favorite authors, Isak Dinesen, wrote about in Out of Africa. She tells the story of her African friend seeing his name in writing for the first time. It wasn’t about being published. It wasn't about recognition. It was simply about the joy he felt when he saw his flesh having been made word. There is something so empowering about our flesh—our stories—being brought to light on the page. That's part of the reason I love sharing others' stories. 

4. How does my writing process work? First, I hire a babysitter. I seriously can’t write when my kids are around. I'm distracted and don’t write well. Or sometimes, I actually write really well when they’re around, but then I feel über guilty for not being a present parent.

Once the aforementioned sitter is in place, I hide someplace quiet: my bedroom or office. Then, I check my email, wander in the bathroom to examine the pores on my face, get distracted by the dirty bathroom, and start wiping down the sinks or cleaning the toilet. I walk downstairs to warm up my coffee because it’s gotten cold after all that pore-checking and bathroom-cleaning. I walk back upstairs, (if I've gotten dressed for the day, I'll put my pajamas back on) and eventually convince myself to sit down and start typing. 

Then I type words for a few hours. That's pretty much it. 

I have had a few people ask me how to get published, and the first thing I tend to ask is, "Are you actually sitting down to write?" It seems obvious (and I'm not the first person to say this) but you can’t be a writer unless you are physically writing something. Do you have to be published to call yourself a writer? No. But, you do have to actually have written or typed words onto paper, or a blog, or on a bathroom wall somewhere. If you want to write, words can’t just reside as ideas in your mind. (Unless you're very famous or rich and have the capacity to hire a ghostwriter; in which case, I hate you.) 

If God has given you something to say, the world is better for it, so share it! 

Ann Lamott writes about SFD’s. I'll let you figure out the "S," but I’ll rephrase her acronym as CFD's (Crappy First Drafts). In other words, I get everything possible on the page without judgment or edits. Again, I just type words. 

If I was a little more laid back, I'd probably have a free-flowing style like Jack Kerouac. But, I'm a first born, so I'm anal. After getting all those words out, I go back and edit--word by word, line by line. I ask my writer friends to look over what I'm writing. I’m so blessed to be part of the Redbud Writer’s Guild, because I have a manuscript group filled with these amazingly talented writers who will read something I've written and tell me what needs to go in the garbage, and what needs more work. 

(Soon, I'll have a professional editor's help on my book, and for that, I am so grateful.) 

If I'm blogging, I'll pray, hit the publish button, and hope God is somehow glorified and readers are encouraged through what I've just put out there in the world. (I also obsess a little more at that point, and might even go back and rewrite something after I've published it. I told you, I'm a firstborn.) 

In conclusion, all you need to experience the fabulous and glamorous life of a writer is the following: pajamas, a dirty bathroom, an old computer, prayer, and some anal retentive qualities.  

I’m now going to tag some much more experienced writer friends so you can learn from then...and then I'm going to go back and obsess over this post some more.


Shannon Ethridge is a million-copy best-selling author, international speaker, and certified life coach with a master's degree in counseling/human relations from Liberty University. She has spoken to youth, college students, and adults since 1989. Her passions include: Challenging adults and teens to embrace a life of sexual integrity; encouraging married couples in their pursuit of sexual and emotional fulfillment; counseling women who have looked for love in all the wrong places; equipping parents to instill sexual values in children at an early age.

Catherine McNiel's aim as a writer is to awaken herself and others to the creative, redemptive work of God in this present moment. She is striving to see beauty, learning to expand her perspective, and praying to keep her eyes and heart open. She has written for Her.meneutics, Abingdon Women, and much more. 

Jon Peacock is the lead pastor at Mission Church. Jon wakes up everyday with a crazy dream in his heart which can be summed up in one word: awakening. He believes in our lifetime God will do something historic in "The 10" (the ten cities surrounding Bloomindale, IL) and that we are already seeing the early signs of that. It brings Jon great joy to lock arms with people and pastors of The 10 to see God do what only God can do. This is what fuels his passion and work ethic every day...well, except on Fridays. Jon usually does nothing on Fridays.

Pam Kanaly is the author of The Single Mom and Her Roller Coaster Emotions and Will the Real Me Please Stand Up? She is an inspirational speaker and former national television talks show co-host, brimming with passion in bringing the Word of God to life. As co-founder of Arise Ministries, Pam pioneered the first-ever statewide single mothers' conference in America, Survive and Thrive

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Q and A with Author Margaret Philbrick...On Alzheimer’s, Music, Her Novel....and a giveaway!

Margaret Ann Philbrick is on the board of The Redbud Writer's Guild and is an active member of my manuscript group. Her new novel, A Minor: A Novel of Love, Music, & Memory (Koehler Books, 2014) is a beautiful love story exploring the power of music to bring spiritual and emotional healing to those suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia. It's the first novel I've ever read that comes with a soundtrack!  

If you'd like to be entered to win an autographed copy of A Minor, tweet, comment, like, and share!  

Margaret has been gardening since her mother gave her a pansy garden to plant and tend when she was five. She grew up in a small Illinois town with a busy street out front and a big river out back. Ranunculus is her favorite flower and T.S. Eliot or Gerard Manley Hopkins are her favorite poets. After several years working in advertising, selling Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts, she stayed home with her children and helped them plant their own gardens. Now they have grown, so she cultivates a garden of words with her fifty writing students and her own words at the old “Lincoln desk” in her living room. A long time ago it belonged to Lorenzo Lincoln, not Abe Lincoln. The laundry, if it gets done, doesn’t get folded.

  Q and A with author Margaret Ann Philbrick

1. What inspired you to spend four years working on A Minor?

My children all play the piano, and our oldest son’s teacher requested that a parent sit in on the lessons and take notes. We would then review with him during the following week. As he moved on to college, I was left with a notebook full of wisdom that needed to be shared, but I didn’t have the framework for an idea. While I was having lunch in South Haven, Michigan, I started talking to my husband about what it would be like for a concert pianist to lose his or her memory. That question took me on a one year research journey to find the answer.

2. How did you go about your research?

I started with Oliver Sacks because he is one of the most well-known neurologists in the field. I read his books and watched YouTube videos of him talking about his patients.  His work led me to many other experts and their writings. Once I completed that investigation, I embarked on several more months of research into the life of a concert pianist. Howard Reich’s biography of Van Cliburn was one of the most helpful. Also, I interviewed many people who had been touched by dementia and Alzheimer’s. Once I assessed all the research, I knew there was a story to mine out of that mountain.

3.  Are you a musician yourself?

While in high school, I was a serious flute student and was accepted into a college conservatory, but my  parents were moving toward a  divorce at the time and I wanted to get as far away from their situation as possible. Instead, I became an English Literature major in Texas, which is why I have wrinkles today. I spent a lot of time lying out in the sun and reading novels.

4. Can you name a few of your favorites?

I tend to think about this question as a list of the books I wish I would have written. The first ones that come to mind are: Jane Eyre, George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, all books by Milan Kundera and Gabriel García Márquez, and recently my neighbors’ books—The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin and Sing For Me by Karen Halvorsen Schreck. I also adored Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. For teaching, I read a lot of classic YA novels. My favorite this year was Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow.

5.  Talk about your creative process. How did you write the book?

I’m a pretty insecure writer having been a Lit major and constantly reading books that I feel are beyond my own creative abilities. I actually think this is a good thing because I relied on the discipline of prayer before I sat down to write each day, knowing I couldn’t do this project alone. I’d spend time asking the Lord for creativity, original thought, wisdom, memory, whatever I needed to write the next ten pages. I’m disciplined when I get into a project, so I would write every day and then revise the next day what I wrote the day before and then move on. I always set goals for myself—another ten pages, finish the chapter. As I’d move along, another piece of research would be required, and I’d go off on a tangent for a day or so and then come back to the writing.

6. Did you use the notebook from your son’s piano lessons?

Oh, definitely. In many ways the voice of the main character is the voice of my son’s teacher. There are aspects of her in the work that I’m sure she’ll recognize when she reads it, like her clogs. She always wears these precarious, high-heeled wooden clogs. I’ve never known anyone to wear shoes like this in the summer with bare feet. She’s a fascinating conundrum.

7.  Your book has some unique features, like a Discussion Guide in the back and recorded music in the ereader that anyone can hear while they are reading and live links to other resources. How did all that happen?

Well, I love Koehler Books because they are open to thinking outside the box of what a book can be. When I created A Minor, I thought about the music first. If you were only listening to the story, what would it sound like? Then I outlined all the musical works, and I’d listen to them while writing. It was important that the music told the story as well if not better than the words. Eventually, the idea came to me that I wanted the reader to have the same experience. Koehler Books was open to partnering with me in creating that experience. My husband, who is a lawyer, was an enormous help as well. The Discussion Guide is for the classroom or book clubs. As a teacher, it comes naturally for me to ask questions so people can learn more. The live links send the reader to the places where they can get help with memory issues in their own family or even for themselves.

8.  One of your questions in the Discussion Guide addresses the importance of the protagonist maintaining the innocence of her protégé even though she could have taken advantage of him. Why did you decide to go that way and do you think American culture has lost its innocence?

Clare knows that the purity of Clive’s imagination is tantamount to his artistic interpretation of the works; it is a competitive advantage he has and a winsome one. She chose to not compromise that advantage. Yes, the loss of innocence in American culture is negatively affecting the power of our imagination and ultimately our innovation, which has always been an edge for us. When everything is openly revealed it hinders our ability to create, to make pictures for ourselves and interpret through the lens of what we know and experience. Dean Koontz has just written a novel that addresses this beautifully. It’s called Innocence. Making the choice to maintain one’s innocence and even more altruistically, the innocence of another, is expanding the pure heart of the child in all of us, and that is a great gift.

9. What were some of the disappointments along the way to getting published?

Oh, all the “noes” that had been so close to being “yeses”—I never cared about the folks who were too busy to respond, but the ones where I had provided the entire manuscript and even changed things upon their request all to be told “no” months down the road. Those were tough, but I always believed in the story and knew there was a home out there waiting to bring it to life. I remember sitting on the edge of Lake Michigan, crying and praying that God would give my story a home. A few weeks later, He did.

10. Is it hard to raise a family and write a novel?

I can say my writing drives my kids crazy. My youngest son calls me the “bat.” Sometimes he comes home from a piano lesson, and I’ll be at my desk in the dark, writing by the light of the screen, too engaged to turn on any lights in the house. I try to write when they’re not at home, during the school day. It’s definitely not good for them if they feel like my “callings” are taking the place of them. Sometimes I’ve had to drop everything or step away from a project entirely, but raising children is a very short season and hopefully, I can write for the rest of my life.

11.  What would your advice be to someone hoping to write their first novel or write anything for that matter?

Know your purpose, why you are writing what you are writing, and stay tethered to that vision. Write for the joy of creating and do not allow yourself to think about publishing, which is such a distraction, until you’re done. Then let your work simmer for a while. Take long walks and think about it.  Do you still love it? If you do, pray and turn it over to God. Ask Him to reveal the next step and then trust him to do so.  In the Redbud Writers Guild, we embrace the truth of Psalm 37:5: “Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him and he will do this.”

Go at it with God. Writing is too lonely to do alone.

And don't forget-- If you'd like to be entered to win an autographed copy of 
A Minor, tweet, comment, like, and share!  

Monday, June 2, 2014

I’m so over this! Swimsuit Shame.

Summer is finally upon us.

You are either doing one of two things:

1) Bursting with joy: Sunshine! Tans! Beachballs! Umbrella drinks!

2) Locking yourself in the bathroom: Swimsuits! Cellulite! Stress! (If you are anything like me, you are also wondering if skirts, skorts, and shorts count as acceptable swimwear.) 

I was invited to a swimming party a few years ago. This was in the mid-pregnancy years. (I was in between kids.) Let me just say, I felt less than stellar. 

I opted not to go to the party. I didn’t want to show any part of my body in front of other women. 

I dodged community in order to avoid feeling ashamed.

Now I’m thinking what an oxymoron that is; I wonder if the true shame is in the fact that I hid.

Women should be each other’s greatest advocates, empower-ers, and cheerleaders. Yet, all too often we (either subconsciously or intentionally) force each other into some random beauty contest. The "perfect body" beauty myth shames women and simultaneously leaves men searching for empty fulfillment in fake images, rather than true intimacy. It’s amazing how the two go hand-in-hand. It’s a shame-spiral of the worst and I believe it is something truly evil.

The difficulty is that we worship the so-called “perfect” female body without even realizing it. 

I was in Zambia in 2005. (A country, by the way, so overwhelmed with starvation, that to be called "fat" is to be paid a huge compliment.) A young African girl had a poster of Britney Spears taped to the wall of her mudbrick home. I wanted to rip the poster off the wall and explain airbrushing and gloss. Instead, I told her that she (the girl, not Britney) was beautiful.

When I wrote about Beyonce’s baby weight loss a few years ago, most of you applauded the honesty. I did, however, receive some negative feedback for being too hard on Beyonce. (As if she cares what I say.) Let me be clear—it’s not the Beyoncé’s and Britney’s of the world I am criticizing. I love me some “single ladies.” You all already know I also love me some Kardashians and Housweives. (Yes, it’s a problem.)

I am, however, unabashedly criticizing the undue, unnecessary, and unjust pressure our culture’s obsession with youth and appearance puts on women of all shapes, sizes, and ages. We are all, in our complete uniqueness, somehow expected to conform to one standard of beauty—a standard, by the way, which is manufactured, (see buzz feed article), manipulated and therefore, unattainable. It's ridiculous. 

So, what’s the solution this summer?

Laud images of true beauty. Celebrate women who’ve overcome life’s adversity. Talk about women who are living brave lives in the midst of challenge and loss. Raise those banners high. Sometimes I wonder if the world would be a better place if we simply started applauding women of all ages, shapes, and sizes and stopped speaking our negative body-talk aloud. I wonder if our daughters would be less likely to inherit our insecurity.

Laugh Start laughing! A 23 year-old 100 lb model with no body fat is supposed to represent beauty? For me? She is gorgeous in her own right, but I’m a 36-year old woman with a c-section scar. I mean, come on! It’s hilarious and ludicrous! We have to laugh, rather than giving into the pressure.

Live for God. Yes, exercise, eat well, and enjoy life, but also recognize the longings we have inside of us (even longings for that "perfect" body) are ultimately a deeper longing for God. In her book The Fantasy Fallacy (Thomas Nelson, 2012), author Shannon Ethridge writes this:

 “…society celebrates and glamorizes the firm bodies and energetic souls of young people far more than the passion, wisdom, and experience of older people. We have been conned by the media into believing that we lose our appeal as we grow older…The main reason that we barter with our bodies for the attention and affection we deeply desire is that we don’t trust God for the satisfaction we seek, the provision we need, or the comfort we crave.

In other words, it is God who meets our deepest desires as we live for Him. 

I bought a pool pass this year in defiance of my fear and shame.

I’ll be in the sun. I’ll be present in life. I won’t stay locked up in my house.   

And I’m gonna work my swimshorts like a boss. A boss, I tell ya.