The Worship of Weeping

When we go to church, the typical way we worship is by singing songs to God. Sometimes they’re more formal hymns and sometimes more lively numbers accompanied by guitars and drums. The more charismatic like to clap, lift their hands or even dance. In fact there’s a whole diagram dedicated to describing the different ways people raise hands to Heaven. Very funny. Google it. (Tim Hawkins Hand Raising Memes).

Sometimes, we worship through giving – our time or talents or our money. These are my favorite ways. I play on our worship team and it’s a huge privilege. The thing I love most is that it blends singing songs of praise with giving of my time and (small, but God given) bass playing talent.

But then sometimes worship isn’t a joy. Sometimes it’s the gritting of teeth and the planting of feet in defiance of every bone that wants you to hightail it out of the building. Grief does that to me and there’s been a lot of that.

My journey with grief began in Dec 2015 when the lady that was like a second mom passed away. She was fragile and advanced in years so it wasn’t a huge shock, but sad nonetheless. Then eight months later a man I’d come to love like a cheeky little brother was here one second and gone the next in a plane crash. We were left reeling. But fast forward another month and the three o’clock in the morning call came through, bluntly telling me that my actual brother was in the morgue. A sudden heart attack had taken him, much too young (mid 50’s). Three months later one of my best friends in England and then a favorite Uncle and another friend in Texas. Grief grief, grief.

My brother’s death really took me out at the knees. Such a force of nature gone in an instant. That was Thursday, and when Sunday rolled around I was ready to go to church and be immersed in the love of Jesus and His people who had been propping me up. But then worship began and I couldn’t hold back the tears. I don’t like ugly crying (who does), especially in public so I began to walk towards the bathroom to hide. Thankfully, my husband grabbed my hand, passed me Kleenex and held me until the moment passed. And so began a pattern that lasted for months, including when I was playing on the worship team. There was even a designated person who would come find me before we went on stage and give me a huge hug, in case I was feeling teary. Because he knew I probably was.

I’m writing this just a few days since my lovely, brave dad went home to Jesus. He went downhill a couple of weeks earlier and my children and I ended up saying “goodbye” more than once. The Sunday before his death I began to worship and the words just wouldn’t come out of my mouth. Only sobs. But having travelled this path before, I stood there and let my tears fall, with the beautiful words flowing over me. My heart worshipped when my lips could not. Then again the same thing the first Sunday after his passing.

Here’s what I’ve learned – that worship isn’t really about the act of service or the words of the song or the size of the cheque. Worship is when your heart cries out to God, giving him whatever is on it. It’s when your heart tells God you love Him despite your situation, because of His great love.

And crying or smiling, there is no greater joy.

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A Semi Sweet Summer by Jan Elder

I love finding an author whose voice is a breath of fresh air, and Jan Elder is one of those. I also have the privilege of having met Jan twice and can confirm she is delightful and every bit as sweet as the chocolates in the shop that’s at the center of her latest novella, “A Semi-Sweet Summer.”

The story begins when Cassidy returns to her hometown in Maryland to move into her late sister’s home and bring her dream of a high-end truffle shop to fruition. Unfortunately, just minutes after arriving, there’s a pitch invasion as a cow from her neighbor’s farm comes to “visit” Cassidy’s front yard. Then you mix in the fact that the cow’s owner is her unrequited High School love, Hunter. Boom – we are off to the races.

The thing about Jan’s books that I love most is the combination of likeable characters, creative circumstances, humor and scriptural truth. Fans of Lori Wick will also love Jan Elder. Instead of a straight review, I thought it’d be fun to hear from Jan herself. So I began by asking…

Where did this idea come from, because building a story around opening a chocolate shop seems very creative?
We live in a small city in the western part of Maryland, and wanted to set the story in a fictional town quite like ours. Not only do we have dairy farms with cows galore (a major part of the story), but also the second largest city in Maryland, Frederick, is only a half hour away so we also have some cosmopolitan elements with both Washington DC and Baltimore only an hour away.

The idea of a chocolate truffle shop came when I wandered into a store selling truffles that were ARTWORKS! Why not put something elegant and refined in a small town where everyone can enjoy such delights?

I bet the research was “sweet?”
Yes, I “had” to revisit that upscale chocolate shop, The Perfect Truffle in Frederick. Owner Randy Olmstead spent a whopping three hours telling me all about the intricacies of making the finest chocolate. And THEN, he let me choose twelve truffles to take home. Seriously delicious!
Here’s the website in case you just want to drool at the photos:

This book weaves several big themes – love and loss, humiliation and restoration – how much planning do you do to make sure those themes are clear and then resolved?
A Semi-Sweet Summer is a “new adult” novella, part of Pelican Book Group’s Pure Amore line. A large part of this book harkens back to my teenage years, my thoughts swinging to a boy I had the biggest crush on in school. He was three and a half years older and was definitely in the “elite” segment of our church youth group. Sorry to say, I followed him around like a puppy, learned all of his favorite foods, his chosen hobbies, etc. I try not to think I actually stalked him, but I was very aware of his presence, and searched for ways to be near him.

In A Semi-Sweet Summer, I tried to transfer some of that raging angst into fodder for Cassidy’s discomfort in finding her unrequited love living right next door.

As to planning a resolution, when I write, I’m a seat-of-the-pantser, so I just write what springs to mind. Often, I’m probably just as surprised as the reader as to what ends up on the page. I did want to get Cassidy and Hunter together at the end, but I tried to put myself in her place, and came up with something that would make me happy if I were her, and went from there.

And finally, how do you decide upon the spiritual content? That must be a big responsibility.
For this particular book, Pelican Book Group’s Pure Amore line has some very specific criteria with “emotionally-driven tales of youthful Christians who are striving to live their faith in a world where Christ-centered choices may not fully be understood… The hero and heroine exhibit traditional Christian values but also should be three-dimensional and therefore exhibit flaws as well as virtues.”

With the guidelines in mind, I fashioned a story that dredged up a lot of my own past, searching for the flaws in my characters as well as the triumphs. I pray the themes, as well as the abundant romance, will touch every reader in some way.

You can find “A Semi Sweet Summer” here…

And I’d also recommend checking out more of Jan’s books here…

Going Home

Where is home? That might seem a simple question, but for many, including military wives, it can be far from easy to answer. 


As I flew into Dallas/Fort Worth airport, on my way to a conference in Oklahoma City, I found myself misty-eyed at several thousand feet, at the sight of the land that I love so dearly. We might have only lived there for two years, but I became a mother in Texas and made several friends that became family. A part of me will always feel at home there. 
Then there’s Yorkshire. Or “the most beautiful corner of England,” as I think of it. I spent 18 years growing up there. My heart softens at the sight of the Black Hambleton hills and the thought of James Herriott. Another corner of my soul is tethered there. 

And what about amazing Virginia, where I could happily live out the rest of my life? Between serving on our worship team, the legacy of friendships born at the school gate, hosting friends in our family room and fully embracing the life of a writer, Virginia will forever hold a large chunk of heart.

Yet it is unlikely that I’ll grow old in any of these places. I’ve learned in almost 20 years of this military life that home has to be (for me) where we sleep. Otherwise, I’d almost never be at home. The military wife has to have short but strong roots. They need to anchor down deep quickly enough to weather the inevitable storms of life, but then not be so entrenched that they break when pulled up to be planted elsewhere.

One day, that will change and I will have a forever home and it will literally be Heavenly. Just as a fiancée prepares a hope chest for her new home and role as a wife, I’m trying to build mine for the room that’s waiting in my eternal Father’s house. That day when I step into my full inheritance as the Bride of Christ.

There won’t be laundry or dishes or grass to cut. I won’t have to unpack and hang pictures ever again. 

Revelation 21 also teaches us that there’ll be no room for sadness, pain or mourning. 

There’ll just be joy. Unspeakable joy. 

Pride

Today’s blog on pride is only being brought to you because I swallowed mine!

Hello there – I had ACL reconstruction 11 days ago and I am still on crutches, icing and elevating. For now I can’t shop, cook or clean. I can’t fetch or carry without significant discomfort and difficulty. Nothing. My surgeon has forbidden me to weight-bear until she signs off, hopefully in three days time.

In the past I might’ve tried to ‘soldier on’ but since I first hurt my knee in April, the Lord has been teaching me about surrendering my pride.

During a typical week you might find me taking a meal or running an errand for a friend, teaching a Bible study, hosting a home group, making dinner for 20 people (gluten free) or playing on our worship team. That’s on top of wife-ing and mothering and writing. I like to do. Getting things done is satisfying.

Then, like a needle scratching across a record, one sunny day in Vermont, woman versus mountain happened and funnily enough, the mountain won. Big time. The ski didn’t release, there was a pop, then another, searing pain, Todd from ski patrol and the rest is history. Goodbye ACL, hello physical therapy and then surgery.

We returned from Vermont and a week later, my husband left for two weeks in China. I still couldn’t walk without a heavy knee brace and a stick. Shopping and cooking and the school run were all possible, but quite challenging.

Then behind the scenes, conversations were had among my church family and meals began arriving, there were daily texts checking in to see if I needed groceries and suddenly, life was so much simpler. Then came the friend with the chef. Oh my.

But it did stick in my throat a little bit – I love to be the giver, but am not good at being the receiver. Then a not much older but significantly wiser friend told me to look at people’s hearts when they were given a job or delivered a meal. And that brought me to my knees. I saw love and joy.

It’s easy to pride ourselves in what we do – our jobs, our children, our relationships, our material wealth, appearance, you name it, we can get focused on it and before we often even realize, it defines us and becomes the way we measure ourselves. But all of those things will fall away with time, be that tomorrow or in a few years.

The only identity we get to keep is that of a child of God, and that’s the only thing we should define ourselves by. As a military wife I have caught myself taking my self worth from that role. It’s a slippery slope. Any identity other than child of the King will eventually lead to failure.

So how does that loop into a discussion on pride? Well, here’s the thing. Jesus was the greatest servant of all time with countless displays of giving, including His life. He commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but if our neighbors never let us help them, how do we do that?

Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, forgave the sinners (a whole world-full, forever), cast out demons, and washed nasty, stinky feet. He is the ultimate servant.

But what if we don’t let Him? If we won’t let others help us in our day-to-day needs, how will we ever let Jesus in to fix our brokenness?

After being thoroughly spoilt in this season of recovery, I have slowly come to accept (thank you Holy Spirit) that receiving is also an act of service. It’s giving someone else the gift of being able to give.

I love lessons that can be learned when people bring you cupcakes and Starbucks, cook you dinner, grab your groceries, play with your children and sit on your bed and pray for you!

To learn more about my military wives Bible study, please do contact me.

Why Christian Fiction?

I remember very vividly the moment I realized there was a whole realm of fiction that I never knew existed. 

I was a new staff member at WWIB, a Christian radio station in western Wisconsin and each week we would gather in the boardroom as a staff to pray over the requests that had been sent in. The shelves in the boardroom always caught my attention and tripped over from my OCD because they were covered in piles of books. Higgledy piggledy piles of disorganized books. 

Having studied literature, I’ve always felt a magnetic pull from any pile of books, so it didn’t take long for me to ask about them. The answer was a dram come true. 

“Oh they’re review copies from publishers. Help yourself.”

HELP YOURSELF? Oh my. 

So began a 23 year love of Christian fiction. It was in those early years that I met the work of Gilbert Morris, surely the granddaddy of the genre. Then Frank Peretti’s ‘This Present Darkness’ blew my mind and forever changed my walk with the Lord. I was able to walk in the sandals of Centurions in Masada and consider what the Second Coming might look like, courtesy of Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. 

Then there were the romances. So sweet. I had never really thought about how dating should look when you’re saved so there was a lot of food for thought there. Those piles of books morphed into a successful radio review show and I got to interview some of my very favorite writers.

Upon moving to England in 1996, Christian Fiction was somewhat sparse so I did a lot or re-reading – how did we live in a pre-Amazon world? But a few years later a move to Texas provided a huge library with more authors to try. The Baxter Family came home with me, along with a lot of Tracie Peterson, Lori Wick and more Gilbert Morris (it seems, in the best possible way, there is always another of his books to be read).

Then I found there was this thing called ‘romantic suspense.’ Seriously. As a new mom by this point, I didn’t nap much when my baby slept, I was too busy! Irene Hannon, Dee Henderson and Dani Pettrey can all probably claim to have added a bag or shadow to my face. When baby two came along and didn’t sleep much because she was unwell, I didn’t worry about company in those long nights watching over her. I had Karen Witemeyer, Becky Wade and Lawanna Blackwell to assist me, even making me smile along the way. 

But why? 

Romans 12 exhorts us to be in the world, but not of the world. So while I had been reading Patricia Cornwell, Nicholas Sparks and John Grisham whenever I didn’t have a good Christian book, they didn’t quite hit the spot. I didn’t turn their pages in rhythm with my heart. 

There are some secular books that are fantastic works of art that can transport readers to far away places so they can witness unimaginable events. However, books of the world don’t move me one inch closer to Heaven in the real world (borrowing some artistic license from Steven Curtis Chapman).

When I felt so nauseous I couldn’t move in the first trimester of pregnancy, when I was at a loss following the death of my brother, at times when I have been more cold than hot in my faith these books have cajoled, nudged or full on shoved me back on the path. They have reminded me that Heaven is coming; that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made and completely loved by the God of the universe and most importantly they have shown me that no matter what, we are never, ever alone.

I don’t mean to ever suggest or imply I wasn’t reading scripture all this time too, I have been. I’m merely suggesting that done well, this genre is magnificent. 

I’d love to know why you read Christian fiction and if you have a favorite author or genre? Do please leave a comment. 

Rediscovery

Rediscovery – the biggest lesson I ever learned.

One of the hardest parts about being married to a military man is the separation. The days that stretch into weeks and then months with only being able to get in touch sporadically (and usually at the worst possible moment).

When it begins to feel normal that he’s gone, alarm bells should start ringing in your mind.

Even if he’s away for great swathes of time, that is only a season in a lifelong commitment. While in preparation for being a military wife, you can to an extent, anticipate the time apart, no one pulls you aside and explains what it’ll be like when he gets home.

Oh that they would.

The first year in our little apartment, Biggles spend two-thirds of it away. First deployed and then on a ten-week training exercise. To survive it, I got into a tight routine so that my time was all filled and I didn’t have much space to miss him.

That was a rookie mistake and a massive error. Having been fully loved up and very close before he left, we fought like never before when he returned. The first few days were wonderful, but after that, I was annoyed every time he did something differently to the way I’d been doing it, and he felt surplus to my busy life.

So here’s what I learned – the very hard way: those of us that stay at home must find a way to need our men and yet live independently from them. We have to leave room in our lives for our husbands, but not wilt like three-week-old tulips when they’re away.

Yes, it’s crazy difficult. But here’s the thing – love comes first. When I come first, my heart, my agenda, then it turns out there’s no room for him or what he needs from me. And when he comes first, then it doesn’t take long before I’m resentful at him for my needs not being met. Instead, love comes first. When I humbly do whatever is loving, the Lord multiplies that in my marriage.

It comes from the book of Matthew, chapter 22 where someone asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is. He tells them this:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

From personal experience, this takes great humility but yields huge rewards. I only find the strength to sustain humility when I am putting my relationship with Jesus first. Prayer, daily quiet time, worship and fellowship with other Christians. And repeat.

People often ask me how I manage to be a military wife (“how do you put up with all the separation and the uncertainty? I couldn’t do it, you’re very brave.” Etc.) That’s how. By putting Jesus first I can put my Biggles second and love him the best.

For more information about my military wives Bible study, please contact me here. I’d love to hear from you.

The Widow of Larkspur Inn by Lawanna Blackwell

Have you ever read about a place and then wanted to visit or perhaps even move there? 

I just admit that I wouldn’t need much persuading to pack up and head for Hawaii, despite all the murder Colleen Coble has created there. I wouldn’t mind hanging out in the diner frequented by Susan May Warren’s Montana smokejumpers, and Thomas Kincade’s Cape Light with its orchards and lighthouses sounds just shy of heaven.

Lawanna Blackwell introduced me to a sleepy little village in rural north-west England that I’d love to see; it’s called Gresham. Gresham has dainty shops, cobbled streets, flowery gardens and a beautiful hill to climb and admire the views from.

We first see the village through the eyes of new residents. The freshly-widowed Julia Hollis and her three children, fortified by her housekeeper Fiona inherit an old, run down inn. With no other means of providing a living, they set about fixing it up to run as a guest home for the retired.

Of course the path isn’t smooth with rumors of ghosts, unhappy children, financial concerns and colorful residents. But the deeper she needs to dig, the more Julia prays. Then a new, widowed vicar moves in and, well, enough said. It is historical romance after all.

What unfolds over the four books is a beautifully interwoven series of love stories, examples of redemption, heartwarming character development and determined faith in action. Blackwell’ characters stand out for the pages and you can often feel as if you are in the room or on the picnic with them. I felt the hurt after one rogue betrayed his sweetheart and lived and died as another humbled herself to try and secure a happy marriage to escape a life of hard labor with no appreciation.

Each “trip” I have taken to Gresham (and I go there once every couple of years) is a joy and a delight. If you haven’t been, I’d highly recommend you take a trip. The Widow of Larkspur Inn has long been one of my favorite books and I hope if you pick it up, you’ll feel the same. 

Now, would you tell me where you like to visit between pages?