Thursday, December 13, 2018

Dreams over Doubt by Sara K. Parker - plus an Amazon giveaway!

This past Sunday, I ran my fourth half marathon.

But before you start getting the idea that I’m currently munching on celery and sipping an organic protein smoothie with antioxidants and kale as I gear up for my next race, let me set the record straight: I hate celery. AND, until just a few years ago, I also hated running. Also, to be accurate, I don’t exactly run. No. I’m the half-marathoner at mile 11 who is thinking her legs might not carry her one more mile when all of the sudden she hears loud honking behind her and sees a police officer motioning for her to move-the-heck-over so that the FULL marathon winner can pass by unhindered by slow pokes. That's exactly what happened on Sunday. We had both started running at 7 a.m., the elite marathoner and I, but he had managed to cover 25 miles in the time it took me to cover 11 – and it looked effortless. In other words:

In some ways, watching that elite runner pass by reminded me of my own life and how it feels like so many around me are reaching new milestones and turning new corners and grasping hold of long-held or even surprisingly new dreams. Meanwhile, I mostly feel like I’m treading water and often recovering from another big wave: infertility, spousal chronic illness, childhood cancer – to name a few. I recently told a friend that I felt like I’d lived a decade in just two years. I feel like I LOOK like I’ve lived a decade in two years, too.

Speaking of, can we just talk about my finish line photo for a moment?  

First, am I even running? Second, why is my belt so high? Third, what is wrong with my FACE? Note to self: smile for the camera next time like the happy people coming up behind you.

I like my filtered phone photo better:

Anyway, I may not look pretty at the finish like the ecstatic runners behind me or the elite runners at the front with their toned bodies and running gear, but I celebrate finishing. After all, if there had been a high school superlative for least-likely-to-ever-run-a-half-marathon, I would have won. I’ve never been athletic. I absolutely hated PE as a kid. I was so terrible at ALL the sports that my PE teachers would often pull me to the side during group activities and give me individual practice and instruction. I froze in dodge ball, ducked in basketball, and took a ball to the face in “soft” ball when I got too busy talking to pay attention to the game. I resisted running at all costs. I hated the outdoors and was scared of all bugs. (Truth: I am still not a bug fan.) I was clumsy and awkward and saw no point in these games. I liked to read, write, and play the piano. I didn’t understand why we had to be forced to participate in PE.

But a few years ago, my metabolism slowed down as it tends to do when you hit your thirties. I realized I would need to either curb my eating or start exercising. I downloaded the Couch-to-5K app on my phone and started working the program. In twelve weeks, I was supposedly going to be able to run a full 5K without walking. Considering that I could barely run the 90-second intervals during the first week, I was skeptical. But, week after week, I saw progress until eventually I ran a 5K. From there, my goals kept expanding. I still remember the first time I ran five miles. It was so hard that at mile four, I broke out in chills and thought I was going to puke. But when I hit the fifth mile, I was incredibly proud of myself. I remember the first time I ran 10 miles, too. I finished at a lake in our neighborhood as the sun rose just perfectly on a cool fall morning, and I was in awe .

I honestly still don’t love running. But I do love how it makes me feel. I feel stronger, like I can accomplish anything. If a girl who was always first out in dodge ball can find her way to a 13.1-mile finish line, she can probably do anything she sets her mind to, God willing.

Still, I struggle with that belief. Doubt follows me whenever I conceive a new idea or project. I wonder if it’s silly or unrealistic or trite. I wonder if I can really pull it off. I wonder if it’s worth even trying, knowing I will probably fail. This way of thinking has limited me in many ways throughout my life.

This year, though, something changed. Maybe it’s because I’m in the last year of my thirties and I’ve been sitting on ideas and dreams for far too long. Or maybe it’s because nothing in life seems as scary or dramatic anymore since my daughter’s cancer battle. Maybe it’s because my faith is growing or my skin is getting thicker or my dreams are getting louder. Whatever the reason, 2018 has been a year of change for me. Slowly I have taken steps to fulfill dreams and explore ideas and find my voice and try new things – even at the risk of judgment, rejection, and failure.

I hope I’m even braver in 2019. And, since the first step to achieving goals is to name them, here are a few of mine: start a local writer’s group, finish the manuscript I’ve been fiddling with for years, write a new LIS book proposal that excites and inspires me, and achieve a new PR in my 5K and half marathon times.

What goal or dream have you been sitting on for too long? Comment below for a chance to win a $20 Amazon gift card. Drawing at 10 p.m. CST!

By the way, I still haven't found my groove when it comes to keeping up with social media, but I’d love to connect with you:

Click here to visit my Facebook author page
Hop over here to check out my occasionally updated Website.
Feel free to visit my rather silent Twitter account
And, here is even a link to my shamefully neglected Instagram account

Thanks for popping by to say hello!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Happy holidays--with a book drawing Roxanne Rustand

Hi everyone,

Goodness,  This month has been absolutely flying by. It seems as if we just had Thanksgiving, and here we are--December 12th! Maybe it's the lack of snow that has me running behind, because it just doesn't seem like a traditional, white Christmas season just yet.  I had to nab an old photo of our barnyard from a few years back to add a bit of Christmas flavor to this post!

So...what are your plans for Christmas? Are you one of those amazing people who get everything done early, or at you a bit of a procrastinator, like me?

We got our Christmas cards sent two days ago, the house is decorated, and now I need to wrap presents and get them under the tree.  And bake--but I don't dare do that too early because they are so addicting!  This time of year, I am so tempted by all of the holiday recipe magazines along the checkout line at the grocery. Are you baking much this year? Trying anything new? Or do you prefer to stay out of the kitchen if you can?

Something else that tempts me are all of the beautiful Christmas covers for the Love Inspired novels. Aren't they lovely?  I want to curl up in front of the fireplace and read them all instead of getting things done!
If you leave a comment, you will be in drawing for a free e-book copy of Montana Mistletoe!

Best wishes to all of you for a blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

Roxanne Rustand

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

It's beginning to look a lot've got to be kidding me!

Christmas? Seriously?

Yeah, I'm a bit behind this year. No--more than a BIT behind. I feel like I've been living in a cave. Driving out and seeing all the Christmas lights twinkling from the houses is just freaking me out.

After all, I'm Mrs. Santa. No me--no tree. Or anything under the tree, for that matter.

Okay, I did get my Christmas tree up on the designated day after Thanksgiving because my grands were ALL OVER that. But we didn't get the rest of the decorations out until a couple of days ago, and I fudged and only took out part of them.

Part of it might be that my hubby and I made the difficult decision not to sing in the choir this year so we can get back on our feet physically. Usually around this time of year we're usually inundated practicing Christmas music. I really miss that.

I did manage to do a little online shopping, but everything is in boxes at the moment. Wrapping is still somewhere on my (very long) agenda.

I thank God for Sundays, when I can rest and seek God with NOTHING else on my agenda. Advent is a wonderful reminder of where my focus really should be--that our Lord came to earth to save us and will return to bring us to glory.

Lord, help me prepare my heart for You. The rest of it will get done.

Monday, December 10, 2018

One-Minute Christmas Vacations

by Jill Kemerer

Every December my emotions go all Jekyll and Hyde. The lights on the Christmas tree? I smile every time I walk past them. The Christmas list that never seems to end? My blood pressure rises just thinking about it. I flip-flop between the joy of the season and the pressure it brings.

When I started blogging ten years ago, I posted one-minute vacations throughout the month of December. They were little reminders to chill out, take a deep breath, and enjoy the Christmas season. Today seems like the perfect time to do just that.

Sit back, grab a cup of coffee, cocoa, tea, or Mountain Dew, and let's enjoy a break together!

Have a little snack, too! I love treats to nibble on...

Are you cold? Need a cozy blanket to wrap up in?

Okay, good. We're all set now. Settle in and relax. Instead of thinking of all the things we need to do, we're pausing. We're JUST SAYING NO to the voice in our heads cracking the whip. It's okay to take a step back and not do anything for a minute. It really is.

We're going to go one step farther. It's time to daydream. I like to play a little game called If I Had a Day Off for Myself...

If I had an entire day off and could only spend it being completely selfish, what would I do?

My thoughts in no particular order:

  • Watch Christmas cooking shows in my pajamas and drink coffee and eat blueberry breakfast cake (recipe is HERE, and it's delicious!).
  • Read a Christmas classic. I fell in love with Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies when I was in high school. (A few weeks ago, I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens for the first time!)
  • Catch up with my friends.
  • Read Luke chapter two and compare my whiny self to Mary when she's on her way to Bethlehem. Joseph is GLAD he didn't have to deal with me. "My back hurts. The baby kicked my rib. I'm STARVING! What is the point of this census??"
  • Take a long nap.
  • Buy a box of chocolates for myself and eat all the ones I like.
  • Listen to my favorite Christmas music.
  • Browse the aisles of our local drug store for new nail polish (I recently stopped chewing my nails by giving myself manicures once a week).
  • Catch up on all the Hallmark Christmas movies I've recorded.
  • Dream of a tropical vacation.
  • Order a pizza with my favorite toppings.
  • Buy a decadent coffee drink and walk around a light display with my hubby.

This entire list is so simple. As I read through it, I realize I can do all of these things throughout December. I don't need a day off!

Write your own list and find ways to slip the items into your days. Sometimes the most meaningful holidays happen when we take time to do simple things that feed our souls.

Okay, your turn!

If you had an entire day off and you could only spend it being completely selfish, what would you do?

Have a delightful week!


My Christmas novella, Sugarplums and Second Chances, is only $0.99 on Kindle! Give it a try!

Are some mistakes beyond redemption?

When former NFL star, Chase McGill, invites Courtney Trudesta, the widow of his former teammate, to spend Christmas with him and his son in Lake Endwell, he simply wants to repay her for the weekly letters she sent while he was in prison. He didn't expect to fall for her.

Chase regrets his past and knows it will take more than sugarplums and wishful thinking to heal Courtney's lonely heart. But with a dose of small-town charm and plenty of Christmas cheer, they might have a second chance at happiness...with each other.


Jill's Latest Love Inspired (October 2018):

A nanny at Christmastime…

Will she find love in this Wyoming Cowboys novel?

Six weeks on a ranch caring for quadruplets—aspiring nurse Ainsley Draper’s prepared for a busy Christmas. When the children’s handsome uncle opens the door, her task gets extra complicated. Marshall Graham is upholding his promise to look after his twin sister, the babies’ mom. But as family loyalty clashes with new love, will the perfect present include a future with Ainsley?

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sunday Scripture

Second Sunday of Advent

Saint John the Baptist Preaching, Mattia Preti, c. 1665,
Belgium. [PD-US]

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, 
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, 
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis, 
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, 
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, 
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 
as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Luke 3:1-6

If you have any prayer needs, please mention them in the comments section so we can join you in prayer. You do not need to include specific names or situations of a private nature, just say that you have a prayer request. The Lord knows your heart and the needs you have. It is a privilege and honor to pray with you and for you.

Friday, December 7, 2018

My Oddball Christmas Tree by Margaret Daley

Years ago, I painted the walls in my office hot pink with white trim. I had an extra Christmas tree that I decided to put up in my office, so when I'm working I could enjoy it. Because I had hot pink walls, I began collecting flamingoes for my office. After decorating the tree that Christmas, it ended up becoming a permanent fixture in my office. I love looking at it. The ornaments mean something to me. Most are flamingo ornaments, but some aren't. Have you ever put up an oddball Christmas tree, not quite the traditional kind?

I have a new Christmas book out this year called Lone Star Christmas Witness. In the book the Christmas tree was an important part of the story.

Lone Star Christmas Witness
By Margaret Daley
To protect a child witness 
Lone Star Justice must prevail
With a killer at large, Texas Ranger Taylor Blackburn must safeguard little Ben Markham—the sole survivor of a mass shooting. But allowing Ben and his beautiful aunt, Sierra Walker, into his life is riskier than Taylor imagined. While he can distract Ben with Christmas planning, Taylor can’t ignore how Sierra makes him feel. The only thing harder than protecting them is guarding his own heart…

Thursday, December 6, 2018

It's That Time of Year

Actually, if you read Love Inspired or watch Hallmark, it's been that time of year... since October.

I actually caught myself looking for Peppermint Mocha before Halloween thanks to Hallmark's Countdown to Christmas.

But, as a sign outside a store reminded me today, we are in the final countdown now. 

We all know the common Christmas traditions - the decorated tree, lights! lights! and more lights!
Christmas carols, stockings hung by the fire, and so on.

Olaf says he's going door to door to find out different family traditions. 

Mary Alford and I thought it would be fun to talk about some of our own Love Inspired family-specific traditions so we asked a few of our author friends to share how their families celebrate.

Dana Mentink

Hands down, my fave tradition at Mentink Manor is the Christmas Eve pizza making! My two girls have the best time making their own individual pizzas from Dad’s homemade dough. The creations are left to rise when we are at church and then the baking begins! It’s been pizza and root beer and laughter on Christmas Eve here for twenty one years and I hope it never changes! Merry Christmas to all! 

Danica Favorite shared that her family members all wear matching PJs on Christmas Eve.

Keeping up with the PJ theme, Belle Calhoune shared this:
We have the Christmas tradition of buying the girls Christmas pajamas and giving them to them to wear on Christmas Eve. They really love it and get so excited about it. Even my oldest who is 22. It's really sweet seeing them wearing the Christmas PJs the next morning as they open their gifts.

For Katy Lee's family, Christmas is always a time of fun and games. For the past few years, the Lee family have been enjoying the Big Ball of Gifts game. Tons of goodies and even a few funny gag gifts are layers in strips of plastic wrap until a huge ball is formed. The family sits in a circle and passes the ball around. Each person gets 30 seconds to find the next strip and start unraveling it. Sometimes there is a gift and sometimes not. How many strips can they remove in their thirty seconds? Or do they use up their 3o seconds looking for the start of the next strip? It can be frustrating, but it's always loud and fun.

Dana Lynn:
There is a pregnancy center in my town to allow women a safe place to go during their pregnancies. Since my children were very young, we have taken them shopping and allowed them to pick out gifts for the babies. Clothing, diapers, toys, etc.

Michelle Karl shares:
Our family watches A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim every Christmas Eve (along with a specific selection of other Christmas movies/show episodes, watched in the same order, no exceptions!).

Mary Alford

My favorite Christmas tradition is not all that old, but it is very precious to my family just the same. In December 2012, my father-in-law passed away a little before Christmas. He wasn't much on decorating for the holiday, but that particular year he had a little Christmas tree sitting on his dining room table. Since that time, I've made it a point of putting up his Christmas tree in my dining room. This is this year's photo of the tree decorated with photo ornaments of his great-grandchildren. I think he would be proud.   

Cate Nolan

My family has had a variety of traditions over the years. Like Michelle, my girls have a queue of old favorite movies and TV episodes that they watch every year. We also have this Avon Advent calendar that was given to us by a neighbor the year my oldest was born (1987). The girls named the mouse Albert after a character in one of those movies. Albert has been hanging in our house every Christmas season for the past 31 years.

My girls and I started a new tradition this year. My husband always loved the look of single white candles in each window (his New England heritage), but we were never able to find ones that worked in our windows. Well, as most of you know, my husband passed away last May. I considered it symbolic that this year I found candles that had a base specifically designed for windows like ours. The girls and I decided we would each put those candles in the windows in our homes as a tribute to their father. I have to admit, it's a comforting glow.
It's hard to take a good picture of a candle!

So what special traditions does your family have? We'd love to hear from you.