Thursday, December 31, 2015

Recipe for a Happy New Year

On this eve of the New Year, a brand new year stretches ahead of us like a clean canvass just waiting for us to touch the brush to the palette, choose the colors, and splash on the paint. We make New Year's resolutions with great expectations, but because of past failures, we hesitate fearfully on the threshold of this New Year.

Sir Winston Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain during World War II and a man of many talents, became an accomplished artist. When he set out to paint, he chose oils as his medium so that whatever he painted would last for the ages.

Sir Winston Churchill relaxed by painting.
He asked his wife, Clementine, to purchase the materials he would need. When everything was assembled, the next step was to begin.

A prolific writer, he later described his feelings of looking at the white canvas in front of him. Beads of paint glistened on his new palette, and the empty brush in his hand was poised irresolute in the air. "My hand seemed arrested by a silent veto."

He knew that the sky should be at the top of the page, and sky was a pale blue. To achieve that color, he mixed a tiny bit of blue with white and cautiously made a mark the size of a pea on that intimidating snow-white canvas.

"It was a challenge, a deliberate challenge, but so subdued, so halting...that it deserved no response," he wrote.

At that moment, he heard an automobile in the driveway and out stepped his neighbor, a gifted painter. Clementine had called her.

She strode to the canvas and asked, "What are you hesitating about? Let me have a brush--a big one."

She splashed it into turpentine, swished it vigorously into the blue and white, and sprawled the paint across the canvas in huge, almost savage strokes.

Churchill wrote, "The spell was broken." Delighted, he knew he had discovered his style. This was how he lived. This was how he would paint. He became a fearless and gaudy painter, for he fell in love with the brilliant colors and felt sorry for the dull browns.

Let's approach this New Year with that same kind of fearless exhilaration, knowing that each day is the day that the Lord has made, so we can rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).

Here's a recipe I found for a happy new year:

Take 12 whole months. Clean them thoroughly of all bitterness, hate, and jealousy. Make them just as fresh and clean as possible.

Cut each month into 28, 30, or 31 different parts, but don't make up the whole batch at once. Prepare it one day at a time with these ingredients:

Into each day mix well one part of faith, one part of patience, one part of courage, and one part of work. 

Add to each day one part of hope, faithfulness, generosity, and kindness. 

Blend with one part prayer, one part meditation, and one good deed. 

Season the whole with a dash of good spirit, a sprinkle of fun, a pinch of play, and a cupful of good humor.

Pour all of this into a vessel of love. Cook thoroughly over radiant joy, garnish with a smile, and serve with quietness, unselfishness, and cheerfulness.

If you follow these instructions carefully, you're bound to have a happy new year!

May I recommend some encouraging, faith-building reading for the new year?
Frontiers of FaithTill the Storm Passes ByA Star to Steer By. Click on the titles to learn more about these books and how to order them.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Unused Gift

"Thanks be to God for for His indescribable Gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:15).

A pastor was visiting an elderly woman. When she asked him to get a box of letters for her from a chest, he noticed a lovely quilt hidden away in the drawer too.

"May I take it out and look at it?" When she nodded, he lifted it out and unfolded it. "Where did you find such an exquisite masterpiece?"

"My grandmother made it for me years ago as a wedding gift."

Puzzled, the pastor asked, "Why don't you have this on your bed?"

"Oh, it's too beautiful to use!"

What a shame that the precious gift of love had been hidden away in a drawer for 50 years--preserved, rather than used and enjoyed as it was intended!

During the Christmas season we preserve the memory of the birth of God's indescribable Gift. The Gift God gave to us that first Christmas is beyond the ability of any human language to describe. In fact, the Bible uses many names and titles to describe that Gift. These many names depict the many facets of the character, sacrifice, and supremacy of that great Gift.

The Prophet Isaiah said, 

Jesus, the name given to Mary and Joseph by the angels, means Savior, announcing that He came "to save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:23).

These are just a tiny sampling of the names given in Scriptures for Jesus.

His birth as a tiny baby in Bethlehem was just the beginning of the Gift. He came to walk among us, to experience the human condition, and to die on the cross for our sins. He rose again that we too might share eternal life with Him. Today, He longs to give us peace and joy and counsel and comfort in the midst of life's storms.

Are we taking full advantage of all the facets of this First Christmas Gift?

If not, we are like the the elderly woman whose grandmother gave her the lovely quilt, which she laid away to preserve but never use and enjoy. How sad if all we do is celebrate Jesus' birth once a year but don't claim God's Gift in our lives every day!

What will you do today to appropriate God's indescribable Gift to your life?

Have a blessed Christmas!

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

To Put a Face on God

I once heard the story of a missionary to Egypt who was trying to teach the people about the Incarnation of Christ.

In spite of his best efforts, the people shook their heads. "We don't understand."

In desperation, the missionary asked an elderly believer how he could explain the reason for Jesus' coming. The man thought for a few moments then replied, "He came to put a face on God."

The elderly believer was right on. That simple explanation brought the light of understanding to the eyes of the people.

Through the millennia before Christ came, people wondered what God is like. Then God sent His only uniquely begotten Son. Jesus told His disciples, "He that has seen Me has seen the Father."

Now that Jesus has come and moved in love among us, no one ever again need ask that question.

Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means "God with us." Matthew 1:23 (NLT)

God saw our greatest need and sent His Son Jesus. I love this reminder on a Christmas card:

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was to be cleansed from sin, so God sent us a Savior!

"Immanuel, God with us."

The Word did not become a Philosophy to be discussed, 
nor a Theory to be debated, 
nor a Concept to be pondered. 
But the Word became a Person to be followed, enjoyed, and loved.

Another unknown writer said:

Christ came as a tiny Baby that He might better understand our sufferings.
He was born into poverty lest we think Him a monarch.
He came not to dominate but to motivate; 
not to condemn but to forgive; 
not to oppress but to free our souls; 
not to compel but to teach us the truest meaning of unselfish love.

This Christmas season, I pray that you may truly experience "Immanuel, God with us."

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christmas Version of 1 Corinthians 13

I collect paraphrases based on 1 Corinthians 13. Years ago, I found this Christmas version. I don't know who wrote it, but it reminds me to focus on the message of Christmas and not get caught up in the tinsel and commercialism.

If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkle lights, and shiny balls but do not show love to my family, I am only a honking horn or clanging bell.

Courtesy Google .com
If I slave away in the kitchen baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals, and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime but do not show love to my family, I am just another cook; it means nothing.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and hand-crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties, and sing in the church choir cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point of the season.

Love stops cooking to hug a child.

Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.

Love is kind, even though I am harried and tired.

Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way but is thankful they are there to be in the way.

Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can't.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust, but giving the gift of love will endure.

"The greatest of these is love."

What is your biggest challenge to demonstrating your love at Christmas?

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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Reflections on Turning Seventy

Yesterday I celebrated my seventieth birthday. As I drove to my writers group, a short message on the radio interrupted my reflections about my life. The speaker said something to the effect that in the next few weeks, many thousands of us would be listening to the greatest oratorio of all time, Handel's Messiah.

My thoughts flew back to my senior year of high school in Seward, Alaska, when I sang The Messiah for the first time, including the soprano solos, in the combined local church choirs under the direction of the high school music teacher. I fell in love with the soaring music. Singing the libretto that came straight from the Bible imprinted those Scriptures upon my memory.

In college, I majored in vocal music. Every year, we performed The Messiah. I even included an aria from The Messiah, "If God Be for Us, Who Can Be Against Us," in the program of my senior recital.

Portrait of George Frideric Handel
Courtesy of
Somewhere along the way, I learned the story behind the composing of The Messiah. George Frideric Handel was a child prodigy. His father tried to steer him into the legal profession, but the organ, harpsichord, and violin captured his attention. Once when young George was improvising on the organ, Duke Johann Adolf overheard it and exclaimed, "Who is that remarkable child?"

Soon, Handel began composing operas, first in Italy then in London. While only in his twenties, he became the talk of England and the best paid composer on earth. Every one of his performances was sold out. His fame spread worldwide. He started the Royal Academy of Music.

But the glory didn't last. (It never does, does it?) Attendance dwindled. His music was considered to be outdated. (I can certainly identify with that.) Younger musicians eclipsed the aging composer.

Handel continued to compose, but each new project failed. Soon, his money was gone. All the stress caused a palsy that crippled some of his fingers, a death knell for an organist. A sense of failure pushed him into the further agony of depression.

Yet, his troubles matured him. His sharp tongue softened. His temper mellowed. And his music showed a depth of feeling as never before.

In 1741, Handel received a post from Charles Jennens. It contained a word-for-word collection of biblical texts about Christ. As Handel read the opening words from Isaiah 40, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people...," he was so moved that he began to compose music for the passage. In 23 days, he set the entire collection to music and called it The Messiah.

Handel's Original Score of the "Amen Chorus"
Courtesy of
Composing such a massive work in 23 days is unheard of. Trying to describe the experience later, Handel said, "Whether I was in the body or out of the body when I wrote it, I know not."

The Messiah opened in London to huge crowds on March 23, 1743, with Handel conducting from his harpsichord. King George II was present. As the choir sang the immortal words to the Hallelujah Chorus, the king leaped to his feet in recognition of the "King of kings and Lord of lords."

My copy of The Messiah
Handel's fame was rekindled. His best days came after the trials of life had matured him. Few people can name one of his operas. But to this day, The Messiah is the world's most often performed oratorio, and audiences everywhere stand in reverence to the King who "shall reign forever and ever."

Yesterday, the memory of Handel's story renewed my spirit. I may be seventy, but perhaps my best and most productive days are still ahead.

Have you ever felt that your best days are behind you? How do you encourage yourself when you feel down? I'd love to read your comments.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Are You a Pilgrim?

The First Thanksgiving 1621   Courtesy
The first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621. The Pilgrims had set sail from England on the Mayflower in the fall of 1620 to find a place where they could practice their religious convictions free from the persecution they endured in England.

The trip was no pleasant cruise. A North Atlantic winter storm nearly sank the ship. Short on food, water, and firewood, cold, damp, and hungry, they sickened and many of the original number died en route. Others succumbed to the harsh winter as they struggled to establish a colony.

Governor William Bradford
Governor William Bradford described the perils of their struggle: "So they committed themselves to the will of God and resolved to proceed. Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element.

"Thus, out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing and gives being to all things that are; and as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation."

Less than half of the original Pilgrims survived the journey and that first winter. Yet, they certainly fit the biblical definition of pilgrims in Hebrews 11:13, 16 (NKJV):

"These all died in faith, not having the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. They desire a ...heavenly country. Therefore, God...has prepared a city for them."

The Pilgrims desired a country where they could build a community based on biblical principles for their children. Those who died did not received their desires in this life, yet they prepared the way for those of us who have come after them. And they entered the eternal City God had prepared for them.

How about you? Are you a pilgrim? Are you by faith embracing God's promises as strangers and pilgrims on this earth, desiring a heavenly country? Then, you are a pilgrim.

The proof of our faith is not that we receive the promises of God in this life, but that we run the race of life so as to obtain a good reputation with God and man because of our faithfulness (Hebrews 11:39-40).

This Thanksgiving Day, no matter what our situation in this life at this time, let us give thanks to God with grateful hearts for His promises fulfilled and yet to be fulfilled--in this life or in the next.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

I can't remember when I first heard the song, "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus." It was probably in the church I attended as a child in Juneau, Alaska. 

The song has held special meaning for me ever since my freshman year of college. Suffering heartbreak over unrequited love, I was lying on my bed in the dark, when the words of that song popped into my mind, and I began to hum the tune. 

As I came to the words, "And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace," my dorm room seemed to recede, and the most glorious presence enveloped me. Suddenly, everything was all right. The hurt was gone. I felt joyful and free.

A few years ago, a friend gave me a book of hymn stories, and I found the story behind "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus." The writer was Helen Howarth Lemmel, born in England into the home of a Wesleyan minister who immigrated to America when Helen was a child. She loved music and received the best music education her parents could give her.

As a young adult, Helen returned to Europe to study music. There, she met and married a wealthy European, but he left her when she became blind, leaving her to struggle with poverty and many heartaches.

When Helen was 55, she heard a statement that impressed her deeply: "So then, turn your eyes upon Him, look full into His face, and you will find that the things of earth will acquire a strange new dimension."

Helen Howarth Lemmel
"I stood still," Helen said, "and singing in my soul and spirit was the chorus, with not one conscious moment of putting word to word to make rhyme, or note to note to make melody. The verses were written the same week, after the usual manner of composition, but nonetheless dictated by the Holy Spirit."

Although Helen was nearly destitute in her advanced years, her joy and enthusiasm amazed others. When asked how she was doing, she would say, "I'm doing well in all the things that count."

She was always composing hymns. Since she had no way of writing them down because of her blindness, she would call a friend at all hours, and he would rush to her side so he could record the words before she forgot them.

Helen died in 1961, thirteen days before her ninety-eighth birthday. She left nearly five hundred hymns she had written in her lifetime.

Helen had learned that the way to find real joy was to look into the face of Jesus, "the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). 

That experience in college taught me to sing those words whenever times of sorrow and disappointment come my way. When I look "full in His wonderful face," I have found that "the things of earth [do] grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace," and real joy replaces the heartache.

What hymn brings you comfort and joy?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Vietnam Veteran's Memories

(Since tomorrow is Veteran's Day, I am posting this week's blog earlier than usual.)
Captain Robert J, Conti, U. S. Army
On June 9, 1969, the day before our second wedding anniversary, my husband took off from the airport in Anchorage, Alaska, and headed for Vietnam. At midnight, he crossed the International Dateline and totally missed our anniversary that year. So I have celebrated one more anniversary than he has! 

As an infantry officer, he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne. In that assignment, Bob was involved in something called “fireflies”--night operations with helicopters.

One large helicopter was equipped with a big searchlight made of large aircraft landing lights. A couple of other helicopters carried rockets and bombs. The observation helicopter would fly high above using infra red to navigate while the others flew near the ground.

At night they'd fly in the dark with no lights until they were over their target. Then, the command helicopter, which Bob flew in, would switch on the lights, making it an easy target for the enemy, while the other two would fly in from the left and the right, crisscrossing under the command helicopter, firing rockets and dropping bombs. It was hazardous. Some of his friends cracked up doing the same thing and died.  

Bob in Vietnam in 1969
Bob says, "Every night I’d have to wait for a helicopter to come to the fire base to pick me up. The waiting was the worst part. I began to understand fear. I’m not talking about just being scared. I mean a fear that gnaws at you and tugs at your nerves.

"The fireflies took place about one or two a.m. I used to wonder if I’d see the sun come up in the morning. Once, we got caught in a monsoon rainstorm and couldn't see in any direction. I really learned about fear that time.

"During those months, I began to draw closer to the Lord. That well-known hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul,” often came into my heart and mind. I kept thinking that no matter what happened, with Jesus, it is well with my soul. I can handle it. I did. And I made it through.

"One time, as my unit was being relieved by another unit at a fire base, I got into the command chopper with my pilot, and we lifted off. Immediately, the command chopper of the next battalion landed. Other choppers were coming in behind him.

"Suddenly, Viet Cong soldiers sprang up out of the grass right next to the landing area and fired away, killing their S3 officer and severely wounding the others. The VC had infiltrated during the change over and were already in place when I jogged to my chopper. The man sitting in the same position in that helicopter that I sat in on my chopper had his arm and leg shot off. I thank God that He protected me on that occasion. I didn’t even get a scratch."

The 82nd Airborne went home after six months, and Bob had six more to go, so he was assigned as an intelligence officer, S2, on an advisory team to a Vietnamese unit in Tay Ninh Province. "We had to ride in helicopters a lot. I made it a practice not to fly unless my job required it.

"Two weeks before I came home, my best friend, Major Barton, the S3 officer on the advisory team, invited me to fly along with him to visit the province chief that Sunday morning. It was a beautiful day, but I said no. I wanted to go to church and then write letters to my wife. That day his helicopter crashed, and all on board were killed."

At the end of the longest year of our lives, Bob returned home on Memorial Day, 1970. Although he suffers from the effects of exposure to Agent Orange, I am especially thankful every Veteran's Day that my husband came home from Vietnam unharmed.

I'd love to hear about a veteran you'd like to honor.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Mended Heart

Ever since my husband Bob had triple bypass surgery on his heart in the spring of 2000, he has suffered with varying degrees of congestive heart failure and possible sudden death syndrome due to ventricular fibrillation. The VA has determined that his heart condition, along with diabetes, is a result of exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

In 2008, his body swelled up. I had to buy him bigger clothes. Huge water blisters erupted on his legs as fluid oozed out. He couldn't breathe lying in bed, so he had to sit up in a recliner to sleep.

His cardiologist tried to correct the problem with medication, but after several months, he was no better. When I awoke each morning, I wondered if he would still be with me.

One night as I crawled into an empty bed, I simply prayed, "Lord, please heal my husband."

During the next few weeks, the swelling began to recede and the water blisters dried up. Even so, his cardiologist decided that he needed to have a cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) implanted, which would require a one-hour surgery. The day of the surgery, I sat in the waiting room long after all the others had been called back to their loved ones' bedsides. After four hours, Bob's doctor finally appeared.

Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)
"We've been trying all this time but were unable to get the 'third' wire into place," the arrhythmia specialist said. "Despite his size [Bob's 6'4" tall], his veins are small. Let's see how he does. If he needs the 'third' lead, we can send him to New York City, where they can insert it between his ribs and wrap it around his heart."

Bob recovered quickly, and for quite a while his congestive heart failure was well controlled with the "first" lead (he only needed the first and third leads for his condition). It was a comfort to us for him to have his own personal EMT on board in case of potentially fatal arrhythmias.

Then at his heart checkup in 2014, his cardiologist recommended that he have another open-heart surgery to replace his mitral valve. At that time, the surgeon planned to wrap the "third" wire around his heart, but he found too much scar tissue so he couldn't do it. Bob came through that seven-hour surgery well and surprised the medical staff at how quickly he recovered.

But as the months passed, he didn't feel was well as he had expected. On our road trip to Washington State this summer, he had so much trouble breathing, especially in the mountains and high plains, that he told everyone this would be our last trip west.

This fall, his doctors decided that it was time to replace his defibrillator. "We'll try again to get that 'third' lead in. Technology's better now," they said.

October 7th, 2015, Bob was wheeled into the OR for the one-hour procedure. In the waiting room I counted down the hour then another hour and another. I knew they were having trouble inserting that 'third' wire.

The Three Leads
As I was praying more fervently, a verse from Isaiah suddenly popped into my mind that God would "make the crooked paths straight." I claimed that promise for the vein into Bob's heart.

After nearly four hours, Bob's doctor appeared in the doorway. "We knew from the last time that we might have trouble with that "third" wire," he said.

Oh, no, I thought, afraid he was going to give me bad news.

"There are three veins available," he continued. "We couldn't get it into the first two and were just about to give up on the third one when all of a sudden it surprised us and popped in."

"I was praying," I told him.

It's been four weeks, and Bob is back to his daily hour-long walk and has been telling me over and over how much better he feels. "I'm even thinking about another trip out West next summer," he says.

I'd love to hear about a time God has sent his Word and touched you in a special way.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Nuggets of Faith Interviews Tracie Peterson, Bestselling, Award-winning Christian Author

Author Tracie Peterson
Tracie Peterson, bestselling, award-winning author, has written more than 100 books of historical and contemporary Christian fiction. Included in that number are several compilations of novellas and series of full-length novels set in Alaska.

Tracie, thank you for so graciously granting me this opportunity to interview you via e-mail for my blog. I grew up in Alaska and have read all your books set in that beautiful place, as well as many of your other series. Unlike some novels set in Alaska, yours are thoroughly researched, accurate, and true to Alaska. I have admired your work ever since I read Alaska, your compilation of four historical novellas published by Barbour Publishing, Inc.

First, would you share a little about yourself—anything 
you’d like to tell us so we can get a feel for who you are as a person?

Tracie: I’m a Christian, wife, mother, grandmother, and transplanted Montanan. I was born and raised in Kansas but have always been a mountain girl. My writing is a ministry, and I love sharing God’s Word in my stories.

What life experiences have contributed to your writing? In what way?

Tracie: I think everything enjoyed and endured has played a part in my writing. I love telling stories and everyday life is full of examples–be it in characters around me, settings, events, etc.

On your website you said that God had called you to write Christian fiction. How and when did you know?

Tracie: Since I was a little girl, I knew I was called to serve God, but I wasn’t sure how that would play out except in being a living example of His love. I have always loved writing, and when I was very young, my mother would give me a piece of paper and a pencil to keep me quiet in church. She’d tell me to “write a story” so I credit her with stirring that desire. After church she asked me to “tell my story” so I know that couldn’t help but develop my storytelling abilities. As I got older, I knew that writing was something I wanted to do, and I knew I could turn it into a ministry by including events, characters, and situations that would resonate with readers.

How long does it take you to write a novel?

Tracie: I write anywhere from 3-5 novels a year. I always write 3 of my own and sometimes write with co-authors for others. For each of my solo books I have 4 months to dedicate specifically to them.

What is your process in writing a book? How much time do you write each day?

Tracie: I usually am working on 3, even 4 books at the same time. I’m researching ideas for a new book, while plotting out the next novel, while writing the current novel and often doing galley proofs on a 4th. I write from a detailed synopsis so the first draft is written fast and furious and usually takes about a month. Each morning I read over what I wrote the day before and then start writing again. I have a goal to write a chapter a day. Sometimes I write more, but usually I just focus on one chapter. Sometimes that takes a couple of hours, sometimes it takes all day.

How do you do your research? Do you travel to the location of the setting? Have you ever been to Alaska?

Tracie: I always try to visit the places I write about. There is so much information to be had when you do that. I employ my husband as a historian, and he is able to help me dig up all the information needed for the stories. Often we visit a place, take photographs then look at historical photographs and judge how the lay of the land has changed and why. We visit local museums and talk to local historians. They are often able to steer us towards materials and information that we might have overlooked. We also love to pick up regional books and maps when in those setting locations, as well as talk to people who have lived there for a long time–even have multiple generations who lived in the area. The stories they pass along are often quite amazing.

What is your biggest challenge in writing your novels?

Tracie: Time and the rest of the world. There are only so many hours in a day, and often that gets consumed with the routine needs that every family has. It’s really important for me to plan things out and be very guarded with my writing time.

How did you find your publisher(s)? Through an agent? How long did it take? To writers who are just starting out, what would you recommend about how to get published?

Tracie: When I started decades ago, I didn’t know much about what I was doing. I did know to attend writers’ conferences and join writers’ groups, and I encourage writers to do that even today. I had a great many rejections and practice manuscripts, and then in 1992 I received my first contract. I didn’t have an agent and still don’t, however, in this day and age I think writers will need one. Again, they can hook up with agents at writers’ conferences, as well as publishers. Writers need to network and connect. Conferences and local writer groups are invaluable and a great place to start.

What advice would you like to share with me and other writers?

Tracie: Don’t give up, first and foremost. Second, don’t be afraid to learn–even when you think you know it all. Having an English degree or having written for a newspaper doesn’t equal knowing how to write a novel. I still enjoy sitting in on very basic writing classes as refreshers, but also because after 100+ books it’s good to review. Not only that, but a lot in writing is changing and will continue to do so.

This also brings up another thing–read. Read as much as you can. Read old classics; read what’s on the current bestseller list. Tear it apart to see why you think it works. Study the characters, the setting, and the plot. See how the author builds tension, resolves conflict, and keeps you turning the page.

Last of all, do your research and give each project your best. A lack of attention to detail will make the story weak, and readers love to point out where you have failed to meet their expectations or where you’ve made an error. Accuracy is needed in historical or contemporary settings and will only make your story stronger.

What is your contact information?
Tracie's newest book

Tracie: Readers can reach me through my website at, or my email,
or my Facebook page

Thank you, Tracie, for taking precious time out of your busy schedule to share all this helpful information and advice with those of us who don’t have as much experience as you.

Be sure to visit Tracie's website for information about all of her books.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Bottom of the Barrel

A writing prompt at my ladies writing group yesterday transported me back to this day in the early sixties in Alaska when my parents pastored a small missions church in Seward (From Pelican to Seward):
The Cousarts & Personeuses at our church in Seward
(The author is fifth from left)

My dad lugged a huge box covered in postage and stickers into the dining room. "A missionary barrel!" he announced.

Occasionally, we received a "missionary barrel" from ladies groups in churches "Outside" (Alaskans' reference to the south 48 States).

Previous barrels had contained colorful handmade quilts and crocheted afghans, which warmed our beds for many years, sheets and carefully embroidered pillow cases, or toys and gifts.

Eagerly, we all gathered around. "What's in it?"

My dad cut the twine, and my mother began to lift out the contents, one item at a time:

Used clothing more suitable for Africa than Alaska's cold climate. Our smiles faded.

A packet of used tea bags with a note attached: "We sacrificed our second cup of tea for you."

My dad snorted. "What a waste! Why didn't they just send us the money they spent for shipping? We could have bought a whole case of new tea bags."

The last item in the box was a drab, moth-eaten wool coat with a fur collar attached. My mother examined it carefully. "This collar looks nice. Maybe I can find another coat to wear it with."

My dad stuffed everything but the collar back into the box and carted it off to the dump. Shoulders drooping, we slumped away to finish our chores.

A few weeks later, my folks had to drive the 120 miles to Anchorage on business. While there, they stopped at a furrier to have the fur collar evaluated.

"What a beautiful silver fox!" the furrier said. "It's worth about $75.00" (in the early sixties).

My dad insisted she buy a new coat for that silver fox collar.

How elegant she looked in her new red wool coat with that fur collar which kept her warm during many Alaskan winters!

The Cousart Family a few years later.
Mother wearing the red coat with the fur collar 
Have you noticed that in life when God leads us through difficult trials, He often rewards us at the end? The reward may not be tangible, but when we keep a good attitude, we look back and see that we have grown in grace.

God often places a nice surprise at the bottom of the barrel.

I'd love to hear about a "bottom of the barrel" experience you've had.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bears, Dreams, and Decisions

When I was a child, bears often inhabited my dreams, or more specifically, my nightmares. Perhaps an encounter with a bear when I was four years old triggered them (Encounter with Bears). Probably, growing up in Alaska where bears were often more numerous than people and the grizzly stories of bear attacks I heard contributed to their frequency.

Courtesy Google Images
When I became an adult, those scary nocturnal encounters stopped--until I joined a writing group in 2007.

I dreamed that I was standing on the sidewalk in front of a large church that had two entryways--one at each end of the block. I was midway between them when I glanced up and spotted a grizzly bear galloping down the intersecting street right toward me.

My first reaction was disbelief. What was a bear doing in a city?

Then paralyzing fear surged through me. My head swiveled toward one entryway and then the other. Each entry had several steps to climb. Both doors were closed. Which one could I reach before the bear attacked me?

As I hesitated in indecision, the slobbering bear reached me. Just as it was about to pounce, my strangled scream woke me up.

Even after my pounding heart, throbbing head, and trembling body calmed, the nightmare stayed with me. Why did I have a nightmare about a bear? I hadn't had one in years. Why now?

At my writing group the next week, someone had written about a dream, so we were discussing dreams and what they mean. I told them about my nightmare.

One lady asked, "Are you struggling with a decision--a choice you need to make?"

Just as sunbeams bursting through dark clouds illuminate a spot below, a personal dilemma came into focus as though highlighted. Since I was a teenager, I had wanted to write novels.

For years I had been writing short stories, articles, and church school curriculum on assignment, and for the previous four years, a daily devotional for the website of The Sound of Life, a network of Christian radio stations. Along with all my responsibilities as a pastor's wife and minister myself, those assignments consumed my creative energy.

The bear in my nightmare showed me that time was running out. I was in my early sixties. If I was ever going to fulfill my dream of writing novels, I needed to make some changes--now.

The radio network could make other arrangements, so I gave notice that I'd finish writing devotionals at the end of the year. I devoted that time to writing the novels I'd always wanted to write. Two of them have been published, and I'm working on the third in my historical Christian fiction books in my Alaskan Waters series.

Have you ever had a dream that seemed to have a deeper meaning? That gave you direction? I would love to hear about it in a comment below.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Happiness Is...

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin, with his sagacity and wit, was a man who thoroughly enjoyed trimming hecklers down to size. During the early days of the American Republic, he spoke many times on that great document, the Constitution of the United States.

After one stirring speech, an uncouth fellow rose and boldly walked a few paces toward the platform. "Aw, them words don't mean nothin' a-tall!"

Old Ben smiled benevolently at the questioner and quickly, blandly, replied, "My friend, the Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it for yourself!"

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about the elusiveness of happiness: "Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it comes and softly sits on your shoulder."
Monarch butterfly Courtesy Google Images
Helen Keller Courtesy Google Images

Helen Keller, both blind and deaf from 18 months of age, was famous for many life-changing quotes. About happiness, she wrote, "Many persons have a wrong idea about what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose."

And English newspaper asked this question: "Who are the happiest people on earth?" The four prize-winning answers were

     (1) a craftsman or artist whistling over a job well done
     (2) a little child building sand castles
     (3) a mother, after a busy day, bathing her baby
     (4) a doctor who has finished a difficult and dangerous operation and saved a human life

You will notice that there are no millionaires among these and no kings or emperors. Riches and rank, no matter how the world strives for them, do not make happy lives. In fact, according to Ecclesiastes 2:26, it is God who give happiness to the man or woman, boy or girl who pleases Him.

To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness.
Ecclesiastes 2:26 

Don't seek happiness; seek the Lord and do His bidding. Happiness is the by product.

What makes you happy?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Stick Your Neck Out!

I was 60 when I began to write Christian fiction. I'd been writing short stories, articles, church school curriculum, and devotionals for publication all my adult life. I'd even published a non-fiction book, but a novel was my biggest challenge yet as a writer. Could I do it?

Then I came across author James Michener's story of how he once "stuck his neck out," quoting James Bryant Conant's observation:

"Behold the turtle: he makes progress only when he sticks his neck out."

Red-eared slider Courtesy Google Image
In 1944, Michener was stuck on a remote island in the South Pacific. To kill time, he decided to write a book. But the cold facts at that time were that the chances of a new author getting his first book published were 95 to 1. He decided to "stick his neck out" anyway.

Then, he learned that if someone hadn't written a book by the time he was 35 years old, chances were he never would. And Michener was nearing 40.

Even worse, he was not writing a novel, but a collection of short stories. A friend warned him that nobody published books of short stories anymore. Even so, he decided to try.

When the book came out, it caused little comment and would have died unknown except that Orville Prescott, a newspaper book reviewer, took a chance on a beginning writer and reported that he had liked the stories.

Later, a group of literary critics studied the book and pointed out that it was not a novel, it was not about America, and common sense would say it was not eligible for the Pulitzer Prize. In spite of that, Michener was awarded the prize, and thus his book was brought to the world's attention.

In Hollywood, Kenneth MacKenna, who read books for movies, tried to persuade his company to make a movie out of Tales of the South Pacific, but the experts declared that it had no dramatic possibilities. So MacKenna "stuck his neck out" and showed it to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.

Courtesy Google Image
When Broadway heard that they were planning a musical called South Pacific with the romantic lead a man past 50, an opera singer named Enzio Pinza, people thought the idea was crazy, but the popularity of South Pacific still endures.

And Michener went on to write many more best-selling novels--Hawaii, The Source, Texas, Chesapeake, Alaska, to name a few.

Now, I don't claim to be a Michener, but I "stuck my neck out" and have now published two novels and a third one is in the creative process.

God wants all of us to fulfill His calling in our lives, but we must be willing to "stick our neck out." We must shove down the nagging voice that asks, "But what will people think?" or "What if I fail?" As the proverb says, "Nothing ventured; nothing gained." We just need to do our part and allow God to do His.

What is God asking you to do for Him today?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Guest Author Interview

I thought you might like to read a guest blog interview I did with Sharon K. Connell this week about my life and background as an author:

Introducing Writers and Authors and the works they produce.  
Please take time to get to know these talented people.
If this website will not allow comments, please feel free to make them on 
(Please note that older interviews will no longer have pictures in order to make room for the newer authors.  My apology for this.  GoogleSite does not allow the space.)

September 23, 2015

My Guest Author interview today will be with…

AnnaLee Conti

I met AnnaLee when she was featured on another author friend’s blog at the beginning of this year.  Please join me in welcoming her to my website and Facebook Group Forum, Writers and Authors

When did you know you wanted to become an author, and why?

I come from a family of readers and writers.

My grandparents, Charles & Florence Personeus, traveled across the continent to Alaska in 1917 to serve as pioneer missionaries. As newlyweds, they left Bible school in Rochester, New York, not knowing even how much it would cost to get to their field of ministry. They went by faith and lived by faith in Alaska for 65 years. My parents, Bob & AnnaMae Cousart, also lived by faith as missionaries in Alaska, where I grew up during the fifties and sixties.

My missionary family members were readers and writers. Grandma Personeus was a storyteller and kept everyone entranced with her accounts of their early days in Alaska. She also read books aloud to us when we grandchildren visited each summer during our childhood. She’d read to us as we did the dishes and in her spare time—books she’d enjoyed as a child. She was also a prolific poet and wrote curriculum for Sunday school quarterlies and articles for church magazines. My mother also wrote continued stories and composed songs for us, for her Sunday school class, and eventually for publication.

My great-grandfather, George Newton LeFevre, wrote and published his own newspaper, The Christian Home, in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. It was instrumental in getting the Prohibition Amendment passed. He also wrote a genealogy of The Pennsylvania LeFevres. For many years, my great aunt was editor of The Sunday School Times, a magazine published in Philadelphia. She also wrote nine Christian fiction books under the pen name of Zenobia Bird published by Revell. Recently, I discovered that Beverly Lewis and I share the same LeFevre ancestry.

As a young teenager, I discovered Christian fiction and read all of my aunt’s books. My father subscribed to a Christian book club to provide us with good reading material for cold, dark winter nights. We could hardly wait for the two selections that arrived each month. Those pages influenced my world view and my attitudes about life and love. And my dream to write Christian novels was born.

How long did it take you to write your first novel?

About 3 years of actual work, although I jotted notes for it for years before I actually started writing it. In the early seventies, we were stationed in Rhode Island in the Army. We discovered Beavertail Lighthouse in Narraganset Bay. That has become our favorite one-day get-away ever since. We love to sit on the rocks and watch the waves crash in from the Atlantic Ocean on three sides of that rocky point. As I sat there, I’d imagine scenes I’d like to write and jot down notes, descriptions, characters, etc. These became the opening scenes for Evie’s story in Till the Storm Passes By.

What was your biggest problem in writing your first novel?

Writing the middle. That is my struggle now on my third novel too.

How long did it take you to publish your first book?

I loved writing in school and took one writing course in college. After six years as an Army officer, including a tour in Vietnam, my husband felt called into the gospel ministry. While he was in seminary, I worked in editorial at Gospel Publishing House. The editors I worked with encouraged me to write and submit short stories and articles for publication. Soon, I was also writing Sunday school, children’s church, and VBS curriculum on assignment. When we began pastoring, I continued to write curriculum on assignment as well as freelance articles and short stories for more than 25 years.

While I was working at Gospel Publishing House, my grandparents visited us. The year was 1973. Grandma handed me a packet and said, “Many people have asked me to write our story, but I’m too old to see it through by myself, so I’m placing all my written accounts in your hands to do with as you think best.” In 1982, I holed up for a week and wrote the rough draft of Frontiers of Faith. Before Grandma died in 1985, I was able to read it to her and Grandpa. It wasn’t until 2002 that I was able to get it published by 1st Books, now called AuthorHouse.

But I still wanted to write Christian novels. As I was researching the book about my grandparents, I came across several fragments of stories that triggered my imagination, and the idea for my Alaskan Waters series was conceived. At the time, I was teaching fulltime and writing a daily devotional for the website of a Christian radio network. When I was forced to retire from teaching due to an injury, I joined a writing critique group at a local library, and began writing my first novel. Till the Storm Passes By, the first title in my Alaskan Waters series, was published by Ambassador International (Emerald House) in 2013.

Are you published through the traditional method, or are you an Indie author?

Ambassador International is a shared venture that features aspects of both traditional publishing and the Indie route. We share the cost of editing and publishing the book; they assist me in marketing it and pay me royalties.

What is the biggest thing you have learned in the process of becoming an author?

Writing a book is a lonely, difficult job that requires a lot of self-discipline. I write because I have stories of faith to tell—stories that are carriers of truth about God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace. I am called by God to write. I write because I can’t not write.

What would you most like to see changed about your own writing, if anything?

I am happy with the three books I’ve published so far. I want to continue to grow in my ability to write stories that touch the hearts of my readers. Over the years I’ve observed that unless the emotions are touched, people don’t change. And my goal in writing is for people to see Jesus in my writing and for their lives to be “conformed to His image.”

What is your genre?  Do you think you may write in another at some point?

At this point, my genre is historical fiction. I learned a lot of history from reading that genre as a teenager. After I would read a book, I’d check out the encyclopedia (and the Bible, if it was biblical fiction) to try to discover what was fact and what was fiction. I still enjoy doing that.

How much time do you spend writing each day?

Ideally, at least four hours. In reality, some days I don’t even sit down at my computer. Other days, I write all day. I’d like to become more disciplined about this, but life interferes. This year, my husband had open heart surgery, and I had several procedures on my back. That slowed me down on my writing.

Where do you like to write? 

I have an office in our spare bedroom lined with bookcases (full to overflowing), file cabinets, and my desktop computer. When I started out writing, I wrote longhand in a living room chair and typed it on an electric typewriter. Curriculum had to be typed to an exact stroke and line count. That required retyping over and over until I got it right. Now, I love writing on the computer. I can edit without having to retype the whole thing.

If you could go anywhere, where would you most like to go to write?

I’d like to visit Strasbourg, France. My ancestors were French Huguenots who escaped martyrdom at the repeal of the Edict of Nantes in the mid-to-late 1600s. When my husband was stationed in Germany in 1968 in the Army, we drove along the Rhine River and looked across at Strasbourg, but we couldn’t cross into France since he didn’t have an international driving license. I’d like to write a historical novel about my LeFevre ancestors. Visiting Strasbourg would help me place it in its setting.

My ideal writing place would be a house on Douglas Island overlooking Gastineau Channel and Juneau, Alaska, or overlooking Lizianski Inlet in Pelican, Alaska, where I could derive inspiration from the scenes as I write my Alaskan Waters series and my blog’s faith stories about growing up in a missionary family in Alaska.

What experiences in life have contributed to your writing? 

I believe all of my experiences contribute to my writing. Extensive travel has certainly helped me write accurately about the settings of my stories. During the fifties and sixties, my family and I traveled by large and small prop airplanes, ferries and boats, trains and subways, and cars all over Alaska and coast to coast across the United States. So far, I have lived in or visited 46 of the 50 states including Alaska and Hawaii, taken an educational bus tour across Canada as a teenager, spent a year in Germany in 1968, visited Belgium and Austria, touched down in Ireland and England, and toured with a group of pastors for a week in Israel in 1986. For the past eight summers, my husband and I have driven cross country from New York to the West Coast and back to visit family and friends.

How have the experiences in your life contributed to your writing?

I say with the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:3,4, “Blessed be … the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Having gone through earthquakes and floods in Alaska, separations during the Vietnam War, experiencing the many trials and tribulations as well as the many joys in pastoring, surviving three major car accidents, living by faith and seeing God supply our needs, etc., I am able to forge characters who also find God’s comfort in tribulations. As a writer, I have more to say and I think my characterization is more true to life having personally gone through those hard experiences of life and I share those stories in my blog, “Nuggets of Faith.”

How many books and poems have your written? 

I’ve written and published three books so far and am working on my fourth. I have also written several poems—usually only when I have a strong sense of inspiration. A few are on my website:

Have you written anything else?

I’ve already mentioned the curriculum, short stories, and articles I’ve written. I also like to write devotionals and paraphrases of familiar Bible passages, such as 1 Corinthians 13. One, entitled “Essays and Empty Sets,” was published in a couple of youth magazines in the seventies.

Do you have a biggest fan?

My mother was my biggest fan. She would tell everybody about my books. She was bolder than I am. She probably sold more of my first book than I did! She went home to be with the Lord in 2012. My 93-year-old dad continues as a big fan and encourager. I know he prays for me every day.

Are you an avid reader yourself?

Yes, I love to read, especially Christian fiction. I can get so engrossed in a book that I don’t write, so I work to balance reading with writing.

Who is your favorite author (aside from yourself, of course)?

I have so many favorite authors (Tracie Peterson, Colleen Coble, Candace Calvert, Beverly Lewis, Miralee Ferrell, Linda Nichols, to name a few), but if I can name only one favorite, I’d have to say Karen Kingsbury. Her stories touch my emotions very deeply. Lynn Austin’s Chronicles of the Kings series is one of the best Biblical fiction series I’ve read. On the lighter side, I also enjoy Julie Klasson’s books. They remind me of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a favorite classic.

Do you have a favorite character in any novel, including your own, and why do you call this character your favorite?

Here again, I have so many favorite characters it is hard to name just one. Evie, in my book, Till the Storm Passes By, is perhaps my favorite so far. She had to overcome so many hurts, tragedies, and personal losses that made forgiving a challenge for her. I see a lot of me in her temperament.

Do you have aspirations of your work becoming a movie? 

Several in my writing group have said that Frontiers of Faith would make a good movie. I even started writing a screen play based on it, but it requires extensive reorganization.

Whom would you like to play the leads?

I’ve always thought that Meryl Streep looks a lot like my grandmother, who is the main character in the part of the book I’d use for a screen play. Harrison Ford looks a little like my grandfather.

Where were you born, where did you grow up, and did this have any bearing on how or about what you write?

I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the end of World War II. When I was 2 years old, my parents returned to Alaska as missionaries, where we lived by faith. I lived in Juneau until I was 12, then Pelican for 2 years. Pelican had no high school, so my parents moved us to a pastorate in Seward, Alaska, where I went to high school. I met my husband at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, where I earned my B.A. in music and elementary education. I love Alaska and miss it terribly. Writing about it is the next best thing to living there.

I lived in Alaska from 1948 to 1970. As a writer friend put it, people who never leave a place grow with the changes and don’t notice them because they happen so gradually. For those who move away and return many years later, the way we left it is indelibly embedded in our memory. While I have visited Alaska a number of times since I left, the memory of Alaska as I knew it is still fresh in my mind. While exploring themes such as God’s love and human love, forgiveness and reconciliation, rebellion and redemption, fear and faith, death and sorrow, I showcase the majestic beauty and fascinating history of the Alaska I remember.

Note from interviewer:  AnnaLee did not mention her second book in the Alaska Water series.  Here is a picture of the cover.

Where did you spend most of your life?

I grew up in Alaska, but I have spent most of my adult life in New York State, where my husband and I came in 1977 to pioneer a new church planting in Gloversville (40 miles northwest of Albany). We have pastored three churches and are now retired from pastoring.

Tell us a little more about yourself personally; family, friends, pets, hobbies, etc.

My husband and I are both ordained ministers. (I am the fifth generation ordained minister in my grandfather’s line.) I have taken an active part in all of our pastorates, serving as minister of music, Christian education, and women’s ministries, and on our New York State denominational C. E. and women’s ministries committees. We both sing solos as well as together and in choirs, and I have directed choirs and musicals and played the piano for services. Serving as the bookkeeper in all the churches we pastored provided an enjoyable break from all the demands on my creativity.

We have one son, whom God gave us in answer to prayer. (That story is on my blog.) He is an elementary school teacher in Newburgh (just across the Hudson River from where we live in Beacon). He has given us five grandchildren: a girl and four boys ages 22 to 13. It is our joy to see them grow up in the ways of the Lord. The family lives in a house built by my husband’s grandfather in 1938.

In addition to reading, I enjoy watching Hallmark movies with happy endings, scrapbooking, and other arts and crafts. I have taught tole painting and have also filled my house with decorative plaster craft lamps and bookends I have painted. I’ve also given many to family members as gifts. I used to sew my own clothes (until it became cheaper to buy readymade and alter them to fit). I also crochet, embroider, and do counted cross stitch and crewel work.

In fifth grade I decided I wanted to be an elementary teacher, so I earned a teaching certificate in college. I actually only taught in schools for four years. I found my niche in adult education, teaching GED classes for eight years. But God never wastes our experiences. My degree in education equipped me for my work in Christian education and writing church school curriculum. For a number of years I have taught Bible and ministry preparation classes to prepare people for pastoring and other church leadership. I view my writing as an extension of my ministry gift of teaching.

Do you have any words of wisdom for future authors?

Raymond Obstfeld said, “The main difference between successful writers and wannabe writers is not talent—it’s perseverance.” I taped that quote to my computer.

To that I would add, read, read, and read good literature. Write, write, and write!
Study the craft of writing:
·       The mechanics: good vocabulary, spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, etc.
·       The techniques of plot, characterization, structure, emotions, themes, dialogue, etc.
·       Resources: local libraries, magazines on writing (The WriterWriter’s Digest), websites for writers and of writers, local writing groups, and writing courses in college or online.
·       Develop a platform on social media, develop a website, and start writing a blog.

When do you think your next book will come out?

I’m hoping to finish the third book in the Alaska Waters series, Beside Still Waters, and have it published by the spring of 2016.

Where can your readers and future readers contact you?

Blog “Nuggets of Faith”:
Twitter: @AnnaLeeConti


Thank you, AnnaLee Conti for your time and the opportunity to present you, the author, and your work.