Sunday, January 21, 2018

Trials, Hardships and "Even ifs"

This morning we had a missionary come speak at church. He spoke on how God uses hardship and conflict to accomplish His will. The main text was Acts 15 and 16 (I encourage you to look up these passages. They're worth it.) In these two chapters are five examples of undesirable situations that preceded the furtherance of the Gospel. God used those less than spectacular events and people to do His will. Pretty awesome in the truest sense of the word.

A Much Needed Reminder

At the end, the missionary asked us if we ask God to remove hardship from our lives. Do we ask to be changed to be more like him through the things that happen to us?

I needed to be asked this. I so easily get wild-eyed and lost in the forest of "what ifs" when something difficult comes down the pike. In the past, we've talked before about how I tend to be reactionary instead of acting. There is a difference. My reactions tend to set me up to become instantly paralyzed with fear of the unknown or making the wrong decision.

 

 

Having an Eternal Perspective

 If I can just remember to keep the end goal in sight, to become more Christ-like, then I believe my fear of what could happen will less often result in the deer-in-the-headlights look. Unfortunately, deer
caught in our headlights often don't move and end up getting hit, right?

Not a great way to go out, may I add. There is usually a mangled mess and no one wants to be in the middle of that.  Least of all the deer.

Anyway . . .

Does my crying out, asking Him to remove the tough stuff, end up short-circuiting my desire to become more Christ-like? Food for thought, surely. There is a struggle there when I think about trials with that perspective. I don't want to go through trials, but I do want to become more like my Savior. I don't want physical limitations to curb my lifestyle, but does asking God to remove those undermine my wanting to learn dependency on the Creator of the Universe? I don't want heartache, but would I cry out to Him as often as I need to if I didn't experience it?

A Conundrum and the Result

 

 It's a difficult riddle-like problem to answer. So, what do we do, then?

The missionary wasn't suggesting to not ask for God to heal us, to comfort us, to make changes in our circumstance. Rather he was suggesting that we make a purposeful effort to allow God to change us to be more like Him when God doesn't remove the hardship. It's what is sometimes referred to as the "even if."

"Even if God doesn't take away my heartache, I will serve Him anyway."
"Even if" God doesn't restore my relationship with my child, I will honor Him.
"Even if" God allows cancer to eviscerate my body, I will praise Him.

Even if . . . Even if . . . Even if



The commitment to serve, obey, honor and praise is better made before we are in the messy midst of it. It's not something to be taken lightly, certainly. But if we are serious about our relationship with Him, it's something to work toward in our journey to becoming more like Him.

Won't you consider this commitment? Won't you determine to put this into practice?

Joyfully and prayerfully committed,

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Decorating for the Holidays


5 Ways to Decorate Your Small Space or Studio Apartment for Christmas

Though Christmas 2017 is over, dear reader, it's never too early to think about ideas for NEXT Christmas. Yes, I am talking Christmas 2018! And why not? However, if you have a small space, then you probably put a premium on what you want to display and how you display your decorations.

Regardless of what you believe or how you celebrate the holidays, it’s hard to be a Scrooge or a Grinch around Christmastime. With the twinkling lights everywhere, loads of parties, good foods, and great shopping deals, and the chill of winter, it’s a challenge to keep the Christmas spirit at bay. And, really, who would want to fight it?  Christmas décor is often dependent upon how much space you have. Here are a few suggestions to decorate your studio apartment or small space for Christmas.

Go with a Small Tabletop Tree for Your Countertop


Chances are, you have a countertop or a small bar where you prep and have your meals. Or, maybe it’s just a convenient place to throw your mail. Either way, this countertop is the prime location for a short, small, fake tree. Think 3-feet and smaller. You could decorate with little lights, tiny ornaments, and ribbons of your favorite colors. Or, opt for a pre-decorated Christmas tree with fiber-optic branches that cast rainbow glows on your apartment walls.


DIY a Wreath for Your Apartment Door, Interior or Exterior



Wreaths are easy to DIY, especially with the abundance of online tutorials. Pick a few of your fave colors and Christmas objects, like red berries, holly, and a big red bow. Then get creative with a cool wreath for your apartment door, either interior or exterior.





Hang Fairy Lights Around Your Windows or Above Your Bed



Fairy lights come in an array of gorgeous colors, and you can string them up anywhere. For Christmas, go with the ones that sparkle and twinkle. Deck your windowsills and above your bed, as the lights emit a soft glow that will likely lull you to a peaceful sleep. Or, in the same vein of the window ideas, you could snag some festive waterproof stickers to adhere to your windowpanes.




Go Ahead and Wrap Presents for Your Designated Christmas Corner


 If you’ve designated a Christmas corner for your apartment, go ahead and wrap a few gifts. Even if
those gifts are for yourself. Festive wrapping paper is often enough to get you in the mood for the holidays. The sparkles, glitter, and fun patterns add a super dose of cute to your minimal Christmas décor.




Hang Any Christmas Cards Your Receive

If your family and friends send out Christmas cards every year, pin them up in a doorway or on a designated Christmas wall. This will be your little area of cheer and holiday spirit. Read them often to uplift your mood. And don’t forget to send a few back to reciprocate the love and care to the people that mean the most.


While receiving and giving presents is an awesome Christmas tradition, decorating is more so amazing because it restores that childhood wonder that you once held for the holidays. You can feel it as excitement and giddiness in your heart. THAT is the Christmas spirit that you should aim for with your apartment’s holiday décor, however minimal and simple.

Joyfully,

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Paddington 2 - Coming Soon!

The kids and I watched Paddington tonight on Netflix. While they would claim to be too old for a movie that is based on a children's book (A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond), I can tell you that there were many smiles from all of us. Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) brings all the wonderful expressions and outrage of a proper Englishman confronted by a force of nature in the form of a little wee bear with a "worrying marmalade habit." I laughed aloud several times, enjoying the comedic misadventures of the homeless Puruvian bear. Nicole Kidman, is a delightful stiletto wearing villain (if one can use those few words together with a clear conscience -- ha!) who has her own comedic moments with cleverly placed eye rolls and steadfast commitment to the role of museum taxidermist. I may be the least inhibited movie watcher of all of the members of our tribe of four, but more than one of us remarked upon the homages to Mission Impossible and Indiana Jones and various slapstick routines. The themes of politeness and hospitality shine through, making for an enjoyable family movie experience.

January 12th is the day Paddington 2 arrives in theaters. If the sequel is anything like the first, moviegoers are in for a treat. Won't you consider checking it out?




Following the worldwide hit Paddington, one of the most successful family films of all time, this much-anticipated sequel finds Paddington (Ben Whishaw) happily settled with the Brown family in London, where he has become a popular member of the local community, spreading joy and marmalade wherever he goes.

While searching for the perfect present for his beloved Aunt Lucy’s hundredth birthday, Paddington sees a unique pop-up book in Mr. Gruber’s antique shop, and embarks upon a series of odd jobs to buy it. But when the book is stolen, it’s up to Paddington and the Browns to unmask the thief.




Paddington 2 stars: Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Hugh Grant (Four Weddings and a Funeral), Sally Hawkins (Jayne Eyre), Brendan Gleeson (Into the Storm), Julie Walters (Mamma Mia) and Ben Whishaw (The Hollow Crown) as the voice of Paddington.

You can find the official trailor for Paddington 2 by clicking here.


Counting it all movie going joy,

Friday, December 29, 2017

"The Reunion" and Lee Warren - An Interview

As promised, here is the awaited interview with Lee Warren, author of The Reunion. You can find out more about the novella by clicking here!

***

Lee, Thanks for agreeing to be here today.

Thanks for having me. Appreciate it!

You are mostly known for your non-fiction, what made you decide to write fiction?

For as long as I’ve been a writer, I’ve been interested in writing fiction. In the late 1990s, I attended a writers’ conference and took the fiction track taught by novelist Nancy Moser and that really fanned the flames. So I came home and wrote my first novel (which has never been published). Then I wrote another one (also unpublished).

While I was seeking publishers for them, I went back to the same conference over the next couple of years and met a magazine editor and began writing for him. Eventually, he ended up at a newspaper and brought me over with him, training me as a journalist. That sort of established me as a non-fiction writer and I went on to write a dozen or so non-fiction books and many articles. But I never forgot about fiction.

Ultimately, fiction appeals to me because of the power of story.

I enjoyed reading both Mercy Inn and The Reunion. Will there be a third novella in the series? If so, can you give us a hint of what it will be about?

The third book in the series will be available next year. A hint … hmm. I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer, so I don’t know what’s going to unfold until it happens. The first draft is written, but it’ll undergo major revision.

What inspired the Mercy Inn series?

I was driving back to Omaha (my hometown) from a conference just north of Santa Fe in 2012. I ended up on Highway 17 in southern Colorado – a lonely but breathtakingly beautiful stretch of road. It wound through the mountains and the terrain seemed to change with each turn.

One of the stretches included a winding road that was set way up in the mountains. As I glanced out of my window, I could see cabins way off in the distance. That prompted all sorts of questions. Who lived in them? Why had they chosen such seclusion? How friendly would they be if I broke down?
As I descended, I came across a section of highway that traveled parallel to the Conejos River. A few antique shops popped up and I not sure why, but I knew this area was going to be the setting for a future novel/novella. Before I got home, I had the premise for the series in my mind.

The Reunion is about classmates who spend Christmas together. Your main characters are comprised of a music journalist, a boutique owner and a professor. Which character do you relate to the most and why?

Probably a mixture of Tommy (the music journalist) and Matt (the professor). Both of them made decisions I wouldn’t have made. But I can relate to the way Tommy detaches when he believes he needs to, and I can relate to the way Matt wears his heart on his sleeve.

What was the hardest scene to write?

The scenes from Ray and Alma’s point of view (both of whom are angels) were the most difficult because the Scriptures don’t go into a lot of detail about what an angel knows and doesn’t know.

Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” So we know angels can appear in human form, and apparently, they blend in with humanity so well that we can’t tell the difference. I would take that to mean that they might dress like us, talk like us, and have personalities and even tastes like us.

With that in mind, I wanted to be faithful to the Bible while exploring what Hebrews 13:2, and other verses about angels (Genesis 18-19, Exodus 23:20, Psalm 34:7, Psalm 91:11, Zechariah 12:8, etc.), might look like.

What did you edit out of the novella?

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail here because it might spoil the story, but originally, Snowball (Mercy Inn’s lodge cat) was unhappy with the antagonist and he showed his displeasure toward him. My editor suggested that Snowball ought to take up with the antagonist instead, thereby giving that person some evidence of humanity. She (my editor) was totally right, so I rewrote the scene accordingly.


What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite gender?

Well, as a male, we generally have no idea what women think. But the genres of movies and novels that I enjoy often have strong female leads. I’m a fan of Nicholas Sparks, Charles Martin, Travis Thrasher, and Dan Walsh and all of them write female characters that resonate with female audiences. So I hope I have learned something from them.

What kind of research do you do for your fiction, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Since I a seat-of-the-pants writer, I do very little research before I begin because I have no idea where the story is going to go. Once I have a good idea, I stop and do my research then. For the Mercy Inn series, I had my own driving experience along Highway 17 to draw from, but just to refresh my memory, I pulled up YouTube videos to make sure I got the types of trees and various other details right.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Both. It energizes me while I’m engaged in it, but when I am done, I’m usually wiped out.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

When I was in grade school, we used to get a magazine called the “Weekly Reader.” I’d bring the magazine home and ask my mom to order sports books for me. As a shy, overweight kid, I always found such inspiration in the athletes I read about who overcame the odds.

One, in particular, stands out. It was a book called “Fighting Back” by Rocky Bleier, a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The book was released in 1975 when I nine years old. It chronicles his story about how he was drafted into the NFL and then drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. During combat, one of his legs was badly injured and he was told he’d never walk again. But he eventually worked his way back onto the practice squad and then the team.

In my mind, if Rocky could work his way to success – in spite of his obstacles, then I could, too.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

The first thing I would say is, listen to the experts with one ear. They are experts for a reason, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily know what’s right for you. Just because they view the publishing world one way doesn’t mean it is correct. I don’t know how many times traditional publishers told me that female readers aren’t likely to trust a male author who writes female protagonists. I’m glad that Sparks, Martin, Thrasher, Walsh, and so many others didn’t let that stop them the way it did me.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

“The Wind in the Wheat” by Reed Arvin will give you goosebumps. Such a great story about a pianist who struggles to figure out what it means to be successful in God’s eyes. Also, check out “The Invitation” by Nancy Moser. In fact, the entire Mustard Seed series (“The Invitation” is Book 1) by her is fantastic. In some ways, it’s one of the inspirations for the Mercy Inn series.

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

I worked in data entry for many years before becoming a journalist and author. I would probably still be doing that.

What does literary success look like to you?

Connection. I love receiving email from readers who say my writing somehow helped them see something differently or deepened their perspective.

Thank you for spending time with us today.

Thank you!

If readers want to know more, they can visit my website: www.leewarren.info. And I’d love to connect with you via email. I sent out a free weekly email that encourages readers to slow down and live deeper. You can sign up here: http://www.leewarren.info/email-list.html. As a thank you for doing so, I’ll send you a free copy of my devotional e-book “Finishing Well: Living with the End in Mind.”

***

And there you have it.  Please stay tuned for more book and product reviews, musings and all things jubilantly quirky!

Joyfully,

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Reunion by Lee Warren - A Review


Dear Reader, it's been some time since I've done a book review, but today's the day!


Today's Author is


Lee Warren

and the book:

The Reunion


About the Book:

When the Moffat High School class of 1986 holds its thirtieth reunion at Mercy Inn, the twelve former classmates get much more than an ‘80s-themed dance and a stroll down memory lane. 

Zoey Crawford is both excited and apprehensive about seeing her two former high school boyfriends after all these years. She has no way of knowing that someone else from her past is about to show up and put both guys in danger. 

Tommy Hughes is still trying to get over the death of his wife and has no intentions of moving on. But after his third and youngest child leaves for college, loneliness settles in and he’s intrigued by the idea of seeing Zoey again—the woman he left behind three decades ago.

Matt Kaufman never got over Zoey, his first love. He moved on because he didn’t have a choice and carved out a nice life for himself as a college professor, but seeing Zoey face to face again means his heart will be back on the line.

Will Ray and Alma, the two innkeepers who just happen to be angels, be able to guide Zoey, Tommy, and Matt through a maze of decisions and a life-threatening situation? Or will this reunion end in tragedy?

And now for the Review:

The Reunion is the second novella in the Mercy Inn series, but stands alone quite well. If you enjoy character-driven fiction with a spiritual undertones, then you will want to check out this novella.

I enjoyed reading The Reunion. With lots of music and throw back references to the 80s, I felt right at home. This charming novella has a small, but diverse cast of characters you will quickly come to identify with and  love. Zoey, Matt and Tommy are true to life characters with struggles and insecurities that we can all relate to in one way or another. You will also appreciate each of their unique journeys while in the midst of  crisis and personal revelation and evaluation. Though it's set during Christmas with all of the wonderful traditions (like reading the account of Luke 2 and singing carols with a steaming mug of coffee in hand), the lessons learned span more than just yuletide celebrations. With Ray and Alma the anchoring characters and Colorado's mountains and Conejos River as a beautifully serene backdrop, you will enjoy the ride.

About the Author:


Lee Warren writes contemplative essay and devotional books.

His essays remind you to slow down and enjoy the present moment because we’re only here for a little while. Readers say his essays are vulnerable, open, honest, engaging, insightful and thought-provoking.

His devotional books provide practical, story-driven devotional material you can use every morning to get your private worship started right. Readers call his devotional books encouraging, inspiring and thoughtful.

When Lee isn’t writing essays or devotional material, he is a freelance journalist who has written hundreds of articles for various newspapers and magazines. He’s also a fan of NASCAR, baseball, tennis, books, movies and coffee shops.


As a bonus, Lee has graciously agreed to an interview. You won't want to miss this chance for personal insight from the author of The Reunion.

Please join us tomorrow!

Joyfully,