Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Release Day (And Beautiful You)

Today is release day for Bittersweet!

This book is darker and grittier than the other two Home Sweet Home books.  Both the hero and the heroine have traumatic pasts. Both have lost people they loved. Both had their childhoods stolen. Both are strong and resilient characters who refuse to let their pasts define them.   

That makes me happy, but what makes me happier is knowing that the book I wrote during some of the most difficult times in my life is out in the world and being read by people who just might need to be reminded that the past is only a small part of who they are. 

We are molded and shaped, pummeled, broken and patched together by our experiences. Everything we've been through becomes part of who we are. Yet, it isn't our hardships, our triumphs, our failures, our mistakes or our successes that define us. We are defined by a creator who sees the essence of who we are- all the darkness, the sadness, the anger, the hurt and the ugliness- and still calls us loved. 

Whatever your past, no matter your struggles, I hope when you look in the mirror you see the truth: You are innately valuable, uniquely beautiful and undeniably worthy of love.  

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Benevolence (And Other Good Things)

It's been a long while since I blogged.

In November of last year, my niece ran a fever and had minor swelling in her belly. She  went to the doctor, was diagnosed with a mass in her abdomen and was sent to the hospital. It happened very quickly. No warning signs. No hints that something was growing in her 9-year-old pelvis until the fever and that little stomach bulge. She was healthy as a horse until she wasn't.

The scans were alarming:

That dark stuff? It was tumor. We didn't know much. Just that there would be a biopsy and that it didn't look good.

My sister and her family live in Houston, so my mother and I hopped on a plane and flew to Texas.

 We were there the day of the biopsy. We were in the waiting room when the surgeon came to get my sister and brother-in-law. When my brother-in-law came out alone, we knew it was bad news. That was the day Sara and Nate learned that their daughter had cancer. I'm not going to go into details of the aftermath. I'll only say that it was the most heartbreaking moment of any of our lives.

Aaliyah's cancer is rare and aggressive. It had invaded her pelvis to the point where it was impossible to see where it had begun. She would need many rounds of chemo, then surgery, then radiation, then more chemo. Even with all that, there was a chance the cancer could not be removed completely.

So, we prayed, we planned, we feared and we hoped.

Chemo began - 3 and 5 day rounds that were in-patient treatments. That meant Sara or Nate had to be at the hospital. They have three other children. It was tough. It still is.

My mother flew out several times to help. My father went with her twice. My sisters flew out. Nate's mother flew out a couple of times. We wanted to be there all the time, but our lives are in other places. We all have families and commitments.

There were gaps when none of us could be with Sara's family, and in those gaps, Sara's community stood.

Meals were made. Money was donated. Toys were bought for a Christmas that was coming much too quickly after such a horrifying diagnosis. One of Sara's friends owns a cleaning service and sent maids in to clean Sara's house. Kids were picked up from activities. Ribbons were hung from trees.

Love was shown.

I've been writing a series of books set in a town called Benevolence.

I chose the name because it made me think of gentle things at a time when I really needed to believe that those things existed - kindness, honesty, love and sacrifice.

Life can be hard.

Lupus makes it harder.

I could dwell in that or a dozen other unhappy things.

But, Benevolence exists. It lives in the same places that hatred resides - families, churches, synagogues, communities and neighborhoods. We choose what to look at, what to focus on, what to hold close to our hearts.

What to be.

Because the things we hold close, the things we focus on, those are the things we become.

So, I hold this close:

The exceptional generosity of a community to a family in need. 

My niece's scan after several rounds of chemotherapy. There is no visible sign of tumor.

My writing which continues despite my illness

The joy I feel when I spend time with those I love.

The satisfaction of knowing that I am doing what I am meant to.

Puppy kisses. (This is Clover. We plan to train him for therapy work!).

Love. Which, at its core, is empathy, compassion, sacrifice and service, and which leads to heroic deeds, to small acts of kindness, and to everything wonderful in between.

In March, the first book in my Bradshaw Brothers series will be released. Like the Home Sweet Home books, this series is set in Benevolence, Washington. I love that quaint little fictional town and the characters who live there, and I am very happy to dwell there for a while longer.

Three bachelor brothers. Six orphaned kids. Finding the one place that is home. I hope those things will be a winning combination for my readers.

But, I want you to know something.

As I'm writing, I won't just be thinking of the fictional town with the lovely name. I'll be thinking about Cypress, Texas, and the wonderful people who live there. I will be thinking about the way they exemplified benevolence when my sister needed it most. I'll be thinking about family. I'll be thinking about the best things in life and how they shape us to be our best selves.

And, I'll be thinking about you, hoping that you will find soft and gentle places to land.

If you have time and inclination, please pray for my niece. Aaliyah still has a long journey ahead, but our hope rests in Him. And, He is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Goodbye (to the me I used to be)

So, here I am.

Thinking about how quickly summer passed and how swiftly winter is approaching.

The last time I blogged, I'd just had a book released.

About a week after that, I had a run in with a bug. He left me with this (can you even see it?):

Which (over the course of a couple of weeks) turned into this bit of loveliness:

It's been a Lupie couple of months since then. I've had a lot of appointments and blood tests, and I've found myself waking up in the morning wondering where the me I used to be went.

I look in the mirror and I see someone I don't know. She's this oddly disjointed version of the person I was. Thinner and sallow-looking, haggard and worn. At times, I feel like a shadow of myself, and I miss the person who could jump out of bed and race through the day, who could stay up late into the night writing and wake up in the morning refreshed. I miss the person who didn't get tired out from conversations, who didn't spend half of her day wondering if she had time to take a nap. The person who didn't spend the first fifteen minutes of every morning hobbling around on stiff feet and painful ankles.

I miss her, but I don't want her back.

Don't get me wrong. I want my health. I crave that more than just about anything. I want to wake up one morning and feel great. It hasn't happened yet, but I'm holding out hope. My primary doctor and I had a nice long chat about how insidious lupus is and how difficult to treat. It effects everyone in different ways and until there is a cure, all the doctors can really hope to do is keep the immune system under control and prevent destruction of healthy organs and tissue.

"I'm waiting," she said. "For the cure."

So, am I.

But, even if a cure were to happen tomorrow, I will have been changed by this disease.

And, while I mourn who I was, I can't be sorry for who I've become.

I find myself much more gentle as I go about this thing called living. Mostly,  I have realized that my journey does not have to be a mad dash to the finish line. It can be a slow waltz at midnight, a rambling stroll at dusk. It can be standing in the shelter of an old sweet gum tree and finding a luna moth there.

The world is filled with so many wondrous things.

And, I have no choice but to walk slowly and see them.

I can't be sorry about that.

I think as you read my newer books you will see what I have seen - the velveteen sheen of twilight roses, the soft golden glow of dandelions at dawn, and the gently sloping road that leads us all toward home.

This month, my Apple Valley Novella was released as part of a Fern Michaels anthology. Next month, the sixth book in my Mission:Rescue series will be released.

I am so blessed to continue to do what I love. As much as I despise Lupus for what it has taken from me, I must acknowledge what it has given: a clear sense of time and mortality, a pristine view of the miraculous hidden in the stillness of a foggy fall morning, and a deep desire to share what I have seen in the only way I can. I hope that when you read my books, you will hear the spring rain pattering on the windows, you will smell chocolate and wood-burning fires, you will see through my eyes how the world could be if we loved a little more and griped a little less.

Peace to you on your journey. Wherever it may lead!

God made my life complete

    when I placed all the pieces before him.
When I got my act together,
    he gave me a fresh start.
Now I’m alert to God’s ways;
    I don’t take God for granted.
Every day I review the ways he works;
    I try not to miss a trick.
I feel put back together,
    and I’m watching my step.
God rewrote the text of my life
    when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes.

Psalm 18:20-24

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Release Day!

It's release day for SWEET SURPRISES.

Another book written during the toughest times of my illness, this book was produced through sheer grit and determination. It seems appropriate that the heroine of the book is also filled with grit and determination. She's had some tough turns of fortune, and she's returning home to gain perspective and come up with a plan to begin again.

In some ways, her character is a grown-up version of my oldest daughter - tough and strong on the outside with a soft sweet spirit that always longs for home and family.

Brenna doesn't plan to stay in the tiny little town of Benevolence, Washington, but family and love are calling her back. What she finds there? It's something she didn't even realize she was missing.

I have said before that we should write what we know, and when it comes to the Home Sweet Home series, I am living that trite advice.

Last summer, family called me home.

After being diagnosed with an incurable and chronic disease, I realized how far away  from home I really was. My husband, kids and I had moved to Spokane, Washington eight years before. I had friends, a nice group of church family, and (of course) Marge.

But, when I realized how sick I was, I knew that I wanted to go home. And, so, my family and I moved back across the country to the DC suburbs. I found myself wrapped in the comfort of the familiar, drawn deep into that tender dance that family does - the one that involves so many disparate people, moving around each other with grace and understanding, frustration and acceptance.

I discovered in those first weeks and months that everything had changed and nothing had. I was still my parents' daughter.  My mother still love to feed me great food, and my father still loved to eat my homemade bread. They still liked to give me advice, and I still liked to do my own thing.

My siblings were still my staunchest supporters, my greatest allies. The people I had grown up with who had seen me at my worst and at my best.

We could still laugh together, tease each other, support each other.

It seems so strange now, but it it is the truth: While I wrote about Brenna Lamont, I lived a very small part of her story, learning to fit back into the rhythm of my family.

If you want to understand what I value and what I believe, you can find my world-view woven into every book that I write. The Home Sweet Home series gave me the opportunity to go deeper than that, to explore what family means, how it defines and shapes and changes us. We are -whether we want to admit it or not - created by our family experiences. Good or bad, they mold who we are. As we grow and mature and change,  it isn't a bad thing to revisit that.  Perhaps we need to heal from old wounds. Perhaps we need a place to hide from new ones. Perhaps we just need to understand a little more about who we are and why we are.

As SWEET SURPRISES hits the shelves, I'm beginning my newest project for Kensington. A trilogy about three brothers who return home to care for their six orphaned nieces and nephews, it's also set in Benevolence. It is about creating something strong and lasting out of the ashes of a very traumatic past. It is about binding family together with the frayed chords of childhood memories. Like every other book I write, it is - at its core- about love and belonging and acceptance. It is about hope and faith. It is about family and home.

It is about the things I know best and love most.

I'm looking forward to the new writing adventure.

I'm also looking forward to seeing the cover for the third book in the Home Sweet Home series. BITTERSWEET will be out next summer!

It has been a hard year, but it has been a good one.

Happy release day to me!

Happy Tuesday to you!

Whatever else this week brings, I hope it leads you closer to the place you call home.

For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings, I sing for joy. 
Psalm 63:7

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Just One Step

I woke up this morning needing a nap.  When I say I needed  nap, I mean that everything inside of me was tired. Every muscle. Every cell. Every nerve.

I got out of bed and stood in the 6 o'clock gloom, and I knew it wasn't going to happen today: Driving kids back and forth to work. Writing. Cleaning. 10K steps. Conversations. Life.

This is my reality:

In the past 18 months, I have seen 3 rheumatologists. I have had countless blood tests. I have been diagnosed with lupus three times, at three separate offices, in three different ways. Not once did I hear the words I wanted to: Actually, you don't have lupus. You have (fill in the blank). It's completely curable. Pop these pills three times a day for a week, and you'll be good as new. 

No matter how much I wanted it to be different, all those doctor visits led me to the same door - the one that opened into this new reality: I am in a constant battle against myself. And, it is exhausting. 

I had big goals for today. Big plans. Huge amounts of work I wanted to get done.

And, I woke up this morning and I knew that I couldn't accomplish them.

But, then....

Then, I thought about what is expected of me. Not to finish first. Not to keep up with the sprinters, the marathon runners, the medal wearers. But, simply, to keep on.  

Even if that means walking, limping, crawling to the finish line. 

I have discovered this past year and a half, that life is not about the big dreams, the huge goals, the end results. It's about giving everything we have even when all we have is just a tiny bit of what is needed. I can't write the way I used to, but I can write. Not six-thousand words at  a sitting, but one word and then another until what I want to write and need to write has been written. It is amazing what being faithful in the small things will bring: 

And, so, today.....

Today, I told myself I only had to write one word, walk one step, sweep one floor. I told myself that I didn't have to do it all, I just had to do something. Because a little bit of something eventually adds up to a lot, but a lot of nothing is still nothing.

I sat down and wrote my word and was surprised to see it become one thousand. 

I walked one step and was surprised to see that one step turn into six thousand. 

I swept one floor and was amazed to vacuum three more. 

And, now, I am here. Writing to you, because I told myself that I would do this, too. One sentence, but you can see it is much more. 

This has been the story of my life this year. It has been the truth I have had to learn to embrace. I can't do what I used to, but I can do something. More importantly, no matter how small, how painful, how insignificant my faltering steps might be, if they are carrying me along the path God has set, they will be enough. 

After all, He is the one who fed five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish.

He is the one who praised the widow who gave her all even though her all was just two coins.

He is the one who sacrificed Himself once for all. 

And in Him, our small gifts and meager accomplishments stretch beyond the limitations of our abilities and become more than what they should be, more than what we thought they could be.  

I hope you remember that when your days are hard. I hope you think about it when you feel like nothing you do matters. When every step seems to lead to another dead-end or another closed door, I hope you know that as broken and wounded and hurt as we are, what we have in Him is always enough for the task ahead of us. 

Blessings for your day, my friend. 

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 
Isaiah 40:29

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

What I've Learned From Marjorie Mae (Life Goes On)

I agree. But no one is asking us.

~Marjorie Mae Garrison 

I have a few favorite people in my life, and Marjorie Mae is one of them.

We’re nearly 5 decades apart in age, but the moment I met her, I knew we were cut from the same cloth. We are both strong and pragmatic about our faith. We are both driven by our need to serve. We both love our families and our church. We are both very stubborn, quietly opinionated, and prone to think a lot of things that we’d never say (except to each other and our closest friends and family). We have a fondness for IHOP pancakes, hash browns and sausage. She likes coffee. I drink tea. But we forgive each other for that.

I’ve known Marjorie Mae for nearly eight years, and I’ve learned a lot from her.

How could I not?

She lived through the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, WWII, Korea, Vietnam. She attended college, married, taught school, raised children. She planted churches, spread the gospel, sang in the choir and ran her home. She witnessed Hitler’s attempt to take over world and communism’s success in taking over China.  She was alive when the bomb dropped on Hiroshima and when man took his first step on the moon. She lived through the Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of a president, race riots, gas shortages, Gulf War, 911. She’s seen it all – days when good triumphs and days when evil seems to win and times when what is right is called wrong and what is wrong is called right.

She has perspective born of experience and time. Those two things can’t be artificially created. Only someone who has lived long and seen lots can really grasp the expansiveness of the human spirit and the fleeting breath of a person's life. 

Knowing Marge has taught me a lot about pressing on during hard times and being grateful and content during good ones. Being around her has taught me that pain is only a thing we must put up with while we focus on the bright and beautiful lives we’ve been given.There are many weeks when I sprint through my days, forgetting how quickly time is passing. I sit at my desk writing my stories, or I drive my kids here there and everywhere. I obsess on my pains and my illness and my fatigue, and I worry that my life won’t be the beautiful story I want it to be. 

And, then Monday comes and Marge calls me or I call her, and she catches me up on the lives of all the people she cares about. She tells me that her back hurts and her knees bother her, but why complain? 

When I talk to her, I am reminded that on the other side of every problem is a solution, that there is a peak to every mountain and a sweet down-hill slope on the other side that will always bring us home. For every moment of ugliness there is a moment of stunning beauty, and for every aching beat of our broken hearts there is a pulse-pounding moment of pure joy. 

That is life, my friends, and we are meant to live it. To hook deep into the eternal while we move through the temporary, to understand that it is not the daily battle that is important, but the tapestry that is being woven by the threads of every broken dream, every crushed hope, every deep sorrow, every pain, every extraordinary passion, every glorious victory, every moment of faith, of joy, of hope and of love. Our lives are not made of individual moments. They are made of every moment. 

So, wherever you are, whatever hurdle you are jumping, whatever pit you are trying to climb out of, whatever sorrow or sickness or trial you face, I hope that you remember what Marjorie Mae has taught me. If there is faith in the darkest hour, there will always be joy when the light returns. 

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 
Psalm 90:12