Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Kendall Grace
In July of 2013 I became a grandmother for the tenth time with the arrival of Kendall Grace. Even though I’d been down the becoming-Gramma road a few times before, Kendall Grace’s arrival was every bit as joyous as the first one had been. Shortly after our little darling’s entry into the world, however, we learned things were very different than her cousins’ entries, which put a damper on the rush of joy. You see, Kendall Grace was born with a variety of challenges that confounded doctors and opened the floodgates of confusion and pain.

When a child is born, hopes and dreams are born with him. When the child has disabilities, one wonders how many of those hopes and dreams must be set aside. Doctors’ predictions for Kendall Grace were discouraging—she might never walk, she might need a shunt, she might be developmentally delayed... There were no certainties, only a list of “what might be” and none of them were positive. It seemed every visit with a specialist led to another possible problem, and after a while I wanted to plug my ears and not listen anymore.

Funny how a deeply seated hurt can bring you to a fork in the road. You can either go on the path of bitterness and anger or you can take the road toward acceptance and determination. Little Kendall Grace chose our pathway for us.

This baby girl came into the world with some wonderful God-planted gifts: An innate joy, a fierce determination, and a family who refuses to give up on her.

Even though she is constant pain due to pressure in her head from fluid, digestive issues, and abnormally fitting joints, this baby never stops smiling. She melts the heart of ever doctor and nurse she encounters and has a cheerleading team made of hundred of prayer warriors.

She is also the most determined little person I’ve ever met. When she wants to conquer something, she works and grunts and strains until she finds success. Due to her desire to succeed, she has learned to sit up, crawl, and even walk with the help of implements!

WaterBrook Press, 2015
Finally, God chose the perfect family for Kendall Grace. Her mommy already had the skills and experience for Kendall’s intensive therapy regime. Her daddy is one who unconditionally loves, and he adores his baby girl. Her big sister loves her to pieces and challenges her to keep up. Kendall also has a host of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and great-grandparents who pray for her daily. She landed in good hands all the way around.

Kendall Grace has undergone a lot in her short life—major surgeries, countless medical exams and tests, daily therapy... And she’s handled all of it with strength and grace. Not even two years old yet, but she has taught me so much about trusting God to know what doctors don’t. She’s showed me how joy can wash away pain. This little girl has a smile who could melt the Abominable Snowman, and I cannot wait to watch her grow and develop into the person God designed her to be. Our Kendall Grace is a precious gift. Even though the past months have been laden with angst and questions, we wouldn’t change her one bit even if we could. We are ever grateful she belongs to us. 

Kim Vogel Sawyer
Kim Vogel Sawyer is a best-selling, award-winning author with more than one million copies of her books currently in print. Her latest release, When Grace Sings, released in March from WaterBrook Press. Awards include the ACFW Carol Award, the Inspirational Readers Choice Award, and the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence. Sawyer lives in central Kansas, where she and her retired military husband, Don, run a bed-and-breakfast inn with the help of their feline companions. She savors time with her daughters and grandchildren.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Good Friday, 2015. The Church was rocked, once again, by the news of  Kenyan university students, targeted for their faith and slaughtered as many of them worshiped together in observance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Those of us who stood by and watched helplessly as the news broke and the body count rose, what do we do with that?

Certainly, as I commented last week, we realize that suffering for the cause of Christ is an honor. But the blood—and the bodies—are so stark.

So final.

What’s worse, we hear of the attackers systematically asking the students whether they were Muslim or Christian, and sparing the former while killing the latter. We know God sees, but ... does He really plan to do anything about it?

The apostle Paul says yes, emphatically. Because Jesus, the glorious God-Man, our ultimate Hero, stepped down from what was His rightful place to become one of us—to become one of the most lowly of His creation, a man with no title and not even an earthly home, and then died a horrifically torturous death for our sakes, He will be exalted—lifted up—and given a name that will, in a most literal and physical sense, drive all of humanity to its knees in worship and acknowledgement of His rightful place over the universe.

Every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess.

I’ve heard it said, we have no choice in the bowing, but we have a choice on when. We either willingly bow now, and confess now—even if we possibly lose our lives for it—or be forced to it, just before facing judgment.

Utterly sobering, but—also comforting, for those of us who believe in Christ.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2, NKJV)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The earliest notes for my first novel, Heaven's Prey, are dated almost 20 years before it released. In
that time, it went through multiple revisions as I learned how to write. The standard advice to authors-in-training is to finish the manuscript and move on to a new one, learning as they go, but I felt my characters deserved better than that. As long as I could learn how to improve their story, I'd do it.

By the time I signed a publishing contract, I had two stories as ready-to-go as I could make them. Luckily I'd heard multi-published authors talk about the pain of edits, so I didn't bail on my dream when my editors returned files with copious notes and comments. 

What else was there to do than work through it? Because of their skill and my perseverance, my debut novel was strong enough to be short-listed in the suspense category of the 2014 Word Awards (recognizing Canadian Christian writing in multiple genres). 

The editing process taught me ways to improve the sequel before turning it in, but it still needed professional input. Writers are too invested in our projects to be objective. We see what we mean instead of what's on the page.

If editing was the hurdle for book one, self-publishing took that role for book two. My small-press publisher closed its fiction line. I had the option to leave Heaven's Prey an orphan or regain the rights and re-issue it independently. 

The manuscript for the second book, Secrets and Lies, was ready for editing. Friends in the indie-publishing world offered to share what they learned. I became my own publisher.

This was a God thing, timing-wise, and although stressful, it was surprisingly painless. Through my former publisher, I had contacts with the editor and cover artist who'd worked on the first book, and they both take freelance work. 

While my editor worked on Secrets and Lies, I learned how to publish a second edition of Heaven's Prey. This test run meant I knew how to prepare book two on time for its November 2015 release. 
And the hurdle for book three, my current work in progress, releasing this fall: I'd done preliminary character work, and yes, there were vague plot notes, but the first two books took all my attention last year. 

In December I started digging back into the beginnings of No Safe Place, Redemption's Edge #3. It's a whole different mindset to tackle a book I know from draft one will be published. With a deadline.
I'm my own boss, so it's a self-imposed deadline, but I'd like to keep the series momentum with this final book. (Discovering what comes next? That's going to take time. Later.) 

Book one was totally a seat-of-the-pants flight, and the revisions were massive. Number two was more planned, but not as thoroughly as I wanted for the third one. The biggest advantage for them both was unlimited time. If the muse didn't strike, I didn't write. 

These days you'll find me, seat in chair, fingers on keyboard, each weekday afternoon. If the muse doesn't cooperate, it's slow typing, but day by day the word count increases. Because I've discovered the story in advance, I know where I'm going. There are still a few fun surprises along the way.
I'll finish draft one in May and then start revisions. My editing spot is booked for the summer, and I'll contact the cover artist soon. 

The discipline of continuing to write is important. Experts say the best way to market our books is to keep writing quality material. I do what promotion I can, and I love the chance to guest post on blogs like The Borrowed Book, but my biggest investment of time is in the next story.
~~~

Janet Sketchley's newest novel, Secrets and Lies, has recently been short-listed in the 2015 Word Awards. Like Carol in Secrets and Lies, Janet loves music and tea. Unlike Carol, she isn't related to a dangerous offender, has a happy home life, and has never been threatened by a drug lord. May those tidbits continue to hold true! You can find Janet online at janetsketchley.ca. Fans of Christian suspense are invited to join Janet's writing journey through her monthly newsletter: bit.ly/JanetSketchleyNews.

Social media links:
Amazon Author Central: www.amazon.com/author/janetsketchley


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Do you ever feel anxious? Under pressure, real or imagined? 

My family would tell you I can turn anything into a source of stress. I don't appreciate that choice of words, because it sounds intentional, as if I want to be stressed. The fearful part of my mind instinctively analyzes opportunities and events in terms of risk or trouble and puts me on alert.

God has proved Himself faithful in my life during health and financial struggles, but like the Israelites of old, I'm prone to forget the past and think I'm on my own. It really shouldn't take another crisis to prod me to rely on Him.

After all, if a Christian's purpose is to "glorify God and enjoy Him forever" (Westminster Shorter Catechism), our day-to-day relationship with Him should be growing deeper. I want to be like a child with a beloved parent, or like my spiritual hero, Brother Lawrence, depending on God's presence each moment.

I stay close for a while, and life is good whatever the circumstances. Then, slowly, my attention wanders. I pay more attention to the struggles and responsibilities and less to the security of trusting God as my Shepherd.

I drop into a vague malaise that steals my joy and makes living hard. Something's wrong, even if I don't know what. 

There's always "something," if not big, then little. Plenty of people would love to have my small stresses. It's not the size of the burden, but how we handle it. And it's the size of God. 

When I realize I'm back in this mental space, I have a choice: believe my feelings, or believe the Lord's presence, power and promises?

One thing I've learned is to ask Him what's bothering me. Elementary, right? Yet this is a fairly new development. Once I can articulate the root of the issue, it's far easier to bring it to God in prayer. It's also easier to focus on His sufficiency to deal with the issue at hand.

Speaking the problem reveals the underlying fear. 
  • I have more to do than time to do it... What if I do a poor job, forget a crucial element, or miss a deadline? What if I let someone down? Or fail?
  • My church is struggling... What if hurt overrules love and the congregation makes some destructive decisions?
  • Two of my sons need employment... What if they can't get jobs? Or they get stuck in harsh ones?
Recognizing the fear shows those aspects of God's character I need to rely on.
  • Responsibilities... God is my Shepherd, my source of wisdom. He provides enough time to do what He wants done.
  • Church... God is Healer, Shepherd, Judge and more. He can speak to hearts. 
  • Sons... God is Provider, knowing His plans for the future. He works all things for good.
God's character points to His authority.
  • He's well able to direct and provide in each situation.
  • He never fails.
  • He always loves and forgives.
It also points to my true role.
  • To rely on His authority instead of trying to solve things on my own.
  • To submit my responsibilities to Him, cut out anything that's not on His list, and work in trust instead of freezing in anxiety. 
  • To reject fear's whispers and keep my confidence in God. To allow my countenance and demeanor to reflect trust in His good care, instead of moping or looking harried.
Taking control of my wayward thoughts, refocusing on God's sufficiency, is a form of worship. Prayer is essential, and I "self-medicate" with praise music. If God has pointed me to a specific verse or verses, I'll print them and leave them in a prominent place so I'll see them throughout the day.

Looking back, I see progress. The pit of anxiety used to be so much deeper, the walls more slippery and harder to climb out of. My hope and prayer is that as I keep practicing, I'll learn to stay close enough to my Shepherd that I won't slide in at all.
~~~

Janet Sketchley's newest novel, Secrets and Lies, has recently been short-listed in the 2015 Word Awards. Like Carol in Secrets and Lies, Janet loves music and tea. Unlike Carol, she isn't related to a dangerous offender, has a happy home life, and has never been threatened by a drug lord. May those tidbits continue to hold true! You can find Janet online at janetsketchley.ca. Fans of Christian suspense are invited to join Janet's writing journey through her monthly newsletter: bit.ly/JanetSketchleyNews.


Social media links:
Amazon Author Central: www.amazon.com/author/janetsketchley


Monday, April 27, 2015

In the Shadow of Jezebel 
By: Mesu Andrews
Published by Revell
ISBN 978-0800721701

BACK COVER: In a kingdom controlled by cruel and manipulative women, one princess will discover the power of truth and love. Trained as a priestess in the temple of Baal, Princess Jehosheba strives to please the demanding Queen Athaliah, daughter of Jezebel. But when a mysterious letter from the dead prophet Elijah predicts doom for the royal household, Jehosheba realizes that the dark arts she practices reach far beyond the realm of earthly governments.

Forced to marry Yahweh's high priest in order to further Athaliah and Jezebel's power plays, Jehosheba enters the unfamiliar world of Yahweh's Temple. Can her new husband show her the truth and love she craves? And can Jehosheba overcome her fear and save the family—and the nation—she loves?

REVIEW: How could so much change in a single day? Hazi and Zibiah dead. Jehoash hidden at the Temple. Ima Thaliah queen. And Baal the legally mandated god of Judah. (emphasis mine). – In the Shadow of Jezebel by Mesu Andrews, Revell, 2014.

The power of that last sentence struck me as I read the book, and again as I write this review. It seems in recent weeks that reports and posts bemoaning the decline of Christianity in America have increased tenfold. People who once wore their faith proudly have become too intimidated by the threat of political incorrectness to even speak the name of Yahweh, much less take a stand for His convictions. Persecution against the disciples of Christ is rampant across the world. Those who dare defend what is right are cast down and ridiculed. Lawlessness has become accepted in our homes, and in our schools, the name of Christ is condemned. And Baal has become the legally mandated god of America.

At least…that was what I had begun to think.

With her powerfully moving look at the Old Testament, Andrews reminds me that God is still in control and unmoved by the claims of His accusers. Through her skillful weaving of fact and fiction, she creates for me a story that was lost to my understanding, despite my many travels through the Scriptures. This is a fascinating novel, and well worth the time I spent lingering in its pages. I highly recommend it!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Christians are getting some seriously bad press lately. There are whole groups now dedicated to eradicating people of our faith from certain areas of the world, groups who have expressed their ambition to wipe Christianity off the face of the earth entirely.

When concern is expressed over this, reactions range from dismissive comments about these groups trying to generate media attention, to Christians being told “get over” the supposed persecution, since so much wrong and abuse has been perpetrated in the name of Christ.

I don’t want to go all political with this, just pointing out some of the responses to things happening in the world right now. And what’s our proper response to it?

In reading through Philippians, the thought occurred to me that the apostle Paul knew that even bad press was good press.

Think about recent public debates ... everything from popular books and films to megachurch pastors. A recent popular novel hardly registered on my personal radar until the huge flap over its adaptation to film, and while I was never interested in actually seeing it, I read many articles about the cultural phenomenon that was this story (and others). Similarly, a controversy surrounding a particular well-known pastor spurred me to dig into his teachings to see for myself if he was really as heretical as people claimed.

In other words ... anytime there’s a stink about something, people’s curiosity will be aroused. Some of those people might even find their opinions swinging in favor of whatever is being criticized so strenuously.

This might seem a poor comparison. Paul was not a fly-by-night evangelist nor a power-hungry pastor looking to keep people in line, but it’s clear that he knew plenty of both:

15 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: 16 The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17 but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.

Can you imagine? He said, Christ is preached, whether it was done with a pure heart or not. This rather turns on its head the idea that the message is only valid insomuch as the messenger maintains integrity.

Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that as believers, our integrity is important. Vital, even.

27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.

Whoa. Do you see that? Not in any way terrified by your adversaries.

As our brothers and sisters across the ocean are being slaughtered for their faith—as they whisper the name of the One who gave us a reason for courage to begin with—we can also take courage.

Not in any way terrified. Despite the news reports. Despite the dismissive attitudes of those who don’t share our faith, who maybe even think we’re getting what we deserve.

 29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.

Could it be ... it really is an honor to suffer?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

On Tuesday, I mentioned that I had started a new series of Amish cozy mysteries, and that it was work-made-for-hire. But what exactly does that mean, and why did I agree to do it?

A work-made-for-hire (sometimes abbreviated as work for hire or WFH) basically just means that the author agrees to create a work as part of their job and that both the author and the company they are writing for agree in writing to the WFH designation. The author does not own the work, but is contractually obligated to submit the work on the same basis as they would any other standard publishing agreement.

 I should also note that in standard publishing agreements, the person who actually creates a work is the legally recognized author of that work. According to copyright law in the United States and certain other copyright jurisdictions, if a work is "made for hire", the employer—not the employee—is considered the legal author.

Confused yet?

So then, what are the benefits to WFH? I admit, there is some disagreement over this. For me, the benefits were simply signing on to work for a major publishing house and everything that entails, IE: access to marketing, promotion, readership, networking, etc. It also enabled me to expand my publishing credentials, earn valuable writing experience, and finally, to “get my foot in the door with an attractive publisher”, for lack of better explanation. All of these swayed me in favor of the idea of a WFH project.

Others would disagree and say that they are not willing to give up ownership of a created work, especially if they were not going to get credit for the work by having their name printed on the cover (which can also happen, but didn’t in my case).

Both views are arguably correct. I suppose the bottom line would have to lie in the heart of the author and what they are attempting to achieve. What do you think? Is a work-made-for-hire something you would ever consider? I’d love to hear what you think!


Elizabeth Ludwig is the bestselling author of Christmas Comes to Bethlehem, Maine and the highly successful Edge of Freedom series from Bethany House Publishers. She is an accomplished speaker and teacher, often attending conferences and seminars where she lectures on editing for fiction writers, crafting effective novel proposals, and conducting successful editor/agent interviews. Along with her husband and children, she makes her home in the great state of Texas. To learn more, visit ElizabethLudwig.com.

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