Sunday, January 31, 2010

Called to Relationship

Hosea had to have been given one of the toughest assignments in history. This prophet was called by God to marry a prostitute. His mission: to be the loving husband of a faithless wife. In the days before morality plays and reality TV, God was painting a portrait in living flesh through the drama this family suffered.

The whole point is summed up in Hosea 2:16 “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’
Baal meant “lord.” Think of the different degree of intimacy implied here. A Baal wants only obedience and obeisance. A husband wants relationship.
God has plenty of creatures to worship Him. Cherubim and Seraphim abound in heaven with the sole purpose of praise and worship 24/7/365. Don’t get me wrong, He delights in our worship, but that isn’t why mankind was created.
One of the coolest things about coming to a relationship and knowing the Lord, not just about Him, is that we are bound to worship Him. How can we not when we realize how truly incredibly, amazingly wonderful He is.

He designed us for relationship. I believe He wants to go back to those early days with Adam and Eve when they walked together in the cool of the day. He knows us, and He wants us to seek to know Him. To choose Him above all others as our bridegroom.
As our Lord he could dictate our devotion, but that’s about as satisfying as forcing your kids to say: “I love you” after they have been punished. If it’s not voluntary, it loses value.
God valued the relationship potential He has with each of us. His death on the cross was engineered to restore us to a place where, spiritually we could once again be ushered into His presence and the relationship could be restored to its rightful position.
People sacrifice for relationships all the time. They give up jobs to stay close to someone they love. Or maybe they work extra hours to provide for their children. Some people are willing to sacrifice their dignity just for the chance at a relationship with someone of the opposite sex.
What are you willing to sacrifice in order to be foster your relationship with the creator of heaven and Earth? The one who has wooed you through the eons. He who will never leave you or forsake you. Who wrote a book full of love letters to you. He calls you precious and beloved.

Coming Up Next Week: Let's Talk About Love




After last week, I think we all
want to send up an extra
"Thank you, God,"
for the pastors and pastor's wives in our lives.
What a blessing they are!

Join us this week
for more fun
 
as we talk about love!


Sunday
Putting an Ink on Scripture

Lisa

Monday - Friday
What's Love Got to Do With It?
Monday - Lisa shares about brotherly (philo) love
Tuesday - D'Ann looks at parental (storge) love
Wednesday - Dina tackles sexual (eros) love
Thursday - Niki delves into selfless (agape) love
Friday - Gina examines the need to be loved vs. giving love

Saturday
An Inkalicious Review
Anita Mae

See you all around the Inkwell!




 






 

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Pastor's Wife by Our Very Own Jennifer AlLee!!!


by Dina Sleiman

Somehow, I had the profound honor of being chosen to wrap-up our “Week of Jen” by officially reviewing her new release, The Pastor’s Wife. I was so excited when I received my advanced copy in the mail. It’s always fun to check-out books by my author friends, and as it turned out, this was my very first Inky novel. The cover caught my interest right away. It was beautiful and engaging, and I couldn’t wait to start reading. Once I delved inside, the book did not disappoint. This delightful warm-hearted contemporary romance was a joy to read and an encouragement to my spirit.

While a traditional romance in structure, this book breaks out of the mold by introducing us to a hero and heroine who are married, but have been separated for many years, allowing Jen to take a hard look at the nature of love and romance from a Godly perspective. The book was not all about tingles and emotions, although the attraction was apparent. Instead, the primary plot was about forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. Add to that the complex roles and expectations placed upon a pastor and his spouse, and this novel stands out from the pack as unique.

Maura Sullivan arrives in Granger, Ohio with the intention to claim her inheritance and quickly high-tail it out of town, hopefully before running into her estranged husband, Nick Shepherd. But fate, or perhaps God in the form of an eccentric old lady, has other plans. Maura finds her husband headed to the same meeting and discovers their departed friend, Miss Hattie, has carefully devised her will to force them into one last chance at love. While Maura still has the option to run away, she finds the offer to good to refuse. She had hoped the inheritance would give her a new start at life, and decides to give Nick one last chance. She can handle a few months with her husband for the reward dangled before her.

Nick longs to reconcile, but Maura has hardened her defenses against him. She was too hurt by him and his church members last time around. Besides, she has a secret she knows they can never overcome. In her mind, saving their marriage is not an option. She will live with him only for the specified time, and then move into her own apartment over the theatre.

Maura faces many challenges reacquainting herself with the town, renovating her rundown theatre, and being forced to deal with her husband and his congregation once again. This book kept me turning pages right until the emotional ending.

I was captivated to discover that Maura’s inheritance was in fact an old theatre. I loved watching the transformation of the quaint building, as well as the inclusion of drama and the theatre world in this story. The theatre also served to demonstrate how each of us must serve God in our own unique roles and gifts. Maura may have failed as a pastor’s wife the first time around, but once released into her own calling, she was able to view the situation from a different perspective. I enjoyed the way Jen depicted this second time around at love. Maura and Nick did not fall into the same traps. This time they faced the situation with a new level of wisdom and maturity that all of us need when dealing with the complicated subject of romance.

This book is not only an enjoyable read, it is an important book as well. Each of us should take time to ponder the roles of our pastor’s and their spouses. We should give a moment to consider how we can better understand and support them. I applaud Jen for shedding light on this significant subject.

I usually don’t say I’m “proud” of people since the Bible doesn’t advocate pride. But, I’m so very pleased and excited about this book by our very own, Jennifer Al Lee. More than that, I’m pleased and excited to be a part of this venture with such amazing and talented Inky sister. Let’s all join together and support Jen with her new relase. You can order your own copy of The Pastor’s Wife at the links below. Maybe pick up a few extra copies as gifts  :)

Click Here to visit Jen's website
Click Here to order The Pastor's Wife on Amazon.com
Click Here to order The Pastor's Wife on Christianbook.com


As a child, Jennifer AlLee lived above a mortuary in the heart of Hollywood, California, which may explain her unique outlook on life. Her publishing credits include a contemporary romance novel, The Love of His Brother (November 2007) as well as skits, activity pages, and over one hundred contributions to the popular My Devotions series. She’s an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers and serves as the Nevada Area Coordinator. Jennifer resides in the grace-filled city of Las Vegas with her husband and teenage son.

We love you Jen! God bless you as you continue to serve him through your writing.

Please leave questions and comments for Jen today. Do you have any thoughts on the role of a pastor's wife. What is your calling? Are you functioning in your calling or stuck in a role that doesn't fit?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Beauty For Ashes

by Dina Sleiman

The last Friday of the month is our poetry day here at Inkwell Inspirations. I wanted to think of a poem to honor our "Week of Jen" theme, but I was really struggling. I searched through my collection of poetry that I've written over the years. I toyed with some love poems, but they didn't seem quite right. I was ready to give up and just go with them, when I remembered this simple verse I jotted down recently while working on a blogpost about Bathsheba. The name of the poem is "Beauty for Ashes."

Jen's book is about a young pastor's wife who has given up on her husband. Five years have passed since her marriage went up in flames. She ran away. She gave up. She had no hope. She was convinced her marriage was over. But God had other plans.

Isn't that so often the case in our lives? God takes our messes and turns them into something beautiful. God gives us beauty for ashes. The oil of joy for mourning. The garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness.

What an amazing God we serve.

Beauty for Ashes


I bring to him my garden overcome
with thorns and weeds, without order
or purpose, an unkempt riot of color.


I bring to him the tangle, the mess,
the mixed up threads I worked so
hard to weave. Only to disappoint.

I bring to him the charred remains
the smoking mire, the gray ashes of
all I held dear and lost in the flames.


I bring to him the bloody remnants,
torn and shredded, of my cold dead heart,
which once beat with well-intentioned love.


I must die to truly live.
Make me beautiful once again.
Overwhelm with me bouquets


of fragrant roses, petals strewn in joy.


Has God ever given you beauty for ashes? What does this phrase mean to you? Have you ever had a second chance at love?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Long Road to "The Pastor's Wife"



Hi, all. Jen AlLee, here!

I can't begin to tell you how mind-spinning this week has been. Not only is my "baby" coming out in just a few days, I've been inundated with love and support. You all rock!

A lot of people wonder how the publishing process works. How do you go from an idea in your head to a book on the shelf? So I thought it might be cool to take a quick look at one book's loooong journey... This is how The Pastor's Wife came to be.

As you probably know by now, I'm a former church secretary. I took my own experiences with church administration and friendships with pastoral families and started asking those "what if" questions. What if a young bride couldn't handle the pressure of living under a microscope? What if her husband, in his enthusiasm to do well at his first pastorate, didn't see the toll it was taking on his wife? What if their marriage fell apart? That gave me the basic plot and I went from there.

I started writing The Preacher's Wife Returns (that's the original title... sounds like a B-movie, doesn't it?) late in 2005. In April of 2007 I joined American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) with the idea of pitching my now-completed novel at the conference. It was the perfect plan: I wrote The Pastor's Wife (aren't you glad I changed the title?) with a specific publisher in mind, and an editor from that house would be at the conference. Surely a face-to-face meeting with her would garner a request to read the manuscript.

You know what they say about the best laid plans... I went to the meeting with the editor from my "dream house" full of hope and optimism. I sat down and began my pitch, but I only got out a sentence or two before the editor stopped me. "Sorry," she said, "your book isn't right for our house." We were in a room surrounded by other authors and editors all doing the same thing, but at that moment, all I heard was dead silence. Not right for their house? How can that be? And what do I do now? Swallowing my pride I asked a few general, inane questions, thanked her, and left. My fifteen minute shot at publication had been reduced to five minutes of talking and a tearful walk of shame to the elevators.

Fast forward to summer of 2008. I was still writing and had finished a good chunk of a sequel to TPW. But I still had no idea how to move forward. One day, I read a blog post by Camy Tang about a new fiction line spear-headed by highly respected editor Barbara Scott. It referred to another post on Brandilyn Collins' Forensics & Faith blog in which Barbara talked about Abingdon Press and their bold new venture into Christian fiction. At the end of the post, Barbara invited readers of the blog to submit their completed manuscripts to her for consideration. (That, my friends, is how I got around not having an agent.)

You might think the story stops there, but it doesn't. I emailed Barbara with a query, but it wouldn't go through due to a spam blocker. So I went back to the blog and through the comments asked her what to do. She gave me another address, which worked. My query got to her. She wrote back and asked me to send a synopsis and first three chapters. I did, but I didn't hear back. I returned to the blog and read the comments again, wondering if Barbara had anything else to say. She mentioned that if anyone was having problems with contacting her via email, they should snail mail their query to her. A buzzer went off in my head and I thought, "You'd better mail your pages." So I did. About four days later I got an email from Barbara thanking me for mailing the chapters and synopsis because she had not gotten them in email, and her emails to me were bouncing. And then she asked for the full manuscript.

That was August '08. I signed my contract in October. And now, on February 1, 2010, the real live book will sit on actual bookshelves wherever fine books are sold. What a ride.

I shared all this to encourage you. Even if you're not a writer, you may have a dream that doesn't look like it's going to come true. It's taking longer than it should, or it's not happening the way you expected. But if you look at my story, maybe you can take heart. The road to publication didn't happen the way I expected. I wrote this book with a different publisher in mind, but God led me to the BEST publisher. I thought things would happen sooner, but God has this book coming out at the PERFECT time. And look at all those road blocks... there were so many times when I could have given up, but I didn't. Oh sure, I got discouraged, and there were times I wanted to quit. But God pulled me up by the scruff of my neck, dusted me off, and set my feet back on the path. Let Him do that for you. Hold on to the dream He put in your heart. Accept His way, His plan, His timing. And be blessed as you move forward in Him.

Have you experienced a time when something looked like a set-back but ended up being a blessing?




Flower photo - Maigi/www.Dreamstime.com
Balloon photo - Olga Glushkova/www.dreamstime.com

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Maegan Roper, Abingdon Press Marketing & Publicity Manager



An "All You Want to Know about Abingdon Press" Interview of Maegan Roper
Abingdon Press
Marketing and Publicity Manager
by Gina Welborn

What a week this has been so far! Like Susanne, I'm a pastor's wife so when I found out the title of Jen's book, I was immediately hooked. In honor of Jen's new release, I thought you wonderful readers would like to learn a bit more about Jen's publisher, Abingdon--one of the new kids on the Christian Bookseller's Association block. Who better to ask to share? Well, how about a chick whose job it is to promote Abingdon books.

GW: Hi, Maegan! I'm thrilled you could join us today. Some of our readers may be unfamiliar with Abingdon Press. Can you tell us a little about the company and the kind of novels it publishes? Feel free to brag.

MR: Well, for those that have never heard of Abingdon Press, it is the book publishing arm of the United Methodist Publishing House headquartered in Nashville, TN. It was founded in the early 1900's by the Methodist Church. Its retail division is "Cokesbury" although many retail distributors nation-wide carry our products. We publish all types of books such as reference, devotional, non-fiction, Bible studies, Bibles, curriculum and church resources, Vacation Bible School material, ect. In the fall of 2009, Abingdon released their first ever Christian Fiction line with a list of 6 titles. This spring will be our second line with a list of 10 titles.

For the Fiction line to be as new as it is for Abingdon, its thriving success continues to grow and each of our authors prove themselves to be exceptional in the work they produce! We’re incredibly blessed.


GW: I just have to ask. What lead you to work for Abingdon instead of...say, Starbucks? After all, not just anyone can brew coffee, whereas just last week when I was in Whole Foods I saw tons of marketers.
MR: Well, while I secretly always wanted to work at Starbucks (did you know you’re required to memorize the ingredients to every single mixture?) I do love the marketing & publicity side of book publishing. Prior to coming to Abingdon Press, I worked for Thomas Nelson Publishing in marketing for Bibles, Reference, and Curriculum. It was there that I discovered my passion for making the inspiration of God’s truth known through the written word. I have dear friends who worked at Abingdon Press and had nothing but incredible things to say about the publishing house and the new Christian Fiction line as a whole intrigued me.

GW: Is your job the same as a publicist? If not, what are the differences besides the wardrobe allowance?

MR: Love it :-)  Yes, there are several similarities to what I do and what a publicist does, only I manage all of Fiction’s marketing initiatives and strategic planning as well. It’s a large responsibility, but so fun to put on both hats while brainstorming innovative ideas for my authors and positioning their titles in the marketplace. Both aspects should work hand in hand anyway.

GW: And now for the "how many big words can Gina use in a sentence" question of the day: Is there a certain type of promotional activity that sounds good in theory but doesn't produce effective results in practical aplication?

MR: Publishers conducted a survey last year for market research data, primarily among the CRS market, to find out the most effective promotional strategies in terms of generating sales & awareness. I was surprised to learn that the top least effective was author signing tours. While we’re all aware of the digital shift, this just reiterates that shift of thinking within the marketplace as well. Not to say that book signings aren’t worth doing any more, but it’s generally one of the first promotional activities that marketers and publicists will invest in when we are finding blog tours, internet campaigns, and traditional radio & print interviews to be just as, if not more effective.

GW: What is the best--oh, scratch that--what's the easiest and cheapest thing writers can do to help market their books? Maybe I should change that to "simpliest and frugalist."

MR:  Develop a social media plan and presence. Make your content memorable, measurable, build relationships & a fan base, pay attention to what’s shared within your fan circle, be relevant, be where your audience is. Our authors are great at staying engaged within their fan base, while continually making themselves available to reach outside and find new opportunities to network and make connections. You can’t be shy… some of the most successful authors are also marketers and self promoters :-)


GW: So, what is the greatest challenge in marketing a new author?

MR: If that author is willing to be flexible, engaging, and innovative then I don’t see it as a challenge but an opportunity! :-) This really refers back to the previous question in the importance of being willing to tap into where you want your audience to be. Developing that audience is the challenging part; however, digital media & social networking makes that so much easier now. Several of our fiction authors are debut novelists and because they have been enthusiastic in managing their content and sharing that via web promotion, they have quickly risen to the occasion and developed a well established tribe and fan base. This essentially is the basic building block for the success of all their future novels.


GW: I'm hearing "fan base" over and over. Now, do you do anything differently with an established author?

MR: Not necessarily. Actually, with established authors it can be more difficult to tap into an audience or marketplace that is new & different. Once they’re established, finding new promotional strategies that position them to a different target group can be really challenging.


GW: Inquiring writers just have to know: To agent or not to agent when it comes to submitting to Abingdon?

MR: That just depends on personal preference and how much you’re willing to invest. Some authors are so busy they don’t have the time to invest themselves so it’s more effective for them to invest the money in an agency, while others do not have that option. I do my best to give each author equal opportunity promotionally and while I know there are misses that we have along the way, we certainly invest all we have and are able into a promotional strategy that serves all our authors well!


GW: Let's get to the nitty gritty. How many novels will Abingdon Press release this year, does the genre influence the amount of books published, and is that number going to change next year?

MR: For Fiction, a total of 20- ten in the spring and ten in the fall *(I can’t speak for the last part of the question).


GW: How can readers find out about upcoming releases/events?

MR: You can go to www.abingdonpress.com/fiction where you’ll find a digital version of our spring sampler. You can also preview book trailers and there are direct links to our author’s personal sites where you’ll find event and book signing info!

GW: I've considered thinking about pondering the idea of starting a book club where we discuss books while eating cheese (or chocolate for the vegans in the group). What kind of resources does Abingdon Press have for book clubs that may or may not eat during their meetings?

MR: Book clubs and reading groups is actually a huge focus for us this year. We did some research and found that 1 in every 7 churches has a Christian fiction book club or reading group so we are trying to engage customers and readers to start a club if you can’t find one to tap into within your area! Abingdon has several tips, suggestions, and fun ideas how to promote a book club, choose a book, and jump into one where you are if you’re not already involved. Just click here: http://www.abingdonpress.com/forms/fiction.aspx?pageid=526&id=104. All of our fiction authors are actually very willing to be accessible when it comes o making book club appearances or participating in group discussion via live web cam, email, or i-chat. Please contact me if your book club would be interested! mroper(at)umpublishing(dot)org

And Gina, we also have fun recipe ideas as well so incorporating food is TOTALLY encouraged! :-)


GW: One in seven churches has a book club. That's fascinating! I wonder if my church does. Guess I'll need to ask around during the Ladies' Fellowship I'm going to tomorrow night. Just between the two of us, do you "get to" read the books you market? Or do you "have to" read them?

MR: I “get to” read them, as it is definitely a pleasure but it’s also encouraged :-) The more I know about the content of the book and my author’s writing style, the better I can position their titles promotionally in the marketplace! I can’t complain b/c it’s so fun :-)

GW: Now for the most important question of the day: Where can our readers purchase an Abingdon Press novel, especially Jennifer's release THE PASTOR'S WIFE?

MR: You can purchase at www.abingdon.com/fiction, www.cokesbury.com/fiction, or http://www.amazon.com/


GW: Thanks, Maegan, for the fun interview, insights into Abingdon Press, and for helping us celebrate The Week of Jennifer AlLee.

MR: You’re so welcome! My pleasure :-)


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Meet...Jennifer AlLee, A New Creature in Christ

An attractive red-haired woman sat at my table. “Hi! Can I sit here?” she asked me.

My heart sang a praise chorus. "Sure!” Maybe I’ll meet my second writer friend

Thirty minutes later, the 2005 ACFW conference in Dallas had introduced me to a Christian sister, a writer sister, a future critique partner, and now blogger partner. Yep, Jennifer AlLee is one amazing creature!!

Jennifer wears all those hats—and more. Jennifer is a pray-er, consoler, cheerleader, influencer, and has written a book that makes you laugh, cry, and ponder the many hats that preachers’ wives must wear.

Jennifer didn’t always adorn herself with the Lord and His word. Her favorite scripture, 2 Corinthians 5:17 ("Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new"), has led her past the “mess” of her old creature to her redeemed work-of-art through Christ’s sacrifice.

When Jennifer isn’t writing, she immerses herself in her family, husband Marcus and son Billy. Marcus and Jen “had an unusual courtship (Jen ignored him for about a year), so it’s something of a miracle that they got together at all.” Yet God prevailed to yoke these special people, who “know without a shadow of a doubt that God wanted them to be together. That knowledge anchors the relationship when they “hit bumps and rough patches (of which they've had their fair share)”. And then there's Billy, “who has grown into the most awesome young man you'd ever want to meet. My proudest achievement is raising him.”

I got my itchy paws on Jennifer’s second novel, The Pastor’s Wife, when we became critique partners after that ACFW bonding. This past weekend, I held in my hands the ARC provided by Abington. Oh, readers, you are in for a treat! Sigh. But you have to wait another week or so!



To write The Pastor's Wife, Jennifer siphoned from years of experience as a pastoral secretary to let us into the heart, soul, and mind of a preacher’s better half. In her heroine, California girl and part-Irish Maura Sullivan, we meet the wife of pastor Nick Shepherd. Maura, ravaged by negligence, guilt, and societal pressures, unexpectedly leaves Nick and his small town congregation, then is forced to return to her former home and face the sour notes being played by resentful parishioners. Conflicts abound in this book. Will Maura reconcile with her husband? Will she make good on the dying wish of an old lady? Can she develop the talents God gave her? Can a pastor serve both God, mammon, and HIS WIFE?

Though the women Jennifer met through her church work handled themselves “with amazing grace under pressure, what if identity loss and “taking on the mantle of pastor’s wife” would be too much for a woman?

From Page 1, of The Pastor's Wife, Jennifer enticed me with a sharp hook and kept me enthralled with concise yet emotional writing. Why should I be surprised? “First and foremost, I want to entertain my readers with relatable stories,” Jennifer says. “I want you to feel like you're reading about people who could live next door. I try to present the faith element in my books the same as I do in real life. To me, the best way to share your faith is to live it. That's what I do with my characters: let them live their faith (or lack thereof) through the course of the story and take the reader along for the ride.”

I praise God for gifting Jennifer with her writing talent and pray that through her stories, she will continue to grapple with sociocultural issues, such as women who must wear “mantles.” Jennifer, long may you write!!!

Oops! Forgot to mention that one poster's name will be drawn randomly and sent a signed copy of Jennifer's new book!!!!!!

Question: Do you feel smothered by the mantle of your husband’s role (or your own role?)

Question: Are you a preacher’s kid, preacher’s wife, preacher’s wife’s friend???

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Perfect Pastor’s Wife


from Susanne Dietze


As the wife of a pastor, I always enjoy reading books about clergy, from biographies to romances to Jan Karon’s Mitford series -- so it's no surprise that I've eagerly awaited the release of The Pastor’s Wife by Inkwell's own Jennifer AlLee. Jen (a generous friend, I should note, and a great writer) may not be a pastor’s wife herself, but she’s worked alongside clergy, and I know her story’s portrayal of the couple’s relationship will be authentic, as full of challenge as it is love, with a faith grounded in Jesus.

Challenge, love and Jesus. Being a pastor’s wife, like anything else in life, comes with an abundance of both struggle and grace, with the ever-present opportunity for God to be glorified through every situation.
Wedding ringsImage via Wikipedia

I don’t know about the other Inkies who are married to pastors (there are a few of us!), but I never daydreamed about becoming a pastor’s wife. The role came with the guy, however, and he was pretty cute. He’d already been called into ministry when we got together, and it became clear that God had called us to marriage, too.

Though I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, I am absolutely not a perfect pastor’s wife. Whatever that is. All I know to do is to lean on Jesus when it comes to this role I’m in, because there’s no handbook to form our understanding of what comprises such a paragon. If a how-to book indeed existed for us, we’d probably find that our situations, personalities, and gifts are too variable for a one-size-fits-all manual, anyway. Still, I sometimes wish there were something for us gals, with chapters like "Hair-dos and -don'ts for Pleasing Your Flock," "Potluck Planning for Pennies" and "Expectations and You."

Ah, the expectations. That's a chapter I could've used a long time ago.

They vary by denomination, congregation, and individual parishioners, but spoken or unspoken, they’re placed on pastor’s wives all the same. Some expectations I’ve heard of include looking put-together (well…), remembering everyone’s name (I try, honest), and knowing the exact location of everything in the church kitchen (forget that one.). She should model Christ’s love to all, be at ease with her husband's busy schedule, and bear a natural smile. And let’s not forget that her kids should be well-behaved and happy.

What about some other expectations? Can a pastor’s wife say no to serving on a committee? Or buy socks from a higher-end retailer? Can she write romance novels? Or “hide away” nursing a baby on a Sunday morning, when she’s a public persona? You may laugh, but I’ve been called out on these things (and many more). I’ve been hurt, and then I’ve asked God to help me discern if I’m in error, and if I’m not, to help me toughen my skin (which is an essential skill if I’m going to keep writing romance novels).

Then there are the blessings. No how-to manual on clergy life could've prepared me for those amazing gifts, either.

Being married to a pastor has enabled me to be part of people’s lives in a special way, because this unique position comes with a sense of trust and spiritual intimacy attached to it. I love my church family, and I’ve been honored and humbled to be present in some of the most important moments in a person’s life. I’ve held hours-old newborns and prayed during surgeries. I’ve been blessed to share God’s love in opportunities I might not have had if my husband hadn’t held the title of “pastor.”

Remembrance of one rainy morning never fails to humble me. I was a new mother, and the elderly wife of a parishioner was hospitalized, rapidly succumbing to cancer. “Sally” (we’ll call her) did not attend church with “Bob.” On this day, however, Sally finally agreed to let my husband visit her. They talked a long time about God’s grace.

Then she wanted to hear about our baby. “Sally loves babies,” Bob explained. “It’s too bad she never came to church. She could’ve seen your little one then. She always said she wanted to.”

When my husband related this to me, I called Bob. And with his excited permission, I dressed the baby like it was Easter Sunday and drove to the hospital. Baby in arms, I met Bob in the hallway, and we went into the hospital room.

Sally did not have much life in her. She could hardly speak, but her eyes sparked when she saw us. After pleasantries, I asked if I could set the baby on the bed with her, and she nodded, moving her fingers to show me where.
holding_baby_fingers-t1Image by ohadweb via Flickr

It was a bit awkward, propping the baby up on the bed as I squatted alongside, but Sally couldn’t take her eyes off of my little one, who, freshly nursed, was in an excellent mood, all smiles and gurgles. Sally’s fingers stroked the baby’s leg.

I chatted about the baby, and then found myself saying, “It will be all right. God loves you, and Bob too.”

Tears filled her eyes, and I realized that she was worried about Bob. I promised that we’d be there to help him through this. And I was able to tell her more about God’s grace and mercy.

More family arrived, and it was time for us to go. Sally’s eyes followed us out.

Bob called hours later. Sally had passed on. Some might find it presumptuous that I’d haul a baby to the hospital to visit a dying woman I’d never met, especially on her last day on earth. In fact, it seems to be just the sort of thing that would wind up on the "don't do" list in a clergy wife how-to manual (send casserole and pray, yes. Take baby to hospital, no.). I can say with certainty, though, that I believe God wanted me and my baby there, and I feel honored and thankful that God used me and my unique position to say something that perhaps Sally needed to hear.

I am not a perfect pastor’s wife. But I serve a perfect Lord, who is always available for me to lean on. I’m thankful for His strength as I journey with my husband on the path God’s called us to walk.

Stay tuned all week as we celebrate our own Jennifer AlLee's The Pastor's Wife, available in February from your favorite local bookseller, Amazon.com, Christianbook.com, and Cokesbury.com.
When you hear “perfect pastor’s wife,” what images come to your mind? Do you have expectations of your pastor’s wife? Even I have a few pet expectations. I’ll share in a bit…

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Jesus Wept

by Anita Mae Draper

Jesus Wept. John 11:35

I remember the first time I became aware of the shortest verse in the Bible. I was young, maybe 12 or so, and I was visiting my grandmother. We were playing a trivia game (although I believe at that time we just called them questions) and my question was to give the shortest verse in the Bible. I didn’t know the answer. But once I heard it, I’ve never forgotten.

As a romance writer, I need to envision a strong hero. Someone who has character strength, emotional strength, and spiritual strength. I want my readers to fall in love with my hero and become emotionally attached to him. So I have to give him the morals of Jesus yet the frailties of a man. That’s hard to write.

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, my parents kept telling my brothers that boys and men don’t cry. They had to hide their emotions inside and present a stoic face to the world. That only sissies and babies cry.

And yet Jesus wept.

The Man who had God’s knowledge of the future was so saddened by His friend’s death, He let His emotions spill out in the form of tears and wept.

Jesus was of the house of David.

In 1 Samuel 16 we read of how God sent Samuel to anoint David—the shepherd boy—to be the next king. David wasn’t perfect and made some really huge mistakes in his life but God chose him because he was a man of God’s own heart. (1 Sam 13:14, Acts 13:22) And yet David was one of the most emotional men in the Bible: 1 and 2 Samuel record at least 4 instances where David is weeping (1 Sam 30:4, 2 Sam 15:30, 2 Sam 18:33, 2 Sam 19:1). And we’re not even talking about his laughing and dancing in the streets here, just his weeping. A man after God’s own heart. Think about that.

And what about Solomon—the wisest and richest king who ever lived. He wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:4 A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. (NIV) Solomon doesn’t add … but only if you’re a woman or child.

Jacob wept in Genesis 29:11
Joseph wept in Gen 42:24 and in Gen 45:14
Ezra wept in Ezra 10:1
Job wept in Job 16:16
And that’s not even halfway through the Bible. These are all strong biblical heroes we want our sons to emulate. And they all wept in public. And the people mourned with them.

Why is it, when we see a grown man cry, we look away as if ashamed? We might walk up and give solace to a woman—maybe a hug or an arm rub—but when tears are shown on a male, we ignore him until he’s ‘got his act together’.

Now I’m not saying to walk up to some strange guy and start hugging him because that would put a whole different connotation on the picture, wouldn’t it? But if you know the man, just sit near him and be still. Your presence and silence will show true compassion. If he doesn’t want it, he’ll leave.

Weeping isn’t a form of weakness. It’s simply an outpouring of emotion.


Photo credits:
Top - Crying Men, 2004 Sam -Taylor-Wood
Bottom - saviodsilva

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Join Us Next Week as We Celebrate Around the Inkwell


Last week sure was exciting!
Who knew the Inkies were such an adventurous bunch?

As an uber-supportive group of writers,
we gals decided that whenever one
of us has a new book coming out, we'll give her
a week in the spotlight. So this week we give you
Jennifer AlLee, author of The Pastor's Wife
(coming February 1st from Abingdon Press).


Join us this week
for more fun!


Sunday
Putting an Ink on Scripture
Anita Mae

Monday - Friday
All about an Inky and her new book!
Monday - Susanne shares about the "perfect" pastor's wife
Tuesday - Patti has a turn
Wednesday - Special Guest - Abingdon Press Marketing Manager Maegan Roper
gives us the scoop on this exciting new fiction line
Thursday - Jennifer shares about the journey to The Pastor's Wife
Friday - Dina's original poem - Beauty for Ashes

Saturday
An Inkalicious Review
Dina's back with a review of...
you guessed it... The Pastor's Wife

See you all around the Inkwell!
 


 

The Big 5-0h! by Sandra D. Bricker


Review by Suzie Johnson

Romantic Comedy is not an adequate enough term to describe this book. Ripe with humor without being slapstick silly, The Big 5-0h! is also a pure romance with a nice blend of emotion.

Olivia Wallace has spent her entire life living with the dark cloud of a birthday curse hanging over her head. Nearly every year, and most assuredly on a “big” birthday, something bad happens. So it’s no wonder she dreads her upcoming birthday. But the fact that it’s the big 5-0 only makes it more fearsome. Since I’m (gulp!) facing that very same birthday, I’ll admit the title alone was enough to intrigue me.
When Olivia’s well meaning friend manages to coerce her into a house-sitting escapade disguised as a vacation in Florida, Olivia hopes the birthday curse won’t catch up with her.

And that's when the fun begins.



This book features a great cast of characters.



It doesn't help that the gorgeous doctor next door has an overly-flirtateous twenty-something son who is quite interested in Olivia, and a secretary determined to make her feel unwelcome. She likens Olivia to Splenda in sweet-tea. They just don't belong together.


Olivia's past battle with ovarian cancer is very realistically portrayed, as the author herself is a survivor of ovarian cancer, and currently someone very dear to all of us Inkies is facing the very same battle.

The romance in this book swept me up quite naturally. There were parts where I laughed out loud, and parts where my heartstrings were tugged good and tight.

Served up with a heaping dose of spiritual wisdom, this truly is an enjoyable, satisfying read, and each chapter begins with an excerpt from one of the sweetest, yet most profound, children's stories I've ever read.

Sandra D, Bricker’s books have always been enjoyable, and this one is no exception. I really rooted for this heroine. Great job, Sandie. You just keep getting better and better.


Thanks for stopping by. I’ll be giving away a copy of The Big 5-0h!, so please leave a comment along with your e-mail address so I can contact you tomorrow evening (Sunday, January 24th) if your name is drawn.

Visit Sandie’s website and blog at:
http://www.sandradbricker.com/
http://sandradbricker.blogspot.com/

The Big 5-0h! is available in bookstores next week, but if you leave a comment with your e-mail address, I'll put you in a drawing for the copy I'm giving away. Barnes and Noble lists it as available on the 28th, while Amazon lists it as available for pre-order with no date.

And be sure to catch Sandie's next book, sure to be a hit as well, Always the Baker, Never the Bride, coming this fall.

**Visit my personal blog at http://suzieswritingplace.blogspot.com where I'm reviewing and giving away a copy of Margaret Brownley's inspirational historical romance: A Lady Like Sarah.

Photos courtesy of at http://www.sxc.hu; gator by: bugbru; dog by: winnielee; elderly man by: lhumble; and windstorm by: dimitri_c

Friday, January 22, 2010

Living in a Silent War and the Miracle of Peace - Natal South Africa

by Wenda Dottridge

When I was twenty-four I moved to South Africa where I lived for two intense, incredible years. Since then I've been back often enough and racked up enough cumulative months as a visitor there that even if I was an otherwise eligible donor, I would be refused by every blood collection agency in the western hemisphere. South Africa is part of our daily lives even though we live on the opposite edge of the globe.

At the time I moved there I was a recent university graduate in a developing romance with a South African physician completing his conscripted national military service. I had already visited (my now husband) Andrew in South Africa in 1989 and it didn't take me long to fall in love with that beautiful, broken country.

We had the luxury of expendible income and time (something we didn't fully appreciate until we had kids!) and we enjoyed the benefits of South Africa's elite, white, privileged society that combined a generation or two of wide-spread family wealth and cheap domestic labour. In many respects, we were free.

Our weekends were spent flying in a private plane to Sodwana Bay for scuba retreats or to other exotic locations such as the Wild Coast in the Transkei. When we weren't flying somewhere, we were hosting or being hosted at family cottages located at beaches and in the mountains. We made trips to game reserves that cost the equivalent of $3/4 a day per person (and that included a cook to prepare our food). We hiked the Drakensburg and jetted to Cape Town. We flew ourselves and friends to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and drove to Johannesburg for weekends. We sampled beaches from the cold Atlantic waters off Cape Town, to the warm Indian Ocean all along the Garden Route from Hermanus, George to Port Elizabeth, to the Wild Coast where there were more goats roaming the miles of unbroken sand than people, to almost-the-Mozambique-border where coral is healthy and the abudant sea life phenomenal.


As I shiver through another Canadian winter, only the photographs remind me that life was once that amazing.

And yet we left Pietermaritzburg, Natal, South Africa in 1992 to live in a rural-Canadian exile we shared with four other young South African physicians and their wives. Together, we missed the climate, the domestic help, the vibrant culture, the amazing foods, and the beaches.

And together we recovered from the cumulative shock of fear, violence, crime, corruption and the pervasive grinding poverty among the vast majority of South Africans. We all had personal experiences with crime, and our husbands all had shared miliatry experiences and stories from the trenches of black hospitals. For the born-and-raised South Africans, they struggled with the need to revise the largely fictitious history they had been taught in white South African schools. They read for the first time books by banned writers such as Alan Paton (Cry Beloved Country) and Joseph Lelyveld (Move Your Shadow).

In addition to the above-listed chronic South African problems of poverty and crime, my husband and I lived in Natal (now called Kwa-Zulu Natal) at the epicentre of a low-grade war simmering between the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) led by former ANCer Mangosutho Buthelezi and the African National Congress (ANC) under the direction of Nelson Mandela.

In the 1980s, while the ANC operated from exile and Mandela languished in prison on Robin Island, Buthelezi - a Zulu - renounced violence and the IFP - based in the heart of Zululand, Natal - became a legitimatized organization that enjoyed some self-governing rule in Natal. The irony is that in the late 1980s and early 1990s while the white government under FW de Klerk dismantled Apartheid and made peace with the ANC, warfare erupted between the two main black parties, the ANC and the IFP.

I worked for the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg. This public museum had recently moved from the attics of the City Hall to the Old Supreme Court building on the main road through the small provincial capital. Located between the new court buildings, City Hall, the provincial administration, and The Natal Witness independent newspaper, we sat at the heart of Natal. And at the heart of the war being waged by the ANC to gain a foothold in IFP/traditional Zulu chiefton ruled territories.

Each week brought that war close.While the average white South African never set foot in a township and lived mostly untouched by the war, we were nevertheless aware of the bloodshed. I supervised black security and cleaning staff. Each week there would be a new crisis in their lives. Nelson, my cleaner, was late to work. As I started his reprimand he told me, head shaking and eyes sad, "It is very bad. Tsth, tsht, tsth." After much prompting I learned that his street had been overrun by armed ANC cadres the night before and he and his neighbours, IFP loyalists, were driven from their homes. He spent the rest of the night building a cardboard house in a nearby squatter camp and insisted I call the army. After two days of repeated calls to the local Komandant, I had arranged an armed escort for him and his neighbours to return to their homes to collect their possessions and livestock. The homes were lost to them, given to ANC loyalists.

Then, it was two security guards who missed a shift. When they returned to work, we learned they were rounded up by the ANC and given weapons and sent on a mission to clear another neighbourhood. They complied because to resist was futile.

And then there were the marches and protests that always ended up in front of City Hall with demands to speak to the mayor or provincial officials from the province's adminstration building a block away. At times the protests were comical, like the day black nurses demanded wage parity with white nurses. As I sat at my desk I heard angels singing. As I followed the sound to my window, I looked out into the building's gardens to see heavyset black nurses being lifted into the back of a yellow police truck, what we called a bakkie. They were singing hymns in beautfiul Zulu harmonies and toi toing (dancing). As one bakkie after another was loaded and pulled away, the vehicles swayed in rhythm with the remaining protesters' songs.

The ANC organzied many marches that involved much singing and shouting. As their leaders set up their portable sound systems in front of City Hall, across the street from my office, each point was punctuated by a fist raised to the air and a shout of "Amandla," which means power. The crowd would echo the shout and gesture over and over again before the dancing would begin anew. One would think it was a party, not a protest, if not for the scattering of protesters hoisting a tire with each shout of "Amandla!"

A tire represents a form of tortuous execution used against ANC detractors. Set around a dissident's neck and set on fire, the "necklace" served as a punishment and a reminder. The sight of those tires reminded me to not pass judgement on staff for their political alliances or their involuntary after-hours activities.

Not all protests were benign. One march on City Hall brought the tension and conflict to our door. It was a Monday morning, the one day the museum was closed to the public. I dropped my husband in the township at the black hospital where he worked and arrived at work early, before any other white/professional staff had arrived. The phone rang. It was City Hall telling me to leave. An ANC protest had formed and it looked ominous. Other staff had already been warned to stay home or had been cut off from the main area of town by police roadblocks. By the time I reached the front door to leave, I was greeted by a SWAT-type team who needed access to our roof and balcony. I escorted them to the access points and by the time I re-collected my bag and keys the street swarmed with silent, angry men.

With police and their militant german-shepherds stationed on the museum's portico guarding the front door, the security staff and I retreated to the upper floor to watch. There was no toi-toing. No singing. Just a long line of black faces somberly marching to City Hall. The parade was lined every four or five feet by a man carrying a tire. Police blockaded all the streets feeding to parade route and formed a line across the street, blocking the way to the front of City Hall. Young, clean-shaven white officers in blue uniforms, arms crossed, semi-automatic weapons at ready lined the route and manned blockades with dogs at their sides and yellow bakkies at their back. On the balcony in front of our windows and on the roof above us, snipers hunched, all in black. All it would take was one young officer to respond to the threats being thrown at him, one breach of discipline from a police-dog, one mishap in the crowd, and pandemonium would ensue.

The Mayor emerged. Discussions were held between the leaders, police, and city officials. Eventually, the crowd dispersed as silently as it formed. I never knew the substance of so many of the protests but we all understood the purpose. A show of strength for the ANC. Intimidation for IFP.

We saw the war played out in dozens of ways that impacted us. My husband's work at the hospital saw an upswing in gunshot wounds relative to the more traditional machete and knife wounds. One day the Orthopeadic ward was shot up in front a friend's eyes while a group of ANC militants liberated an injured colleague from police custody. Another friend received a death threat from an ANC-affiliated nursing sister for challenging her unethical patient care. A friend in family practice in a rural farming community where the fighting was especially bad reported their hospital conducting 20-25 post-mortems a week on gun-shot victims. There were open gun battles between the ANC and IFP on the streets in that same town.

Along with this backdrop of daily violence, we experienced a personal crisis and faced our future in South Africa. We didn't see one for ourselves and so we left in late 1992 for rural Saskatchewan. As Apartheid gave way to the certainty of a new South Africa, negotiations began in earnest for the creation of a new constitution. Rather than alleviate tensions between the ANC and IFP, the crisis intensified and this time came to national and international attention.

The world, in love with Nelson Mandela and the righteous cause of the ANC, remained largely ignorant of violence in Natal. While the warfare was definitely perpetuated by both sides of the ANC-IFP divide, the aggression, in my opinion, came from the ANC. However, as is often the case, history is written by the victor. In Nelson Mandela's brilliant autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, he whitewashes this period and sanitizes the ANC's involvement in Natal. I want to believe Mandela wasn't aware of his party's less savory tactics, which is possible considering his long imprisonment and statesmanlike distance from certain elements of ANC leadership.

Talks between Mandela and Buthelezi invariably ended rancorously. Rhetoric intensified and the body count on the ground in Natal increased. Agreement on the consitution seemed impossible. With an election date set for April 27, 1994 and Buthelzi refusing to ratify the constitution, expectations were poised for a bloodbath in Natal.

In hindsight, we know the elections were peaceful, but in 1993 and early 1994 outright war seemed a reasonable possibility. Most other African colonial transitions to self-rule were accompanied by protracted civil wars. In early April, 1994 the Rwandan genocide erupted and Buthelezi and the IFP were boycotting the upcoming South African election. All the pieces were in place for an African debacle. Mandela and the ANC had its roots in the Xhosa tribe. The IFP and Buthelezi were Zulus, a proud, warrior nation that colonized much of southern Africa before the British put an end to their expansion.

International diplomats, including Henry Kissinger, had already come to South Africa and failed to negotiate an agreement between Buthelezi and Mandela. Washington Okumu, a Kenyan political advisor, former Harvard student of Kissinger, and former classmate of Buthelezi, came to South Africa as part of the negotiation team at the behest of Christian evangelist Michael Cassidy. Dubbed by some as Africa's Billy Graham, Michael Cassidy, a long-time friend of my brother and sister-in-law and my nephew's godfather, believed there had to be a way to broker peace in South Africa. While Kissinger and the other international diplomats packed their bags and left the country just twelve days before the elections were scheduled, Cassidy convinced Okumu, a fellow Christian, to stay behind and try again.

In the meantime, African Enterprise (AE), a Pietermaritzburg-based evangelist ministry headed by Michael Cassidy, was working to bring South Africa's Christians to their knees before God. AE scheduled a prayer rally for April 17, just ten days before the election. On April 14 and 15 Okumu met with IFP consitutional negotiators and created a blueprint for a solution, but despite efforts to keep Buthelezi in Johannesburg, his plane lifted off before Okumu reached the airport to present the new plan. Shortly after take-off a faulty gyro in Buthelezi's plane forced it to turn back. Buthelezi later attributed the airplane malfunction to God's intervention. He agreed with Okumu's plan, freeing Okumu to fly to Cape Town to approach the ANC.

On April 17, 25,000 Christians crowded into King's Stadium in Durban while others across the nation and world committed themselves to praying for a peaceful resoluation to the standoff. During the Jesus Peace rally, while the crowd prayed and sang hymns, Okumu and Buthelezi met in the stadium's VIP lounge with ANC leaders. The Okumu plan received assent by all the parties and was ratified in a special session of Parliament on April 18, just nine days before the election.

My sister-in-law sent me an editorial newspaper clipping from The Natal Witness, April 20, 1994. The writer, a cynical, atheistic reporter I knew from my work at the museum, related the events brokered by Michael Cassidy and Washington Okumu and orchestrated by God. He declared it a miracle. A miracle of peace.

I wish I could report that South Africans live in constant peace and security now. I can't. AIDS is ravaging the country and violent crime is a daily constant. But the lesson we learn from this situation isn't that God will create lasting perfection in our lives or world through one miracle. He can't. We are still fallen people in a fallen world. What we see through this situation is that if we humble ourselves and pray when we come upon or live in the midst of war, be it between nations or tribes or families or churches or colleagues, and then we respond by seeking God's will ahead of our own and bend our will to His will, peace is not only possible, it is probable.

This year two events spotlight the best of South Africa. The world's eyes will be on South Africa as it hosts the 2010 Football (Soccer) World Cup, the first time an African nation has hosted the world's biggest sporting event. And through the Clint Eastwood movie Invictus, a slice of history at the advent of a renewed and freely governed South Africa is revealed. This film, the story of Nelson Mandela and the 1995 Rugby World Cup, portrays a man humbled by his life and willing to forego bitterness for the sake of peace. When you see this movie, and I encourage you to do so, remember there is more to the story. Mandela's peaceful ascention as the first black president of South Africa was made possible by a miracle in 1994.

******
I apologize for this especially long post and thank you for your patience.

Right now, another nation beset by chronic problems is in the midst of a crisis. Join me in praying for a miracle for Haiti. Christian agencies at work in Haiti are committed to rebuilding the country and the lives broken there through chronic poverty, corruption, and now the earthquake. My family supports the work of World Vision, Compassion, and Samaritan's Purse.  I invite you, if you haven't already done so, to commit to praying for the people of Haiti in their grief and struggle to rebuild. And to pray for aid agencies at work in Haiti, that they might be agents of God's grace, mercy, and peace in that troubled land.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Merry Old England

by D'Ann Mateer



I yearned to hop across the pond and visit England for as long as I could remember. When I got married, the dream didn’t change, it just added another person along for the ride. Eighteen years later, we finally made it—with three kids and my parents in tow. My husband had been invited to attend a business seminar and London and we didn’t hesitate to accept. But as much as we wanted to see the city and all its sights, we wanted to see something more. We wanted to see some of the country, to imagine the England of old.

Guess what? We found it! In the Cotswolds.

We arrived a few days before the conference and stayed in a charming hotel in Bath. (I swear Basil Fawlty manned the front desk!) Do you remember Bath? It crops up frequently in Jane Austen books and is especially prominent in her last book, Persuasion. When the Romans arrived in Britain many centuries ago, they did, indeed, build Roman baths in Bath. Thus, the name.

We explored the ancient ruins and the more modern (18th century) meeting rooms, the Jane Austen museum and the cathedral. And then we hopped on a small tour bus and roamed the countryside.

You know how sometimes you imagine a place in your mind, from descriptions in books or even from pictures, but the real thing doesn’t measure up to your expectations? Not the case in this place! Blooming gardens, complete with swans in the ponds. Rolling green hills dotted with sheep. Ancient stone structures still in use. Rows of charming shops in places with quaint names, such as Stow-on-the-Wold.

I keep this picture as my wallpaper on my computer, for it never fails to bring a smile to my face:


I found England on that trip. But I didn’t get to linger long. Maybe someday we’ll get to go back. We’d love to spend some extended time in the Cotswolds—and the Lake District, and Scotland. Lazy days instead of tourist days.

At least I can dream.

So what place have you visited that actually lived up to or exceeded your expectations? What place was the biggest disappointment? I look forward to a whole new list of travel destinations!