I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Winner of The Pastor's Wife is...

Congratulations, Edna! Your name was drawn out of a hat to receive a copy of Jennifer AlLee's The Pastor's Wife! Thanks to all who entered the drawing by leaving a comment.

To learn more about Jen, please visit her website here.

To purchase The Pastor's Wife, visit Cokesbury, Amazon, or ChristianBook.com

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Welcome Jennifer AlLee! And a Chance to win The Pastor's Wife

Today I'm honored to have inspirational author Jennifer AlLee as my guest. To celebrate the February release of her new novel, The Pastor's Wife, Jen agreed to come by and share her story with us. She'll also be giving away a copy of The Pastor's Wife to one lucky person who leaves a comment after today's post!

Q: Jen, thanks for coming by today! I've been so excited to get my hands on your gorgeous book. Give us a little preview of The Pastor’s Wife.

A: Maura Sullivan never thought she’d see Granger, Ohio, again. But when circumstances force her to return, she must face all the disappointments she tried so hard to leave behind; a husband that ignored her, a congregation she couldn’t please, and a God who took away everything she ever loved.

Nick Shepherd had put the past behind him. At least he thought he had, until the day his estranged wife walked back into town. Intending only to help Maura through her crisis of faith, Nick discovers his feeling for her never died. Now, he must face the mistakes he made and find a way to give and receive forgiveness.

As God works in both their lives, Nick and Maura start to believe they can repair their broken relationship and reunite as man and wife. But Maura has one more thing to tell Nick before they can move forward. It’s the thing that finally drove her to leave six years earlier, and the one thing that can destroy the fragile trust they’ve managed to rebuild.

Q: Jen, you know I’m a pastor’s wife, so I am always interested in reading about clergy couples. What made you want to write this book?

A: I served as a church secretary for many years which definitely gave me a unique perspective on the lives of a pastoral family. I worked at two different churches. One was a large denominational church, the other much smaller and non-denominational. But the lives of the pastors were quite similar. There’s always another meeting to go to, or one more person that needs counseling. People feel very possessive about their pastors. This usually manifests itself in positive ways, but sometimes it crosses a line. You have to watch out for that. And the pastoral family faces challenges no one really thinks about. They basically live in a glass house and are expected to be active members of every church activity, whether they’re interested in it or not.

When I was working on the original concept for this novel, I thought about the pastors’ wives I’ve known over the years. They’ve handled themselves with amazing grace under pressure. But what if another woman couldn’t? What if a young woman thinks she knows what she’s getting into, but the reality of losing who she is and becoming a “pastor’s wife” is more than she can handle? What if some other tragedy pushes her over the edge? Would she run? And what would happen if she had to return to the scene of her heartbreak years later? All those questions eventually became The Pastor’s Wife.

Q: Wow, you’ve addressed a lot of truths about pastors’ families. I appreciate your insight. Beside The Pastor’s Wife, what else have you published?

A: Early in my writing journey, I sold a few short stories. Later on, I had the honor of being recommended for a project at Concordia Publishing House. My pastor at the time writes for them and he thought I’d be good for a book of skits they were putting together. I did that, which led to other projects including writing for their My Devotions series. To date, I’ve written over 100 devotions. My first published book is The Love of His Brother, a contemporary inspirational romance for Five Star. You can read more about it on my website.

Q: How do you come up with your ideas?

A: Ideas are everywhere! The hard part is knowing which ones will become great books. I tend to start with something I’m familiar with. In my first novel, The Love of His Brother, I set the story in Montana because, at the time, it was the only state I’d been to other than California. With The Pastor’s Wife, I started with my knowledge of ministerial families and church operations. So I start with a nugget of familiarity and then I start pushing it around, asking “what if this happened?” The questions layer one on top of the other, and pretty soon I’ve got a plot.

Q: Authors sometimes say their characters take over the story. A few of mine have (those pushy people!). Have you ever had that happen to you?

A: Oh yeah. I love it when that happens! It makes me feel like God’s got a firm hold on the reins and He’s steering me in the right direction. In The Love of His Brother, I had a group of four teenagers in a mall. They were only supposed to be in that one scene, but they kept popping back into the story. They went from being mere walk-through characters to being important supporting players who deepened the story.

Q: What advice do you have for new authors?

A: From a craft standpoint, there are two things you can do to become a better writer: read and write. Read books about the craft of writing and read other books in your genre. But don’t stop there. If you write sweet romances, stretch yourself and pick up a thriller. If you write historicals, try out a sci-fi or fantasy novel. Great writing is great writing, regardless of the subject matter. You can learn a lot by reading broadly.

For personal well-being, I would encourage every writer, no matter what stage you’re at, to have a support system. This includes belonging to a writer’s organization. I’m a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, which has been a huge blessing to me. Through it, I’ve cultivated friendships with other writers, including my best friend who is also my critique buddy. It’s great if your family supports your writing, but trust me, you need to have people you can go to who “get” you.

Q: That's true for me, too. I cherish my "writing" friendships. Now Jen, I'm curious about your upbringing. You grew up in Hollywood. How did that happen?

A: My grandparents met on the vaudeville circuit. Grandma was a dancer and my grandfather was a concert violinist from Hungary: Duci deKerekjarto (how’s that for a last name?) Duci immigrated to make his mark in Hollywood, which is how our family ended up there. He remained friends with another Hungarian performer, a Shakespearean actor named Bela Lugosi. (Yes, the original Dracula.) Bela died before I was born, but my mom remembers sitting on his lap and calling him Uncle Bela.

My own minor brush with fame came on the day I was born. Michael Landon Jr. and I were in the same hospital nursery in neighboring basinets. My Aunt Karen nearly passed out when she realized proud father Michael Sr. was standing at the window next to her!

Q: Oh my goodness, that’s amazing! You were that close to Pa Ingalls. Poor Aunt Karen. I’d pass out too. Ok, back to business: If you weren’t a writer, what else would you be doing?

A: My deepest desire, even as I write, is to get back on the stage. One of my dearest memories is of the year I spent doing community theatre in my early twenties. I did just about everything you could do: assistant director, lighting person, sound gal, prop mistress, bit part, supporting actor, lead… it was amazing! The only reason I stopped is because our theatre was torn down to expand the parking lot of the police station next door. Over the years I've been involved in church drama ministry, but right now, I am without dramatic prospects. I’d love to do a musical one day, like Godspell, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (although I’m now too old to play the narrator) or Sunset Boulevard (even though I’m not quite old enough to play Norma Desmond... but there's always makeup!)

Q: What do you do for fun?

A: I’m a TV/movie junkie. My tastes cross genres, but I tend to like weird stuff. My favorite current TV shows are LOST, Flash Forward, Lie to Me, and Bones. Recent favorite movies are the new Star Trek, UP, and The Blind Side. Of course, live theatre is the best, but it’s so expensive that I rarely go. A few months ago my son had to do a review of a live production for his drama class, which was the perfect excuse to see Phantom of the Opera. Man, that first blast of music in the overture gave me chills. I wanted to jump right out of my balcony seat and onto the stage to join them.

Q: I'm a TV / movie junkie too. Ah, the writing I might accomplish if it weren't for TV. Well Jen, I've loved the chance to learn more about you, your writing, and The Pastor's Wife. Thanks for visiting today!

Jen will be popping by Tea and a Good Book a bit later, so if you have a question or greeting for her, remember to leave a comment so you'll be entered into the drawing for the free copy of The Pastor's Wife! Make sure you leave your email address (use brackets or spaces in it to protect yourself from spammers) and do so by midnight on Monday, Feb 22. I'll announce the winner the 23rd!

To learn more about Jen, please visit her website here.

To purchase The Pastor's Wife, visit Cokesbury, Amazon, or ChristianBook.com.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Time to Shift Gears: Welcome to Lent

Lent Logo 2008Image by jezobeljones via Flickr

I once had an acquaintance who gave up Diet Coke for Lent, certain that if she drank anything but her favorite soft drink, God would give her a house. “If I stop drinking Coke, He’ll be happy with me,” she said.

To say that I wondered at her reasoning would be an understatement. And I jokingly wondered at her secret: if all it took to acquire a brand new home was to avoid diet soda, I was home free.

But seriously, who gave her such faulty information? She wasn’t a churchgoer, and she seemed to have no relationship with God outside of the idea that He gives people stuff if we first give up something at the prescribed season. Sadly, she isn’t the last person I’ve met who’s viewed God as a coin-operated Pez Dispenser. She was missing out on a lot more than a house. She was lacking the love, tenderness and mercy of our crucified and resurrected Lord.

The Season of Lent traces its origins to the earliest days of the church. Early Christians prepared for Easter by observing a season of penitence, reflection, and self-denial. For forty days (not including Sundays), Christians the world over still take the opportunity to refocus their lives on God, starting on Ash Wednesday.

Some Christians do give something up during this time: smoking, fatty foods, or even swearing. There’s nothing wrong with taking a season to refine our edges, but Lent provides the opportunity for so much more. Lent offers us a chance to shift gears, look in the mirror, and get right with God. Sacrifices, unlike the bartering system my acquaintance hoped for, are appropriate as a response to God’s numerous gifts to us, a reminder, however trifling, of the suffering He endured for our sakes when He hung on the Cross to save us from our sins.

This Lent I pray that we all take advantage of this time set aside to consider His sacrifices, to draw closer to God, and renew our relationships with Him. Use these forty days to pick up a new discipline. Try a retreat, or a quiet day. Pray through a devotional or the Daily Office. Give up Diet Coke -- or some other luxury you love -- as an act of adoration and devotion to God. Our Easter celebrations, I believe, will be all the more poignant and fulfilling after a period of penitence, preparation, and devotion.
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Monday, February 15, 2010

Revolve 2010: God's Word Packaged for Girls

Like many Christian parents, I look for fun and interesting ways to fortify my kids with God’s word, so Revolve 2010 drew my curiosity. Geared toward preteen and teenage girls, Revolve 2010 (which takes its name from the Revolve Tour, a Biblical conference for young women) is a New Testament that looks like a magazine, its glossy pages filled with quizzes, advice and articles on issues from recycling to esteem to fashion faux pas. Updated annually (this is the sixth edition), this Bible appears fresh and current, appealing to girls right where they are.

While the easy-to-read New Century Version of the New Testament is accessible to young readers, the features in Revolve 2010 provide quite a hook. I appreciated how the quizzes and articles, though wrapped in hip packaging, move kids toward serving God. The memory verses seem carefully chosen to be pertinent to kids, and the spotlights on ministries will inspire kids to get active in serving others. Chad Eastman’s advice on boys is helpful, though your preteen may not be ready for some of it, so check it out first. Interviews abound with the Christian actors who give voice to the “Word of Promise Next Generation Audio New Testament,” including Cody Linley and Corbin Bleu.

I first learned of the Revolve Tour at a Women of Faith conference. While Revolve hasn’t reached my town yet, over 200,000 girls have attended these conferences since 2005. Like the tour, I believe Revolve 2010 can be a helpful tool in reminding girls of God’s bigger picture.

I'd better figure out if there's something like this for boys.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson, who provided a copy for my review.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Catching Jeremy Camp's Cold

Jeremy CampImage by f_shields via Flickr

If you've visited my post today over on Inkwell Inspirations, you'll know how much I like Jeremy Camp. I like his voice. His lyrics. His devotion to God. So you can imagine my excitement a few years ago when I took advantage of a bookstore promotion and landed some sweet passes to meet Jeremy Camp at his concert.

My husband and I already had the concert tickets. Oh boy, did we have tickets. Center section, aisle seats – the better to get a good angle on everything onstage. I had nothing to do but prepare to meet my favorite Christian artist (squee!).

I’d never met a celebrity like this before. Since I didn’t want to look like a yokel or a stalker, I rehearsed what I’d say. I didn’t eat anything with garlic for a week. I brought a Sharpie and my CD with me to the concert, ready for autographing. I wanted to be the essence of cool, a fan greeted and then quickly forgotten rather than someone whose image he might not ever get out of his brain: a creepy woman with bad breath, space issues, and nothing to autograph but the back of her checkbook register.

We arrived early, as instructed, to meet Jeremy before the show. Unfortunately, the people at Will Call knew nothing. I was fated to become a stalker after all, hunting down black-clad employees (his people? Or the venue’s?) for information. Turned out Jeremy was sick as the proverbial dog. He didn’t want to disappoint anyone, but he might not be able to greet the pass-holding fans after all. We’d have to wait until after the show to see how he was feeling.

Poor Jeremy. And poor husband of mine, who had to comfort me with a non-stop stream of “there, there,” and “it’s not over yet” sentiments while suffering his own distractions. He’s a pastor, and as this concert fell on a Saturday night, he was looking at a night of little sleep before a big Sunday at church. Big Sunday. He had a lot on his plate and on his mind.

My husband likes Jeremy fine, but he likes me a lot, so he didn’t say a word about his Big Sunday, although he probably struggled the whole night between going over his sermon, watching the clock, and praying for God to bless our time and help us focus on Him during this Christ-focused concert.

The concert ended, and I hunted down the man in black who’d told me to hang on to see how Jeremy was doing. Turns out there were about 50 of us with passes, and after the house lights came up our little group of pass-holders gathered in the theater to wait. We could hear girls screaming outside for Hawk Nelson, the opening act, as they went out to their bus, but after a while their cries faded. And still we waited.

I knew my husband was tired and thinking about the next morning, so I offered for us to go home. He’d have none of it. He grinned and squeezed my hand and reminded me how cool this was. And that’s where this story changes, because the thing I remember most about meeting Jeremy Camp was the sacrifice my husband made to make it possible for me. He waited with patience, calmed my nerves, and when Jeremy came out to meet us, my husband gave up a chance to do anything more than shake Jeremy’s hand so he could take pictures of me posing with my favorite Christian artist. Then, bless him, my sweet husband rehashed the whole thing with me over and over during the ride home: how Jeremy really didn’t feel well and I hoped we didn’t catch his cold; how excited Jeremy seemed when I told him my favorite song on his new album was “Give Me Jesus” and then how stupid I then felt for complimenting him on a song he didn’t write; and how we walked away feeling like we’d met a brother in Christ, for no matter how much his virus was bugging him, he still treated us with kindness and enthusiasm, exuding a love for the Lord and His people.

I took away more than Jeremy Camp’s cold that night (yep). More than his autograph, too. I was reminded of one more thing I love about my husband: his eagerness to make me happy. I can’t look at the photos of me with Jeremy Camp without remembering the awesome guy who sacrificed a lot to take them.

After a lot of thought, I decided not to publicly share the pictures my husband took of me and Jeremy Camp. There are folks in the background whose permission I can’t seek before posting, not to mention Jeremy Camp's, but ultimately, I determined that the photos are something I want to keep private. They're a special memento of that night, and my husband’s love for me.

Instead, here's a short video of Jeremy in concert, singing "Give Me Jesus." Enjoy.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Faith Over Fear: Reading Max Lucado’s Fearless

Perhaps your worst fear is something you’ve never told anyone, but it holds you in its grip all the same. Whether our fears are logical or illogical, lifelong or new, they have the tendency to incapacitate us. Most Christians understand that fear is not of the Lord, yet we live in a society that is dominated by terror.

Rejection, unemployment, flying, death, disappointing God, losing your family …. Whatever your fear, Max Lucado has probably addressed it in his newest release, Fearless. And he tells you where to address your gaze, coaching the reader to live free of angst through faith in Jesus Christ.

One thing I appreciate about Lucado is that he doesn’t roll his eyes at any of the fears he describes. He doesn’t undermine the power our fears have over us, nor does he belittle the fearful. However, in no way does he indulge our fears. Rather, he provides Biblical truths, statistical evidence, and anecdotes (both personal and historical) to remind us that God is bigger than any problem, disaster, or loss. He challenges us to trust God, allowing faith to rule our lives rather than fear.

The book is easy and quick to read, yet manages to contain powerful insight into Scripture. I also used the discussion guide at the end for further study, and found it helpful. Overall, I enjoyed reading Fearless and appreciated the change reading this book brought to my perspective.

In compliance with FTC standards, I must note that I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for my review.