I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My Favorite Things

By Jennie Atkins

When asked what my favorite movie is I can instantly reply, The Sound of Music.  Its imagery, music and plot make it appealing to me on a multitude of levels.  My favorite being the music. I don’t know too many people when its title is mentioned that don’t automatically picture Julie Andrews standing on the top of a hill belting out the words “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” 

Having seen this movie at a young age, I can honestly say it cemented a love of music, song, and lyrical messaging into my life. Music plays an important role in my life.  I associate events of my past with certain songs. I can recognize a movie by their opening music without looking at the television. And like the chorus from the Sound of Music says, “My heart wants to sing every song it hears.”

So as we enjoy this season of faith, love and renewed hope. I go back to one of the songs from that movie called My Favorite Things.

The writer of the song may have delighted in bright copper kettles.  I can’t say that, but I do love to cook for my family.  I take so much join in having them gather around the dining room table to enjoy the food I prepared, laugh at the antics of the grandkids, and catch up on the years events.

I may not think brown paper packages are pretty, but I am thankful for what God has given me so that I can delight in giving gifts to others.

I don’t necessarily get excited about doorbells, but I do get excited when they herald family and friends into my home.

I may have never been bitten by a dog, but there have been times when life has taken a chunk out of me.  I’ve been tired, overwhelmed, and discouraged.  But if this song reminds me of anything--it was to count my blessings.

By thanking God for what he had done and praising him for what he will do in my life in the upcoming year, I can easily push aside any gloom or dismay that tries to hang over me like a dark cloud and count my blessings.

I thank God for my life-long friend and husband, my children and grandchildren, and for the many friends that have entered my life, if only briefly. I am thankful for all God has provided, including my health. But most of all, I am thankful for God who loves me in spite of myself.

So as 2015 comes to a close, I pray all the best for you and your families.  May your joys be doubled, may your sorrows be few, and may you rest in the abundance of God’s eternal blessings in the upcoming year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What the gift says about the giver

                        Delores E. Topliff

As we prepare for Christmas, you, like me, probably choose gifts hoping to bring maximum delight to the faces of those you are shopping for--whether its kids, grandkids, friends, neighbors, students, co-workers, or shut-ins. And we’re careful to give what we believe our recipients will enjoy most whether it’s movie tickets, a restaurant meal, or a Starbucks card. Choosing the right gift shows how well we know the person.

This season the Lord turned my thoughts to His joy in preparing gifts just right for us, especially His Most Amazing Gift. He pictures our delight as we discover the priceless, everlasting, fulfilling, limitless riches tucked inside the ongoing gift of His Son. That thought enriches how I see Him and gives new glimpses of Him eagerly waiting for us to untie the strings and unwrap the package to get full benefit of everything packed inside.

Parents, grandparents, and friends often make even the outside of the package special with individually-chosen tissue papers or glittery fun cut-outs to tuck inside. God does that for us, too. He handcrafts sunrises or sunsets using our favorite colors. Has a bird land on a branch to warble an uplifting song just when we need it. He provides the funds we need OR leads us to amazing sales that stretch the money we have.

When I was 13, my Sunday School teacher married her pastor sweetheart before they went to Kenya as missionaries. Since my bank account was zero, for a goodbye gift I created an African cookbook with recipes for roasted elephant leg with instructions for how to saw off the leg, roasted termite cakes, ostrich egg omelets, etc. She called it priceless and laughed until she cried, saying its humor would keep her from getting homesick. Her laughter was the thanks I needed.

Consider the best gift-giver of all, all-knowing, all-powerful God, and His joy this season and always as He chooses gifts exactly right for each one of us.

Describe a personalized gift God has given you that means a lot.

What unique gift have you really enjoyed preparing for someone else? 


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

In the Dark

Since July, I’ve shared a lot about my family’s crazy season of waiting and change. Although we are still waiting on God to show us our next adventure, we’ve been consistently amazed at all the ways God has shown us His love and provision while we wait. Despite this, it is sometimes easy to become overwhelmed by what you lack.

Two weeks ago today, near hurricane-force winds ripped through the Inland Northwest. Autumn windstorms are common in our area, but this one was like nothing I’ve ever seen. When it was all said and done, hundreds of trees were down across the area and power was out to more than 200,000 people.

We lost our power around 4pm on Tuesday. We’ve lost power before, but it’s usually back on within a few hours. When my husband got home from work, he told me that based on the damage he’d seen, he couldn’t imagine our power would be back on right away, so we went out into the storm for ice. We were shocked at how much of our area was dark. It turned out that nearly 70% of the Spokane area was without power.

That first night, we got our flameless candles and tap lights, and enjoyed a little electronics-free family bonding time. It was kind of fun. But twenty-four hours later, we were still without power. A sweet couple from our church who had power invited us for dinner and we welcomed the opportunity to warm up and charge our phones. When we got home, we bundled up like the Pioneers for bed. Seriously, I had on long johns, heavy socks, a hat, and mittens when I climbed under a pile of blankets. It was kind of fun to pretend I was Laura Ingalls Wilder out on the Prairie.

By day three (Thursday) we were all getting a little restless. It was frustrating because temperatures were falling, which meant our house was getting colder, but not cold enough to save the food in our freezer. And since our cell phones were our only access to news and updates, we were blowing through our 2G data plan. We spent our evening with our best friends who’d had their power restored earlier in the day, and although we were optimistic that when we got home our power would be back on, it was not. 

On day four (Friday) we started to get frustrated. A neighbor told us that she'd called our power company for an update; the rep told her they thought we'd already had our power restored and it might be three or four days before they could get "back" to us. We decided it was time to check on our freezer and make some decisions regarding our food. We were amazed to find that most of it was still frozen pretty solid, except a few things in the doors. We were encouraged that we could go probably go another day.

Day five (Saturday) we all hit a point where we didn't think we could do another day. If you've ever been without power for more than a few days, then you know what I mean. If you've not ever experienced this, then I probably sound whiny and lame. But there's this point where the darkness begins to feel oppressive and the lack of light, heat, and electricity begins to drain your energy and hope. We were done. And then, a family in our church offered us the use of their little generator.We got it home and running, and got our freezer plugged in. We turned on a few lights, charged our phones, and even brewed some good coffee in our Keurig. Despite these small wins, we finally had to concede that our house was too cold for sleeping so we packed up to go and stay with a family from our church who lives nearby.

It's amazing what a warm bed and a good night's sleep can do for your outlook. On day six (Sunday) we got a second wind, especially when we saw power trucks working in our neighborhood. We were sure we'd have power by the end of the day. And then the power company issued an update explaining that the damage was worse than they'd originally assessed, and it might be Thanksgiving before everyone had their power back. On Sunday night, we drove past the trucks and were disappointed to find it had taken them several hours to repair one block of downed wires...because they still had ten more blocks to go.

Day seven (Monday) we awoke to another storm warning; this storm would bring gusty winds and snow. My internal dialogue? We are going to die here, in the cold and dark of our powerless house. Oh, and a snowy windstorm is forecasted for tonight? Perfect.

Our power was finally restored just before 4pm on day nine (Wednesday). We went into Thanksgiving truly thankful for something we'd taken for granted just over a week earlier.

At some point during that week, a good friend of mine posted a thought on his Facebook page:

Don't forget in the darkness what God showed you in the light.

It occurred to me that our nine days without power is much like our wait on God for the next step in Craig's employment. We are on month seven of that wait. The first month felt much like an adventure. Months two and three we were able to wait patiently because we just "knew" it wouldn't be long. Month four was when we actually had to trust God for provisions. Month five we were done, but month six we got a second wind. Then month seven. November. Dark and cold and powerless.

But here's the thing: during the power outage, when we hit that place where the darkness threatened to overwhelm our hope...on our day seven...what we didn't know then was that within two days, our power would be back on and we'd have a  whole new appreciation for it.

So, as we embark on month eight, I am choosing not to forget in the darkness what God showed me in the light, but also what He showed me in the dark. He has always provided for us, even in the darkest, coldest days in November when friends and family and people we'd never met offered their homes, their electricity, their food, their laundry facilities, their generators, and most importantly, their support and encouragement. And just like my new appreciation for electricity, I know I will emerge on the other side of our current season with a new appreciation for everything.

~Heidi Larson Geis

*Photo Credit: www.krem.com

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Rewriting Another Person's Story

By Jennie Atkins

Have you ever watched a movie and wish it ended a different way? Or that there was a sequel to right all the wrongs in the plot? 

One such movie for me is the 1987 version of The Quick and the Dead starring the western heartthrob Sam Elliot.

It is about a green-behind-the-ears eastern couple (played by Kate Capshaw and Tom Conti) wanting to make their mark on the wild west of the late 1870’s. They roll into a town occupied by rough group of hooligans eager to rob the tenderfoots of their possessions.

In steps tall and lanky Sam Elliott. He helps the couple through many scuffles with the outlaws.  But loses his heart in the process. Sparks fly between Sam and Kate’s characters, and although he desires to scoop her up and ride off into the sunset, he doesn’t.  He is a gentleman putting the needs of others before his own passionate desires in typical Louis L'Amour fashion.

I couldn’t help but wish that sometime in these character’s futures they would meet up again, sans the husband played by Tom Conti and play out a sequel where the strong western woman tames the rouge drifter.

I imagine this is where sequels take shape in the mind of one author wanting to change what was done in the first place. 

So how about you?  What movie would you do differently?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Timing is everything, or how I once sang a live solo across all of Canada

Delores E. Topliff

Years back, I sang a hearty alto in our Baptist church choir during competitions that advanced us to top standing in British Columbia, Canada. After achieving that rank, we headed to the downtown broadcast studio of CBC Canada (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) in Vancouver, B.C. and sang our hearts out in a show live from the Pacific Ocean to eastern seaboard Atlantic Provinces.

Like a bird dog on point eager to give my best, I gave full voice the moment our director raised his arm. The only problem was we were supposed to wait until he dropped his hand in a downbeat to join in.

Horrors! My lone voice boomed through the immense quiet void and echoed loudly from sea to shining sea. I don’t recall who won the national competition, but I’ll never forget my bone-chilling solo moment.

Timing is everything, whether it’s delivering the punch line of a joke, or laying lines in careful sequence for suspense plots that spring traps like a spider springing forward to catch its prey. Spring too soon and the prey escapes. Or, the joke falls flat.

We’ve all done it, but when we fail, our prey (and readers) escape.
The solution? Observe carefully and learn wisely. Build strong patterns to express conversations and stories just right.

Sometimes I copy down written sentences expressed so well they take my breath away to study later. In the heat of the moment, I can’t always  say things well, but with attention and practice, I improve.

What about you? Do you have a Blarney Stone gift? Or have you also experienced throat-clutching embarrassing moments when your timing is off?  Tell us what happened, and how you survived.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Author Angela Bell Visits the Ponderers!

Tell us a little about yourself, Angela.
I am a 21st century young lady with 19th century sensibilities. I currently reside in the southern most region of Texas with my dear family, kitty Lord Sterling, pup Mr. Darcy, and kitty Lizzie Bennett. The latter of which have yet to agree about anything. My daily activities consist of reading voraciously, drinking copious amounts of tea, and writing letters by hand with a fountain pen.

What genre are your books?
One might describe my fictional scribblings as Historical Romance or as Victorian History and Steampunk Whimsy in a Romantic Blend. (For those who aren’t familiar with the term, Steampunk is Victorian Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Think Jules Verne. Clockworks and steam-power with a dash of imagination.)

What draws you to this genre?
I’ve always been interested in history, and I love to continually be in the practice of learning new things, so the Historical genre was a way to combine history with my passion for writing. I’m drawn to the Victorian Era specifically because it appeals to my old-fashioned sensibilities and love of fancy fripperies and everything British. Chivalry, gorgeous hats, and English manors. I’m also fascinated by the technological advancement during the Industrial Revolution, which is where I incorporate my Steampunk.

I’m drawn to Steampunk because of the genre’s whimsy and creativity. It offers an opportunity to insert humor, fun, and eccentricity into the stanch Victorian society. A juxtaposition I love to play with! For now, the Steampunk elements in my stories are minimal and grounded in historical fact. But in the future, I’d like to bring those elements to the surface and make them more even more whimsical.

What inspired your novella The Substitute Bride, featured in The Lassoed by Marriage Romance Collection?
The initial idea for The Substitute Bride was a Victorian Era retelling of the Biblical, bride-switch story of Rachel and Leah. Once I started delving into the story though, I found myself being quite inspired by my favorite fairytale, Beauty and the Beast.

Give us an insight into your main characters. What do they do that is so special?
·      My heroine, Miss Gwen Bradbury, is a book-enthused merchant’s daughter who has taught herself how to mend and bind books. A skill which becomes essential to the story. My hero, Lord Elliot Carlyle, is an English Baron with a passion for automata. He has invented and built a variety of clockwork-driven, automaton animals.

Which actor and actress would you like to see playing the lead characters?
Having one of my books made into a mini-series by the BBC is a somewhere-over-the-rainbow dream of mine! For my hero, Elliot, I’d choose Richard Armitage from the BBC’s the period drama North & South. And for my heroine, Gwen, I would pick Felicity Jones from the BBC’s latest production of Northanger Abbey.

What are you working on at the minute?
·      Another romantic Victorian Era novella which will be featured in a compilation from Barbour Publishing next summer.

For your own reading, do you prefer e-books or traditional paper/hard back books?
I consider myself a hybrid reader, dabbling in books and e-books alike. I have several e-books on my iPhone at present. However, I will never give up my bookshelves, bookends, or bookmarks. I will never completely forsake physical, real, honest-to-goodness, hold-in-your-hands books. Books, with their pages and ink, will always be my first love.

What book/s are you reading at present?
·      Medieval fairytale retelling The Golden Braid by Melanie Dickerson, devotional Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily P. Freeman, and a book first published in 1860 The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness by Florence Hartley.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?
They can stroll over to my cyber-space parlor, www.AuthorAngelaBell.com. Once there they can peruse and subscribe to my monthly blog, 21st Century Victorian Lady, where I post about all things old-fashioned, Victorian, and British. They can also find links to my Pinterest and Facebook Fan page. 

Where can we buy your book?

The Lassoed by Marriage Romance Collection which features my novella, The Substitute Bride releases on January 1, 2016 and is already available at most online retailers. The Books page on my website has links to Barns & Noble, CBD, and my author page on Amazon where the paperback can be pre-ordered today.

From Teri: Many of you remember Angela from past Ponderer blogs. When she was a teenager, her mother told me someone told her to forget writing because it's two hard to get published. After a little righteous anger, I agreed to teach her a few things I had learned through the years. One of my best decisions ever! 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Just Jump!

Heidi here. So, it’s November. Not sure how that happened, but here we are. Remember back in July when I shared the big changes coming to the Geis Family? And then in August when I shared how we were still waiting on God to show us where He was taking us? And how I haven’t shared any updates since then? Well, a LOT has happened in the past few months, yet we still aren’t sure where God is taking us.

July’s theme was CHANGE. 

August’s theme was WAITING. 

Now November’s theme seems to be JUMPING. Faith Jumping, that is.

At the time I wrote the August post, it seemed pretty clear that God was going to give us a job just over the border at a church in Coeur d’Alene that ticked all the boxes and allowed us to stay in our current house. It seemed obvious. But a week or so later, they went with someone else. We were stunned. We were so sure we saw what God was doing.

We went back to the drawing board and continued sending out resumes to churches across the country, but none seemed interested. In September, Craig was offered a job at a national insurance company call center. Since it was the only door that appeared to be opening, we thought God might be calling him to step out of full-time ministry and into a job outside of the church. So he took it. He was slated to start on October 26th, giving the company more than five weeks to do all their background checks.  This job would allow us to stay at our current church where we thought we might be able to continue on part time. It felt like the best of both worlds. We were so sure we saw what God was doing.

Then, on Columbus Day, almost a month later, the strangest thing happened; Craig woke up to a voicemail from a church in Oregon, an email from a church in Texas, and a Facebook message from a church in Western Washington. After an entire summer of nearly nothing, he suddenly had three churches asking if he was still interested in full-time ministry. Needless to say, we were confused. But since Craig’s heart longed to stay a pastor, we decided to be open to what God might be doing through these churches.

Meanwhile, a strange series of events at the insurance company—including some lost paperwork—meant that the company postponed Craig’s start date a week, which allowed time for him to have a couple of phone interviews with two of the churches.

Here's the thing: Craig and I just celebrated our 21st anniversary on October 1st, so I know my husband. I know that he’d begun to dread the thought of starting this job and leaving his first love and (in my humble-ish opinion) his calling/anointing. My heart hurt that he was leaving it as well, because (again, in my humble-ish opinion) he is the most amazing children's pastor ever. This last Thursday, we were running errands and he told me he was expecting a call from the insurance company and that hopefully they’d have all his paperwork in order. I looked at him, and I just said, “Does it seem like over the past couple weeks, this job seems to have gotten really difficult? Like the door seems to be trying to close?"

He agreed that the past few weeks were definitely confusing. I told him I thought we should pray about NOT taking the “sure thing.” Craig, our two teenage boys, and I spent some time talking about the pros and cons, and then praying that God would give Craig clarity on what to do. We gave him our full support to do whatever he felt God telling him to do. That night Craig dreamed about that scene from the third Indiana Jones movie…the one where Indiana has to complete the three tests to get the Holy Grail and save his dad. As he looks down at the ravine, Indy says, "Impossible. Nobody can jump this." In Craig's dream, he knew the only way to get to the other side was to trust that if he stepped out into the abyss, his path would be secure. Like Indiana Jones, he knew it was a leap of faith.

The next day, the insurance company called to say they still didn’t have all his paperwork, despite the fact that he’d done everything they’d asked. In that moment, he knew what he was supposed to do. As the boys and I sat breathless in the next room trying to listen, we heard him tell the representative, “I just think God is trying to tell me something here, so I think I need to withdraw my application at this time.” He did it. He jumped out into the abyss.

Writer Oscar Schisgall tells a story about a time when he sat on a park bench trying to make a huge decision about getting married and moving to Europe with a serious lack of finances. He saw a squirrel jump from one tree to another, apparently aiming for a limb that seemed to Oscar to be so far out of reach there was no way he could make it. Sure enough, the squirrel missed, but he landed comfortably on a branch a few feet lower and then climbed to the higher limb.

An old man sitting next to Oscar told him he’d seen hundreds of squirrels jump that same way—that most missed their mark but none were ever hurt in trying. He laughed as he said, “I guess they have to risk it if they don’t want to spend their life in one tree.”

We've been blessed to find love, acceptance, and security in this tree for a long time. But, as November begins, we are jumping. We have no idea what to expect, but we know we are in good company. The Bible is full of men and women who “jumped” when God called: Noah with his ark, Abraham with his son, Joseph with his brothers and Egypt, Moses with the Israelites, Joshua with the promised land, Rahab with the spies, Gideon with the Midianites, David with Goliath, Elijah with Jezebel, Nehemiah with rebuilding the wall, Esther with her husband, Mary with her immaculate conception, the disciples with their Messiah, Saul/Paul with the Gentiles. It was never easy, but in every case, God showed up. Each of these accounts assures us He is always faithful.

The crazy thing about this jump is that we have peace—a peace we haven’t had all summer—a peace that tells us God has this. And He has us. Even though we have no idea what He is doing.

Your turn: Has God ever asked you to trust Him and jump?

 Picture courtesy of http://www.hsfnature.co.uk/pages/blog.php

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Don't Settle for Salad--or Poor Opening Lines

By Jennie Atkins

The other day my husband and I were driving through a nearby town and we passed a bulletin board that read, “A good story never starts with a salad.” The sign was outside a local beverage store, so the meaning was obvious, but I decided to ponder the statement a little further.

I do like a good salad, but given the opportunity for steak, shrimp, or perhaps dessert, I’m more apt to bypass the leafy greens.  Why?  Because even though the tastier meals have an adverse effect on my bathroom scale, I enjoy those hearty meals and sweet treats, they are comfort foods, and make me feel good. My emotional food meter is instantly engaged.

So shouldn’t our readers immediately experience some sort of emotion response to the opening lines and scenes of our stories? How many books have you read where the opening was so non-descript that it left you wondering what the “rest of the story” was like? Or, it left you hoping the book would, somewhere in the next few pages, get better?  I’ve opened many books by well-known authors (even some who have the privilege of hitting the New York Times best-seller lists), who put little effort into the creation of their opening statement. In other words, they settled for bland salad.

You’re probably thinking, yeah, yeah, yeah.  I’ve read it a thousand other times in craft books and heard it at conferences and seminars. If that’s so and it’s so important, how come I can pull more books off my shelf that have bad opening lines (and opening scenes) than good ones?  It’s the one chance we have to grab the attention of editors, agents, and hopefully readers. 

Make it concise. Make it emotion packed. But most of all, take the extra time to hone your opening lines. Never settle for status quo. You'll find it's worth the effort.

Your turn: So I ask you, what percentage of books that you’ve had the opportunity to read, were less than stellar?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Spell marriage proposals correctly if "you care enough to send the very best”

Delores E. Topliff

Proverbs calls words in due season apples of gold in settings of silver. Whether we're creating real-life conversations or dialogue in books, only well-chosen words convey emotion and build successful character portraits.

Omitting names, I remember years ago when a nice-enough graduating college senior I hardly knew mailed me, a freshman English major, a marriage proposal tucked inside a book of poetry. Written in pencil, his proposal contained three spelling errors.

Emphasizing the importance of writing well, I tell students I circled the misspelled words in red and mailed back his proposal. In actual fact when he phoned for my answer, I mumbled that he was a nice man but I was too young to make that commitment.

We didn’t stay in touch, I heard he married and lived a reasonably successful ordinary life, but that experience impressed me with the importance of always caring enough to send our very bestlike Hallmark. It was also important to me not to live an ordinary life.

What about you? What note, conversation, or encouragement has meant apples of gold in silver bringing you joy and blessing?

Tell us how you've done that in return?

Monday, October 12, 2015

The One Person I Have Big Trouble With

Boy, oh boy, I do!  This person sets off my fuse in an instant. No, it’s not Hilary Clinton. (Well, maybe a little, but this isn’t about politics.)

The person who irks me is Mr. or Mrs. Naysayer. The nerve of them.  They are like the people who once said “man will never fly.” Why, look at that jet trail in the sky. Or like the people who warned Columbus he’d sail off the edge of the world if he took off on his foolish journey.  Hello, America!

Or the person who told Angela Bell to forget writing because it’s too hard to get published. Ha! Not one, but two books contracted are on the way!

How about the man who told us we’d be sorry if we adopted children. Our best decision ever!!

These naysayers want to extinguish our dreams. Are they trying to scare us away because they fear trying themselves? There's an old Chinese proverb that says, "The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it."

If you have such a person in your life, ask yourself why they are coming from a negative position. If they persist and drag you down, you have my permission to ignore them.