On motherhood: When God calls us to the river

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When I first felt God nudging me to write a contemporary story about Jochebed, Moses’ birth mother, I could not have felt more unqualified.

I’ve never given up a child.

I have no experience with crisis pregnancy or adoption or birth mothers.

Though none of my novels have been easy to write, more than ever I felt just like Moses must have when he pleaded with the Lord in Exodus 4:10:

“O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled” (NLT).

Still, the story would not leave my mind.

I knew I had to write it.

I researched birth mothers and read blogs and books they have written. I visited adoption agencies. I talked to adoptive mothers. I read books about crisis pregnancy. Much of what went into Before I Saw You is the result of this research.

However, the heart of Before I Saw You emerged when I realized I had more in common with Jochebed than I originally thought…

click here to read the rest of this blog post, over at Tyndale House Publisher’s Crazy For Fiction site.

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My top favorite books (and then some) of 2017!

It’s that time of year again.

The time when I look back on all the books I read (and didn’t), and wish I’d been able to read more.

So many books, so little time, right?

One fun part about my year in books is I figured out if I keep a book going on Audible at all times, I can read at least 1-2 more books a month than if I’d stuck to text alone. I also discovered if the audio narrator reads too slowly, I can speed it up! At first, all I can think of is Alvin and the Chipmunks. But eventually I’m so absorbed in the story I don’t mind one bit. (Do you like audio books?)

If you’d like to see my 2016 list of favorites, click here. 

If you’d like to see the really cool summary of all my 2017 reads on Goodreads, click here.

Overall, I came in nine books shy of my goal of 60 books. (Not counting my own novel that Goodreads counted in the mix.) But considering I spent the first half of the year rewriting and editing said novel of my own (Before I Saw You, coming June, 2018 from Tyndale House Publishers), I’m pretty proud of the 51 books and 16,121 pages I was able to read.

I had hoped to share my top five favorite books with you, but I was only able to whittle my list down to seven! I seriously loved every single one of these. If you’ve read any of my writing and you’ve read any of these, I think you’ll see why they’re my favorites.

Below them, I’ve posted several other fiction and nonfiction books I really enjoyed this past year. Many of them I struggled to cut from my top seven. I would definitely recommend all of them. (For my complete 2017 book journey, including ones that didn’t make this post, visit my Goodreads page.)

Without further ado, here’s my favorite books of 2017!

Stick around at the end and post your favorites, too, and any thoughts you have about these. Books are best when shared with others, after all!

*****

TOP SEVEN FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2017

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

A kind editor once told me that my novel, Lead Me Home, reminded her of Of Mice and Men. So re-ignited my interest in Steinbeck, which led me to read The Grapes of Wrath this year. I can’t describe it better than the synopsis on Goodreads, “A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes the very nature of equality and justice in America.” Therein is the reason I absolutely loved this novel from beginning to end.

The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin

The turn of the 20th century. Two runaway girls. An old, broken man cultivating his vast expanse of orchards. And prose that makes me want to slow down and savor every phrase. “Writing with breathtaking precision and empathy, Amanda Coplin has crafted an astonishing debut novel about a man who disrupts the lonely harmony of an ordered life when he opens his heart and lets the world in.” (Goodreads synopsis.) All this and so much more. That’s why I love this story.

This Day: New and Collected Sabbath Poems, by Wendell Berry

“For nearly thirty-five years, Wendell Berry has been at work on a series of poems occasioned by his solitary Sunday walks around his farm in Kentucky. From riverfront and meadows, to grass fields and woodlots, every inch of this hillside farm lives in these poems, as do the poet’s constant companions in memory and occasion, family and animals, who have with Berry created his Home Place with love and gratitude.” (Goodreads synopsis). The result is this book. No wonder I adore it, and in fact, am never really finished reading it. I keep it on my nightstand so I can read a morsel of it any time.

Upstream: Collected Essays, by Mary Oliver

As Goodreads describes, “Comprising a selection of essays, Upstream finds beloved poet Mary Oliver reflecting on her astonishment and admiration for the natural world and the craft of writing.” I can’t say much more than that about why I adore this book. Every word and phrase is like a hug to my nature-loving, writer heart. (I keep this one on my nightstand, too.)

Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

One of the hardest parts about being a writer is that so much of the work occurs alone. The fact that I was smitten with The Grapes of Wrath aside, I was smitten all over again with Steinbeck because of all the ways I could relate to the dysfunction and frustration and epiphany and joy he expressed as he wrote his novel. In short, this book made me realize I am not alone as a writer, and I read this during a time in my writing career where I very much felt alone.

The Invention of Wings,by Sue Monk Kidd

I absolutely loved this story, inspired by the historical figure and early abolitionist Sarah Grimke. Told by dual narrators, Sarah Grimke and her handmaid, Handful, I was riveted to this book from beginning to end, and inspired to learn more about much of the historical events and traditions Kidd utilizes throughout the novel. A beautiful story of captivity and freedom, and often in the unlikeliest of ways.

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,by Sam Quinones

As a practicing registered nurse, I witness first hand the horrific impact of the opioid epidemic on infants, young adults, and beyond. It breaks my heart so much that my upcoming novel is set right in the middle of a small, fictional town in Indiana ravaged by opioids. Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opioid Epidemic sheds a lot of needed and balanced light on the origins of the battle we now all face in our backyards. Few, if any, are untouched by the opioid epidemic, and as people of faith we would all be wise to understand it better.

OTHER GREAT FICTION I READ (in ABC order by author):

A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline

Perennials, by Julie Cantrell

Freedom’s Ring, by Heidi Chiavaroli

My Antonia, by Willa Cather

The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskins

The Sound and the Fury,by William Faulkner

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, by Fannie Flagg

Nashville by Heart,by Tina Ann Forkner

Turtles All the Way Down,by John Green

Camino Island, by John Grisham

The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman

The Alliance, by Jolina Petersheim

Anything is Possible,by Elizabeth Strout

These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901,by Nancy E. Turner

The Color Purple,by Alice Walker

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

OTHER GREAT NON-FICTION I READ (in ABC order by author):

Shadow People: How Meth-driven Crime Is Eating At the Heart of Rural America,by Scott Thomas Anderson

Ruined,by Ruth Everhart

Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival,by Bernd Heinrich

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, by Nancy Isenberg

Mammals of Indiana, Revised and Enlarged Edition,by Russell E. Mumford

Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon,by Susan P. Schoelwer

The Raptor Almanac: A Comprehensive Guide to Eagles, Hawks, Falcons, and Vultures,by Scott Weidensaul

Bats in Question: The Smithsonian Answer Book,by Don E. Wilson

The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds, by Julie Zickefoose

*****

What about you?

Have you read any of these?

What were your favorite books of 2017 and why?

On Christmas and new beginnings and new books–a cover reveal for you all!

I thought writing novels would get easier.

Was I ever wrong.

But the beautiful thing about hard is that hard brings forth beauty.

Perseverance really does build character.

And character, hope. (Romans 5:3-5)

Trusting the Lord, even when it’s for every. single. word. I type onto a page really does prove His faithfulness.

And even in the hard, it is my greatest privilege to write words for the Lord and His glory.

Of all my novels to date, this one is the absolute result of faith. I wanted to give up. My kind, gracious, and amazing editors–though they never said so–must have wanted to give up. But little did we know that it was in the refining and the pressing on that this story finally came to life.

The title: Before I Saw You.

Publication date is several months off, but Before I Saw You is already showing up on bookstore web sites, so I wanted to be sure to offer you, as some of my most faithful readers, a first glimpse here.

I have so much to tell you over the next few months about everything that went in to the development and inspiration behind this novel. But for now, I just want to thank anyone who prayed for me over the last couple of years as I’ve been writing it. I’ve been even more of a hermit and introvert than I already was, some of it because of the writing process, some of it because I’ve simultaneously been struggling with the PTSD/depression I’ve battled most my life, some of it because I’ve also been launching my sons into college and empty nesting is taking a lot more out of me than I ever anticipated. (I read a lovely article just today about Peanuts creator Charles Schulz that I especially resonated with, and that says, “For his part, Schulz was aware that his inner gloom was also the source of his outward light.”) So please forgive me if I have not been present enough, either in the cyber world or if I know you in real life. 

The good news is that our God is a God of grace and love, and there is a time and season for everything under heaven…even for hermit-like writers like me.

The good news is that with our God, there is always an opportunity for a new beginning.

And this new story, like my other novels, ultimately demonstrates just that.

Here’s a synopsis for you of Before I Saw You, and a first look at the cover. I hope you are excited as I am for this to release…even though we have to wait until June 5, 2018! (It’ll be here sooner than we think!):

Folks are dying fast as the ash trees in the southern Indiana town ravaged by the heroin epidemic, where Jaycee Givens lives with nothing more than a thread of hope and a quirky neighbor, Sudie, who rescues injured wildlife. After a tragedy leaves her mother in prison, Jaycee is carrying grief and an unplanned pregnancy she conceals because she trusts no one, including the kind and handsome Gabe, who is new to town and to the local diner where she works.

Dividing her time between the diner and Sudie’s place, Jaycee nurses her broken heart among a collection of unlikely friends who are the closest thing to family that she has. Eventually, she realizes she can’t hide her pregnancy any longer—not even from the baby’s abusive father, who is furious when he finds out. The choices she must make for the safety of her unborn child threaten to derail any chance she ever had for hope and redemption. Ultimately, Jaycee must decide whether the truest form of love means hanging on or letting go.

And here, dear friends, is the cover:

978-1-4964-0956-0-1

Stay tuned here and sign up for my newsletter for first line and insider information as the publication date draws near.

I’m so grateful for each of you!

Praying a joyful, peaceful, and blessed Christmas season for you all.