The Call to Mastery: A New Podcast

The Call to Mastery: A New Podcast

Jordan Raynor, The Call to MasteryI recently had the privilege to sit down for a podcast interview with my friend, Jordan Raynor, to discuss the the sometimes tense, but often beautiful, writer life from the perspective of faith and work.

Say that five times fast.

Jordan is the bestselling author of Called to Create, a book that “restores God’s position as the first entrepreneur, helping readers see the eternal value in the work they do today.”

Jordan’s upcoming release, Master of One, Jordan builds on that message, using his “story-driven, gospel-centric style to make the case that it is through excellent work that we glorify God, love our neighbors as ourselves, and earn the right to be heard by a world thirsty for truth.”

With this as his underlying message, Jordan’s podcast, The Call to Mastery, assembles a line up of speakers from all vocations who are intent upon working with excellence all to the glory of God and the good of others.

Jordan and I had a wonderful conversation about my work as a fiction author. We discussed the crazy dinner that Jordan and my husband had in London with Douglas Gresham, C. S. Lewis’s stepson and head of the C.S. Lewis Foundation, which resulted in a developing friendship between Doug and myself, ultimately culminating in a surprise endorsement from him for my newest novel, A Silver Willow by the Shore.

Over dinner and, cigars, Jordan and my husband and one other friend spent an entire evening talking with Doug about life, art, C.S. Lewis and theology. That night is now logged in my husband’s book as one of the most epic of his life. It may have even edged out the day we got married.

Jordan and I went on to discuss what it might look like to work as a Christian who is an author, but not necessarily define as a “Christian author”.

The discussion was rich and fun and multifaceted, covering everything from my daily habits as a writer to my most recommended books, to the unlikely person I consider a mentor.

I would love for you to take a listen! 

Jordan’s podcast is rich, and I highly recommend adding it to your weekly playlist. Likewise, I cannot recommend his books enough! I’ve read them both and gleaned so much encouragement from them.

Click here to order Called to Create.

Click here to preorder Master of One.

Click here to listen to Jordan and I discuss faith and work from a writer’s perspective.

A Silver Willow by the Shore, released October 2019!

The verdict is in, and readers are loving my newest novel, A Silver Willow by the Shore! I couldn’t be more thrilled with the messages I am getting from readers about the impact this story of mothers and daughters, and of the longing for home, is having on each of them.

A Silver Willow by the Shore weaves together the stories of three generations of women, from the gulags of 1930’s Siberia, to the quiet oppression of 1980’s Soviet Moscow, to present day Tennessee. It is an unforgettable narrative of the treachery of secrets, and of the light that unites the heart of a family.

Click here to purchase your copy of A Silver Willow by the Shore!

We Adopted, We All Got Sick, And I’m Launching a New Novel: An Update

We Adopted, We All Got Sick, And I’m Launching a New Novel: An Update

There really isn’t a non-awkward way to begin this post. It’s been nearly ten months since I last posted in this space. In internet years that’s practically a lifetime.

A lot can (and did) happen in ten months. For those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook or Instagram, here is the abridged version of events.

We adopted Sawyer in November, and while we thought we were prepared for the adoption journey, there was much about Sawyer’s health that wasn’t disclosed to us, so the learning curve has been straight uphill.

Sawyer Jin Stuart

Shortly after bringing Sawyer home, when we were still reeling from the whirlwind that was China, our oldest son got sick. After a solid month of running a fever, and an ultrasound that revealed a swollen spleen, he was diagnosed with mono. A month after that, he was diagnosed with pneumonia.

On the same day that he was diagnosed with pneumonia, I was diagnosed with mono. This happened to be the same day that Sawyer had major surgery to repair his cleft palate.

The months of January-April are a bit of a blur. We were just trying to survive. We have seen more doctors and specialists than I ever knew existed, and we’ve met our family medical deductible for the first time in our lives, an accomplishment that isn’t nearly as exciting as it sounds.

And here we are, on the other side. Survivors.

Suddenly, my dream from way back in early September seems almost prophetic, doesn’t it?

There’s so much more I could share about these last ten months. They have been some of the hardest, most exhausting, emotionally charged, physically taxing, spiritually formative months of my entire life.

But it’s more than a simple blog post can handle, so I’ll simply leave it at this:

God is good because He is God. Hope is slow, but it is never ending. Life is hard and unpredictable while simultaneously beautiful and miraculous.

In the midst of this hard season, I’ve found myself craving the process of writing like never before. It was my lifeline when the mono knocked me out. In the wee hours of the morning, when fear and despair seemed to constantly drive me from my bed, tapping away at the keys brought and unexpected solace.

And through the storm of life, a new story has evolved.

This fall, I will release my second novel, A Silver Willow by the Shore.

Releasing Fall, 2019!

A brief synopsis:

How do you face the future if you don’t know your own past? 

When an unexpected pregnancy changes her dreams, seventeen-year-old Annie tries to keep it from her mother and her grandmother.  But secrets have a way of coming out.  In a household of strong women, the arrival of a new life sets off a spiral of truth that reveals a past full of whispers and lies—a past that existed in another world under the heavy hand of Soviet oppression.  This history has dictated the circumstances of the present, but hope, redemption, and forgiveness will grow in the rocky places of these generational differences.
A Silver Willow by the Shore is the story of the unshakeable love between mothers and daughters and of the impact that past decisions can have on present day circumstances. This novel weaves together the stories of generations of women, from the gulags of 1930’s Siberia, to the quiet oppression of 1980’s Soviet Moscow, to present day Tennessee.  It is an unforgettable narrative of the treachery of secrets, and of the light that unites the heart of a family.

 

In the weeks to come, I will be sharing more about the book and opportunities to help spread the word. In the meantime, if you aren’t following me on Instagram, hop on over as I’m posting updates there regularly about this newest novel, my crazy life, and the art of the written word.

It’s awkward to jump back in this way after so many months away. It’s like trying to reinsert yourself into a conversation that you walked away from.

But here we are. We’re alive and (mostly) well. We’re surviving, and perhaps even thriving. By God’s grace alone, we’re standing in this place, humbled, changed, and excited about what the future holds.

 

Now, fill me in on you! What has life thrown your way in the last ten months?

On Waiting, Praying, and Not Sneaking a Peek

I tiptoed down the stairs moving slowly and deliberately. Every once in awhile I’d freeze, certain I heard footsteps approaching, then resume my movement down this deviant path.

I’d laid in bed for a long time thinking about this. I’d tried to convince myself that I shouldn’t do it, but the tug of curiosity outweighed reason, so I finally gave in to the temptation.

I approached the Christmas tree, it’s piney scent strong and full in the dark room. Christmas morning was still a week away, but the urgency to know what was wrapped under the tree was more than I could handle. Reaching over to the lamp on the table, I quickly flicked it on, then swiveled my head down the hall toward my parent’s room to see if they’d noticed.

When I was certain the house was still, I made my way to the large gift under the tree – the one with my name written on it. Very, very slowly I pulled back the taped sides, and I peeked beneath the wrapping to see what it was.

All these years later, I don’t actually remember what the gift was that I peeked at in the dark. I must have been eight or nine that year, and I was certain that I couldn’t wait all the way until Christmas morning to know what was in that mystery package.

One thing I do remember, though, is the disappointment. Not in the gift – I’m sure the gift was great. No, I was disappointed on Christmas morning because the thrill of opening the gift was gone. I’d peeked under the cloak of night, and with no one around to enjoy my delight, the magic of the moment disappeared.

If only I had waited.

“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” James 5: 7-8

I’ve been thinking a lot about waiting lately. Waiting is hard. It is as active as anything else we do in this lifetime.

Likewise, I’ve been wrestling through this idea of waiting when coupled with prayer. Both seem so easy, requiring little to no physical exertion, but paired together they can sometimes feel like an emotional marathon.

I don’t want to wait; I want to know right now. I want to see beneath the wrapping, just a tiny glimpse of the waiting gift. I want to assess if I’ll even like that gift with my name on it. I want, I want, I want…

Waiting on answered prayer makes me feel like the little girl lying in her bed, wondering and wishing she knew what was on the other side of Christmas morning. I cling tight to the hope and dream of seeing this desire of the heart answered while also wrestling fear that I will never see the other side of this waiting.

Sometimes I pray as though it is a magic potion, an incantation that will produce immediate results. Most often, these prayers that I pray are good prayers. They are in line with God’s character, and with His spoken desire for His people. I’m not praying for a new car or a better life. I’m praying for healing, for restoration, for reconciliation, for the fulfillment of His goodness here on earth.

But the waiting part? I’m afraid I’m still not very good at it. 

There is a frustration that can creep up when waiting on an unanswered prayer. We speak our words of petition into the quiet sky and watch as those heart longings drift up into the void, and we wonder if it even means anything. 

Maybe you, like me, are waiting for an answer to a deep, heartfelt plea. Can I offer you this encouragement?

Keep waiting. Don’t give up hope. Hope is Slow, after all, but it’s real.

And while you wait, watch for the little ways that the Lord is reminding you of His goodness. See the ways He’s showing you that He’s still at work, even if it feels so very silent.

And whatever you do, try not to take matters into your own hands. Don’t look for a peek at the gift that’s waiting. It just may taint the glory of the surprise.

Trust me, I know.

Where the Present Touches Eternity

We didn’t really know what to expect when we stepped into the house. We only knew it would be a unique experience.

A Nigerian family from our church had invited us to celebrate the 50th birthday of their oldest sister with them. She is visiting America for the first time from Nigeria, and they planned a night of unabated joy.

As the evening wore on, more and more people poured through the doors, all of them dressed head to toe in traditional clothing. The women’s dresses were handmade by one of the sisters, their head wraps bold and bright, heels high, and jewelry big.

We began the evening with a hymn, following by praise songs, words of wisdom from the brother and our pastor, then words of affirmation for the birthday girl from anyone who wanted to speak.

They were effusive in their praise, voices singing loud. No one cared if they were on key or not. It wasn’t about a perfect rendering of the song. It was about praise. It was about joy.

It was a celebration.

“We want to thank God that you are still alive today!” they said, over and over. “We praise God because He could have taken you before today, but He didn’t. He gave you 50 years, and we thank Him for that.”

They pulled out drums and sang, the women all gathering around the celebrated sister, and they danced, laughing and clapping. The younger brother dropped to his knees, his arms raised high to the sky. It was worship. It was celebratory. It was praise.

It was joy.

And I sat in the corner with tears wetting my cheeks because this is the joy I long to fill my home. These people come from a country that has seen deep and lasting hardship, but you wouldn’t know. There was nothing melancholy or solemn about the evening. Only smiles that split wide their faces, and the overflowing joy that comes with praise.

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It’s something I’ve seen before. I don’t know why, but I’m forever amazed at the ability of those who have walked through pain and suffering to live in the present with great joy and gladness. But what do I expect?

Bitterness? Anger?

Why do I look for these things in those whose backgrounds have been less blessed than my own? Is it because I’ve been so immersed in the American mentality my whole life that I falsely and wrongly believe that hardship must naturally be dwelled upon? 

Is it because I have seen so many people I know, people who have been unendingly blessed, dwell on hurt feelings and heartaches, simmering in anger rather than living in the blessed beauty of forgiveness and joy?

Oh, America. How much we miss when wrapped inside all our ‘blessing’.

We miss the opportunity for joy when we aren’t willing to look past our anger.

We miss true, unadulterated praise when we get stuck dwelling on the heartaches of the past.

We lose sight of every good thing when we constantly look toward an unknown future in fear.

I’m saddened to think that my country is missing out on a great deal of celebration because we’re so blinded by ease.

Easy Street has made us boring.

“In a word, the future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. Is is the most completely temporal part of time – for the Past is frozen and no longer flow, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.” C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Our nation is caught up in the uncertainty of the future right now. We’re rolling in our hopes and our fears, and it’s stealing joy, siphoning it right off before our eyes.

We spend so much time looking into the past, hoping that it will dictate the future, that somehow we seem to have forgotten how to enjoy the present, which is bright with the rays of eternity. The present is where love takes shape – it’s where memories are made, life is lived, and joy is found.

Oh, friends. May we all experience the joy of living in the present today. May we let go of the anger and hurt of the past, and fear not the uncertainties of the future.

May we touch eternity today, right now, in this very moment.

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If you haven’t preordered your copy of my novel, Like a River From Its Course, what are you waiting for?* It’s based on the true stories of men and women I spoke with personally – people who did not dwell on the past, but who lived joyfully in the present. This is a book you don’t want to miss!

*affiliate link included

A Portion of the Proceeds

Giving Back

It’s no secret that orphan care is near and dear to my heart. It’s something that I care about deeply. Some women long to have children naturally, and cannot, and adoption is the way they grow their families.

I am, admittedly, quite the opposite. I longed to adopt the way that most women longed to have children naturally, and for whatever reason, that door has been closed to me. At least up until this point. The future is always a mystery, though…

After our Russian adoption was terminated, I poured myself into finishing my novel. All of the kids were in school at that point, so I’d drop Landon off at preschool, then drive to the Whole Foods around the corner and have ridiculously healthy food while I tapped away at my computer.

I shed big, giant alligator tears throughout the entire process. I called my husband on more than one occasion sobbing from the parking lot, my heart so utterly torn over this fractured dream. I felt lost and confused.

I was a mess.

Writing Like a River From Its Course* was part of my healing. Through the rhythmic tapping of my fingers, I released some of the inner angst that plagued me. As I dove head first into the heartache of my characters, I was able to dissect my own broken heart.

I grieved as I wrote, and in the end this novel kept the grief from swallowing me whole.

As I prepared to launch the book out into the world, I wanted to find some way to give back to the country that had given so much to me. How could I gift these stories back to Ukraine?

I bathed this in prayer, and the answer came swiftly in the form of a ministry called World Hope Canada.

I first stumbled across World Hope Canada when Lee and I were debating whether or not we should continue to pursue adoption, or accept our family as it was. As I researched, I found Hope House Ukraine, a division of World Hope Canada that ministers directly to young women who have aged out of the orphanage.

The story is long and twisty, and it involves more of me in tears so I’ll spare you all the details, but to cut to the chase, I have fallen in love with the work of this ministry.

Image from Hope House Ukraine

Image from Hope House Ukraine

Girls coming out of institutional homes are some of the most vulnerable in the world. They are often very young (many are aged 16-17), under-educated, naive, and they’ve spent much of their life without any direct guidance or supervision.

These young women are highly susceptible to human trafficking, substance abuse, and pregnancy, which only perpetuates a vicious cycle.

Hope House Ukraine is standing in the gap.

Hope House is a place where girls can live after leaving the children’s home. They are given a roof over their heads and tutoring so that they can pass the exams to get into trade schools. They’re taught life skills like how to maintain a home, how to garden and cook, how to operate inside a family, to live under authority, and to take responsibility for their futures.

There are now two fully operational homes in Ukraine, each of which houses beautiful girls who just need to be reminded that they have worth and value in this world.

From the World Hope Canada website:Our vision for Hope House is to be a loving and supportive home where vulnerable girls can learn family and life skills, and receive an education so they can live successful, independent lives that are honouring to the Lord.”

As I bring Like a River From Its Course to the world, I want to give back to the country that gifted me these stories in the first place. I have committed up front to financially supporting Hope House Ukraine out of the proceeds that come not only from this novel, but from the books to come.

Specifically, I have chosen to sponsor a young girl named Masha in honor of the woman who inspired this book in the first place.

I hope that you will take a little time to look into Hope House and marvel at the work they’re doing in Ukraine. And if you would like to join me in partnering with this ministry, please let me know and I’ll help connect you to the right people.

In the meantime, please know that every time you purchase one of my books you are helping young women in Ukraine know and see their value. Every time you tell someone else about the book, you’re taking part in this amazing ministry.

Thank you for partnering with me in this way!

*affiliate link included

On Being Brave

I sat in the middle of a long table, a spread of foreign food laid out before me. It was hot in there, bodies compacted together, unfamiliar syllables and consonants mingling with the smells to overwhelm my senses entirely. I took it all in quietly, not really sure of my place inside this boisterous bunch. After a few minutes of simple observation, the meal was served, and I finally asked the question burning in my heart.

“How did you do it? How did you survive?”

It was 1995, and I was Kiev, Ukraine, in the home of Maria Ivanovna. I knew her story, having been told by her granddaughter who served as the translator for our group. I knew that she’d been sent to Germany at the age of 14 to serve in a slave labor camp. I knew she’d survived starvation and brutality, and at least one severe beating.

I knew that when the war finally ended, she found her way back to Ukraine by jumping on trains, sometimes clinging to the outside of a train car for hours.

I knew that her father was one of the few who survived Babi Yar, the killing ditch where nearly 34,000 men, women, and children were massacred in two days time in 1941.

I knew all the details, but what I couldn’t wrap my mind around was how.

How did this little woman with the silver hair and hearty laugh survive those years with her spirit in tact? How could she sit before me and tell her story without slipping into the horror of those years again?

How was she so…happy?

I wish I could remember her answer. I asked this question as a sixteen year old girl, long before the thought of writing a book ever took shape. I was just curious, and I remember the room growing quiet as my question was translated into a language I did not yet understand.

While I do not remember her exact words, I do remember the way she looked at me. Her eyes were a smile, peace shimmering in the depths as she focused tenderly on my face.

Though I don’t remember the exact words spoken at that dinner so many years ago, what I do remember is how I felt when we left that night. Maria made me feel brave. 

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I’d never really thought of myself as brave before that night.

Adventurous, maybe. Impulsive, gregarious, excitable. But brave? Not really. 

Like any sixteen year old girl, I battled insecurities on a daily basis. I found myself constantly fighting against the impulse to tuck into the corners of my life and reside in the shadows, because wouldn’t it be easier there? If I could minimize expectation, perhaps I could also minimize the threat of failure, of heartache, of any sort of emotional pain.

But there was something about Maria that made me feel like I could step out of the shadows.

It was the way that she carried her story, the way she so willingly gave her experience to me, like it was a treasured gift. There was no animosity, no bitterness, in her memories. She didn’t wear them like an albatross, walking victimized through the rest of her life.

Years later, I returned to Ukraine and I spent the afternoon with Maria’s granddaughter, Helen. Maria was sick and couldn’t take visitors at that time, but she took my questions over the phone through Helen’s translation. Even then, though grown and preparing to be a mother myself, I still wrestled with the cruelty and brutality of those dark war years.

I still didn’t understand how she did it – how any of the men and women who survived World War II did it.

But I’ve learned in the years since then that bravery isn’t something you’re born with – it’s something you learn.

Bravery is birthed in the trenches of life, when we’re pressed from every side and hewn from the cloth of hardship. But where does it come from?

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

If we truly understand the origins of bravery, then we just might see the potential waiting for us in the hard times. Bravery isn’t something that I can muster up on my own strength, though I suppose I could convince myself of that.

No, bravery and courage are most alive inside the power of the One who wove them into me in the first place.

The potential for bravery is knit into all of us, whether we see it or not. But the recognition of God as the author of that bravery unleashes a power far greater than any of us realize.

This is one of the many lessons I learned as a young woman in a foreign land. Bravery isn’t defined by rank or uniform, or even by experience. Bravery is simply lived and shared, and acknowledged in the hard places of life.

Be brave today, friends.

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