True Stories: The story behind the novel cover!

I’m pleased to show you all the gorgeous, shadowy, elegant cover for Lady Jayne Disappears! Take a peek at this loveliness and then read on for the details.

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“Most rumors about Lady Jayne came from men who could not have her or women who could not compete with her.”

This novel is the story of Lady Jayne—tragic heroine of a Victorian serial novel and mysterious beauty who lit up an entire summer and then disappeared.

But mostly, it’s the story of Aurelie Harcourt. The young writer who grew up in debtor’s prison is on a mission to finish her father’s novel about Lady Jayne and to find the real woman behind this story.

Because Lady Jayne is Aurelie’s mother.

Every girl, if she did not have a mother, sooner or later required an explanation as to why.”

The shadowy Lady Jayne, whose face is not quite revealed on this cover, has been an object of mystery to Aurelie her entire life, and our heroine has longed to fill in the pieces of this woman she’s never met and have a complete picture of her. This novel is Aurelie’s journey to understand who her mother was and what happened to her, while also trying to find her place in her mother’s elegant world where she doesn’t belong.

This cover captures the mystery element of the book as well as the elegance and illusive quality Lady Jayne possesses. Even the little earring features her signature color–purple. I’m so thankful for the designers who created this beautiful cover, this work of art, to represent my story. I only hope the novel inside lives up to it!

I can’t wait to share my debut book with you all! It will release on October 3, and that seems so far away, but it’s nothing when you consider I’ve been waiting for this day for years 🙂

Thank you all so much for stopping in for a peek at my cover. I’d really like to hear what you all think of it, or of the story itself, so feel free to leave a comment.

 

 

 

True Story: Love at First Sight

What is it about kids that makes them hate sleep so much? I don’t just mean THEIR sleep, but OURS. The parents. Levi is mostly a good sleeper, but then there are those nights…

One recent night will forever remain in my memory. Hubby and I crawled into bed around midnight after a massive house-cleaning effort, dead tired and ready for sleep. Which we had… until 12:50 when Levi woke up and decided he was done sleeping for the night. He got fed, changed, rocked, bounced, patted, burped, swaddled, sang and read to. His sweet eyes would droop but the second I set him in his bed, those big brown eyes popped wide open. “I’m watching you,” he seemed to be saying, “in case you get any funny ideas about leaving me alone in this bed.”

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Of course, tired as I was, at one point I got brave and changed his diaper without bothering to put my glasses on.

Oops.

Projectile poop aaaaaaaaaaaall over me and the bed. Of course. And I can’t even see what’s what, but I know everything is covere in it. I think I cried. In fact, I’m pretty sure I did. Everybody up, lights on, let’s change the sheets. Back down again, nurse baby yet another time. Attempt to put him down and get a look something like this:

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So I pick him back up again. Repeat the sleepy time process that seems to be working better on the adults than the kid.

By about 4am, when I’d reached my point of sheer exhaustion, I laid this child on the bed between Vince and I and looked down at his bright-eyed little face that should have been sleeping, and said, “you rotten little bugger.” He blinked twice, then his face broke into the hugest dimpled grin I’d ever seen.

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And you know what? I smiled back. I looked down at him through bleary eyes aching for sleep and my heart melted.

Some people cannot understand the nature of God’s love for us, and I’m right there with them. It doesn’t make sense to me why a God like that would want anything to do with any of us. In fact, when I was in my twenties and God reached out to me in a huge way, I couldn’t wrap my head around why He’d do it. Not at all.

Apparently, He sent Levi to help us better grasp the idea.

Levi came into the world one day in August bringing nothing, able to do nothing, yet already in possession of our love in abundance. He can do nearly nothing for himself, his needs are frequent, and he can offer nothing–not even gratitude–in return. Yet we planned for and welcomed him into our family and looked forward to his arrival. Before he can even understand the concept, he’s been showered with kisses and sacrificial love. And if this little boy who’d done nothing but be born needed a hug, a procedure, a KIDNEY, you better believe we’d be right there pouring out everything we had to give it to him.

That’s just a very human version of God’s abundant love for us. So often we (me included) feel like God really wants us doing certain things or being a certain way. And He does, don’t get me wrong. But more than that, much more than that, He simply wants US. Just as babies are precious in spite of the massive upheaval they bring to our lives, we have God’s love before we even understand what that means. We don’t have to DO anything–it’s already a fact. We didn’t earn it, don’t deserve it, but it exists. It’s there for us to reach out and accept, just as a baby reaches out and clings to the finger of his loving parent. And just as I have sat and looked down into my baby’s precious face for much longer than is practical, God enjoys us. He loves who we are. He delights in us.

What a different view of God. Honestly, I did know all this about Him before, but I’ve gained such an experiential knowledge of it through this beautiful, terrible, heart-wrenching piece of motherhood. All my children did to make me love them was…. be born. (Ok, I loved them before that, but you get the idea.)

Of all the names God calls Himself, the one that has become the most precious to me, the one I understand best, is FATHER. I’ve recently started addressing Him as Father instead of my usual “Lord” or “God” in our personal talks and it’s amazing the sense of intimacy it invites into those conversations. The feelings of being loved it evokes. And all I did was… exist.

I’ll just say this to end my thoughts–love at first sight does exist, and it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.

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True Stories: Levi’s Crazy Birth Story

I’ve been away from my blog lately, but I have a good reason. A very cute one, actually. Our second baby joined the family a little early, and with his arrival comes a great birth story. It was nothing of what I expected, but everything I should have come to expect from God.

Most of you who know me in person heard my many worries about this birth as the due date approached. Our childcare for the two year old was coming from about 2-3 hours away, and our hospital was about an hour away from our house. Our doula Amy, who I had come to depend on during baby #1’s birth, would be on a trip up until 5 days before the due date. How on EARTH would everything fall into place? Especially considering the possiblity of false alarms and the fact that babies make their own schedules.

Despite all my worry, let me tell you how it all worked out–every last detail, down to the last possible moment. Like detailed brush strokes from an artist who knows exactly what he’s doing.

I had two nights of prodromal labor (when non-braxton-hicks contractions start up, get regular, then die out). I warned my dad and his wife (Elena’s childcare) that baby would probably come early and settled in at home. On Sunday they started up in the afternoon rather than at night. My dad offered to come up, just in case, and I waved it off. “Nah, it’s ok. This could last for weeks.”

Nope. (Baby was born within 6 hours of that phone call.)

I sat outside with Elena and Vince as they drew on the driveway with sidewalk chalk. We picked berries in the yard, walked and talked… with mom pausing every once in a while for a contraction. Finally I realized they were about 2-3 minutes apart and we decided I should think about going in. (“This is real labor!” Vince had been saying for hours. Yes, I should have listened.)

I called my doula and debated with her about if it was true labor or not. I told my dad to go ahead and start heading toward our house and I’d go get checked out at least. They were scheduled to arrive around 9pm but by 8 or so, I decided we needed to leave–THAT SECOND. Vince got everything in the car and we told my dad to meet us at the hospital and we’d hand Elena off to him. Told the doula we were on the way. I curled up in the car and, quiet as I am, almost slammed my fist into the car horn as Vince double and triple checked everything in the house. It was definitely time to GO!

Then we had an hour-long drive to the hospital. About 15 minutes into that drive, baby decided it was time to make an appearance–right that minute. Throwing out all my training about relaxing through contractions, I tensed every muscle I had to keep that baby inside until we got there! That’s an agony I never want to feel again. I begged Vince to drive faster (poor guy was already moving pretty fast through a construction zone!) I told Vince not to bother switching Elena’s carseat and everything when we got there–that could wait until after the baby came or he might miss it.

And then everything came together with the precision and amazing timing I’m coming to expect from God–especially when He wants to prove to me that He had it under control the whole time. (Maybe next time I’m in an anxious spot I’ll worry less. Maybe.)

My dad and his wife arrived at the hospital FIVE MINUTES before we did. Cindy came out with a wheelchair when we drove up. Our doula, who was hours away from leaving for a week-long trip, came sprinting through the parking lot as we arrived. She stayed with me in triage while Vince got Elena set up in my dad’s car. When I finally got wheeled to a delivery room, they had me sign all these forms (which I wanted to hurl at the wall and scream at them to let me push already!) Being so thoroughly Norwegian, I bit back the screams I wanted to let loose and compliantly signed every form they shoved in front of me. In silence. Hopefully I didn’t sign away my home or anything, because I sure didn’t read them!

I don’t remember the rest in perfect detail, but it went something like this: “Ok, I’m going to check and see if you’re dilated enough to stay yet… Oh look, HAIR!” At this point I think Vince showed up. Just in time. With one contraction my water burst like a pressurized water balloon, then another contraction or two and our baby Levi arrived at 10pm. I think we were in the birth room about 15 minutes total when he was born, and we called to let my dad know… while he was still driving to our house!

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Despite my anxiety about all the variables, all the possible crisis situations, everything fell exactly into place. Down to the minute. My doula was there to help, Vince did not miss the birth, Elena was taken care of, and we even managed to make it to the hospital! And meanwhile God is chuckling at all my senseless worry.

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Levi’s birth left me in shock. I laid in the birthing room shaking, thinking “my baby’s here already. He’s here. He came out. We did it.” And just a few hours before, I had been debating with my doula if this was the start of real labor or not. It was amazing, intoxicating… humbling. Never again will I doubt God’s utter sovereignty. (Ok, not NEVER. I’m still human. And me.) And never will I forget the way He so perfectly orchestrated Levi’s amazing birth–and blessed me with every little thing I worried about not having right.

And at the end, I am left to cuddle my sweet little boy, the newest piece of my heart. ❤

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The Story of Broken Glass

This is what broken glass looks like.

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But we all know this image, because we’ve felt this way before. Perhaps you experienced a day where incredible weight built up until you broke under the pressure. Maybe it took years of stress for you to shatter. Either way, we’ve all had a time where we’ve known without a doubt that we are utterly broken. Crushed.

Nothing makes you feel more useless or discouraged. After all, what do you do with shattered glass? It’s difficult and tedious to clean up. You don’t want to let someone else clean it up—what if they cut themselves? So you collect the pieces and get them as far out of reach as possible.

But what if someone asked you for those shards as you snuck them out to the trash? My mom saves everything—EVERYTHING—because she sees a potential craft project in it. So what if someone looks at those shards and says, “yeah. I think I can use those. Would you give them to me?”

“Ok, sure,” you say. “Here you go.” And you wait to see what they’ll do with it. Lo and behold, they polish them. Not only that, but they infuse them with color. Wow, that’s incredible! I’m glad I gave this to someone who knows what they’re doing. Now someone has a collection of beautiful stones for their mantle, all because they were placed in the hands of a master craftsman. What was broken is now polished out into something useful and pretty.

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But this artist has more in mind than merely pretty stones. “Just wait” he says. So you leave him to his work, finally beginning to trust his expertise. He has a very detailed plan on paper, with specific ideas for every single piece of glass. Ready to be amazed, you step up to look at his work when he pronounces it done. And of course he does not disappoint as he reveals…

Northern rose window of the cathedral Notre-Dame in Chartres, France

You stand back in awe, tears in your eyes, as you see what the master craftsman has done with the shattered pieces of glass. The brokenness you wanted to hide away and move on from as quickly as possible. “I can use that,” he’d said, and now those words ring true. Here it is, all your pain and brokenness in a beautiful display, in a way that makes sense. The pieces fit together, in this master’s plan, to form an entire picture. They even tell a story to others looking on and communicate something to them. Amazing, you think. And truly it is. But he’s not *quite* done. “Just one more important touch,” he says, disappearing for a moment. And then light bursts through the glass from the other side, a prism of colors raining down on you.

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And then you get a glimpse of his true plans from the beginning. For only a master craftsman can take your shattered, broken pieces, fit them together into the beautiful image He’d designed from the beginning, and then shine His own light through the prism of colors for a radiant display that will leave everyone who sees it breathless with the wonder of His artwork.

And imagine, He’s done all that through you. Through your brokenness. Because only broken pieces can be fitted together into something beautiful, just as empty jars are the only ones ready to be filled with something amazing.

And only a master can take the dirty, messy garbage you would love to discard forever and make it a stunning masterpiece that will prove to everyone around how great are His plans and His power.

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve been broken in the past, it feels like an “end.” The end of my strength, the end of a relationship, the end of my success. But in truth it’s a brilliant beginning. God cannot work with a person who feels “whole” on his or her own. It’s in our brokenness that we become useable, and it’s that brokenness that He uses to reach people, to create that larger picture we can’t see, and to make a glorious piece of art that fully reflects who He is as an artist. Personally, I can’t do much with broken glass besides line my trash can with it, but hand it over to an artist and our shame, embarrassment, and heartache becomes a masterpiece.

True Stories: A Special Siblings Day Story

This is the story about the most awesome birthday party. But really, it’s the story about two siblings, and the kind of bond they had.

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I’ll always remember this neighbor girl’s party for two reasons: first, I almost got to see a magician perform for the first time, which I was ridiculously excited about. Second, the way the party ended… for me, at least.

So at the age of seven, I sat impatiently through lots of food, waiting, present opening, and other obligatory birthday stuff, all while eyeing the window for my first glimpse of the promised magician. When I saw him come up the walk, it was perfect–he wore all black, including a cape and top hat. YES! This was the real thing. I was so excited.

FINALLY they shuffled us all out to the back porch where the magician had set up an elaborate display with his top hat, cane, a few boxes, and other mysterious objects. I was ecstatic, and I’m pretty sure I did a horrible job of hiding it. I could hardly sit still! He talked to a few of the kids as we were all getting settled with cookies and punch, performing a few off-the-cuff tricks for them while we waited. I hung back, being a shy kid, but I knew he’d come around to me eventually, and I couldn’t wait for my own special trick.

But then I got a tap on the shoulder.

It was the birthday girl’s mom. “Honey, your brother is here to get you. Your dad said it’s time to come home now.”

I panicked. Home? Now?? But I was so close! He was two people away from me! But stalling doesn’t work when you’re seven and you’re given a direct order.

“Sorry honey, but you have to go. Want me to get your goodie bag?”

No! That’s like… a consolation prize!

So off I trotted, goodie bag in hand, through the fence to meet my brother on the sidewalk. I don’t remember what was said on the walk home, and I’m sure it wasn’t deep. I mean, my brother would have been about 3-4 at this point, and I was upset. When we get home, I’m nearly in tears at the unfairness of missing the magician, and I go right away to my dad. He’s reading a book in the guest room, not looking like he needs a thing.

“Why did I have to come home, Dad? The party was only like half over!”

(Dad) Blink, blink.

I tried again. “You sent Robbie to bring me home. Am I in trouble?”

“Uhhh… I never sent Robbie to get you.”

Yep, that’s right. ROBBIE sent Robbie to get me. You see, the bond we had was so tight that when we tried to stretch it by four houses, apparently it snapped back together. Even when I didn’t want it to.

But here’s the cool part about this story.

I was not the kind of sister you’d want to have. I was super bossy, sometimes mean, and always “right.” I once actually stuck a tic tac up his nose so far my mom had to get it out with tweezers. (Story for a different day.) Yet for some reason, my little brother actually wanted to hang out with me. So much so that he came and brought me home early so I’d play with him.

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That kind of unbalanced relationship continues today, but in a very different context. My brother has done professional photo shoots for my website, my wedding, my baby’s first days, and lots of other special events. He’s single-handedly helped me move a couch into my third floor apartment. He taught me how to mow the lawn. And when we meet up for lunch, I only get to pay if I trick him out of paying. When I point out how much he’s done for me, you know what his response is? “Yeah, but remember when you edited this paper for me? That was SO awesome.”

Dude, that was in college. Like 10 years ago.

So as you can see, the balance is still uneven, yet he’s always up for hanging out or chatting.

See? There’s just something awesome about a sibling. They are the people we have in our life the longest–parents make up our family for the first decades of life and friends, spouses, and kids often make up the latter part. But siblings are often there for the whole party.  My brother has seen me in my worst years and my best–and he still makes time to hang out with me. That is pretty cool, and speaks more highly of him than anything.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… siblings are a gift. A true blessing. I’m so thankful for my brother.

So here’s the deal. The part I’m super excited about…

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Vince and I have decided to give our daughter that gift as well!

Congratulations, Elena. Because THIS AUGUST you’re getting a lifelong friend!!  Happy siblings day!

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COMING AUGUST 2016!

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True Stories: Raining down kisses

My heart had the privilege of being touched by a woman I met purely by accident. I was visiting someone from my church at a nearby nursing care facility and happened to stop to fix a name plate that had slipped. I took that moment to gaze down the hall at the various residents in wheelchairs, some responsive and some not. A radio or TV buzzed from the nurse’s station. Was it painful to work there? Emotionally draining?

A voice called out to me from the crooked-sign room. “Got a minute there?” It was a white-haired, slightly mustached woman in a long flowered dress, sitting crooked in a wheelchair.

“Of course. Do you need help?”

“Why, yes I do. I want you to answer a question for me.” She wheeled to her dresser with a few grunts and dug in a drawer brimming with unfolded clothing. Out came a gorgeous picture of a World War II navy officer in a smart uniform with slicked hair and a jaunty smile. Dark hair gave him a dashing look that likely made many girls breathless. “Is he hot?”

I think I stuttered an answer.

“He’s hotter than that one though, isn’t he?” The woman pointed to her roommate’s dresser, adorned with hankies, an old-fashioned lamp, and an ornately framed picture of a soldier in an airforce uniform. “Mary won’t believe my husband looked better than hers, so I wanted another opinion.”

Fortunately, Mary was out of the room for therapy.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man as dashing as your husband.” And it was true. Just a hair short of cocky, his confident expression glinted of humor and life. His finely sculpted face could grace a book cover.

I settled in and asked the woman more about her husband. Every lively sentence out of her mouth made me smile inside and out, if that’s possible. I enjoyed every single word she spoke.

Finally I asked her what her favorite thing about him was, and she said, “Oh, honey. His kisses! I haven’t been kissed in years, and oh how I miss it. Mmm-hmmm.”

That started the beginning of our friendship. I came up with a silly idea inspired by my marvelous grandfather, who used to bring a bag of construction nails to his wife’s manicurist and ask her to “paint his nails.” Every time I visited the nursing home, I brought a single Hershey’s kiss. IMG_20151014_155437633I always made sure to bring a different type whenever I could–nut-filled, peppermint for the holidays, and even white chocolate (although that one was hard to give up). The first time I did this, I wondered if she’d even remember who I was or connect why on earth this strange girl was bringing her candy, so I pulled a  piece of paper from my highly organized and well-stocked purse (ok, it was a Walgreens receipt) and jotted a quick note. I left a single kiss with the note on her dresser as I left her room and hoped she’d find it. Before I’d reached the front door, her shrill laugh filled the hallway and made me smile.

Every time after that I dropped a kiss in her room as I left. Sometimes I jotted a quick note to leave just before I walked in, other times I only left the kiss. We never talked about this little inside joke, but her laughter–nearly every time–told me she enjoyed it.

After a year and a half of visits, she died in her sleep. The nurse told me at the nurse’s station, and I left right away, not even completing my visit to my church member–the person I actually came to see. I had to wait a bit before going back, but eventually I did it. And when I returned, the nurse who had informed me of my friend’s passing called me over to the desk.

“Thought you’d get a kick out of this,” she said, handing me a rusted metal lunch box. “Her family threw it out when they went through her things, but…”

And of course, inside lay every single hershey’s kiss I’d given her. And the notes scribbled against walls on receipts. And the goofy lip-shaped stick-a-note. All of it was wrapped delicately in a hankie, tucked into the box with care. Each note had been placed in a perfect stack on one side, as if she took great care of them as precious possessions.

My stupid little Walgreens receipts.

You may think you have nothing of value to offer. And maybe you don’t. I know I didn’t. What I really had, of course, was a God who sees and loves and orchestrates to His heart’s content, using what we deem worthless. And He is not to be underestimated.

True Stories: Dancing with my Daughter

I have a slightly embarrassing story to share with you. However, it’s one I’m also proud of. When my daughter Elena was about a year old, we were traveling home one evening and stopped at a huge truck stop. She’d gotten grumpy and tired of the car and, I’ll admit, I stink at tuning out grumpy. If she’s crying, I’m compelled to fix it.

So we stop. ((sniff sniff)) ((whimper))

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She’s glad to be out of the car and in a warm building, but  she’s still unhappy. Being the idiot I am, I like to make her laugh by doing anything goofy. So we start dancing to the country music playing in the store. But dancing’s not goofy though, right?

Except when I’m doing it. Oh yeah.

I did something between salsa, waltz and tango, and soon I had her giggling. The way my uncoordinated limbs move, you can’t help but laugh. I added my plaid Scottish hat for affect and kept going, wiggling my hips and high kicking. So we flail ungracefully around, spin and dip, flying around the aisle besides the dried fruit. The faster we went, the more she giggled until her sweet laughter bounced around the room. And as the song ends, I sweep her into an exaggerated backward dip with a kiss on her little nose.

Which is followed by applause. I almost dropped my poor baby! I spun around to face an entire crowd of onlookers at the end of the aisle, with one guy recording the thing on his phone.

Awesome.

Then he mentioned something about YouTube. Sweet. I’m famous now.

Elena’s excited by the audience, and my shy self is…. less so. My internal monologue started as soon as I got in the car and hit the ignition.

What the heck was I thinking? I’m so oblivious. I’m always oblivious. Wouldn’t hurt to just take a peek around before you act like that, would it?? Ugh, why did I do that? SERIOUSLY. And now it’s on YOUTUBE!

But if I had looked around, would I truly have avoided something bad? Sure, I would have sidestepped embarrassment, but I’d also have avoided something very GOOD. My sparkly-eyed daughter still giggled in the back seat. THAT wouldn’t have happened if I’d danced like I had a whole truck stop watching me.

IMG_20140911_183238021And in reality, it was about my daughter in the first place. No one else. I wasn’t dancing for those other people, and if I had been, I definitely wouldn’t have had as much fun…. nor would Elena. And it wouldn’t have been worthy of any kind of audience.

Now to translate that to my writing. How many of you do your best work–any work–with invisible critiquers hanging over your shoulder? I sure don’t. My best writing was a book I wrote with God for fun, to untangle things in my own heart. I had no intention of publishing it, so I didn’t care how others would receive it. There was such beauty in creating something between me and God, with no other critics around, real or imagined, to shape my project. It only  mattered what God thought. Period.

And apparently He liked it well enough, because it’s the first book that’s gotten traction in the professional world, too. Imagine that.

But that’s not what’s important. There’s absolutely nothing that compares to spending creative time with God. The truths that pump out onto the page, the “ah ha” moments….  oh, it’s glorious.

The amazing thing about working at your calling is that it’s not about anyone else, even if that calling includes serving other people. It’s always between you and God, even if the project flops out in the real world. Dancing around that truck stop was not about anyone but my daughter. Its sole purpose was to get her giggling and be present with her. So we had an audience…. oh well. Happens sometimes. (In fact, dancing with such abandon is probably what drew the audience!) And when I sit down to write, it’s about being and working with God. Maybe it’ll sell a ton of copies, or maybe it’ll just be He and I hanging out together in creative land for a while, but that’s ok. Because it was always only about God and being present with Him. It’s “our” time. Maybe someday I’ll have an audience, and I sure hope my words are more graceful than my dancing limbs, but either way, writing is a precious experience to me.

It always amazes me the huge difference between my self-conscious writing attempts and the God-driven creations. There’s no comparison. And after learning this, I will never ever write another book without God pouring through my thoughts and words. Because you know what? He’s got far better things to say than I do.