Tuesday, July 7, 2020

A Gilded Lady by Elizabeth Camden - A Bethany House review


Bethany House Publishers, Christian Fiction



Caroline Delacroix is a princess of Washington society. She knows all the right people and understands the ins and outs of social calls, elegant dinners, and how to not offend society matrons. Her skills are about to be put to the ultimate test as the personal secretary to Mrs. Ida McKinley, the reclusive wife of President William McKinley. It is the end of July, 1900, and King Umberto of Italy has just been assassinated. Caroline must help the First Lady navigate the correct protocols while paying her respects to the Italian Ambassador’s wife. Thankfully Caroline knows Italian, and puts an appropriate, if not 100% truthful, spin on the First Lady’s words.

Nathaniel Trask has been working for the US Treasury Department tracking down counterfeiters and solving other crimes. Under his supervisor, John Wilkie head of the Secret Service, Nathaniel has just wrapped up an investigation in Boston when the news of King Umberto’s assassination hits. Against his wishes, Trask is assigned to the White House, in hopes that an actual plan for the President’s safety can be developed before similar threats arise in the US.

Fans of Elizabeth Camden’s The Spice King will enjoy returning to the Delacroix family and the mystery that surrounds them in A Gilded Lady. Caroline is a free-spirited lady who wants to DO something more than just choose a husband and settle down. Her twin, Luke, is languishing in a Cuban prison, charged with treason. Caroline knows that something just is not right about Luke's arrest, but cannot figure out how to help her brother. Their older brother Gray is balancing the day to day operations of the family’s  spice import business with a need to free Luke from prison.

As Nathaniel and Caroline are forced to work together, sparks fly - but not always the romantic kind. Caroline looks for the fun in life, and admits to having a few bad habits. Nathaniel is straight laced, focused, and does not have time for nonsense like flowers and tea parties. In order for each of them to do their jobs well, they have to learn to work through their own pasts, and accept help from each other. Caroline must learn to appreciate the hard work of others, even if it feels like a wet blanket on the plans she is making to help Mrs. McKinley entertain Washington Society. The lessons Nathaniel has to learn are even harder: forgiveness, trust, and hope.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Gilded Lady. Since The Spice King was one of my favorite books from 2019, I had been eagerly awaiting book 2 in Camden’s Hope and Glory series. A Gilded Lady is thought-provoking, interesting, and filled with plot twists. Definitely a great book. Along the way I found myself searching the web to learn more about President and Mrs. McKinley, their transcontinental tour, and American life in 1901.

If you are a fan of Lynn Austin, Jennifer Delamere, Tamera Alexander or Jocelyn Green you will enjoy meeting the characters of Elizabeth Camden’s books. Their real-ness, faults, and small victories will both challenge and encourage you, while the well written storyline will keep you entertained. Just don’t start this book in the evening - you’ll have trouble putting it down and heading off to sleep!



I received an advance reader copy of A Gilded Lady from Bethany House Publishers. No other compensation was provided. I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Emotions

Our emotions are tricky things aren't they? One minute we're up, happy, moving forward, and then something happens and we're sad, stopped, leaning over the chasm of depression and wondering if we will fall in. Have you been on that roller coaster recently? I surely have.

While it is possible to shut ourselves off from our emotional responses, build walls and keep other people at arm's length, that is NOT healthy. We need the ups and downs of our emotions to feel alive. We need the hope of turning our emotional burdens over to God to give us a way forward when we are feeling overwhelmed. 

Life isn't easy. Life is not always joy, rainbows, and unicorns. But life is precious, and we only have one chance to live it. I don't have all the answers to your struggles, but I know the God who does. I don't have all the answers to my own struggles, but Jesus promised that when I come to Him He will take my burdens and give me rest. He offers that same rest to you.

Whether you are laughing or crying, raging at the world or hiding under a blanket, God still sees you. He still offers His love and peace. He is holding out rest for your weary soul. Accept His gift.

I'll be praying for you.


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

How


Today I'm joining back up with one of my favorite groups, the Five Minute Friday writers. And yes, I am quite aware it is Tuesday - life is moving at a different pace around here ;)


How do we write stories that show both the grit and the grace of everyday life? I have been taking an online writing course this spring from Leslie Leyland Fields. Each week we are encouraged to think about another element of writing our stories. It isn’t write, write, write, but rather think, think, investigate, think, write, refine, write some more. 


This slower process has been good for me. It has reminded me that not everything needs written right now, and truly, maybe not every story even needs written at all. Through it all Leslie has encouraged and challenged us to not be afraid to write into the hard or difficult memories in our lives. Not everything I write needs to be shared - amazing, right?!? But for those things that I DO feel led to share, I want them to be the best they can. I want my writing to draw people into my story, the one where God is the center, where Jesus is the Savior, and where I keep listening day by day to hear where to go next.


How we write and what we write can either encourage or discourage others. Right now our world, and our country in particular, is going through a lot of very, very hard things. Am I adding noise to the chaos, or am I offering a glimpse of peace, of healing, or restoration? I pray it is the latter.


So I’m going to get back to writing, a little at a time, and see where this think, think, investigate, think, write, refine, write path takes me. To start with, I’m not going back very far. Just two and a half weeks or so. How soon will you read this story? I dunno.


Two and a half weeks ago the girls and I were in a minor car accident. It is categorized as minor, no airbags deployed, none of us had to go to the hospital immediately, but the changes in my life and activities these past two weeks have been anything but minor. That is where I will start writing. I am praying that through writing into this difficult time I can offer hope, and peace in the midst of this crazy world. So check back next week. Maybe some words will have been through the refining process by then.


How will I proceed? With much prayer.



Saturday, May 9, 2020

Happy Mother's Day




mama encouragement, motherhood, Jesus loves you



Happy Mother's Day!


I know some of you are having a terrific day, and others are so disappointed or mad that they want to cry. Mother's Day runs the gamut from over the top joy and love to the depths of despair and sorrow. All of those options are on the table today. If you need to cry, go ahead and do it. If you want to dance and sing, that's okay too. 

After 22 years of motherhood I think I've lived all the possible options for the best and worst of attitudes and occurrences on Mother's Day. May I offer a suggestion? Stop being so hard on yourself, and your family. Motherhood is really hard, and vitally important. We will all have our up days, and those filled with struggles. Some days are a glorious struggle filled with laughter and smiles at the end. Other days seem like they'll never end and are full of heartache.

God gave you those precious children for a reason. More than one reason actually. You are to teach them about God and Jesus' love and sacrifice. They are there to refine you and teach you about sacrifice and finding strength in God alone. 

Mother's Day will be hard for a lot of people this year, what with travel restrictions, quarantines, and social distancing. Take time today to think about the blessing you have. Focus on the good you've found in motherhood. If you need some time alone today, take it. If your family makes a mess, leave it for tomorrow. 

Today, work through whatever you need to with God's help. While today may not start out happy, you can find joy in God's presence, and peace. Go to Him and find strength for this really awesome, yet really tough job of motherhood. 

Consider yourself hugged Mama!
You are loved.


Saturday, April 25, 2020

time for reflection



introspection, mental health, trusting God



Taking time for reflection or introspection is hard work. Some of my friends journal every day, others - not at all. I fall somewhere in the middle. Whether we think, pray, meditate, draw, create, journal or do something else entirely, we need to set aside time to reflect - and then adjust our lives if needed - regularly.

A few weeks ago our pastor said something like this: ‘don’t think you have to be broken to go to counseling, we all need counseling.’ I’ll add on that we are all in some measure cracked, broken, or unsure. Maybe you won’t feel compelled to go see a pastor or counsellor after your self-reflection time, but might you seek out a trusted friend and talk things through? We are meant to live in community, not in isolation. Is anyone else missing their in-person community during this time of social distancing to try to slow the speed of the corona virus, or is it just me?

A few days ago I spent about an hour on the phone with a good friend. We were talking about the struggle to find a new normal, a routine of sorts to structure our days and weeks since our normal activities have been cancelled, postponed, or moved online. Our church has been really good about having regular facebook live events in addition to streaming our weekly services. This is helpful, but I miss seeing people and interacting face to face. I miss the presence of other people.

Have you encountered something similar? A struggle to find your rhythm? I think that’s okay - even expected right now. Some days I wake up energized, ready to clean a closet or go outside and work in my garden. Other days I just want to curl up alone, with a book or a movie. My moods and aspirations change often. Your probably do too.

I am grounded through all of this by the knowledge that the same God who carried my grandparents through the 1918 influenza epidemic and the Great Depression is still here guiding me today.

When we take time to reflect, we find different challenges on different levels. Some days all your reflection may prompt you to do is wash a load of laundry or bake some cookies. Other days you will dig deeper. Like when I got to 1 Corinthians 13 in my Bible reading earlier this month. I don’t want to be a noisy gong, be nothing, or gain nothing. That prompted me to take a deeper look at all the times recently when i have not been loving towards my family. I’ve been feeling a little off-centered since then. Good thing I’m a lump of clay that the Master Potter can re-center.

If you’re feeling a little off-balance too, I encourage you to go to God and ask Hi to help you too.

Life is too short to not live it. Spend a little time reflecting on where you are today. Then ask God where He wants you to be.





Thursday, April 16, 2020

At Home Nature Play



nature play, stay at home, opt outdoors


Hi out there!

I wish I could see all your smiling faces in person.

Being separated from our friends and extended family really stinks!

Fortunately, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, Spring is slowly making its way to us. To encourage, and hopefully inspire you, I'm linking my monthly newspaper column about At-home Nature Play. I hope it gives you some ideas to implement, for yourself, and the kids.

Find the column here.





Tuesday, March 31, 2020

March 31, 2020


COVID19thoughts, encouragement, new normal


What if this is your new normal?

What if whatever unusual situation you find yourself in today becomes your way of life for the next three months, or even the next three years?

Does that thought cause you dread, anxiety, or even grief? As Americans we have had it oh so good for oh so long that we might have, as a collective nation, forgotten what it is like to struggle for existence.

If we were to take a look back in our history, we would find that our grandparents, and for some of us our great grandparents, knew exactly what it meant to sacrifice and struggle. They are now referred to as the Greatest Generation - those born from 1901-1924, those who grew up during the Great Depression and served and worked during WWII.

For those of them that were children at the outset of WWI, I doubt they understood the sacrifices their families were making to send men off to war. They only knew what had happened in their short lifetimes, and that varied widely based upon where they lived and their economic status. Some had been in cities with a natural gas boom, or where cars were being seen as a new mode of transportation, not just a toy for the rich. Others lived in rural areas and life continued on as it had for the decades before they were born. This Great Generation grew up during a war, lived through the depression, and served in the following war.

We are currently facing a war of a different kind: a war against a virus that threatens to undo our world’s economy, and for many of us, our current way of life. How do we explain this to our children? How do we even wrap our own minds around our change in circumstances from only a month ago? One day at a time - one prayer at a time. Our children know their own “normal” - what we need to help them understand is their new normal, as we navigate our own. Prayer is the first step, loving each other is the second.

We do not know what the future will bring. Only God can see outside of linear time. In three weeks’ time will the curve of new cases be flattened, even gone? Or will it take three months or even a year before our lives attempt to return to what we used to think of as normal?

In the midst of all this uncertainty, what are we to do? What should we be called to do? Let us each start by doing our part. Today in your home, or at work if your job has been labelled essential, let’s each do our part. Wash laundry, cook meals, stock groceries, care for the sick - whatever your part is in the fabric of our nation - go do it. And do it well. In Colossians 3:23 Paul admonished fellow believers “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”

We are called to work heartily. Whether that is a third grader working to master long division or a CEO re-writing the budget so their employees are paid, work heartily. Work hard. Give it your best effort today, and again tomorrow. God is watching. He wants us to be a blessing to those around us and not a burden. One way to do that is by doing our part - without complaining.

Do the hard work of prayer. Your life, regardless of how it looks today, offers you the opportunity to pray for others. Instead of joining in the masses who are complaining about our elected officials doing too much or too little in this crisis - spend that time in prayer for them. Pray for your family, your neighbors, your local firemen, EMT’s, the Doctors and nurses at your local hospital. Pray for those who are still working at the grocery store or the gas station. Pray for those working at home, the unemployed, those in quarantine, those in the hospital. Then do the really hard work of praying for those who have lost a loved one to this virus. You have time to pray today - use it wisely.

My final admonition for you today is to not give up hope! Looking back through history we see both good times and bad. They alternate. This too shall pass. There will be an eventual end to this virus and the havoc it is causing in our world. In Romans 5 we are reminded that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character, hope. Why? Because the Holy Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts. If this all sounds foreign to you, I encourage you to read the Gospel of John. You can read it for free on the Bible App on your phone, or at biblegateway.com - then ask questions - get answers - meet Jesus.

In just under two weeks we will celebrate Easter. Celebrate all Jesus has done for us. It does not matter what our new normal is. What matters is remembering all God has done for us - and that He has promised to never leave us.



Easter is coming.


Work hard, celebrate with awe.