Posts tagged ‘Faith’

Book Review: A Second Chance by Alexis Goring

Book coverI interviewed Alexis Goring here in May, and came to know her as one who stands in the intersection of the arts and faith. Ever since then, I looked forward to her new book, A Second Chance. Here is my review.

What will food critic Traci do when she receives an inheritance from her grandfather … with a string attached: She must marry, with her mother’s approval, before she will receive a penny. At least there’s no time limit imposed on her love life.

And then she loses her job.

Is her attraction to political journalist Marc desperation, or is it real? With her history, how can Traci tell?

And given those who have lied to him in the past, and his current responsibilities, will Marc open his heart up to her?

Alexis Goring’s novella, A Second Chance, starts off with an intriguing premise. How will Traci and Marc sort through all the issues as they build a relationship? This is exactly the kind of romance I enjoy (I’m normally a suspense gal, of course).

Their faith issues play an important role in their relationship, as well. And you know what, in real life, this is how it is for Christians, working out their relationship with God as they navigate the challenges of life. This is what made Goring’s novel such a good read. The faith aspect was real, not contrived, not ignored, not glossed-over. Again, this is the way it is for real Christians in a real world. We get to sit back and watch Traci and Marc unravel the knots of their lives to see if their lives can be knotted together in a good way.

The writing itself is another excellent aspect of A Second Chance. Goring is a smooth writer, skillfully weaving the subplots (Marc’s sister and her kids, and Traci’s financial situation) into the main love story plot, and hitting all the awww moments romance readers crave. Skillfully, I have to add — those awww moments are neither forced, nor are they so sweet they give you a tummy ache.

What did I not like about A Second Chance? I felt the relationship between Traci and her mother, while not ignored, was given short shrift, especially given her grandfather’s mandate that her mother approve her marriage. She does approve, of course, but this could’ve been a source of tension, though Traci and her mom get along well, that would have enriched the story. Of course, it would’ve lengthened it, too, and the novella is just about perfect, length-wise. A tough balance for any writer.

Goring’s intriguing premise, and her adroit weaving of the subplots, and the adept heart-touching awww moments make the reader’s day.

I highly recommend A Second Chance.

Blessings,

Voni

Alexis Goring: The intersection of the arts and faith

Christian author Alexis Goring is here today, sharing her faith, her heart, and her novella, A Second Chance. (I have a review of A Second Chance here.)

Voni: Thanks so much for coming on my blog, Alexis! I’ve been excited for you to show off your new novella. The cover is just all-out fun…what can you tell us about the story itself?

Alexis A. Goring, April 2017

Alexis A. Goring is a passionate writer with a degree in Print Journalism and an MFA in Creative Writing. She loves the art of storytelling and hopes that her stories will connect readers with the enduring, forever love of Jesus Christ.

Alexis: Thanks, Voni! I’m happy to be here. A Second Chance is an inspirational, standalone novella. It’s a contemporary romance about characters that are in need of a second chance in life and at love.

The story features Marc (the hero), Traci (the heroine) and Gina (Marc’s sister). Marc is a newspaper journalist who keeps getting burned by women. So before he meets Traci, he’s ready to give up on love. Traci is also a newspaper journalist. Her fiancé left her at the altar on their Wedding Day and ran off with her Maid of Honor who she thought was her best friend. Needless to say, when readers first meet Traci, she is knee-deep in debt from the wedding that didn’t happen and her heart feels wounded beyond repair. Gina becomes quite the matchmaker in this story. But you’ll have to read it to find out why and how.

Book cover

Voni: How do Traci and Marc meet up in your story? What connects them?

Alexis: Traci and Marc’s meet-cute takes place inside a fancy restaurant. They connect later on when their best friends prompt them to give love a second chance. Working as newspaper journalists gives Traci and Marc immediate common ground. It also gives them a competitive edge because they both know when they’re “on to something”. You’ll have to read the story to find out what I mean by that phrase.

Voni: Common ground…just what people need when they’re on to something! On your Facebook page, you say “I’m a storyteller with a passion for the Arts & Entertainment industry and a heart for Jesus Christ!” What drew you to the arts and entertainment industry?

Alexis: Movies and music! Together along with amazing acting, these elements make movies memorable. I still listen to movie soundtracks when I’m writing a new fictional story. Movies always felt like home to me. Music has soothed my soul and inspired me on so many occasions. It was only natural for me to want to work in the Arts and Entertainment as a career professional. So I pursued it and graduated from college with a B.A. in Print Journalism and grad school with an MFA in Creative Writing. Waiting on the Lord to see what He wants me to do next.

Voni: Movies and music are a natural pairing, for sure, tied together with passion. How does your heart for Jesus intersect with this passion for the arts?

Alexis: My faith informs my viewpoint on life. As a believer in God and a follower of Jesus Christ, I consult them first before I make a career move. I go to God for every issue, praise, problem and concern for whatever happens in life because He is the only One with the answers that I need. It’s amazing how He places people in your life to connect with and help you in your time of need. I love how God works through people to accomplish His kingdom purposes. Since faith informs my viewpoint on life, it’s easier for me to stay motivated and bubbly because I’ve got Heaven on my mind. I know that Earth is not our home so that helps me to choose my battles wisely. When it comes to writing fictional stories, I always pray about it first and I ask God to guide me in every aspect of the creative writing process. He never fails me. As a writer of faith-based stories, my hope and prayer is that God will speak through my stories to help my readers find Him. I hope that each story is like an altar call, leading people closer to the heart of Jesus Christ who loves them with His Life.

Voni: Absolutely! How could your faith not be a part of all the stories you create? Thanks for letting us get to know you, Alexis. Congratulations on your book! Blessings!

(Alexis and I are having fun trading places today. Check out my turkey story on Alexis’ blog!)

When the dog obeyed

02ed71835b650bc03097776c75c5599dThis is not the Sheltie (Shetland Sheepdog) I had growing up, because we didn’t have cell phones, much less cell phone cameras back in those dark ages. Ha! But she looked similar to this dog. Her name was Honey, and before us, she lived in the kennel where she was born, her only consistent human interaction being with the teenage girl who fed and watered her daily. She was sweet as honey, but struggled to bond with anyone but me, since I was a teenage girl.

We did 4-H obedience dog shows together, spending many happy hours training. She would refuse to “talk” to me when I gave her a bath. She would throw up in the car unless we were on the way to a dog show. But, it was as though she read the dog training manual before each training session. Smart pup!

She slept on my bed at night.

One day, my Mom happened to open the garage door just as the newspaper boy came by. Oh, no! Not the dastardly newspaper boy!!! Honey dashed out of the garage to get away from this terrible, fearsome creature.

Couldn’t find her. Just couldn’t find her. About a week later, Dad was driving down a major, busy road two miles away (the one shopping mall in town), and saw her running back and forth in a panic, trying to cross the road. She almost got hit a couple times.

Dad pulled over.

Just as she almost dashed into traffic again, he yelled, “Honey, SIT!”

She recognized his voice and froze. Just long enough Dad was able to grab her and bring her home.

She didn’t sit, but her obedience training had kicked in to save her live.

Makes me wonder…how much obedience do I have in my relationship with God?

Do I hear and recognize God’s voice as Honey recognized my father’s voice?

And when I do…

Do I obey?

In John 14, Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”
(That’s in response to a question about how the world will learn about Jesus, by the way, but that’s a different blog post.)

Did Honey obey to make my Dad happy? No. She obeyed because she recognized his voice.

Do we obey to get on God’s good side?

No, God’s love is unconditional. Our obedience comes because we recognize His voice.

A voice we trust. And love.

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”

Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10)

Oy! Now I’ve got “Trust and Obey” that won’t get out of my brain!

Blessings,

Voni

The Wedding Rings–True story

We were like most people first starting out. When we got married, we were at the beginning of our careers. In other words, we couldn’t afford an expensive wedding ring, just an awesome one. It was a small marquis-cut diamond with rubies on either side. Beautiful. Both traditional and unique. I loved it.

Wish I had a picture of this ring, but this happened long before cell phones and phone cameras.

 

Six years later, we adopted our daughter. Beautiful. On my first Mother’s Day, she was ten months old. My husband, who loves me, handed me a ring-sized box. “Leah got you this with her allowance,” he explained.

My heart melted.

It melted again when I opened the box: A ring with a ruby in the center and diamonds on either side. The perfect companion to my wedding ring. Wife and Mother.

The two rings reminded me every day of my love for Rich and Leah, and their love for me.

Perfect.

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Then we attended the Navy Bean Festival in Rising Sun, Indiana. Yep. It’s a thing. A cool thing. It was a great time, enjoying the Indiana Fall and all the creative crafts and events. It was time to sit down for some bean soup and cornbread for lunch, and we found our place at a long, crowded table with open windows to let the gently brisk fall air stir our senses. Who knew bean soup tastes and smells like home? The inviting smell of the soup wafted out the windows.

Attracting wasps.

One of which made his way into the building, where my left-hand ring finger apparently bothered him.

So he stung it.

The paramedic hated telling me he was going to have to cut it off my poor swollen ring finger.

I did, too.

Rich did, too.

But that’s life.

 

We couldn’t afford to replace the ring, but I wanted a ring so we went to Walmart and got a cheapie, planning on buying a good one later. It was pretty. However, it didn’t take long for a prong to get messed up and get caught on everything; a diamond chip disappeared. I had to quit wearing it.

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Fast forward several years later. My husband, who loves me, decided enough was enough. He was on a trip to Juneau and decided to surprise me with a new ring.

Yet another melt-my-heart moment.

Only I am just 4’6”. The ring needed to be sized. Our local jeweler couldn’t do it, as he knew it would end up almost a square shape, as far down as it needed to be cut. The jeweler in Juneau said he could do it, but he was preparing to close up for the winter, so I had to make haste. We mailed the ring along with my old high school class ring which did fit, insured and all, to Rich’s co-worker in Juneau, who took the ring to the jeweler and returned it to us when he finished sizing it. Yeah, it’s the slightest bit square-ish. But not really. It fits. And I love it, and it reminds me of Rich’s love for me every time I put it on.

Perfect.

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Fast forward a couple of years. We were at the movie theater, and my hands were dry. As we waited for the movie to start, I took off my rings, put my lotion on, settled in to enjoy the movie…

And I noticed later…at home…No ring.

My heart dropped. I took it off for the lotion. But it was also cold that day, and I took gloves on and off as we went to and fro. It could have fallen anywhere. Especially with be-lotioned hands.

My husband, who loves me, did not get upset.

My heart stayed in my stomach for the next couple of days until the movie theater was open and I could call. But I didn’t need to call.

Someone responded to my Facebook message asking people to watch for it. That someone was the manager of the theater.

A teenage boy had found my ring when he went to watch the late movie that night.

And turned it in.

Hope for the world.

And my heart returned to its rightful place, beating away in my chest.

 

As our pastor reminded us yesterday, a wedding ring isn’t a marriage. It is just a symbol, just a thing.

So why have my ring(s) meant so much to me?

The same reason why stomping on a flag is more than stomping on a piece of cloth.

The same reason why a cross is more than just a decoration or something pretty to wear.

It’s the meaning behind the symbol.

A cross is not my faith, but it is a symbol of my faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. That sacrifice is why the cross means something.

The American flag is not my country, but it is a symbol of my country and its history and its rich legacy of democracy. That history and legacy is why the stars and stripes mean something.

A wedding ring is not love. But love is why my wedding ring means something.

I love you, too, Rich.

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What symbols mean a lot to you? What is behind the symbol? I’d love to hear!

Blessings,

Voni

Review: A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

A Portrait of Emily Price by [Reay, Katherine]

“Francesca sported a perfect American accent–one that stretched flawlessly from Chicago to Seattle, dipping down through Colorado rather than passing up near the Canadian border.”

This…this is why I loved Katherine Reay’s Book, A Portrait of Emily Price. These characters are friends to me, now. Emily simultaneously broke my heart and warmed it with her instinct to fix everything, whether it be a pan with a loose handle or a teenager whose home Emily was restoring from a fire, whether it was her sister or her mother-in-law. I don’t do spoilers, but this instinct to fix things comes from Emily’s childhood, and it is the very thing that brings her family to a boil. And solves their problems, in a way, ultimately through faith and family. I loved watching the art come out of Emily the way pizza came out of Ben, pasta out of Donata, and bread from Lucio.

And that’s the thing. Often in a Hallmark movie, a character has a job…something artsy or community-service oriented in some way. But the writers/actors fail to make that a real part of who the character is in their core. It’s kind of a token designation that a character is a florist or a poverty lawyer or whatever.

Reay has no such failure! The artsy, fix-it side of Emily, the food-and-family side of Ben made them who they are, and it made the story what it is. I want to be frowned at by Donata, given a book by Lucio, and fed by Ben. I want to help Emily fix something and watch Joseph paint. These are people I feel like I know. This is a family whose Sunday Dinners I want to join.

I was surprised not to find myself in Atlanta or Italy when I had to look up from the book…Oh, the field of sunflowers! I wanted to go sit there until they turned my direction. I want to go truffle hunting with their dog.

But the story of Emily and this family stopped my heart in places, as it frequently stopped Emily’s heart, left her not knowing what to do, panicked. As warm as these people are, as close as they are…the secrets buried in this family are heart-breaking. And heart-warming.

It’s that kind of book.

So what did I not like about A Portrait of Emily Price? The end. I literally flipped the page on my Kindle, desperate to read more, not conscious I had reached the end. But it was over. Reay does not tell us what happens with Joseph (oops, almost committed a spoiler there). She leaves us hanging, having to think it through for ourselves. Heart-warming. And heart-breaking.

Yep. It’s that kind of book.

Blessings,

Voni

SOFT PLAQUE VS. TARTAR

free_macro_white_teeth_with_dental_floss_and_red_lipstick_creative_commons_509495525

Found on Wikimedia under Creative Commons license. Photographer, D. Sharon Pruitt Owner of Pink Sherbet Photography Official Website, www.pinksherbet.com Contact Email, pink@pinksherbet.com

File this in the category “They didn’t know they were teaching me something spiritual.”

My dental hygienist today explained to me that if you do not brush and floss, within 24 hours soft plaque will harden…

Into TARTAR.

Ew. No one wants tartar. It’s just gross. And it only takes 24 hours to happen.

24 HOURS!!!!!

In fact, it’s worse than she said. According to this website, it only takes 12 hours for soft plaque to develop…Guess that’s why they say to brush and floss twice a day.

It made me think about sin as I sat under the hot lights with torture devices, I mean, dental tools assailing my mouth.

Does God give us the law, then sit “upstairs” gleefully waiting to zap us with lightning bolts at the slightest infraction? Of course not. Any more than the hygienist wants to deliver a soft—or hard—lecture on flossing. Not that I would know. Ahem.

The law is there, like toothbrushes and dental floss and those dental torture devices, to keep our sin from hardening. Hygienists know what ultimately happens when plaque hardens; they don’t want that for us. God knows what happens when sin hardens our heart; He doesn’t want that for us.

Because hardening is what sin does. I think of when Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and it took plagues (spelled surprisingly close to plaque, just saying) for the Israelites to be released (Starting in Exodus 9). On the other hand, I think of Cyrus of Persia, who listened when God stirred his heart, and God’s people were released from exile and returned to rebuild the temple…with funds from Cyrus (Ezra 6).

I think of David, who committed adultery and murder in a kind of sin two-for-one. Yet, when confronted, he repented so deeply we have Psalm 51 to show us the softness of his heart for God. On the other hand, I think of Jonah, who refused to listen when sent to Ninevah and ended up in the belly of a whale, followed by a trip to Ninevah where he preached to the Ninevites with a pretty hard heart. (They repented, anyway–the story is told in the eponymous Old Testament book.)

Yes, with Jesus, our sins are forgiven. (But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgiveus our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:9)

Yes, guilt comes from Satan, who is called The Accuser, while conviction, or conscience if you prefer, comes from the Holy Spirit.(And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. John 16:8–Jesus speaking about the Holy Spirit.)  It’s important to note from the Greek-Hebrew Study Bible that in the Hebrew “convict”–clenchos–means to expose, to rebuke, to show fault, rather than “find guilty” as in the sense of a modern-day court or a judgemental lightning bolt.

Yes, God, through the Holy Spirit, still uses the law to show us where we are going wrong so we can come to him in repentance before the soft plaque of sin turns to hardened tartar in our hearts.

Blessings,

Voni

Trail Leader or Command Leader?

Rich and I went on a short anniversary trip to Fairbanks this month, enjoying the beauty of the nearby Chena Hot Springs as well. While we were there, we signed up for a tour of Chena Dog Kennel, home to both retired and up-and-coming sled dogs as well as ones who love the trail, but just aren’t fast enough for the elite dog mushers.

chena-dog-kennel

We didn’t tour the kennels too much. We were too busy enjoying the pup he brought indoors for us to play with and peppering him with a million questions. We loved it.

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(Rich is on the left, our tour guide on the right)

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It wasn’t even a spiritual conversation. Our tour guide didn’t mean to cut my soul to the quick during our “tour.” But he did.

He shared how there are two types of lead dogs: Command Leaders and Trail Leaders.

lead-dog

Trail Leader dogs know the trail so well they could lead the dog team without the musher. They don’t get lost. They don’t run off. They are trustworthy. They know their job and do it with alacrity and joy.

Command Leader dogs have that same alacrity and joy, but they may or may not know the trail, or they may be entirely off-trail. It doesn’t matter. They listen for their musher’s voice and respond. They can be trusted wherever the musher takes them.

It makes me think of parenting. What parent wants their kid to be one who is just along for the run, pulling their weight? Who even wants their child to be a leader, but one who simply runs the trail correctly? A wise parent wants their child to be Command Leader, attuned to the values and morals they were taught, so that no matter what the trail of life brings them, they can respond with alacrity and joy.

Since when has the trail of life ever been simple and unchanging, anyway?

And what about my spiritual life? Am I a Trail Leader or a Command Leader?

Do I check off all the Christian boxes? Church attendance, check. Read Bible daily, check. Pray before a meal, check. Run the trail as usual, check.

Or do I feel safe when God leads me off the trail into glorious, beautiful, mysterious parts unknown, because I am attuned to His voice?

John 10:27 “My (dogs) listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” — Jesus refers to us as sheep, not dogs, but the point is the same, lol.

Psalm 143:8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. —uh, Who else would we trust but our Creator?

May God lead you off the trail into glorious, beautiful, mysterious parts unknown as you listen to His voice!

Blessings,

Voni

PS. As an aside, life is like dog mushing…a leader is not the one in charge. The Musher is, as in Jesus Christ. Life is also NOT like dog mushing…a leader is not necessarily the one out front. There are many ways to be a leader and impact the world for good other than being out front.

PSS. After our “tour,” which lasted longer than expected as we asked question after question, we were invited to watch them prepare the dogs to take some tourists on a run. To keep the dogs healthy and engaged, they do this on wheeled carts year-round, even without snow. Rich was petting one of the dogs when she was not “chosen”—don’t feel sorry for her; her turn eventually came. The poor, silly thing literally climbed up Rich and began whining. These dogs LOVE to run.