Monday, January 31, 2011

This Fine Life by Eva Marie Everson

There’s nothing like a book that you pick up and can’t put down until you have absorbed every word, scene, and chapter. This is the kind of fiction I want to write. And, this is the kind of fiction that I love to read. This Fine Life by Eva Marie Everson is one of these kinds of books.

Mariette Putnam is on the verge of adulthood torn by decisions on where her life will go from here. Her mother expects her to settle down and marry a good man. Her father thinks she should go on to college and study business. Mariette doesn’t know what she should do.

This Fine Life is a delightful story of one girl who grows into her life a little at a time. It is also the story of love that will last a lifetime.

Eva knows how to weave a story that will take root and bloom in the reader. She crafts characters that are life like and believable. Her stories bring all the elements of life and create settings that I am reluctant to leave when the book is done.

I had the pleasure of working with Eva as my mentor through the Christian Writer’s Guild Journeyman program. Her tutelage has been a great help in my writing journey. I love that she and other writers are willing to come alongside a beginner such as myself and offer help and advice. This review is inspired by the amount of pleasure I had in reading This Fine Life and not simply because she’s such a great lady :-)

Friday, January 28, 2011

How to Greet the Day When You're a Night Owl

I’m nocturnal by nature. That second wind seems to come right as I’m climbing into bed and then the ideas ramble through my head as I drop into sleep. I love the quiet, dark and that’s when my creative mind begins to move into full gear. Yes, night time is definitely my time.

Over the years, though, I have often attempted to become a morning person. As much as I am comfortable in the night time hours, I envy morning people. On those mornings when I do get up before the sun I relish the peace. There’s something comforting about being awake while it is still dark outside. Maybe it’s a holdover from my night owl tendencies, but the solitude of the early morning hours are appealing – if it didn’t start so darn early!

So, here’s my little two cents about how a night dweller can enjoy mornings. First, head to bed a little early before attempting this. Second, arise before dawn and brew some coffee. When the coffee is done do your thing with it. For me that’s Splenda and some kind of cream, right now it’s hazelnut. Then curl up on the couch with your Bible and a warm blanket and meet God for a coffee date. Starting your day with Bible and prayer makes the rest of the day go smoother.

Now, make sure you don’t miss the sunrise. God will understand if you take some time for that. For me one of the best things about getting up early is the sunrises. Around here the sun makes a spectacular show in the morning. This is one thing that nights are missing. Sure there’s the sunset, but it’s just not the same as the sun bursting over the horizon to greet a new day. I often stop and gawk at the beauty that Ms. Sun spreads over the sky as she makes her entrance.

If you have the fortitude that I don’t, repeat on a regular basis!

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy. Psalm 65:8

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dear Reader

Dear Reader,

I know you’re out there; I see the little blips on my stat counter that indicate someone’s joined me on the mountain. I love that you stop by and I hope you enjoy your time here.

It’s for you, you know. This blog and what I write as I share my search for myself, my God and my ability to use my words. As I sit at my computer and type away I think of you and what you will think. Will you appreciate what I write? Will it offer something to your life? I often wonder what you would like to read here in my little piece of blog land. It really is all about you. (okay, sometimes it is all about me, but I try to keep that to a minimum….that’s what texts to my sister are for!)

I hope that you are encouraged by the words I share. Or that they make you smile and yes, even laugh sometimes. I hope that your visits are worthwhile. I try to bring topics here that will be of interest to you.

Thank you for stopping by. Feel free to drop a comment. I would love to know your thoughts and get to know you.

Warmest Regards,

Your Friendly Blogger, Tamara

Monday, January 24, 2011

Lessons from Almost Half a Century

I was greeted by my sister, niece, and dad at the bottom of the escalator in the airport. I had been living out of state and I always tried to make it home for Christmas with the family.

As we waited for the baggage carousel to spit out my luggage my dear, adorable, much, much, much, much, much younger (that’s one much for each year younger she is than me) sister said, “Daddy and I were talking about you earlier and he said you would always be immature.”

Dad said, “I did not. I said she would always be young at heart.”

Then, quite a few years ago when I turned 39 I decided to throw myself a birthday party. I chose a Pirates of the Caribbean theme complete with treasure chests, pirate swords, and Caribbean pork roast for dinner. I sent out invitations beckoning my friends to join me in the search for my lost youth.

There was something about turning 39 that awakened that part of my being that doesn’t feel like it’s getting old. Something about 39 that pointed to the fact that regardless of how young I feel, the chronology of my life marches on.

It’s been quite a few years since that birthday and I am approaching another that again tries to slap me in the face with my “advancing age.” In just days I will be “closer to 50 than to 40.” I should be all grown up and have life all figured out at this point in life. I should be mature and staid and not be excited about my birthday.

My mother always said that a person was only as old as they felt they were. I think there is truth in that statement. As I revealed to people this week my realization that I’m “almost 50” I also admitted that I don’t feel that old. I do all the things an adult has to do such as pay the mortgage, take out the trash, plan for retirement, make sure the laundry gets done, and keep income coming in. Yet, because I hope to always be young at heart I also do silly things like form secret societies with my friends to enjoy life, do crazy things to make people laugh, and enjoy my own birthdays.

In my almost 50 years I have experienced life and I have learned some lessons. I have good memories and bad memories. I have made good choices and bad choices. All these things have combined to make me who I am today. I have to admit I am proud of who I am and embrace the years that have contributed to that person.

Today I am going to share some wisdom gleaned from my almost half a century on this old earth of ours.

* Life is too short to worry about your chronological age

* There is a God and He does care

* Make sure the people you care about know that you do

* Plan for retirement and plan for a rainy day, but don’t forget to live for today

* Pets are important family members and will be there for you

* Sometimes it’s okay to play games and have fun like a kid

* Don’t take yourself too seriously

* We are all different – don’t let those differences divide since they add richness to our lives

* Celebrate yourself – your successes, your failures, your joys, and your pains since this has made you who you are

Friday, January 21, 2011

Are You a Clay Pot?

Grey and sticky, the clay is just a block at the beginning. The potter will take a chunk and begin to work it on a flat surface. He kneads and pounds the clay to make it more pliable. When it’s ready, he places it on the wheel, water is added, and the potter begins to “center” the clay on the wheel.

If the clay is not centered the vessel will be hard to keep steady and will not shape right. Centering happens by applying pressure to the top and sides of the mound of clay. Often it takes time to get a piece centered on the wheel. Centering is perhaps the most important aspect of creating a clay pot.

After the potter has worked the clay into the pot he has envisioned it’s set aside to dry. Before the clay completely dries and hardens it’s again placed on the wheel and the potter uses tools to trim and perfect the shape and design. Then comes the first firing in the kiln. Extreme temperatures are reached in order to harden this clay into a usable vessel.

Finally the potter glazes the piece; carefully choosing colors to compliment the shape and purpose of this particular pot. Back in the kiln the pot goes for a final high temperature firing.

What emerges from the kiln is vastly different from the lump of clay it was to begin with. It has been transformed into a coffee mug, a bowl, a plate, or a decorative piece.

A couple of years ago I made a New Year’s goal to try something new each month for that year. Taking a beginning pottery class was one of the things I tried that year. I found a thoroughly enjoyable activity that turned out to have life lessons for me.

My life as a Christian is much like a lump of clay that’s being turned into something beautiful and useful. As I worked with the clay I came to see why the Bible speaks of God being the potter and me being the clay.

This lump of clay has been kneaded and pounded to make it supple enough to begin molding. As I look back on my life I see how God has kneaded and pounded me. I went through my first lay-off five years ago. It was traumatic and hard. I railed and cried and demanded that God do something.

Yet, when I look back I see that the lessons learned during that time served me when I again was going through a lay-off. I had seen God’s provision and plan in the last job loss and I was able to trust that He would be faithful through another. His pounding earlier made me pliable enough to be open to His work at this time. Sometimes our lessons are hard and traumatic. Yet they are so very necessary to our growth.

As I worked at centering my clay on the wheel I began to get a better picture of being centered as a Christian. Without that center, I wobble around the wheel and the vessel I am is misshapen and not suitable for the plan God has for me. Centering takes pressure on the top and sides of the clay. God’s centering requires pressure on me from sources beyond our control.

During the period I was trying to find another job God was applying pressure. I continued to work as a temp during that period. I was doing a job that might have been considered beneath my education and experience. God continued to apply pressure until I began to see that He was providing for me. He was giving me rest in this job that I didn’t have to think too hard to do. And He was teaching me patience and grace.

That same year I was called upon to remember those earlier lessons. God was again providing and giving me rest. He knew what was coming with my dad’s surgery and my mom’s death. He knew that more than anything I would be grateful for the ten months of being there for them and sharing special times with them. Because I was centered in Him, I could rest in His plan for this time.

Heat is a crucial element in the making of a clay pot. The firing is what makes the vessel tough and durable. God uses fire in our lives to shape us. He used fire in my life that year as He has prepared me for my new purpose. For the last several years, my purpose has revolved around being a care giver for my mom. That changed with her death. Still, in the preceding months I began to sense God’s leading me to minister to other care givers. Looking back I see this was God preparing me for my changing purpose.

Yes, without the fire of that year I would not be able to minister to care givers. I would not have the strength or the compassion to support them. God tested me with fire to make me tough and durable.

Finally, the potter glazes his piece to bring out its beauty. God has been glazing me through the experiences of my life to bring out the beauty of my life. He has provided good times amongst the bad times to remind me that He is good. He has worked on patience, strength, compassion, wisdom, forgiveness and love with me so that His beauty shines through me.

Just as the potter takes a lump of clay and turns it into a thing of beauty, so will God take you and turn you into a thing of beauty if you are like clay in His hands. Yield yourself to His work and you will become a beautiful vessel.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Do You Strive for Mediocrity?

Recently my friend’s Facebook page stated that she was “absolutely baffled at how people rise to the level of their incompetence –and then stay there.” The comments to the status update popped up like crocus after spring rains. One friend said that she was afraid that mediocrity had become the acceptable way of life. I have to say that I often wonder the same thing. It seems to be coming more prevalent in human nature to be average. When did we as a race in general decide mediocrity was okay?

I had been pondering mediocrity even before this Facebook encounter. This interchange just seemed to come at a time when I have had to deal with incompetence in several arenas of my life; not my own, but others. In one situation it was revealed to me that the person in question felt everyone took things too seriously and they should be more like her with her lackadaisical attitude. I was shocked when I heard this; it explained a lot about the situation.

Call me crazy, but if I am going to do something like work or writing I want to take it seriously. I don’t want to put my name on something that I haven’t put my all into. Why even bother doing something if you don’t want to try your best. Still, although, I strive to do my best at work and in my writing I wonder how many times I do settle for just doing enough.

Writing requires time and effort. When I short myself on taking time to write my craft suffers. But, finding time to write is one of the things I struggle with and find myself settling. My desire is to glorify God in my writing and mediocrity won’t do that. I need to strive for the best including giving it the time it deserves.

Speaking of God, the Facebook thread soon turned to God. The friend who said that mediocrity had become the acceptable way went on to state, “Imagine where we’d all be if Jesus had said ‘Ya know, this really hurts. It’s too hard. Can I get down now?’ Talk about doing things with a standard of excellence.”

Yep, Jesus set a high standard for us. While we will never be able to fully reach His level of competence and commitment we have something to strive for. He gave His all for us and He blessed us with a gift. I think He expects us to give our all in the pursuit of our gift and not settle for second best.

All of this thought of doing just enough to get by led me to consider my prayer, Bible study and quiet time habits. Do I take it seriously enough? Do I give it my all? Or am I settling for being just mediocre. These thoughts really stunned me and grieved me some. I was sad to not be able to say that I always strive for perfection in that area of my life. Sometimes I do just enough. Yes, God still loves me, but if He doesn’t deserve my best, who does?

Mediocrity really is a threat to us as Christians and as writers. When we settle for good enough and don’t strive for better we shine a poor light on the God we love and want to glorify. It is a threat to me. I definitely need to be working toward a higher standard.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Unshaken by Dan Woolley with Jennifer Schuchmann

Just over a year ago Dan Woolley and David Hames headed to Haiti. Their goal was to shoot video and photographic footage to highlight the work that Compassion International does in Haiti. Both men were passionate about that work. What started out as a beautiful, productive day ended in unspeakable tragedy.

At 4:53pm a 7.0 earthquake shook Haiti. Dan and David had just arrived back at the Hotel Montana where they were staying. The six story structure took just seconds to collapse and bury the two deep in the rubble.

Unshaken: Rising from the Ruins of Haiti’s Hotel Montana is Dan’s story. It is an open and emotional account of the hours that Dan spent buried.

Dan lived through the quake and was able to find a safe place in the rubble to wait for rescue. There in the bowels of a hellish situation he struggled with thoughts of his own death and what had happened to David. He worried about what would happen to his wife and two young boys if he wasn’t rescued in time. And in pitch black he met the God he had worshiped for years, but had grown lukewarm in the last few years.

In the darkness he heard other survivors near him and together they encouraged each other through the direst of circumstances. A young Haitian man in an elevator shaft next to Dan was one of those survivors. Through their hours in captivity Dan led this young man to a saving relationship with Christ.

When he was rescued 65 hours later he had a head wound, a broken leg, and was dehydrated. But he was also a new man in his faith, having experienced God in a profound way. He emerged from the rubble with a renewed zest for life and for his faith.

This book is more than Dan’s story. It is also his wife Christina’s story. It brings to light Christina’s struggle early in their marriage with clinical depression. In a brave step Christina has spoken out about her life and how depression has affected her and those around her. Many consider depression a weakness and not something a Christian should have a problem with. However, clinical depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain that can be treated with medication and therapy. It is not a failing of the person involved. Just as Dan met God in his darkest time, so did Christina.

Unshaken is brutally honest and at times heart wrenching. Despite knowing the outcome it had me on the edge of my seat and other times in tears. It is a story of tragic devastation and soaring hope; of life and death. More than that, it is a story of rebirth and renewal.

*Sadly, David Hames was killed instantly when the quake hit, but as a Christian we know that we will meet him again heaven.

*A portion of the proceeds of this book will go to Compassion International.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Writing Spa

Writing can be solitary work. You've heard of the reclusive writer who churns out books without ever leaving the comfort of their home? I often want to be that writer. There are days when I could just hole up in my little house and not see another soul. In some ways the Internet and social media make that worse because they make it easier to not have to leave the house. But there's more to writing than just sitting down at the computer and banging out words and sentences.

Much of writing comes from the life we lead in the "real world." People, circumstances, and scenery all fuel the creative process. Writing articles and books of substance means that the writer has to have some grasp of the world as it is today. So being a reclusive writer just isn't realistic for most people.

One of the things I have come to love about the Christian writing world is that so many authors, publishers, editors, and agents are more than willing to help a beginning writer. They put themselves out there to make the path easier for someone else.

Mary DeMuth is one of those authors. Through her blog and The Writing Spa she offers coaching, encouragement, critiquing, and mentoring. Right now she and her fellow Writing Spa mentors are offering a fantastic giveaway. Check out The Writing Spa Giveaway on Facebook. Hurry though, it only lasts until midnight EST tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

One Year

One year ago a violent earthquake shook Haiti leaving hundreds of thousands dead and millions homeless. The tragedy sent shockwaves across the earth as people from many nations were in Haiti at the time of the quake and lost their lives. Lives were changed forever.

On Saturday another violent act took the lives of six people and profoundly affected thirteen others. When a lone gunman opened fire in the Safeway parking lot in Arizona he changed lives forever.

We never expect things like this to happen in our lives, but they do.

An act of nature and an act of man; both brought pain and suffering on many. In our world these things happen. We can be angry and sorrowful. No one can blame us for those feelings. We can cry for vengeance and justice. Again, no one can blame us. But we can’t let ourselves get lost in those feelings.

God knows that life here on earth isn’t easy. He never promised it would be, but life goes on and the living have to go on living. It’s our job to figure out how to go on living. We have to somehow navigate this world that has both good and evil without becoming hardened to the good and distraught by the evil. It’s not easy, but it has to be done.

One Year after the Quake

Last year the world lost an amazing man in that earthquake. A man I never met except through the stories of friends. I grieved with my friends at his death. It makes me sad that I will never get to experience the joy of interacting with someone so full of life as he was.

It still breaks my heart to think of his widow and two young sons. This year of firsts has been hard on them, but they are pushing through. Today they remember the good times and the love they shared. They also remember the pain of losing him. My prayer for them today and this coming year is that the good memories will outweigh the pain. Please keep them in your prayers.

Monday, January 10, 2011


 Well, folks, I haven't finished a post for today. My best intentions were waylaid by a power outage on Sunday afternoon that lasted for hours. I have been trying to get some posts worked up ahead of time, but so far haven't been able to do that. Please come back Wednesday for a post.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What's Up With Marley?

What’s up with Marley? Well, right now, your guess is as good as mine. I think Marley has a story to tell and he seemed really eager to get everything out in the open, but lately things have been kind of quiet with Marley.

I’ve been thinking about Marley and the blog a lot lately. I intended for his story to be a serial told in increments each week. I’ve run into some problems with the plan. It just isn’t working the way I had hoped.

Voice and keeping the point of view consistency in the story is a problem. This is something that I often have to work on when I am revising a story. When the story is coming out in bits and pieces each week sometimes the issues don’t get caught.

Length has also been a problem. The “expert” advice about blogs is all over the place in terms of what is too long. I’ve tried to keep the posts shorter, but that seems to cut things off unnaturally. It also seems to stunt the momentum.

I still want to write Marley’s story and I would still love to be able to do it on the blog. I think I need to go back to the drawing board and toss this around a little bit more to figure out how to solve some of the issues.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Between a Rock and a Grace Place by Carol Kent

Carol Kent and her husband, Gene have had plenty of tough times since 1999. It was in October 1999 that their son, Jason, murdered his wife’s ex-husband. The years since that Sunday afternoon have been filled with trials, the conviction, visits to the penitentiary where Jason will spend the rest of his life, fear, and sadness. In the midst of this the Kent family has found the peace that only God’s love can bring. They have experienced God’s grace and even joy.

“Between a Rock and a Hard Place” written by Carol, is a look at how God surprises us by showing in the midst of tough times to teach and encourage us. The book tells the continuing story of how the Kent family has rebuilt their life since the unthinkable happened. It is a mix of Jason’s story and stories of other people who have found themselves in tough spots in life. It is filled with encouragement that God is working even when you feel that you have no place to go.

Life can put us there between a rock and a hard place. Life doesn’t play fair and it doesn’t always unfold the way we expect it to. Carol, Gene, and Jason have decided to not get stuck in the hard places. Rather, they are moving forward and looking for, as Carol puts it, the sweet spot of grace.

Romans 9:33 is the theme verse Carol chose for this book. “Careful! I’ve put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion, a stone that you can’t get around. But the stone is me! If you’re looking for me, you’ll find me on the way, not in the way.” When her “hard place” happened Carol nearly lost everything, instead she found a deeper relationship with God.

Carol and Gene have found that God’s grace is able to shine through even the darkest hours. Carol helps the reader to come to terms with the darkness while still be open to faith, mercy, contentment, thanksgiving, favor, joy, freedom, and adventure.

Despite the sometimes heavy subject matter, “Between a Rock and a Grace Place” is easy to read. Carol provides thought provoking questions at the end of each chapter.

This book is for anyone who wants to experience God to the fullest regardless of life circumstances. Romans 9:33 is the theme verse for this book and truly, if you’re looking for God, He’s on the way, not in the way.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Giants in the Promised Land

Caleb was a man of God and when sent by Moses as a spy to the Promised Land he came back and gave a good report. The land he saw was verdant and luscious. Granted, the people were strong and the cities were fortified. Still, Caleb knew that God was providing this land and He would keep the Children of Israel safe. His fellow spies on the other hand were fearful and lied to the Children of Israel. They feared the strength of the people and their fortified cities.

In Numbers 14 Joshua and Caleb plead with the people to accept the Promised Land. They tell them it is flowing with milk and honey. They encourage the people that God will bring them into the land and protect them. But the people cannot be convinced. Their fear and lack of faith overwhelm them. Because of this God declares none of them will ever step foot into the Promised Land. In verse 24 God tells Caleb that “because he has a different spirit in him and has followed me fully” he will live in and inherit the land. After 40 years of wandering in the desert the Israelites were on the doorstep to greatness and they let their fear hold them back.

The start of a new year is full of new possibilities. It seems a logical point to re-evaluate and re-direct your life. Are there promised lands in your life? What is holding you back from stepping foot into your dreams? I can tell you this, I have read Numbers 14 and of two things I am sure.

First off, there will be giants and strongholds. God doesn’t promise that we will never have to fight for what we want. Anything worth having is worth putting in a little effort. Oftentimes, it is the things we fight for the hardest that change us the most. You don’t have to fight alone. God does promise to give you strength to hold off the giants. He will give you what you need to break down the strongholds. The Bible is full of God’s promises to be there with you. You have to take the step of faith first and He will then supply what you need to succeed.

The other thing I know for sure is that if you put your faith in God and follow Him into the Promised Land you will be able to partake of the milk and honey. Life with God is sometimes hard; life is just that way. But a God given dream is verdant and luscious. It is worth the work and the hard times. When you faithfully follow the path God puts you on He will bring the dreams to fruition.

Today, I want to encourage you, don’t be like the Israelites, take hold of your dream and trust that God will protect you and give you what you need. He is faithful. Sure the giants can be fearsome, but there are rewards for having a different spirit. You can wander through life or you can fully trust the Lord to lead you into the Promised Land. This year I plan to experience the fullness of taking God’s hand and following Him into uncharted territory. What about you?