Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friendship



Today I’m meeting my very best friend Tara for coffee. What used to be a common occurrence is now quite scarce; after getting married in March, she moved 2 ½ hours away. We have been friends since we were 9, which means I have far more memories that include her than those that don’t! True friendship is such an amazing gift.

When we first met we really didn’t like each other- she thought I was wild &
rambunctious, and I thought she was shy & boring! Oh how far we’ve come :)

She has been more than just someone to go shopping or get pedicures with; she has been someone to share my life journey with, to encourage me in the Lord, and someone who I can have a blast with. I remember in middle school all the sleepovers we had and the secrets we shared.

Then in high school supporting each others dreams and standing by each other no matter what. At 16 we both went on our first overseas mission trip to Kenya together. It was an experience I will remember the rest of my life- and when I look through my photo album she is in every picture. It’s so much more fun to mock two people’s bad hair styles and frumpy clothing! One of our craziest and most hilarious adventures involves a trip to Atlanta, being insulted by a homeless man we were trying to help, and me getting my face closed in a subway door filled with wide eyed on lookers!

I truly believe that our friendship through those most difficult years spared me from pain and has helped make me who I am today.

Over this past year we have both had the privilege of standing next to each other as we witnessed the other taking her vows. Life has taken many turns and we have been separated by states and continents for years at a time, but each time we pick up where we left off.

What was once dreaming of being able to drive and sharing our secret crushes, has become talking about weddings, married life, and hoping and praying that neither of us have ugly kids! The thing is- I’m still me and Tara is still Tara, even after all these years.

John 15:13
" Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rainy Day Reading--Suggestions Welcome!

I have two gift certificates for two different bookstores, and I really could use your help.

One of these is for a local store that sells general market books. It’s located in the quaint, historical section of my town. I’ve always loved going downstairs to the children’s section. The store owners have made it cozy, colorful, and inviting. Upstairs they have a little bit of everything. I'm already thinking of a few books I've spotted there during past perusals that I hoped to read someday.

The other certificate I have is for Barnes & Noble. I can spend hours browsing their shelves. Which book should I get? Or is there something new I've never thought of?

Rainy days are here, and aren't those some of the best days to spend with a good book? But I’d love to get your ideas on how to use my gift certificates.

To make it more interesting, I've turned this into a give-away.

Here's how it works:

Leave a comment with your book idea and a creative reason why I should read it on one of my rainy days. Be sure to include your e-mail address so I can contact you if you win. Include it with extra spaces or brackets so those creepy spiders don't phish your address.

One winner will receive a rainy day package of your choice.

My women’s devotional, Take A Closer Look—for Women, accompanied with rainy day surprises.

OR

More teen oriented: Live Free Journey—Small Group Study and God Allows U-Turns for Teens, with some fun rainy day surprises in this one as well.


Oh, just so you know--I love fiction and nonfiction. My interests are all over the place, so don’t hesitate to suggest something that is either the latest must-read or something unusual or uncommon. Feel free to offer more than one book suggestion, but each must have its own creative reason why I should read it on a rainy day.

Can't wait to hear your suggestions!

Jan

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An introduction



Hey guys! My name is Stephanie Morrill, and I’m thrilled that Sarah asked me to blog here a couple times a month. Since I’m far from being a household name, here are a couple things you should know about me:

1. Today is my birthday. I’m 26 and regularly surprised to find myself surrounded by such grownup things—a husband, a daughter, a mortgage payment, a sedan, and a CostCo membership.


2. I live in the Kansas City area. It's where I did most my growing up, and where I imagine my daughter will do hers as well. Ben and I briefly lived in Orlando right after we got married, but grew tired of cockroaches, tourists, and air you can practically drink with a straw.






3. I write books for teenage girls. My debut novel, Me, Just Different, released in July. It’s the first of three books in The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series. Out with the In Crowd comes out in January and So Over It next July. Rather than do a big plug here, I’ll just say you can visit my web site, http://www.stephaniemorrillbooks.com/, to read the first chapter of Me, Just Different, sign up for my newsletter, and follow my journey as a young author.





4. My only talents are reading, writing, and drinking coffee. Remove any of those three from my day, and I get majorly cranky. For as long as I can remember, I’ve preferred spending my Friday nights curled up on the couch with either a notebook or a good novel.





5. A big question I’ve been asking myself recently is, what does it mean to live a life fully surrendered to God? Particularly now when my writing career regularly pushes me out of my comfort zone. My life has changed drastically in the last two years, first with a baby and then with a book contract, and I tend to be such a control-freak that surrendering to God is a real struggle for me.

Hope everyone has a great day! I’m off to dig into some Starbucks Java Chip ice cream. It can’t be a bad birthday when there’s coffee ice cream around.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bullies

Camy here! I was just talking with a friend whose daughter has had to deal with bullies at school.

Her theory—and I think I agree—is that a lot of times, bullies can tell when a kid is loved and cherished at home, and out of jealousy, they target them to bully.

When I was in high school, I was the shy, quiet, geeky girl. If someone threatened to slap me, I’d cower and probably go into the hallway to cry.

These days, I’m a bit more confident because Jesus made me more confident. I can better trust in who I am in Christ and how He makes me a better, stronger person. So these days, if a bully threatened to slap me, I’d probably tell them that if they did, I’d laugh and point while the teacher sent them to the principal.

I wish I’d been that way in high school, rather than the nervous girl crying in the hallway. I wish I’d been able to stand up to bullies, because the pain of a blow to the face would be nothing compared to the consequences they’d face with the teachers and other adults in authority.

But in a way, that quiet girl made me who I am. I am more sensitive to other quiet, shy, geeky girls because I was one.

But I’d still tell them to stand up to the bullies.

Here’s an excerpt from a book about another shy, quiet girl who reminds me of me!

A Little Help from My Friends
by
Anne Dayton & May Vanderbilt

Zoe is used to being overlooked. As the youngest and shyest Miracle Girl, she was happy to fade into the background last year. But when she sheds her baby fat and shoots up four inches the summer before her junior year, everything changes. Now she's turning heads at school, and this new attention is beginning to strain her relationship with her sweet, serious boyfriend, Marcus.

Pressure builds when Zoe's assigned partner for history class is Dean Marchese--a handsome New York transplant who isn't afraid to show her how he feels.
Just when she needs her three best friends the most, the Miracle Girls are suffering from boy troubles of their own.

Even Zoe's rock-solid home life begins to shake underneath her when her parents' relationship frays in the face of serious financial burdens. As this uncertain year of growing pains comes to a frenetic head, the quietest Miracle Girl must find her voice at long last and take control of her own destiny . . . with more than a little help from her friends.

Excerpt of chapter one:



Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Out now is her humorous contemporary romance novel, Single Sashimi, and her romantic suspense, Deadly Intent. She also runs the Story Sensei critique service. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels and ponders frivolous things. Sign up for her newsletter YahooGroup for giveways!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The World at Your Doorstep


I've heard of people posting a sign near the door of their home, dorm room, or wherever they live, simply stating: "You are now entering the mission field." It's a good way to look at life no matter where you are, but this weekend I found myself in a place where it's impossible to feel otherwise.

Sarah, our son Luke's fiancee, lives in an apartment complex in Dallas that houses refugees from all over the world. I was in town Friday morning for a speaking engagement, so I hung around to spend the evening with Sarah. When I pulled into her complex entrance, it was like passing through an invisible curtain into another country, or rather, a bunch of other countries all jumbled together.

The first two men I saw walking along the street had smooth, brown skin and ruggedly beautiful facial features. They wore colorful garments, including scarves on their heads, and something resembling a skirt hanging below their jackets. I guessed they were probably from an Asian tribal group, but I have no idea which one. As I drove slowly toward Sarah's apartment, I saw people of every imaginable ethnicity outside enjoying the beautiful weather. Children ran and played in the street. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be driven from your homeland, then transferred from a refugee camp to America. Most of them don't speak English. Some have lost track of family members or watched their loved ones perish in violence. Looking into their faces, it was surreal to think the swanky Northpark Mall was less than a mile away.

I took Sarah out to dinner, then we returned to her apartment for a "slumber party." (Later, as we drifted off to sleep, we laughed wondering how many young women have their future mother-in-law over to spend the night. I highly recommend it!) At one point in our conversation I asked Sarah if the various ethnic groups in the complex get along well with each other, and she said many do but sadly some do not. They form gangs and then commit crimes or pick fights with other gangs. Car break-ins are common. Some men who live right below Sarah and her roommate sometimes heckle them and have even come upstairs drunk in the middle of the night and beat on their door.

Sarah seemed a little hesitant to answer some my questions, perhaps because she knew my mother-heart would want to snatch her out of that environment and hide her away someplace. And I confess that was my first impulse. But I know Sarah has a "you are now entering the mission field" heart. She moved to this complex intentionally, and the apartment she now shares with a friend she will share with my son come February. They believe God intends for them to go on the mission field overseas some day. It only makes sense then that, in the meantime, He has brought the mission field to their doorstep.

Funny side story: Several times in the night I heard a car alarm go off. Combined with the report of frequent car break-ins, that must have been what prompted a really ridiculous dream, in which I woke up and looked out the window to find my car had been dismantled and pieces of it riveted to other cars all over the parking lot. It felt so real and frustrating, I even thought, "I wish this was a dream! How am I going to get all the pieces of my car back?"

I'm pleased to report that, when I really woke up, I took Sarah out to breakfast in a car entirely unmolested by marauding bands of multicultural midnight welders. I asked her to bless the food, and I was struck by the way she began her prayer. "Thank you, Lord, for waking us up today." The whole prayer had the fragrance of God's nearness in the simplest of moments and smallest of gifts. It's the kind of prayer that rises from a soul that has been bought with a price and knows she is not her own. As her beautiful faith breathed blessing on our breakfast and the day ahead, I realized that I would never wish Sarah and Luke out of a life that presses them into God moment by moment. A life where wisdom isn't optional, discernment is required, and trust is standard equipment--as necessary for getting where you're going as remembering to grab your car keys. You go knowing He covers you with the shadow of His wing and is bringing His will to pass with perfect faithfulness. He goes before you, behind you, and with you. Though your mind plans your way, He directs your steps. He guards you through the night. He wakes you up in the morning.

You know all this. And you also know that, when you open your door each day, you are entering the mission field. With Him. I can't think of a better way to live. Can you?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Trying New Things




Do you like trying new things? I love trying new things- as long as I’m good at first attempt! It has taken me awhile to realize that it is possible to enjoy the process of mastering a new skill; the key for me is to not expect perfection and get so frustrated that I want immediately to give up.

My latest new endeavor is Tennis. I recently got married, 4 weeksago in fact, and my husband Brian is very good at Tennis. I have heard that to build a good marriage it is important to find things that you can enjoy doing together as a couple. We are both athletic, but unfortunately he is good at all the sports that I stink at, or have never played in my life- Tennis being one of them. I decided that I should give it a go, after all it’s a sport that you can play your whole life, and anyway how hard can it be to hit a little ball over a small net?

Boy was I wrong!! Hitting the ball didn’t seem to be the issue…I think I would have hit it all the way to China if there was no fence, it was getting the ball to go where I wanted, or better yet, just on the court would have been nice. I even tried grunting like they do on TV, it didn’t help me hit any better but it makes your opponent laugh which can work in your favor! :)

I really felt like giving up after that first, and even second and third time, but I am determined to conquer this new challenge. My goal is to take lessons and practice so that one day I can beat my husband!!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Influence

I spent a fun and TOTALLY exhausting day speaking to six public high school classrooms about writing. The teacher called and invited me a couple of weeks ago after he noticed my niece, Heather, reading one of my books.

"What you reading?" the teacher had asked.

"One of my aunt's books."

"Really?"

"Yeah, she's an author."

"Does she live around here?"

"Yeah, in town."

"Do you think she'd be willing to come in a speak to our classes?"

"Sure, I'll ask."

So, there I was talking to teens all day long about how I write, why I write, when I write ... and their favorite question ... answering about how much money I make. (They were highly disappointed to find out I wasn't a millionaire, living in a big house, with fancy cars!)

This was just another object lesson I've had lately about a topic I've been thinking about ... influence. About the people who take time to listen to my thoughts--through books, through blogs, through speaking and even in my everyday life. I have a voice, opinions and beliefs. I have something to say and--by gosh--there are people who really want to listen.

Before arriving in the high school classes the teacher had warned me. Many of the teens had respect issues. Many of them talked out of turn. Many had a lot of problems in their lives. Be prepared. I have to say that though standing in front of teens for all that time was tiring, they were great. They listened, they asked appropriate questions, and they truly seemed interested in what I had to say. Maybe it was because they knew I volunteered to take time out of my day to be there and share with them?

This morning a verse came to mind during my morning devotions, "Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me," Matthew 25:45. In our society teens could be considered the least of these. They look weird. They dress weird. They think differently. They have no respect for authority. Or so we believe. But hasn't the same thing been said of every generation ... including mine and yours?

Tuesday, between classes, I had a chance to sit down and chat with a multi-pierced girl. She was formerly from California, too. We talked about Montana, the weather, and about going to a new school. She was interesting and kind. If I had more time I would have enjoyed taking her out for coffee just to hear her heart.

That night, after all the classes were over, after I shuttled my daughter to guitar lessons/basketball practice, after I had touched base with my friend Kristen on the phone, and after I'd taken my 13-year-old Christmas shopping at the only place he could afford (The $1 Store), I was pushing my cart mindlessly through Target on my way to get milk (and something that I could throw into the oven for dinner) when a voice broke through my fog.

"Hi!" It was a teenage boy with a big wave. "Remember me? I met you at school today."

I did remember him ... a face in a classroom out of six classrooms, yet also a cool kid I'm sure I would also enjoy getting to know if I had a chance.

So, what did all of this have to do with anything? INFLUENCE ... and taking the time to be one and give some.

You never know what difference you'll make to a friendly boy, a multi-pierced girl, and everyone in between.

1 Corinthians 16:8 says, "Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.” ... Or make it known at your local high school.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rambling through Europe




I just got back from a month in Europe, where the DH and I rambled through five countries in four weeks (southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy ... and OK, tiny San Marino, which is technically a republic, but it counts!).

In every place there was a moment of serendipity or coolness, like hearing a 16-piece swing band playing "Chattanooga Choochoo" through the door of a tiny cellar restaurant in Salzburg and dancing all night, or hearing a man singing across the water during our moonlit gondola ride in Venice, or winding up in Assisi (as in St. Francis of) by accident, or seeing a dolphin still frolicking in his mosaic in Ostia Antica, two thousand years later. Coolness, you know?

Want to see pictures? They're here: http://gallery.me.com/shelleyadina > Europe 2009

Someone asked me not too long ago what my favorite Bible verse was. I told them Psalm 139:9, "If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me." I've been to 27 countries so far, some four or five times each, and I prove that verse true every time I travel. Our God is good!

Love,
Shelley

Monday, October 19, 2009

Slow Down!

This weekend I attended your church’s yearly women’s retreat. We had an amazing speaker who focused on our desire and need for transformation. One thing that she stressed was the importance of getting back to the spiritual disciplines (prayer, confession, silence, fasting, etc.), which involves forcing ourselves to slow down long enough to hear God’s voice.

I walked away determined to practice what she called “slowing”—to stop hurrying through my day and allow God to order it—and to work in more time of solitude with God. I’ve been moving at a frenzied pace for a long time. So long in fact that when I woke up this morning, determined to take time with my Bible study and prayer before heading into my day, I found myself struggling to focus. When I finished I felt an intense urgency to dive into my to-do list.

Now I see that this slowing down for solitude thing is going to take some work. Maybe that’s why they call praying, silence, solitude and the other disciplines that we learned about “disciplines”—because they don’t come easily.

In this fast paced society do you find it difficult to practice prayer, solitude, and time for hearing from God? Join me in the challenge of slowing God so you can hear His voice. If you have methods for doing this please share?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

24--Jack Bauer

My husband and I are so behind in TV land. We started watching 24 a few months ago. We're renting a couple of DVDs a week from Block Buster. We're on Season 5. Wednesday night something unbelievable happened. Even more unbelievable than non-stop drama Jack finds himself in.

(The show has some scary parts. Violent things happen. Plenty of times I'm on the edge of my seat watching 24 with one eye shut. But something about Jack keeps me rooting for him.)

So, Wednesday night the President of the United States (on the show) is in trouble and having a heated conversation with his Chief of Staff. They have to devise a plan. In fifteen minutes. No way out. The terrorists have just threatened to set off several canisters of nerve gas if President Logan doesn't release the route for the Russian President and his wife's travel. They're in a limo with President Logan's wife. Logan and the Chief get word that the car is going to be attacked.

What do they do?

The President and the Chief of Staff drop to their knees and pray. Right there in the White House floor on 24.

I looked at my husband. He looked at me. We didn't talk about it (not then anyway because I was trying not to cry) but what a scene of Truth. When we don't know which way to turn, what to do, when there seems to be no way out, we fall on our knees and pray.

And even though the limo was hit, their three lives were spared.

Talk about seeing God in unexpected places...

Love,
Julie

Friday, October 16, 2009

Rambling


The length of time it takes you to say something diminishes the potency of what you say exponentially.
Man, what does that mean?
It means to be concise in any conversation where you want to make a point. Think of it like the point of a needle. A multitude of words broadens the point until it is no longer a sharp, precise point, but a nub that doesn't penetrate.

God is good.
That simple statement is potent. But a rambling monologue of how and why and where and when and such and such and more and more diminishes not the truth, but the power of the truth.
The Bible tells us to avoid empty chatter.

Proverbs 10:20-22 (The Message)

20 The speech of a good person is worth waiting for;
the blabber of the wicked is worthless.

21 The talk of a good person is rich fare for many, but chatterboxes die of an empty heart.

And the Bible tells us to keep to the point.

1 Timothy 6:20 (The Message)

20-21And oh, my dear Timothy, guard the treasure you were given! Guard it with your life. Avoid the talk-show religion and the practiced confusion of the so-called experts. People caught up in a lot of talk can miss the whole point of faith.

So say what you mean and mean what you say. The point is to express yourself in a few words. You will influence people more than if you babble on and on and on and on and on . . .

And the best advice is to back it up with action. Be a living example of the influence of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My Story

So some of you probably know a little about me, some of you may know nothing about me. Well, today I'm going to share a part of "my story" with you. It came out this month as the cover story in Susie Magazine.

Be sure to come back and tell me what you think:-)


♥Sarah

My Website (where you can also learn about the teen novels I wrote:-)



Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Being kidnapped by God

Camy here! (BTW my October newsletter just went out! If you haven’t read it yet, um … why? Go read it! I have some great news about a new romantic suspense novel, some not so good news about the fourth Sushi book, and a new contest.)


I met romantic suspense author Liz Johnson in person at the ACFW conference a few weeks ago (I also met a lot of authors, so click on the link to see if I took a photo with one of your favs!). Liz is totally cool! It also made me realize that I hadn’t yet read her book (excerpt of it is below), so I pulled it out when I got home. (Actually, I have it on ebook, so I didn’t so much “pull it out” as “open the file.” :)

I haven’t finished it yet (I’ve been doing a lot of reading for research for my books) but it stirred my imagination. Wouldn’t it be kind of cool to be kidnapped by some hunky guy whom you can’t quite trust and get thrust into danger?

Well, the “danger” part probably wouldn’t be cool. But the hunky guy part would. :)

I guess I was attracted to the possibility of something new and exciting. I’m certainly happy with my life as it is now—after all, I get to write for a living! I love it!

But New and Unexpected is always kind of exciting, don’t you think? I know I dreamed a lot about that when I was a teen, mostly because life then wasn’t really all that great. I mean, I was a teen. Hormones, bratty brother, bullies at school, and I was a dork and not exactly popular, if you know what I mean.

But I think I was attracted to New and Unexpected because I was also empty inside. This was before I surrendered my life (more like my will and all of myself) to Jesus and finally found that spiritual “home” and emotional shelter I’d been longing for all my life.

And once I became a Christian, I was kind of kidnapped by God, so to speak. I mean, my life took all kinds of turns. Not as dramatic as being kidnapped in her car like Kenzie Thorn, but almost as unexpected. Who’d have thought I’d want to go into physics, then psychology, then biology, then writing? (And actually use my psychology degree!)

But God knew where I’d be happy, so the twists and turns were a good thing.

In hindsight. At the time, I probably wasn’t so thrilled.

A lot of the teens I work with at the church youth group are in the “Oh my gosh what in the world do I do next?” kind of phase, whether it’s college or classes or friends or boyfriends or whatever.

My advice—Ask God (and be willing to obey whatever His answer, obviously, or else, what’s the point of asking?), and then go wherever He kidnaps you. It’ll turn out okay. Eventually. I know, I know, patience isn’t your thing. Well, toots, it’s nobody’s “thing.”

But you never know. You might meet some hunky guy during your kidnapping, and then everything’s really okay, right?

The Kidnapping of Kenzie Thorn
by
Liz Johnson


Myles Parsons is just another inmate in Kenzie Thorn’s GED course until he kidnaps her, offering only a feeble explanation–that he’s actually FBI Special Agent Myles Borden. Terrified, Kenzie doesn’t want to believe his story of being undercover to protect her. Moreover, she can’t believe that someone might really want her dead.

But just when Myles thinks he has her out of harm’s way, his plans start to fall apart. He attempts to take Kenzie to a safe house—but the stubborn woman won’t go! So together they must uncover the clues that will reveal a most shocking perpetrator. All the while Myles tries to keep his distance from Kenzie … but finds himself falling in love.

Buy from Christianbook.com
Buy from Amazon

Excerpt of chapter one:

Mackenzie Thorn looked up just in time to see two men walk into her classroom. One of them, a guard, nodded at his coworker stationed inside the door, and kept his hand at the elbow of the taller man beside him. This man, clad in an orange jumpsuit sporting the initials ODOC—Oregon Department of Corrections—swaggered into the classroom, head held high, windswept brown hair falling over his collar. The intensity of his blue eyes struck Kenzie immobile for a moment as they approached.

"Ms. Thorn," the guard began.

Kenzie shook her head to clear her thoughts before holding up one index finger to the guard. "Just a moment, please." Turning to the two men sitting at the first table on her right, she said, "Mr. Ramirez, Mr. Chen, please pass out workbooks to everyone." The two men began their task while she moved to meet her new student.

"This is Myles Parsons. The superintendent's office said to put him in this class."

The guard made no apologies for bringing in a new student five weeks into their six-week GED session. Decrees from Superintendent JB Ryker's office were law inside these walls. The inmate would just have to try to keep up.

The man's piercing blue eyes bore into her face, seeming to study every crevice. She knew for a fact that her face was not that interesting. Mr. Parsons's face, on the other hand, was well worth studying. The crooked bridge of his nose had been broken at least once, but the imperfection was intriguing rather than off-putting. His wide mouth and pink lips pulled into a smirk, exposing his arrogance. Running thick fingers through his shaggy brown hair, he continued staring back at her, something few of her other students had ever dared to do.

Suddenly she realized how incredibly inappropriate she was being and ripped her gaze away from his handsome face. "Welcome to our GED prep class, Mr. Parsons."

"So you're Ms. Thorn?"

"Yes, I am. You seem surprised."

"I am." The man certainly did not mince words. "I expected someone more…" He stretched to his full height, which was at least a foot taller than her. "The way the others talk, I expected someone more intimidating."

Despite her skittering pulse, she quirked the corner of her mouth into a partial grin. "Trust me, Mr. Parsons. My tests are plenty intimidating. You may take a seat now. Third row on the left." Effectively dismissing him, she turned to the rest of the class and began teaching the basic fraction lesson.

Myles Parsons gazed at Ms. Mackenzie Thorn. Obviously frustrated by her wild, curly hair, she shoved it behind her ears, giving herself streaks of white where the chalk from her fingers lingered in her curls.

Her passion for the mundane principles of fractions astounded him. Her voice, like a melody, rose and fell as she singsonged through adding and subtracting the tricky numbers.

He shook his head to clear away the distractions of her intense gray eyes. He chastised himself for his own bad luck to end up inside these walls. Her pretty face wouldn't be enough to make his current mission worth it.

Somehow, he'd let his FBI supervisor, Special Agent in Charge Nathan—Nate—Andersen, talk him into taking this assignment. An assignment that could be summed up in two words: Kenzie Thorn.

When Nate received a tip two weeks before that the governor's granddaughter was in danger working inside the Oregon State Prison Complex at Evergreen, Myles had wondered about the validity of the tip. But Nate believed it, and he'd assigned an agent to the inside to protect her. As the youngest special agent stationed in the office, and one of the few without a family, Myles was the obvious pick to go behind bars to protect Kenzie.

Protect her from what, he wasn't sure.

But as long as he was on this mission, he'd keep an eye on her. He'd do his job and do it well.

Kenzie—Ms. Thorn, as he was going to have to think of her—turned around at the front of the class and flicked another streak of white through her hair, rambling on about finding the lowest common denominator. His mouth quirked up at the corners of its own accord at her spunky head bob, and he had to fake a sneeze in order to keep from laughing out loud.

"You're smiling awfully hard for a man who is five weeks behind the rest of the class, Mr. Parsons." Ms. Thorn's voice was soft, and she leaned closer to him, suddenly at his side. She smelled like citrus, like lemon and lime mixed together. Relishing the crisp scent in a room full of mostly unwashed bodies, he looked up into her stormy gray eyes. A row of freckles at the top of the bridge of her nose softened her hard glare, and he physically had to fight a smirk in response to her childlike cuteness.

One thing was quite certain. She wasn't going to erase his smile standing this close to him.

An intriguing contradiction, her piercing eyes and gentle face tempted Myles to turn this exchange into a flirtation. Shoving those thoughts away, he focused on the mission, knowing he had to keep his mind alert for any signs she might be in danger.

Finally, the class ended, and Kenzie took a moment to let her head rest on her desk, trying to clear her mind from the terrible day she'd just had. The day started with Cory Johns, one of her favorite students, cheating on his third and final try at the GED exam, forcing her to fail him. Any hope for a change in his life after his release went in the trash with his exam.

The next class brought her new student, Myles Parsons, whose cocky smirk and arrogance made her bristle every time she looked in his direction. He raised his hand to answer almost every question she asked, and even worse, he was always right!

Eyes closed and forehead still leaning on her arm draped over the papers littering her desk, Kenzie took the opportunity to pray for her students.

God, please give me the words to reach these men. To give them some hope and skills for when they are released. I pray for the families that are eagerly waiting for their return. And, Lord, I pray specifically for Cory Johns. I pray that he will find anotherway to earn his GED and support his family. And I ask that You give me a special dose of patience for my new student. Please help his attitude to change toward me and this class. Thank You for Your many good gifts. In Your name, Amen.

Just as she dragged her head from its resting spot, a noise in the doorway caught her attention. A handsome man with sleek silver hair filled the entire doorway.

"Mac!" she cried, jumping up from her seat and throwing herself into the man's waiting embrace. She clung tightly to him as he almost squeezed the breath out of her. "What are you doing here? I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow."

"You know how it is." He chuckled, a smile spreading over his face. "Sometimes the governor's schedule changes." He gave her another quick squeeze before stepping back to really look at her.

His gray eyes, so much like her own, assessed her carefully and he frowned. "You look tired. Is this position too much for you?"

Kenzie resisted the urge to roll her eyes. He said the same thing every time he saw her. "I've been here for two years. I'm doing okay."

"Are you taking care of yourself?"

"Of course." She looped her arm through Mac's and smiled into his loving face. "I've missed you, Grandpa." She rarely called Mac "Grandpa," and since he was elected governor nearly six years before, she could count on one hand the number of times she had done so. But today she needed to be reminded that she was loved by her father's father, the man who had loved her as a daughter, ever since she lost her parents all those years ago.

Mac squeezed her tightly to his side and kissed the top of her head. "Sweet pea, you have no idea how much we miss you in Salem. I can pull some strings to get you a position at a school there. You'd make a wonderful kindergarten teacher. This place is rough. It's not good for you."

"It's okay. I'm okay. They need me, and to tell you the truth, I think I need them, too." Kenzie smiled and snuggled a little closer to his side. Mac had always been able to right the wrongs in her life, protect her from the boogeyman, dry her tears. He was larger than life when she was a child, and his presence today almost wiped away thoughts of concern over her new student.

She looked around Mac's arm and spotted his usual entourage. "Harry. Buzz." She nodded at each of the men standing just inside the doorway. Harry was built like a bulldozer and Buzz like a long-distance runner. They were part of the best security detail in the state, and Kenzie had grown fond of them through the years, as they protected Mac. "Candace." She acknowledged Mac's personal aide, a tall blonde standing beside Buzz.

Candace looked up from the notes in her daily planner. "Good afternoon, Kenzie." She offered a brief smile, then returned to keeping Mac on schedule.

"Well, you'd best show me around your classroom." Mac's voice was gruff, but held a grin.

"Sure. There's not much to show really. We have tables where the students sit. Our bookshelf is pretty meager, but the prison library has a good selection that I sometimes assign for additional reading, for those that need the practice to prepare for the exam. And of course, my desk."

As Kenzie pointed out the tables, sparse bookshelves and her own desk, Mac walked around the room, glancing at the mathematic posters, the only decoration on the gray walls. He glanced twice at a particularly colorful formula, hand-drawn, on a large white poster board, but he didn't comment.

"How's the program?" he finally said.

"It's wonderful. Since you authorized this pilot program two years ago, we've had more than two hundred inmates earn GEDs. We have almost a two-thirds pass rate. You don't have to worry about us right now. But maybe—"

"You're a good kid, Mackenzie Thorn." He cut her off before she could confess that she was hoping the state legislature might be able to allocate more funds. Distracted by his use of her full name, she forgot what she was going to say. No one called her or Mac by their shared first name. After complications with their first and only pregnancy, Kenzie's parents had decided to pass the family name down through their daughter, even if it was a man's name. She'd worn it proudly, always going by Kenzie to avoid confusion.

Now she smiled wider in response to Mac's compliment. Could he tell how much she loved teaching these men? Could he read in her eyes how much it broke her heart when they chose to give up, rather than fight for the skills that could lead to a new life?

A noise in the doorway made her turn. JB Ryker, the prison superintendent and an old friend of Mac's, limped into the classroom, nudging Harry and Buzz aside. His knee had been injured during the Vietnam War, and when it rained he often needed the aid of a cane to manage the slick cement halls of the prison.

"Macky, you ol' dog." Kenzie cringed inwardly. She always hated it when JB called her grandfather "Macky." He was the only one who could get away with it, and Mac never seemed to mind. But she still hated it.

She also hated the way his lip curled up, like a back-alley used-car salesman. Something about him always made her skin crawl.

"Why the early trip?" JB said.

Shaking hands with his old friend, Mac said, "I have a meeting tomorrow at the capital that couldn't be rescheduled."

"Must be tough being the governor."

Mac just grinned. He'd taught Kenzie to hold her tongue in situations like this, where there was no right answer. If only she could do as he taught.

"It's certainly not easy, Superintendent," she retorted. A sharp glance from Mac made her bite her tongue to keep from saying anything else.

JB ignored her comment. "What do you think of the place? I'm sure Kenzie has kept you up-to-date on the success of the program."

"Yes, she was just filling me in. It seems to be working well. If the statistics remain this high, we may move forward with expanding the program to the other state prisons sooner than expected."

For an instant, JB looked like he'd swallowed his tongue. But he swiftly recovered, putting on his famous poker face. "That's wonderful. How soon do you think?"

"I think we can start moving forward now. It should take us just a couple of months to get things in place in the other prisons, as we have such a strong example to work from with the test program here at the Evergreen complex."

"That's wonderful, Mac!" Kenzie's smile was so wide it almost hurt her cheeks. With the expanded program, the state might be able to set aside a little more for her own classes. She opened her mouth to ask Mac just that, but stopped herself when she looked at Ryker. He'd warned her not to discuss the budget with Mac, but sometimes she had to physically restrain herself from asking for just a little more money. When Candace called to him, Mac hurried across the room, grabbing the cell phone she held.

Kenzie looked at JB's surly face and wondered if he might answer some of her questions. He hated talking budget. "We don't talk budgets, except at budget meetings," he had said on her first day. "And we don't discuss budgets with anyone outside of prison, including family. Including your grandfather. If Mac increased the budget at your request, his opponents could claim he gave you preferential treatment. That could damage his chances in another run for the governor's office." His hard glare had been stern, almost cruel, and she shivered even now at the mere possibility that she could hinder Mac's chances at reelection.

With Mac on the other side of the room, she seized what might be her only chance to talk with JB alone. Regardless of her apprehension toward JB, this would help her students and other prisoners.

"If the program is ready to expand already, do you think the state legislature might be able to increase funding for us just a bit? I worked out some figures, and raising our budget by just fifteen percent could increase the number of students we can accommodate by over twenty-five percent." JB stared back at her blankly. Keeping her voice low, she plowed on. "I'm planning on petitioning the legislature next month for an increase in the budget for the next fiscal year."



Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Out now is her humorous contemporary romance novel, Single Sashimi, and her romantic suspense, Deadly Intent. She also runs the Story Sensei critique service. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels and ponders frivolous things. Sign up for her newsletter YahooGroup for giveways!

Friday, October 09, 2009

A New Pair of Glasses

I am currently laughing my head off . . . at myself.

I heard a potential cat fight, so I stepped outside to check on my cats. The antagonizer—a neighbor cat—scurried out of a tree and took off, hopefully for its own home. And then I looked around for my cats.

At the bottom of a hill, I saw some movement in the berry bushes (we live in the country). The fur was lighter than my cats'. The animal seemed to hunker down and then stand up, and I wondered if it was a shy kitten or some other creature I couldn’t recognize from where I stood. I made my way down the incline to check it out. Amazingly, the animal didn’t seem skittish. It didn’t run. As I got closer, I realized it was a plastic bag caught in the tangle of weeds, blowing in the breeze.

Okay, a new pair glasses may be needed.

Here’s something that takes a different pair of glasses—the kind that helps our hearts see the needs around us and how we can meet those needs like Jesus might.

Enjoy and be inspired:

Tangle video: The Hand that Steadies the Plate






www.jankern.com
www.choose2livefree.com

Monday, October 05, 2009

Snubbed?

I just got an e-mail from a friend, inviting me to a worship team rehearsal for our church’s upcoming women’s retreat. I felt so silly when I read the message. Up until now I’d been secretly pouting, thinking the friend who is in charge of music for the retreat wasn’t going to ask me to be part of the team. I’d let her know that I was available and overheard her asking others but she hadn’t officially asked me. Past hurts only added to the insecurity "See, she doesn’t want me around." I made up my mind that I’d been snubbed and was working on praying for an attitude adjustment so I could enjoy the retreat without dwelling on how left out I felt. Then the invitation came.

After I sent the reply (a possibly overly enthusiastic yes) I took the experience as a reminder to . . .

Be careful about giving into my insecurities.
Learn to give people the benefit of the doubt.
Remember that God does hear our whiney “I know I’m still acting like a seventh grader but . . . “ prayers.

I also see that I need to let go of those past hurts that prompted me to assume the worst and turn her choices of worship team members into a personal thing.

So today I’m thanking God, not only for the chance to help lead worship at the retreat, but also for a reminder to let go of some of my insecurities and let Him teach me to trust my friends.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

So Much Fun!




I've had this thing that holds me back. FEAR. Over the past couple of years, I've been pushing myself more. Doing things I'm afraid of. Yesterday, I decided to take another step. My son's friend Brittany started teaching me to ride horses. I rode a 24-year-old Arabian named Debar. Brittany said his color is called "flea-bitten gray." Nothing about him looked flea-bitten. He was gorgeous--smelled so good too. Outdoorsy. Strong and clean.

Brittany said, "Don't be afraid. Horses can tell if you're nervous around them."

I wondered how I'd fool Debar. I prayed, God, help me. I want to not be afraid.

She told me how to mount--to always get up on the left side of the horse. Grabbing hold of the saddle, I swung my right leg over. I did it!! I didn't go flying off the other side or anything. I decided to go ahead and pat Debar--like Brittany was patting her horse. So far, so good.

Brittany showed me how to hold the reigns--right at the top of the saddle horn--and loosely. Kind of like when you're walking with your dog you don't want a tight leash. I know about training dogs so it made sense. Brittany said the two animals are similar--horses and dogs. They know people--they can read us. She showed me how to kick at his sides. "Don't worry. You won't hurt him," she said and smiled. I copied her and kicked him (nudged him) to start going. He did! We started pretty slowly with me following behind Brittany.

Feeling more confident, I told Debar to move alongside Brittany and her horse. I kicked him gently and he moved quicker. Soon, we were riding side-by-side. Brittany said I'm a natural!

We rode for about 45 minutes. I asked her tons of questions. She answered each one patiently.

I did some thinking as we rode, writer that I am.

I thought about how I'm almost 50 and Brittany's not even 20, but she's an incredible rider and teacher.

I thought about how I've let fear hold me back. And the thing is, once I put my foot in the stirrups and swung myself up, the fear was gone. I trusted that Debar knew what he was doing. And he did.

I thought about life. How sometimes you have to humble yourself, ask for help, trust God and others (even a horse).

When I'm aware of that Still, Small Voice saying, "Don't be afraid. Do what's on your heart. I'm with you and will lead you with my righteous right hand," I need to listen more often. And trust.

My love to you all.
Anything you think God may be leading you to do?

Love,
Julie

Friday, October 02, 2009

What makes you buckle down?

I'm a people-pleaser, so the idea of disappointing someone else really motivates me. To that end I started a new blog.
Now that, in itself, is ironic, because blogging is not one of my favorite things to do. I always feel the pressure to be witty and spiritual on demand when a blog is due. This is a pressure I put on myself. It is one I could do without. So now I have four blogs I participate in. LOL
Have you ever noticed that your cat goes and torments the guest in your house who doesn't like cats? I feel like my blogs are cats that show up in my lap, determined to get some attention. And I really want to pet the cat, enjoy its soft fur, bring on that ingratiating purr, and have the cat curl up in my lap. I guess I'm a cat-pleaser too. But it takes time.
The reason I am a people-pleaser is that people matter to me. They aren't just a mass of a nebulous something that exists beyond my immediate circle. And I think that God in me is what recognizes that.
Back to the blogs. I love connecting with readers, and once I've blogged I feel good about it. But beforehand, I squirm. I ought to write out this blog when the inspiration hits me, then just post it on the day it's due. But that would aggravate the procrastinator in me.
So, I guess being human and having noticeable flaws takes me to the point I'm getting to.
I am horribly late on my manuscript. Therefore, with my people-pleaser motivation taken into account, I started a new blog called A Writer Writes . . . Sometimes. I post the number of the chapter I'm on and the word count.
Then I said to myself, "You know, sweetcakes, it's never all about you. So I decided to include a writing tip directly from the work I did that day. That way I can please people who are interested in writing.
Take a look and tell me what you think: A Writer Writes . . . Sometimes.

Girls, God, and the Good Life

 
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