The Messy Truth

Not long ago, I cleaned my living room closet. It was beautiful. Everything organized, in its Mom-ordained place, easy to access. Beautiful, I tell you. I gazed on the work of my hands and allowed peace to wash over my soul.

I would take a photo of the closet to show you how far from bliss we have fallen since that glorious day, but I can no longer physically enter the closet. Also, the lightbulb burned out. What I can see in the dim abyss is that everything is in disarray, stray game pieces and puzzle pieces piled on a shelf and all sorts of oddments forming mountains on the floor, patiently awaiting the day I rescue the closet from its disorder.

Somewhere along the line, as far as I can tell, my children remembered the closet. They opened the math box, found the linking cubes, and couldn’t resist the allure of spaceships and machine guns waiting to be built. They challenged each other to Battleship and Scrabble and spent hours arranging letter tiles. And the art drawers… Heaven bless the child who can resist drawers of art supplies! (Seriously, such a child needs our fervent prayers!) I, too, am to blame, for in the rush of daily living, I tossed a few lonely shoes into the closet to save them from the big black monster who roams our house.

Bottom line, we’ve been living in this house, and the closet is the messy, unfiltered proof.

In the next few months, our church will be looking for a pastor. At some point, we’ll start talking about what sort of church we want to be. A family church? Will we take it a step further and say, (Heaven help us!), a missional church?

I’d love for everyone to come over and look at my living room closet. Right now. In its current, deplorable condition.

Life is messy.

Family is messier.

Missions is even messier.

Until you step back and look at the children building relationships, gaining confidence, creating works of heart-inspired art.

Until you recognize the God of Life in the midst of disheveled boxes, scraps of paper, and mismatched shoes.

Until you embrace the messy, realizing how gloriously our God works in the very middle of the messy to turn the unlovely into the lovely, to shape for Himself a people after His own heart.

I’ll clean my closet eventually. Until then, I’ll rejoice in the undeniable truth.

In the messy, beauty reigns.

Friday Fictioneers: The Gifted Child


True story: One of my children spent a year – a year – trying to convince his friends that dragons are real. I’m not sure he succeeded, but this mama’s heart beat with mischievous pride when he held plastic dragons to the car window as we sped down the highway, using his iPod to capture photos of the magical beasts in flight. I thought of him as I wrote this, and of the sort of girl I hope he’ll someday convince to believe the wondrous with him.

FF_santoshwriter (1)

PHOTO PROMPT – © Santoshwriter

The Gifted Child

He slips his bare foot over the medicine dropper and holds the leaf out, his father’s grin beaming on his youthful face. “Fairy eggs.”

Ava tucks her strawberry blond hair behind her ear. “Those are not fairy eggs. Everyone knows fairies don’t lay-”

“Oh, yeah? Ever seen a pregnant fairy?” The kid has some logic, another gift from his father.

Ava bites her lip. I ought to warn her, but the kid’s got a bit of his mama in him, too.

She glances down as the tip of the medicine dropper peeks from between his toes. I’ve never seen so wry a smile on so angelic a face.

“When do they hatch?” she asks.

Friday Fictioneers (n): A world-wide community of writers addicted to writing 100 word stories based on a photo prompt provided by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. 

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The Thresh in Us

All kinds of things come up when building a new world. Not only must one deal with geography and government, one must also establish customs for its people to observe. Rites of passage are commonly seen in fiction (The Giver and Divergent come to mind), but there are also little everyday things to which to attend. Or, in the case of Thresh, every year things.

The tradition of annually branding children may be the most troubling aspect of Threshan society. From their first to sixteenth birthdays, Threshan children are marked by their mothers with a brand. In fact, each previous brand is re-seared into the flesh of their upper right arms. It’s a gruesome ritual, one that causes even me to shudder when I really think about what it would be like for a mother to do that to her child.

As I consider this ritual, however, I wonder if it isn’t as outrageous as it first appears. I certainly don’t advocate branding, but when you consider the priorities of Threshan culture, branding is a logical act. Thresh is built in large part on the notion that strength of mind and body are to be praised above all. Branding, then, is a natural method both of instilling strength in the young and of giving the young opportunity to prove their strength. I’m not saying it’s a good idea, but if we look at cultures throughout history and even at present in various parts of the world, we’ll discover that branding and other bodily mutilations aren’t uncommon. Branding is nasty, but it isn’t unprecedented. In Thresh, it’s the natural result of a society that elevates the noble and necessary trait of strength to an unhealthy level.

We can judge, but don’t we in the modern Western world practice our own forms of branding? What values do we elevate to unhealthy levels? What scars do our pursuit of these values leave on our children and ultimately, the whole of our society?

The pursuit of beauty is a prime example. Beauty, in and of itself, is a wonderful thing, but we aren’t measuring it accurately. We have children fighting eating disorders, teens being bullied over average-sized behinds, mothers yearning to cream away stretch marks, grandmothers trying to look like twenty-somethings. Scars show not only on our wallets, but on the graves of those who died too young and the loneliness of those who live with meaningless beauty. On a smaller scale, the disappointment of leaving the store empty handed because nothing fits just right is another sign we’re getting something wrong here. We haven’t learned that we are beautiful, that we are loved, just as we are. We’re striving after a meaningless ideal of beauty, just as Threshans strive after a meaningless ideal of strength.

Of course, beauty isn’t the only thing we elevate beyond what is good. It’s just the most obvious. Wealth, power, having-it-all-togetherness… The list goes on. And I’m sure it won’t stop until we follow Grit’s example of hurling the branding rod to the ground. It won’t cure society’s ills, just as it didn’t cure Grit of her misconceptions, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s a bold statement that we are getting something dreadfully wrong. And it is evidence that we are stronger, more beautiful, more valuable than the rod by which cold society measures us.

Friday Fictioneers: To Hold a Kindred Spirit

At first glance, today’s story might not seem to match the photo. The setting of one is quite different from the setting of the other, but the photo reminded me of a little story I’ve been playing with in my head and in select Friday Fictioneers pieces. I exceeded the 100 word limit this week, but I wanted to fit in all the little details I’ll want when I (hopefully) weave it into a novel.

Some of you may remember Nora and Molly. This is their beginning…

PHOTO PROMPT -© Marie Gail Stratford

PROMPT -© Marie Gail Stratford

To Hold a Kindred Spirit  (Contemporary YA)

Rail thin, she heaves her backpack onto the lab table. “Anyone sitting here?”

“Stool’s empty, isn’t it?”

“Well, yes, but…” She scrunches up her freckled nose and glances about the room. “You might be saving it for someone.”

“Um, yeah. Let me tell you a little secret.” I lean closer, like it isn’t common knowledge. “I’m not exactly cool.”

Her face breaks into a smile, and she eases herself onto the stool. “I’m not, either.”

When she opens her backpack, A Separate Peace falls out.

“John Knowles…” I can hear the dorkiness in my voice as I fight the urge to hug the book.

“He’s kind of my favorite. Well, behind L.M. Montgomery. I’m Molly, by the way.”


For the second time in one morning, I offer a gut-felt prayer. Please, please let her be a kindred spirit.

Friday Fictioneers (n): A world-wide community of writers addicted to writing 100 word stories based on a photo prompt provided by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. 

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Friday Fictioneers: Living Water

PHOTO PROMPT – © Madison Woods

Living Water

She crouches, her mouth gaping beneath the spigot. She’s too young to know what dangers might lurk within the rusty jug. Mold, ebola, salmonella, e coli, high fructose corn syrup… I’m too old too remember it all. We’ll die, anyway. Probably for the best.


I remember it still, that first taste of life. Sweet, with a hint of earth and blood. Funny how rust tastes like the thing that courses through my veins, bringing health to all my parts. A painful death, worse than dehydration. What did they know?

Garrison calls us “the drinkers.” He says the world is ours.

Friday Fictioneers (n): A world-wide community of writers addicted to writing 100 word stories based on a photo prompt provided by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. 

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Guest Post: Christian vs. Secular Romance — Bridging the Gap (Kara Leigh Miller and Jody Holford)

Christian vs. Secular Romance — Bridging the Gap


Kara Leigh Miller & Jody Holford

Oftentimes, there are a lot of misconceptions about the Christian romance genre. It’s been dubbed by some as boring and preachy. As authors of this niche genre, we are excited at the opportunity to bridge the gap between these two markets. Before we can successfully do that, though, we must first define the primary differences between Christian and secular romance. Simply, it comes down to three things:

  1. Faith — Every Christian romance has an element of faith present throughout the story. Whether it is one of the main characters believing in God or attending church regularly or giving thanks before meals or saying nightly prayers, there’s always a relevant element of faith. It’s important to note that the faith doesn’t have to be “in your face” or preach to the readers. In fact, a strong Christian romance won’t do those things. It’s woven into the story subtly, it works with the plot to help strengthen it and the characters.
  1. Romantic Elements — Typically, there are never any physical acts of love in a Christian romance novel. It can be talked about under certain conditions, but there’s never any moments of physical intimacy on the page, except for kissing. That’s totally okay ;-)
  1. Language — There’s never any cursing in Christian romance.

Now, we’ve heard the arguments that Christian romance is boring because it doesn’t have all the “good stuff” that secular romance has. In secular romance, authors have the benefit of really diving into the physical aspects of a relationship along with the emotional ramifications. Whereas in Christian romance, you don’t have that ability. For us, we had to work hard, to stretch ourselves as writers to be able to create that same sort of tension that wasn’t only emotional and physical, but spiritual as well. For example, in a secular romance, when the hero and heroine meet for the first time, there’s an instant, strong physical attraction. In Christian romance, the initial meeting of the characters is more of an emotional event.

In our book, Dangerous Love, Dr. Josh Parker’s first meeting with the heroine, Alessa Matthews is when she’s wheeled into the ER, beaten and half dead. There’s not an initial physical attraction, but rather a strong, internal need to want to help her and protect her — feelings that go beyond just his oath and duty as a doctor. Conversely, when Alessa awakens and consciously meets Josh for the first time, she’s thankful for his presence, for his gentle bedside manner and his ability to put her at ease.

Furthermore, neither of the two main characters have faith in the true sense of the word. Josh lost his faith shortly after his wife’s death. Alessa has no memory of her past for a majority of the book, so she really doesn’t know if she was a God fearing woman or not. Two of our secondary characters — Ethan and Amanda, who are Josh’s sister and brother in law — do have faith. Ethan is even the pastor of the local church. So for a majority of our book, they act as our faith element until our two main characters come around. Although Amanda is actively trying to get her brother back to church and back on terms with God, she doesn’t force him and she doesn’t preach to him, but rather let’s him find his own way back, which he eventually does thanks to a little help from our heroine.

From the very beginning stages of writing this book, it was important to us to ensure it had crossover appeal between both the Christian and secular markets. The draw for romance readers is the connection between the characters and the journey toward a happily ever after, regardless of market. We worked hard to achieve this by creating that intense connection between Josh and Alessa while also preserving the values and expectations that come within the Christian market. We don’t preach to our readers nor do we attempt to turn non-believers into believers. That’s not our job as Christian romance authors. It’s our job to tell a great story with compelling characters who live their lives by the teachings of God. And that’s exactly what we’ve done.

Friday Fictioneers: The End of Us (Double Feature)

When I first saw this photo prompt, I wasn’t sure what sort of story, if any, would emerge. Turns out, two stories took shape. Because sometimes that’s what happens.
PHOTO PROMPT - © Douglas M. MacIlroy

PHOTO PROMPT – © Douglas M. MacIlroy


(100 words of Women’s Fiction?)

Somewhere between “I do” and “I told you so,” we came to the end of us.

Snow blankets the ground. I curl up with a book, pretending it’s still green outside.

You knock on the door like it’s not frozen shut. Why did you bother? Only a fool would trek this road barefoot. Apparently that’s what you are.

You shake the snow from your shoulders and hold out your duffel bag. “I brought snowshoes, a pair for each of us.”

We ran our own courses to this icy edge. Side by side, we’ll get back to the heart of us.


(100 words of Dystopia)

On the other side, the sand is so white it looks like snow. I’ve held it between my fingers when the wind blows hard and west, stirring it into the air and over the guardrails. The last watch couldn’t resist it. Or maybe he preferred death to living beside the impossible – warmth and beauty so close, yet unattainable. It’s the stuff we used to read in books.

It’s not too bad here on the edge. An improvement over solitary confinement, though the company’s no better. I can dream, anyway, that you’ll find me and our children will build sandcastles instead of snowmen.

Friday Fictioneers (n): A world-wide community of writers addicted to writing 100 word stories based on a photo prompt provided by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. 

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