Far back from the road stood a group of trees much different than all the rest along the drive. To make room for the power line that ran alongside them, the branches on one side—from the top to the bottom—had been lobbed off. These beautiful, tall pines were literally half of what they once were.
While disfigured, the trees appeared strong. They stood straight and tall. They towered over the land, despite their lopsided condition. And even if half was missing, there was no mistaking what they were. They were still trees.
There are people in my life with a similar misshapenness. Though the wounds aren't physical, their eyes tell the story of the day the limb-cutter came to maim. Maybe you’re one of them. Somewhere along the way, something happened to change who you are. You have trauma that will forever shape you. You’re marked by it. It’s a defining characteristic in your life. Time is tracked as before or after the event that altered everything.
But in the midst of heartache, like the trees, you’re still standing. Though circumstances transformed your life in a way you never wanted, you’re still standing. Life may never look the same again, but you’re still standing. And you are still YOU.
A parent that loses a child—even with that important part missing—is still a parent. Someone whose innocence is stripped away like the limbs of the tree, doesn’t lose their humanity with it. You’re still you, and you still have room to grow around the scars.
Jeremiah 17:7-8 says, “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”
Whenever you feel hopeless, when the pain of loss outweighs everything else, trust in the Lord. You are still you, and, if you are a believer, you are still His. May you find comfort in your identity as a child of God, and in your ability to stand.
"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." (1 John 3:1a)
Can a book be a home design guide and a devotional? Victoria Duerstock proves the answer is yes and does it well, with her new release Heart & Home: Design Basics for Your Soul and Living Space. This book perfectly meshes inspiring message of God’s love with helpful advice for creating welcoming, attractive spaces in the home.
Amid all the themed devotionals on the market, Heart & Home is the first devotional I’ve read with an interior design theme, and the concept totally works! Acts 17:28 says that in God “we live, and move, and have our being.” Duerstock recognizes the all-encompassing goodness of God and interprets His truths even through discourse on things like exposed brick, lighting, and accent pieces.
The structure of this book is great. The attractive layout is consistent—you know what to expect on each page—and that adds to the feelings of peace and tranquility conveyed by the words and pictures in the book. Each two-page layout consists of home interior photos, a prayer, the devotion title and Scripture, the body of the devotion, and a design tip.
One of my favorite devotions in the book is titled “It’s Not About You.” It encourages the idea of designing a home with the needs of others in mind. As a foster parent-in-waiting, this line strikes a chord: “Designing our homes intentionally to be ready at a moment’s notice to meet needs should be our purpose.”
I'm so glad I had the opportunity to review this devotional, and I look forward to Duerstock's next release, Heart & Home for Christmas, which will be available in September.
About the Author:
Victoria Duerstock is a writer, blogger, teacher, and speaker. Her mission is to inspire hope and ignite bigger dreams for God’s purpose in each of our stories. She has a master’s degree in music, but ended up working in the furniture industry for more than twenty years and loves to make connections between our home environments and our spiritual lives. Victoria writes at Encouraging Women Today, Everything’s Gravy, Creative Corner, and Serious Writer Academy and also has contributed to devotionals for Worthy. She lives in Nesbit, Mississippi, with her husband, and they have three children.
From the Publisher:
Heart and Home is a short devotional book with daily devotions for 90 days. The devotionals seek to draw clear connection between the basics of interior design and scripture that encourages spiritual growth within our hearts. The devotionals inspire women to have a captivating heart and home. Included in each devotional is an applicable design tip and photographs. Example devotional topics include unity and harmony, negative space, flow, focal point, and balance. This devotional includes full-color photographs of home interiors throughout the book. Click here to view a sample of the book.
For more information about the series and for links to purchase, visit https://www.abingdonpress.com/victoriaduerstock.
All day long, I talk to people. I share posts on social media, and I comment on other’s people’s posts. As a society, we’re accustomed to constant human interaction, and I enjoy the convenience and connection that technology allows. But sometimes I imagine what it would be like if it all went away—if social media ceased to exist, if phones were unavailable. I’d dearly miss my online companions, and it would take a long time to adjust, but I would still have my church, my family, and Jesus.
But, God forbid, what if my church family dissolved? What if that fellowship was no longer available to me? I would certainly grieve. But I’d still have my family and Jesus.
Though I can barely stand to consider it, what if family weren’t with me? What if I was taken to a far off place, away from everything and everyone I know and love. How horrible! But my soul rests in the fact that I’d still have Jesus.
But what if Jesus….? There are no more what ifs. Jesus is the only thing in my existence that can’t be removed from me, the only thing that is inextricable from my being. While the other situations are, thank God, improbable, losing Jesus is simply impossible. What an awesome thought—I have something that can never be taken away. As a believer, I have the Spirit of the Living God with me at all times, and He will always be a constant and abiding presence, regardless of any other circumstance in my life.
Psalm 139:7-10 says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
Imagine your surroundings as a silent void, an abyss of nothingness. Even in that place, God is there. And in nothingness, you have abundance as a child of God. There is no fission process that can separate Him from you. No matter where you are, He is there. He will always be there. And He is sufficient.
Today on the blog, I'm sharing a post by Joanna White, author of the novel Hunter, which releases April 30. She's here to tell us about her book and shed some light on the Christian Fantasy genre.
"Hunter is more than just a fantasy book. It’s more than an epic, action-packed, intense, dramatic story, and the characters represent more than who they are. As a Christian author, I’ve always tried to include Christian themes in my stories. Before Hunter, all I wrote were stories that were - what I like to call - Christian dramas. So when I wrote my first fantasy novel, which was Hunter, I tried to include God and my beliefs in it as much as possible. When I finished, Hunter had become a story about redemption and survival, about terrible things that happen and overcoming those things.
What I hadn’t realized was just how Biblical it was.
Later, as I continued writing the series it’s a part of, The Valiant Series, I realized that it paralleled to the story of Moses. People oppressed by a government and rules greater than themselves. A person chosen to set them free who only knew the life as their enemy and that same person being someone to doubt themselves and why they were chosen in the first place. I added a special scene to really bring out this theme that had been imbued inside Hunter without me realizing it.
Most people either don’t know that Christian fiction exists, let alone Christian fantasy, or they think it’s just like listening to a sermon at church - not that there is anything wrong with that. But Christian fantasy isn’t. Hunter isn’t.
Christian fantasy for me especially, is something that makes me smile. You wanna know why? Because as I’m reading or watching Christian fantasy, I know - really know - that it’s clean and filled with truths that I believe in. I don’t have to be afraid of what I’m reading or watching. As a Christian fantasy author, it’s my chance to give people - all people, not just Christians - an epic tale that they can really delve into and become a part of and still show them that it doesn’t have to include cussing or sex scenes or anything else that’s bad in order to be a really good book. You can love books that are decent and clean and at the same time, share themes and beliefs that can hopefully inspire and encourage you whether you’re a Christian or not. And maybe, just maybe, it can teach you about the God who loves you more than you will ever know."
A reckless young woman named Averella does what no woman has ever done.
She disguises herself as a man and purposefully gets herself arrested and thrown into Zagerah. Her brother Gabriel was taken, and with his disease, he will not survive on his own. She has no idea what to expect inside the prison; all she knows is that once men get taken, they never come back.
The Hunters will find her.
Genetically altered to be faster and stronger than humans, the Hunters use their powers to find and kill every prisoner who enters Zagerah. The only ones who can defeat them, are in fact, themselves.
Jared is a Hunter. It’s all he’s known, all he remembers. He kills ruthlessly and without regret, one prisoner after another. When a new prisoner Dalex shows up, everything begins to change. Jared goes undercover to make Dalex and the other prisoners believe he is one of them, a prisoner himself.
No one knows the truth.
He will trick them.
Toy with them.
Then, he will kill them.
To pre-order Hunter from Amazon, click here. To enter Joanna's giveaway of a DVD with bonus content about Hunter, a poster, and a magnet, click here.
The woman’s pretentious words set my blood to boilin’, as the saying goes. In a closed Facebook group, related to Christian writing and publishing, this person’s responses on a particular thread were haughty and, by my interpretation, hateful. I stopped to examine my emotions. I’d been under a lot of stress. Maybe I was just overly sensitive. Everyone else dealt with her patiently, and with grace. They answered each arrogant retort with gentle, loving dialogue, while I wanted to (politely) call her out.
I stepped away from the thread and went on scrolling through Facebook, still fuming. Then I came across a meme posted by author Robin Lee Hatcher. It said, “Sometimes the best thing to say or do is nothing.” Well, there was my sign. I needed to stay quiet about the matter.
Still, it ate away at me. I went back and read the thread again. It had only gotten worse. This person tried to shut people down like her opinion was the only one in the world that mattered, and I wanted so badly to jump in and (with love) tell her she was being a jerk. Sometimes, it’s okay to do that. But in this case, I just didn’t feel that liberty. So I continued to fight the urge, and I jumped over to Twitter instead. I scrolled through GIFs and quotes, still seeing red. Then I saw a post from my writer friend, Rachel Schmoyer. She’s studying and teaching the book of Proverbs and had shared this: “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.” (Proverbs 11:12, ESV) Remains silent. There it was again. I had no other choice but to let it go. I wouldn’t even revisit the thread, so I wouldn’t be tempted to speak out.
The next day, I had another irritating encounter online. I had my feelings hurt through a message with a friend. I’m still not sure if it's because I’ve been overly sensitive lately. Proverbs 15:18 says, “A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife.” I think I'm normally slow to anger, but in some seasons and situations, it’s harder to be that way.
I managed to keep calm with my friend, but my first instinct was to call someone else to vent. Before I dialed, I thought of Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Even if what I was going to say was true and honest, it surely wasn’t of “good report” or “virtue”. It wasn’t praiseworthy. So, I knew I needed to be quiet. Still, I wanted someone to validate my feelings of anger. I needed to tell someone that I had been wronged. But back to Facebook I went for a mindless distraction, and as I scrolled, I came across a post that was simply one word and two numbers. It read, “Philippians 4:8.” Wow. Needless to say, I didn't make that phone call.
Three times in two days, something on social media gave me pause. Three times, I received spiritual guidance from Facebook or Twitter. So does God really speak through social media? Does he really care that much for me, to guide me so lovingly in the right direction when I’m tempted? I believe so, but not just because I happened to find these posts. I spend way too much time on social media, so it’s probable, out of all the posts I read, that I’ll find ones that relate to my present situation. But I know God speaks to me on social media by the way those posts convicted me, the way they spoke to my spirit. John 10:27 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” I'm thankful to be one of His. I'm thankful that I have friends who share the truth of Scripture online. And I'm thankful that God speaks in many ways. What unexpected way has God spoken to you lately?
Imagine for a moment, a simple work of Christian fiction. The writing has some weak points, but the characters are likeable, the story is inspiring, and the truth of the Gospel is presented clearly. Most readers tell the author they like it, but she wonders how many are just being nice. Now, let’s imagine that little book in the right hands.
One of the first people to purchase the book is a faithful church-goer and friend of the author, named Mary. She loves the book because the gospel is woven seamlessly into the story. Mary has an unsaved friend named Nancy who loves to read. Mary thinks Nancy might enjoy the book, and that maybe, the Holy Spirit will use it to nudge her in the right direction. Unfortunately, the story really isn’t Nancy’s cup of tea. She puts the book aside after reading only one chapter.
Months pass and the book collects dust. One day, Nancy’s teenage daughter, Jane, notices it on the shelf. It has a pretty cover, so she tries it out. The characters draw her in, and she can’t put it down. Even though the story has some “church stuff”, she likes it.
A week later, Jane’s friend, Lily, invites the girl to church for the first time, and she agrees to go so she can hang out with her friend afterward. At church, the preacher’s sermon is confusing for Jane, until she remembers something from the Christian book she enjoyed so much. She makes a connection, and she understands that God loves her. That day, she chooses to give her life to Him.
Jane shares her decision with Lily and her mother, Kate, and they rejoice with her. Jane tells them about the book, and Kate decides to read it. The theme of foster care and adoption in the story immediately strikes a chord. She’d been praying about fostering a child, and the Lord uses the book to confirm her calling.
Kate and her husband eventually adopt a seven-year-old boy named Noah. He spends the rest of his childhood in a loving, Christian home, and he makes a profession of faith at the age of fifteen. The Lord calls him right after high school to become an evangelist.
At a revival meeting several years into Noah’s ministry, he helps lead an older woman to the Lord. Her name is Nancy. She tells Noah that she had rejected God for many years, and that she wishes her good friend Mary were still alive to see her prayers for Nancy be answered.
See what a simple book can accomplish in the right hands? Now, please don’t be confused. The “right hands” weren’t those of Mary, the friend of the author. The right hands were God’s. My made-up tale may seem fanciful, but when we place our work in the hands of the ultimate Creator, we can only imagine the story He will write! If you want to impact the kingdom with your talents, seek Him first, then put forth your very best effort in all that you do and trust God to use it mightily! You may never know the story. You may never be aware of the reach and impact your writing has. But you can always trust God’s purpose for it to be accomplished.
Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. Psalm 37:5
Trying my first vlog! (And it only took about five takes. *winks*) I'm sharing some thoughts for fellow creatives, and I hope you will be encouraged.
Time is such a funny thing. I signed a publishing contract in January of 2018 and waited fourteen months for the book to be released. Release day finally arrived, and already two weeks have passed since Grace & Lavender made its official entrance into the world. And those two weeks have been a blur!
One of the most fun, and busiest, parts of the book launch experience so far, has been the amazing blog tour hosted by JustRead Publicity Tours, and two great Bookstagram tours--one hosted by JustRead Publicity Tours and the other by TLC Book Tours. In part, this blog post serves to preserve the links from these great social media tours, so I can look back at them.
I had the privilege of being featured on twenty different blogs! Click here to see which ones.
One of my favorite reviews so far came from the blog SusanLovesBooks. Part of it reads:
"GRACE & LAVENDER is filled with twists and turns as well as faith, family, love, hope, and had me staying up way too late one night to finish! I had to know where Heather Norman Smith was taking us and what would happen to Colleen, Melody, and Grace. Poor Grace will pull at your heart strings and never let them go. There is so much heart in Heather’s writing that I was left with a huge smile on my face and my heart very happy. I could totally see GRACE & LAVENDER becoming a Hallmark movie and I would love to see it. All of the characters are very interesting and believable, so much so that I felt as if I’ve known them for a long time."
These words made my heart happy!
Between the two tours on Instagram, I was able to connect with lots of readers I wouldn't have otherwise reached. The link listing all the tour stops with TLC is found here. Below is a sample of some of the amazing pictures these talented Instagrammers have posted over the last two weeks. Follow me or search #graceandlavender or #heathernormansmith on Instagram to see them.
This week, I also had an opportunity to guest post on the Seriously Write blog. You can find my short encouragement for Christian writers at the link here. Many more guest blog posts to come in the near future.
Perhaps the biggest event of this book release season happens this Sunday afternoon. My family is hosting a book signing/launch party at my church's fellowship hall. My parents have put a lot of effort into this event, to celebrate this book, and it means so much to me. Their encouragement and support are invaluable in my life!
I'll try to keep you updated as the whirlwind continues. I am immensely grateful to be able to share my words and to share God's love through the stories He's given me.
North Carolina’s rich heritage includes the geneses of many well-known and much-loved food products, the likes of which have earned us serious bragging rights. But, as gracious Southerners, we let the food speak for itself instead. Keep reading to learn more about famous brands born in the Tar Heel State, and to find out how I incorporated each of them into my book, Grace & Lavender.
Pepsi-Cola: Invented in New Bern, NC (Craven County) in 1893 by Caleb Bradham, who made and sold it at his drugstore. The name Pepsi-Cola was first used in 1898.
Georgia may have that other cola favorite, but we're proud this world-famous product got its start on our coast.
Fun fact: New Bern is the second-oldest colonial town in North Carolina.
Cheerwine: A cherry-flavored soft drink made by Carolina Beverage Corporation of Salisbury, NC (Rowan County) since 1917. This unique soda is sold across the Southeast, but is best known in the Carolinas and Virginia. The company also markets Cheerwine flavored ice cream, sherbet, and cream bars, sold mainly in Food Lion supermarkets (also referenced in the book), which is based in Salisbury as well.
Fun fact: Rowan County is also home of the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer.
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts: Founded in Winston-Salem, NC (in my county of Forsyth) in 1937, in a rented building located in what is now historic Old Salem. While Krispy Kreme was sold to a Luxembourg-based company in 2016, Winston-Salem remains the World Headquarters and home of the Krispy Kreme Support Center. Corporate operations moved to Charlotte, NC in December 2017.
Fun fact: The influence of the Moravian settlers who established the town of Salem is evidenced, in part, by the many active Moravian congregations in Winston-Salem today. The motto of the Moravian Church is: "In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love."
Texas Pete: A Louisiana-style hot sauce developed and manufactured by the TW Garner Food Company in Winston-Salem, NC. Texas Pete was introduced in 1929 by Sam Garner, operator of the Dixie Pig barbecue stand in Winston-Salem. (Some people here enjoy Texas Pete on everything! I've seen it doused on pizza and scrambled eggs.)
Fun fact: A hint about the location of the fictional town of Springville, NC in my book, comes from the quote, “The best hot sauce in the world is made just down the road.”
Mount Olive Pickle Company: Founded in the mid 1920s in Mount Olive, NC (Wayne County). The company's primary product is pickled cucumbers, but it also supplies canned peppers and relishes, and other pickled products. Mt. Olive is the largest independent pickle company in the United States. The company employs over 500 people, and as many as 800 during the busiest intake season each summer.
Fun fact: On New Year's Eve, Mt. Olive Pickle Company drops a three-foot pickle down a flagpole into a pickle tank, but at 7 p.m. instead of midnight.
Any one of these is enough to make a North Carolinian proud, but to have birthed all five of these products? It makes it hard to be humble.
In my book Grace & Lavender, the main character, Colleen Hill, celebrates this culinary heritage by writing a cookbook featuring these homegrown claims to fame. Her recipes include Krispy Kreme Peach Cobbler, Cheerwine Cupcakes, Pepsi-Cola Pound Cake, and Texas Pete Tater Soup. In the story, Colleen and her young friend, Grace, also make chicken salad using Mt. Olive Pickles.
While the recipe names in my book were from my imagination, internet searches after-the-fact proved that all these recipes, or something very similar, do exist. (And I found a great recipe for Cheerwine Pound Cake from Our State Magazine.)
If you ever decide to try any of these recipes, please let me know! And if I’m in driving distance, I might be up for a taste test.
One of the most fun parts of publishing my first book has been the cover design process. When I opened the initial email from Hannah, Creative Director at Ambassador International, I was so excited! She sent me some great concepts, then we worked together to decide on the right cover for "Grace & Lavender." I thought it would be fun to show you the covers that I didn't select and explain why.
The vision I originally gave Hannah was for a store front, where the title would be the name of the store on the window. I envisioned it like a painting rather than a photograph. I told her I preferred not to use faces on the cover, because I wanted the reader to come up with their own ideas of how the characters look. I also gave her an awesome photograph of the Blue Ridge Mountains, taken by my friend Keith Sidden, who is an outdoor enthusiast and a great photographer/videographer (check out his Instagram), and I asked if it could be used on the back cover of the book.
The first option she sent was a store front textured to look more like a painting and colorized a lavender tint. What I didn't notice at first, is that she had taken the photograph of the mountains that I'd sent and made it a reflection in the store window. This was a really cool concept, but it didn't do the photograph justice and the store front was not like the one described in the book. (Unfortunately, we weren't able to use the mountain photo on the back cover either.)
At the same time she sent Option #1, she sent me Option #2 below. This is a very attractive cover, but there were two things not right about it. The girl does not look like the character Grace--who is smaller and has straight, dark hair--and, in the story, Grace never visits a lavender field.
I liked how she used a tag for the background of the title, and she actually managed to get the photo of the mountains on the tag, too! (But it still just didn't do the photo justice.)
I liked the lavender field and the tag concept of Option #2, and I mentioned possibly making the scene brighter, maybe with some sky. and making the field more dimensional. Option #3 below was very close! She put an arrangement of lavender in the foreground and the open field in the background. And it had sky which brightened up the look. But the tag didn't feel like a "boutique" soap store to me. It needed some touching up.
She also sent Option #4 with lots of sky and an awesome embellishment around the title. I'd sent her something similar that I liked from another book, and she delivered on it! But one problem was that the image is from a lavender field in France, not the foothills of North Carolina. The mountains were pretty, but they weren't "my" mountains.
Finally, we arrived at the cover image that is soon going to press! The tag used for the title background is perfect, and she even made the little string wrap around to the back of the book. The Blue Ridge are in the background and given a purplish tint. I love it!
There are lots of directions we could have gone with cover images, but I am very pleased with my first book cover, and I can't wait to see what she comes up with for the cover of "Where I Was Planted", which will be in the Creative Design phase soon!
About the Blog
Thank you for visiting my blog. I share devotional articles and musings about life, parenting, and the writing journey, as well as important news about my books. I hope you find something of interest here!