National Volunteer Month

April is officially National Volunteer Month. April is dedicated to honoring volunteers in our communities and to encourage volunteerism.

Think about your community. People of different ages volunteer to help others locally, nationally and globally. Friends and strangers come together with a goal of helping those in need. There are volunteers in animal shelters, too.

Volunteers share their time and hearts by feeding the hungry, donating clothing, visiting nursing homes, giving blood, helping raise funds for various illnesses such as cancer and arthritis and in many more ways. They provide for others with their selfless acts of love and kindness.

Have you heard about youth groups who rake leaves for seniors? Or volunteers who greet folks as they enter the hospital doors? Also the friendly greeters standing by the door at conferences waiting to give directions? There are people who help with animals at the local shelter by walking dogs, cleaning kennels and showing love to the animals.

People travel long distances to build or rebuild homes after devastating conditions occur. Some people fly to other countries to help dig wells to give fresh water.

There are companies who encourage their employees to volunteer.

April is a time to recognize volunteers and thank them for the time and effort they give to help the world. There are ceremonies and recognition luncheons held throughout the country, highlighting the awesome blessings that volunteers provide to others.

Do you volunteer? Would you like to help others? Ask your friends and family for ideas. A group project might be a good idea. There are many ways to help others. Find out how you can be a blessing.

1 Peter 4:10, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (NIV).

Blessings,

Melissa Henderson


Bio here Melissa Henderson lives in Mechanicsville, VA. She was born in Hampton and has lived in various cities in VA. She and her husband, Alan, have been married for over 37 years and have one son(Mike) who is married to daughter-in-love(Christine). Melissa was taught the love of reading and writing at an early age, from her parents. She is now working on her first inspirational fiction novel. Her passions are volunteering, Bible Studies and reading and writing. You can find her online at MelissaGHenderson.com.

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Dealing with Stress

Lately I’ve been feeling like stress is at an all-time high. With the stressors of modern life combined with everything going on in the world, it takes a miracle some days to even get out of bed. A little bit of stress is good motivation to get moving (can anyone say deadlines?) But too much stress can send you on a downward spiral.

Stress can wreak havoc on your body, causing lowered immune systems, tension
headaches, stomach upset, and can also cause relapses on bad habits and emotional dysregulation. And the longer you’re under stress, the worse those things get, leading to more severe health issues, including mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

As a counselor, I see the impact of stress first-hand, and it’s not pretty, which is why I try to manage mine before it gets out of control. Thankfully, I can use the same stuff I teach my clients in my own life. And, I’d like to share some ideas with you to help reduce your own stress.

Here are some ideas to manage that ever-increasing stress:

1. Take a break. Whether it’s a vacation or a five-minute potty break, allow yourself to get away from whatever’s stressing you out for a few minutes. The tricky part is getting away from it in your mind.

2. Think about something else. Anything else. It doesn’t have to be anything meaningful. You can literally count the tiles on the ceiling and multiply them by the lamps, etc. or name all of the cereals you can think of from A to Z. Putting your mind somewhere else for a moment can give you enough of a mental break

3. Practice mindfulness.

4. Spend time with friends and family. Hey, there are people out there who love you! Granted, sometimes they are the very ones who are causing you stress, but a lot of times spending quality time with them, doing something positive, can reduce both of your stress levels enough to improve your relationship. Play a board game, catch a movie, go for a walk together, cook a meal together. Really being together purposefully, no matter how simple of a thing we’re doing, can dramatically increase that feeling of connectivity.

5. Relax. Start by noticing your breath. I always tell my clients that if breathing weren’t automatic, we’d be passed out half the time. We don’t think about breathing, so therefore, just taking a moment to notice how the sound of your breath as it passes through your nose and mouth, how air is cooler as you breathe in and warmer as you breathe out, the movement of your stomach and chest as you inhale and exhale. That, in itself, will slow down your breathing, which, in turn, slows your heart rate and relaxes your body. You can intentionally breathe out for six and in for four, if that helps. Or, my personal favorite, combat breathing, where you breath in through your nose for a few seconds, hold it, and then breathe out long and slow through your mouth like blowing through a straw. Relaxing your body by getting a massage, or tightening and relaxing your muscle groups from head to toe, or taking a warm bath or shower are also ways to chill out.

6. Do something fun. Enjoy yourself. Even if you think, you have too much to do to relax or enjoy yourself, still do it for a little while. It’s like a car, if you keep driving it but don’t stop to put gas or oil in it, it’s only gonna take you so far. So think of fun and relaxation as the oil and gas of your car. Put a little bit of it in your life every day, whether it’s watching your favorite shows, doing a crossword puzzle, writing a silly story or poem, having game night with friends, trying out a new recipe or restaurant, playing sports, or any other activity you enjoy. You’ll notice the difference in your mood (as will others!), and you’ll even be more productive at the stuff you were doing before you had fun.

7. Be creative. Sometimes there are things that we need to do something about and we’re not sure where to start. Getting ideas down on paper or just getting our feelings out of our heads, either through writing them down on paper, playing an instrument, or drawing, can really help you through that stressful situation.

8. Turn off everything electronic. Unplug, as they say. Sometimes stress is coming from overstimulation. Turn off the news. Pull yourself away from the endless stream of Facebook or Twitter. Get your face away from your phone. Go outside. Smell a flower, feel the grass, listen to the birds, watch the leaves sway in the breeze, taste the air. Use all your five senses to experience the world around you.

9. Reach out to people. Sometimes stress gets so high, that we need to ask for help. Don’t be embarrassed. Everyone needs help sometimes. It’s better to get help than to wait until things are so bad that you end up hurting yourself or others. There is plenty of help out there. You can start by asking the pastor of your church; he/she will be happy to speak with you and if it is outside his/her area of expertise, he/she will know of resources in the area.

10. Pray. This should be number one on the list but it usually ends up being the last thing we do. God is always there for us, listening, loving. Reach out to Him and rest in His arms. Lay your burdens at His feet, and He will carry you through those stressful times.

*April is National Stress Awareness Month.


Allison K. García is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a passion for writing. Latina at heart, Allison has absorbed the love and culture of her friends, family, and hermanos en Cristo and has used her experiences to cast a glimpse into the journey of undocumented Christians.

Member Spotlight: Tracee Lydia Garner

Thanks for stopping by the ACFW Virginia Blog today!

Today we’re focusing on our member, Tracee Lydia Garner. Grab something warm to drink and sit down to learn about Tracee.


Hi Everyone,

So happy to be featured on the Member Spotlight today and I thank you for joining me and I thank God for blessing me with a gift of storytelling. A little about me, hmmm?  First, my name is Tracee Lydia and Garner and next to the Lord, my other love is writing romantic suspense and my sixth published book Deadly Affections debuts on Friday, March 30.

In addition to writing fiction which new stories will always be in the works, I wrote one non-fiction self-help book entitled Pack Light: Thoughts for the Journey and that came out in October 2016.

I live in Virginia, just a few minutes from Dulles Airport and I am a Virginia native. Besides writing, I also teach at our local college, I do speaking engagements and I work full time in social services.

My very first book came out when I was 23. I entered a contest hosted by a publisher and I was failing my “Math for Liberal Arts” and I just thought, this is hard, so I would disappear in my own world where I created stories of love and romance and where there were certainly NEVER a heroine or hero who was an accountant or a math teacher. Yuck!

Here are some of the questions I’ll move on to answer from the spotlight:

So first up, a fun fact about me is that I LOVE event planning. Not weddings so much, I’m sure I’d enjoy some aspects of that as well (until I met up with a Bridezilla of course), but I love parties, launch events and helping people conceptualize and putting together details -and though I love event planning- what I think I love about it is just getting people together to fellowship and have a positive, fun time. I’m also a HUGE list-maker, it’s so fun and you can find a zillion lists at any time on my desk.

Both of my favorite genres to read and to write are ROMANCE! Of course, I love reading about the elusive Happily Ever After, I always tell people if you want to have hope and escape (build your hope on Jesus and righteousness of course) but you can watch the news if you want to be depressed. Writing and reading is always a wonderful escape and there are hidden in the prose, themes of triumph over adversity, forgiveness, hope and so many things you find and learn as you read. I’ve read for such a long time. I couldn’t imagine my life without books. It was a kindergarten teacher of mine who when he read the stories aloud during circle time, I was front and center, not to mention, mesmerized by how his tone and voice inflection made the story come alive! I now know I fell in love with stories and story telling right then.

My favorite writing tip isn’t about story structure and development or plotting, so much, but it’s about process and in that process of writing is to learn how to WAIT.  In the classes that I teach and in almost every article I write now, I am certain I take time to encourage other new writers AFTER they finish their very first book, take time, breathe, and WAIT to publish your book if you can.

The reason behind this? Most people are so excited about the one book that they just rush to publish it and then they underestimate the amount of work it’s going to take (not only to promote it) but, to complete and finish that next book. If you publish book one right away, you never ever know how long it will take you to complete book two. The other piece of that WAIT is to PLAN and to SEEK input/mentors. Writing is so solitary, find groups and people who are ahead of you with more books (than you) and think about your writing career long term. Those are things I wish someone would have taken the time to tell me at 23 when my first book came out. By saying this, I also want to remind anyone who is waiting to get out there don’t wait any longer. I know it seems like I’m contradicting myself with “Wait, plan…. no Go, Now!” LOL 🙂

The point is to find a middle balance. Don’t be too quick to publish without a plan and clarity for the long term and don’t be so fretful that year after year finds you tweaking the exact same manuscript over and over again.

One of the hardest things about writing and my writing journey, for me has been just trying not to judge myself. I have a disability and my muscles don’t’ listen to my brain because it’s the muscles that have the disability and not my brain. It’s a constant battle of prayer and peace and surrender to not compare my progress to other authors/writers and business people I watch all the time on YouTube. And I know, whether disabled or not, that comparison is an issue for so many of us. But I have to constantly yield to and work with this body that slows me down and keeps me from progressing at times and gets tired even when my brain is still chanting “Full steam ahead!”. I want to have written more books, to have released more projects, to do more online and in social media than just -what I tell myself- is seven measly books. In the end, however, I remind myself about God’s grace (and a small cheerleading section here on earth) lets me know I’m doing good and so I try to remember to pat myself on the back for the little things and cut myself a break. Not 70 books yet but 7 and that’s still wonderful. I believe sometimes I’d be father along without my disability but the reality is there, that’s not necessarily true. I do work full time outside the home and that’s no small feat to contend with while trying to write on the side. Everyone is struggling with something and we need to be more mindful that God is there through it all.

I enjoyed sharing and I hope you enjoyed finding out more about me, please visit me on my homes on the web: Website, Blog, Facebook, Twitter.

God bless,

Tracee


Tracee Lydia Garner is a bestselling, award-winning author who writes stories full of complex heroes and heroines, relationships and families that experience tough but realistic life challenges in their quest for love. Born and raised in a suburb of the DC metro area, Tracee works in health and human service by day, has a degree in Communication and is a speaker and advocate for people with disabilities.

Spring is in the Air

Spring is in the air……
springisintheairWinter in Central Virginia has been unusually mild. A dusting of snow is all we’ve seen so far this season. Although cold days and nights have been scattered here and there, warmer temperatures have been enjoyed by almost everyone lately. Yesterday, our neighborhood was filled with runners, joggers, bicyclists of all ages and people walking their dogs. Even the dogs seem to know the weather is momentary and the best thing is enjoy it while you have the opportunity to be outside.
Frisbees flying through the air and basketball hoops giving the sound of “swoosh” as each ball entered the hoop gave a feeling of warmth to come.
Short sleeves and short pants have been pulled out of closets and drawers. Parents are checking to see if outfits from last summer still fit the children. There were no plans to look at summer clothing until a few months from now.
What a beautiful day! Sunshine and warm temperatures.
Daffodils, tulips and hyacinth flowers are pushing away dirt and peeking through to find the warmth of the sunshine. They are greeting the world with great anticipation of making beautiful, colorful flowers.
Downy woodpeckers, brightly colored bluebirds and red cardinals are flitting from trees to bird feeders, looking for the ever present seed to satisfy their hunger. A Mama bird with her growing belly is a sure indication that baby birds will soon be chirping loudly.
Wait…this is Virginia after all and the weather changes from hour to hour sometimes. Yes, as I listened to the weather forecast today, the news had changed once again. Yesterday’s heat is gone and today is windy and temperatures in the 40’s. Such a difference!
Put away the shorts and tank tops for now. Bring back out the sweaters and thermal underwear.
No problem, because here in Virginia, we are used to changing weather.
Just like Spring, change is in the air. We anticipate with joy the sunshine and the warmer temperatures to come.
What glorious sights and sounds the Lord gives us to enjoy! Each day is a blessing and there is something to look forward to each and every moment. Even in our struggles, God sends His love and mercies to us. We need to pause, listen and look for those special gifts He is sending.
If you are experiencing cold temperatures, don’t worry, warmth is coming because… Spring is in the air.
Blessings,
Melissa Henderson

melissa_hendersonMelissa Henderson lives in Mechanicsville, VA. She was born in Hampton and has lived in various cities in VA. She and her husband, Alan, have been married for over 37 years and have one son(Mike) who is married to daughter-in-love(Christine). Melissa was taught the love of reading and writing at an early age, from her parents. She is now working on her first inspirational fiction novel. Her passions are volunteering, Bible Studies and reading and writing. You can find her online at MelissaGHenderson.com

A Season

I absolutely adore the spring time in northern Virginia. As a Texas girl, I didn’t grow up seeing an abundance of flowers. I seriously don’t know if I was aware of the change in seasons until I moved away. After all, Texas has two seasons: hot and cold.

However, Virginia has them all and it’s truly an amazing thing. I’m reminded of Ecclesiastes 3:1, every time the changes begin.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…”

There is a purpose to spring. As we watch the flowers bud and then bloom, I’m reminded that the dreary, dormant state of winter is gone. That God is working and something new is appearing.

I can’t help but correlate it to my writing. God gives me a seed, it gets planted, watered, and eventually it blooms. The process starts every single time I start a new book.

And when I read and hold another author’s finished product, I wonder what they went through to get it in my hands. What season did God work in them through the writing process? What did He break down? Build up?

Because even if some just see a book, I see the sweat, tears, and labor of love that went into it. I know that the author learned something just as surely as I will learn something reading it.

Reading is a gift just like Spring. So this season, I look forward to the blooming flowers and the gift of reading.


Toni Shiloh is a wife, mom, and Christian fiction writer. Once she understood the powerful saving grace thanks to the love of Christ, she was moved to honor her Savior. She writes to bring Him glory and to learn more about His goodness.

She spends her days hanging out with her husband and their two boys. She is a member of ACFW and the president of the Virginia chapter. You can find her on her website.

National Reading Month

nationalreadingmonthAs a writer, I wonder where to start blogging about this wonderful month, designed to raise our awareness of reading.
To be honest, as a mom to two elementary aged girls, I only need stand in line with them at the grocery store to be VERY aware of reading. But my awareness is of them, reading the tabloid headlines while I try to distract them, because who really wants to explain the that Queen isn’t really an alcoholic, hasn’t banished Camilla to the Caribbean and that Princess Diana really wasn’t murdered by the heir to the throne. Oh it makes me think back fondly to the days when they could barely hold a board book.
But then as I consider those simpler days, not permeated by “what’s Alzheimers mummy and will the Queen be alright?” – thanks to another headline – I remember that without their ability to read the tabloids, they wouldn’t be reading Anne of Green Gables with me (we take it in turns) and that Harry Potter Clue would be meaningless without the context of seven trips to Hogwarts together.
Reading is one of the keys to a happy life. Even a housebound person can visit exciting, strange, distant places; they can get wrapped up in a whirlwind romance, fight in a war, or teach school in a frontier town while falling in love with a dashing Mountie (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Reading makes stronger families. Without those 15 minutes where we snuggle up on the sofa to visit Green Gables each evening our days would be so diverse we might not all be in one place and together, but when Mummy opens the book, the girls and even their military father stop what they are doing and come running.
Reading makes better students and workers. Research seems to suggest that if children are reading at grade level by the end of first grade, they will continue on that path, but if they aren’t doing so by then, they are far less likely to by fourth grade. Reading is a muscle and needs to be exercised just like any other. It needs a varied diet of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, silliness, (David Walliams or Roald Dahl anybody) and then something a tiny bit over our heads (Tim Keller or CS Lewis for the grownups, perhaps?)
So as there’s a whole month dedicated to reading, I wondered if I might challenge you to, well, do some reading? It occurs to me that many of us read ourselves to sleep. This has been my MO since I was able to hold a book. But why as authors do we leave a very important part of our work until we are about to nod off? Here’s the challenge – carve out 15 minutes to read during daylight hours. Maybe even write in a reading journal for the month. You could challenge yourself to read out of your traditional genre of choice. Maybe you could jump to nonfiction? Or choose a book of the Bible and a good commentary. It is Lent after all.
As Christian authors, it’s worth remembering that reading the Word also draws us closer to The Lord. Something I consider vital in my writing journey. A dear friend of mine laid down a reading gauntlet just yesterday. She suggested we open the Bible and leave it on our kitchen countertop so as we are moving around we can snatch a few verses here and there. Adding a journal to jot down thoughts on what you read is also advised. The hope and belief is that the more scripture we ingest, the more ammunition we have when in a tricky situation. If we’ve read some, the Holy Spirit can bring it to mind when we find ourselves needing some words.
One of the most challenging talks I’ve ever given was when I was asked to speak on Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible. Oh my! I had read it before, but not paid a ton of close attention. If you haven’t, I would firmly encourage you to do so. It paints a picture of Holy Scripture as a living, breathing, fluid document, and every bit as relevant today as when Jesus walked the earth. This is truth that we are to hide in our hearts, use to bring light to darkness and allow to transform us fully into children of the King. That sort of reading is our legacy and our birthright and available to everyone.
So if nothing else this Lent, be aware of the gift of God’s Word as well as your words and other peoples. The printed page changes lives.
“You can find magic wherever you look. Sit down and relax, all you need is a book.” Dr. Seuss

debbhackettDeborah Hackett is a British member of ACFW’s Virginia chapter. A career radio journalist, she is now enjoying ‘making it up as she goes along’, something that the BBC frowned upon. Deborah lives just outside Washington DC with her husband Willy, a Royal Air Force Pilot and their two daughters. Deborah plays bass, teaches Bible study, loves to take road trips and ski.

Member Spotlight: Sarah Hamaker

Thanks for stopping by the ACFW Virginia Blog today!

Today we’re focusing on our member, Sarah Hamaker. Grab something warm to drink and sit down to learn about Sarah.

sarah-hamaker-squarePlease tell the readers about yourself:
I’m Sarah Hamaker in Fairfax City, a small community just outside of Washington, D.C. I’ve been writing since I was a child and was thrilled to learn that you could go to college to be a writer! As a freelancer, I now write about parenting and the convenience store association (yes, I can tell you why gas prices fluctuate), among other topics. I’ve had two nonfiction books published and am working with my agent on publishing a romantic suspense (which won the ACFW Genesis contest in 2015).

What’s a fun fact about you?
I had a paper route from age 12 to 17, delivering the local afternoon newspaper on my bicycle or walking with my border collie to around 60 or so customers in our neighborhood. One customer got a kick out of saying to me that she tells people, “My paper boy is a girl!”

What book(s) have you had published?
My two nonfiction books are Hired @ Home and Ending Sibling Rivalry.

What is your favorite writing tip?
You can write in any amount of time, no matter how small. I’ve been freelancing since my oldest was a baby, and it’s amazing how much writing you can cram into five, 10 or 15 minutes of time. Don’t focus on the time you have—focus on the writing you want to do.

What has been the hardest thing/things you have faced on this writing journey?
Waiting. I think that’s the hardest thing we face as humans. We can’t hurry so many things up when we want something to happen, and the same is true for publishing. I’m much better about this now, but I still have to give myself those pep talks about not getting discouraged because I haven’t heard about X piece of writing or Y book. Waiting is one of those things we must figure out how to handle as writers.

Is there one tip from your personal experience that you think would encourage your fellow authors in the area of writing, publishing, marketing, building a platform, a series, etc.?
Most authors hate marketing, but we shouldn’t. I call myself a “reluctant marketer” because it’s outside of my comfort zone and it’s just plain hard. But that doesn’t mean I don’t give it my all! View marketing as essential to your writing as actually writing. Because it is. Without marketing, no one will read your words. Don’t constantly try new things, but stick with ones you like doing, and add one new marketing thing a year. Make sure you can quantify your efforts and have a clear goal in mind, otherwise, you’ll be putting effort in without any idea what you want to gain. So embrace it, learn to like it and have patience—it takes many campaigns for success.

Thank you so much for being here today, Sarah! You can visit Sarah on her Website.