May book spotlight

May spotlight on books by ACFW Virginia members!

“Handful of Hope” by Elizabeth Maddrey. Jen Andrews is convinced she’s unlovable. David Pak wants to prove her wrong. How can he get through the walls she’s built around her heart?

“An Informal Introduction” by Heather Gray.  She saves lives. He protects them. And someone wants to stop them both. What happens when an ICU nurse and a state trooper meet? It depends on how they meet. Let’s say he pulls her over…

“Huntress” by Julie Hall. Despite her sup-par fighting abilities, an ancient weapon of unparalleled power chooses Audrey as its wielder, attracting the cautious gazes of her fellow hunters and the attention of Satan himself. With Satan’s eyes now fixed on Audrey, a battle for the safety of the living looms in the shadows.

“No Neutral Ground” by Terri Wangard. Though rejected by his homeland, Rafe is troubled by the destruction of Germany. Jennie reluctantly assists the OSS in Sweden to gain intelligence. How can Rafe and Jennie succeed in their dangerous roles when they are so conflicted?

2016 May Book Spotlight

The Impact of Child Abuse on the Brain, by Heather Gray

brain-951847_640Children who suffer violence are impacted physically, emotionally, and psychologically. That makes sense, right?

They’re also affected physiologically, though. Everybody’s heard of Fight or Flight Response, right? When a person is faced with something they perceive as a threat, hormones are released into the system and signals start bouncing around the brain
telling the person to flee the situation or to fight the enemy.

So what happens when, during the formative years of a child’s life, the brain is constantly flooded with these hormones and signals because the child is living every single day in a constant state of the Fight or Flight?

The physiology of their brain is altered, and no amount of counseling can undo that damage. I don’t want to diminish the role of counseling, please understand that. Counseling, among other things, helps people learn to cope, to change their behavior, and to move forward. It can’t, however, go back in time and change the chemical firestorm that happens in a developing brain when a child is abused.

The amygdala is the part of the brain that controls the Fight or Flight Response. When a threat is perceived, it sends the signal to the prefrontal cortex that tells it to act. The hippocampus is the voice of reason, though, that makes sure the response is appropriate. If I wake from a nightmare where I’m being chased by an ax murderer, my amygdala is screaming at my prefrontal cortex to run, but my hippocampus is coming along and saying, “No, no. It’s just a dream. Everything’s okay.”

People who have suffered childhood abuse, though, have a weakened relationship between their hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. This means that the voice of reason is often absent when they react to stimuli. Their reaction – be it fight or flight – can often be disproportionate to the situation at hand because the message from the hippocampus simply isn’t getting through. We might say they have a short fuse and are prone to outbursts of anger or overreaction, but regardless of the label we put
on it, the problem isn’t entirely within their control.

As parents, we often despair of ever seeing our hard work pay off. When our child is three years old and having an all-out tantrum on the floor of the grocery store, we wonder where we went wrong and if our child will ever learn. We try to be encouraging, consistent, loving, and firm with our kids, but it can be a decade or more before we see our positive actions pay off.

It can take decades to realize the full impact of childhood abuse, too. Whether that abuse comes in the form of neglect, emotional assault, or physical abuse – the victim may be well into adulthood before they have a solid understanding of just how deeply their childhood has shaped them. In some cases, thanks to denial and compartmentalization, victims may never fully realize it.

What can be done?

Hopefully, in understanding the long-term effects of child abuse on its victims, we will all be motivated to take action.

April is Childhood Abuse Awareness month. In my own small way, I want to help make you more aware of the long-term detrimental effects abuse has on its young victims. In 2013 alone, nearly 700,000 children in America were abused.

What can you do to help? If you see abuse, report it. That’s the easy answer.

For every easy answer, there’s a hard one, though. What else can you do? Mentor someone. Is there a family in your church or life that seems to be struggling? Not all parents have good role models. So step up and be one. Offer support and encouragement to parents who look like they’re reaching the breaking point. Or better yet, offer support an encouragement before they ever
get that far. Be an example of love and patience. Be a listening ear. If you can, give them a break now and then by taking the kids. Offer to help in small ways, but above all, let them know that you care. Invest in the lives of families, and you’ll be doing more than you realize to help prevent the furtherance of child abuse in America.




Abused Children May Get Unique Form of PTSD

heatherHeather loves coffee, God, her family, and laughter – not necessarily in that order!  She writes approachable characters who, through the highs and lows of life, find a way to love God, embrace each day, and laugh out loud right along with her.  And, yeah, her books almost always have someone who’s a coffee addict.  Some things just can’t be helped.

In Like a Lamb (of God), Out Like a Lion (of Judah) by Heather Gray

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

Do you remember that poem from childhood? I do. We learned it in the first grade back when I lived in Nevada and we had actual real-life seasons. I moved to Arizona in the second grade, and I don’t ever remember hearing that poem again…

Easter — or Resurrection Sunday as some call it — falls in March this year. That got me to thinking about the old childhood poem. After all, Jesus is both the Lion and the Lamb, isn’t He? At first I thought March was too early for Easter, but now, after remembering that poem, I have to say — I think it’s just about perfect.

Believers — me included — sometimes struggle with a lopsided view of Christ. Without meaning to, we often shape Him into either the Lion or the Lamb depending on what our current situation is. When we need someone to defend us, protect our reputation…or take vengeance on our behalf, we call on the Lion. When we need forgiveness, though, we call on the Lamb.

Jesus isn’t an either/or kind of Savior, though, is He?

In my Bible, the heading to Revelation chapter 5 reads: The Lion is a Lamb.

To anybody else, it might not make sense. To the believer, though, it is comfort and assurance. Our Savior is the Lion of Judah, the one who will open the scroll and break through the seals. He is a conqueror, filled with strength, power, and might.

That same Savior is a lamb, though — our sacrificial lamb. He put all of humanity before Himself. He loved creation enough to die in order to redeem it. He gave up His life out of selfless love knowing that, in doing so, He would give us all abundant life.

What a Savior we serve!

He is both power and love, strength and tenderness, vengeance and forgiveness.

Yes, indeed. The Lion is the Lamb and the Lamb is the Lion.

May you have an Easter filled with blessing and the remembrance of who Christ is and what He has done for you.

heatherHeather loves coffee, God, her family, and laughter – not necessarily in that order! She writes approachable characters who, through the highs and lows of life, find a way to love God, embrace each day, and laugh out loud right along with her. And, yeah, her books almost always have someone who’s a coffee addict. Some things just can’t be helped. You can find Heather online at:

How Heather Met Her Hubby by Heather Gray

arizona-970697_1280It was a hot, steamy day in the Arizona desert, the kind of day where heat rises from the baked clay earth in waves….

Or it was February 1996, and for the first time in my life, I was using hot curlers in my hair. A friend warned me. “He’s going to get used to seeing you like this, and you’ll never be able to wear straight hair again.” Not a problem. My hair couldn’t lay straight if it got run over by a steam roller.

Anyway, back to my story.

It was Valentine’s Day, 1996, in Glendale, Arizona. A friend from high school — someone I hadn’t seen in almost four years — invited me out to dinner. And, fool that I was, I said yes. Who says yes to a first date on Valentine’s Day? Only crazy people and me, the person who can barely remember what day of the week it is…on a good week and clearly didn’t realize that the date I’d agreed to was a Valentine’s date.

What’s worse? Once I realized it was Valentine’s Day, I was still naïve enough not to realize it was a big deal until a friend — the same one who warned me about curly hair — made sure I understood the magnitude of the situation. “People get marriage proposals on Valentine’s Day, you know.” Yowzers. I never should have said yes.

So there I was with my too-curly hair, trying to remember that we were old friends with nothing to be scared about despite what my older and wiser friend had said. That friend wasn’t helping as much as I’d hoped, either. As I put on my makeup — not an entirely common occurrence for me — my friend had an opinion about that, too. “You’ll have to wear makeup every time he sees you from now on.”

Time came for my date to show up. Only, he didn’t. For a long time. He was late, seriously late. When he did finally put in an appearance, he was wearing a baseball cap that said Lady Killer on it. I’d never been a fan of baseball caps, and Valentine’s Day 1996 didn’t change that one bit.cap-304059_1280

On the bright side, I was never going to expect him to be early for anything, and I knew from day one that he was not a fashion guru.

Twenty years later that man still wears baseball caps — though not that one — and is still late to everything all the time unless I’m with him and acting as chief navigator. I, of course, gave up on curling my hair by the end of our first year of marriage. Makeup more or less fell by the wayside when our first
child was born.

Turns out my friend was right about setting up false expectations. My wearer-of-baseball-caps still occasionally looks at me and says, “I like it when you curl your hair…” Which I do, oh, once every three or four years now. Thank goodness he fell in love with a lot more than just my face and hair.

On time or late, baseball cap or not, though, I still see happily-ever-after when I look into his eyes.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

heatherHeather loves coffee, God, her family, and laughter – not necessarily in that order!  She writes approachable characters who, through the highs and lows of life, find a way to love God, embrace each day, and laugh out loud right along with her.  And, yeah, her books almost always have someone who’s a coffee addict.  Some things just can’t be helped. You can find Heather online at:

Bah Humbug on Resolutions by Heather Gray

Every year, I listen politely as people talk about their New Year’s resolutions.

Honest. I try to be polite about it.

Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I fail.

It’s not like I tell them they’re insane or that their goal of quitting smoking, losing fifty pounds, and running a marathon are ludicrous. I just…sometimes…roll my eyes. Maybe snicker a little.


It’s complicated, and it goes all the way back to… Oh, who am I kidding? There was no trauma, epiphany, or moment frozen for all time that led to my unpopular opinion about resolutions. It’s the way I’m wired, and since that’s kind of hard to change, I’m stuck with it.

The problem is that I’m a practical person.

You may not think that’s a problem, but in a resolution-loving world, practicality is not entirely embraced.

If it’s October, and I realize that I need to be more committed to spending time in God’s word, why should I wait till January to put a plan of action into place? Will waiting two months make the resolution easier to keep? No. But it will give me plenty of opportunity to change my mind and back out of the commitment. So if it’s October, and I decide I need to change something about myself, then I’m going to do it right then. Dragging my feet for a few months so I can start the year fresh won’t do anything except set me up for failure.

But that’s me. I realize not everybody’s the same. Some people thrive on goal-setting, on that feeling that they’re in it with somebody else (the other 800,000 people that have made the same resolution to spend more time at the gym…but mostly end up spending more money there instead).

Me? Not so much. If God convicts me of something that I’m doing (or not doing) in my life, then I need to deal with it now. Not tomorrow, not next month…and certainly not next year.

It’s not that I think resolutions are bad. (I wish more people would resolve not to wear pink socks and purple pants when their hair is dyed blue. Or to vote. Or not to cut people off in traffic.) Rather, I think we should each commit to making change in our lives the moment God brings the need for it to our attention. We should be making resolutions all year long as we grow in our faith and in our walk with God.

Resolutions aren’t inherently bad. It’s the putting it off till the New Year to which I object.

And in case you’re wondering, these are the resolutions I’m working on right now:

  • Spending more time in the Bible. (I’m doing a chronological study.)
  • Exercising mercy and forgiveness regularly so that the practice of living it will come to me more readily.
  • Not taking it personally when someone doesn’t like something I’ve written.
  • Serving God by serving my fellow man (and woman) in my community (and not just in church).

So now that I’ve managed to rain on the whole New Year’s Resolution parade…what are your resolutions?  Whether it’s for the new year or for your life in general – what are you resolving to change about yourself, your life, or the world in which you live?

Resolutions or not, I want to wish each of you a Happy New Year full of God’s grace and the sure knowledge of who you are in Him.

Living a Life of Dedication by Heather Gray

A hundred thousand years ago, back when I first accepted Christ, I didn’t have any sort of inkling about what it meant to dedicate my life.

I was a kid, after all. What did I know?wedding-322034_1920

Then I grew up, got married, and had children.

There’s something about committing to live the rest of your life — till death do you part — with another person that helps you understand dedication. Not to mention that day you hold a screaming bundle of beautiful baby in your arms and realize you would die to protect that little person. Then day in and day out, you feed, change diapers, bathe, nurse, and teach that child. Now, that’s dedication.

What, though, does that same dedication look like when we apply it to God?

Hm. I’d love to give you a blanket answer, but the truth is, I think God asks something different of each of us. Not because God is different, not because He changes…but because you and I are different and because we change.

As a relatively young mother, when I reached a point where I decided that “being saved” wasn’t quite enough for me, I dedicated my life to living for God. What that looked like then was very different than what it looks like now. It meant teaching my children about Jesus, setting a godly example in my own home, making sure we were faithful in church, and honoring God in how we lived our lives — from parenting to marriage to finances.

I’ve grown a lot in the intervening years. Thirteen of them, more or less. During that time, I’ve loved deeply, and I’ve lost painfully. I’ve seen God do wonderful and miraculous things, and I’ve been on the receiving end of a “No” that I don’t expect to fully understand until I get to heaven. I’ve learned to trust Him in the daylight and when I’m blinded by the darkness of night.

holding-hands-858005_1920Today, when I think of the word dedication in relation to God, it paints an entirely different picture on the landscape of my mind than it once did. Now, it means understanding the immeasurable mercy He’s shown me and loving Him enough to share that mercy with others. It means studying the life of Christ so that I can be more like Him, serving my fellow man, and doing it all with joy. It means accepting that that bad comes with the good and knowing that the life we live here on this earth is a tiny miniscule snapshot of who we are and what our eternity will look like. It means laying it all down for God, holding nothing back from Him, and letting Him invade every single part of my life, heart, and mind.

And I imagine that in another thirteen years, I’ll have an entirely different explanation for what dedication to God looks like. Because as much as I feel like I’m in a good place with God right now, I don’t want to stay here. I want to keep growing closer to Him every single day for the rest of my life. I want to live a life dedicated to Him.

What about you? What does dedication to God look like in your life? How has that changed over the years?