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

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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.

Flash Fiction: A Dream by Toni Shiloh

martin-luther-king-jr-2028448_640Penny stared down at her patent leather Mary Jane shoes. They were shined up bright, gleaming blacker than the pavement. Her white socks rose above her ankles. Mama had used bleach to make sure they would gleam in the sunlight. Her blue-and-white plaid dress was starched, fanning out at the knees. Even though it wasn’t Sunday, she had her best outfit on.

Mama said she had to look nice because they were going to hear Doctor King speak. She wasn’t so sure how he could be a doctor and a king. Mama had laughed when she asked her. Said his name was King and he was a doctor.

He had to be a very special doctor. Whenever he spoke, all the grownups would gather around the television afraid to miss one single word. She didn’t know anything could be better than cartoons. Her brother Johnny called her stupid and said lots of things were better than cartoons.

Mama said to pay him no mind because teenagers were odd, whatever that meant.

“Penny! Johnny! Time to leave.”

Penny took one last look at her outfit and walked out of her room. Johnny came out at the same time. He had on a tie. She giggled.

“What’s so funny?”

“You look like Daddy.”

He puffed up his chest. “That’s cuz I’m a man. You don’t no nothing.”

“Johnny, that’s no way to talk to your sister.”

Johnny frowned at Daddy’s words. I gave him a hug. Johnny called me a daddy’s girl. He always said it mean like, but I don’t know why. He was my daddy and I was a girl. Why wouldn’t I be his?

We walked down the sidewalk. Lots of people were out, all dressed up like we were. Daddy smiled at Mama happy we were all going to see Doctor King. Daddy said history was being made and one day, we’d be proud to say we heard him speak. Johnny smiled at Daddy, like he knew something I didn’t. Sometimes I wished I was older.

When we got there I was surprised to see how many people were there. I thought it would be a lot of people from out neighborhood, but it looked like the whole wide world came outside that day. We weren’t really close but Daddy said Doctor King would use a microphone.

The principal used that on assembly days. Finally, something I understood. Daddy put me on his shoulders so I could see. I stuck my tongue out at Johnny. He was too big to sit on Daddy’s shoulders and kept jumping up trying to see. He stuck his tongue out right back. I covered my mouth, trying to hide my giggle.

There was silence and then I heard him speak. I would know his voice anywhere. Like I said, the grownups were always listening to him on the television. But there was something different in his voice today. It rose up and down, kind of like the swing does when you’re high up and low down.

I leaned forward, gripping Daddy’s head. I wanted to get closer. Hear what he had to say. He was talking about freedoms. About all of us being friends. I nodded and noticed everyone else doing the same. They were probably tired of getting spit on like me. Some of those white kids sure were mean. It was the only time Johnny was nice to me and he would even defend me.

I wonder if his dream came true, would I be able to go anywhere I want. Sometimes I wished we could sit closer to the screen in the movie theater. Daddy always said we had to sit up top.

His speech seemed to last awhile, but everyone clapped and cheered when it was over. I even saw some white people there. They must be the nice ones. When we got home, Daddy and Mama couldn’t stop smiling. Everyone seemed so happy. I knew Doctor King was a special kind of doctor.

***

doctormartinlutherkingjr“Grandma, why are you crying?”

Penny looked down at her granddaughter. “Doctor King was a special man, Penelope. I got to see him when I was around your age.”

“He was a real person? Why they make him into a statue?”

Penny looked at the white marble statue of Doctor King. Faces of all ethnicities snapped photos of the monument in their nation’s capital. She looked at the granddaughter named after her. “Well, Penelope, he was a great man. Wanted all people to have the same freedoms. Get the same education regardless of their color.”

“Ohhh,” she intoned. “We have lots of kids in my class that are different colors, Grandma. Is that what you mean?”

“That’s exactly what I mean.”

She stared at the statue once more. Daddy always told her they witnessed history. Funny how clear things became once you hit a certain age. Never in a million years would she have imagined having a Black man in the White House and a statue of Doctor King in the same city. Guess some dreams come true.


toniToni 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.

Member Spotlight: Melissa Henderson

Thanks for stopping by the ACFW Virginia Blog today!

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

melissa_hendersonPlease tell the readers about herself:
Hi, I’m Melissa Henderson residing in Mechanicsville, VA. My Husband (Alan) and I have been married for over 37 years. We have one son (Mike) who is married to sweet daughter-in-love (Christine).

What is a fun fact about you?
Stories are constantly flowing through my mind.  I can laugh at myself and at plenty of experiences in my life that bring laughter and joy. That is why our family motto is “It’s Always A Story with The Henderson’s.”

What’s your favorite genre?
I enjoy reading Christian inspirational fiction, and that is my favorite genre to write.  Children’s stories are also a favorite of mine to read and write.

Please share about your writing:
Currently, I am writing my first Christian inspirational fiction novel. Scheduling a specific time to write each day gives me focus and helps me be dedicated to the story I am creating. Attending writing conferences and workshops have given me courage and excitement about writing.  I learn something new at each event.

What has been the hardest thing you’ve faced on this writing journey?
The hardest thing about being a new writer is having a feeling of not being a “good” writer. Thankfully, there are many writers who are encouraging me along the way. Their wisdom and knowledge are great comfort.

How do you spiritually prepare for writing your stories?
I spiritually prepare for writing my stories by praying first and asking God to give me the words that He wants me to share with others.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about Melissa. You can follow her on her Blog.

What keeps you from writing? By Sarah Hamaker

appointment-15979_1920What keeps you from writing? What do you think holds you back from writing? Each of us could come up with a long list of reasons: lack of time, other obligations, I’d add something else: We don’t view writing as a business. To put it more bluntly, we often view writing as something “I do on the side. I’m not a real writer because ______________.” We fill in that blank with “I haven’t been published,” “I only write little articles for my church newsletter,” or “I’ve only sold a handful of books.”

Until we take writing seriously, we will find ourselves always missing our writing goals. Start this year by saying with me: “I am a writer and I’m going to pursue this calling to the best of my
God-given ability.”

Didn’t that feel good? Now here are some concrete ways to help us manage our time better in order to have more time to write.

  1. Guard against what some call “mission creep,” as in “you can’t meet your writing goals without setting priorities.” If you don’t view your writing as a business, you’ll find it very easy to say yes to things that eat into your writing time. Guard against that by keeping in mind even Jesus “understood that all the good things he could do were not necessarily the things he ought to do,” as Kevin DeYoung put it in his excellent little book, Crazy Busy.
  2. Set manageable goals. We all want to bang out a novel in a month, but most of us don’t have time to do that while we’re working on our other callings, such as our job, taking care of our home/family, etc. Think about what seems reasonable and doable, so as not to set yourself up for failure right out of the gate.
  3. Consider your season of life. Maybe you have children who need more attention, perhaps your job is more demanding right now, maybe you have to help a family member or friend. Whatever your situation, remember, that we might be called to put our writing
    on hold for a time—and that’s okay. Even if you’re not writing, you can think about writing, pray about the time you’ll have to write in the future, and concentrate on what God has put before you at this moment.
  4. Build in margins. Richard Swenson, a Christian physician, said that “Margin is the space between our load and our limits.” All too often, we pack our lives so that there’s no discernible space between what we have to do and the time in which we have to accomplish it. That means, we’ve left no room for error. In writing, that translates into staying up all night to finish a chapter or book on deadline. That’s not a way to live and it’s definitely not a way to write our best.
  5. Give yourself grace for the “misses.” We can’t always hit our targets, but we don’t have to let those misses derail us—but we do. We consider the inability to put words on a page—or enough words on the page—that we needed to do according to our schedule as a failure and then we use that as an excuse to not try again. We let those failures to weigh us down and to slice away our self-esteem until we can’t write even if we have the time.
  6. Let go of perfection. We often get bogged down with wanting our writing to be perfect from the get-go that we can’t move past the initial page, chapter, section or draft. We’re not perfect and neither will our writing. That’s okay, and to realize that while we can strive to be the best we can be, we don’t have to hold onto perfection as our goal. It’s okay to have a rough draft that’s full of holes or needs a lot of work. Finish the piece. Edit the piece. Then review it again. There’s a reason they say writing is a process with many steps along the way.

Being a writer is more than putting words on paper—it’s a mindset, a calling, and yes, a way to bring God glory no matter what your genre, style, and outlet. So stop letting things get in your way and keep focused on your writing this year.

A freelance writer and editor, Sarah Hamaker has written two nonfiction books: Ending Sibling Rivalry: Moving Your Kids From War to Peace (Beacon Hill Press, 2014) and Hired@Home (DPL Press, 2008). Her stories have appeared in several Chicken Soup for the Soul books, including Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers. Sarah lives in Virginia with her husband and four children, and is a certified Leadership Parenting Coach™. Visit her online at http://www.sarahhamaker.com, where she blogs about parenting issues.