Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Devotionals for the Heart: Serving God with ALL that you have to give


How Much Do I Have?

A devotional by Jo Huddleston

Nothing else in the house moved as I stumbled up the hall. I stood half asleep at my kitchen sink. Looking through half-closed blinds, I discovered what had interrupted my predawn sleep. On the deck, several pesky blue jays perched atop my patio table, ready to welcome a new day. Aggravated at them for disturbing me, I pecked impatiently on a window pane. With much fluttering, the birds scattered to nearby trees. All but one.

The lone bird pranced around the table top, tilting his head this way and that, beady black eyes searching for his would-be attacker. I raised the mini blind and pecked fiercely on the glass again. There! He looked my way—he’d found me. He stared at me; I glared at him. Appearing to know my threatening noises couldn’t harm him, he didn’t budge.

Then the concert began, his music as crisp and crystal clear as the day’s spring morning. Each warble imitated his previous one.

Each time he chirped, the little bird quivered from the black collar across his throat to the trembling tip of his brilliant blue tail feathers. Every inch of the bird moved to produce his melody.

This little bird put all his body behind each note—he gave it all he had. I forgot the blue jay’s peskiness, enjoying instead my private recital.

Watching from my quiet kitchen, I thought about the tremendous effort the little bird displayed. He certainly didn’t go about his singing in a halfhearted way.

I wondered if Christians could measure up to the blue jay. Are we as committed with our efforts of praise and worship?

I recalled some of Jesus’ examples. I remembered the widow who placed only two coins in the temple treasury as her offering (Mark 12:41-44). Compared to the rich who put in much, the widow’s gift pleased Jesus, for He said she “put in everything—all she had to live on” (Mark 12:44, NIV).

I remembered when Jesus fed the five thousand with only five barley loaves and two fish (John 6:5-14). The bread and fish belonged to a boy in the crowd. Apparently, it was all the food he had, but it proved sufficient for Jesus’ purpose.

Then I pondered, “How much have I given? Have much do I have?”

It makes no difference how much we have. Jesus demands our all when we accept Him as our Savior and Lord. Jesus answered the questioning Pharisees, saying the first and greatest commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, NIV).

All we have. We must give all we have to love and serve God. Whether in our jobs, raising our children, church work or leisure time, God demands from Christian a 100 percent effort.

Like the little blue jay on my deck with only one song to sing, we must give it all we’ve got.

~*~
Author Bio:  

Jo Huddleston is a multi-published author who writes novels inspired by her fascination with the 1950s and her love of her native American South. 

Novels in her endearing Caney Creek series, her West Virginia Mountains series, as well as her stand-alone release, Tidewater Summer, are sweet Southern romance novels. 

She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, the Literary Hall of Fame at Lincoln Memorial University (TN), and holds a M.Ed. degree from Mississippi State University. 

Visit Jo at www.johuddleston.com.
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Monday, May 28, 2018

Devotionals for the Heart: Drought


Ways to Handle Drought
A devotional by Dana McNeely

If you’d like to read other posts about the prophet Elijah, click these titles: Love in the Time of Drought, In the Waiting Room, A Widow, a Prophet, and Provision from God, and An Intersection of Time and Eternity. Scripture passages are from the New Living Translation.

The specter of death walked the land of Israel. After three years without rain, streams ran dry and wells became mud. Crops failed and food supplies dwindled. The effects of the drought gripped nearly everyone, from the poorest laborer to the king and queen in their palace. But in Zarephath, a Canaanite city far away, three people lived surrounded by God’s comfort. The prophet Elijah, the widow, and her son. And then …


After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab and I will send rain on the land.” So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria, and Ahab had summoned Obadiah, his palace administrator. (Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. While Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.) Ahab had said to Obadiah, “Go through the land to all the springs and valleys. Maybe we can find some grass to keep the horses and mules alive so we will not have to kill any of our animals.” So they divided the land they were to cover, Ahab going in one direction and Obadiah in another.
~I Kings 18:1-6

It’s hard to imagine facing such a disaster. Hardship and deprivation strip away a person’s defenses and reveal who they are underneath. In this passage, several people face the same hardship but respond differently.

Bold obedience

When God sent Elijah to announce the coming drought, he walked into the king’s presence and told him to his face. When the Lord sent the prophet to Cherith, he waited by the brook until told to go stay with a widow and her son. With the never-empty flask of oil and jar of flour, the three lived in relatively pleasant circumstances while the rest of the country suffered. Yet, when Elijah heard the Lord’s voice yet again, he immediately left this haven in search of the king, walking miles across cracked earth, past rotting carcasses, breathing the stench of decay.

Quietly doing the right thing

While Elijah was a more in-your-face kind of guy, Obadiah worked behind the scenes. He served the king faithfully but not when that service was contrary to God’s principles. At great risk, he hid some of the prophets the queen was intent on killing off.

Later, while assisting the king in his search for grass for his horses and mules, Obadiah unexpectedly met Elijah.


Obadiah . . . bowed down to the ground, and said, “Is it really you, my lord Elijah?”

“Yes,” he replied. “Go tell your master, ‘Elijah is here'.”

“What have I done wrong?” asked Obadiah, ‘that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death? As surely as the Lord your God lives, there is not a nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to look for you. . . I don’t know where the Spirit of the Lord may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn’t find you, he will kill me. Yet I your servant have worshiped the Lord since my youth. Haven’t you heard, my lord, what I did while Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord? I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets in two caves, fifty in each, and supplied them with food and water. And now you tell me to go to my master and say, ‘Elijah is here.’ He will kill me!”

Elijah said, “As the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today.” ~I Kings 18:7-15 (NIV)

We feel Obadiah’s panic and listen to the prophet’s calm reassurance. But Elijah’s response to the arrogant King Ahab takes a more imperious tone.

When [Ahab] saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?”

“I have not made trouble for Israel, Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophet of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

Angry Defiance

The king and queen refused to accept any responsibility for the devastating drought, although the prophet clearly told them it was because they abandoned the Lord and worshipped other gods. But instead of humbling themselves and turning from their sin, they blamed Elijah. And when they couldn’t lay hands on him, they turned to killing other prophets in retribution.

Despite seeing the Lord’s power in bringing and ending the drought, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel continued to defy Him throughout the rest of their lives, until they each met a violent end.

Thoughts to Ponder

· James 5:17 says Elijah was a man like any other, and that his earnest prayers brought about God’s will. To me, Elijah seems a hero of epic proportions, standing up to the rulers and idolatry. Have you come across a bold crusader like Elijah?

· Obadiah “flew beneath the radar”. He saved a hundred prophets, but the king and queen never knew about it. Was he a sneak? Do you think we need to be bold, to do the right thing?

· We might want to blame someone else when calamity strikes, but remember Ahab and Jezebel’s mistakes. Turn away from anger and turn to God for help. He will give you what you need to get through hardships.

~*~
Author Bio: 

Inspired by the Bible story of Elijah and the widow’s son, Dana McNeely wondered why the prophet had come to stay with these two. Who were they? What was their life, before? And how did the boy change after dying, seeing the other world … and coming back? 


Dana began research for her novel, “Rain,” which tells the story of the three-and-a-half-year drought from the boy’s perspective.

No stranger to drought, Dana lives in an Arizona oasis with her hubby the constant gardener, two good dogs, an antisocial cat, and migrating butterflies. She writes biblical fiction, cozy mysteries, and has written for magazines and newspapers. Her short story “Death in the Butterfly Garden” appears in SoWest: Killer Nights (2017).

Connect with Dana on Facebook, Twitter, or DanaMcNeely.com

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Let Love Bloom: Dawn's story


Interview with Dawn Kinzer, author of Rebecca’s Song:

Alexis: This is book number three in The Daughters of Riverton Series. What makes it different from the rest?


Dawn: Rebecca started out as a nemesis in the first book, Sarah’s Smile, so readers didn’t like her character very much. In Hope’s Design, the second book in the series, they saw Rebecca begin to change. Like the other novels, Rebecca’s Song can be read as a stand-alone, but I think fans of the series will find it interesting and rewarding to see Rebecca’s character grow and see her own dreams come to fruition after so many struggles. I believe they’re going to love and finally understand her as much as I do.

Sarah’s Smile focuses on forgiveness and finding purpose in one’s own backyard. 

Hope’s Design is about using our God-given gifts and pursuing our dreams. 

The themes of Rebecca’s Song are trusting that God can bring good things out of bad situations and realizing that there’s more than one way to create a family.

Alexis: Why do you call this story "Rebecca’s Song"? What role does music play in it?

Dawn: Music has always played an important role in Rebecca’s life. She’s been her church pianist and organist for years, and music is a way she expresses herself. In the story, Rebecca periodically hums a melody she composed. The tune brings her comfort, but it also becomes an avenue to reach those in the story who are dealing with grief.

Alexis: Rebecca Hoyt, your story’s heroine, is a small-town schoolteacher who lost the hope of having her own family. Why did she lose hope?

Dawn: Because of physical complications, Rebecca was told by a doctor years ago that she would never be able to conceive. That was devastating because she’d always wanted to be a mother. Although she was engaged for a short period of time, her fiancé broke off the engagement when she disclosed she couldn’t have children. At one time, she thought she’d marry a widower with a young daughter and have a ready-made family, but that didn’t work out either. Feeling damaged and less-than, she struggles with believing any man—even someone with children—could love her.

Alexis: Why did you make Rebecca a schoolteacher and not another career in this story?

Dawn: Rebecca has been a schoolteacher in Riverton for ten years. She grew up in the small rural town, and because her desires have always been connected to raising and nurturing children, giving her the role of teacher seemed perfect. Also, during that time period, there weren’t many careers for women to pursue in a town with a population of less than five hundred. Some of the other women in the series work in stores, the local dress shop, or help their husbands on family farms.

Alexis: What is it about Rebecca’s students that she loves?

Dawn: Rebecca loves her students’ innocence, the way they display kindness toward each other, and their hunger for knowledge. She’s passionate about education, so it’s rewarding for her to see students get excited about learning.

Alexis: Who is the rebellious child in Rebecca’s life and how does that child threaten her livelihood?

Dawn: Willie Grayson is a thirteen-year-old boy who recently moved to Riverton with his parents and younger brother. Willie is a bully to the other students, and he refuses to obey Rebecca or do the schoolwork assigned, so she’s forced to suspend him more than once.

When he continues to be disruptive, Rebecca is told that if she can’t control her classroom, a male teacher will be brought in to replace her. The school board is willing to terminate her if something doesn’t change because Willie’s father has donated necessary funds to keep the school running, and he’s advocating for a new teacher.

Alexis: Jesse Rand is the hero in your story. He is a detective who loves to protect people. Why did you make him a detective and not another job description?

Dawn: I needed to come up with a hero whose job would keep him away from home at times and make it difficult for him to raise three children on his own. It was also important that what he did for a career was interesting, somewhat romantic, and included a wealth of possibilities for conflict and tension. The fact that he’s driven to protect people stems from his childhood, and it becomes a factor in his desire to take care of his niece and nephews when they need him the most.

Alexis: What is the one moment in Jesse’s life that changes everything?

Dawn: Jesse’s life changed when his mother died. He and his sister, Addie, were very young. Their father began drinking heavily and was pretty much absent until he also died. So, in order for them to survive—Jesse took care of his sister. He basically looked after her until she married. Although Jesse’s mother had a strong faith and encouraged her children to believe and trust in God, after her death, Jesse felt abandoned by God, and he believed he had to do everything on his own.

Alexis: Why does Jesse blame himself for the death of his sister and brother-in-law?

Dawn: Intellectually, Jesse knows he’s not to blame, but he rides the railroads every day, protecting people from harm. For many years, it was his job to protect his sister. The day they died, Addie and Levi were traveling to a convention with plans to meet him in Chicago. But they were shot and killed during a train robbery en route. He knows it wasn’t his fault, but he wonders if they hadn’t been on their way to see him, or if he’d been on that train, if their deaths could have been avoided.

Alexis: Describe Jesse’s character, goals, and motivation in this story.

Dawn: Jesse is a loner who prefers to work independently on the job. Rebecca even thinks of him as a lone wolf at times, but he begins to change as he spends more time with her and the children. He’s always been very loyal and protective of his sister because he looked after her most of their lives. When she’s killed, it becomes important to him that her children heal from their grief and experience a safe and happy home.

Because he saw injustice in his neighborhood while growing up, and because he experienced what he considers unfairness himself as a child, he seeks justice for anyone who is taken advantage of or who is harmed in any way. Jesse has two major goals in this story—put the men who killed his sister and brother-in-law behind bars and figure out a way to raise his niece and nephews without destroying his career.

Alexis: What is Rebecca’s motivation in this story? Does she fear anything? If so, explain.

Dawn: Rebecca’s world revolves around teaching and being connected to children. Everything she does is influenced by her desire to serve little ones. When her best friend is killed while her children are in Rebecca’s care, she can’t imagine not helping in any way she can to make sure they’re loved and comforted—and that their needs are met to the best of her ability. She wants to make sure that whatever decisions are made on their behalf are the best for them. There is also the fear of getting too close to the children and then having to face the heartbreak of losing them when their Uncle Jesse moves them to Chicago.

On another front, Rebecca is worried that she’ll lose her teaching position if she can’t motivate a challenging student to make some changes. If she loses her job, she doesn’t know what she’ll do with her life. Teaching is all she’s known and cared about.

Alexis: What is it about Rebecca that makes her look beautiful to Jesse? Is there anything that he does not like about her?

Dawn: Jesse is physically attracted to Rebecca. She’s beautiful with honey-colored hair and eyes the shade of soft green moss. But he sees her inner beauty in how she cares for his niece and nephews with patience, compassion, and understanding. He also appreciates her devotion to her students. 

She can be persistent and stubborn at times, which can irritate him when they disagree on something, like whether he should keep his handgun in the home. Rebecca believes it’s too dangerous to have a weapon around children, while Jesse feels that as a lawman, he needs to keep his gun with him at all times. He also thinks children should to be taught a healthy respect for guns.

Alexis: Why is Jesse determined to find the people who killed his sister?

Dawn: If Jesse can find the killers, he believes he’ll be able to find some inner peace. He’ll have done his job, and he’ll have revenge for what the members of the gang did to his sister and her family. Also, Jesse is driven by the need to find justice for those who have been wronged but can’t attain it for themselves.

Alexis: Why does Rebecca guard her heart around Jesse and the children in his family?

Dawn: Rebecca is afraid to open her heart wide to Jesse and the children because she believes she’ll eventually have to say goodbye to them. Jesse seems determined to take the children back to Chicago with him—once he can figure out new living arrangements and hire a nanny. He’s dedicated to his job and has no interest in staying in Riverton with the children. Rebecca’s life is in the small town with her parents, friends, and students. Unless Jesse changes his mind and decides to stay—or falls in love with her—she could end up brokenhearted.

Alexis: What brings Rebecca and Jesse together and what or who threatens to drive them apart?

Dawn: Their common goals to help the children grieve, heal, and eventually move on and live happy lives after their parents’ deaths bring Rebecca and Jesse together. However, they sometimes disagree on what’s best for the children. Although Rebecca understands Jesse’s need to return to his job as a railroad detective, it also frustrates and worries her that he sometimes seems to put his need to hunt killers above the children’s needs. 

Alexis: You put a lot of thought into this story. What makes it special to you?

Dawn: Rebecca’s story has become special to me because of the journey I’ve seen her take throughout the series. When I wrote Sarah’s Smile (Book 1), I never intended to make Rebecca a heroine in the third book. But, I began to see while writing Hope’s Design (Book 2) that Rebecca needed to have some redemption. None of us are perfect, and everyone deserves a second chance.

Like Rebecca, I went through a phase in my life where I made decisions that hurt people. I wasn’t proud of my behavior, and I worked hard to rebuild my credibility. I see that part of me in Rebecca. She’s made some huge mistakes, but she hasn’t run away from them. Instead, she’s stayed in Riverton, determined to make amends. She’s proven to the town that she’s worthy of friendship and respect. I love her for that.

Alexis: What do you want readers to remember most about Rebecca’s Song?

Dawn: I hope they finish the story with renewed hope and trust that when they’re overwhelmed, facing many challenges, or struggling with heartache, God still loves them. It’s often in hindsight that we’re able to see how God has been working behind the scenes to bring good into our lives. I also want readers to remember that the definition of family can mean different things to different people, and a family can consist of any group of people who care about each other

Alexis: Thanks for the interview, Dawn! Do you have any closing comments?

Dawn: I appreciate you taking time out of your busy day to join us! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at dawn@dawnkinzer.com, and if you have a chance to read any of the books in the series, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

God bless!

~*~
Author Bio:
Dawn Kinzer is a freelance editor, and her own work has been published in various devotionals and magazines. She co-hosts and writes for Seriously Write, a blog devoted to encouraging and equipping Christian writers. Her personal blog, The Garden of Dreams, focuses on encouraging women to find purpose and pursue their dreams in the different seasons of their lives. 

Sarah’s Smile is the first book in her historical romance series The Daughters of Riverton, and Hope’s Design is the second. 

Rebecca’s Song will be released in May 2018. 

A mother and grandmother, Dawn lives with her husband in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Favorite things include dark chocolate, good wine, strong coffee, the mountains, family time, and Masterpiece Theatre.

You can connect and learn more about Dawn and her work by visiting these online sites: Author Website, Dawn’s Blog, Goodreads, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Sign up through Dawn's website to receive her author newsletter (sent every 2-3 months), and you’ll receive her short story, Maggie’s Miracle (PDF format) as a gift.

~*~
Blurb for Rebecca’s Song:

Rebecca’s Song (The Daughters of Riverton Series, Book 3)


A small-town school teacher who lost hope of having her own family.

A big-city railroad detective driven to capture his sister’s killer.

And three young orphans who need them both.

Rebecca Hoyt’s one constant was her dedication to her beloved students. Now, a rebellious child could cost her the job she loves. Without her teaching position, what would she do?

Detective Jesse Rand prides himself in protecting the people who ride the railroads. But, when his own sister and brother-in-law are killed by train robbers, the detective blames himself. Yet, another duty calls—he must venture to Riverton where his niece and nephews were left in the care of their beautiful and stubborn teacher, Rebecca Hoyt. They need to mourn and heal, but Jesse is determined to find his sister’s killers. Rebecca is willing to help care for the children, but she also fears getting too close to them—or their handsome uncle—knowing the day will come when he’ll take them back to Chicago.

Will Jesse and Rebecca find a way to open their hearts and work together? Or will they, along with the children, lose out on love?

~*~
Buy Rebecca's Song on Amazon

~*~
Enter this book giveaway contest for your chance to WIN a copy of this book by filling out the entry form on the Rafflecopter widget below: 

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Friday, May 25, 2018

Devotionals for the Heart: Balance


Balance 
A devotional by Gail Kittleson

The author of Ecclesiastes instructs us:

Seize life! Eat bread with gusto,

Drink wine with a robust heart.

Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure!

Dress festively every morning.

Don’t skimp on colors and scarves.

Relish life with the spouse you love

Each and every day of your precarious life.

Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange

For the hard work of staying alive.

~Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, The Message (MSG)

How do we seize life? The key seems to be viewing each new day as a gift, even while acknowledging our struggles. We awaken with honest hearts, willing to live in the present—focusing on this twenty-four hours we’ve been given. On certain days of our lives, this seems almost impossible. We’ve all been there. 

I admit that it’s easy to look with doubt upon folks who “dress festively” and express constant good cheer. Don’t you wonder when they’ll finally admit life is tough, or if they’ll ever break down and show their tears? After all, no one ever instructed believers not to be human.

Once, I worked with someone who always smiled. No matter what you shared with her, she managed a cheery comeback. I began to observe her, certain that her façade would eventually crack and she’d admit to having a bad day. But that never happened. Maybe we didn’t work together long enough—I still believe that deep down, she was just like the rest of us.

But what good does the opposite attitude do? Going around with a long face can be so depressing, both for us and the people around us. Why not look for the good in others and in circumstances beyond our control? After all, we all know spiritual growth seems to accelerate during the rough times. 

The author of this scripture points to balancing our gusto with an honest recognition of this old world’s suffering. Not an easy task, but it’s essential to maintain our equilibrium.

Perhaps that’s the key—balance. Isn’t much of life a study in maintaining balance? I’ve pondered this after a bad bout with dizziness. With my equilibrium disturbed, my most frequent prayer became, “Help!”

Without a sense of balance, poise and steadiness become pipe dreams. Accomplishing much of anything goes by the wayside. But with balance restored, we walk securely and find the energy to embrace what each day brings and enjoy our lives.

My Prayer: Dear Lord, please teach me to maintain balance in this world of ups and downs, for Your glory and for my own happiness.

~*~
Author Bio:
When Gail’s not steeped in World War II research, drafting scenes, or deep in an edit of her 1940’s novels, she does a limited amount of editing for other authors. 

She also facilitates writing and creativity workshops, both in Iowa and Arizona, where she and her husband like to spend part of the winter in the amazing Ponderosa pine forest under the Mogollon Rim.

Favorites: spending time with grandchildren, walking, reading, meeting new people, and hearing from readers who fall in love with her characters.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Devotionals for the Heart: Forgiveness


Forgiving Yourself

A devotional by Ginger Solomon

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 
~1 Cor. 13:4-7 (NLT)

We talk about love a lot. It’s important. But I don’t want to talk about love today. Today, I’m taking a snippet from this familiar passage.

The end of verse 6 says, “it keeps no record of being wronged.”

Many of us are record keepers. We hold grudges for AGES.

The rest of us shrug and move on. I’m a shrugger. Yeah, you might hurt me, but I’ll love you anyway. That doesn’t mean I have to put up with you, though. Your attitude is not worth my time, my health, my brain power, or the wear and tear on my emotions. I have better things to do than hate you for the rest of my life.

And yet, I still keep a record of wrongs done.

Except the record is of MY wrongs, MY misdeeds, MY ill-spoken words, MY angry outbursts... The list could go on and on.

As I write this, my brain is filtering through the many things I’ve said and done. It’s a “little black book” of sins.

And yet, in so many places in the Bible, we are told to forgive. Most of them are referring to the hurts others commit against us, maybe even all of them. I didn’t check each and every one.

I think it’s MUCH easier to forgive others than it is to forgive myself for my shortcomings.

When I’m tired, I get grumpy. I snap. If I’m frustrated with something, I snap. When my hormones decide to play on the teeter-totter of my emotions, I snap. Sometimes, I can take myself away and regroup. Other times, well, I sin. *gasp* I ask forgiveness of whoever happens to be at the other end of my sharp tongue, but it doesn’t excuse the behavior in the first place. BECAUSE I KNOW BETTER.

So, I keep a mental black book of things I’ve done to hurt others. Sometimes I don’t even know I’ve done it. I was informed earlier in the month that I hurt someone I love. I didn’t know. I still don’t know what I did, but I apologized.

That same week, we had a guest pastor for our Wednesday evening service. I don’t remember everything he said, but this stuck out for me: “We can’t offer a hand of forgiveness to others unless we’ve forgiven ourselves.” If I’m too busy holding onto unforgiveness against MYSELF, I can’t offer forgiveness to someone else. Because if I don’t think I deserve forgiveness how can I offer it.

And honestly, I don’t deserve it. None of us do. But God gives it to us anyway, and if GOD can forgive me, who am I to think I don’t deserve to forgive myself.

Psalm 103:12(NLT) says, “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.”

Do you know the east and the west NEVER meet? If you travel east, you will never reach west and vice versa.

So back to 1 Corinthians 13. If LOVE never keeps a record of wrongs, why don’t we love ourselves enough to forgive our own sins?

It’s a struggle. One I deal with daily. I’m still learning. I’m still growing. And that’s okay. I’ll never be perfect this side of heaven, but I’m going to keep walking in that direction. I’m going to keep following the Savior. I’m going to apply what He’s teaching me through His word and through His messengers.

My Prayer: Father God, help us forgive ourselves. Help us to burn our little, black books of wrongs done to others. And if we keep one for the wrongs done to us, help us to forgive those people and rid ourselves of the baggage of unforgiveness. It’s a weight we were never meant to carry, and we . . . I lay it down at the foot of the cross right now. I forgive me. I release me. Amen.

~*~
Author Bio:
Ginger Solomon is a Christian, a wife, a mother to seven, and a writer—in that order (mostly). 

She writes or reads inspirational romance of any genre, and if she’s busy homeschooling, doing laundry, or fixing dinner, books are on her mind.

She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), president of her local writing group, and blogs regularly for InspyRomance.com and at gingersolomon.com.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Devotionals for the Heart: God's Favor


Grace, God’s Unmerited Favor

A devotional by Nanci Rubin


“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works lest any man should boast.” ~Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV)

This scripture always pings my heart. I try and envision God in Heaven asking, “Who will go and save my creation? My children have been deceived and have gotten off course. They need someone to show them the way home. Someone who can bridge the crevasse sin has created.”

I can imagine the angels, the Holy Spirit and Jesus talking with God at a Heavenly Holy Ghost board meeting. Jesus, the chairman of International Outreach, raises his hand and says, “I will go.” Everyone nods and an ethereal melody that only the Heavenly Host can hear permeates the atmosphere. The Angels nominate Jesus as God’s representative and the Holy Spirit seconds the motion. Everyone is in agreement. God’s only-begotten son will become the savior.

There is a flurry of activity as preparations are made for Jesus to come to earth as the Son of Man. He willingly lay aside his robe and crown to come down to our level. He became the propitiation for our sins. I often wonder, why he did that? How deep is a love that would willingly take all our afflictions and sins? It is beyond all human comprehension.

So, how does grace come into this? According to Ephesians at the top of this blog, it states we’re saved by grace, God’s unmerited favor, not by anything that we say or can do. It is God’s greatest gift to mankind. He gives it freely. We can’t earn it. We can’t save ourselves. We all need a savior. God knew it. It wasn’t enough any longer for our sins to be merely covered by the blood of a sacrificial animal it was time for our sins to be laved away, once and for all. This was accomplished by the blood of Jesus at Calvary. His sacrifice opened the door unto eternal life.

In Isaiah, Chapter 53, God’s Word clearly defines what Jesus accomplished for us at The Cross. He took upon himself. ALL of our sin, All of our sicknesses and diseases, and we were healed. It’s already done. So many wonderful Christians fail to understand this gift of grace. I want to have the unmerited favor of God. I want to know that when I fail and sin, which we all do, that God has made a way for me, and you, to confess our sins and be forgiven. We need to get it through our heads that God loves us so much he has given all He can give to show us that love. There is not one thing you can do to make him love you more nor can you do anything to make him love you less. He just loves you.

When you think, you’ve screwed up and made a mess of everything God is not sitting on His throne with a whip, ready to punish you. No, GOD IS NOT MAD WITH YOU. HE IS MAD ABOUT YOU. He wants to restore you back into fellowship with Him. We all have such a tendency to run from God when we’ve messed up, but we should be running to Him.

Many years ago, God chastened me about speaking negatively about myself. I was constantly calling myself stupid or saying what a dummy I was when I’d done something wrong. God spoke to my spirit, and said, “Don’t say those things about My creation. You don't see yourself through my eyes. I see the finished product. You cannot.” From that time forward, I became very conscious of how I spoke about myself. I began to believe that indeed I was wonderfully and marvelously made by God’s own hands. Sure, I still mess up, but I realize it's covered by Jesus’ blood. I confess my faults, get up, dust myself off and start over.

This is the walk we choose when we accept grace. It’s wonderful to know God is always there and ready to restore us when we’ve gotten off course. Don’t allow the enemy to deceive you into believing God will not forgive you. Remember grace and Jesus’ sacrifice.

If by chance you’ve stumbled and lost your way call out to God and tell him you’re sorry and want his unmerited favor. When our children err and confess what they’ve done, we are forgiving because we love them. God loves you a zillion more times than that.

~*~
Author Bio:
Nanci writes Inspy Amish romance. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and two fur kids, Romeo and Juliet, rescue cats. She is working on her debut novel, Plain Justice.

She retired earlier than planned from nursing to care for her mother, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Her mom passed last year at the age of ninety-nine and Nanci has delved more into her writing.

She is active in an intercessory prayer ministry in her church, belongs to The Woman’s Club, a service-oriented volunteer organization dedicated to the welfare and enrichment of the community and volunteers two days a week at the Mary Washington Museum.

Currently, she's enrolled in Rhema Bible College’s correspondence Bible studies. She belongs to ACFW and RWA. When she’s not working, reading or writing she’s hiking with her husband at Shenandoah National Park.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Let Love Bloom: Bell's Book


Dreams Do Change
A guest post by Bell Renshaw

When I was little, I dreamed about growing up to be an artist. I even dressed up one Halloween as a ‘crazy artist’ complete with a white, frizzy-haired wig, a brush, and artists’ palette. Fast forward to today and…I am not an artist.

It’s probably not too much of a shock that my dreams changed. We often ask children what they want to be when they grow up and the answers range from firefighter to princess and beyond. Children have wild imaginations and it’s fun to hear them dream out loud. What we as adults realize is that most of what they dream stems from what they are interested in at that moment. Maybe they just watched Cinderella or a cartoon about a firefighter. Either way, we realize that those dreams will often fade or change given time.

But what happens when we get older?

In the first novella of my new Justin Harbor series, As Easy As Riding A Bike, I take a look at the idea of dreams and how they can change in a good way. One of my main characters, Connor Pearson, actually achieved his dreams. He started off with a love for photography as a high school student and ended up leaving the small, coastal town of Justin Harbor, Oregon to pursue his dream of being a traveling photographer. Then, one day, something brings him back to town.

My other main character, Emma Holland, is also a character made up of dreams. She took some time figuring out what they were, but she ends up running her own motel business in Justin Harbor.

Both characters seem to get what they want, but it’s not enough. Emma has to face the reality that she can’t do it all on her own, even if she’s achieving her dreams, while Connor has to own up to the fact that it’s okay for his dream to change.

Without going into what happens (no spoilers here!) I thoroughly enjoyed the journey that Emma and Connor took me on as I wrote their story. It was one of realizing that sometimes the things we think will satisfy us are actually hurdles in our way to something even better. Connor and Emma are able to find happiness when they let go of what they want in relation to what God has for them.

It can be a scary thing to let go of a dream. To come to the realization that the thing you placed all your hope in isn’t actually the thing you’re supposed to focus on, but I’d like to challenge you to consider the fact that maybe God is using the end of one dream to bring about the reality of another.

What did you want to be when you were little? Did you grow up to be that, or did something else take that dream’s place? Do you have a dream that’s changed over time? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

~*~
Author Bio: 

Annabell “Bell” Renshaw has always loved books and the power of a good story. 

She turned those passions toward writing at an early age, finding solace and adventure in made-up worlds when her mother would read to her as a kid. 

She’s grown up now, but still finds herself lost in those worlds. She believes in the power of a happy ending and the fact that--no matter what--love will always find a home. 

~*~
Book Blurb for As Easy as Riding a Bike:

Emma Holland is almost finished with the renovation of The Brown Bear Lodge nestled just off the Pacific Coast 101 Highway in picturesque Justin Harbor, Oregon. Being a business owner in a small town isn’t easy, but Emma’s got more than enough determination—not to mention an excellent eye for interior design. There’s only one problem. One of her first guests of the season is someone she hoped she’d never see again. 



As a famous landscape photographer, Connor Pearson has traveled far and wide following his dreams at the cost of losing his first love. Now, back in Justin Harbor, Connor is looking for more than just a place to stay. He’s looking for himself.

As Emma and Connor rediscover their lost friendship and seek to find common ground in the present, Connor feels the tug of his small town roots. Is it possible that a man who’s traveled the world could find his home where his dreams began? Can Emma come to terms with the fact that self-reliance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Will their bonds from the past weather the storms of the present?

As Easy as Riding a Bike 
will introduce you to the salty air and calming waters of Justin Harbor, the first novella in a series featuring small town women business owners.

~*~
Buy Bell's book on Amazon


~*~
Connect with Bell:
Website - www.bellrenshaw.jimdo.com
Instagram - www.instagram.com/bellreadsbooks
Twitter - www.twitter.com/authorbellren
Facebook - www.facebook.com/bellrenshaw
Pinterest - www.pinterest.com/bellrenshaw


~*~
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Friday, May 18, 2018

Devotionals for the Heart: Shellie's thoughts on science and Heaven


When We All Get to Heaven
A devotional by Shellie Arnold


“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 
~Revelation 21:4 (NIV)

My husband, Stephen, loves science. Science, astronomy, nature—they all point him to God. For Stephen, watching the stars is a spiritual experience. They provoke him to worship.

So, you’d think I’d support that, wouldn’t you? My husband learning about science, nature, the stars, details about God’s creation. The problem is, he usually shares these facts when I’m trying to go to sleep. And I don’t care. Because I want to go to sleep.

One time he was trying to explain to me that scientists had recently stumbled onto a new fact—I don’t even know what the fact was—that pointed to (wait for it) the possibility of the creation of our world being the result of intelligent design. Stephen loves those kind of “discoveries.”

But I was irritated. I wanted to go to sleep, but he kept talking.

And mean Shellie came out. She doesn’t appear very often, but this time, she did. I sat up in bed, and I said: “You know what? When we get to heaven, God is going to take all you science types into a big classroom. And He’s going to ask every one of you, ‘How do you think I did it?’ and you’re all going to have the wrong answer. Then He’s going to say, ‘This is how I did it." And you’re all going to say, ‘Wow, I never would have thought of that.’”

After having this particular conversation with Stephen—aside from being convicted and having to apologize for letting “mean Shellie” come out—I started thinking about heaven. And the older I get, the more difficult things I face, the more I think about it. Because sometimes what gets me through the week, or the day, or the moment, is focusing on heaven and what it will be like.

The above verse tells us there will be no tears in heaven—over tragedies, frustration, or rejection. Can you imagine?

There will be no death in Heaven. From cancer or Alzheimer’s or MS. There will be no more mourning in Heaven.

There is no more crying in Heaven—over disappointment or betrayal.

There will be no more pain in Heaven
emotional, physical, or otherwise. Everyone there will love God. Every touch will be right and honest and pure.

In Heaven, the old order of things will pass away. Pride will no longer cause discrimination. Power will no longer corrupt. Greed won’t exist. Shame won’t exist. Every beautiful thing we lost when Adam and Eve sinned will be restored.

You see, Heaven is the anti-thesis of all that is awful and painful here on earth. The complete opposite of everything that wounds and scars us.

It’s relief. Blissful, permanent relief.

When life throws things you didn’t expect at you, remember heaven with all its promise. You can make it through this—you can, with God’s help and strength—because on the other side, all of the things that made this side so difficult will be gone.

The One thing that will be the same, is Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. Our lives on this earth are merely a taste of what being close to God will be like. Because finally, finally there will be no barriers between us. We will see Jesus. We can touch Him and feel His scarred hands cup our face. We can look into His eyes and find Heaven.

Don’t give up when life kicks the breath out of you or when one (or more) of these insidious things that inhabit our world happens to you.

Because for you and me, Heaven is just around the corner!

~*~
Author Bio: 

Shellie Arnold is a writer and speaker on marriage and family. She truly believes—despite baggage, neglect, or mistakes—if a husband and wife listen to God, they can live happily ever after. Her passion is sharing how God is helping her do exactly that.

She maintains a blog at www.shelliearnold.com and is the founder of YOUR MARRIAGE resources.

Shellie is a mother of three and has home-schooled for over twenty years. S
he lives in Ohio with her husband of thirty-one years.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Devotionals for the Heart: Radio Airwaves and God's Love Letter


A Spirit of Wisdom

A devotional by Paula Moldenhauer

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” ~Ephesians 1:17 NIV

I still remember the exact place it happened. Turning onto the busy street beside the mall, I pulled away from the dry cleaners. Even though it occurred almost twenty years ago, I’m reminded of the moment when I pass that location.

To some, it might not seem like such a big thing but for me, it was life-changing. I listened to Christian radio as I drove, my children all snug in their car seats. The speaker's voice across the airwaves said, “Some of you are reading the Bible as if it was a textbook, but it is actually a love letter.”

What?


My whole being woke up. The radio preacher shared truth I needed, and the Holy Spirit poked me to attention.

When you spend your life trying to be good enough, it is easy to get caught up in searching the Bible for the dos and don’ts—trying to understand what is expected rather than experiencing a relationship of love. That message on the radio was just one of many ways the Lord calls to me, asking me to seek Him, not a set of behavioral guidelines.

In verse seventeen of Ephesians, Paul prays that the Christians in Ephesus will be given the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so they can know God better.

In the old days, I would have assumed that we needed wisdom and revelation so we could behave appropriately, know what we are supposed to do as Christians, and win souls! But that’s not what the passage says. It says we need wisdom and revelation so we can know our Lord. The Amplified Bible says this revelation “gives you a deep and personal and intimate insight” into who Christ is.

I love that.

As always, Scripture tells us to get our eyes off our petty efforts to be good enough and onto the One who already is. It reminds us that Christianity isn’t about us and our efforts, but about Him and His. It invites us into the most beautiful love story of all time. Is there any greater reason for wisdom and revelation than to know our Lord more intimately?

My Prayer: Father, I pray for myself and my loved ones, asking, as Paul did, that You give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so we can know You more. I want deep and personal and intimate insight into who You are and who Jesus is. I want to live more fully in the grandest love story of all time.

~*~

Author Bio: Author, speaker, and mom of four, Paula Moldenhauer encourages others to live free to flourish. She shares this message when speaking at women’s events, and it permeates her written work. Paula has published over 300 times in non-fiction markets and has a devotional book series, Soul Scents


Her first published novella, You’re a Charmer Mr. Grinch, was a finalist in the ACFW Carol Awards, and she now has six published works of fiction. Her most recent release is included in A Bouquet of Brides

Paula and her husband, Jerry, are adjusting to a sometimes-empty nest in Colorado. They treasure time with their growing family of adult children, spouses, and spouses-to-be. 

Paula loves peppermint ice cream, going barefoot, and adventuring with friends. 

Today’s devotion was adapted from her devotional book, Soul Scents: Bloom

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Monday, May 14, 2018

Devotionals for the Heart: Mothers and the meaning of "nurture"


Nurture and Share with Those Around You
A devotional by Tammy Karasek

Not every woman, young or old, is a mother. Yet, God has designed women in general to be nurturers. But before we go any further, let’s see how the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word nurture:

nurture (noun): the care and attention given to someone or something that is growing or developing

nurture (verb): to help something or someone to grow, develop, or succeed

As we see by the definition, to nurture is to give care and attention to another person. Society always says that moms are our nurturers. But I believe that we, as women, are nurturers regardless if we have children or not.

Whether or not you’ve had a great relationship with your own mother, more than likely, somewhere along the way, someone has mothered or nurtured you in your life. Maybe it was your mom, grandmother, aunt or an older sister. It could have been a neighbor, Sunday school teacher, coach or an older friend.

Whoever it was, think back to some of the things that person taught you that you’ve carried through your life thus far. It could be a great recipe, kitchen technique or tip. Has someone shown you the ropes on gardening and how to have a green thumb? (And if you have this, I admire you as my thumb can only get as green as the color of celery!) Maybe it’s your love of decorating, singing, playing an instrument—has an older woman taught you the how-to on those?

I know I’ve had many nurturers in my life that have taught me so many gems. These gems—I’ve tumbled and polished from raw to shiny with their teaching, patience, and encouragement and I’ve seen my life change in wonderful ways. 


My love of cooking, sewing, and quilting come straight through the family line from my great grandma to me. While their expertise in these may have come from necessity, my passion for those came from working elbow to elbow watching and learning beside these three women I loved so dearly. My love of words—writing and reading—comes from my mom. 

My love of scripture grew from my mentor Helga, and my teacher-friend, Beth. My heart to always choose joy no matter how hard the circumstances, that comes from my dear sweet friend and birthday twin, Cathy. (She’s older by a few hours, and I often remind her she’s older!)

Here’s a fun little exercise for you: I’m going to help you see who had been your nurturers. Take out a pen and paper and jot things down that you love to do or even things you do well. Now go back and write down beside each item you’ve listed, the person who taught it to you or helped you get better at it. There are your nurturers my friend!

A challenge for you today: Be on the lookout for someone you may nurture. Keep your mind open to someone who casually mentions they’d like to learn something that you know how to do. Also, pray for God to show you who might need someone to come alongside of her for some care and attention to grow in a specific area. As the Scripture below says we are to share what we have. I feel it’s not just our material things but also our knowledge and expertise that we are to share

"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." ~Hebrews 13:16 (ESV)

Share with us in the comments below who has nurtured you and how. Also—are you nurturing someone currently? What are you doing?

~*~
Author Bio:

You’ll find Tammy seeing humor and causing laughter in every aspect of life. Tammy’s past filled with bullying and criticism is the driving force of her passion to always encourage others and share with them the Reason to smile. 

She’s been blissfully wedded to her college sweetheart, Larry, for 36 years, mom to their grown daughter, Kristen and wrapped around the paw of a little puppy named Hattie.

She’s the President of Cross N Pens Christian Writers and a member of ACFW. She will be published in the 2018 Divine Moments book – Cool-nary Moments.
~*~
Connect with Tammy:
Blog - http://www.tammykarasek.com
Twitter - https://twitter.com/tickledpinktam
Email - tickledpinktammy@gmail.com

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Let Love Bloom: A Courtship on Huckleberry Hill


Interview with Jennifer Beckstrand, 
author of A Courtship on Huckleberry Hill:

Alexis: Why did you title your book “A Courtship on Huckleberry Hill”?

Jennifer: All the Huckleberry Hill books have “Huckleberry” in the title. Even though Sam and Elsie are often at odds with each other, it’s definitely a courtship as they learn to trust each other and work together.

Alexis: Who is Sam Sensenig? Describe his looks, personality, and heart. What motivated Sam to take on the parenting role for his younger siblings?

Jennifer: Sam is tall with curly, light brown hair and blue eyes. Even though he’s in his early twenties, he’s got a lot of responsibility at home. His father is dead, his brother is disabled, and his mother is frequently bedridden. Sam feels a profound obligation to care for the farm and his family because he’s the oldest son and everyone relies on him. He’s quick to jump to conclusions and get angry, especially in defense of his brother Wally, who lost his foot and lower leg in an accident several years earlier. There is no one more loyal than Sam, though sometimes his loyalty is misplaced. If he can see past his own mistaken assumptions about the teacher, they might both be able to help Wally—and fall in love.


Alexis: Who is the schoolteacher in this story and why is she bullying Sam’s disabled brother? Who is Elsie Stutzman? Describe her looks, personality, and heart. How has Elsie’s stubborn streak gotten her into trouble in the past and how is it affecting her present?

Jennifer: Elsie Stutzman comes to Wisconsin to teach at the one-room schoolhouse where Sam’s siblings attend school. Elsie is petite, dark-haired, and feisty, and her strong opinions got her in trouble at her last school. Elsie is not one to back down from a fight, especially when one of her students is concerned. Elsie thinks people have coddled Wally for too long, and she’s determined to treat him like any other child. Wally isn’t happy when Elsie expects more of him, and he makes Sam believe that the teacher is bullying him. Sparks fly when Sam confronts the teacher!

Alexis: Sam and Elsie have a clear mutual attraction but are clearly at odds. Is there hope for a budding romance between these two stubborn hearts? Why or why not?

Jennifer: There is definitely hope, as soon as Elsie can convince Sam that she wants what’s best for Wally. When Sam realizes that Elsie is on his side, it doesn’t take long for him to fall head over heels.

Alexis: Who is Mammi and what role does she play in this story?

Jennifer: Mammi is the Pennsylvania Dutch word for grandma. Elsie’s eighty-four-year-old mammi, Anna Helmuth, loves to find matches for her grandchildren, but she certainly has a hard time getting Elsie and Sam together in this book.

Alexis: What do you love most about writing Amish fiction? 

Jennifer: I love the strong faith and enduring family ties of the Amish. They have chosen to live simple lives in order to bring them closer to God. We could all use a little simplification.

Alexis: What makes this story special to your heart?

Jennifer: A Courtship on Huckleberry Hill is a story of hope and faith and not giving up on someone, even if they’re hard to love. I have a friend who was born with half a leg, and her persistence and determination have always been an inspiration to me. It was truly gratifying to write about Wally coming to realize his worth and potential as a human being.

Alexis: What role does your characters’ faith in God play in this story?

Jennifer: Faith in God permeates Amish daily life. Everything that happens is seen as God’s will. Sam has to learn to put his faith in God instead of piling so much on his own shoulders.

Alexis: What was the most challenging part and the most rewarding, of writing this book?

Jennifer: The most challenging was getting Wally’s disability right without stereotyping him. The most rewarding was seeing the final product. Hopefully, this book gives hope to others and encourages them to never give up.

Alexis: What do you want readers to remember most about this story? Why?

Jennifer: I want them to realize the power we each have to affect other people’s lives for the better. And, I want them to thank a teacher. Teachers touch so many lives, but they’re the most underappreciated group in the world.

Alexis: Thanks for the interview, Jennifer!

~*~
Author Bio:
Jennifer Beckstrand is the RITA-nominated, award-winning Amish romance author of The Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill series and The Honeybee Sisters series for Kensington Books. 

Jennifer has always been drawn to the strong faith and enduring family ties of the Plain people and loves writing about the antics of Anna and Felty Helmuth and the Honeybee sisters’ aendi Bitsy. 

Jennifer has published nineteen books. She has a degree in mathematics and a passion for Jane Austen and Shakespeare. 

Jennifer and her husband have been married for thirty-four years. They have six children and six adorable grandchildren, whom she spoils rotten.

~*~
Book Blurb: 

There's nothing Huckleberry Hill, Wisconsin’s irrepressible eighty-somethings Anna and Felty Helmuth like better than a challenge. And the chance to matchmake their feisty granddaughter is their most delightful task yet…



Elsie Stutzman’s plain-spoken ways got her in trouble once before, so she needs to make a good impression at her new teaching job. But she's not about to let disabled student Wally Sensenig work below his potential. And she definitely won’t put up with his hot-headed older brother sabotaging her efforts, no matter how handsome he is. . .

Sam is nearly at the end of his rope caring for his ailing, widowed mother, working their farm, and raising his siblings. He'll admit Elsie’s ideas are bringing Wally out of his angry shell—but why does she have to be as stubborn as she is pretty? Yet as it turns out, Elsie has taught Sam something about himself as well. And he’ll do whatever it takes to make up for his mistakes—and win her heart forever.

~*~
Connect with Jennifer:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jenniferbeckstrandfans
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jenniferbeckst1/
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/jennifergbeckst/
Amazon Author Page: https://amzn.to/2I7wcQf
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/j.beckstrand/
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/jennifer-beckstrand

~*~
Enter this book giveaway contest for your chance to WIN a copy of this book by filling out the entry form on the Rafflecopter widget below: 

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