Monday, February 29, 2016

Devotional by Mary Manners: Pay It Forward

Welcome our friend Mary Manners to the blog today! She started writing at age 4 and never stopped. Today, she's here to share the story about how she began her writing journey. She will also tell you how significant people in her life helped her to grow as a writer and pursue her passion. 

Ultimately, she's here to share a message that will encourage you to "pay it forward." 

Enjoy! :) 

Pay It Forward
A devotional written by Mary Manners

“Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." ~ Colossians 3:12 ~

I have been writing since I was old enough to know that words tell a story…about four years old. I have such vivid memories of standing in my basement in Chicago, leaning against the washing machine, and scribbling across a notepad because I had a story to tell. Of course, the scribble was just gibberish, but the story was clear in my mind.

My primary school librarian read wonderful stories from picture books. One of my favorites was Sam, Bangs and Moonshine. I loved the wonderful tale of the inquisitive girl and her cat, and the father whose love was overshadowed by grief over the loss of his wife. So many powerful emotions interwoven with touching illustrations. As you can guess, library hour was my favorite time of the week.

In sixth grade, I had a wonderful teacher who nurtured my writing. She came to school early in the morning and worked with me, and I completed my first full-length novel that year. I will never forget this wonderful woman. We corresponded through my college years before losing touch. I will never forget her, though, or the boundless encouragement she gave me.

In high school, I had an English teacher who loved books as much as I did. He understood my passion for words, and encouraged me to read books with more depth and to appreciate their beautiful imagery. He also began a writers’ group, and published some poems I wrote in a school anthology. It was thrilling!

Without these dedicated teachers, I may not have pursued my love of writing…and might very well not be where I am today. I remember them as I teach my middle-school students, and try to ‘pay forward’ the encouragement I received.

So I ask…has there ever been a teacher who impacted you with compassion, dedication, or encouragement? If so, how did this teacher help you to get where you are today and what would you say to him or her if given the opportunity?

Author bio:
Mary Manners is an award-winning romance writer who lives in the beautiful foothills of East Tennessee with her husband Tim and the cherished cats they've rescued from local animal shelters, Lucky and Gus. 

She loves swimming, running, flavored coffee and Smoky Mountain sunsets.

Mary believes everyone has a story to tell, and she loves to share hers. She writes inspirational romances of all lengths, from short stories to novels—something for everyone.

Learn more about Mary Manners at her website:

Friday, February 26, 2016

Words of Faith: Standing on God's Promises

Standing on God’s Promises
A Words of Faith story by Grace Marshall

In my heart, I know that God will take care of me. As Psalm 37:25 says, “I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread." Yet when I lost my job last October, it was hard to keep that in mind. 

However, it was in the struggles that I realized how blessed I am to have a God-fearing and God-loving husband who could support me when I was weak and vice versa. It always seemed that when one of us struggled the other was there to point toward God and say, “Don’t lose faith.”

We knew for months that God was calling us out of southern Illinois to Missouri and we both really wanted to go but neither of us knew how. We prayed to the Lord to show us the way and we studied and researched options. Finally we decided that it would be better to stay in Illinois for a few years and then move to Missouri when our finances were in better order.

Then, at the beginning of October during a church service, the Lord prodded me to just move and I patiently explained that it would be better to wait. I didn’t tell my husband about the prompting but the Lord was goading him as well. During the altar call my husband asked if I wanted to go up and pray with him about the move. We prayed that the Lord would lead us. Unbeknownst to me, my husband had also prayed that the Lord would remove the barriers in our way and help us move. It is a prayer that God answered. About a week later, we both lost our high paying jobs. We knew that it was God pushing us to go where He was leading us. He had removed the obstacles. So without notice, we started packing up our things and looking for jobs.

We didn’t know how to arrange it all. Would anyone let us rent a place with an indoor cat and an oversized dog (a playful Mastiff)? How could we get jobs without living in the area? When people asked why we were moving to the area it seemed flighty to say, “I love the area.” The good school was a nice excuse but being a woman, it raised questions about if I was going to get pregnant, and being called to the area by God isn’t received well by most people. We had no friends or family in the area but we knew it was God’s will so we prayed and He guided us.

First, with the spare time we had I published my first book, Person of Faith. Our business was blessed with its first job contract even though we had been in business in Illinois for months without a landing a single contract. I was offered a job, and we were led by the Lord to ask to rent the first house we looked at that had been listed for sale. We found a church to call home before we even moved. All of it was in order within one month, just like that.

Our life was like a whirlwind to us but God orchestrated everything in His perfect timing.

Looking back at it, that month seems like a small amount of time but during that time we got scared and wondered how God could possibly work things out. Our human eyes could not see how he could fulfill the promises He had given us. The truth is that faith for us was reminding each other that God had us in His hands. My husband and I both had moments of doubt and fear but we knew what the Lord had in store was better than anything we could ever do on our own. Only He could give us our hearts’ desires.

I believe that faith is standing defiantly on God’s Word and promises even when the world and your own common sense tells you to do something different. Faith is believing that you have a Heavenly Father who is powerful enough to give you the things He has promised.

Author bio:

Grace Marshall is the author of Person of Faith, a self-help book that delves into what it means to be a person of faith. She’s an avid lover of reading as well as writing and many other forms of art.

She juggles her time between waitressing part-time, building a property maintenance business, and enjoying life with her creative husband J. Lindsey Marshall, who also writes. 

She also likes to hang out with her saucy cat, Amerigo Vespucci and playful Mastiff puppy, Mini. She loves all animals but especially horses. She enjoys exploring the countryside, talking with Jesus, and trying new things.

Grace has lived in Wisconsin and Illinois, and currently resides in the Missouri hills. She believes in living life to the fullest and can’t wait to see where God will take her or have her write next. Her next book, No Pizza Delivery? is the first book in her new series “Becoming Country” and is scheduled to release this June.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Words of Faith: Natalie's story on trust

Faith, Hope, and Love
A Words of Faith story written by Natalie Monk

One definition of faith is trust. In relationships, trust is as important as love.

I was reminded of this yesterday when an older man shared how he met and married his wife. His father-in-law-to-be wasn’t too keen on the match but, seeing his daughter had made her choice, decided to have a talk with the young man.

The girl’s father said, “Son, there’s one question I need you to answer before you can marry my girl.”

“What’s that?” the suitor asked.

The dad leaned forward. “You trust her?”

The fellow balked, “I-I love her.”

“That’s not what I asked. You can love without trust, but that will make for a miserable marriage if you’re always wondering about her faithfulness.”

Finally the young man answered, “Yes, I trust her.”

“Can she trust you?” the father asked.

The young man hesitated, since he was well known as a carouser and all around mischief-maker.

The father-in-law-to-be continued, “I don’t need to know where my wife is, who she’s with, and what she’s doing all hours of the day. I don’t worry about that…because I know where she’s not. I know who she’s not with. I know what she’s not doing. I trust her. That’s something that’s gotta be earned, son. I know my daughter loves you. But if she can’t trust you, she’ll have a miserable life. I don’t want that for her.”

Of course, things eventually worked out and the lovebirds married. Decades later, they’re now enjoying their children and grandchildren.

But the story stuck in my head, namely the part about love and trust.

We love God…but do we really trust Him? Does He influence every decision in our lives, big and small, especially during the hard seasons of waiting or facing the unknown?

Last year I had a fairly steady income teaching piano, a set schedule, and familiar routine.

I was comfortable.

Then my dad resigned the church he’d pastored since I was a young teenager. Having bathed the whole situation in prayer during the previous year, my dad stepped out on faith, sure of God’s direction, but that’s about it.

How did this affect me? We have a family singing group, and as I’m still living at home, we’ve always traveled with my dad and sung where he preached.

Dad’s phone began to ring, and pastors we knew scheduled him to preach revival meetings at their churches across the country.

As our schedule got busier, I felt God leading me to cancel my piano lessons. That’s where love and trust once again met at a crossroads for me. Would I venture out on faith like Dad or stick with the familiar? Tell my family (and God), “Sorry, I can’t give this up right now, you’ll have to manage without me”? What would people think of me, traveling with my parents, 27 years old and still unmarried, with no other “real” occupation except the hope of publishing a novel. There are loads of pressure in a choice like that.

Then came the game-changer. Nothing new. In fact, it was more an accumulation of “old” things. Memories of times God had seen my family through when there seemed to be no solution. God has never let me down. He’s earned my trust through years of faithfulness. Not because He has to, but because that’s who He is.

I must smile as I admit He’d been working me around to His point of view for some time, I just hadn’t seen it.

When God wants you to step out in faith, but you don’t want to leave what’s familiar and comfortable, God can make “comfortable” become uncomfortable, so much that stepping away from it is now a relief. Then we discover the joy of God’s presence (Psalm 16:11), and the blessings which follow our obedience far outweigh the “comfortable” bondage we didn’t realize we were in.

By the way, He’s provided every need since I said “yes” to Him.

The old man’s father-in-law was right. Without trust, love can be a miserable thing, but where trust has been earned, as God has earned surely earned ours, you have a strong foundation providing hope for the future.

Author bio:

Natalie Monk writes historical romance full of laughter, love, and redemption. 

A member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, Natalie is represented by the Steve Laube Agency and is currently plotting her third novel. 

She is a home school graduate, gospel singer, portrait photographer, devotional speaker and former post-hole digger. 

She loves sweet tea, book talk, porch swings, and watching musicals and action movies with her family. 

Connect with Natalie:
Website -
Facebook -
Twitter -
Pinterest -

Monday, February 15, 2016

Interview with Kimberly Rose Johnson, author of Island Hope

Greetings, dear blog readers! How are you? Please welcome a familiar face to the blog today! Kimberly Rose Johnson is here to talk about her new novel, Island Hope. Here are all the sweet details, starting with the book cover:

Book blurb for Island Hope:

Metal sculptor Hope Michaels gave up on art when her creativity was zapped by another. Burying herself in her electrical contracting business, Hope takes a job on Wildflower Island. She never imagines that a job at the Wildflower Resort will turn everything in her life upside down. But that’s exactly what happens when her best friend and employer, Piper, plays matchmaker.

A lonely widower throws all his energy into raising his teenage daughter, but when he is promoted to manager of the Wildflower Resort, things at home don’t go as smoothly as planned. Worried about his relationship with his daughter, he seeks advice from a feisty-but-sweet newcomer. Will she help smooth his path or will things only get more complicated?

Sounds like a good book, right? Would you like to know more? Read on for my interview with Kimberly Rose Johnson.

*Words from Alexis are in bold, words from Kimberly are not in bold

Interview with Kimberly Rose Johnson

Alexis: Island Hope is Book 4 in your Wildflower B&B Romance series. What makes it special?

Kimberly: For me it’s that it’s the final book in the series. We see what is going on in the lives of each of the hero and heroines of earlier books and it wraps their stories up.

Hope Michaels is your heroine. What is the significance of her story?

She is a strong woman with a soft heart. I love the dichotomy of her appearance compared to who she is on the inside.

What brings Hope to Wildflower Island?

Hope comes to Wildflower to do some electrical work at the resort.

What is Hope’s relationship with Piper? Share their backstory and describe their bond. 

Piper and Hope were college roommates. They’ve stayed close through the years and Hunt Enterprises, Piper’s family’s development company, has used Hope’s electrical company for various jobs.

Why does Piper decide to play matchmaker with Hope and how does Piper’s matchmaking turn Hope’s life “upside down”?

I think Piper plays matchmaker because she wants her friend to find love too. As far as turning it upside down, I think the readers need to find that out for themselves.

Who is the “lonely widower” in this story? Why did you make him the hero?

Derrick Trainor is the brother of the manager at the B&B. We first met him very briefly in Island Christmas, but there was something about him that made me want to develop his character and give him his own story.

Share the widower’s backstory. How did he become a single dad of a teenage daughter and what is she (the teenage daughter) like?

Derrick’s wife died in a car accident. His daughter is a great girl, but she’s gotten to a stage in her life where he feels inadequate. He’s not ready for her to have a boyfriend and doesn’t know how to deal with all the emotions his daughter is projecting.

What is Hope’s first impression of the lonely widower? Is it a lasting impression? Explain.

At first she resents him and when she finds out that her friend is trying to set her up with Derrick she quits. That’s all I’m going to tell you. I don’t want to ruin the story for anyone.

Why did you write Island Hope?

At its core, I wrote it because my publisher really wanted a fourth book in the series. But I don’t think I was ready to let go of the characters on the island and like I mentioned before, I wanted to tell Derrick’s story.

What inspired you to create these characters? 

I wanted an out-of-the-box female character and I pairing her with a “normal” guy was fun. I enjoyed the challenge these characters presented.

What do you want your readers to take away from this book?

In the opening of the story, Piper warns Derrick to not judge a book by its cover. I hope this story will encourage people to look beyond appearances and see the people for who they really are. There are some spiritual takeaways as well, but I like to allow readers to form their own opinions regarding the spiritual takeaway.

Complete this sentence: When I wrote “the end” to Island Hope, I felt ____________________ because ______________________.

When I wrote “the end” to Island Hope, I felt happy and relieved because I was under a tight deadline. At the same time it was bittersweet because it was the final book in the series. I will miss these characters.

Author bio:
Kimberly Rose Johnson, soon to be empty-nester, lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their yellow lab. 

Island Refuge is her sixth published book and the first in a series of three.

Kimberly enjoys long walks, chocolate, and mochas, not necessarily in that order.

Connect with Kimberly:
Pinterest -
Twitter link -
Website -

WIN fun freebies by visiting the Rafflecopter giveaway with Kimberly's name on it. Here's the direct link,

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Special Message for YOU on this Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day, my dear "God is Love" blog readers! Enjoy this e-card from me to you:

I hope that you will know that God loves you! His Love for YOU is pure, eternal and unstoppable!

Here's a song from Kim Walker-Smith and Jesus Culture about God's "Unstoppable Love" for you!

Be blessed, dear hearts!



Celebrating Valentine's Day with the Inner Beauty Campaign

Jenn Gotzon on the Red Carpet
Today I am super excited to present to you a special interview with Jenn Gotzon. You may remember Jenn from her Words of Faith story featured here on Friday, Feb. 12. 

Welcome Jenn again on this special Valentine's Day! Why is it special? It is special because Jenn wants you to know that whether you are single, married, considered beautiful or not, you are special and made in God's image. So today, Jenn wants to show you how to embrace your true beauty with news of her Inner Beauty Campaign! 

She's also here to talk about her work with China's lead makeup artist Zhen Jixian who also encourages women to embrace their inner beauty and discover what true beauty really means in this modern world.

Today's message is targeted to women but I believe that men can appreciate the message to in the fact that God made us ALL "good-looking" in His eyes! 

So without further ado, on to the interview! 

*Questions from Alexis are in bold and answers from Jenn Gotzon are not in bold. 

Alexis: What’s it like working with China's leading makeup artist Zhen Jixian?

Jenn Gotzon: 
Zhen Jixian, his company, his employees, his school, his students, and his partners are the most generous, kind, thoughtful, giving and joyful people I have ever worked with. The generosity is beyond anything I have every experienced. They have treated my mate Jim E. Chandler and me like royalty. Brother Zhen’s school Jubilee and his family’s unconditional love overflows making the deep connection that is lifelong kindred friendship.

Jenn Gotzon and Zhen Jixian
Share the story of how you became the featured model for Zhen Jixian’s Inner Beauty Campaign.

Zhen Jixian who is otherwise known as "Brother Zhen" which is his American name, hired me to be the face of his conglomerate Jubilee located in Beijing, China appearing on product advertisements, fantasy wall hangings, beauty photobooths, hair salons, skin care, face for his makeup and photography school and many other partners.

The opportunity is so grand, that during prayer at my friend Lisa Miosi/Martin’s wedding celebration in Moravian Falls, N.C., God gave me a vision. The vision was to use the platform as a vehicle to inspire girls about beauty. True beauty, from the lessons I learned modeling for Brother Zhen.

How did I become the spokesmodel? God’s providence. My dear friends from Movieguide, Wendy and Ken Click, introduced Brother Zhen when I was teaching an "Inspiring Audiences, Hearing God" seminar on the park lawn in front of Universal Studios in Hollywood. He selected me because of my passion to impact and inspire people through the brand of movies I strive to make which are uplifting and redemptive with a message of hope. Zhen wanted to hire an American actress or singer who loves God to be his spokesmodel. 

I am truly humbled and honored to serve him and his company Jubilee.

Why did you want to work on this Inner Beauty Campaign with Zhen Jixian?

The #InnerBeautyChallenge is separate from being the spokesmodel for Zhen Jixian’s company and school located in Beijing, China.

What is the Inner Beauty Campaign all about?

Inner Beauty Campaign is actually an exercise for your mind. It is called the #InnerBeautyChallenge. 

When I was taking the modeling photos, I was "focusing on being ____". The blank space was filled with a variety of words from Phillipians 4:8. People commented how "beautiful" the photos were and I saw inner beauty and then I thought, "If only girls could be encouraged too!" So I created the #InnerBeautyChallenge. 

Here's how you can participate in the Inner Beauty Challenge:

1) Select an #InnerBeauty word to Focus on Being: (Examples include: #Lovely, #Grateful, #Noble, #Authentic, #True, #Gracious, #Peaceful, #Honest, #Pure, #Courageous)

2) Write that word on a piece of paper along with #InnerBeauty

3) Take a photo holding your paper

4) Post it on social media, hashtag #InnerBeauty #InnerBeautyChallenge and tag @JennGOTZON

5) Tag a friend, a family member and an acquaintance and give the gift of #innerbeauty by having them do the #InnerBeautyChallenge together.

In what ways do you hope the Inner Beauty Campaign will affect your audience? Who is your target audience? Is this a message only for women? Or can men relate too? Please explain.

My hope and prayer is anyone can renew their mind by focusing on things that can transform their outlook on life, which transforms their heart, which is what is reflected through the eyes and experienced by people as what they identify as “beauty”.

What is your personal story about inner beauty? Share insight to your journey with image and self-acceptance.

After my husband told me he no longer wanted to be married to me after years of fighting for our marriage, I felt unworthy, unlovable and ugly. When the divorce occurred, I began praying and Jesus appeared to me and revealed a love that was all consuming. Jesus began revealing to my heart what beauty is and that I am beautiful because I was created in the imagination of God with a hope and a purpose. That week during this time of prayer is when Zhen Jixian hired me to be his spokesmodel for a 3-year beauty contract.

I pray girls, guys, young, old would experience their true value and beauty like I experienced that week. I hope this #InnerBeautyChallenge can provide that like it did for me.

As a woman of faith, how does your belief in God affect your view of yourself? 

Reading The Supernatural Ways of Royalty (book) has helped me recover from feeling unbeautiful to knowing and believing my image was made by God.

On your website’s Inner Beauty section, you challenge your audience to focus on one word that they want to focus on being in 2016. You’ve received a wide variety of responses but I’d like to know, what’s your one word that you’re focusing on being for this year? Explain.

I am focusing on being #Gracious. The definition of gracious is courteous, kind, pleasant, showing divine grace. As often as I can remember, I try to put on ‘those pair of glasses’ when looking at the world and the people I interact with daily. It has been inspiring.

Here's an exciting opportunity from Jenn for blog readers: 

Every Thursday since Jan. 1, we have selected a winner and asked them to share what they may have experienced doing the #InnerBeautyChallenge. Each winner’s story is posted on Faith Flix Film

If you want to be selected, visit for directions to do the #InnerBeautyChallenge.

What does "true beauty" mean to you?

Have you ever met someone who was full of a radiant love, joy, peace…Did you remember commenting to yourself, "They are really beautiful?" And then, did you ever look close enough to realize they may have challenged imperfections physically but you never saw them because what you saw and experienced was the beauty coming from their heart? That is what true beauty is.

Complete this sentence: I believe that I am beautiful because ____________________________________________.

I believe that I am beautiful because God’s light shines and some days, I am smart enough to get out of the way and let God use me as a vehicle to find moments to encourage those I meet.

Thanks for the interview, Jenn!

Special offer from Jenn Gotzon, the Hollywood edition: Kind-hearted Jenn would like to give you, my wonderful blog readers, a chance to attend her movie premieres in real-life! Yes, this is a REAL offer from a REAL Hollywood actress. You may use your cell phone to text the word INSPIRING to 22828 and Jenn Gotzon will invite you to her movie premieres!

*Standard text-messaging rates may apply when you send that one-word (INSPIRING) text to Jenn Gotzon.

Here are two more special offers from Jenn Gotzon but you have to compete to WIN the LIVE Skype Chat with her or receive a FREE movie in which she is the leading lady! Fill out the contest entry form on the Rafflecopter widget below to participate:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, February 12, 2016

Words of Faith: Award-winning Actress Jenn Gotzon shares her story

Following your heart vs. being Lead by Divine Inspiration (God)
A Words of Faith story by Jenn Gotzon

When I was a teen, my passion ignited for cinema. I wanted to be an actress in lead roles to inspire and impact viewers’ lives.

My journey began after I accepted Jesus and believed that He is real and my personal Friend, Lover of my soul, Guider of my dreams and the Savior of my life. I would pray and vision would appear on my soul. I would step out in blind faith with my eyes on the vision provided by God, leaping over the ocean waves crashing around me.

I always wanted to be a dancer in Disney World. So I flew down to Orlando, Fla. with two dimes in my pocket, a pair of rollerblades and the vision God put on my heart. I asked for talent, favor, a home, food, a vehicle and a job. God provided each one. I truly saw God in action. It takes our ability to STEP out in faith.

As an adult, I see my logic entering into decisions. I pray for wisdom and seek the peace that surpasses understanding in my direction. I have to be quiet, still and get into a space mentally in prayer, reading Scripture, listening to praise music and journaling. I then visualize Jesus with me. Sitting by me. And I talk to Him. I know that may sound looney tunes, though it is true. I truly experience the providential love from Jesus Christ looking at me as His bride saying, “I am with you. I will never leave you or forsake you. Trust me. Do not fear for I go before you. I will lead you. Trust Me. Go and be Strong and Courageous. Seek Me. Ask Me for wisdom and I will give it to you.”

Recently, the logic, strife, anxiety, stress, advice and tension that arose around a recent job offer was suffocating me. During prayer, a peace settled my soul providing direction to go the opposite way my logic and business team advised. I am stepping out in faith and within hours I’ve already experienced fruit with restoration of relationships, friendships, hope, life, love and creative vision. Finally, I can breathe again. I recognize these attributes as fruit as I begin the beginning steps of playing this character in this new movie.

Life is a series of moments in a great drama. We can choose to make it a comedy or a tragedy. God allows us to choose by our thought life. James 1:2-8 says that we are to “count it all joy” when challenges arise because it allows us to have opportunity to grow in endurance of character. The endurance comes from God commanding us to ask/pray/seek wisdom. Wisdom comes from Godly divine intervention. Pray and step in faith!

Bless you all!


Jenn Gotzon

Author bio: Jenn Gotzon is an award-winning actress whose career was launched with her portraying Tricia Nixon (former U.S. President Richard Nixon’s daughter), in the Oscar-Nominated movie, Frost/Nixon. Since then, Jenn is known as an American leading lady who seeks roles in movies that have redemptive storylines depicting humanity in its truest form who find hope in the climax of the story.

Connect with Jenn: IMDB -
Instagram -
Facebook -
Twitter -
Special Giveaway contest details, the Hollywood edition:
Kind-hearted Jenn would like to give you, my wonderful blog readers, a chance to attend her movie premieres in real-life! Yes, this is a REAL offer from a REAL Hollywood actress. You may use your cell phone to text the word INSPIRING to 22828 and Jenn Gotzon will invite you to her movie premieres!

*Standard text-messaging rates may apply when you send that one-word (INSPIRING) text to Jenn Gotzon. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Interview with Johnnie Alexander, author of Where She Belongs

Welcome Johnnie Alexander to the blog today! She's here to talk about her new novel, Where She Belongs. Here's the beautiful cover of her book:

Where She Belongs is a delightful story of broken hearts, family rivalries, history and hope. Most of all, it's a story that illustrates the Bible verse of Psalm 31:8. See the meme below for a clue: 

I enjoyed asking Johnnie questions about Where She Belongs. I hope that you will enjoy reading her answers.

God bless you! 

*Questions from Alexis are in bold, answers from Johnnie are not in bold

Alexis: When we meet your heroine Shelby, she’s ready to move on from her grief. What’s her backstory?

Johnnie: Shelby’s husband, a Chicago police officer, was killed in the line of duty about a year before the story begins. But living in a big city was her husband’s dream, not Shelby’s. Now she’s raising her two young daughters on her own and eager to move back to her childhood roots.

What is the significance of Shelby’s desire to purchase her family’s “ancestral homestead” and how does it relate to the story’s plot?

Shelby’s ancestors have lived at the Misty Willow homestead for generations. As a girl, she spent summers and holidays there with her grandparents and expected to inherit the property someday. But the house was taken by her grandfather’s rival. It’s been abandoned ever since, and Shelby’s determined to get it back. She wants her daughters to experience the same golden childhood she did.

Why does Shelby feel like her family’s homestead is the only place that she ever really “belonged”?

Shelby was devastated when her grandparents died shortly after losing their home. While she was still grieving, her parents moved to a mission in Mozambique. Fourteen-year-old Shelby didn’t fit in there, nor did she fit in with U.S. culture when she returned to the states for college a few years later. All she can think about is going home.

Describe Shelby’s character flaw, inner journey, and deepest desire. What motivates her behavior?

Shelby’s deepest desire is to restore her grandparents’ house into the place she remembers and to give treasured memories to her daughters. As the story unfolds, Shelby learns her grandparents’ most valuable legacy wasn’t the property she loves so much, but their godly influence in the community. It’s not the place, but the people that matter.

AJ Sullivan is your hero. Describe his character flaw, inner journey and what (or who) makes his heart melt.

AJ inherited the property from his grandfather but he never wanted it. He’s content teaching high school students and coaching football. Because of his past, he doesn’t believe he can ever be the husband and father he wants to be. That legacy doesn’t run in his family.

What is it about Shelby that makes her stay on the forefront of AJ’s mind?

AJ memorized Shelby’s letter asking him to sell her the property. He’s envious of her strong connection to her grandfather, especially since his own grandfather cared more about power and money than family. From the first time he sees Shelby, he’s smitten with her—and he’s crazy about her two little girls.

Why did AJ inherit the Kincaid homestead as a “punishment”? What happened in his life that made him neglect the homestead for 15 years?

I can’t tell you AJ’s secret—that would be a spoiler. But it caused trouble between AJ and his grandfather, Sully. AJ angered Sully even more when he dropped out of law school. Always one to hold a grudge, Sully left his business and money to AJ’s cousins, and Misty Willow to AJ. The house had already been empty for a few years, and AJ left it that way.

Misty Willow, the setting for your story, sounds like a whimsical and beautiful place to live. What was your inspiration for this story setting? How did you make up the name? What is your favorite feature about Misty Willow?

I lived in a huge brick 19th-century house in a rural area of central Ohio when I was a teen. It’s the inspiration behind Misty Willow. I just gave the farm, the creek, and the county different names.

We lived in a different house when I was in elementary school. A beautiful weeping willow tree grew near the road. I loved climbing that tree. So I “moved” it to my fictional farm.

My mom helped me come up with the name, and I created a backstory for it. You can read Misty Willow: A Family Tree on Natalie Monk’s blog.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing Where She Belongs? What was the most rewarding?

Shelby and AJ’s relationship is deeply affected by events that occurred before they were even born. I needed to weave in their grandparents’ history without bogging down the modern-day story. That was a challenge.

The most rewarding aspect was including a few of my own childhood memories in the story. For example, we had a stone fire ring where we roasted hot dogs on autumn evenings. AJ builds a fire ring for Shelby at Misty Willow.

What is the moral of the story?

God sets our feet in a spacious place (Psalm 31:8).

What’s the take-home message of Where She Belongs? What do you want readers to remember the most?

Create treasured memories for those you love.

Complete these two sentences: When I began writing Where She Belongs, I wanted to _________________________. But after I finished the story, I ________________________________.

When I began writing Where She Belongs, I wanted to go back to my family’s old home because I loved living there. But after I finished the story, I could let that dream go. Memorializing the house in fictional story is enough.

Thanks for the interview, Johnnie!

Author bio: 

Johnnie Alexander writes inspiring stories that linger in the heart. Where Treasure Hides, her debut novel, won the ACFW Genesis Contest (2011) and Golden Leaf Award (2014). Her first contemporary romance, Where She Belongs (Misty Willow Series; Revell), and her first novella, The Healing Promise (Courageous Bride Collection; Barbour), release in 2016.

She also has won Best Novel and Best Writer awards (Florida Christian Writers Conferences), and Bronze Medalist (My Book Therapy Frasier Contest). She volunteers as a category coordinator for the ACFW Genesis Contest, judges various contests, and serves as marketing director for the MidSouth Christian Writers Conference.

A graduate of Rollins College (Orlando) with a Master of Liberal Studies degree, Johnnie treasures family memories, classic movies, road trips, and stacks of books. She lives in the Memphis area with a small herd of alpacas and Rugby, the princely papillon who trees raccoons.

Connect with Johnnie:
Blog ~ Facebook Profile (Friend or Follow!) ~ Facebook Author Page  ~ GoodReads ~ Twitter ~ Amazon Author Page

Friday, February 5, 2016

Words of Faith: Dr. Gray's story

Faith and Faithfulness
A Words of Faith story by Ekwenzi Gray, Ph.D.

A few years ago, one of my cousins was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The news was a heart-wrenching game-changer for the family. My cousin has a husband and two adult daughters and she wanted to see them both finish their degrees and get married. But this news seemed like it could derail those plans. The doctors were reserved in their predictions, giving her 4-5 years to live. But without a transplant and other treatment, her chances were slim. And with pancreatic cancer having one of the most serious mortality rates around (the 5 year survival rate is 6%), time was not on our side.

Family member after family member was tested to be a potential donor, but were ruled out again and again, and the years kept on rolling. Year 5 came and then year 6, and we all (my cousin included) felt like she was living on borrowed time. But she never gave up, never stopped living, and her faith held strong. And finally, she was rewarded. In year 6, her goddaughter, who is a girl her daughter's age who happened to be adopted, was identified as a possible donor. It was nothing short of a miracle because the fact that the girl was adopted, meant that she was that much further outside of the genetic pool where a match should have been found. 

Thankfully, she agreed to donate. Both the girl and my cousin survived the transplant and recovered marvelously, inspiring others and strengthening the faith of family, friends, and strangers alike when they hear the story.

Marvelous and miraculous, right? It's a true blessing that lives were saved, hearts have been changed, and the testimony continues to inspire all those that hear it. That's what faith stories are supposed to do. And quite frankly, I don't like them.

Stories like this suggest that faith is only for grand, supernatural gestures and interventions. They are the stories that movies are made of, when most of us live TV-level lives. We don't face life-threatening illnesses but we face the struggles of making it through the day when we're battling the flu. Many of us don't find ourselves facing homelessness but we have bills and mortgages or rent payments and jobs that keep us going day to day and living paycheck to paycheck, feeling like we're one step away from being homeless. And when we, or let me speak for myself, when I hear stories like this, I can't help but think, "That's great for them, but what about me? Does God care about my day to day struggles when He has so many other more serious concerns to address?" Not that I'm wishing my life was harder, not at all. It's just that sometimes, I feel like I'm wasting God's time by coming to Him with concerns that are decidedly smaller.

And yet, that's where faith really becomes important. Faith and faithfulness.

My faith calls me to believe that God cares about me whether my issues are earth-shattering or mildly frustrating. My faith calls for me to believe that God wants what's best for me no matter to what. 
But my faithfulness? That's where things get interesting. 

You see, faith is a belief in something, whether we see it or not. Faithfulness, however, implies action. Faithfulness is what I do to act on my beliefs. Faithfulness is more than just praying for a stronger relationship with God, it's actively praying and studying His Word  (The Holy Bible) and doing my part in developing a relationship with Him. Faithfulness is more than just praying to, say, write a book or record a CD. Faithfulness is sitting down every day, for whatever few minutes I can carve out, and writing or practicing my instrument. It's about doing my part to use the gifts and talents God has blessed me with along with the seed of an idea that I believe He planted in my heart. It's about trying to nurture those things until the time is right for the finished product to be birthed. 

Faithfulness reminds me that everything I do is not for my edification, but for His glory and honor

So, maybe saying that I don't like the large stories of faith is an overstatement. We need those stories to be inspired, to be reminded that our God does great and wonderful things all the time. But we need those small stories too, in order to be reminded that God needs our faithfulness to increase our faith. And He doesn't just want our faith in one situation, He wants it all that we do, all the time, and with all our hearts.

Don't just have faithful.

Read the following Bible verses to encourage your faith:

Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) - "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see."

Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NIV) - "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."

Author bio: 

Dr. Ekwenzi Gray is a Clinical Psychologist, licensed in the District of Columbia. He has been in clinical practice for nearly 10 years, both in private practice which is called 
J.E. Gray and Associates and in working on staff at the Howard University Counseling Services. 

He earned both his Ph.D. and M.S. in Clinical Psychology from Howard University. 

While versed in treating a variety of psychological conditions, Dr. Gray has a particular passion for helping clients struggling with issues related to depression and anxiety, spiritual concerns, and anger. He also works with people dealing with issues related to relationships, sexual identity, orientation, and interests. 

Dr. Gray continues to provide psychotherapy to individuals and couples, and conceptualizes client challenges from a cognitive theoretical orientation while using interventions from a variety of models. 

Outside of the office, Dr. Gray enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, and writing among other things. He can be found on Facebook (J. E. Gray and Associates) and on Twitter (@jegrayphd).