Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Romantic Reads: The Trouble with Love, a book by Toni Shiloh

Welcome Toni Shiloh to the blog! 

Today, she's here to talk about her new novel, The Trouble With Love


Interview with Toni Shiloh about her book 
The Trouble with Love: 

Alexis: Why did you write this book and call it “The Trouble with Love”?

Toni: The Trouble With Love perfectly sums up how Holiday views love: trouble. I wanted the book to have some fun moments but real moments as well and I think the title and the story hints at both.

Alexis: What is the leading lady of your story, Holiday Brown, like? Describe her looks, personality, mindset, dreams and character flaws.

Toni: Holiday is an African American woman in her twenties. She’s a bit stubborn, a bit sassy, but fiercely loyal to those she calls friends. She dreams of a life with happiness, but it always seems so out of reach, despite the fact that she’s an award-winning singer. When I wrote her, I used Mickey Guyton as an inspiration image of what I thought Holiday looked like.

Alexis: What is the leading man of your story, W. Emmett Bell, like? Describe his looks, personality, hopes, fears and worst habits.

Toni: Emmett likes to flirt with the leading lady, yet she doesn’t always get the little nicknames he gives her as flirting. He’s a little serious but that’s because his faith grounds him and keeps him from gaining a big ego. Afterall, being a Pulitzer prize-winning photographer could make a person think more of themselves than they should. I pictured him as Jesse Williams from Grey’s Anatomy.

Alexis: What inspired you to make Holiday an award-winning singer living in luxury?

Toni: I really wanted to write about rich heroines and I brainstormed and talked to the characters forming in my mind and I settled on a pop singer.

Alexis: Who in real life, would you compare Holiday’s singing voice to and why?

Toni: Hmm, I was thinking of Mickey Guyton throughout the time I wrote Holiday’s story. However, Mickey is a country singer and I was picturing a more pop vibe in Holiday’s voice.

Alexis: Why has W. Emmett Bell always been the “bane” of Holiday’s existence?

Toni: I’ll tell you a secret. Holiday had a crush on Emmett until he ruined it with judgment. From then on, every joke felt like a slight, every comment a judgment. Each hardened her heart.

Alexis: Why does Holiday believe that it would be too much “trouble” to fall in love?

Toni: Holiday’s father is an R&B legend and also a man who’s been married ten times. She doesn’t believe in love. Thinks it’s as elusive as a unicorn. I mean, how can she believe it’s something that last when her father is the example she has to go by. Not to mention all the other Hollywood romances that end in divorce.

Alexis: What was Emmett’s first impression of Holiday? Describe his relationship with her.

Toni: Emmett has known Holiday since their boarding school days so his impressions of her have gone through many changes. He would like to get to know her more, but all she sees is a judgmental Christian.

Alexis: How many ex-girlfriends are in Emmett’s dating history? Why didn’t it work out?

Toni: There’s only one I discuss in the story and to find out why it didn’t work out, you’ll have to read The Trouble With Love. 😊

Alexis: What is it about Holiday that makes Emmett want to know her better?

Toni: Actually, Holiday’s best friend (and Emmett’s sister) Tori suggests that Holiday give Emmett a chance. Otherwise, she would have been stubborn enough to keep on disliking him.

Alexis: What challenges do Holiday and Emmett have that interfere with their romance?

Toni: First, they don’t like each other. At least, Holiday has strong feelings of dislike. Emmett was a little zealous when he became a believer and said somethings to Holiday that soured her opinion of him. Not only that but she has to weed through her beliefs on love and God before they can have a happily ever after.

Alexis: What role does faith in God play in this storyline?

Toni: Holiday starts out as a nonbeliever, but by the end, she comes to believe that God is real and her need for Him, the realist thing in her world.

Alexis: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?

Toni: Never having stepped foot in NYC, I found writing about it a little challenging. Usually I make up a location, but this time I took a chance and set it in a known—well known—location. It was fun as it was challenging.

Alexis: How did you research this story? Did you visit Nashville (home of the music industry)?

Toni: I didn’t. I’ve never been to Nashville although I would love to. I actually watched many episodes of Songland, read books about New York City, and spent time on Google maps looking at various places Holiday visits.

Alexis: What do you want readers to remember most about The Trouble with Love?

Toni: That God has an everlasting love and is the example we should remember, not the broken relationships in this world.

Alexis: Tell us about your Faith & Fortune book series, of which The Trouble with Love is the first. What inspired you to create this series? How many books are in this series?

Toni: There are three books in the series. Holiday and her two roommates each have their moment as the lead.

Alexis: What can readers expect next from you as an author?

Toni: The Truth About Fame releases July 7, 2020. It’s book two in the Faith & Fortune series and I think you’ll love it as much as Holiday’s story.

Alexis: Thanks for the interview, Toni! Would you like to share closing thoughts?

Thanks for a great interview, Alexis. Readers, drop me any questions you may have in the comments.

Author Bio:

Toni Shiloh is a wife, mom, and multi-published Christian contemporary romance author. 

She writes to bring God glory and to learn more about His goodness. 

Her novel, Grace Restored, was a 2019 Holt Medallion finalist and Risking Love is a 2020 Selah Award finalist.

A member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and of the Virginia Chapter, Toni seeks to help readers find authors. 

She loves connecting with readers and authors alike via social media. 

You can learn more about her writing at http://tonishiloh.com.

Back Cover Blurb for The Trouble With Love:

I, Holiday Brown, have it all. A platinum record. Multi-million dollar home in Manhattan that I share with my two best friends. Life is looking fantastic until my roommate’s brother decides to bunk in our guestroom while his house gets renovated. 

W. Emmett Bell has always been the bane of my existence. He’s annoying, stubborn, a know it all, and just might be the most gorgeous man I’ve ever laid eyes on. 

But I refuse to fall for him. 

Then his sister’s threatened by a stalker and dynamics change. His unwavering faith isn’t quite as self-righteous as I’d always thought, and maybe he has a good side I’ve overlooked all these years.

Or maybe it’s all too much trouble.

The Trouble With Love is the first book in the Christian Chick Lit series: Faith & Fortune.

Buy The Trouble with Love on Amazon

Connect with Toni:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/authortonishiloh
Twitter: www.twitter.com/tonishilohwrite
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/tonishiloh
Instagram: www.instagram.com/tonishiloh
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/tonishiloh
BookBub: www.bookbub.com/authors/toni-shiloh
My BookCave: https://mybookcave.com/profile/toni-shiloh/
Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gcMfqT
Blogs Toni contributes to: www.inspyromance.com and http://diversitybetweenthepages.wordpress.com

Monday, June 29, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: Confidence

Confidence in the God Who Sees
A devotional by Tema Banner

She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” – Genesis 16:13 (NIV)

Let’s talk about the Bible story of Hagar who was an Egyptian slave to Sarai and Abram.

Frustrated that she could not have children of her own with her husband (Abram) and not willing to wait any longer on God to fulfill His promise of blessing Abram with a child naturally through Sarai’s womb and make him the “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:1-8), Sarai gave Hagar to Abram in hopes of producing her longed-for son.

In our time that seems anything but honorable, but it was a common practice in Biblical times. But when Hagar becomes pregnant by Abram, Sarai quickly changes her mind when she feels her position is weakened. She mercilessly mistreats Hagar to the point that Hagar flees. She finds herself in a desolate place, alone and with child.

Imagine the distress and treatment that would cause her to flee to a barren, desolate land. How many times have we found ourselves in such a place?

It may have been our own choices and actions that place us there—I know this is true for me. But for others, it is treatment forced on them. My journey to the barren land has always been driven by my own desires instead of being obedient to God. However, had I not known it before, the last few weeks have shown that many in the country in which I live (United States of America) have been marginalized, mistreated, silenced, and ignored all because their skin is a different color.

But there is hope because Elohim Roi (The God who sees) is our God. He is just and has told us to “act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly” with Him (Micah 6:8).

Despite my unfaithfulness and foolish choices, God saw me in my isolation, and He did not leave me alone. He is ever faithful. How much more will He see those who are mistreated and alone all for the way He created them? He will surely rescue them and deliver them from oppression. He is the God who sees. If you follow Him, you will be part of that rescue by His Holy Spirit working in you and through you.

God told Hagar to return to Sarai, but He also told her that she would give birth to a son. Hagar would find herself back in the desert when Abram, at Sarai’s insistence and God’s agreement, sends her and her son, Ishmael, away. Again, God sees her, alone, afraid, expecting to die for lack of water. He provides for her needs and promises that her son will live and become a great nation.

God always sees us, though sometimes we struggle to feel His presence. It is most often in our times of greatest distress, when situations are beyond our control, when we are at our weakest, that He reminds us that at such times His strength is there to lift us up.

When the world seems the most out of control, have confidence that God is not surprised by any of it and He sees you.

Let’s Pray:
Heavenly Father, thank you that You see me, that You love us so much that You sent Jesus, your son, our Savior to rescue us. May your peace and love fill our hearts to overflowing, spilling onto all those who come near. In Jesus’s Name I pray, Amen.

Author Bio:
Writing stories that take the reader on a journey to parts unknown has been a lifelong love for Tema. She enjoys all history and continues daily to hone both her knowledge of history and her writing skills.

God is her guiding light and the reason for every endeavor in her life. She is a member of the South Carolina ACFW chapter as well as an active member of her local RWA chapter, Carolina Romance Writers.

Tema has served as past President and Secretary as well as holding various chair positions. She is the honored recipient of the Harold Lowery Service Award, presented by the Carolina Romance Writers.

God has gifted her with a loving husband, two children and three grandchildren who are the delight of her life. In her spare time, she gardens and digs into genealogy for nuggets to use in her stories.

Connect with Tema:
Website: https://temabannerauthor.com
Blog: www.temabannerauthor.com/blog
Instagram: Instagram.com/temabanner

Friday, June 26, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: Reasons why YOU are God's Favorite!

You’re His Favorite

A devotional by Amy Odland

“Then an argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the thoughts of their hearts, had a little child stand beside Him. And He said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in My name welcomes Me, and whoever welcomes Me welcomes the One who sent Me. For whoever is the least among all of you, he is the greatest.” –Luke 9:46-48 (NIV)

As most parents experienced in March, April, and May of this year, we also had an increase of evening meals around the table with all of our kids.

Before Coronavirus hit, we usually tried to eat dinner together as much as our schedules allowed. During those weeks of quarantine meals, we were all together all the time so didn’t have much to “tell about our day” during the meal as each day seemed to be the same as the one before. So instead we enjoyed some extended devotional time, we developed some inside jokes, and we also maybe had an argument or two when we got tired of all being together so much. Our four kids, ranging in ages 20 down to 9, would frequently tease each other during these meals about which of them was our favorite. Every time they did, I would think of this passage in Luke.

Have you ever felt like God plays favorites? When we measure “favorite” by the world’s standards, we think of someone else receiving something we don’t ... like material blessings or healing or answers to prayers ... and it begins to seem like God plays favorites. Our humanness equates “ease of” as a measurement of quantity of love – whether it’s ease of life or ease of gain or ease of struggle, the easier things are, the more we think someone is loved. We begin to believe God loves them better than, or more than, He does us.

God never said things would be easy for us just because we follow Him. God doesn’t play favorites by making things easier for us while we’re alive. In fact, Jesus said in John 16:33 (NIV), “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” He has equal love for all of us, meaning those who call upon Him and continue to follow and trust Him are all favored. He loves the thief who hung on the cross next to Jesus and called out to Him just as much as He loves His beloved son, Jesus. Why else would Jesus have said to the thief, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” We are all favored because we call Him Father.

God loves all His children the same, but He doesn’t treat them all equally. A few examples of this? Abraham was richly blessed with land and flocks, but had to wait until he was HOW OLD to have a child, who was a fulfilment of a promise God had given him? Joseph became second in command in Egypt during a crucial time but only after first being hauled away from his family and sold as a slave, then falsely accused, and after spending years in prison. All the major prophets were ostracized during their lives as they warned of the coming ruin of Israel. David was anointed to be king of Israel by Samuel, but had to endure being chased around and almost killed by his boss and predecessor for years beforehand. Mary was chosen to be the mother of the Savior of the World, but she almost lost her engagement, her family’s name was scorned because she was pregnant before wedlock, and she later watched her son die a criminal’s death when he’d done nothing wrong.

Jesus talks in Matthew 7 about what we should do with this apparent discrepancy between what each of us gets from God. In Matthew 7:1-2 (NIV) he says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” 

Some of us get so distracted by what others are doing or achieving or receiving, we lose sight of the path laid out before us. We are focused on whether so-and-so deserves this-or-that instead of what God has purposed us to accomplish during our lifetime. We get caught up in negative emotions and thoughts that weigh us down instead of thinking about the things Paul mentioned in Philippians 4:8 (NIV), “...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

This is exactly what happens when our kids fight about who is the favorite. They forget about the unique gifts they have to offer the world. They forget about how God has designed each of them differently, that they were raised differently, and that they will each head down different paths in life. They forget they each have different strengths and weaknesses, character qualities that need to be pruned or watered, depending on God’s plan and timing and desire. They’re not going to all choose the same career. They’re not going to all get married at the exact same age or have the exact same number of kids...or maybe even get married at all.

God doesn’t shape his children to be factory-made dishware; we aren’t all supposed to be the same. We are unique creations created for bringing variety and beauty and love into the world. Imagine if there was only one kind of tree or one kind of animal or one kind of food. God said we were His “very good” creation, so why wouldn’t we be as multi-faceted as the rest of His creations?

Of course each of our four children think THEY are the favorite. They are not wrong; they’re each our favorite in a different way. It is amazing the difference in our children’s behavior when they think they’re the favorite, how willing they are to please us and to listen to us.

So today, I say to you: Start to believe you are God’s favorite and live like it. Do things to please your Father, not the people around you. Ask God for things like a favorite would ... and don’t act like a spoiled brat when He doesn’t give them to you right away.

Jesus Christ’s words in Matthew 7:11-12 (NIV) say, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” 

Love God and love others as one who is highly favored by God. Because you are His favorite.

Author Bio:

Amy Odland has been serving in church ministry as a volunteer leader for over 16 years, in various worship, prayer and women’s ministry roles. 

Her passion for helping women stems from her own struggles and lessons learned in her journey as a Christian since first deciding to follow the Lord in 1994.

Amy’s priorities after her faith include her family — husband Rick, and their four kids — as well as extended family who all live close in proximity and the many friends she’s made over the years.

In addition to a love of teaching and helping her husband with the bookkeeping for their many businesses, Amy has recently expanded her stay-at-home work to include leading author’s book launch teams for publishing companies like Baker, Revell, Barbour, and Lifeway.

She also enjoys teaching new authors about platform building, self-launching, and online marketing.

Connect with Amy:
Facebook: https://facebook.com/amyodland
Instagram: https://instagram.com/amy_odland
Twitter: https://twitter.com/amy_odland
Website: https://amyodland.com

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: The Light

Hold On To The Light
A devotional by Julia Wilson

“The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.” 
–John 1:5 (MSG)

There are times in life when everything seems dark and uncertain. As we live through this pandemic called COVID-19, life has seemed like that at times. Everything we thought we knew, everything we used to do has gone. We have been in lockdown for months and now we are beginning to emerge into a strange new world.

In these uncertain times, there is one sure thing … God. God has not changed. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the Life-Light and He shines as brightly now as always. We do not need to fear because God is with us today and He sees our tomorrow. He is the Light of the world (John 8:12 NIV).

Have you ever noticed how when you are trying to sleep in a dark room, that just a small ray of light can illuminate and seems to light up your room? Jesus Christ is like that … when we cannot see our way through dark times we need just to look to Him and He will give us just enough light to see the next step. We do not need to see the whole way ahead, just the next place to plant our feet. Jesus asks us to trust Him to guide us through life with all its highs and lows.

I love looking at different Bible translations of the same passage. This is how the Passion Translation says John 1:5, “And this Living Expression is the Light that bursts through gloom – the Light that darkness could not diminish!” Wow! I just love the thought of light bursting through the gloom. Imagine the sun’s rays bursting through the clouds. Jesus is like that when He bursts into our life, He illuminates us and asks us to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 NIV).

When Jesus is living in us, we are called to be bearers of His light. We are to show Jesus to a hurting world by all that we say and do. The Passion Translation tells us “So don’t hide your light! Let it shine brightly before others, so… they will give their praise to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 TPT).

St. Francis of Assisi said, “preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” Our life is meant to point others to Jesus Christ. Our world can be very dark at times and people need hope. The good news is that we do have hope! Above all, hope has a name … that name is Jesus.

Light will always overcome darkness. Jesus is our Life-Light. We need Him in our life every single day, every step of the way. He is my hope and He can be your hope too! If you have never said yes to Jesus, I would like to give you an opportunity today and have this Life-Light in your life. May I lead you in a prayer?

Let’s Pray: Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I choose to turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Jesus’s Name I pray, Amen.

Author Bio:

My name is Julia Wilson but I also go by Christian Bookaholic.

I live with my husband and five cats in a small town in Worcestershire on the banks of the River Severn (England). We have four grown up children and three granddaughters.

I have always loved reading and have always been surrounded by books. I used to work as a teaching assistant for special needs in the local high school. Ill health forced me to stop working in December 2015. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (known as M.E.) and fibromyalgia. I now have plenty of time to read and review books!

Our eldest son set up my Christian Bookaholic blog. I review every book I read. I read over 300 books a year. I read Christian and mass market. I prefer stories set from 1850 onwards. My favourite type of books to read is stories set in WWI and WWII, and Russia under Czar Nicholas II.

I am a historian, having a Combined Humanities degree where I majored in History and minored in English. I also love swimming. I only learned how to swim in 2017 and go swimming four mornings a week for 90 minutes before breakfast, it keeps my joints going.

I am also a crazy cat lady. I absolutely love my cats. I have grown up with cats and cannot imagine life without them. My dream is to own an old fashioned seal point Siamese … but not while we have our young rescue cat as she hates other cats!

I love God and love going to a large lively church called Lifecentral. I cannot imagine life without God. He gives a peace even when life does not. He guides my life. He is my Rock.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Romantic Reads: Dance Over Me

Welcome Candee Fick to the blog! 

Today, she's here to share the story behind her book, Dance Over Me.


How a Dream and Song Turned Into a Book
A guest post by Candee Fick

Ever wake up in the middle of a dream and actually remember what it was about?

Usually the wisps of unconnected, pizza-induced, nonsensical images disappear within a few blinks, so when a vivid scene lingers and actually feels real, I pay attention. And when my imagination keeps the characters interacting at least until I’m brushing my teeth, I know it’s time to pull out my notebook and capture the idea so I can add it to my folder of story seeds.

In one such dream, I was a college-aged dancer standing backstage at a theater watching three or four couples rehearsing a slow dance onstage. I noticed their popularity and personalities enough to know I didn’t belong and stayed in the wings. But the romance and the music and the potential for something just out of reach still drew me in. What I remembered most about the situation was the emotion. The longing. The wishing. The hoping… Until a new young man stepped up beside me, started a conversation, and then escorted me onto the stage to begin the perfect dance that left the others speechless.

Who were they? Where were they? What did it mean? And what was I supposed to do with the scene?

Not long after my dream, the worship team at church sang “Amazed” by Phillips, Craig & Dean. It’s a song about the love of God that shows up in unexpected ways that leave us amazed. The opening verse states: “You dance over me while I am unaware, You sing all around but I never hear the sound.”

Immediately, my heart connected with the lyrics and my subconscious resurrected the imagery from that dream. And I knew it was God in the wings loving and encouraging the girl until she was able to step onto the stage.

Once home, I did some research and found the Scripture in Zephaniah 3:17 that inspired those song lyrics. “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with his love. He will rejoice (dance/whirl with joy) over you with singing.”

Serious brainstorming ensued and more pieces started to fall into place. The girl became an orphan who was searching for family and a performance artist longing for a place to belong. The guy was a “somebody” in a “nobody” (i.e. overlooked) role. And since the onstage diva wouldn’t be happy to give up her spot at center stage, I had plenty of potential conflict.

Dance Over Me is now the first in a series exploring faith and fame. And while that duo-dancing scene from my dream never made it into the final version of the story, I worked hard to keep that raw emotion on the page. Not to mention the constant reminder that our ever-loving God is working behind the scenes.

Did I succeed? I think so, because one book reviewer said: “Dance Over Me is an emotional journey, from rejoicing over Dani’s successes to wanting to purse whomp the antagonists (or at least trip them) to crying with Dani over her frustrations. Through it all, we are gently reminded – through the authenticity of Dani’s walk with Jesus – to let Him fight for us and to rest in His love.”

And it all began with a dream and a song.

Blurb for Dance Over Me:

She’s spent a lifetime searching for family, but God’s been dancing behind the scenes. 

Danielle Lefontaine, an orphaned actress raised to the lullaby of Broadway, searches for her long-lost brother and her place on the stage. After a successful audition lands her a part in the same city his adoptive family had moved to, Dani believes she’s finally close to finding her place to belong.

Meanwhile, Alex Sheridan is living his dream playing the trumpet at his family’s dinner theater. He’s got everything he ever wanted…except someone special to share it with. When Dani dances into his life, he hopes she’s the missing piece to his heart but fears the bright lights of a bigger stage could steal her away.

However, after a jealous cast member’s vicious rumors threaten to drop the curtain on Dani’s career, everything they’ve worked to build may end up for nothing. Will the rhythm of dancing feet usher in their deepest desires or leave them stranded in the wings?

If you like tap dancing, musical theater, adoption-reunion stories, and faith-based romance with authentic characters, then you’ll love the first book in The Wardrobe series from Candee Fick.

Buy Candee’s book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble 

Author Bio:

Candee Fick is a multi-published, award-winning author. 

She is also the wife of a high school football coach and the mother of three children, including a daughter with a rare genetic syndrome. 

When not busy writing, editing, or coaching other authors, she can be found cheering on the home team at sporting events, exploring the great Colorado outdoors, indulging in dark chocolate, and savoring happily-ever-after endings through a good book.

Connect with Candee:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Author.Candee.Fick
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CandeeFick
Website: https://candeefick.com

Monday, June 22, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: The Pit

Reminders from the Pit

A devotional by Glynis Becker

“I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear And will trust in the LORD.”
–Psalm 40:1-3 (NASB)

When my daughter was in high school, she took the opportunity to play flute in the pit orchestra for the spring musical. If you have any experience with musical scores then you know that especially for large productions like that, each musician is only given the notes he or she needs for a particular instrument.

For weeks and weeks they practiced the music as an orchestra, until it was time to add in the vocalists. She came home one day and said, “I didn’t even know some of those pieces had words!” Layering the vocals on top of the orchestra created a blend that made the music she was already enjoying even more spectacular. It became brand-new and exciting again.

Being in the “pit” also means that the musicians can’t see the actors. They can hear what’s going on, but have to rely on their conductor more closely than they might otherwise in order to keep pace and make the performance as enjoyable as possible for the audience.

Many stories in the Bible have characters who have landed themselves in a “pit,” either literally or figuratively. Think Joseph (Genesis 37), David (1 Samuel), Elijah (1 Kings 19), and Jonah. Sometimes it was someone else’s action that led them to the pit, like Joseph’s brothers selling him to traders; sometimes it was the person’s own doing, like the choice of Jonah not to follow the Lord’s leading.

In those most difficult moments, down in the pit, they needed to believe that they were playing a part that only they could play, and that God knew what the end would be. Each of those men relied on God and eventually something beautiful came from their situations.

As believers we are very much like those musicians in the pit. We have a partial score of what God (our conductor) is doing in the world. We only see what He shows us, but we need to trust that He knows the beauty that is to come. We need to keep our eyes on Him intently, watch for His leading, trusting that in the right time, as we walk with Him, He will lead us and our fellow players through this life: an exhilarating performance.

And someday, when glory comes, the opening night will surely be one for the ages!

Let’s Pray:
Father God, please show me how to trust You more than I do today, to let You lead the way even if I can’t see where I’m going. You will bring beauty from ashes and order from chaos, because that is Who You are. Be with me today. I pray in Jesus’s holy name I pray, Amen.

Author Bio:
Glynis Becker writes devotions and inspirational fiction, hoping someday to have a published novel on her resume. 

She has co-written several screenplays, including the film Sinking Sand, available on DVD and digital streaming.

Glynis, whose childhood was spent all over the country as an Air Force brat, has called South Dakota home for many years, along with her husband and two teenage children.

When she’s not writing or reading, she is watching more television than she should and crocheting. You can find her at www.glynisbecker.com.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Interview with Amberly Neese (Part 2 of 2) about "The Belonging Project"

Welcome Amberly Neese again to the blog today!

She's here to, via this pre-made interview from Audra Jennings (publicist), finish telling you all about her book, The Belonging Project - Women's Bible Study Guide with Leader Helps: Finding Your Tribe and Learning to Thrive.

Gentlemen: I'm sorry, but this one is for the ladies! Feel free to share this two-part interview with the women in your life. Ladies: We're wrapping up today with Part 2 of 2 of this pre-made interview featuring Amberly Neese. 


A Message from Audra Jennings, publicist: 

In The Belonging Project, speaker and comedian Amberly Neese combines Bible study with delightful humor to create a refreshing and engaging experience that will encourage and equip women to pursue deeper relationships and true belonging by loving and serving one another. She describes The Belonging Project as an exploration of the New Testament as it pertains to biblical community. 

“God has designed us to live in mutually beneficial relationships and has given us the blueprints to do so in his Word. The study is designed to encourage, empower, and equip participants to thrive in the community to which God has called them,” she shares.

Neese provides biblical and practical help for cultivating meaningful relationships that glorify God through an examination of the many “one another” scriptures throughout the New Testament. She groups more than fifty of them into themes in order to lead readers on an exploration of how to:

Find One Another

Fellowship with One Another

Forgive One Another

Fortify One Another

Having women in our lives to help us grow in our capacity to love, serve, and forgive is always important, regardless of what is going on in our lives and our world around us. However, now, more than ever, we’ve become keenly aware of the need to pursue and build an authentic tribe. She shares more about that in the interview below.

Part 2 of an Interview with Amberly Neese,
author of of The Belonging Project

We’ve been in the midst of social distancing for what seems like forever now. How has this period of time made meaningful relationships all the more important?

Amberly Neese: Social distancing has made us painfully aware of the pangs of loneliness and disconnection. Zoom parties and drive-by encouragement are wonderful, but they are no substitution for sitting knee-to-knee with a friend, sharing our hearts. In addition, for some, having a house full of family in quarantine can be fun (and loud), but it may not be a conducive place to be truly seen and heard.

The time away from others has helped us see the need for others in our life. Biblical community is more important than ever as we rebuild from the quarantine. One of my closest friends lost a child during this season and the inability to hug her family, have a service for her sweet daughter, mourn collectively, and support her clan in this tragedy have been salt in her wounds for sure.

The Belonging Project highlights some ways to love and serve others from the comfort of one’s living room as well as the sweet discomfort of sitting with a friend in her pain. Social distancing may put a damper on connection, but there are ways to encourage others without breaking quarantine. I am a hugger—more like a tackler—so this time has been hard for me, but it has allowed me the opportunity to explore new ways to comfort, encourage, and connect with others.

Question: Sometimes social media is the only way we keep up with our friends. How can social media be both a help and hindrance to our friendships?

Amberly Neese: Social media can serve as a wonderful way to stay in touch, but it can also serve as a source of discouragement. It is easy to get caught up in the “compare snare”—the heartache of being left out and/or comparing oneself to the feed of others. It is easy to believe that someone else’s feed, their social media gallery, is an accurate picture of their lives. I rarely see dirty dishes, marital discourse, unemployment, bad hair days, or depression on Facebook or Instagram. We only share good stuff and only after it has gone through a filter to remove our wrinkles and uneven skin tone.

We should avoid comparing our real life to the “reel” life of others because it begins to give us a false sense of reality, and we can suffer from envy, disappointment, and dissatisfaction—mindsets that erode a biblical community.

Recently, I found out on social media that many of my cronies (an old school word for friends) had started a Bible study. Without me. To try and keep the numbers reasonable, they had made a list, and I wasn’t on it. It crushed me. 

The ironic thing was I had already started writing The Belonging Project, my attempt to encourage women to seek community with others in Jesus’ name, and I was not invited. It took me a little while to recover, but my husband and I have also since started a Bible study with an amazing group of folks who were hungry for community as well.

Question: What can we learn from the life of Jesus about living in community? How was this so different from the political, social and religious culture of the day?

Amberly Neese: Jesus was counter-cultural as he set an example of including others that others cast aside. He loved those who were hurting, broken, and vulnerable. He chose to invite twelve others to do life alongside him and paved the way for us to do likewise.

Throughout his time on earth, Jesus said things that seemed revolutionary (and downright crazy) to his contemporaries. He broke through cultural, political, and social barriers during his thirty years of life and three years of public ministry. His followers (including the apostle Paul, who penned many of the letters in the New Testament) followed suit. Their behaviors, practices, and words often flew in the face of the culture and helped shape history.

God has designed us for community. In fact, Jesus was so passionate about community that He not only chose disciples—twelve guys of varying backgrounds, personalities, and gifts, to walk with him in his journey. He also instructed them to do likewise with others. He invited a myriad of others, including many women, to partner with him in ministry along his path. 

Through his teachings and the teachings of His followers, we have a blueprint for the community that he has designed for us. This blueprint can be found in the phrases in the New Testament that include the words one another, such as love one another, encourage one another, serve one another, forgive one another, and many more. Some of these concepts were certainly counter-cultural in the time of Jesus and are today as well. Jesus spoke these words in times of political, social, and religious tumult and they are so applicable in our current context as well.

Question: What are some tips on finding your tribe? As we search, what are some things we also need to find within ourselves?

Amberly Neese: Despite what we see in movies and magazines, where personal strength and winning are celebrated, we are created for community. We are meant to encourage one another, walk ahead of and behind one another, and create connections with one another. Yet even as part of a church, we often fall prey to societal patterns of comparison and competition and miss out on true community.

To find one’s tribe, we should first pray about it and ask God specifically for people alongside whom we can grow, serve others, and be willing to step outside of our comfort zone.

We need to make sure, however, that we also are willing to be vulnerable, humble, and a safe place for people. Biblical community is not for sissies. We are a broken people, and even when made holy by the blood of Jesus, we sometimes make broken choices. We speak unkindly, we act unfairly, we give grace unequally.

Community with other believers can be challenging and can take a lot of faith, but it is a gift and it is worth the hard work of extending and embracing forgiveness.

Question: The last week in the study focuses on fortifying one another. What does that look like in a practical, daily way?

Amberly Neese: It can take all shapes and forms, but first, one should commit to spending time to find a body in which you can grow in your knowledge of God’s word, stretch your faith muscles, and be built up by other believers.

If we are going to find our tribe and learn to thrive, we need to be committed to encourage others. Not the “Oh my, what a cute dress!” encouragement (although that is always fun, not the wearing a dress part, but the compliment part), but the encouragement of others in their walk with Jesus. Ask yourself: How can I encourage someone in his or her spiritual walk today?

We live in a discouraging world. The political climate, the tragedies all over the nation, the starvation of children all over the world, the disregard of the value of human life, the threat of war, the rise in stress and anxiety—it is overwhelming. How do we keep our perspective? By focusing on Jesus and encouraging one another daily. Do one small thing today to encourage another believer. One could also consider encouraging someone you know who has left the church with a text, call, email, or letter.

Finally, one can easily develop a habit of gratitude through daily practice—perhaps by writing down all the things one is thankful for each day. Find a friend with which to share that list. It becomes a blessing to both parties!

Question: How is The Belonging Project designed to be used? What are the components of each week’s study?

Amberly Neese: The great thing about this study is its versatility. It can be done with a few friends or with hundreds of ladies. The format is designed to be easy and enjoyable—five days of lessons each week for four weeks.

There is a daily lesson, memory verses, calls to action, and questions to grapple with for each week’s teaching. The lessons are designed to be completed in about 20 minutes. Each day starts with a “One Another” verse, which sets the tone for the day, includes a scripture focus and questions for reflection, and ends with a Call to Action.

Since each of the days in the study covers another “one another” from the New Testament, if those doing the study have extra time, they can also read through the entirety of the chapter from which the verse comes to get a more full picture of the context in which it was written.

Then once a week, you’ll gather with your group to watch a video, discuss what you’re learning, and pray together. The session outlines, which provide options for both a 60-minute and a 90-minute session, include discussion questions, activities, prayer prompts, and notes for the video segment (available separately). You’ll find the outline for each session at the end of the personal lessons for that week.

Get Involved:

The Belonging Project - Online Bible Study Facebook Group

For more details and to reserve your spot in one of the small group discussions,
go to https://www.amberlyneese.com/bible-study.

The Belonging Project - A Bible Study of the “one another” sayings by Amberly Neese

Buy Amberly's book, The Belonging Project on Amazon or Barnes and Noble

Blurb for The Belonging Project:

Discover true community. 

Has the pursuit of the “perfect life” left you feeling depleted, disappointed, dissatisfied, and disconnected? Are you tired of being lonely and left out at work, home, church, and online? Are you hungry for true community, deeper connection with God, and friendships that are greater than just “likes” on social media? Are you ready for real connections with those around you?

In this four-week Bible study, Amberly Neese provides biblical and practical help for cultivating meaningful relationships that glorify God through an exploration of four “one another” sayings in the New Testament:

   Love one another 
   Serve one another
   Build up and strengthen one another
   Forgive one another

In her trademark style, Amberly combines Bible study with delightful humor to create a refreshing and engaging experience that will encourage and equip women to pursue deeper relationships and true belonging.
Other components for the Bible study, available separately, include a DVD.

Bible Study Features:
   A shorter, four-week study is ideal for in-between or busy times.
   Accessible and friendly format.
   DVD features the amazing Amberly Neese, who masterfully combines solid Bible teaching and delightfully funny humor (in four 20-minute segments).
   Inspires and encourages women to pursue deeper relationships and true belonging for a more fulfilled, purposeful life.
   Helps women grow in their capacity to love, serve, and forgive.
   Study guide with leader helps includes group session guides, discussion questions, prayers, video viewer guides, and more.


Author Bio: Amberly Neese is a speaker, humorist, and encourager with a passion for “GRINspiring” others. 

As a featured speaker for the Aspire Women’s Events and the main host/comedienne for Marriage Date Night, two popular Christian events that tour nationally, she enjoys touching the hearts and minds and funny bones of people all over the country. 

The Bible says that laughter is good medicine, and she has found it’s also like glue—helping the truths of God’s Word to “stick.” Neese loves to remind women of the power and hope found in Scripture. Through a flair for storytelling and a love for Jesus, she candidly opens up her story alongside God’s Word to encourage others in their walk with Him. She is also the author of the women’s Bible study, The Belonging Project. 

With a master’s degree from Biola University, Neese serves as an adjunct professor at Grand Canyon University. She and her husband, Scott, have two teenagers and live in Prescott, Arizona, where they enjoy the great outdoors, the Food Network, and all things Star Wars.

For more information, visit her website www.amberlyneese.com. She is also active on Facebook (@Amberly Neese – Comedian/Speaker), Twitter (@amberlyneese), and Instagram (@amberlyneese).