Thursday, August 30, 2012

An Interview with Author Katie Ganshert

She's friendly, witty, and has a HUGE heart for her readers. Today I'm very privileged to feature an interview with debut novelist, Katie Ganshert! I knew she was a special author when I spent time on her website. Here's what Katie's all about: "There are all kinds of reasons why being a published author excites me, but the biggest reason is you! I cherish every single one of my readers. I lift you up in prayer each morning. And I hope this website and my books leave you blessed, encouraged, and entertained." 

Talk about encouraging. Join me in welcoming this special lady!  

Maria: Thanks for stopping by, Katie! Tell us a bit about yourself.

Katie: I'm a slightly-frazzled, ever-inquisitive Midwest gal who's passionate about Jesus, my family, writing, and all things romance, which is exactly what I write. Stories about flawed, broken characters who find faith and fall in love. When I'm not plotting ways to get my hero and heroine to cross paths, I enjoy watching movies with my hunk of a husband, playing make-believe with my wild-child of a son, hanging out with the crazy but lovable junior high students at my church, and chatting with my girlfriends at Panera. I could talk books all day and am often spotted around town pushing a stroller, walking my dog, and reading - all at the same time. My husband and I are also in the process of adopting a young boy or girl from the Congo.

Maria: Oh wow! What an exciting time in your life. You'll have to keep us posted on the adoption process. As far as writing goes, give us a sneak peek into your debut novel, Wildflowers from Winter:

Katie: Wildflowers from Winter is a coming-home love story set in small town Iowa that explores the bonds of friendship and God's ability to bring beauty out of the barren seasons in our lives. 

Here's the back cover blurb: A young architect at a prestigious Chicago Firm, Bethany Quinn has built a life far removed from her trailer park teen years. Until an interruption from her estranged mother reveals that tragedy has struck in her hometown and a reluctant Bethany is called back to rural Iowa. Determined to pay her respects while avoiding any emotional entanglements, she vows not to stay long. But the unexpected inheritance of farmland and a startling turn of events in Chicago forces Bethany to come up with a new plan. 

Handsome farmhand Evan Price has taken care of the Quinn farm for years. So when Bethany is left the land, he must fight her decisions to realize his dreams. But even as he disagrees with Bethany's vision, Evan feels drawn to her and the pain she keeps so carefully locked away. 

For Bethany, making peace with her past and the God of her childhood doesn't seem like the path to freedom. Is letting go the only way to new life, love and a peace she's not even sure exists?

Maria: I must say your book was a real page-turner for me! I couldn't put it down until I finished it! Which character in your book can you most easily identify with? And why?

Katie: That’s a hard one. I can identify a lot with Bethany because I’m a natural doubter. Faith doesn’t come easily to Bethany and there are times when faith doesn’t come easily to me either. But I also really identify with Robin, an important secondary character. She’s pretty consumed by grief in this novel, but beneath that grief, Robin is a warm personality. She opens up to people easily and loves easily, while Bethany is much more reserved. I’m a lot more like Robin in this way. I’ll be your best friend right away if you want. J

Maria: That's an invitation I can't refuse! Speaking of friendships, I found the interplay between Bethany and Robin very believable in spite of their differences. Great job! What do you hope your readers glean from your novel?

Katie: I hope readers come away with a sense that we worship a God of redemption. He’s in the business of making all things new. Even a hardened, cold heart. I hope readers see that God can take what seems lifeless and dead and bring about something breathtakingly beautiful. Like a field of wildflowers after a very long winter.

Maria: You definitely succeeded! And what a fitting title for your novel. I really liked your main characters, will we get to meet up with Bethany and Evan again in a future release?

Katie: You bet! My next novel, Wishing on Willows, releases March 19, 2013 and this is Robin’s story. Robin gets to be the main character and have her journey. But readers will get to meet up with Bethany and Evan again.

Here's the back cover blurb in case anybody's interested!

A three-year old son, a struggling cafe, and fading memories are all Robin Price has left of her husband, and she's determined to keep them alive. She is doing just fine, until a savvy and unnervingly handsome businessman sweeps into town and flips her carefully-constructed world upside down.

A project manager for his father's development company, Ian McKay has his eye on the valuable downtown riverfront. But when Robin refuses to sell, his simple plans turn into an all-out battle - one that rips the town's loyalty in two. As attraction ignites and old wounds break open, will Ian and Robin cling to the familiar or surrender their trust to the God of second chances?

Maria: I know what will be on my reading list in March! How has your relationship with Jesus Christ impacted your writing?

Katie: Completely. I don’t just write to entertain, I try to write stories that will draw hearts closer to Him. Not every Christian writer strives for this, nor should they. But this is my personal goal. Jesus used the medium of story all the time to reveal truths about God. I pray every morning that God would use my stories to speak truth, to encourage readers, and to turn hearts toward praise. We worship an amazing God.

Maria: I can't think of a better way to use your skills as a writer, Katie! God IS amazing, and what a fantastic opportunity to point others to Him. What goals do you have for the future?

Katie: To continue writing novels that I can share with readers. I’d love to get another book contract and it’s something I can strive toward, but only God knows what’s in store. I’d also like to learn a thing or two about public speaking. I wouldn’t mind having a couple speaking engagements throughout the year. But right now, I don’t have the experience or qualifications for it!

Maria: I look forward to reading your future novels! And I can't help but think that God will give you the desire of your heart where speaking is concerned. I love the fact that it's the Lord who gives us something to say, "Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say," (Exodus 4:12; KJV). Share some lessons you've learned on your journey as a writer:

Katie: Oh, boy. There have been so many. So, so many. I’ve learned what it means to really surrender. God’s really taught me some lessons in humility (these haven’t been easy). I’ve learned that I am a giant worrier and that it truly is like rocking in a rocking chair—it gives us something to do but it gets us nowhere. There is so much in this life that is outside of our control, so why do I cling to these things as if I have any? There is so much freedom in letting go. I’ve also learned that the most common factor among published authors is not talent or connections, but their tenacious determination to get back up again. Perseverance is key.

Maria: Thanks for your transparency! What important lessons! Are there any words of wisdom you'd like to leave with our readers?

Katie: God is good. Always. In the midst of pain. In the midst of celebration. In the midst of silence and waiting. He’s good and He’s there.

And this isn’t wisdom, it’s more like a plug. But I LOVE connecting with readers - I have a welcome packet designed just for you! To sign up, please visit my website and click on the Welcome Packet button. I’d also love to connect with you on my blog, or Twitter, or Facebook. I’m even a little obsessed with Pinterest these days.  

Maria: Love the truths you mentioned about our Heavenly Father! Thank you so much for joining me today, Katie, and I look forward to seeing how the Lord continues to use you in the days ahead!

Good news! Katie has graciously agreed to give away a signed copy of her debut novel, Wildflowers from Winter:

 *Leave a comment to this post, include your email address in the following format: morgan(dot)maria(dot)i(at)gmail(dot)com. Entries without an email address are not eligible.

*Receive an extra entry by becoming a follower, or by reminding me that you're already a follower.

*Receive a bonus entry by posting about this giveaway on your blog, Facebook, and/or Twitter.
 Please be sure and let me know you did so in your comment.

*This is open to US residents only. My sincere apology to those followers outside the US.

*Deadline to enter is midnight Eastern Standard Time, Tuesday, September 4, 2012. Winner to be announced in Thursday's post. The winner will be notified via email.

More good news! Congratulations to Barb Snyder, winner of Jeanette Levellie's, Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Grocery List

Grocery lists can be very helpful. But when our prayers become more like our grocery lists, containing all the things we think we need, it's time for us to reconsider the purpose of prayer...

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for who You are, the sovereign God who is in control of everything. Forgive me for putting my will above Yours. Thank You that Your mercies are new every morning, and You are so patient with me. Help me to love You with all of my heart, and to love others. Provide those things You know I need today. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

*I'm hosting over at Living by Grace today. Come join in the discussion!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Interview with Author Jeanette Levellie

A spunky, sometimes reluctant pastor's wife of thirty-plus years, Jeanette Levellie, released her debut humor devotional, Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top in April. I've had the pleasure of reading Jeanette's blog for the past couple of years and know today's interview will be a treat.  So get ready to share in a good time sprinkled with lots of laughter!

Maria: Welcome, Jen! Thanks for stopping by. Tell us how you got started writing for publication:

Jeanette: When my son was a baby, I wrote several poems for La Leche League (LLL), which they published in their international calendars. I was thrilled to see my work in print, delighted that people all over the globe were reading it. LLL offered me a job editing the newsletter for our local region, but I turned them down, since I had two small children at the time, and wanted to devote all my time to them. When they were a bit older, I started writing for a large church's daily devotional, and then my first article, Felines: Friend or Foe? was published by an educational magazine. Since then I've had hundreds of columns, articles, and stories published. Several of the columns I wrote for our local newspaper are included in my book, Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top.

Maria: You're an inspiration! Please tell us about your book:

Jeanette: It is a light-hearted look at God's enormous heart. I've taken 72 stories of everyday battles, brouhahas, and bliss, and added a touch of humor. My goal is to make you laugh, help you like yourself, and enable you to receive God's love. I've aimed it primarily at Christians, but it has some "salt" sprinkled in it as well, to make pre-believers thirsty to know Jesus. I'm honored that Two Scoops hit the #1 slot on Amazon in the Christian Humor/Family/Parenting category, which makes it a bestseller!

Maria: Wow, a BIG congratulations for achieving bestseller status, Jen! Did you always want to publish a book?

Jeanette: No. When readers of my newspaper column told me, "You should turn these into a book," I said, "NO, I shouldn't. That is hard work!" I was having fun with the column. I knew once I began pursuing publication, that I'd be committed to seeing it through. I didn't want to have to work at it. Not until my son suggested I should write a book did I seriously consider it. When I told him, "It could take me ten years to find a publisher and get a book on the shelves," he said, "Well, you're going to be doing something for ten years - why not this?" That did it. I began seeking the Lord, and He led step by step to where I am today.

Maria: Kudos to your son for encouraging you to publish your book! Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?

Jeanette: Mostly from stupid things I've done or messes I've gotten myself into. I share what I've learned about God's bottomless grace from my own misadventures. I also love to observe other people's nutty behavior, and draw funny conclusions from those. Every happening and encounter in my life is a potential story to write about, and I see humor in nearly everything and everybody. So be careful if you ever hang out with me - I may use you in my next book!

Maria: Thanks for the warning. How long did it take you to write the book and find a publisher?

Jeanette: You really don't want to know that, do you? Okay. Since the book is partly a compilation of my newspaper columns, you could say it took me ten years to write it, since I've been a columnist since 2001. About half the stories, I wrote specifically for the book in the last three years. It took me almost a year to find an agent, and then another two years to find a publisher. I don't want to discourage anyone by my long timeline. Everyone's path is different.

Maria: I appreciate your honesty. How did you find your agent?

Jeanette: I went to the Write to Publish conference in Wheaton, IL. I did what they told me to do, and researched the staff ahead of time. I picked out Diana Flegal of Hartline Literary as my top choice, since she represented non-fiction writers, and she looked like a gentle soul. I had no idea she was also a pastor's wife, like myself. When I met with her, we just clicked. It had to be the Holy Spirit guiding my steps, because she is the perfect agent for me. She gets my nutty sense of humor, and we've become great friends and prayer partners. But you really must do your homework on this one. It's better to have no agent than a bad one. You can check out a potential agent on a website called Predators and Editors. Also, find out some of the authors they represent, and interview them.

Maria: I love how the Lord works! Sounds like He led you to just the right agent. Since you work full-time outside your writing career, how do you manage your time?

Jeanette: You said the secret word: manage. If I don't manage my time, urgent things like finding a lost earring, perusing gourmet chocolate catalogs, and building a fence to put around my kitty litter boxes, distract me. When I first became serious about publishing a book, I decided to spend an hour a day writing. I'd come home from work, eat supper, then hide away in the computer room and write. I overrode my feelings, doubts, and distractions to stick to my plan. It is never easy to discipline your flesh, but it yields a harvest of blessing in the end. For me, that blessing is a published book.

Maria: Time management IS super important! I'm glad you elected to write your book rather than build that fence for your kitty litter boxes! On a more serious note, what part does prayer play in your writing career?

Jeanette: A big part. I can do nothing without Jesus. I know that. So I ask Him to open doors for me, and lead me to people who can help me, direct my steps, and give me words that will touch lives. With all the competition out there, I can't expect that my little pea brain or my personality alone will get me where I need to be. It has to be God. I've asked Him repeatedly to help me achieve more than I am capable of on my own, and He's not let me down.

Maria: I love hearing how you rely on the Lord! What goals do you have for the future?

Jeanette: I am always dreaming, and I'd like to do some different types of books. One I've written about half of is entitled, When You Need a Prayer: Spirit-led Prayers for Friends in Crisis. Another is Humor Helps, funny stories interspersed with facts about the benefits of humor. I'm talking with a friend about collaborating on a devotional on building confidence. And I even have a couple of ideas for novels!

Maria: Wow! Those titles and descriptions sound fantastic. We'll keep a look out for your next release. One final question: what words of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers?

Jeanette: When I've prayed and sought the Lord, He's always smoothed my path and opened doors for me. If I put Him first, he goes above and beyond my wildest dreams and dearest prayers. All my manipulations are nothing compared with a dab of His favor. So, that's my first word of wisdom: put God first and He will make sure you succeed. My second is, help others succeed. As you plant seeds of kindness and time to promote others' dreams and plans, your own dreams will sprout and grow a bountiful harvest.

Maria: Great advice, Jen! Thank you so much for joining us today, and I pray the Lord continues to bless you abundantly as you write for Him!

Good news! Jeanette has graciously offered to give away a signed copy of her book, Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top:

*Leave a comment to this post, include your email address in the following format: morgan(dot)maria(dot)i(at)gmail(dot)com. Entries without an email address are not eligible.
*Receive an extra entry by becoming a follower, or by reminding me that you're already a follower.
*Receive a bonus entry by posting about this giveaway on your blog, Facebook, and/or Twitter.
 Please be sure and let me know you did so in your comment.
*This is open to US residents only. My sincere apology to those followers outside the US.
*Deadline to enter is midnight Eastern Standard Time, Tuesday, August 28, 2012. Winner to be announced in Thursday's post. The winner will be notified via email.

Connect with Jeanette and purchase her book:

Jeanette grew up in Los Angeles and San Jose, California. As a former history/government teacher with an Associate's degree in English, Jeanette enjoys speaking to church and civic groups, offering mirth and worth in every message. She is also a trained vocalist, has recorded two records with her family, and written several songs. Her hobbies include reading, cats, traveling, and finding ways to avoid housework.

She and her husband Kevin relocated from Los Angeles to Paris, IL, in 1999. They are still trying to adjust to the frigid winters, but they love the warm country folks. Jeanette and Kevin are Mom and Dad to two adults, grandparents to three children, and servants to four cats. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

An Interview with Missionary Wife, Corli Hall

Sweet-spirited, soft-spoken, and beautiful - all words I would use to describe today's guest. I had the pleasure of meeting Corli Hall and her family earlier this year, when my husband and I went on a mission trip to the country of South Africa. I learned a lot from Corli in the brief time we were in Port Elizabeth, and it's my privilege to introduce her to you!  

Maria: Welcome, Corli! Tell us a bit about yourself:

Corli: I am a native to the country of South Africa. I was born in the big city of Johannesburg and grew up in a smaller town called Bloemfontein. My mother-tongue is Afrikaans but after marrying my American husband I gained the opportunity to get better acquainted with English. After moving back to South Africa to start our ministry with the Xhosa people, I also had the privilege of learning the Xhosa language. I am passionate about my Lord and Savior and I am passionate about my family, especially my role as a wife and mother.

I love to bake, and I love to eat all things baked, especially the sugary kind! Apart from my delight in all things sweet, I am very interested in healthy living. I strive to be an encouragement to others!

Maria: Wonderful! Did you always dream of being a missionary's wife?

Corli: As a matter of fact, no. I used to enjoy the idea of following my family's footsteps into the world of education, but when I was 17 years old I fell in love, and as a result, my life took another direction. Who did I fall in love with? I fell in love with Jesus!!! From then on, the only thing I wanted to do was serve Him. In submission to Him and according to His plan for my life, He proceeded to put those dreams and desires, such as serving on the mission field, in my heart. Then as an answer to prayer, He brought my prince in shining armor from across the seas and today I have the privilege of serving the Lord alongside my husband here in South Africa.

Maria: What a beautiful love story! Describe the mission field in South Africa:

Corli: South Africa is a unique country. It consists of four main people groups. The apartheid regime left visible scars as even today, the majority of these people groups are still segregated within their own areas. Typical to the apartheid era there is still a lot of animosity and division between particularly the white and African people. We work in areas locally known as 'townships' with a mostly African population. These areas surround the cities and towns. The townships are for the most part poverty stricken, high crime areas.

We work amongst a people group called "Amaxhosa". The Xhosa people are warm and friendly. They are traditionally ancestor worshippers, devoted to their culture and traditions. South Africa is a country where religion is abundant - a personal relationship with our Savior Jesus Christ is not. There are church buildings on every corner of the townships where we work, but sadly many of these 'churches' incorporate their ancestor worship into whatever form of Christianity it mimics. In many instances there isn't a clear presentation of the gospel, or it is entirely absent. Our church members attest to this. The first six to eight months of our first church plant was a period of rejection. In spite of all the effort made, we met with literally a handful of believers - the young men we started Bible studies with while in language school. The political implications became clear.

So with that as a backdrop , we rejoice in the miracle and grace of God as He continues to build a loving church family here, adding to His family, Xhosa brothers and sisters, some of whom are the most devoted Christians we know! We also praise Him for the excellent young preachers He has raised up here! The ladies in our church are some of the kindest, selfless, most hardworking women I know. It is an honor to work with them!

Maria: Sounds like a challenging mission field - yet it's so encouraging to hear how the Lord is working there! What language do the people speak and how long did it take you to learn the language?

Corli: South Africa actually has eleven official languages! Each of the nine provinces has a language that, apart from English and Afrikaans, is predominantly spoken there. We work in the Eastern Cape province where Xhosa is the language spoken most often.

In regards to how long it took me to learn Xhosa - I am still learning and I will remain a student of the language for as long as I am here. However, it did take about 2 years before I felt like I was actually conversing and not merely digging in my mind for the things I wanted to say.

For those interested, I will share that Xhosa is a clicking language and apart from the clicks the whole language is based on 13 different noun classes, so any given sentence can be said 13 different ways depending on the nouns present. You basically do math with letters when there's more than one noun in a sentence as the prefixes and suffixes to the words following these nouns all have to change accordingly!

Maria: Wow! My hat is off to you for persevering while learning such a difficult language. What is the biggest challenge to raising your children on the mission field?

Corli: My situation is somewhat unique in that I am from South Africa and my mother and sister live close by! They have proven to be an enormous blessing not only in the physical aspect of helping with our little ones (especially in the busy times when hosting big groups etc.), but my mother is also a great source of wisdom and encouragement.

However, that being said, we still face some challenges:

*Finding a proper balance between family and ministry!
*Consistently being the right examples to our children
*Keeping the right attitude (as our attitudes affect those of our children)
*Instilling right motives  (i.e. pleasing God, not man)
*Being willing to work in areas where crime is common

Maria: Those are definitely challenges. It's so good to know that you have family close by to support you and your ministry. Do you have mission teams come to help with the work there in Port Elizabeth? If so, how can a person get involved?

Corli: We have had the privilege of hosting several teams and individuals here in Port Elizabeth. There are many areas for people to get involved: preaching; teaching (children, women, men, youth etc) ; music; social aids (such as nursing); construction etc. Prayer is always welcomed too!

Maria: Sounds like a lot of opportunities! On a lighter note, what is the funniest thing that's happened on the mission field?

Corli: Anytime we get together as ladies, we have a time of fun and laughing! One thing that sticks out in my mind though is when, back in the beginning, I got the word for napkin in English confused with the word for diaper in Xhosa and would repeatedly and ever so kindly ask if I could, "Please have a diaper to wipe my mouth!!"
By the way, the word for diaper in Xhosa is 'inapukeni!'

Maria: That's hilarious - I can see how it would be easy to confuse the words! What is the most important lesson God has taught you, while on the field?

Corli: Humility and dependance upon God. I am constantly reminded of Corrie ten Boom's words: "When I try, I fail. When I trust, He succeeds." In short: it is all about, all for, and all through Him!

Maria: Fantastic words of wisdom, Corli. What goals do you have for the future?

Corli: A goal that is always before me is that of growing in the Word and becoming more like my Savior! Following closely behind that, is growing in my role as wife and mother. Also, becoming a better teacher. There is always a need to get more materials for Sunday School, ladies meeting etc., translated, edited and filed, and I will spend much of the next few months working on this.

Something else that I would like to tackle in the near future is that of learning more about blogging and also cake decorating.

Maria: I believe you'll stay busy! What words of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers?

Corli: I am truly thankful for the valuable lessons the Lord has been teaching me over the last several years. Most of these lessons, are not learned in the warmth and security of one's comfort zone, but I am learning to embrace the challenges set before us, trusting that it will conceive and bring forth that fruit which is pleasing and acceptable to our Heavenly Father. I could write paragraphs about these lessons but in all honesty, I can say that I have learned to sit at the Master's feet fixing my eyes upon Him. If I don't, I am tempted to fret, doubt, complain and even serve with selfish motives. How thankful I am that He is carving these things away, teaching that it is all about Him and that He is able!!

I have also learned to choose gratitude. With a grateful heart even the smallest blessings are immense. The smallest victories in battle, won! Even the hardships, appreciated!

Last but not least, and of great importance: treasure and nurture your family! No doubt, the home is under attack. Remember, you are the only wife and mother your family has. Honor your husband as the hero of your home. Determine to love, respect and support him. Give your hubby some freedom from his heavy load as you learn to lean on the Lord and not expect him to take care of every need in your life (especially during those needy times on the mission field)! Remember: "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want," (Psalm 23:1; KJV).

Put your children ahead of yourself. Be actively involved in discipling your children and strive to be a walking example of what you are teaching them (may the Lord help us!). If you are also one to host many guests, strive to be a proper hostess, but when circumstances do not allow, don't neglect your children in order to receive applause for your clean home and perfectly planned, delicious cooking.

Maria: Thank you so much for that valuable insight! It's been such a joy to have you visit with us today. My prayers are with you and the ministry in South Africa. God bless you and your family!

Connect with Corli and learn more about she and her husband's ministry:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jesus Is My Everything

I find her posts inspirational and encouraging - the kind that keep me coming back to her site regularly. She loves Jesus, her family and her ordinary life. She is Mary DeMuth. Her aspiration? In her own words, "To help you live uncaged - to be able to fully embrace the freedom-infused life God has for you."

Her new book, Everything, releases in October and I'm excited. This isn't your average book. Readers will have the opportunity to "discover exactly what it takes to grow in Christ and become like Him." That's what I'm about you?

When I thought about how I came to know Jesus Christ and reviewed all He's done for me, I was once again reminded that He IS my Everything! (

Who is Jesus to you? Consider DeMuth's words, "I don't write this book as a condemnation or as a sermon. The last thing I want to do is provide a 'how to be the best Christian in ten easy steps' guide. I pen these words as a fellow struggler who is learning that what we think about God matters, how we allow Him to reign in our hearts matters, and how we obey Him in the moment matters. It all matters. Everything."

Jesus is the very Creator of the universe, and yet His love reaches out to each of us. His mission on earth was clear, "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost," (Luke 19:10; KJV). He invites us into a personal relationship with Him, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life," (John 3:16). And He promises us His presence, "...and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world," (Matthew 28:20b).

Is Jesus your Everything? If not, I challenge you to let go of what's holding you back and make Him your Everything today!

Endorsements for the book, Everything:

"Let's be honest. Most of us who follow Christ are holding back. We want Christ but are convinced we'll miss something if we surrender everything. In this challenging but tender book, Mary DeMuth invites us to give Him everything in order to experience Him as Everything. In the end, it is the only course that will satisfy our deepest longings." - Michael Hyatt, New York Times best-selling author and former CEO, Thomas Nelson Publishers

"Mary DeMuth beautifully weaves theology with poetry, which makes this book hard to put down. I was struck by the brilliance of her thoughts and overwhelmed by the power of her words. Everything is an honest, passionate account of one soul's thirst for God, and reading it will stir up your hunger - and then satisfy you." - Jeff Goins, author of Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life

"I judge a book's impact based on how much I underline as I read. Everything has something underlined on nearly every page. It is a book filled with wisdom, yet written from a vulnerable heart." - Marybeth Whalen, author of The Guest Book, She Makes It Look Easy and The Mailbox; founder of

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Are You Listening?

Videotaping had not gone well. Between adverse weather conditions and sound problems, recording outdoors had proven challenging. After three attempts, it seemed like I finally had something to work with - until my husband, Steve, pointed out a statement that wasn't accurate. He felt it might offend someone, and the segment should be changed.

Protests began forming in my mind. After spending the better part of the afternoon putting the video together, I cringed at the thought of having to re-do the project. But the thought of conveying inaccurate information with the possibility of offending someone, convinced me to consider Steve's point.

Fortunately, Steve was able to edit the video and remove the inaccurate information, so I didn't have to re-shoot the entire episode.

The Bible has a lot to say about listening to wise counsel and responding to criticism. The book of Proverbs, written by Solomon reminds me, "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise," (Proverbs 12:15; KJV). A few chapters later, I'm encouraged to, "Hear counsel, and receive instruction..." so I can increase in wisdom(Proverbs 19:20).

Unfortunately, Solomon's own son, Rehoboam, failed to learn these important lessons. When he began his reign, Rehoboam was approached by the people of Israel with a request - to lighten the harsh labor and heavy burden King Solomon had put upon them. If Rehoboam did as they asked, they would serve him as long as he was their king.

Rehoboam sought counsel. He heard the advice of the older men who had been his father's advisers. They encouraged Rehoboam to speak and act with kindness toward the people. They anticipated that it would gain him the people's loyalty. When he asked for the advice of his peers, they recommended treating the people with harshness and increasing their work load.

Which counsel did Rehoboam choose? The advice of his peers. Ultimately, his desire for power and control cost him the allegiance of Israel (2 Chronicles 10:16). A refusal to listen to wise counsel led Rehoboam to make a foolish decision that had dramatic consequences.

Do you listen to wise counsel? Are you able to accept criticism? You can choose to live according to the words of James 1:19 today, "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:"

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for reminding me to seek godly counsel and to respond to criticism in the right way. Forgive me when I react in pride and choose only what's convenient for me. Help me to be quick to listen, and to use words that please You. In Jesus' name, Amen.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

An Interview with Financial Coach, Parkey Thompson

Maria: Tell us a bit about yourself:

Parkey: My wife, Lisa, and I live in Cumming, Georgia, with our three children - Kayla, Morgan, and Micah. I'm an active member of our church, where I teach, volunteer, and serve on various boards and committees.

Over the past 15 years, I've held various leadership positions across multiple companies, including General Electric, and IBM. In 2005, I decided to use my skills to help others improve their personal and business financial situations. 

I am a certified financial counselor, and love helping my clients navigate through challenging financial decisions. I enjoy motivating and helping families, individuals, businesses, and churches envision and achieve their dreams. Over the years, I've had the privilege of contributing financial articles to local magazines, and newsletters. In 2008 and 2009, I was the Money Coach on "Mornings with Lorri and Larry," nationally on the FamilyNet TV and Sirius radio. 

More than anything, my family and I live what I teach. We are debt free and live without credit cards!

Maria: Wow! Now that's an accomplishment I'm sure all of our readers hope to achieve! How did you get started as a financial coach?

Parkey: I started coaching others after my wife and I began to get our finances in order. I really had no intention of coaching people to do anything, until I realized that people needed direction with their finances and we had really made a big change in our household. Initially, I began helping people I knew and/or had friendships with, and that subsequently moved me to start Financial Focus. If you had told me 30 years ago that I would be coaching people with their finances today, I would have told you how wrong you were. My final push to start this business and become a coach was from my pastor. In response to a game question one night, he simply asked me, "What are you waiting on?"

Maria: Sounds like a great beginning. What services do you offer?

Parkey: I offer several programs and services through Financial Focus including six-month programs to assist and direct people over a period of time to make the changes that they need to move ahead.

Additionally, pre-marital financial counseling, personal financial assessments, credit negotiations, and hourly coaching are available. Most recently, I have added pieces of career and life coaching. All of my services or programs are intended to help people make the necessary changes in their lives to get them where they want to be 

Former Dallas Cowboys' head coach, Tom Landry, once said, "A coach is the one who makes you do what you don't want to do, so that you can be what you want to be." My services in one way or another, help people achieve the change that they want and need. 

In a nutshell, my services offer the planning, process, mechanics, discipline, and accountability to change - finances, careers, and life direction.

Maria: You certainly offer a well-rounded host of services! How has your relationship with Jesus Christ impacted your business?

Parkey: Definitely more faith and prayer! As a small business owner, I saw my income reduced when I left the 'stable' corporate world. My faith has increased as I've grown to become more dependent on the One who is able to provide for our needs, and to bless me and my family.

Additionally, I believe the Bible is very clear about the direction we need to take regarding so many of the issues we experience each day - including finances. Applying proven biblical principles works! Planning, goal-setting, discipline, and more are all right there in His Word. 

I truly believe Matthew 6:33, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you," (KJV). Putting Him first is key.
Maria: Great testimony! What is the most important advice you give your clients?

Parkey: First, develop and live by a plan! Too many people just want to think about what they could do - put an action plan together and get it done. Second, people are not alone and they are not failures. We all make mistakes - learn from them, and move forward in the right direction. 

I have yet to find someone, who is committed, who cannot get out of his/her situation or improve his/her position.

Maria: That's VERY encouraging advice. Give us a brief description of how to set up a family budget?

Parkey: Simply project your monthly income, spend it all on paper, and then live by it. Repeat this process every month. It does sound and seem easy, but it never is. Discipline is crucial to rein in spending, and it's required in order to live by the plan you create each month. 

When you begin to get your plan on paper and live by it, things WILL begin to change. Accountability is a critical component to success!

Maria: I've noticed the words 'discipline' and 'accountability' keep coming up. Thanks for sharing the budgeting process and these two keys to success! What recommendation would you give for beginning a savings plan? 

Parkey: Like Nike, just do it. Part of getting started is realizing where your money is or has been going. A budget will not only help you determine where to spend, but it can also show you where and how much you have been spending. 

Once the picture is developed, begin to manage your money with a plan that will work toward achieving your goals - one step at a time. 

Maria: Breaking the plan down into a series of steps, makes it so much less daunting. Good advice. What goals do you have for the future? Any plans to write a book about finances?

Parkey: I want to continue to build my business in several different areas - coaching finances, career, and life. Likewise, building the speaking side of this business is exciting and I'm working to open more doors in that area. 

Yes, I do plan to write a book and have actually started by laying out an outline of chapters. My goal is to finish the project over the winter. Maybe next year will be the year to publish.

Maria: Sounds like exciting days ahead for you! What words of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers?

Parkey: Stay focused. Stay focused on every area of your life - financially, physically, spiritually...There are plenty of distractions that can take away your joy if you lose focus on what is important and, in many cases, crucial. 

Maria: More great advice! Thank you so much for joining me today, Parkey. I wish you the best with your business. God bless~

Connect with Parkey:

Facebook: financialfocus
Phone: 678-648-9940 or 866-369-5086

Great news! Parkey offers a free 30-minute consultation for anyone who is interested. Contact him
via email, website, or the phone numbers listed above. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Heartfelt Worship - South African Style

How do we spend our time? What do we focus on? If we're believers in Jesus Christ, He should have first place in our lives. But sometimes our worship isn't everything it's supposed to be.

It took a trip to South Africa for me to get the proper perspective on this all-important subject. Join me via video for some thoughts on heartfelt worship, and enjoy the footage from our time with the wonderful Xhosa people.

*I'm hosting over at Living by Grace today. Come join in the discussion!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Interview with Photographer, Kate Fies

Welcome to Thursday Interviews. Have you ever wanted to use your unique talent for Christ - but couldn't figure out a way to do so? Today's interview may give you some ideas! It's my pleasure to introduce photographer, Kate Fies.

Maria: Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us today, Kate! Tell us a bit about yourself:

Kate: I’m really excited to be here and share a few of my adventures with everyone!
I’m married to an awesome guy, Chris, and we just passed our 10 year anniversary last week -- definitely doesn’t feel that long! No kids yet, but we do have one terribly spoiled Chihuahua puppy named Daisy Mae, who is my little sweetheart.

We started deputation (fund raising) back in October of 2011 for Voice in the Villages (more on that later)
and are usually traveling all over on the weekends, which is a pretty amazing adventure in itself.

Right now, I’m working full time (coolest job ever, by the way, at a local police department) so deputation has been a bit of a challenge with the schedule, but the Lord has worked it all out to fit perfectly.

I love to travel and see new places (although sometimes I’m reallllly ready to get out of the car), love to read and love, love, love photography … have learned to always bring the camera along cause there are so many things to see!

Louvre Museum in Paris at dusk

Maria: It sounds like you stay very busy! Have you always had a passion for photography?

Kate: I’ve always been around photography – my dad is the main influence there, but my passion for it did not really grow until I was in my 20’s.

Maria: What is the funniest thing that happened while on a shoot?

Kate: Well, two of my girlfriends were sweet enough to be my models one night in a vintage-style outdoor session and I had this great idea – let’s use sparklers!! I had about 12 boxes of them and figured I should use them, since they’d been in my prop box for ages, so toward the end of the session, out they came and we had a blast … LITERALLY.

The girls had been lighting one or two sparklers at a time and apparently, I was concentrating more on the photos themselves than I was listening to my girlfriend’s question (which turned out to be ‘Do you want these lit all at once?’).

In retrospect, probably not such a great idea to light that many sparklers at once... (Do you know how much smoke those things put out????)  So, after the initial shock wore off and we realized we didn’t just light the field and barn on fire (big relief!!!), we started laughing. Thankfully, no eyebrows were singed in the making of those photos…

Maria: That must have been quite a sight! The pictures are fantastic by the way! And now for a more serious questions - How has your relationship with Jesus Christ impacted your business?

Kate: Photography just confirms God’s wonderful grace and love toward us, as humans. Seeing the details of the world through a lens puts me in awe that the Creator of the earth would want to use me in His plans to spread the Gospel. Chris and I have been privileged to shoot prayer card photos for several of our friends and what an awesome thing to be involved in their ministries, even with something as small as a photo.

Maria: What an amazing way to use your talent for the Lord! What is the most important lesson you've learned as a photographer?

Kate: I would say being flexible. It's pretty impossible to control every single aspect of a session and it can be extremely frustrating to expect things to go exactly like you planned and then they don't even come close.

Maria: I can imagine! What goals do you have for your photography business in the future?

Kate: I would love for the business to eventually grow and become my primary occupation, but for the moment, I'll settle for my website launch, this coming Saturday, August 4th and setting up new clients for the fall/winter season.

Maria: Sounds exciting! Changing gears somewhat, let's talk about Voice in the Villages. Did you ever think you'd be a missionary's wife?

Kate: I had hoped so when I was in college, but wasn't entirely certain. I knew my main responsibility would be to follow and support my future husband 100%, wherever that took us.

Maria: Explain the mission of Voice in the Villages:

Kate: Voice in the Villages (VITV) is an incredibly unique ministry - a totally different approach to missions! VITV was conceived in 2011 by our Pastor, Austin Gardner, as a way to maximize the impact of a missionary. Basically, it's an opportunity to work with missionaries who are already on the field, assisting them in training leaders who themselves will go plant churches, some in the areas where a traditional missionary would not or could not go. VITV is focused on four main issus:

*Location  - 47% of the world's population lives in rural areas. They live far from most missionary work, with takes place in the larger cities.

*Literacy - of the 47% that live in rural areas, 90% are illiterate, meaning that they cannot learn via the normal process of reading.

*Language - while most countries now have adopted trade languages, the uneducated portions of the world still only speak local or tribal languages.

*Lack of Sound Bible Materials - there are few materials available based on sound Bible doctrine. Most stem from Charismatic, Jehovah's Witness and Mormon materials, to name a few.

Imagine having your picture taken and seeing what you look like for the first time!

VITV is currently focused on the country of Burkina Faso, West Africa, where we are working with veteran missionaries Keith and Rebecca Shumaker. We're able to be involved with their ministry already by providing materials to be translated into the native language, raising the funds to send one of the men to language school, and raising funds to send MP3 players to be used to share the Gospel with those who are illiterate.

The MP3 players are a pretty awesome tool - they are being loaded with teaching materials, sermons, etc. and given to the preacher boys who then take them into the villages. So far, we have had one person profess Christ, and several come visit the church, as a result of listening to the MP3 players.

Eventually, VITV will be expanded into several countries, using similar methods. We are currently based in the states, but may eventually be living on the field, depending on the ministry's growth and needs.

Maria: Wow! What a neat ministry. And I love hearing how God has already begun using it! What final words of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers?

Kate: Be open to change - be flexible...we don't know exactly how God will work in our lives and it could be entirely different from what we want, expect or desire. I never thought I'd be where I am today, but it's been an awesome adventure and I'm excited to see what He has for us next.

Maria: It's been a pleasure hosting you today, Kate!

You can connect with Kate on her brand new website and Facebook page: (live on August 4th)
Facebook page: Kate Fies Photography -!/pages/Kate-Fies-Photography/303471626368492

And learn more about Voice in the Villages:

And now, an important announcement: The winner of last week's drawing for Keli Gwyn's debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California IS...Miss Kallie!! A special thank you to all who entered the contest.