Sophie’s Quest Giveaway Contest!

 

SophiesQuest_FRONT-COVER-400 Join Sophie Topfeather and Timley Mouse on a Holy Land quest in Sophie’s Quest, a novel for kids ages 7-11. With Sophie and Timley, you’ll hear about the first Christmas from a Bethlehem sheep dog—a dog whose ancestors were with the shepherds when the angels shared the startling good news of baby Jesus’ birth! Keep reading for a chance to win a free copy in the 12 Days of Christmas Books Giveaway.
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Christmas Book Giveaway Contest!

Hello! Do you like children’s books? To celebrate the holidays, I’m contributing Sophie’s Quest to a giveaway contest sponsored by a Christian Children’s Author group blog that I have joined!

Click here to see ALL the wonderful Christmas books that you could win (starting today!) and keep tuned in to this space for a chance to win Sophie’s Quest beginning this Friday. It’s easy to enter–all you’ll need to do is leave a comment, and share the post for extra chances!

Until then, let me just assure you that I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth! I have been busy memorizing the book of Philippians as I told you about in my last blog post (I’ve begun chapter 2!), and I’ve been focusing my writing time on finishing the third book in the Sophie Topfeather series, Sophie’s Gold Rush. I still don’t have a publisher lined up for this one, but the continued enthusiasm for the series at my own school is keeping me motivated and excited to bring the book out when it’s done, even if I have to put it out myself! Thank you to my prayer team–I sense God’s leading in this, for sure.

The rough draft is done and I am nearly finished typing in all the handwritten pages. Yes, I still do first drafts by hand! Then it will be off to the races with revision, revision, and more revision. Got to get it right!

This Thanksgiving season I have much to be thankful for, and I trust that you do as well. Blessings to you as we enter the Christmas season! Enter the contest, and maybe you’ll begin the holidays with a new book in hand!

Sonja

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What’s in Your Wallet? No, HEAD!

Sonja's Cross stitch Bookmarks

For me to live is Christ

Wallets are held close–usually with us every time we go out, with our most important personal cards or pictures tucked inside. Shouldn’t it be the same with our MINDS?

What do you hold close in your head? This question keeps coming up for me. After working on the blog series this past year about our hope in Christ, and feeling a change in my levels of anxiety and peace, I wondered what to do next. What could help me to continue to grow, to continue to replace my anxiety about our nation’s uncivility and unwillingness to compromise and work together with more good news from God? What could increase my love toward those I don’t understand?

One Sunday this spring, a woman came into my Sunday school class with a challenge. She had memorized the book of Philippians over the past couple of years and had experienced such joy and closeness with God while doing it that she wanted to present us with the opportunity to memorize scripture, too. She would meet with us after church every other week or so to hold us accountable.

Could this be the next thing to help me counter my addiction to American politics? I prayed, remembered how I “wrote lines” of poetry in high school AP English, and signed up. We could memorize any part of the Bible we wanted, short or long, but I was intrigued by the leader’s memorization of Philippians. It has only four chapters and includes a life-changing verse that I learned as a kid from a Camp Mission Meadows banner in the dining hall: For me, to live is Christ  and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

So, this summer, that’s what’s in my head. Philippians. It gives me something to recite and think about when I go walking, and when I am pulling all those weeds out of my garden. Have you ever memorized anything? Any tips to share on how to do it? Please let me know in the comments! What was your experience?

Perhaps as an encouragement, and to hold myself accountable, every once in awhile I’ll type out from memory what I’ve done so far, okay?

Here’s what’s in my head so far (I promise not to look):

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus in Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons;

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this: that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And my prayer for you is this: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

(Philippians 1-11)

I can’t guarantee that every comma and semi-colon is in the correct spot, and it took two weeks to nail down just the first couple of verses, but there you have it!

Have a blessed summer, everyone! What’s in your head today?

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A Whale Tale of Faith and Hope (Why I am Hopeful Today, #10)

whale

Watching for whales out my living room window isn’t something I talk about a lot. Not because it’s crazy–I live near Puget Sound, home to whales–but because twenty-five years of watching for them has proven fruitless. Until yesterday.

I was just eating my salmon dinner and looking out the window at the especially calm waters on that last night of April when I realized that something else out there seemed to be enjoying his own seafood dinner. A very large head came up out of the water again and again, shaking around and splashing. Birds circled low above his head, looking like they wanted to get in on the dinner, too. Binoculars confirmed it–whale!

It brought to mind a verse we talked about at church on Sunday–Hebrews 11:1. It describes faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It’s a verse that is hard to wrap my mind around–how can we have such assurance about something that we hope for, but can’t see? It’s almost like a tongue-twister, or like a cat chasing its tail. A “what comes first, the chicken or the egg?” scenario.

Yet, last night, as I pondered this verse and thought about how I finally saw a whale after twenty-five years of living in my house along Puget Sound, it suddenly made sense. Scientists on the news, signboards at Alki, neighbors reporting in to the community blog, textbooks on Washington State–all contributed to my knowledge, my assurance, that whales lived in Puget Sound. Eye-witness accounts corroborated that idea often enough that even if I didn’t see them myself, I knew they were there, somewhere in that 800-feet-deep water out in front of my living room window.

I had faith in the existence of the whales, and I had hope that I might be lucky enough to see one someday. My confidence was not ill-advised or pie in the sky.

The deep, deep waters of the publishing industry occupy my thoughts these days as I am still waiting for two traditional publishers to let me know if one of them will take on my Sophie Topfeather series. It’s been three or four months–not twenty-five years–since I’ve submitted the manuscript, and yet I have to admit that some days I already feel weary of the wait. I just want to know, to see the email or get the phone call that will put my questions to rest and help me discern what God might be directing me to do with those books and characters I love so much.

And yet, I remember all the “eyewitness” accounts–including my own–of God’s faithfulness, amazing moments of God’s presence through the journey that Sophie Topfeather and I have already traveled, the way the kids at school have responded, the way that whales show up just as I am pondering the question of waiting and hoping in God–and I have to say that I have faith in the next phase of the journey, too. I’m grateful for the Holy Spirit, that mysterious third part of the Trinity that gifts us with faith and hope and comfort and peace–despite not knowing if we will ever, ever see for ourselves that whale in whatever deep waters we are facing.

So, even when I cannot see a whale in that deep publishing sea yet, I know it is there. And I am glad.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit, Romans 15:13.

 

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The Folded Cloth: Why I am Hopeful Today, #9

Ransacked room in Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew and her friend are dismayed by the sight of a ransacked room. They want to know: “Who would do such a thing?”

The answer, of course, is obvious: any burglar, thief, or interloper–anyone whose goal is to get in, find and take something, and then get out as fast as possible.

That’s why one simple detail in the Easter story speaks volumes, at least to me, and about which we can certainly ask the same question: Who would do such a thing?

The detail is found in John 20. Can you spot it? John 20:1-7 (CEB version) reads like this:

Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb. They were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the first to arrive at the tomb. Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. Following him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. He also saw the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. It wasn’t with the other clothes but was folded up in its own place.

The cloth that was on Jesus’ head, the face cloth, was “folded up in its own place.”

Hmmm. Jesus’ disciples were accused of stealing Jesus’ body, but if you were concerned about the Roman guards milling about–guards who had been charged (on the pain of death) to carry out the responsibility of preventing just such a thing, would you take the time to unwrap the linen grave cloths–and then carefully fold the one that had been on Jesus’ face?

Who would do such a thing?

There’s only one answer that makes sense to me, and that is Jesus himself, after he was resurrected and needed to see in order to exit the tomb. We know from other stories that Jesus was an orderly person. He sat thousands of people into groups of fifty (Luke 9:14) for the miracle of feeding the 5000, for example, and he grew up as a carpenter. Anyone who knows anyone in work that involves precise measurements, knows that Jesus probably grew up caring about good order! Folding the cloth in his tomb fits the story of who he was and is–and not what we expect from someone in a great, big hurry.

Two millennia have passed since that first Easter, so it’s clear that believing in Jesus as the Son of God is ultimately a matter of faith. A folded cloth, the testimony of hundreds who claimed to see Jesus after the resurrection, the accounts of the disciples who all risked their lives (and nearly all gave their lives) in order to spread the good news, and the witness of millions today who claim that Jesus is present still–Immanuel, God with us–will not be enough to convince anyone of the truth of the gospel.

However, when you read about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, you probably need to ask yourself–Who, but God, would do such a thing?

Happy Easter! May you find hope in the good news today!

 

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He Actually Did It: Why I am Hopeful Today, #8

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This past fall, you might recall, I seriously needed to reclaim some perspective. Troubling heart palpitations and a subtle, but relentless, sense of anxiety over the seemingly deliberate reign of chaos in Washington were beginning to truly get to me. I needed to remember who is really in charge of the nations.

So, I started this series on hope. Just reading the Bible and remembering who God is helped my chest pains to literally go away. I haven’t experienced them since. If you need some serious reminding or discovering, you may like reading some of those blog posts in their entirety (click on the title to read it on the website, and click the back arrow in order to find old posts), but as a shorthand, this is what I’ve rediscovered:

  1. My God is Lord of all, including nature. Despite perceived chaos, the sun still rises and sets, the rain still falls (and falls, and falls, here in Seattle).

2. I am never completely alone, and no place or person is beyond God’s reach.

3. God can still the storm around me–or choose to still the storm within me.

4. God is a refuge and strong tower–stronger than any evil the world may conjur up.

5. Political leaders must answer to God for their actions.

6. God always keeps his promises.

7. God kept the biggest promise of sending his Son, Jesus, to show us the way back to Him.

Which brings us to today!

8. Jesus came to pay the price of death for our sins in order to save us once and for all, and he actually did it.

Let’s think about that for a minute. If he knew he’d be raised again after just a couple of days, was that really so hard?

How did Jesus, human Jesus, actually feel about his divinely-appointed task? The Bible gives us an idea:

In Mark 14:34, just before he is arrested, Jesus tells his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He also prays, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.” Luke adds the detail that he was in such anguish that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

On the cross, when darkness “came over the whole land,” Jesus cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

So, not easy after all. Cowards need not apply.

Through it all, however, Jesus said, “yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus had, actually, been tempted to take an easy way out, and bypass this whole crucifixion ordeal. All he had to do was worship Satan. Jesus refused (see Luke 4 for the whole story).

In the church calendar year, we’re just about to enter the season of Lent, a time to reflect on our own sins, and our need for a Savior like Jesus. Try it. It’s not easy. I don’t want to even own up to a few “little white lies” that might have slipped out without thinking, or to admit to the ways that selfishness or pride get in the way of my relationships from being as loving as they could be.

Think of the heart-heaviness that must exist for the person who is owning up to deplorable acts. It must be nearly impossible to bear (Dr. Nassar’s cowardly letter to the judge comes to mind). A compassionate Harry Potter tells even Voldemort, in a last-ditch effort to help save the despicable villain who had murdered his own parents, that he must try for remorse. Voldemort, of course, lacks the courage.

Jesus’ job–owning up to our sins–all of them, all at once–was not a job for sissies. Yet, he actually did it.

Thank you, Jesus! You’re my hero!

Image credit: from Spiritfuel.me

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God’s Long-Term Planning Ability: Why I am Hopeful Today, #7

Image result for reindeer leaping

Happy Advent! “Advent” means “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event” “especially of something momentous,” according to a quick search of online dictionaries. In the Christian church calendar, it means waiting for and celebrating the arrival of Jesus, God in human flesh. It’s worth celebrating, for the people of God had been waiting for this event for hundreds of years!

Have you ever thought about why the church was waiting for Jesus in the first place? He didn’t just appear, do some amazing things, and get talked about after that–the Jewish people, the people Jesus was born into, had been anticipating his arrival for a very long time. How did they even know that a Messiah, a Savior, was coming?

Now, to be clear, most Jews are still waiting. They didn’t see in Jesus the person they were waiting for. There are lots of reasons for that (to explain in another post, perhaps). For the people who did–and do–see Jesus as this “notable person” who they’d been waiting for, why?

Last week we talked about promises, mostly the promises we make to one another. Well, God, from the very beginning, made a very big promise to Adam and Eve, and to all of us: He promised us a Savior.

In the very first book of the Bible, in Gen. 3:15, God promises that someone was coming who would “crush the head” of the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve and led them astray.

Later, the prophet, Isaiah, foretold in 42:1-4:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight,

I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.

He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,

In faithfulness he will bring forth justice, he will not falter or be discouraged

till he establishes justice on earth.

In his law the islands will put their hope.

It was also predicted that the Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isa 7:14; cf. Mt 1:33). His birthplace would be Bethlehem (Mic 5:2; cf. Mt 2:1, 6), and John the Baptist would be his forerunner (Isa 40:3-5; Mal 3:1; cf. Mt 3:3, Mk 1:3; Lk 3:4-6).

And in Isaiah 35:4-6, there is this prediction about the coming of a Savior:

say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.

Who does that sound like? Sounds like Jesus, to me. Over this holiday season, may you seek the One who came to rescue us from our blindness, to help us leap like a deer, and to shout for joy.

Happy Advent, and Merry Christmas!

See you in the new year!

Love,
Sonja

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Promises, Promises–Why I Feel Hopeful Today, #6

Image result for broken promises

Do you expect people to keep the promises they make? We certainly don’t expect politicians, even ones we like and vote for, to keep all the promises they make. It’s pretty much a given that they won’t or can’t.

Maybe I’m being a little jaded, but it when someone makes a promise, what I actually hear is “I really wish I could do this,” or “I will try to make that happen.”

In a society where the first response to someone ‘fessing up to not following through on something they said they’d do is “No worries,” it’s hard to actually expect anyone to do exactly what they say they’re going to do, every time–or at least to make a really sacrificial effort trying. We quickly say, “No worries,” to indicate that we knew the task was going to be difficult, or that we empathetically understand that life is busy and we didn’t really expect them to do it, anyway. At least, that’s the way I take it.

What about God? The Bible, often referred to as “God’s Word,” makes a lot of promises. My grandmother once gave me a flip calendar of Bible promises. I was at an age where I was truly wondering if I could take God at his word.  What was he promising me anyway? I needed to know.

I had just moved to Japan, and I came across the verse “Delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I knew what my desires were, but there was a second part to this promise. I had a job to do! I was to figure out what it meant to “delight in the Lord.” (I actually wrote a story about this time in my life that was published in Cup of Comfort Book of Bible Promises, still available on Amazon). Long story short, and 25 years of marriage, two beautiful daughters and a career as a children’s author later, I figured it out at least a little, and God has certainly kept his end of the promise!

What promises has God made in his book that you would like to see fulfilled for you? Do you ever take God at his word, doing your part to get to know him, worship him, love him and others as yourself? Do you expect him to keep his promises to you?

Here are just a few of God’s promises to look up, and next week we’ll talk about his biggest promise of all!

1 John 2:25–The promise of eternal life

Luke 18:27–All things are possible with God

Ezekiel 36:26–The promise of a new heart and new spirit

John 16:13–The promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit

Matthew 6:31-34–God will take of our needs

James 1:5–God will give us wisdom

Psalms 119:165–God will give us peace

Proverbs 18:10–God will protect us

John 14:2-3–Jesus will come again

Revelation 21:4–The promise of an end to suffering and pain

Which ones resonate with you? Look them up. Is there something you need to be doing to, as part of the promise?

The image is from http://www.ministrybestpractices.com.

 

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Happy, Hopeful Thanksgiving!

Image result for johnson brothers friendly village

What are you feeling grateful for this year? Sitting around my grandmother’s “Friendly Village” china (Johnson Brothers), piled high with her turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy, we’d always finish dinner by telling each other what we were especially grateful for that year. Family and friends usually topped the list, but it was always good to say it out loud (Still is–my siblings and I still call to ask each other what we were thankful for the past year!). The fact is, no matter what manner of trials or illnesses or sources of anxiety there might have been during the previous year, there is always something to be grateful for. Usually lots of things!

This year, as I face the news that my lovely British publisher, Sunpenny, is changing its business model and will be returning the rights for the Sophie Topfeather series back to me at the end of December, I am sad, but still so grateful. Grateful for the two and a half years of being in relationship with them as they put out two beautiful children’s novels, with my name on the cover! Grateful for third grader who just this week checked out Sophie’s Quest for the third time. Grateful for the Muslim student who asks me weekly how many more pages I’ve written on Sophie #3 (six more this week, perhaps half-way)! Grateful for the opportunities to share with women’s groups how to pursue a God-given dream, as I did last Saturday at a nearby church.

I’m also so grateful that Jeff, my husband, believes in the series and won’t let this change of events be the end of Sophie and friends! Together, we’re seeking God’s leading, and together, we will work out this new “chapter.” What a thrill to put out our first book together this year, too–Mount Rainier’s Historic Inns and Lodges feels like the icing on the cake of our 25th wedding anniversary, and shows me that we really can do something special together in the coming year for Sophie.

Apart from the usual family and friends and book-related gratitude, I have to add that I am also very grateful that a little friend named Michelle has made it out of the hospital after a scary and uncertain three weeks. When a child is in the hospital on Halloween, you know they’re SICK, and when they are still in the hospital weeks later, you start praying non-stop. Seeing her walk into school today made my heart jump with joy. Look at the beautiful bracelet she made me while in the hospital!

Finally, thank YOU for helping me work out my anxieties of this political season through this blog. Your comments and likes and shares have helped me remember that we are not alone, and we have a great God who is with us and sovereign over all. I appreciate you!

May you also have a long list of things to be grateful for this holiday season!

Stay tuned for the return of the series, “Why I am Feeling Hopeful Today.”

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The Buck Stops–Where? Why I Feel Hopeful Today, #5

Image result for buck stops here

Right after posting “Hope #4” last week, I heard about the Texas church shooting. Crushing. Sure felt like the darkness won that day, and it’s still a struggle. If I hadn’t just written that post about sin and darkness not lasting forever, it would have been even harder to feel hopeful this past week.

So while I do believe that light conquers darkness in an ultimate, eternal sort of way, surely–surely!–somebody has to pay for all this evil! Just like at school, it can feel so GOOD when a kid who has been super naughty finally gets his “comeuppance” (no one says that anymore, but what a great word) and a consequence for his actions has been administered effectively. The buck stops at the principal’s door, and dangerous or disrespectful behavior gets addressed and can actually change for the better, at least some of the time.

When someone is willing to shoot up a concert venue or the children inside a house of worship, or drive down a bicycle path full of cyclists and pedestrians, WHERE IS THE PRINCIPAL? These murderers usually die before they get their  comeuppance, and sometimes that even seems like their goal–take as many as they can on their suicide mission. It feels like they get away with murder, literally, and got everything they wanted in the process.

How we want to rage with the Psalmist! We cry out with David, Arise, Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice (Psalm 7:6).

Romans 12:9 tells us that justice–even revenge–is God’s to take. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Ecclesiastes 12:14 assures me that nothing that happens goes by unnoticed by God: For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

What of the leaders who have caused so much angst in our society? God has a word for them, too, from Matthew 18:6. Jesus says, If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 

I guess we can take from all this that we CAN let God worry about giving people their comeuppance. So what should we worry about? Jesus makes that pretty clear, too, but it might be too radical for most of us to handle:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:43-48, emphases on all these quotes are from http://www.Biblegateway.com).

 

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