Bucket Lists

What’s on your Bucket List—you know, that list of all the interesting things you would love to do someday before you “kick the bucket?” I had the privilege of crossing off one of my bucket list items several years ago when I worked on an archaeological dig in Israel for a month. Our team excavated the ancient city of Timnah, which is mentioned in the Bible as the town where Samson fell in love with a Philistine woman (see Judges 14). Things ended badly for Samson when she gave away his riddle and he called off the wedding. I worked in the area of the main city gate, and we uncovered the cobblestone street from Samson’s time. What a thrill to think that his feet once walked on those very stones!
My oldest son Joshua, who was 14 at the time, went on the dig with me. His wish was to find a skull (of course!) He was excavating a different section of the city and his group ended up finding a complete skeleton! He could happily cross that off his bucket list.
We started work before dawn to avoid the summer heat and finished by noon. We were on level ground when we began digging, and by the last day, we were standing in a pit that was several feet above our heads. We moved a lot of dirt! But what fun to discover buried treasures. The experience was everything I’d hoped for, and I would definitely go on a dig again if I had the chance.
A few weeks ago I was able to cross off one item on my list. Ken and I toured in Europe by bicycle with a group of friends from our church. We flew to Zurich, Switzerland to begin our bike journey around Lake Constance. We cycled 25-35 miles a day on this ten-day trip, and traveled through parts of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, which all border the lake.
Along the way, we visited Medieval cities, saw a zeppelin museum, and toured the oldest castle in Germany. We stayed in lovely hotels at night and sampled fine cuisine (and slept like the dead!) I kept a journal and will be posting my story and pictures on a future blog.
We’ve been preparing for this trip since January when we logged 120 miles while vacationing in Florida. The weather in Michigan this spring has been so cold and rainy (and snowy!) that we’ve only been able to log 115 miles in preparation.
But I love to bike! I feel so alive and happy as I pedal away, absorbing all the sights and sounds and smells. Riding my bike was one of my happiest pastimes as a child, which is why I feel like a kid again whenever I ride (aside from the aches and pains that now come with age). I have a feeling that I’ll be planning our next bike trip as soon as I return from this one.
So, what things have you checked off your bucket list? What’s on your list to do next?

Searching for Spring

Spring has been a long time coming to my corner of southwest Michigan. This was the view from my window just a few weeks ago in April. Not very inspiring! But the weather has finally warmed up enough for me to go biking again—if I bundle up. My husband and I took a short, twelve mile ride the other day and I decided to search for signs that spring is finally here. These are some of the sights we saw from our favorite bicycle trail:

The boats are coming out of storage for the season and filling the marina.

The underbrush in the woods is starting to turn green.

Wildflowers are in bloom!

Farmers are plowing their fields.

Fruit trees are blossoming.

And this park along Lake Michigan is open again—one of our favorite spots for a (chilly) picnic lunch.

All in all, these hints of spring give me hope for warmer days, and future summer bike rides. I can even begin to imagine sitting on the beach with a good book to read. Spring is a season of hope. I often wonder if Adam and Eve despaired that first winter after they left Paradise, wondering if those “dead,” barren trees would ever live again. How they must have rejoiced to see flowers bloom and new buds appear!

Perhaps nature’s changing seasons were meant to teach us that life also has seasons of darkness and cold—but that God can bring renewed life, even from situations that seem beyond hope. I don’t think it’s an accident that the joy of Easter and Christ’s resurrection come in the Springtime. And with the hope that He brings, maybe I can patiently wait just a little longer for that “hopeless” situation or “dead” relationship to finally bear fruit.

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:22

Unfailing Love

I knew the visit to the nursing home would be difficult. I wasn’t prepared for a miracle.

I went there with my friend Cathy, whose older sister suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. I knew Muriel in years past as a vibrant, happy woman who enjoyed life and dearly loved her family and her Lord. It was painful to see the empty shell she has become. She sat slumped in a wheelchair with a blank expression on her face, her eyes dead and lifeless. The other patients in the lounge looked much the same—without life, without hope. I battled tears, my heart aching for Muriel and for Cathy. I lost my older sister Bonnie to cancer a few years ago, and I miss her terribly. But this “living death” seemed much more tragic.

Cathy sat down beside Muriel and gathered her into her arms for a long, sweet hug. She kissed her, and smoothed back her hair, and told Muriel who she was, and how much she loved her. And even though there was no response or any sign of recognition, Cathy took Muriel’s hands, and looked deeply into her eyes, and continued talking, pouring out her love.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, a light came into Muriel’s eyes as she began to respond to Cathy’s love. She sat up a little straighter. A gentle smile lit her face. And the love I’d seen in Cathy’s eyes soon filled Muriel’s eyes, too. She may not have known Cathy’s name or who she was, but Muriel knew that Cathy was someone who loved her, someone she had once loved in return.

It was a holy moment. Like watching the sunrise after a long, dark night. Like watching a winter-dead tree slowly bud and blossom. Even though Muriel’s mind had lost its ability to think or remember, her eternal soul knew and understood love. And for a few, precious moments, Muriel was filled with life once again. I wanted to go around the room to all of the other patients and hug them, and show them love so they could come alive, too! But, of course, I couldn’t. I had no right.

Yet, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Those of us who know the beauty and joy of God’s unfailing love—aren’t we supposed to generously give it away to everyone around us? Whether they respond or not? Whether they return it or not? I think of all the “living dead” people I see every day, going through life with blank eyes and hopeless expressions. What might happen if I found a way to draw them close to me, and look into their eyes, and tell them how much God loves them? Could I earn the right to do that through acts of undeserved grace, and kindness, and selfless sacrifice? Might their eternal souls respond to love?

That’s how Jesus demonstrated His love to me when I was “dead.” And because of His love, I am now alive with eternal, everlasting life. How He must long for me to freely give His love away to others.

Lord, open my eyes, today, to see who needs to be touched by Your love. Then give me the courage and grace to love as You do.

Spring Fever

Everyone I know has Spring Fever, including me. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and the last few piles of dirty snow are melting at last. The steady drip of snowmelt from the eaves outside my office sounds like a drumbeat, summoning me to come outside and play. The season of new beginnings is here.

And it’s a new beginning for my next writing project, too. My contract schedule has me handing in my manuscript in February then completing any changes my editor asks for by May. I’m just finishing that process now, and getting ready to turn in all of my final changes and edits. That means I’ll soon be ready to start the process all over again with a new book.

But where will my ideas come from? How will the next story begin to form in my mind? Every author is different, but I begin by replenishing my supply of words. That means reading lots and lots of books. I choose authors who not only know how to tell a great story but also have an extraordinary love of language. One of my favorite writers, Rosamunde Pilcher, can not only tell a gripping tale, but she paints word-pictures that are so vivid they make me shiver: “Antony opened the front door, and the cold wind flowed in like a sluice of icy water.” Brr!

At the same time, I start reading lots of non-fiction books about the historical time period I’ve chosen. This includes first-person accounts such as diaries or memoirs written by people who might have lived alongside my fictional characters. Whenever possible, I visit the setting for my new novel to absorb all the sights and sounds and smells, keeping track of them in a notebook for future use. I also love to ask people to tell me their love stories, or their God-stories, or their family’s story. (Warning: don’t ever tell me a story unless you’re not afraid to see it in one of my books!) I’ll be creating what I call “story soup,” tossing images and ideas and historical facts into a huge pot and letting it all simmer together in the back of my mind until I’m ready to start writing.

One of the things I love to do while these ideas and images are simmering is to go outside in the gorgeous spring sunshine and sample God’s creative handiwork. I want the theme of His redemption to flow through all of my novels—how he takes what is broken and cold and dying and fills it with renewed life. And seeing the beauty of rebirth in nature as the snow melts and the new grass and spring leaves began to peek through, inspires me to tell of His goodness and grace all over again.

After the overwhelming destruction and judgment of the flood, God promised Noah—and all of us—that “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Genesis 8:22). We will always have seasons in life that feel like a long, dark, frigid winters—those times when life hits us in the face like “a sluice of icy water.” But He is the God of Springtime and new beginnings and second chances. He breathes life into the cold, dark corners of our hearts and we begin to find joy again. “Behold! I make all things new!”

No wonder we have Spring Fever. Let’s go dance in the snow-puddles!

Arthur’s Story

I was an eager, conscientious student in elementary school. I wanted straight A’s. I wanted the approval of my teachers. My 6th grade teacher, Mr. S, was one of my favorites. Energetic and creative, stern yet fair, he was generous with his encouragement and affirmation. If a student did something noteworthy, Mr. S would honor them by writing their name on the chalkboard in huge letters, where it would remain for the rest of the day. I loved seeing my name up there.

In our small, rural community, everyone knew their classmates and their families. We were similar in many ways. Then one day, a new student joined Mr. S.’s class who was noticeably different from the rest of us. Arthur was the only student in the entire school with black skin. His clothes and shoes were more tattered than ours. He stood a head taller than the other boys and was probably older, but he had been placed in 6th grade because he could barely read. His family had come to our fruit-growing area as migrant workers, and he spoke with an accent that was probably Haitian or something similar. It was hard to tell, because Arthur barely spoke. No one befriended him.

One day in class, the topic of foreign languages happened to come up, and Mr. S. asked if any of us knew words from another language. Hands waved in the air. Students rattled off what they knew. Mr. S. turned it into a contest and began keeping score. My hand waved wildly. I knew quite a few German words that my grandmother had taught me. I could even recite a little rhyming prayer in German. I started counting my collection of words on my fingers as I awaited my turn and knew I was certain to win. But first, it was Arthur’s turn. He raised his hand for the very first time and told us he spoke French. All eyes were on Arthur. Mr. S. gushed with enthusiasm as Arthur spoke phrase after phrase. I kept score and still believed I might be able to beat him with my German poem.

Mr. S applauded when Arthur finished. His name went up on the chalkboard in huge letters. Arthur beamed as if lit from within and gave us his very first smile. Then Mr. S moved on to another subject. But wait! I didn’t get my turn! Didn’t Mr. S see my hand? I battled tears. It wasn’t fair.

I was too immature at the time to see the wisdom and grace in Mr. S’s actions. But in later years I understood, and the lesson has remained with me to this day. It was something Jesus would have done. In describing the coming Messiah, the prophet Isaiah writes, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (42:3)

I pray for eyes to see the bruised reeds around me. And I pray for the grace to tend and nurture these bruised ones, regardless of the cost to me.

What Are You Waiting For?

Do any of us enjoy waiting? In shopping lines? In traffic? At the doctor’s office? Or for our prayers to be answered? This morning, the psalm I read during my quiet time said, “Each morning I bring my requests to You and wait expectantly” (Psalm 5:3). While it’s true that I wait expectantly for God to answer my prayers, I don’t always wait patiently.

At the moment, I’m waiting for several urgent prayers to be answered. A job opportunity for a loved one. My friends’ six-month-old granddaughter who needs a liver transplant. A friend’s husband who is battling cancer. For a friend awaiting a biopsy report. These are only a few of many. And don’t we all have similar lists?

Right now, winter has a solid grip on the area where I live. The Lake Michigan beach where my husband and I walk looks cold and desolate, locked in a deep freeze, waiting for renewed life. If I had no memory of the countless spring times and summer times that have followed winter in the past, I would sink into despair to imagine the world forever looking this way. But I do remember, and remembering gives me hope.

Hope also comes in the form of the prayer journal I keep so I can look back on the many prayers that God has answered in the past. Last year alone, a dear friend had successful back surgery. A young father I’d been praying for finally began an addiction program. My long-awaited granddaughter was born healthy and strong. Celebrating each of these answers gives me faith as I wait for God to answer the others. Slowly but surely, I’m learning to wait.

I waited eleven years from the time I first began to write fiction until my first novel was published. When my prayers were finally answered and I received my first book contract, I rejoiced. But during the long publishing process for that first book, my editor and I had a disagreement that brought me to my knees. Could I accept the changes she wanted to make, or would I have to cancel the contract and find a different publisher? I prayed while I waited for the publisher to respond to my concerns. I waited. Then I waited some more.

When my patience ran out, I picked up the telephone, intending to give someone a piece of my mind and end the agonizing wait. Seconds before dialing my editor, I happened to glance at my computer. The screen-saver was programmed to display random Bible verses, and this one read, “Wait for the Lord. Be strong, and take heart, and wait for the Lord.” I laughed and put down the phone. And waited some more. In the end, the disagreement was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. My books were in print.

I still don’t like waiting but I think I’m growing better at it. Like the psalmist, “Each morning, I bring my requests to God and wait expectantly.” And hopefully.

So, what are you waiting for?

Balancing Act

I haven’t always done well in the balancing act between work and play. I’ve learned over the years that when I work too hard, my creativity shrivels up and the work I love becomes a chore. When I play too much when I should discipline myself to work, I end up at my computer bleary-eyed, late into night. Neither option is a good one. When my children were small, the words of Psalm 90 inspired me to never stop searching for that balance. It’s a prayer of Moses—who certainly had a LOT on his plate! After commenting on the brevity of life, his prayer is: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” And over the years, God has been helping me find that balance.

My newest novel, “Legacy of Mercy” launched October 2. With help from my social media assistant and good friend Christine Bierma, and a wonderful launch team (thanks everyone!) the book is off to a great start. After several speaking events and interviews, I felt a nudge that it was time for some play. So, my husband and I joined friends Becky and Tim for two days of hiking and biking in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park in northern Michigan. The leaves were changing, the salmon were swimming upstream to spawn, and the Lake Michigan scenery was breathtaking. Here are some of the highlights.



I’m home again, refreshed and renewed and eager to jump back into my work-in-progress. I’ve been reminded that “a thousand years in God’s sight are like a day that has just gone by.” And I’ll continue to pray that He will teach me to number my days aright.

Hidden Treasure

Two of my favorite hobbies when I’m not writing are bicycling and hiking in the woods with my husband. Now we’ve added something new to these adventures—geocaching.

It’s a treasure hunt, of sorts. Avid fans of this sport hide thousands (if not millions!) of “caches” all around the world in out-of-the way places, then give GPS coordinates and clever hints for how to find them. We searched for some while vacationing in Florida, when visiting our son in California, and when we traveled to Germany. I found a few while hiking in New York State with my sister last week. They are everywhere!

A geocaching app on our phones locates them using GPS coordinates. The compass then takes us within a few feet of where it’s hidden. After that we use the hints that are provided and our powers of observation to find the hidden container. Some are hidden right along the trail; others require bush-whacking through underbrush or reaching into holes—not my favorite things to do.
Large caches are the size of a shoebox.
Medium ones the size of a sandwich container.
Small ones, a medicine bottle.
Micro caches are even tinier.

I’m pretty good at the larger ones. The micro-sized ones often defeat me. Some caches offer little trinkets inside as a reward. I found a dollar bill in one. All of them have some sort of log book to sign. But for me, the reward is in the pleasure of the hunt and the thrill of discovery.

Recently, I’ve been trying to apply my new treasure-hunting skills to my spiritual walk. Our pastor has been preaching about the Imago Dei—the image of God—which resides in every person on earth. The Bible says we were made in God’s image, so that spark is hidden there, whether we see it in someone or not. The key to loving our neighbor as Jesus taught, is to remember that even the most unlovable people are made in His image, although we may need to search hard to find it.

Sometimes I meet strangers and feel an instant connection—and discover that they have a huge cache of faith and love of Christ in their hearts. Their treasures are easy to find. Then there are people who rub me the wrong way, or whose outward behavior is offensive, or who don’t seem to have any redeeming qualities at all. Those are the ones I want to turn away from and give up on without even bothering to search. It seems as difficult as finding a micro-cache in a forest. But they have been made in God’s image too, and deserve to be shown His love. Weren’t we all “lost” at one time?

Jesus was amazing at finding that spark of the Divine image in unlikely people such as tax collectors, prostitutes, and demoniacs. And I’m supposed to become more and more like Him, aren’t I? He taught us to “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you,” but I never quite understood how to do it. Maybe the key is to search for that hidden treasure of God’s image. Jesus also tells us why we should bother to look: “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.” He doesn’t want anyone to remain lost—and so I shouldn’t, either.

I often wish I had a handy app to make it easier, but I do have the Word of God to guide me. If I’m faithful to follow it, that should be more than enough.

Boats, Bikes, Beaches and Books

Wow, it’s hard to stay focused on my writing this time of the year! The weather has been beautiful—perfect for going to the beach, riding my bike, and watching the boats sail on Lake Michigan. Perfect for everything, it seems, except writing a novel. The only solution I’ve found is to plan carefully and not let myself get distracted. To get up early and get to work so I can play later on.
Yesterday we rode our bikes into town to visit the library for research, then rode home again after stopping at the lake. Eighteen miles later, I was so tired that it wasn’t hard to sit down and write. Tonight, we’re having a potluck supper on the beach with a group of our neighbors. Sometimes we ride our bikes to The General Store in the afternoon when I need a little break and have an ice cream cone. Or we’ll pack a lunch to eat as we watch the boats sail past the lighthouse. Or enjoy a corn dog at Dune Dogs. Little treats like these give me something to look forward to and help keep me at my desk.
If I need to do some reading research, I often take my books, my I-pad, and a folding chair to the beach and do it there. (And the lake is handy when I need to cool off.) Having family and friends visit actually helps, believe it or not. I’m able to concentrate and work extra hard beforehand, knowing that I’ll soon be relaxing with friends as my reward.
This part of Michigan has long been a favorite summer vacation destination. Anna’s story in my novel “Waves of Mercy” takes place at the Hotel Ottawa Resort, a large hotel that once stood near Ottawa Beach State Park. Boats carried wealthy passengers from Chicago and other cities across Lake Michigan to vacation here in the late 1800s. A fire destroyed the hotel in 1923, and all that remains is the brick pump house that once supplied electricity to the hotel and area beach cottages.
Today, the pump house is a small museum—where I’ll be a guest speaker on July 19 at 7:00 pm. New exhibits include one of the original hotel guest books from the 1890s. If you’re in the area this Thursday, please come join me! Afterwards, you can buy ice cream at the General Store and watch the sunset over the lake. This time of year, it doesn’t set until almost 9:30.
I’ve heard people say they admire writers and other artists because we’re so disciplined. But any worthwhile work we do requires discipline, especially if it’s what God called us to do. How can we do anything less than our best or give anything less than our all for Him? But God also gave us the much-needed rhythm of work balanced with rest. The Sabbath is God’s gift to us, a day to stop working and enjoy His creation—including bikes, beaches and boats.
It’s always a challenge to balance work with rest. What are some of the ways you’ve found to do it?

Schönes Deutschland: Beautiful Germany

What a trip! It was so surreal to be touring Germany with Ken. I often had to keep pinching myself to see if I was dreaming. We saw miles and miles of this beautiful country and had the opportunity to meet some of the most warm and inviting people I’ve ever met.  Would you pull up a chair and allow me to share my trip pictures with you?

I took my latest two characters, Rebecca and Flora with me as traveling companions since they loved to travel so much. If you follow me on Instagram @LynnAustinBooks, you saw the many different places we took the book Where We Belong. Here I am with one of my German friends, she is holding the German version of Where We Belong and on the table is Fly Away.

I spoke in many different venues, including at a church that is in a castle. It was a blessing to meet so many wonderful people.

On Sunday I spoke at two Christian Church services. They were both such joyful services with young families and seniors and every age in between.  It was so amazing to me that Christ’s Church can survive and thrive even when persected.
It also made me realize how much we take our religious freedom for granted. I have never suffered for my faith. We are free to go to college or pursue any career we want. I wonder how many of us would admit to being Christians under such circumstances?

I was completely surprised to find this beautiful hot air balloon basket on stage next to my podium. I was speaking about the book Fly Away and this was a wonderful visual addition.

Anyone care to translate?

We were caught in our own polar vortex! It was so cold!

The food, oh the food! Warm bread, apple strudel and so much more. Ken and I had our fill of some of the most delicious treats while we were there.

The Brandenburg Gate. Stunning to be looking at history with my own eyes.One of my most touching memories from this trip was meeting a young woman who grew up in the former East Germany before the wall came down. When the communists were in control, her family was discriminated against because they were Christians. The teachers and other students treated her differently in school. She wasn’t allowed to go to college or choose her own career. I can only imagine her parents’ pain to see their child suffering because of their faith. Christians were always closely watched and didn’t dare to take a misstep.

Here is the village that my ancestors are from.

This is the church my great-grandfather probably attended before he immigrated to America in the 1880s.

A mini-Austin.

I wish I could have taken you all with me. It was a truly amazing trip and I am so grateful. I wasn’t doing specific research for a project but I must say I was inspired by everything we saw for future books.

Just for fun, here are some of my books with their German counterparts. Can you figure out which books go together? I will choose a winner from the comments and send you a signed book. Have fun! Be sure to join me on Facebook, I will be posting the answers as soon as I get my body back to Eastern Standard Time.