Perspective: Of Mountains and Seas – (Guest Post & Giveaway)

Please welcome my dear friend Elizabeth Musser as my guest blogger today. Elizabeth, Tammy Alexander, and I share the same German publisher, Francke, and the three of us traveled together on a book tour a few years ago. We had a blast! Now, I have the privilege of endorsing Elizabeth’s newest book, “When I Close my Eyes.” Make sure you enter for a chance to win a copy. ~ Lynn

Perspective: Of Mountains and Seas

by Elizabeth Musser

So much of life is about perspective: how I perceive a situation, how I accept the different circumstances that twist their way into my life.

And so it is with our stories. The novelist is giving the reader a certain perspective and hoping that it resonates with the reader.

My newly released novel, When I Close My Eyes, is about a middle-aged writer who is in a coma, remembering her past. Part of the story takes place in Asheville, NC, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains at the height of their color in the fall. The other part of the story takes place at a beach in La Grande Motte, France, beside the a Mediterranean Sea.

When I received the final cover for the novel, I absolutely loved it. They’d caught the feel of the novel down to the detail of the font fading, symbolic of someone going in and out of wakefulness. And my heroine, Josephine, is standing by the Mediterranean Sea.

When-I-Calose-My-Eyes_Elizabeth-Musser

Even though the main part of the story takes place in Asheville, I wanted to make sure the back cover copy included a mention of the Mediterranean, since that was the cover setting:

There is one story novelist Josephine Bourdillon shirked from writing. And now she may never have a chance. Trapped in her memories, she lies in a coma. The man who put her there is just as paralyzed. Former military Henry Hughes failed to complete the kill. What’s more: he failed to receive payment—funds that would ensure surgery for his son. As detectives investigate disturbing fan letters, a young but not-so-naive Paige Bourdillon turns to her mother’s tormented past for answers. Could The Awful Year be worse than one they’re living now? Set against the flaming hills of North Carolina and the peaceful shores of the Mediterranean Sea, When I Close My Eyes tells the story of two families struggling with dysfunction and finding that love is stronger than death.

Perfect!

But then I received a slew of gorgeous graphics that the team at Bethany House had designed for computer and smart phone backgrounds. And I literally caught my breath when I saw the design for the smart phone. Because of the shape of that graphic, more of the original photo is visible. And guess what? Josephine isn’t standing beside the Mediterranean Sea. She’s standing on a mountain, gazing out at the mist on the mountains.

When-I-Close-My-Eyes_Back_Elizabeth-Musser

It’s the perfect representation of the beginning of the book, a description taken from one of Josephine’s novels:

The clouds hang low, a mist caught between the carpet of mountains. I stand at the top of the lookout and gaze into a never-ending motion of undulating valleys and peaks. On and on, seemingly forever, they rise and fall in lush green hues and deep blue ridges that span past history. The mountains hold my imagination, and I feel a call to their beauty. Then they fade out of view as the mist floats above and around them, like puffs of smoke. I hover in the mist; I feel the calling of the dawn. I see the first ray of light piercing through the mist and I know. I am forgiven.

These Mountains Around Us, Josephine Bourdillon

The design team had picked the perfect picture, and in a serendipitous way, the cover perfectly fit both settings in the novel. Do you see the clouds and the mist and the mountains?

I absolutely love this cover for many reasons, but especially because it taught me a lesson in perspective. I can easily see something different because of where I am coming from.

I hope you like the cover. And I hope you also enjoy the story.

To be entered in a giveaway for a copy of When I Close My Eyes, print or e-book, leave a comment below.

BIO

ELIZABETH MUSSER writes ‘entertainment with a soul’ from her writing chalet—tool shed—outside Lyon, France. Elizabeth’s highly acclaimed, best-selling novel, The Swan House, was named one of Amazon’s Top Christian Books of the Year and one of Georgia’s Top Ten Novels of the Past 100 Years (Georgia Backroads). All of Elizabeth’s novels have been translated into multiple languages and have been international best-sellers. Two Destinies, the final novel in The Secrets of the Cross trilogy, was a finalist for the 2013 Christy Award. Her latest novel, The Long Highway Home was a finalist for the 2018 Carol Awards. Elizabeth’s novel, When I Close My Eyes, will be published in November, 2019.

For over thirty years, Elizabeth and her husband, Paul, have been involved in missions’ work in Europe with One Collective, formerly International Teams.  The Mussers have two sons, a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren. Find more about Elizabeth’s novels at www.elizabethmusser.com and on Facebook, Twitter, and her blog.

 

Elizabeth-Musser_Headshot

 

 

If I Had a Dollar…

I often wonder: If I had a dollar for attending every one of my husband’s concerts over the years, how rich would I be? Probably pretty rich! Ken is a professional musician, a trumpet player. He was already the principal trumpeter of the Kalamazoo, Michigan Symphony Orchestra as a college student before we were married. This month, we will celebrate our 49th wedding anniversary. When I do the math, that adds up to a lot of concerts.

We met while we were both students at Hope College. When he told me he was a Music major, I asked, “So, do you sing, play the piano…?” He said, “I play trumpet a little.” I eventually discovered what an understatement that was! His talent had won him a full scholarship to Hope, and would later win him a full scholarship for his Master’s degree at Yale University. We married right before he started studying at Yale—and the adventure began.

Ken proposed by saying, “If you marry me, we’ll probably never be rich, but we’ll see the world.” He was so right! His first job after graduating from Yale was as principal trumpet in the National Symphony Orchestra in Bogota, Colombia. It was a huge job with a full season of concerts. Bogota is a very cultured city and supports two orchestras, Ken’s being the larger one. We also lived in Canada for eleven years when he performed full-time with two symphony orchestras. There were numerous Broadway musicals such as “Les Miserables” and “The Sound of Music,” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” He toured China with “The New Sousa Band.” Many, many orchestras and performances every place we lived—too many to name—ending up in Chicago for twenty years.

During our time in Indiana, he worked with Bill and Gloria Gaither at their recording studio, and he met and performed with popular Christian artists of the time such as Steve Green and Sandi Patti. He traveled across the country with the Christian group “Truth.” Yes, lots and lots of concerts!

Now he is “semi-retired,” which means nothing. Our church has an orchestra and brass ensemble that play for our services three Sundays a month. He traveled to Germany with me earlier this year and performed at my publishing company’s 100th Celebration. A week ago, he was in Colorado as a soloist with The Great Western Rocky Mountain Brass Band. Last Tuesday, he played a solo with the Holland American Legion Band for their summer concert series. He had another concert with a Bebop group last Saturday at a Christian Conference center.

To say that I am proud of him would be like saying, “I play trumpet a little.” Thousands of concerts, thousands and thousands of hours of beautiful music. “A dollar for every concert?” My life has been enriched beyond what money could ever buy. Happy Anniversary, Ken! I can’t believe it’s been nearly fifty years!

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?

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!

Celebrating Community

I’ve done a lot of odd and interesting things in my life as an author, but being auctioned off at a fundraiser last week was a first! Happily, it was for a very good cause—the 90th annual Tulip Time Festival—and it turned out to be a lot of fun. The evening included a gala dinner, entertainment, and lots of other prizes to bid on besides me.
Each May since 1929, the town where I live—Holland, Michigan—has celebrated their Dutch cultural heritage with nine days of festivities known as Tulip Time. The festival draws more than 500,000 people, who come to see klompen dancers perform in wooden shoes; parades with marching bands and floats; and more than 5 million tulips blooming in every color of the rainbow. Reader’s Digest magazine named it America’s Best Small-Town Festival.
Today Holland’s population is culturally diverse, but everyone loves to participate in Tulip Time whether they are Dutch or not. Area high school students dress in authentic costumes and wooden shoes to perform traditional Dutch folk dances, but the highly-detailed costumes cost a lot of money to create. That’s what the gala fund-raiser was for. I agreed to be auctioned-off to raise funds so that everyone who wanted to participate as a klompen dancer could afford an authentic costume. And soon I will join the winning bidder and her book club to talk about my novel “Waves of Mercy.” I’m very excited!
“Waves of Mercy” tells the story of the original settlers from the Netherlands who founded the village of Holland in 1846, seeking religious freedom. I purchased an authentic Dutch costume to wear for the novel’s debut. The wooden shoes I’m wearing in the picture were once my husband’s. He grew up here in Holland, and his high school band wore wooden shoes when they marched in the Tulip Time parades. If you look closely, you’ll see I’m actually wearing two left shoes—and it’s not because I dance as though I have two left feet! (Although that’s probably true.)
It’s because band members’ wooden shoes often fly off and get broken during their marching routine, so by the time my husband graduated, all he had left were two left shoes. The Holland band still performs the same routine to the same tune, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” and their wooden shoes still go flying. Be ready to duck if you visit Tulip Time!
My husband is half Dutch. His mother’s ancestors immigrated to Holland from the Netherlands in 1872. I don’t have a Dutch bone in my body. Ken and I met at Hope College, right here in Holland, Michigan, and I remember being intrigued by the flood of tourists who came to see the tulips every year. As I was crossing the campus with an armful of books one spring, a pair of tourists loaded down with camera equipment stopped me to ask if I was a Hope student. When I told them I was, they asked if they could please take my picture beside Hope College’s iconic anchor. I agreed, and struck a pose. Suddenly, the wife shouted, “Wait a minute! Are you Dutch?” When I told her I wasn’t, she said, “Never mind.

I think it’s wonderful that participants don’t have to be Dutch in order to be klompen dancers or to march in the parades. And I love the fact that my community can celebrate its cultural origins while still enjoying its modern diversity. From their earliest days, Holland’s founders never sought to be an exclusive enclave, closing its doors to “outsiders” who didn’t share their ethnicity or their strong, Christian faith. They must have done something right because faith remains a very strong component in our community. This diverse city of approximately 33,000 has more than 70 churches. And the Tulip Time Gala Dinner and auction began with a prayer of thanks to our Heavenly Father, acknowledging that our faith in Christ makes us one. To paraphrase scripture, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, Dutch nor non-Dutch, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Now, that’s something to celebrate!

Nourishing Your Dream

Last week, I had the pleasure and honor of teaching at the Florida Christian Writers Conference, hosted by an organization called Word Weavers. Writers from several states and even Canada came to hear speakers, meet with editors and literary agents, get inspired, and learn how to get published. As I talked with other writers about their hopes and dreams, I remembered my very first conference and my own journey to publication—and it was a long one! From the time I first put a sheet of paper into my typewriter (yes, a manual typewriter!) until my first book was finally published, the journey took eleven years.

Not everyone dreams of being a writer, but I firmly believe that God has planted a dream in each person’s soul that fits them perfectly. You are created for a purpose, something only you can accomplish for His kingdom and His glory. One of the biggest obstacles I faced in becoming a published author was the same one that many of us face: FEAR. What if I wrote for years and never got published? What if I was no good? What if people laughed? I was so afraid of failing and of being criticized that I didn’t tell anyone but my husband that I wanted to be writer.

One day during my quiet time, I realized that my fear was killing my dream. If I really trusted God and His plan for me, I needed to bring the seeds of my dream into the sunlight and nourish them so they could grow. I had to risk calling myself a writer.

Not long afterwards, I was busy writing one Saturday morning while my children played nearby and my husband taught music lessons to a parade of students. As one young student waited for his turn, he wandered up to me and asked what I was doing. I hesitated. Should I admit to this 16-year-old stranger that I wanted to be a writer? I decided to set aside my fear and trust God, so I replied, “I’m writing a novel. I’m a writer.”

“That’s really cool,” he said with a huge grin. “My mom is a writer, too. You should meet her sometime.”

I was speechless! When I finally could talk, I asked, “What does she write?”

“We’re Christians,” he said. “She writes devotional books for Moody Press in Chicago.”

The following week, the student’s mother came to his music lesson with him. And from that day on, this gifted Christian writer, Alma Barkman, took me under her wing and mentored me. I lived in a city of more than 300,000 people, yet God had brought a published Christian author right to my doorstep and into my life. I wonder where I would be today if I had been too fearful to call myself a writer?

One of the first things Alma did was invite me to her writers’ critique group. Again, fear nearly defeated me. How could I possibly read my feeble work to other writers and risk criticism? No way! But when I set aside my fear, I quickly discovered how helpful it was to have unbiased readers critique my work. Alma also told me about writers’ conferences like the one where I taught last week, and she accompanied me to my very first one. Twenty-seven published books later, I am still grateful to Alma, and very glad that I didn’t let fear stop me from pursuing God’s dream for me.

If your dream is to write, I urge you to look into the Word Weavers organization and find a local group of fellow writers near you. (www.word-weavers.com) We all need companions and mentors for this journey. But whatever your God-given dream is, (and I know it’s one that fits you perfectly!) please don’t let fear hold you back a single day longer. Ask God to give you the courage to bring your dream into the sunlight where it can grow. I promise you, God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20)

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was seven or eight years old, growing up in a village in rural New York State, when I learned my first lesson about racism. My mom, my two sisters, and I had traveled to a nearby city on a shopping trip. For a treat, we went to the lunch counter at the dime store for grilled cheese sandwiches and French fries. That’s where I saw the two signs, one labeled ‘Whites Only,’ the other ‘Coloreds.’ I asked Mom about them. Her impassioned explanation made it clear to my young heart that discrimination on the basis of race was a terrible injustice.

As I grew older, news of the Civil Rights Movement appeared on the front pages of the newspapers and in nightly newscasts. I knew that a great war was being fought, with soldiers and guns and the deaths of innocent civilians. The battle divided our nation. I was a teenager when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, his death the result of hatred and racism. In spite of all the laws and amendments our government had passed, the injustice I had glimpsed as a child continued. Sadly, some fifty years later, it still continues.

I recently read an eye-opening book entitled “I Will Not Fear” by Melba Pattillo Beals. It details her lifelong battle against racism and how it shaped her deep faith in God. In 1957, fifteen-year-old Melba was one of nine African American students chosen to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her account of the abuse and torture she suffered at the hands of her fellow students and their parents is chilling. It required faith and enormous courage for Melba and her family to endure harassment, violence, and death threats on a daily basis, simply for the right to attend school.

Melba met Dr. King during that time and poured out her suffering and fear to him. He listened kindly, then told her that perhaps God had assigned this task to her. “You’re not doing this for yourself,” he said. “You are doing this for generations yet unborn.” His words were life-changing. Melba writes, “I had been waiting for white students to change, extend kindness, and welcome me, when maybe it was my task to change.” She became a warrior for God, setting aside her own comfort to serve Him.

After one year of forced integration, the Little Rock school board decided to close Central High School and open a private, all-white school rather than educate their children alongside African Americans. But Melba and the others had made history. In 1999, she and the other eight Little Rock students were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their role in the integration of Central High School.

Today, Dr. King’s words to Melba inspire me. What task requiring courage and faith might God be asking of me? Would I be willing to suffer injustice for the sake of generations yet unborn? The early Christians suffered much more than I will ever have to endure as they spread the Gospel throughout the world. Dr. King’s advice to Melba reminds me of God’s words of encouragement to the early Christians, and to me: “…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

A Child is Born

Tomorrow is our oldest son, Joshua’s, birthday. My husband and I are looking forward to celebrating it with him and his wife, Vanessa. Joshua was born in Bogota, Colombia where we lived for two years while my husband performed in Colombia’s National Symphony Orchestra.

Those were interesting and memorable years—learning a new language and adjusting to a different culture far from home. When our friends and family learned that I was expecting our first baby, they invariably said, “But you’re coming home to the States to give birth, aren’t you?” I just laughed and assured them that babies were born in Bogota every day. It was no big deal.

Until I went into labor.

Those of you who have children can probably imagine that giving birth is not something you want to attempt to do in a foreign language. Especially when it’s your first child. But I was young and dumb—and by the time the labor pains started it was much too late to book a flight to America. I did my best to stumble through the ordeal in Spanish, and when they finally laid little Joshua in my arms, my first words to him came out in Spanish. My baffled husband said, “What are you doing? He speaks English!”

Twenty days later, it was Christmas Eve. We were far from home, far from family, with a tiny son who barely weighed 6 pounds, celebrating the holiday alone. Yet I will always remember it as one of the most beautiful, memorable ones of my life.

Christmas in Bogota is celebrated like our Fourth of July—with fireworks. You can forget about “Silent Night” with explosions of all kinds going off in the streets. At night the sky is lit up with globos, which are little parachutes fastened to cans of burning fuel. They look lovely as they rise up in the sky, but beware—when the fuels runs out, the cans drop to the ground, falling on unsuspecting pedestrians’ heads!

But what made that Christmas so memorable was that I was holding and nurturing a tiny, helpless baby—a beautiful reminder of how tiny and helpless Jesus was when He came to earth. Imagine! The Creator of the infinite universe was once as helpless and vulnerable as my son. From the moment I first held Joshua in my arms, I felt such a fierce love for him, stronger than any emotion I had ever known—and in that moment I finally caught a glimpse of God’s unfathomable love for me. For me! I knew that I would protect my son with every last ounce of strength I possessed. Yet God’s love for me was so great that He allowed His Son to suffer and die. For me.

That Christmas in Bogota was different from any other Christmas, before or since. We didn’t have a Christmas tree. There were no decorations, no lights, no frantic shopping trips. No carols, no cookies, no presents to wrap, no family gatherings. Yet in that simplicity, I found the true meaning of Christmas—a helpless child, a Father’s love.

I was reminded of Mary and all that she must have endured that first Christmas—a long journey from home, finding a place to stay, giving birth for the first time. Then all of the excitement as the shepherds paid a visit and spread the news about the Messiah’s birth. Yet in the midst of it, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” In the simplicity of my first Christmas with a newborn, I had the luxury of doing the same.

Only 20 days remain until Christmas Eve. I still haven’t put up my Christmas tree or decorated my house. There are no cookies baking in my oven, no hot chocolate simmering on the stove. I haven’t bought a single present or even made a list. But this year—every year—I pray that I can let go of all the trappings, all the stress and hassle for just a few moments, and remember how it felt to hold a helpless child in my arms, a child I loved with all that I am. Like Mary, I want to treasure up these things and ponder them in my heart. And then I can celebrate Christmas joyfully, thanking a Heavenly Father who loved me enough to give His Son for me.

The Final Judges

I had the honor and the privilege, recently, to serve as one of the final judges for a prestigious Christian book award. The judging criteria that I was given served as a great reminder to me of the qualities that I hope to include in my own novels. I’m nearing the final stages of my current work-in-progress, and it has been a great exercise for me as I edit my own novel to compare it to these award-winning criteria. Here are some of them:

Does the book tell an interesting, entertaining story? Is the writing excellent and picturesque, the story well-paced, the dialogue realistic? Are the characters complex and memorable? Does the book address significant issues with God at the center? Is there spiritual depth and a sense of greater meaning for the reader?

A lot of important balls for a writer to juggle!

Coincidentally, I was invited to be a guest at a local book club in Zeeland, Michigan the other night. They had all read my latest book, “Legacy of Mercy.” The ladies were very gracious and sweet, and I’m sure, if it so happened that they didn’t like the book, they would have followed my grandmother’s sage advice, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” They said some very nice things in fact, and were very encouraging and enthusiastic. They also gave me this beautiful planter to show their appreciation.

One of the most satisfying things for me was to hear the ladies talk about my characters. I keep a bulletin board next to my computer with pictures of my characters, and when I begin, they are flat and two-dimensional. It’s up to me to flesh them out and turn them into living, multi-faceted characters. I know that I’ve succeeded when I hear readers chatting about them as if they were real people who they had actually met and gotten to know. Thanks, ladies, for cheering for my heroes and booing my villains!

I enjoyed listening to their discussion with the award-winning criteria fresh in my mind. Yet these women were final judges in the sense that matters most—they were readers. They don’t know all the writerly buzz words like point-of-view and hooks and backstory and viewpoint characters. But they do know whether or not they enjoyed the book. Whether or not they found it so compelling that they stayed awake until after midnight to see how it ended. And they know if the author has given them something to think about after they finish the book.

Awards are nice. I’ve won a few over the years, and they were always an enormous source of encouragement to me. But knowing that my book has touched the heart of just one reader and made a difference in her life, is a reward that no contest can ever give me. Thank you, Zeeland Book Club!

What do you look for in a good book? Are there any criteria you would add to the book award list?

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.