Greetings From Germany!

Greetings from beautiful Germany! I’m writing this month’s blog while Ken and I are on a book tour with my German publisher, Francke. The German translation of my newest book, Long Way Home has just been released over here. I hope you’re enjoying some of the pictures I’ve been posting on Facebook and Instagram.

I’m traveling by car all across the country with the publishing team, sometimes giving two speeches a day to groups as large as 200 people in bookstores and churches. Ken plays his trumpet and I share God’s Word through a translator, telling how to find hope in God during difficult times. Our goal isn’t only to publicize the book but to spread the good news of God’s love.

I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to do this with Ken, and I sometimes have to pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming. When we married 53 years ago, neither of us could have ever imagined being used by God in such an amazing way.

I wish I could describe how thrilling it is to be among hundreds of Christians, singing God’s praises in German to familiar tunes such as “Bless the Lord, O My Soul,” and “In Christ Alone I place My Trust.” It’s a little taste of heaven when we’ll be part of a great multitude from every tribe and nation, praising God together.

I’m struck by how at home I feel here.  Even with the language barrier between us, we feel like brothers and sisters. That’s because we are all children of God and citizens of His kingdom. In my devotions this morning, I read the passage in 2 Samuel 7 where God promises King David that “your house and your kingdom will endure forever before Me; your throne will be established forever” (v.16). That promise is fulfilled in King David’s descendant, Jesus Christ. Our true citizenship isn’t in the U.S. or Germany but in the kingdom Jesus came to establish.

It seems like so many things divide us these days. But when we’re part of Christ’s kingdom, national barriers disappear, and racial and ethnic barriers become meaningless. We’re children of God and citizens of Christ’s kingdom. We’re His ambassadors and representatives in a broken world. Whether at home or abroad, speaking to hundreds of people or just one, I pray that I can reflect His character and His love wherever I go. 

Thank you for your prayers!


Offering Hope

I’m often asked why I write novels. The short answer is, “because I want to offer readers hope.” I’ve always loved to read, but the theme of so many books seems to be, “Life is hard and then you die.” I agree that life is hard—but God is good. And I want to share my faith in a good and loving God in my stories. I place the characters in my books in difficult situations to show how trusting God brings meaning and hope to even our worst heartaches.

My biblical novel “Gods and Kings,” tells the story of King Hezekiah, a good and godly king who cleaned up his father’s idolatry, purified God’s temple, and turned his nation back to God. “In everything he did…Hezekiah sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. And so he prospered.” This is how we want our lives to go, isn’t it? When we follow God we should be happy and blessed. Bad things shouldn’t happen to good people.

But then the Bible says: “After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done…then the king of Assyria came and invaded” his nation. The Assyrians were the most powerful army the world had ever seen. Hezekiah’s tiny army was hopelessly outnumbered.

And that’s where we find ourselves so many times. After all we have faithfully done, trying to follow God, trying to do what’s right . . . then disaster.  It’s natural to ask God ‘why?’

Two years ago, our son married a lovely Christian woman and adopted her son as his own. They were faithfully following God . . . then our son fell at work when his ladder collapsed. He broke his pelvis, and shattered his shoulder. He was still recovering from two surgeries when he learned that he no longer had a job. 

We typically react in one of three ways when we’re suffering. First, we can become angry and give up on God since He seems to have given up on us. But when we turn away from God, we often end up depressed and in despair. This is what happens to one of the characters in my novel “Long Way Home.” As an Army medic in World War Two, he had witnessed so much suffering that he lost his faith and tried to end his own life. When we turn away from God, we have no one else to turn to.

A second reaction to suffering is to try to rely on our own strength and plans. This is what King Hezekiah’s father, King Ahaz did. When an enemy threatened his nation, Ahaz sacrificed his own sons to the fire-god Molech, and made a bad situation much worse.

Waiting is hard. God doesn’t operate on our timetables. Our struggles may take years to resolve, but scripture says, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall soar on wings like eagles. They shall run and not grow weary. They shall walk and not grow faint.”  Waiting and trusting God makes us stronger and deepens our faith.

The third way we can react to suffering is to give the situation to God. We can say, “Here are all the broken pieces of my life. I can’t fix it. But You can.” We may have to keep trusting Him even if we don’t see any evidence that He’s answering our prayers. But “In every situation, God is working behind the scenes in a thousand ways that we may never see or know about.”

After everything that King Hezekiah had so faithfully done, 185,000 enemy soldiers surrounded Jerusalem and demanded his surrender. Their commander shouted to Hezekiah and all the people on the city walls. “The gods of all the other nations didn’t help them, and your God won’t help you, either! Surrender before you all starve to death!”

Hezekiah went up to God’s temple and laid the enemy’s threats before God. He fell on his knees and prayed, “O Lord, You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. Hear, O Lord, how the enemy has mocked you. Deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms on earth may know that you alone are God.”

Did Hezekiah surrender? Was his nation invaded and defeated? I’m leaving you without an answer because this is where so many of us are right now. We’re in a situation without a resolution—yet. Our son is still healing from his injuries. He still doesn’t have a job. He’s learning to wait, to trust, and to draw closer to God. 

We might have to wait a lifetime to see how God has worked everything together for our good and for His glory. But I write novels like “Gods and Kings” to offer you hope as you wait and trust. In a novel, the whole story unrolls in a few hundred pages and we see how God has been working behind the scenes. It’s my prayer that through my stories, you can get a glimpse of how God might also be working in your life. You can trust Him as you wait and pray and believe. Life is hard—but God is good.

Have a Memorable Vacation–Maybe?

“Tell us about a memorable summer vacation.” At a luncheon with my publishing company, recently, the sales team and I were asked to do just that. I heard about a lot of interesting vacations from the other team members, and as I awaited my turn, dozens of great memories came to mind. A tour through seven European countries with Ken and our kids. A bicycle trip around Europe’s Lake Konstance with our son, Ben. A road trip early in our marriage from Connecticut to Anchorage, Alaska. Camping on Cape Cod with my parents and two sisters. Long, lazy summer days at my grandparents’ home in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.

But the memorable vacation I settled on—and it had been the first one that popped into my mind—was a camping trip we took with our kids when they were young to visit some of America’s national parks. We lived in Canada at the time, and Ken had learned that if we bought a U.S. National Parks’ pass, we could visit all the parks for free. It was a bargain too good to pass up. We set off in our Toyota station wagon, pulling a borrowed “pop-up” tent trailer, and headed south and west, starting with Rocky Mountain National Park.

Hundreds of miles and many scenic wonders later, we arrived at the Grand Canyon in time to watch the sunset. Magnificent! Up until that time, we had been able to camp along the way without any trouble. But all the campsites at the Grand Canyon were full. It seems most people are wise enough to make reservations in advance. The Grand Canyon is in the middle of nowhere, so the only other campgrounds were a 2-hour drive back in the direction we had just traveled.

After a spirited discussion about our lack of planning, we decided to park the car and trailer in a parking lot behind one of the lodges for the night. Ominous signs are posted all over the park warning of stiff fines for camping anywhere except in designated sites, so we decided not to “pop-up” the pop-up. Technically, we would not be “camping.” So, we emptied the car and spent the night sleeping in our Toyota. Our two sons slept in the driver’s and front passenger’s seats, tilted back as far as they would go. We folded down the back seat, and Ken and I and our 6-year-old daughter slept in the back of the station wagon. I use the term “slept” very loosely. Throughout the night, I kept waiting for a park ranger to knock on the window and issue us a very expensive “no camping” ticket. My reply would have been, “Do we look like we’re camping?

But by morning, the entire parking lot was filled with vans, trailers, and motor homes. We weren’t the only ones who hadn’t made reservations. Our kids had slept quite well and were eager to begin exploring the park. Ken and I, on the other hand, were quite rumpled and disgruntled. At least we had drawn closer together as a family, I joked.

We visited many great national parks on that vacation and saw a lot of magnificent sights. When we returned home, I asked the kids what they remembered and liked the best, and guess what they said? “The night we slept in the car at the Grand Canyon.”

Isn’t life like that, though? A lot of days and weeks and months pass by when we do the same-old, same-old, and nothing seems particularly memorable. But it’s those challenging times when the unexpected happens that seem to make a much deeper impression. I spent hundreds of blissful summer days at my grandparents’ home in the Pennsylvania woods, but which one is most memorable? The dark night of torrential rain when the dam upriver threatened to break and we were forced to evacuate to higher ground. We sent up a lot of prayers that night!

I find that it’s in challenging times like that long-ago, rainy night that we draw closest to God and cling the hardest to Him. We can forget that we even need Him when the sun shines and everything goes according to plan. Perhaps that’s why He allows us to go through those wilderness times. Not only do we draw closer to Him, but we also learn important lessons about His power, and faithfulness, and love for us. We learn we can trust Him, and that makes the experience deeply memorable.

So, what’s your most memorable summer vacation?

I would wish you all a memorable summer vacation this year, but maybe you would rather have a quiet, uneventful one, instead.

Welcome to the Family

The frigid January day was a memorable one for our family. With the final “bang” of the judge’s gavel, our son Joshua became Aiden’s father. My husband and I became Aiden’s grandparents. The court proceeding made it official, but we have loved this wonderful boy from the day we first met him and his amazing mom, Sara. Joshua had wanted to adopt Aiden ever since he and Sara married nearly two years ago, and the paperwork was finally complete. I had tears in my eyes as Joshua promised to support, raise, and love Aiden as his own son. The judge allowed Aiden to “bang” the gavel to complete the process. Welcome to our family, Aiden!

I have been reflecting on adoption a lot, lately. My upcoming novel, “All My Secrets,” includes the story of a woman who is forced to surrender her child for adoption. The novel takes place in New York City during the Gilded Age, a time when the very wealthy lived in excessive opulence—and the city’s orphanages overflowed with unwanted children of all ages. Some of these children had lost their parents due to their deaths, some were abandoned by them, and many were simply turned over by parents who were unable to support them. Many more unwanted children lived in the streets, surviving as best they could. In 1890, photographer Jacob Riis stirred the nation’s conscience when his book “How the Other Half Lives” published his heartbreaking photos. This is one of his famous ones.

After Aiden’s adoption, I also began noticing the theme in scripture. The Westminster Catechism says that “Adoption is an act of God’s free grace,” granting us “all the privileges of the sons of God.” Just as Aiden now has legal rights and privileges as Josh’s son, we have privileges as the children of the God. “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love, He predestined us to be adopted as His sons and daughters through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:4-5). I can’t take that in, can you? And the love our family feels for Aiden is just a fraction of the love God has for us.

Ken and I were excited to visit Aiden’s school on Grandparent’s Day. I’m thrilled when he calls me “Grandma.” And I believe God wants that same kind of loving relationship with us. Romans 8 says we “have received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…” Aiden is now listed as an heir in our will. But I can barely conceive of the inheritance that is mine as a child of God!

This Father’s Day will be Joshua’s first one as a dad. He paid the costs that were involved in Aiden’s adoption process—court fees, lawyer’s fees, and so on. But our adoption into God’s family cost Our Heavenly Father the greatest price of all—His son, Jesus. Can we even fathom the enormity of His love? As we remember and honor our earthly dads this year, I hope I can grasp the importance of our adoption by our loving Heavenly Father. Welcome to His family, child of God!

(One more thing: If you would like a sneak peek at the cover of “All My Secrets,” be sure to go to my website and subscribe to my monthly newsletter. I will be revealing the cover in June’s newsletter.)

Time For Tulips

There’s a lot of excitement in my hometown of Holland, Michigan these days. While winter and spring continue to arm-wrestle with each other, bringing seventy-degree temperatures one day and snow flurries three days later, our town is gearing up for the annual Tulip Festival. At the same time, film crews have taken over our famous tourist attraction, Windmill Island, so actress Nicole Kidman can shoot her new movie there. Everyone in town is hoping to catch a glimpse of her tiptoeing through the tulips.

I love the excitement of Tulip Time. The annual eight-day festival has been held, uninterrupted, for the past 92 years—except during Covid, of course. It draws hundreds of thousands of people to see the three parades, to watch Dutch dancers in costume, to attend the concerts and shows, to taste Dutch food, and to see the multicolored tulips. Over six million tulips, in fact, have been planted throughout Holland. It’s a grand celebration of the town and its history, founded by immigrants from the Netherlands in 1847.

I don’t have a Dutch bone in my body, but I came to Holland for the first time to study at Hope College, which is affiliated with the Reformed Church. The early Dutch settlers founded the college in 1862 with the symbol of an anchor, based on Hebrews 6:19: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” As a college freshman, I was walking past the iconic anchor one day on my way to class when a couple who were obviously tourists stopped me. (You could always spot tourists back in those days by the cameras and lens cases dangling around their necks.) “Are you a Hope College student?” the husband asked. I was. “Would you mind posing for us in front of the anchor?” I agreed, and got into position (somewhat awkwardly, I’m sure) holding my books and notebooks.

Just as the husband was about to snap my picture, his wife interrupted. “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Are you Dutch?” she asked me. I was not. “Never mind, then,” she said, shooing me away. “We want a Dutch girl.” I guess I missed my chance to play a starring role in someone’s scrapbook.

I was so intrigued by the town’s history that when my husband retired and we moved to Holland nine years ago, I decided to research the stories of the early settlers for a novel. Waves of Mercy was published in 2016 and is based on the memoirs of those first men and women. I was very surprised to learn why they left their homes and families in the Netherlands—a very civilized nation back in 1847—to settle in the forested wilderness of Michigan. It was because of religious persecution. As separatists from the state-sponsored church, they had faced heavy fines, harassment, and even imprisonment, simply for gathering to worship God. They braved the long ocean voyage and the hard work of taming the forest in order to seek the religious freedom that America offered.

Their nearest neighbors were a tribe of Ottawa Indians. The nearest town, Allegan, was twenty-four miles away, accessible only by foot. During their first summer here, numerous settlers died from malaria. They lived in lean-tos and one-room cabins, yet their faith was so important to them that they began building this beautiful church in 1854, a mere seven years after they arrived. The story of Holland’s first citizens is truly a story of perseverance, faith, and hope.

I was also surprised to learn that they didn’t settle in Holland in order to isolate themselves in a safe, exclusive community. Nor did they see themselves as missionaries with the goal of reaching the lost. They came as farmers and businessmen who wanted to serve Christ in their everyday work. They chose this location, perched on a small lake that feeds into Lake Michigan, because they wanted easy access to the developing nation’s waterways. This month the town celebrates their Dutch heritage, but Holland is also proud of the diverse cultures that call this town their home.

In a world that is increasingly divisive and often hostile toward Christianity, I sometimes long to hide away in my own little bubble of like-minded friends. Or else fight back by joining the chorus of angry voices on social media. What I’ve learned from Holland’s first settlers is that I am called to be a light in the darkness, a city shining on a hill. I practice my faith best when I leave the “holy huddle” to live and speak and interact with people around me in a way that brings glory to God.

From that first boatload of settlers, Holland has now grown to a town of 34,000 inhabitants. From that first church in the wilderness, the greater Holland area now has more than 170 churches. This plaque sums up what its founding father, Albertus Van Raalte had to say about the village of Holland:


I spoke at a Christmas luncheon recently with a “White Christmas” theme, and since we were supposed to dress from the era, I borrowed a friend’s vintage mink stole and pillbox hat. It was so much fun to look back at the time period of that film, which premiered in 1954. World War II was finally over, there was peace on earth, and that boisterous generation of Baby Boomers was born. I was one of them.

When I was a girl, Christmas always meant going to church. The ladies wore hats and gloves, men wore suits and ties, and my sisters and I wore our very best dresses and patent-leather shoes. We would shine them with Vaseline and wear them beneath clumsy rubber galoshes as we walked through the snow.

The small town where I grew up had only two churches, and in those days, church attendance was normal and almost expected. We shared pews with many of our teachers, the school principal, the grocer and drug store owner – everyone we knew, it seemed. As children, we got to participate in the annual pageant, dressing up as shepherds, angels, wise men, or the coveted role of Jesus’s mother, Mary. Sadly, I was never selected to play Mary. On Christmas Eve there was a lovely candlelight service, and I remember gazing at the baby in the manger with wonder. It was such an amazing miracle—Immanuel! The God of the universe, and all of creation had come to be with us!

My parents never had much money, but my mom would open a Christmas Club account at the local bank, tucking away a small amount of money each week so she could buy presents. We always had a scrawny Christmas tree, decorated with colored balls and bubble lights shaped like little candles.  And tinsel! Remember sparkly, messy tinsel? I enjoyed it as a child but as an adult, I’m very glad it went out of style.

When I was six, I wanted a Betsy Wetsy doll. And there she was beneath the tree on Christmas morning! She came with clothes, diapers, and a little bottle that I could fill with water, and feed her from, just like a real baby. I remember being so happy as I held her in my arms and fed her. But then, true to her name—surprise!—Betsy “wetsy!” Water soaked through her diapers and onto me, just like a real baby. It was one of my first, real lessons that life is a mixture of good things and not-so-good things, joy and sorrow. Be careful what you wish for!

All the other Baby Boomers and I grew up, and many of our dreams and wishes came true. When we look back over the years, we can remember many joyful times and also some painful ones. Yet those of us who’ve walked with God all these years, can also look back and see His faithfulness and goodness. He was with us in those hard times, working all things together for our good and for His glory. Immanuel. God with us.

And that’s the gift of hope we can share with others this Christmas. Our world may be in turmoil with very little peace, but God is with us. Church attendance is no longer fashionable, and many of our loved ones no longer come to church. But the church isn’t a building. As Christ’s body, we have the opportunity to bring Immanuel to the world, becoming His hands and feet and loving heart, bringing Christ’s hope and love to the world.

Here’s a small example. A friend of mine was alone in a hospital room with a loved one who was dying. God felt very far away, and she cried out, “Where are you, God? Don’t you care?” As she wept, her cell phone began to ding with text messages—two, three, half a dozen, then a dozen, and more. Thinking someone might be trying to reach her, she picked up her phone, and saw that it wasn’t one person texting, but dozens of people, all with a similar message: “God put you on my heart today.” “I’m praying for you.” “God loves you.” Through these messages of love from Christ’s body, she experienced Immanuel. God with us.

This Christmas, as we take time to count our blessings and remember His faithfulness, let’s remember to help others find joy and hope and love, in spite of our troubled world. Because God came to us at Christmas. Immanuel is here! God is with us!

Merry Christmas!

Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks?

My two little granddaughters were here for a visit recently, and I couldn’t help noticing how very different the two of them are. Three-year-old Ayla is not afraid to try new things. When no one was looking, she dashed up to the top of my library ladder like an experienced fireman. She should have been afraid! We have cathedral ceilings in our living room and the bookshelves and ladder go to the very top. The rungs are steep and slippery, and I confess that my knees shake a bit whenever I need to retrieve a book from the top shelf. Ayla just laughed and did a little dance at the tippy-top, then let go with one hand to wave to us.

Five-year-old Lyla, on the other hand, never even noticed the ladder when she was Ayla’s age, much less scaled it. She’s a quiet, thoughtful child who generally doesn’t like change or trying new things. She can be adventurous once she makes up her mind to be, but she always takes a moment to stop and consider before trying something for the first time. She asked for a turn on the ladder after seeing her sister scamper up it. And she was brave enough to climb all the way to the top. But she took her time, was careful with each step, and she hung on tightly. Then she was done, and didn’t ask to climb it again.

I don’t know about you, but because of all the changes that Covid brought last year, I often found myself challenged to try new ways of doing familiar things. I would have liked to be as brave as Ayla and leap whole-heartedly into every new challenge, yet I found, like Lyla, that I don’t really like change. I often needed to be pushed or dragged or encouraged by someone more adventurous than I am before embracing something new.

This past year, I had to learn new ways to launch a book without leaving home. I learned how to research the settings of my books without traveling to the locale in person. I missed driving down to the library and wandering through the non-fiction stacks, but a very patient research librarian taught me how to navigate the internet’s endless rabbit-trails. I learned how to Zoom—and for a technophobe like me, that was like scaling a very tall ladder. Likewise, with converting my office into a recording studio to do live and recorded presentations. I learned a lot of new things the hard way, such as remembering to turn off the telephone so it wouldn’t ring during the final five minutes of my recording and force me to start all over again. And I figured out how to adjust my writing schedule and condense my usual writing style to compose something brand new for me—a novella. And a Christmas one, at that!

The Apostle Paul once claimed, “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13), and maybe that should be my motto in changing times. There will be occasions when I must learn to be as daring as Ayla, knowing that God will be right beside me, steadying the ladder. There will be times when I should be as cautious as Lyla, taking time to wait and pray and consider His leading. Above all, I know I can always trust the Holy Spirit to guide me as I’m led into new places.

I have one final “new thing” to share, and that’s the cover of my next novel, “Long Way Home,” which launches in June 2022.


The fall weather was beautiful last week and perfect for riding bikes. I took a break from writing one afternoon, and Ken and I rode off on one of our favorite trails. It winds through the woods north of town, away from people and traffic. Ten miles from home, we heard a woman screaming for help. An older couple running to her aid, flagged us down.

“Can you help?” they asked. “This mother has lost her little boy.”

We parked our bikes and hurried over to see what we could do. The young mother was distraught. Her son was only two. She had been doing laundry while he watched TV, and when she returned to the living room he was gone. She had left all but the screen door open on this beautiful day, and he must have wandered outside.

Ken and I and the two neighbors split up to search in all directions, calling his name. I headed behind the house and into the woods, searching through the underbrush and by every fallen tree. I prayed urgently for God’s mercy as I hurried along, asking Him to help us find this child and bring him home. Ten minutes later, with no luck, I circled back to check with the others. The little boy was still lost. His mother was now hysterical.

I understood her anguish too well. At some point in their childhoods, each of my three children had temporarily disappeared for varying lengths of time and in various places. One disappeared in a grocery store. One on the way home from school, a block away. One at the beach. They were all found, thankfully, but I will never forget the heart-stopping terror I felt. The world that swallows up your child seems so overwhelming and huge, your child, so very, very small.

Earlier that morning in my quiet time I had been praying for three family members who don’t know the Lord. I admit that my attitude toward them was not what it should be. They had hurt me badly, and I was trying to justify their behavior by thinking, “Well, what do you expect? They aren’t Christians.” But as my heart broke for that poor mother and her lost child, I caught a glimpse of God’s heart, and the grief He must feel when any of His children are lost—like my three family members. “He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9).

I circled back through the woods, running faster and farther this time, calling the boy’s name. I could hear the others frantically calling, too. And I wondered, might God be asking my husband and me and anyone else who can, to search this tenaciously for His lost ones? Might He want us to set aside time from our own pleasures help seek and save more of His lost children?

With still no luck, I returned to the other searchers a second time. We needed to call the police. The elderly neighbor suggested that the mother search inside the house one last time before we called. And that’s where she found her son, fast asleep, nestled out of sight beneath a pile of clean sheets.

She came outside weeping and thanking us. I held her in my arms and felt her entire body trembling as she squeezed me tightly, clinging to me. The prodigal’s father had surely held his lost son just as tightly. As I quietly thanked God, I thought of how the angels in heaven rejoiced when one lost soul is found.

We said good bye to the others, all of us wrung out and relieved, thankful that the search had ended well. Ken and I got back on our bikes and continued on our way. And I prayed again with a new sense of urgency for my family members.

A Visit to the Past

Ken and I love to ride our bikes to the library in town whenever I need more research material, and then eat lunch at a fun restaurant. It’s about a 14-mile round-trip. There’s a sizable Hispanic population in town, so today we decided to try a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican store/taqueria that features authentic, homemade food. As soon as I stepped inside the little bodega, I was transported into the past. Early in our marriage, Ken and I spent two years in Bogota, Colombia while Ken performed with the National Symphony, a world-class orchestra. Meanwhile, I taught fourth grade in a Colombian school. I taught all of the subjects in English but my students and their families spoke Spanish, which made parent-teacher conferences very challenging.

So, when I walked into the little store and was suddenly immersed in a flow of voices chattering in Spanish, I was taken back to our adventures in Bogota. I remembered how Ken and I would traipse through little stores like this one, searching in vain for American products. Our Spanish slowly improved as we learned to decipher labels, but remind me to tell you the story, someday, of Ken’s disastrous attempt to buy cat food for our American cats. (It ends happily but a Colombian cat nearly lost one of it’s nine lives.)

The bodega’s meat counter reminded me of that incident, and also of the butcher shop down the street from our apartment, which I passed every day on my way to school. The Colombian butcher shop hung their raw meat from hooks in the front window, without refrigeration. I got really good at holding my breath for the full length of the block as I hurried to work. (We did not buy our meat there!)

This fresh produce section reminded me of the open-air market where we would shop for fruit and vegetables. Colombia has varieties of fruit that we’d never seen back home, like lulo and guanabana. Ken loved haggling over prices and trying to get a bargain. I just wanted to know “how much.” Ken said I was being gouged, but when I did the math, he was haggling over mere pennies. This little bodega even had an aisle of pottery like we used to buy in Bogota but the items all had price tags. Ken was disappointed that he couldn’t haggle.

Colombian food isn’t at all like the Mexican food the bodega served, which is good because we like Mexican cuisine much better. Here’s our lunch…and it was delicious!

We ate it as a picnic in a nearby park, something we never did in Bogota because it rained all the time. In fact, it rained every day for the two years we lived there. I always carried an umbrella. The city sits at an altitude of 8,660 feet, but if we took a bus down the mountain, we could enjoy sunny, tropical weather at a lush resort and breathe much thicker air. Of course, it required nerves of steel (or a blindfold) for the trip down the narrow, winding mountain road with no guardrails and sheer drop-offs, on a dilapidated former school bus—but that’s a story for another blog.

As we pedaled our way home from town again, I couldn’t help thinking about how our past experiences shape us and transform us into the people we are today. My time in Colombia drew me closer to God in many ways and became part of the foundation for my writing career. And it occurred to me that the things we’re experiencing right now—today—are shaping us into the people we’ll be in the future. We learned to adjust to a lot of changes when we moved to South America, and now we’ve all faced too many unwelcome changes these past two years. How we react to them will shape the people we become in the future.

In these challenging times, I don’t want to be taken captive by the constant arguing, fear-mongering, and divisiveness I see all around me. I want my faith to grow stronger and to flow out with joy everywhere I go. Right now, our journey may seem as harrowing as that bus trip down the Andes Mountains, but we’re God’s beloved children, and our future is safe in His hands.

The Next Book

I’m in between novels at the moment, and searching for inspiration. After writing 29 books, I sometimes feel like I’ve used every storyline, every setting, and every plot device there is. I’m certainly not ready to retire, but what do I write about next?

As I faced the blank computer screen, casting about for ideas—life happened. My life.

This past month our family suffered a huge loss when my husband’s sister, Marion, passed away after a short illness. She lived nearby, so we were able to say our goodbyes and tell her how much we loved her, but it didn’t make it any easier. Ken is the youngest of six children and Marion was his last remaining sibling. She was also one of the most positive, joy-filled, loving people I have ever met, in spite of the fact that she didn’t have an easy life. Everyone who knew her loved her and wanted to be around her. I will miss her stories, her laughter, her beautiful perspective on life. We know she received a joyful welcome in heaven, yet we can’t help feeling sorrow and grief at her loss.

But even as we grieve, we also have a reason to rejoice. A few days from now, we will celebrate our oldest son’s marriage to a beautiful woman who already has become a daughter to us. She brings a young son into our family, a sweet, new grandson who we also love as our own. We feel God’s face shining down on all of us.

Three years ago, our son suffered through the most difficult, painful season of his life. Ken and I felt helpless as we watched him suffer. All we could do was stand alongside him and pray for him—to a Heavenly Father who also knows human suffering and a parent’s grief. My neighbor, who is also my prayer partner, prayed for him on her morning walks as she passed by our house. One morning she texted me a verse that God had given her for our son:

“But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will arise with healing in its wings.”

I looked up the context and read the second half of the verse: “And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall” (Malachi 4:2).

It seemed impossible, unbelievable, at the time. But as it turned out, our son’s night of darkness drew him closer to God, giving him a deeper relationship than ever before in his life. Now, as I see him with his new bride-to-be and young son, I see the fulfillment of that verse.

This—all of this—is what I need to write about next. Life! Life with its joys and sorrows, grief and laughter. Life with friends and family members who share all of it with us. Life with our good and loving God who never leaves us or forsakes us. I need to write authentic stories of people just like me, showing the hard parts of life in a fallen world, never pretending that pain doesn’t exist. But also showing the joy that a life lived with God can bring. Yes, life is hard . . . but God is good. And He loves us more than we can ever imagine. I still don’t have a plot or a setting for my next book, but no matter what I decide on, I want my story to burst at the seams with hope. Hope in the joy of heaven, which Marion is now experiencing. Hope in a Savior who can turn our tears into laughter and make us leap like a newborn calf with life and joy.