Thursday, June 30, 2016

Life hasn’t been smooth lately. And although I know better, if I was honest I’ll admit it’s left me a little disappointed with God. I mean, I’ve been holding up my side of the relationship—prayer, personal devotions, service, charitable giving…

God, on the other hand, seems to be neglecting his commitment to keep my life ticking along comfortably.

In my head I know being a Christian doesn't guarantee a worry-free existence.

The Bible is full of examples of how God has let his faithful servants endure unspeakable problems (see Hebrews 11 for examples) and frankly, mine aren’t nearly as bad as theirs. And I look around and see fellow Christians who, through no fault of their own, are today trapped in the mire of messy lives.

But still—I’m being honest here—I’ve been miffed that God has withdrawn his protecting hand and left me—me—to suffer.

A few months ago an interesting post appeared on my Facebook feed. Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me by Kate Bowler. I scrolled through it and passed it along to a friend, never imagining what a profound impact the article would have on her life—and through hers, mine.

You see, like Kate I've inadvertently been indoctrinated into the prosperity gospel. Terms like seed faith, name-it-and-claim-it, and kids of the kingdom have been familiar since childhood. I accepted them without question.

But, like Kate, God has brought me to a place that challenges this theology.

It is true: God wants the best for us. (See: Jeremiah 29:11.) The issue is how we’ve come to understand ‘best.’

Could the mess I’m experiencing right now be God’s idea of ‘best’?

As I mulled this over I re-read Hannah Hurnard’s classic, Hinds Feet in High Places. It reminded me that there is another way I can look at my circumstances. They are no less messy or uncomfortable, but from my new point of view I now see them as part of a larger picture, 
a longer journey, 
a more significant ‘best.’

I am being reshaped in Love.

Step by step, incident by incident, trial by trial, God is sanding away the parts of me that do not bring Him glory. The ‘best’ I am journeying towards is His Best, not mine.

What I find most amazing about this revelation—or maybe it’s a re-revelation—is the peace it has given me. The circumstances I find myself in are no longer frightening. Though the outcome is unknown, the outcome is certain.

He will make my feet like hinds' feet, and set me upon my high places. Psalm 18:33
Thank you, Lord.


Jayne Self is a writer being reshaped in Canada.
Visit her on Facebook or check out her website and books at

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Monastic Community Comes to Life

A Day and a Life, book 9 and the last in Penelope Wilcox’s The Hawk and the Dove series was recently released on Amazon US. I have reviewed several books in the series and had the opportunity to interview Penelope.

In The Hawk and the Dove series, you have created an entire monastic community. Did you base the characters on people you actually know?

I’ve been intrigued and surprised by the extent to which some readers try to correlate fictional characters with real life people.  

In reality, none of the characters is based on any person in real life. None of them is channeling me, and my mother is nothing like the one in the book! But – and I imagine this is true of all novelists – wherever I go, I am watching and listening, observing and thinking. I notice how people speak to each other, their mannerisms, favorite phrases, tricks of speech, how they relate; and the fabric of a tale is woven from the broken threads of many moments, myriad encounters.

In each novel of the series, different characters come to the fore. When you write, do you start with the character or the story?

When I write, I start with the Bible. Each volume expounds an aspect of Christian faith, each centres around a biblical text. Theological ideas can be challenging on a cerebral level.  The Hawk and the Dove series presents them holistically, as stories about lived  faith, encouraging the reader to imagine how life could be if we all took this seriously and gave it our very best. I think of fiction as a vessel for truth – its purpose is to help the reader find a more illumined approach to reality rather than to escape it. I hope that when people read these stories, the insights individual monks reach in their journey of faith may help shed light for readers who are walking the same path.

The The Hawk and the Dove series has nine volumes, but there was a long gap between the first three and the remaining six. Did you plan the whole series at the outset, or how did it develop?

I wrote the original trilogy in the early 1990s, and it sold quietly and steadily. To celebrate its twentieth year continuously in print, I suggested adding a fourth volume.  What I’d envisaged as one novel grew into a second trilogy.

At the end of Book 6, one of the characters gets married. After I’d written it, I began to reflect on how what is standardly presented as an ending – the wedding, the happy couple – is in reality merely the beginning of another phase of life. I asked myself what, in truth, happy-ever-after might really look like for this couple in these particular circumstances. And so I came to write Book 7 – which led to Book 8 … then Book 9.

Battle Abbey, near Penelope's home and from the same period as the one in the books
The series spans a number of years, with changes in administration of the monastery. Did you have a system for keeping track of changes or did you keep it all in your head?

I did have rough plans and lists to prevent glaring inconsistencies – but I did sometimes make mistakes that had to be corrected later. For example, I did once (in the narrative voice) call Abbot John ‘Brother John’ after he was priested and became ‘Father John’; and I did keep forgetting Father Dominic is the guestmaster and saying it was Brother Giles – who of course is the assistant to Brother Walafrid the herbalist. The errors have to be corrected on the master file for future printings. But apart from these minor details, the changes are easy to remember because they belong to the story. I really feel as though I know these men – I’ve lived with them for a very long time! When I walk through the gatehouse and put my head round the checker door, it’s Brother Cormac I see sitting there at the table writing up a bill of sale for some fleeces. But how could I possibly forget the awful cooking the entire community endured so patiently through the whole sixteen years he was the kitchener?

How did you know when to finish the series?

I actually intended ten books. I’d planned to finish the series with Book Ten, The Plague Angel, about a fateful visitor to St Alcuins, first seen entering the gatehouse with slanting rays of the afternoon sun shining all around him, making him look as though he were alight. Unknowingly, he brings with him infection. I’d thought the various manifestations of plague, laying waste so many communities at that time, presented such huge and serious issues that I should include them in the series. I laid the ground for this in Book 6, where Brother Michael (the infirmarian) is haunted by his persistent nightmare of being surrounded by helpless suffering people reaching out to him for healing and assistance, their need beyond anything he can possibly answer or satisfy.

But my readers go to this series for peace and encouragement, to help them live more cheerfully and faithfully. Some of them – I know this because they write to me – struggle daily with very difficult circumstances.

I’d been planning to wipe out the entire community in one spectacularly dreadful epidemic,  and then I thought – oh, wait – how depressing is that? So I stopped at Volume 9.

Having brought this series to an end, what is next for you?

My life has recently taken a different turn. My aged mother has come to live with us after a period of illness, and has needed a lot of care. My husband has semi-retired after years of working away in Oxford during the week, so I have my own permanent personal indoor whirlwind. And I have returned to preaching in Methodism after a number of years out. I still write for a magazine, still have a novel or two planned or started, still have a prepared but unsigned contract with a publisher for a set of Bible Studies, still have commitments to edit the work of other writers, and am still offering quiet days and retreats. But just now, even pressed down and shaken together, my package of daily domestic duty and intensive human encounter is flowing over.

You can find Penelope Wilcock at her blog Kindred of the Quiet Way, or at home with her family on England's south coast. She writes to bring faith to life, and has worked within the Methodist Church as preacher, pastor, and in school, hospice, and prison chaplaincies.  Donna Crow interviewed her previously for ICFW.


LeAnne Hardy was especially pleased to find Penelope Wilcox's books since her own Glastonbury Tor is set in an English monastery two centuries later. LeAnne has lived in six countries on four continents. Her fiction reflects the places she has lived and her passion for sharing stories that reflect truth. Learn more at .

Monday, June 27, 2016

Interesting Times

They say you should never discuss religion or politics if you want to avoid a fight. I am a Christian who has only recently become interested in politics and, to be honest, I couldn't think of anything else to talk about, So, here goes.

My interest in politics only really began a few months ago. Prior to this I always voted for the person or party I thought would do the best job, but generally ignored the stuff going on behind the scenes.

Sure, I knew that the UK Torie party is "conservative" and the Labour party "socialist", and I knew that a person's political views could be plotted on a swinging scale between Left and Right, but that was about it.

If you had asked me the difference between the Democrats and Republicans I would have just shrugged. I knew one was Left and the other Right, but I had no idea which. And the GOP? No clue.

Then Trump arrived on the scene.

Suddenly I found politics interesting. I wanted to know why one man could generate so much animosity both within and without his own party. I started reading up on the differences between the Left and Right, and between Democrats and Republicans. I bookmarked a few politically-inclined blogs and did research on the political leanings of major UK newspapers, selecting one from each side of the center to get a view from both perspectives.

What was interesting was to see how much friction there exists between the two sides, even close the center. I would expect this from the extremes but not from the moderates. What was really intriguing was that, once I identified my own position, I found myself becoming increasingly prickly when reading comments from my "opponents". Ignorance, they say, is bliss. After spending most of my life observing politics from the outside, I suddenly found myself with an opinion.

What was also interesting was to realize that my political leanings have changed through the years. As a young agnostic, I was definitely quite far to the Left. Like many young non-believers I hated rules, thought I knew everything, and believed everyone's morality was equally valid so long as they felt the same way about about my morality. Then, as I grew older and raised a family, these things shifted. I started to appreciate the value of rules, got that I did not know nearly as much as I thought I did, and (especially after becoming a Christian) came to understand that everyone having their own moral standards does not work nearly as well as people say it does. I had, I discovered, swung from the Left to the Right.

Not that I am alone in this political migration. According to the statistics, there is a general move from Left to Right with advancing age. There is also a tendency for Christians to be right-wing and atheists left-wing. Last night I had a chat with my daughter and we discussed the Brexit referendum. During the conversation I realized that my daughter, although Christian, tends towards the Left in many of her views. I had the TV on in the background and a CNN reporter was firing emotionally-charged questions at a very calm Brexit supporter while, behind them, Remain campaigners were protesting loudly over the results of the referendum and demanding the the whole thing be run again. Best of three anyone? How about best of five? CNN, I have learned, is strongly biased towards the Left and is referred to by some as the "Clinton News Network". This explains something I had noticed but could not explain: how Donald Trump is always shown in a bad light and Hillary Clinton invariably pandered to.

Meanwhile, my daughter and I had a civilized discussion over Brexit and the future of the European Union, as well as the curious success of Donald Trump. I now have a better idea as to why the Democrats and Republics both have problems with him, and I can only wonder what would happen if he made it all the way to the White House, but I thank him for sparking my interest in politics. He is no politician, and perhaps that is why he is so popular. You have probably heard the old joke of being able to tell when a politician is lying*. And I challenge anyone to locate a news clip showing a professional politician replying to a direct yes-or-no question with a yes or no.

Perhaps people are sick of feeling misled by the people who are supposed to represent them. Trump may not be pretty but you get what you see. It's the same with the European Union question. Many people in the UK feel that the European parliament is a distant monolith with little interest in the lives of the people it is supposed to represent. Getting out may be uncomfortable but at least we will be free to steer our own ship in future.

The British were evenly split between staying in Europe and leaving. We voted to leave. The people in the US appear to be roughly evenly split between Trump and Clinton. The media favors Clinton, but then they also predicted Britain remaining in Europe.

We live in interesting times.

*his lips are moving

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Coming Up This Week


Dianne Wilson 


PA Baines


LeAnne Hardy: A Monastic Community Comes to Life


Jayne E Self

Friday Devotion

Shirley Corder


New Releases

Lisa Harris' romantic suspense set in the US, Missing, Book 2 in The Nikki Boyd Files series, is a June 2016 release from Revell.


Upcoming Releases

Valerie Comer's contemporary romance set in the US, Secrets of Sunbeams, Book 1 in the Urban Farm Fresh Romance series, releases independently in July 2016.

Marion Ueckermann's contemporary romance set in Scotland, Glasglow Grace, in the Passport to Romance series, will be a July 2016 release from The Pelican Book Group. 

Marion Ueckermann's contemporary romance set in South Africa, The Other You, will release independently in July 2016.

The Other You by Marion Ueckermann and Secrets of Sunbeams by Valerie Comer will be available in the Whispers of Love contemporary romance box set, releasing independently in July 2016. 

Book 2 in Sandra Orchard’s Serena Jones Mysteries series set in St. Louis, USA, Another Day, Another Dali, will be an October 2016 release from Revell Publishing.

Kara Isaac's contemporary romantic comedy set in England, Can't Help Falling, will be an October 2016 release from Howard Books.

Patricia Beal's debut contemporary women’s fiction set in Germany and in the United States, A Season to Dance, will be a May 2017 release from Bling! Romance / Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.

To find more International Christian Fiction books, please visit our 2013 - 2016 Book Releases page and Backlist Titles.

Friday, June 24, 2016

DEVOTION: It's about the one.

And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” – John 4: 4-7 (ESV)

The Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. The story in John 4 (4:1-10) is well known: Jesus encounters a divorced woman at the well, they chat, and He tells her all about her life. She in turns run into town and tells everyone about the man that could be the long awaited Messiah and brings half the town back with her. For me, it is a great story, one of redemption and grace and a beautiful reflection of the heart of God. But there is one verse that really speaks to me in this story and it's verse 4:4 'Now he had to go through Samaria.' Seven words that, for me, are some of the most profound words in the Bible.
Jesus had to go through Samaria. He wasn't just strolling through; He intentionally made his way through Samaria to Jacob's well. He detoured on purpose, going out of His way, and when He gets there, He finds a woman, alone in the heat of the day, drawing water from the well. This is no mere coincidence. Jesus knew He would find her there and He knew she would be alone at that time, so He sat, asked her for water and proceeded to tell her about her life. But He didn't stop there; He then goes on to reveal His identity to this woman, telling her that He is the Messiah. Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords, reveals himself to a woman who in that day and age would have been an outcast in community. Divorced five times and living with a man out of wedlock, she is the last person he would have been expected to, or allowed to, engage with. But Jesus was never interested in social rules and religious restraints; He was more concerned with showing His Father's love to those who needed it most.  And in this case, He 'had to go' through Samaria so that He could show this Samaritan woman that she is not beyond the love and grace of the Father.
Jesus shows us, time and again, that He is interested in the 'one', but not more so than in this story. When his disciples returned, they were shocked that He was talking with her, but Jesus didn't even flinch because He had achieved what He set out to do and that was to touch the woman's heart. He let her know that she was seen. That despite what society said, she was important and loved and known to the Father in Heaven. And that hasn't changed today. Jesus still wants us to know that we are seen and loved and important. Jesus still wants us to know that He will meet us at our 'well at noon' and will sit with us because that is the love of the Father. We at times may feel that we are too far from God, that we have fallen too far, but we are never far enough that God won't meet us with open arms if we come with the right heart. A heart that wants to know Him and love Him. You may feel today that you are too far, or disconnected, but He see you and loves you just as much today as the day He created you. Or you may have a loved one that you have been praying for that seems too far. Be assured that God sees them; He has His eye on the 'one' and is interested in their heart just as much as He is interested in yours. Because for our Father, it's always about the one.

Leila Halawe is a Sydney based coffee loving nonfiction writer and blogger. She has published a short devotional, Love By Devotion, and shares her life via her blog Looking In. You can connect with her via Facebook at Leila Halawe Author and Twitter @LHalawe.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The “A” Word - Refelctions on a Road Trip by Marcia Lee Laycock

I was sitting in a friend's house on the night before leaving on a two day road trip that would take us across three Canadian provinces and quite a few hundred kilometres away from my home. I anticipated many hours of varied but rather dry scenery - the snow was gone from most of the prairies but the spring rains hadn't arrived yet. I anticipated some great conversation that might take unexpected turns, and of course several stops at "Timmies,” because you just can't do a road trip without your favourite beverage.  I anticipated laughter and story-telling and unrestricted snacking. I knew there would also be some bird watching since we’d be travelling through the migration paths of Canada geese, snow geese, swans, cranes and many other bird species. I knew I might have to ask my friend, the driver, to stop for a photo- op or two because the sweeping fields and almost-summer skies just cry out to be photographed.

I anticipated the warm hugs at friends' and family members' homes along the way and then finally at our destination where we would meet with others of like mind and spirit. I anticipated meeting new people, since this would be an inaugural event, first of its kind in Canada. But there would be some reunions too, as we picked up familiar passengers along the way and met with organizers of the First Nations Christian Writers' Conference - some of whom I had been acquainted with for years.

I anticipated good food and fine fellowship - with pickerel, wild rice and bannock how can you lose? I knew there would be laughter and undoubtedly some tears as I listened to the stories of those whose lives had known much hardship and pain. I knew I would hear words like residential school, suicide, alcoholism and incarceration. But I knew there would be other words as well, words like forgiveness, healing, reconciliation and redemption.

I anticipated some wonderfully inspiring talks - the kind you listen to and the kind you participate in. I anticipated God's gentle voice speaking through others, speaking to my heart, speaking to my soul. I anticipated being in awe of those whose voices have been silent far too long. I anticipated being in awe of the One who had led us all to that place.

I anticipated that weariness when you've been sleeping in too many strange beds, but also the elation in knowing that what you've helped to make happen would have long-lasting ripple effects. I anticipated that deep peace in knowing you have been obedient to an unusual call, a call that came at an inconvenient time, a call so clear that it drove away all the valid reasons for not responding with obedience.

I anticipated coming home, happy to have gone but always happy to return and thankful to the One who orchestrated it all, all to His glory.

And as I pondered all these things I thought of another anticipation that rises in me from time to time. It happens when I see light streaming from a grey cloud or the blaze of the setting sun over a calm lake. It happens when I realize my life has a time limit. The anticipation comes with a longing for heaven. I don’t know a great deal about what it will be like there but I anticipate a joy in God’s presence that is impossible to comprehend on this earth. I anticipate an existence without stress or pain because sin does not exist there. I anticipate a complete peace because in that place all will be made right.

I can be sure that one day I will have the joy of that experience because one day 38 years ago I asked Jesus Christ to forgive me and take control of my life. Because of that decision my anticipation of heaven brings no feelings of guilt or fear. I know “Whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.”

If you do not have that assurance there is a very simple way to achieve it - simply ask God for that same forgiveness. It’s available to anyone at anytime. Don’t let the “A” word cause you stress. Ask Jesus to be part of your life today and it will bring you nothing but joy.
Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central Alberta Canada where she lives with her pastor/husband and two golden retrievers. She is a long-time member and past president of InScribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship and the American Christian Writers’ Fellowship. 

Marcia has published two contemporary novels, four devotional books and numerous articles and devotionals both online and in print. Her work is available on Amazon or on her website -

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

When Life Trumps Fiction

By Morgan Tarpley
I know I’m not alone. There are some times that our novel-geared, what-if-thinking-constantly writer brain imaginings can actually be surpassed by real life. I just experienced one of those exact moments.

Last month, my husband and I took a road trip up the U.S. East Coast. (We live in Louisiana, so it was quite the long drive – but very enjoyable.) I was pumped because I’ve never been to the East Coast, and more than that I’ve never been to New York City. We were only there for a few days. And as I marveled at the massive skyscrapers and all the locations I’ve seen in favorite movies or TV shows other things struck me as well like who are all these people around me? What’s their story?

I couldn’t help but let my writer’s brain take over wondering if the man passing me in a three-piece suit near Wall Street could be a millionaire or a woman I sat by on the subway might be a famous author. I mean how can I not think about these type of things! (lol) Well, at least, I know there are people on this blog who get it, right?

Back to the story at hand though, one of our must-do things in NYC was to dress up and go out for a fancy dinner, and that’s exactly what we did. I even got my hair done at a salon for the occasion. It was hard to narrow down where to eat but we finally decided months prior and made our reservation. The restaurant is called Wallsé and features modern European cuisine specializing in Austrian. They were awarded a Michelin star this year, so we knew between that honor and our love of Austrian food it would be great. And it was.

The place was small but well spaced, the ambience elegant and relaxed with dim lighting overhead and the soft glow of tea lights on each linen-draped table. We were seated at a table for two. He took the chair and I sat on part of a velvet-covered wall-length bench. Our closest table neighbors were less than a foot away to my left – two women beside me on the bench and a man across from them, all in their mid to late 60s I’d say.

We ordered and I noticed the woman closest to me had also ordered Wiener Schnitzel, so I remarked that it looked lovely and authentic and I was glad I had chosen it. She gave an elegant nod in agreement with a slight smile and informed me it was very good and authentic. Then, they had their entrées and dessert; we had our appetizers and entrées.  

While we were in the middle of our entrée though, a man came over to greet them. We were so close I could not help but overhear what was said. (Convenient too. I can always use fascinating conversation for future book fodder.) He congratulated the seated man and then was introduced to the lady across from him (the lady with the Wiener Schnitzel) who he said was his cousin and he named the book she had written.

Wait, right there! There’s a published author sitting right beside me! (See, this story did have a point.) But that wasn’t all. The book title rang a bell in my mind. It sounded so familiar. So, what else could I do at this point but discreetly retrieve my cell phone from my handbag to search for it.

Lo and behold, I actually own her book – and I had wanted to read it for a while. I couldn’t believe it. I had her book right there on my Kindle. And I knew I just had to talk to her! So, when the opportune moment arose after the visiting man left, I claimed it to remark on if they enjoyed their dessert. Then, I ever so carefully said I could not help overhearing about her book and that I have it. She was surprised and flattered.

We chatted a few minutes about the story and how I would start reading it that very night, which I did, of course. She is very nice. (I also purchased the audiobook which Leslie actually narrates herself.) The reason for the dinner was that her cousin (the man) had just published his book that day, and it was a celebration. Two published authors. Wow! I told them about my novel involving WWII and Leslie graciously offered if I had any questions in my research to send her an email. She gave me her card and I got her to sign the back of it. I also took a photo with her.

Leslie Maitland

On a pier in Marseille in 1942, with desperate refugees pressing to board one of the last ships to escape France before the Nazis choked off its ports, an 18-year-old German Jewish girl was pried from the arms of the Catholic Frenchman she loved and promised to marry. As the Lipari carried Janine and her family to Casablanca on the first leg of a perilous journey to safety in Cuba, she would read through her tears the farewell letter that Roland had slipped in her pocket: “Whatever the length of our separation, our love will survive it, because it depends on us alone. I give you my vow that whatever the time we must wait, you will be my wife. Never forget, never doubt.” 

Five years later – her fierce desire to reunite with Roland first obstructed by war and then, in secret, by her father and brother – Janine would build a new life in New York with a dynamic American husband.  That his obsession with Ayn Rand tormented their marriage was just one of the reasons she never ceased yearning to reclaim her lost love.  

Investigative reporter Leslie Maitland grew up enthralled by her mother’s accounts of forbidden romance and harrowing flight from the Nazis. Her book is both a journalist’s vivid depiction of a world at war and a daughter’s pursuit of a haunting question: what had become of the handsome Frenchman whose picture her mother continued to treasure almost fifty years after they parted? It is a tale of memory that reporting made real and a story of undying love that crosses the borders of time.

Leslie's mother, Janine
Later that night, I looked more into her story and I found her bio on Amazon. “Leslie Maitland is an award-winning former New York Times investigative reporter and national correspondent who covered the Justice Department. She appears regularly on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR to discuss literature. She lives with her husband in Bethesda, Maryland.”

Oh my! She is also a former award-winning journalist for the NY Times! I’m a journalist as well. It was just so fascinating and unexpected. Certainly greater than the scenarios I had been dreaming up for two days. And for sure the story of Leslie’s mother was greater than fiction too.

Leslie and I at Wallse
And the Library Journal agrees with me since their starred review of her book read: “Sometimes the truth is not ‘stranger than fiction’ but more compelling than fiction, and that’s the case here… Well written and captivating, its story will stay with readers well after the book is finished.”

So have you had any better than fiction moments? Have they made their way into your novels? A hint of a story is already forming in my mind surrounding this event. Want to share any of these moments? I’d love to hear from you!

Morgan Tarpley is an award-winning newspaper reporter and photographer in Louisiana. She is also a novelist currently seeking representation. Besides writing and traveling to over a dozen countries, her interests include acting in her local theater, genealogy, photography, and singing. She resides in Louisiana with her husband.

For more information about Morgan, visit her website ( You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or Goodreads.