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March 18, 2008

I receive a LOT of press releases from PR firms asking me to post announcements on my site. Usually I ignore these because I don’t want to waste your time here by turning into a junky blog full of commercials for other people’s stuff!

But THIS contest I found worthy of your attention for two reasons:

1) It involves writing an essay, with a deadline. I’m always in favor of finding ways to motivate kids to see that English grammar and composition actually DO have a purpose in life beyond school. If they (or YOU) can write an essay strong enough to persuade the judges in this contest, it’s a great way to honor someone you love (and there are some mighty fine prizes, as you’ll see below!).

2) This is a contest to honor teachers. I love teachers! I am, on occasion, a teacher!

So here’s the announcement:

Lands’ End is announcing the Teachers Light the Way Contest. The company will recognize outstanding teachers that have made a difference in the life of a student, a school or a community.

Forty-five (45) teachers will receive the coveted Lands’ End Lighthouse Award – representing the company’s 45-year history.

o Three (3) Grand Prize winners that will receive between $4,000-$10,000 for the teachers to split with the winning school.
o Forty-two (42) Honorable Mention winning teachers will receive a $100 Lands End gift card.

But that’s not all – readers who nominate a Grand Prize winning teacher will also receive a $250 Lands’ End gift card. Readers who nominate an Honorable Mention winning teacher will get a $25 Lands End gift card.

If your readers would like to recognize an extraordinary teacher or get more information, they can submit an essay up to 500 words and fill out the online entry form at www.landsend.com/teacheraward.

The contest will end at midnight, April 17, 2008.




March 12, 2008

I’m thrilled to be hosting a special guest today, Vonda Skelton, a fellow writer who has become a dear friend!

I’ve met Vonda a couple of times at writer conferences, and we’ve bonded since we both love children’s books. And she’s a neighbor, right next door in South Carolina! I interviewed Vonda a couple of years ago here and here about her drama script writing and her series of children’s mystery books.

Recently, I had the privilege of reading Vonda’s Skelton’s first book for women, which was amazing. It’s called Seeing Through the Lies: Unmasking the Myths Women Believe, published by Regal. If you’re looking for a refreshing and challenging book for a women’s Bible study, I really loved this one! (And it’s FUNNY too — always a plus for me.)

Vonda has stopped in today to answer a few questions for us. After the interview, if you’ll take a minute to leave a comment, you’ll be entered in a great contest with awesome prizes!

Hi Vonda. Thanks for coming back to visit! Where did you birth the idea for your book, Seeing Through the Lies? How did it come about?

This book was written out of my passion for women’s ministry. We — not just women, but all of us — are deceived by so many lies! They are woven throughout today’s culture. I wanted to help us get focused, or in some cases, refocused, on the timeless truths of God’s Word.

I knew I could reach many more women through a book than I ever could reach through my speaking ministry. So, I started with the key points from my “Celebrating Womanhood” presentation, where we look at the seasons of a woman’s life and come to the conclusion that God can use each of us, no matter our age or situation.

After several revisions and rethinking the needs of women, Seeing Through the Lies was born.

Oh, I wish I could hear your presentation! I’m sure there are many of us who wonder how God can use us in the season we’re in. What takeaway points do you hope the reader pulls from this book?

I hope that after women read my book they’ll realize that Satan works hard to make us believe his lies, but this is what God wants you to know:

* Your worth is not dependent on your beauty, your busyness, or your stuff.
* A happy marriage is one that endures.
* Motherhood is an honorable profession.
* God has the power to overcome your fear.
* You win when you lose.
* Your life won’t be perfect until you reach perfection in heaven.
* You can’t win God’s love because of your goodness, and you can’t lose His love because of your sin. And that, dear sisters, is the truth.

Wow! These are really wonderful truths. Vonda, you’re a prolific writer, mother, and grandmother. How do you deal with your other obligations (family, job, church, etc.) when it’s crunch time near writing deadlines?

Did you have to ask that question? In all honesty, this is one of my biggest struggles — balancing my time between my husband, my family, my home, my church, and my writing and speaking ministry.

The truth is, my husband, Gary, is a dream husband. As I mentioned in the book, his mother made sure he knew how to cook, clean, change diapers, and iron long before we married.


AMAZING!! I’m taking notes now of things to be sure my sons know how to do.

And I know you’re not going to believe this, but I promise it’s true: I never have to ask him to take out the trash, fix the car, or pay the bills. (And no–you CAN’T have him! He’s MINE!) So on those days when he comes home from work at 6:30 and there’s no dinner on the stove and I’m still at the computer in my pajamas, he doesn’t say a word. He simply goes to the fridge, pulls out the sandwich makings and asks if I’ve eaten anything that day.

Can you tell I tend to get tunnel vision when it comes to crunch time? Yes, God has to rein me in over and over. I’m kinda like Paul, “I don’t know why I do the things I do!” (Now, if somebody out there could just tell me how to go to the potty without having to actually leave the computer — just think how much more I could accomplish in a day!)


You are SO funny, Vonda! That’s why you had me laughing out loud at your refreshing honesty in your book. I feel the same way about wanting desperately to find time to write, but needing to cook, do laundry, and clean my house — all at the same time.

Here’s another question for you — What’s your favorite worship song, and why?

One of my favorite songs is “Majesty” written by members of Delirious. The line that says, “Your grace has found me just as I am — empty-handed but alive in Your hand” just gets to me.

I can see myself standing before Holy God, falling to my knees … empty-handed, with nothing to offer Him. And yet, He takes me just as I am — selfish, self-centered, and proud — and cleans me up to be used by Him.

I can’t wait to get to heaven, ’cause I know that when I belt out the songs there, it will be beautiful! No off-key notes, no frightened, trembling voice — it’ll be loud and clear and powerful! And Jesus will be there, smiling at me. Yep. I can see it now. I’m the lead singer and Hillsong is backing me up. And Jesus is smiling real big.

As we say here in the South, it just don’t get no better than that!

Well said! Now since many of us here are trying to balance motherhood with a writing life, what kind of food or drink do you crave the most when you have writer’s stress?

Oh, a banana split always works, as long as it’s a real one. That means chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream, real fruit, and wet nuts, with whipped cream on top. And anything chocolate, of course. But then you have to balance it with salt, right?

Sounds delicious. I think I could use a banana split right now! Can you share something with us about what God has been teaching you lately?

He’s teaching me that I need to trust Him more. I recently had so many things going on that I couldn’t prepare for three events as thoroughly as I usually do.

I found myself feeling vulnerable, weak, and needy. Not that I don’t ask for His help every time I speak, but this was different. I was crying out to God, begging Him to fill me with His words, His message.

And you know what? Those three events were the most powerful, most amazing events I’ve ever had! Instead of working from a well-defined plan, I spoke the words God placed in my heart and mind. As always, I had been praying God would use the week’s events to change hearts … and He did. He changed mine.

I learned to relinquish my agenda and plans to His; to trust Him in a way I hadn’t truly trusted Him before. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

That week, God’s power was made perfect through my weakness. I never want to work in my strength again.

It sounds like your speaking ministry is helping the Lord reach thousands of women, as well as YOU! What are some of the lies or myths women tend to believe? And what are the best ways for women to see through the lies and unmask the myths, in order to live the lives God would have for them?

You mean, besides the one that says we have to be a size 2 and perpetually 23 years old?

HA! YES!! What about us real women who haven’t been a size 2 since we were in, say, junior high?

Besides the lies we’re most familiar with — like our worth is based on our beauty, our busyness, or our stuff — we look at nine areas of deceit women tend to struggle with, like the lies inadvertently promoted by the Christian community.

How many times have we been told, “Just believe God and everything will be wonderful?” Or “If you have enough faith, you won’t be sick.” (The truth is, Jesus tells us we will have trouble in this world.)

Or what about the lie that says we’ll get married and live happily ever after every day? The only way we can unmask the myths and find the truth is to go to God’s Word. Read His instruction. Take to heart the Bible stories of people who lived through similar experiences and then apply the principles to our own lives.

What are the effects of women being sucked in to the lies? And what are the benefits of overcoming this temptation to believe what the world and the enemy would want women to believe?

Regardless of where I go, I find that women are disappointed. We’re disappointed in ourselves, in our marriages, in our lives in general. The problem is, we’re trying to reach some impossible dream the world sets for us.

Living in truth frees us to be what God uniquely created us to be. He wants us to live the abundant life. But we can’t do that as long as we’re falling for the lies.

I like how you utilize humor in your writings. What is your philosophy about integrating humorous thoughts into writings that have more serious subjects?

Some people believe that Christian women speakers have somehow “arrived.” Ha! All you have to do is spend a day at my house and you’ll see that’s one of the biggest lies of all!

Let’s face it, we’re all in the same boat. We’re all struggling along this path called the Christian life. When we laugh at ourselves, we level the playing field and see that we’re not alone. That in itself removes a mask. Then we can move ahead to the truth God has for us.

You give great discussion questions at the end of the book that really helps readers assimilate what they have read. Do you have some ideas or suggestions for how churches and other groups can use this book in a group study? How would a group dynamic enhance individual growth?

For a long time, I compared myself to women at church … and always found myself lacking. But when we come together and honestly confess our hardships and celebrate our successes, we encourage each other in the struggle. Isn’t it great to have a team of prayer partners who will intercede on our behalf throughout the week?

What strength! What love! Oh, just imagine what we can be for Christ when we take off the masks and become real! By completing either one or two chapters a week, the study can be used as a 6 or 12 week study.

Vonda, this was a fantastic interview! Thank you so much for sharing your heart here and through your book. You’ve shared such wisdom with us all.

*******

And now you — my wonderful readers here — have the opportunity to be placed in a drawing for a free gift selected just for you by Vonda. This is a GREAT prize!

If you can take a moment and leave a comment, you’ll be included in a drawing, which will be held on April 2, 2008. The winner will receive:

* Designer Gift Box (looks like a piece of luggage with the words “Faith, Family, Friends” on the exterior).
* One copy each of three books by the author: Seeing Through the Lies: Unmasking the Myths Women Believe, Bitsy and the Mystery at Amelia Island, Bitsy and the Mystery at Tybee Island.
* A stretchy bracelet with Sterling Silver Beads, Gold Swarovski Pearls, Turquoise and Blue Zircon Swarovski Crystals and Sterling Silver Masquerade Mask Charm.
* Bookmark custom-made with Sterling Silver Beads, Gold Swarovski Pearls, Turquoise, Blue Zircon and Clear Swarovski Crystals and Sterling Silver Masquerade Mask Charm on a 4.75 inch Silver Plated Bookmark.
* Gold Tri-fold picture frame.
* Pewter-colored oval picture frame.
* Jeweled decorated cross.
* Peanut caramel clusters.
* Caramel Truffles.
* Mini-Yankee Candle.
* Three-pack sample tea bags.
* Sample Columbian Supremo Coffee.
* Oh My! Itty Bitty Chai Packet.

Don’t those prizes sound like fun! And they’d also make great gifts for Mother’s Day, which will be here before you know it. Thanks, y’all!




March 4, 2008


A few weeks ago, I wrote that my one goal for this new year is to bring more beauty into my world. I think my soul is truly starving for beauty. Even though I’m surrounded by God’s creation, I haven’t been actively pursuing it as a way of life.

Since writing that goal here, I’ve somehow found the courage to do something I’ve always wanted to do, but been afraid. I’ve signed up for a beginner watercolor painting class for adults!

We met for the first time last week, and I had so much fun. It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut and stop interviewing the teacher and other students! They’re people like me, stepping out to try something new, something scary. Yet even our teacher admitted that she began painting in her adult years, as a way to work through a period of grief in her life.

I remember many years ago, my mom came to visit me while I was teaching in Japan, and we spent a wonderful day hiking on the island of Miyajima, off the coast of Hiroshima. It was a gorgeous April day, and the pink cherry blossoms were in full bloom, looking like puffs of cotton candy dotted throughout the island. As we sat down on a bench near a temple, we noticed a lady dabbing watercolors onto small, postcard-size art paper.

When we remarked on the beauty of her paintings, she smiled and said, “I give them to you.” And she did! She gave us several of her lovely scenes, which I’ve always treasured. The red of the temple, pink of the cherry blossoms, and blue of the sea are now forever etched in my memory.

Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed by the beauty of white church steeples set against the pine trees and sunsets. Our yellow jonquils are blooming like mad all over our front yard. Yesterday, I was driving my kids to school and I almost had to pull off the road when I saw several rows of yellow jonquils set against the backdrop of a bright red barn. The scene was so gorgeous I could hardly breathe!

I’m not really sure what I hope to accomplish in taking this painting class. (Mainly, it’s just an opportunity to give myself a break from housework!) Yet, already I’m finding myself more aware of color, of details and shadows. Maybe this will someday work its way into my writing.

An artist looks for a story to paint with color; a writer looks for a story to paint with words.