Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Joyous Steps to a New Future

     Before the end of the school year, I promised to post my side of the story about being dismissed from Oklahoma Christian School after more than 20 years of faithful service. I wrote and rewrote and revised several different drafts.
     At the risk of sounding like Hillary, I have to ask: What difference does it make?
     It makes a lot of difference to me, but my focus can’t be on what was done TO me. I must focus on what God is doing FOR me. I can’t stay tethered to the past and expect to move forward into the future He is preparing.
     I choose to revel in the freedom He has given me and enjoy this exciting new venture. I choose to trust Him and believe that He guides every step, as He has ALWAYS done, in every area of my life. And I choose to be an example of His love to those I meet, teach, and love.
     Let me again thank everyone for the love and encouragement and prayers you have offered in the past weeks. Each Facebook message…text…email…phone call…tweet…all are part of the blessings I have experienced, and they are truly appreciated. You have each been an integral part of the journey, and I ask for your continued prayers.
     Without a doubt, I am excited about continuing my writing career. My publisher has been wonderfully supportive during this time, and I want to thank them. In March 2015, my first full-length novel Midnight Diamonds debuted as Book One of the Rivers Brothers trilogy. Sapphire Dreams, Book Two, is due for release soon, followed by Ruby Starlight, Book Three, this Fall.
     Will there be more blog posts? Oh, yes...but this chapter is closed. Let's dance our way into a new beginning, directed by "His marvelous light"!!
      Blessings to one and all! If I could shout from the rooftops, it would be a joyous cry of delight at my Lord’s marvelous timing. I do not know what the future holds, but I do know Who holds the future. As I take each step, I am reminded of these wonderful words:

I John 4:4 - “Greater is He that is in me, than he who is in the world.”

Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Romans 8:31 - What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Grieving the Loss, Step by Step

We've all heard about the grieving process: Denial. Isolation. Anger. Bargaining. Acceptance.

Grief can be a result of many things. The loss of a loved one...the loss of something special. I know it is a step by step journey toward acceptance and letting go. I know it takes time and little things matter most. And I know it's good to have friends and family around to help make things better.

But I didn't know how deeply the grief could flow through a person's heart.

For the past several nights I have cried myself to sleep. Flashes of memories and unbidden vignettes punctuate my dreams. There are good memories and not so good ones. Some make me laugh. Some make me smile. Some make me weep, wondering how my students are doing. So many times I watch them struggle with things that are too big for their teenage shoulders to carry, and it breaks my heart.

Like the young man who came running into my room at 7:30 a.m. one morning - he'd just found out his parents were getting a divorce. His gut-wrenching sobs brought my world to a standstill...and over a decade later, I wonder how he's doing.

Or the young woman I found crying in the ladies room because she simply couldn't take the teasing and bullying anymore. Righteous anger rose up in me and I wanted to confront the "mean girls"...but she needed a shoulder more than a defender.

And there were many - so many -  desperate to fit in, being torn apart by compromise, lies and guilt. I spoke truth and prayed it would grow into revelation.

I've witnessed hundreds of young adults search for significance...for value...for assurance that someone cares. Knowing I won't be part of that process at the school where I've taught for twenty years is indescribable. Yet, I must believe I can go on and make a difference regardless of where this new path takes me. I continue to pray for all of "my kids", knowing that God watches over them now and always.

Where am I in the grieving process? I don't know how to answer that, because the ebb and flow of emotions is so unpredictable.

One step at a time...

Friday, April 10, 2015

For All My Students, Now and Then...

Teachers spend years watching students grow and, hopefully, learn. For a dedicated teacher, it is a journey of discovery and revelation. Teaching is my passion, and I have never regretted the days spent in the classroom.

Much to my profound surprise and dismay, my contract is not being renewed at the high school where I have taught for twenty years.

But I don’t want to focus on their…decision.

Rather, I want to share what my students have taught me. Some of the lessons were funny, some were difficult, and some were life-changing.

Teen culture changes quickly, and teachers who don’t keep up are left wondering what’s going on. Fads, slang words, fashion, music – it’s all important to students. Minimizing their interests to trivialities means missing out on a key part of their lives. Let’s be honest. I don’t want to listen to hours of rap or hip hop; however, I occasionally allow students to use this art form in poetry classes to show how words ebb and flow in different ways. To my surprise, some rappers have amazing things to say. Stepping into the world of my students for a brief moment is inspiring and keeps me young.

Perhaps the most significant lesson for me was learning to listen. While it sounds simple, it isn’t. Teens want to know their voice is heard and their viewpoint is valuable. Part of helping them develop strong opinions is listening to their perception of the world. I'm astounded at how simply and accurately most young adults view this complicated society. Teens are great B.S. detectors, even as they sometimes spout it themselves. When a student takes an assignment on homelessness and transforms it into a cause/effect essay with detailed solutions to the problem, I am in awe. When a student takes the time to carve a replica of Chateau d’If (the prison in Count of Monte Cristo) from solid wood, I am transported to a place of admiration and wonder.

Of course, there are humorous moments, like science projects that get in the way of my teaching. I mention this one in my recently published novel Midnight Diamonds. And then there’s the student who said he was late because his mom hadn’t dried his favorite jeans. I love hearing my students laugh at the guttural growls of Boris Karloff in the 1931 movie classic Frankenstein, or how they applaud the football captain for his creation on Snowflake Day (yes, I created a day for my high school students to make paper snowflakes and celebrate winter).

There are also days when it’s time to be quiet and sensitive to each other. We’ve had a few days like that recently…and I am humbled by my students’ outpouring of love and prayerful support. Nothing is more moving than to have a large group of students ask if they can pray for me.

Teachers should laugh with their students…cry with them…make the journey alongside them while gently guiding them. Most of all, teachers should learn from the ones they’re teaching. I am blessed to have grown by leaps and bounds with some of the most amazing young people in this world.

So, to all my students, past and present - thank you for allowing me to walk beside you on this unpredictable path called life and for providing signposts along the way.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Sassy Saturday...and Elizabeth Ellen Carter

Hello, everyone!!

I'm beginning a new feature on Baby Steps and Dreams - Sassy Saturday.
Each week I'll try to feature a new author and their works.

Today I welcome Elizabeth Ellen Carter who lives in Australia.
Recently her novel Warrior's Surrender won the Romance and Writers Down Under People's Choice Award for Best Historical novel!! What an honor!

CH: Great to have you here, Elizabeth! 

EC: Hi Cynthia. Thank you very much for the opportunity to make a guest appearance on your blog.

CH: Was there a defining moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

EC: I think it was somewhat predestined. I always loved reading and when I was about 9 or 10 I would spend school holidays writing my own stories if I had run out of things to read. I figured the only way I could get reliably paid for writing was to work as a journalist and I managed to get an old-fashioned Jimmy Olson-style cadetship one week out of high school.
Even though it was a different form of writing, I never lost the desire to write fiction. I made a half-hearted attempt at writing a novel when I was 22 but it was nearly another 22 years later when I finally became serious about writing and finishing one.
Moonstone Obsession started with a scenario in my head which wouldn't go away. I would dream it. I knew the only way it was going to go was if I wrote it. After encouraging words from my husband I was persuaded to submit it to the Romance Writers of Australia competition for unpublished manuscripts. I was so encouraged by being short listed that I submitted my already completed manuscript to several publishers and Etopia Press thought enough of it to put it under contract.

CH:  What’s it like to immerse yourself into a story and its characters?

EC: Oh goodness, you live and breath it sometimes. Last night hubby and I were in bed talking about a particular plot development (did I mention I'm married to an amazing man?) and a few weeks ago I was at work when a scene unfolded right in front of my eyes. I had to get up from my desk and dictate the scene into my phone.
Specialising in historical romance means that research is especially important - and for me its great fun, learning about the French Revolution and counter-revolution at Vendee or the perilous relationship between Medieval England and Scotland is part of the joy.
My characters are such fun to write. Broadly speaking they are likable even if they do have some rough edges. Those edges are usually born from some hurt or pain in their past

CH: What makes a hero someone to remember?

EC: I love writing about a hero's struggle. In many respects he has a two-fronted battle. Not only does he have to overcome his personal demons in order to make a relationship with the heroine at all possible but also, there is often an external threat which can be as serious as a threat to his life or to the family and friends whom he loves or it could be his reputation at risk.
Either way a hero is someone who put the highest good against self-interest and personal gain, even if means our hero has to risk it all. Who doesn't love a man like that?

CH: How important are historical events in your stories?

EC: Very important. I try to get as accurate as I possibly can without making the novel read like a history book. Every now and again my editor will remind me not to make something a history dump. :)
I try to put people in their historical context and to me that means they are fully engaged with their world - they will talk about the events of the day, wars, politics, fashion, entertainment. As a reader I prefer historical romances which don't shy away from tackling issues instead of being all about ballgowns and bling.

CH:  How do you incorporate strong females into your stories?

EC: Actually, that's the easy part because women have always been strong. The way they manifest their strength may not be in a way that a modern woman might recognise but her strength of character, strength of mind, resilience, resourcefulness are all there. She is both a timeless woman that everyone can relate to and a woman of her time. I find great pleasure in bringing her world to life.

CH: I have no doubt many, many readers will become immersed in the beautiful world of Warrior's Surrender. Thanks again, Elizabeth, for taking time to share your words and heart.
Here's an excerpt from Warrior's Surrender

A shared secret from their past could destroy their future…
Northumbria, 1077. In the years following William the Conqueror’s harrying of the North, Lady Alfreya of Tyrswick returns to her family home after seven years in exile. But instead of returning victorious as her dead father had promised, she returns defeated by Baron Sebastian de la Croix, the Norman who rules her lands.
To save her gravely ill brother’s life, Alfreya offers herself hostage to her enemy. As Alfreya gets to know her new husband, she finds he’s not the monster she feared, and their marriage of convenience soon becomes a bond of passion. But Sebastian is a man with a secret—one that could destroy him.
As a series of brutal murders haunt their nights, the man who betrayed Alfreya’s father returns claiming to be her betrothed. He has learned Sebastian’s secret and will use it to further his own ambition—using Sebastian’s own family—which will destroy Sebastian and mark him a traitor, and plunge an unprepared England into war with the Scots…

By the light of the fire she could see the abandoned chair. To see the second chair Frey must peer around the door.
It too was empty.
Frey frowned. Did she doze and Sebastian slipped past her unseen? She took a further step or two into the room and looked.
The bed was…
Before Frey could complete the thought, she was grabbed roughly from behind and held firmly against a man’s broad chest. A large hand covered her mouth and suppressed an involuntary scream.
The man recognised her and relaxed but did not remove his hand.
You picked the wrong night to slit my throat while I slept, princess.”
Sebastian’s whispered voice filled her ear. He held her still for long moments before speaking.
Are you recovered? You will not scream?”
Frey nodded and shook her head in answer to each question and she was released, her heart pumping furiously.
Do you suggest I pick some other night then?” she said, wiping her mouth to rid the sensation of his hand.
Sebastian ignored her barb and poured a small measure of spiced wine into his goblet. He handed it to her and watched as she drank.
Why do you assume the worst of me?” she asked.
Habit,” he answered, arms folded across his chest. “Now tell me what you’re doing in my chambers while others sleep.”
I have to speak to you.”
Sebastian’s eyebrows rose in surprise. It might have been scepticism, but Frey couldn’t be sure.
And it couldn’t wait until morning?”
All of a sudden Frey’s courage left her and she wondered if her senses had taken leave of her too.
She was an unmarried woman, alone, late at night in the bed chamber of a man whose mere presence made her feel powerful sensations that she struggled to understand. What on earth was she doing?
She shook her head softly.
This was a mistake.”
As she turned to leave, Sebastian grabbed her wrist.  
It’s a mistake to not finish what you start.”

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Revisiting Old Favorites

Everyone who loves to read has a favorite book. Sometimes it’s difficult to choose one out of hundreds or thousands of titles. Love stories, thrillers, mysteries, fantasies… so many choices to keep us up into the wee hours of the night.

But sometimes it’s an easy choice when the story reaches into a part of our lives and speaks to our dreams. There’s always one that saturates our waking moments and drives us to finish mundane chores so we can put up our feet and escape through an author’s words into another world.

For me, that book is Jude Deveraux’s Knight in Shining Armor, published in 1989. I still remember how utterly captivated I was by the story. I laughed…cried…walked every step backward and forward in time with the heroine. Now, 25 years later, I still look forward to reading her romantic tale of undying love at least once a year.

I adore Jude’s style of writing and have amassed a huge collection of her work. Truth be told, I learned a lot about myself through her endearing characters and creative, romantic tales. Her books took me through some very difficult times in my life and reminded me that I am a strong woman. For that, I will be eternally grateful to you, Ms. Deveraux.

Coming in at a close second is John Grisham’s The Testament published in 1999. The powerful novel about addiction, recovery and redemption is not as well-known as most of his works, but it rightfully deserves a place, front and center, among his accomplishments. Thank you, Mr. Grisham, for inspiring my students to read more and for being so poignantly vulnerable with your words.

What about you? Do you have a favorite book you revisit now and then? One you recommend to friends who need a “good book” to read? One that sparked your dreams?

I’d love to hear from you!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Keeping the wick lit

Sometimes when we take that first step toward fulfilling our dreams, there's no clear direction or light at the end of the path. Forget seeing campfires or blazing neon This Way signs. Carrying a torch and finding direction through the flickering shadows of doubt can be tricky and disheartening when rejection snuffs out success. So why do we keep relighting the wick, hoping for a different result?

Three weeks ago I signed with a publishing company to publish my first book. And just like that, something I worked hard for and spent years wishing for became a reality. A tiny light at the end of that very long road became a roaring bonfire of celebration, burning away a huge pile of rejections. 

Recently a contestant on a television talent show was asked why he decided, after 22 years, to re-ignite his dream of being a famous singer. His reply was simple. “Don’t ever give up on your dream. You never know when it’s gonna show back up.”

I am blessed, living proof that relighting the wick is a good thing.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Jig of Joy...One Step At A Time

Taking on a new project or beginning a fresh journey can be filled with excitement and expectations. Motivation is high and inspiration overflows. We enjoy the idea of creation and victory.

But what if the journey is a re-do? What if the path is one we've walked numerous times. Maybe we saw a modicum of success, or maybe we made it to the top of those stairs and danced a Jig of Joy for a short while. Or maybe we tried and failed...and tried and failed...and... Well, you get the idea.

Today I begin a difficult journey that is always full of pitfalls and challenges. It is one where I will be tested over and over again. This endeavor requires commitment, discipline, perseverance, and faith.

However, this time something is different. Even though I know the rugged mountain I'll face, it's okay. I'm standing at the bottom, looking up, wondering how long it will take to climb...and I'm not scared. I don't want to give up. I'm not feeling defeated before I even begin.

The key to this daunting climb is one step at a time. Not giant steps expecting immediate results. Not leaps and bounds to hear the accolades of friends and family. Just one tiny baby step...then another...then another, until I'm done.

How many steps before I do the Jig of Joy?

I'll let you know when I get there.