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Monday, May 8, 2017

Be Still ...

Some days I feel like a hamster on a wheel, going around and around and around yet not getting anywhere! I imagine most of you know that feeling from time to time. Life is just so dadgum busy these days!! Emails, cell phones, computers, apps, jobs, kids, marriage, home life, church life, life life ... it can be all-consuming at times. There are days when I get so frustrated and overwhelmed I want to scream, "Get me off this wheel!" The ride ceased being fun.


I'm in a season of life I've looked forward to for a very long time. After writing and submitting and writing and submitting for more years than I care to admit, my first novel, The Planter's Daughter released in March. Many of my author friends who've walked the road to publication ahead of me warned that the work doesn't stop once your book is published. Nope. One might go so far as to say that's when the hardest work begins! The work of marketing and selling is just as challenging as the work of writing, editing, and submitting. In the latter case, you're trying to get a publisher to buy your work. After publication, you're trying to get the public to buy your work. Both can be daunting. Add to that the amazing blessing of two more book contracts, both with release dates in February 2018, you can color me one busy--and blissfully happy!--writer!

I think that's why Psalm 46:10 is so meaningful to me these days: "Be still, and know that I am God." It's hard to be still when you're on a hamster wheel going ninety-nine miles per hour and barely hanging on! It's hard to be still when life is so full you can't catch your breath from all the running, plotting, working, playing.

This past week Psalm 46:10 has come to my attention three different times in three different ways. I hadn't connected the dots until today, and now I'm wondering if perhaps God has been trying to get my attention, reminding me to be still so He can move in my life. How can I know what God is up to if I'm not listening to him?


I have a plaque hanging above our door that a dear friend gave me with Psalm 46:10 on it. I read it most every day as I walk by, thinking, "Yes, Lord. I hear you!" and then go about my business. A few days ago I discovered this journal (pictured) in a junk drawer. I'd purchased it several years ago but only wrote on two pages. I needed a new journal to takes notes at church and this was perfect. I read the verse aloud and said, "Yes, Lord. I hear you." I put the journal with my Bible and kept on truckin'.

It wasn't until we were at church yesterday that it finally stuck! Pastor Max Lucado asked the congregation to join him in "40 days of listening prayer." He said, "Pray and then be still. Listen." Jokingly, he added that we go into prayer with two ears and one mouth. Use them wisely.

So today I'm trying to be still. To listen. To pray ... and then shut my mouth! Thankfully our God is a patient God. My babbling won't turn his ear away from me, but I also believe he has things to teach me in the silence.


I'm determined to stay off that ol' hamster wheel! How about you? I invite you to join me in 40 days of listening prayer. I'll check back here from time to time throughout these next weeks and post my progress, what God is teaching me, and see how you're doing. Feel free to share in the comments.

Have a wonderfully still day!

~Michelle

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Slave Bills of Sale and Other Research

I'm deep into the edits of Book 2 in The Women of Rose Hill historical fiction series. The sequel to The Planter's Daughter, this book is set on the same Texas cotton plantation and takes place five years after the first book. If you know your Texas history, you'll recognize the date of June 18, 1865. That was the day Union Army troops landed in Galveston, bringing with them the Emancipation Proclamation that freed over 250,000 slaves still in bondage despite the end of the Civil War. As you can imagine, many changes will take place on Rose Hill plantation, so stay tuned to find out when the release date will be! If you haven't read The Planter's Daughter, click HERE to order your copy! History, romance, drama, slavery! It has it all and more, and is getting lots of 5-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads! I think you'll enjoy it! 😄

Since Book 2 won't be out for a while, I thought I'd share some of the research I've done with you to whet your appetite. It was truly a fascinating time in our nation's history!

One item that comes into play in the story is a Bill of Sale. A Bill of Sale was a document given to the purchaser of a slave to prove ownership. When we buy a car these days, we receive a title that shows the car belongs to us. That is what a Bill of Sale did regarding a slave. They were often handwritten, but some slave traders and brokers actually had forms printed and simply filled in the blanks. It is unreal to me that the document pictured below represented the sale of a human being. That human being was named George and he was 23 years old.


In Texas, the largest slave market was located in Galveston. Smaller ones existed in San Antonio and Houston, but because Galveston is a port city, it made sense that slave traders would set up business there. Thousands upon thousands of slaves were bought and sold there. I won't go into the horrific details of what a slave might have endured during these transactions, but suffice it to say animals often fared better.

I've posted about this little book before, but it deserves to be mentioned again because I could not have written about slavery in Texas without it. I Was Born in Slavery provides true narratives of former Texas slaves. In 1936, our government sent out-of-work writers south to interview former slaves so we would have record of their stories. Most were in their 80s, 90s, and 100s, so it was important to hear in their own words what life was like as a slave before we lost the chance. Some of them shared stories about the day "Freedom" came to Texas, and I've incorporated many of their words and reactions into my book. Staying true to the slaves' actual lives and experiences is extremely important to me as an author of historical fiction.


A new character who arrives at Rose Hill in Book 2 is Corporal William Banks. Corporal Banks lands in Galveston with the Union Troops, eager to help set Texas slaves free. As a black Federal soldier, he would have been especially satisfied to see slaves walk off plantations and farms. The young man pictured below looks just like how I imagine Corporal Banks would have looked when he rides into Rose Hill plantation with Colonel Levi Maish, our new hero. I think readers of The Planter's Daughter will be pleased with his story.



So there is just a sneak peek at Book 2!  Go HERE to see some of the pictures on Pinterest that give me inspiration as I'm writing. I truly love all the new characters in the book as well as the returning characters from The Planter's Daughter.  I think you'll love them too! Of course, the book's hero and heroine (a daughter of Rose Hill and returning character) will experience all kinds of difficulties, heart-throbbing romance, and important growth within themselves, just as the characters in Book 1 did. Readers will not be disappointed! I'll let you know the release date soon! In the meantime, be sure to get your copy of The Planter's Daughter HERE. Kindle copies are only $2.99!! Enjoy!

Blessings,

~Michelle

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Liendo Plantation -- A Real Texas Plantation




One of the things I love about writing historical fiction is the research! I positively adore immersing myself in history, usually from the nineteenth century. I especially enjoy it if I can work in a research trip. Whether it's to a pioneer farm, a museum, or an old West fort, I'm always ready for a road-trip! Thankfully, my fabulous chauffeur (aka my sweet hubby!) is a willing participant.

While writing The Planter's Daughter, we visited Liendo Plantation, located in Hempstead,Texas, about 4 hours from where we live in the hill country. The plantation house is privately owned, but the owner graciously opens it to the public once a month for tours. On the weekend before Thanksgiving they have a Civil War re-enactment on the grounds with vendors, food, and a ton of fun!

Since you can't join me on a research trip, I thought I'd share some of my pictures of the plantation with you. Readers of The Planter's Daughter might recognize the house from the description of the fictional Rose Hill Manor I use in the book with a few minor changes.

Liendo Plantation house was built by slaves in 1853. The porch on Rose Hill Manor
wraps all the way around, but I can still envision Adella Rose standing on 
this porch, can't you? 

The back of the house. Again, the porch on Rose Hill Manor would have circled
the entire bottom floor. Also, the kitchen is detached from the main house
in the book. 

Guests attending the pre-wedding gala for George & Natalie might have sat
here to catch a cool breeze

The brick wall fascinated me. I kept imagining
slaves laboring over the laying of each brick.

This reminds me of the scene where Adella Rose
is sitting on the porch with her family one evening.
Her father does something that shocks her.

Readers, can't you picture Adella Rose hurrying
down these steps, barefoot of course, to greet
her father in Chapter One?

Even though I don't have a peacock in
The Planter's Daughter, I thought this guy was
beautiful!


























This is an actual slave cabin. Jeptha, Mammy, and the other Rose Hill slaves would
have had very crowded living conditions, considering there were nearly
one hundred slaves on the plantation.


Perhaps some of the guests who attend George & Natalie's
wedding looked like this.

I hope you enjoyed your brief research trip back to 1859 Texas. I've included lots of historical details about Texas, plantations, and slavery in The Planter's Daughter. If you haven't purchased your copy yet, click here and experience what life was like on a Texas plantation through the lives of Adella Rose, Seth, Jeptha, and more! It's getting lots of 5-stars on Amazon and Goodreads, and many readers say it's a "page-turner-can't-put-it-down" kind of book!


Happy reading!

~Michelle

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Prince of Wales Cake -- Authentic Civil War era recipe

If you've been following this blog for a while, you know how many cooking-type posts I've written: NONE! There is a reason for that. Ninety-six percent of the time I do not enjoy cooking. However, one-hundred percent of the time I enjoy eating, so it does become necessary if I don't want to starve. But cooking has never been something pleasurable to me. Instead, its a chore. And I don't know about you, but chores ain't no fun.

Every once in a while, though, I get inspired to cook or bake something special!

In my new historical novel The Planter's Daughter, a story set on a Texas cotton plantation in 1859, one of the scenes involves baking a cake called Prince of Wales cake. Adella Rose, our heroine, is in the kitchen with Aunt Lu, the head house slave. They are making this cake for Natalie, the soon-to-be-mistress of Rose Hill plantation. At one point, Aunt Lu grumbles about the Prince and his "high an' mighty ways" because this cake is unlike anything she's ever made. She worries she won't get it right, thus coming under the master's displeasure, a valid concern of every slave back in those days.

Ever since I wrote that scene, I've wanted to make Prince of Wales cake. Readers of The Planter's Daughter will be happy to hear yesterday was the day!

First, I gathered the ingredients, all of which would have been readily available in 1859.


Next, I used my trusty dusty KitchenAid mixer (which sadly would not have been readily available in 1859!) to cream together the butter and sugar of the first batter. This KitchenAid is near and dear to my heart, because my dad gave it to my mom for Christmas many years ago. I still remember how Daddy smiled and smiled when he presented it to Mom.


Following the recipe just as Aunt Lu would have done, I added the other ingredients to create a light colored batter. I can almost picture Adella Rose sneaking tastes of it!


Then I made the second batter, which is darker due to the molasses and spices.


Now it's time to combine the two batters into one pan. Aunt Lu was confused by these instructions. She thinks they should bake two separate cakes, but Adella reminds her the recipe calls for combining the batters. I have to admit, I wondered if Aunt Lu was right, but like her, I followed the instructions to a T.



 The recipe called for a large fluted pan. I had a Bundt pan, so I assumed that would be good enough. Wrong! When they say "large" pan, they mean a LARGE pan!! I had far more batter than could fit in my pan. I'm embarrassed to admit I went ahead and filled it to the brim. Don't do this! It spilled over while baking and made a very stinky mess on the bottom of my oven.

I took my knife and swirled the batters together as told, and while I did, I smiled, thinking of Aunt Lu with her elbow raised like an artist creating a masterpiece.

Admittedly, once it was all layered and swirled and ready to go into the oven, I was rather pleased with myself. Just like Adella Rose, I took a spoon and scraped the bowls, taste-testing each batter. Yummmm!



I slid the pan into the oven, set the timer for one hour and twenty minutes, and waited with high expectations!!

A word to the wise baker: Definitely flour your pans. I didn't. I used cooking spray, but the cake unfortunately stuck to the pan. Waaa. I'd hope to have a lovely photograph of my Prince of Wales cake on this pretty glass cake stand I own and have never used. But I had to settle for simply showing you a couple slices.

Aren't they pretty?



The cake is not too sweet and has a bit of a spice cake taste to it. Sprinkle with some powdered sugar and it is ready to serve!! Delicious! Just like folks ate on Rose Hill Plantation in 1859.

If you'd like to make Prince of Wales cake, go here to find the recipe.

ENJOY!

If you haven't purchased your copy of The Planter's Daughter, click here. I'm getting lots of 5-stars and great feedback from readers! Some can't put the book down, and one reader said it was "one of the best books" she's read all year.

Have a blessed day!

~Michelle

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Freedom! Embrace it!

Freedom is the theme throughout my new historical novel The Planter's Daughter. Each of the main characters longs for freedom from something that is keeping them from living the abundant life that God intended for them. Adella Rose, the planter's daughter, longs for the freedom to choose her own destiny. Seth, our hero, needs the freedom forgiveness brings. And Jeptha, the slave I chose to represent all the other slaves, obviously longs for physical freedom. Everyone, I believe, at one time or another, has allowed themselves to become enslaved, whether by sin or another person or a circumstance, to the point they are no longer free.

Sound familiar?

I've lived in that bondage, and I imagine many, if not all, of you have, too. So many different things can keep us trapped, enslaved even, ultimately preventing us from living in joy and freedom. To name just a few: unhealthy relationships; past experiences; past mistakes; past abuses; alcohol; drugs; tobacco; pornography; sex addictions; materialism; money; and on and on.

The apostle Paul talked about this very thing in Galatians 5. Some of the newly converted Christians were being told they had to conform to the old Jewish rituals in order to be saved, rather than simply believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.  He wants them to understand that they---and we---are not justified by the works of the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ. Verse one says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."




Paul isn't talking about the kind of slavery Jeptha, Aunt Lu, and the others experience as slaves on Rose Hill plantation. They had no choice but to live as slaves. Their very lives depended upon obeying their white master. Paul is talking about the kind of slavery we bring upon ourselves by our own choices. In the Galatians case, they were in danger of making Christ's sacrifice on the cross somehow not enough for eternal salvation. They had to make a choice: trust the Truth Paul was teaching, or go back to the old ways that God himself deemed insufficient when He sent his Son to redeem us. Like you, I've walked that road. I've let choices I made keep me in bondage far too long. I've even let experiences I had no control over prevent me from living in the joy God wanted for me in spite of the unpleasantness I experienced.

Are you in bondage to something? Or maybe even to someone? Jesus Christ can free you from it! All of the things I listed above that keep people enslaved today can be broken, like a chain falling off of you, by the power in Jesus Christ. Are you in a relationship that is keeping your from being the person you know in your heart you should be? Ask Jesus to give you the strength and courage to walk away. NO relationship on earth is worth the price you might pay if you stay in it! Is alcohol, drugs, tobacco, food, or something else keeping you enslaved? Our bodies are the temple where the Holy Spirit resides, so he will most definitely help you overcome whatever you are putting in your body that isn't healthy. Sex addictions can absolutely be overcome by the power and the blood of Jesus Christ! I personally know someone who has defeated that very thing, and I tell you, it's a beautiful thing to see how free this person is!

I'll leave you with Jesus's own words on the subject found in John 8:35-36:

"A slave is not a permanent member of the family but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed."

Live a life of freedom, folks! If you have a specific need, I'd love to pray with you. Leave a comment or send me an email to MichelleShocklee@MichelleShocklee.com.

Blessings,

~Michelle

 

Monday, March 13, 2017

"I was born in Slavery. Let me tell you about it."

A lot of people are curious about how I came up with the dialect the slaves speak in The Planter's Daughter. Well, let me tell you a little story. 


As I set out to write The Planter’s Daughter, an antebellum novel set on a Texas cotton plantation in 1859, I took great care in researching the setting, the time period, and the events that unfold throughout the story. Even though I’ve lived in Texas for more than thirty years, there was much I didn’t know about the Lone Star State’s history after the Alamo and prior to the Civil War. For instance, I was surprised to learn how many plantations existed during that time period, with some like Liendo Plantation still standing today. Although cotton wasn’t king in Texas just yet, it was a money-making crop for many planters. And as we all know, slave labor was key.

With that in mind, I was especially concerned with accuracy when it came to telling the slaves’ accounts. Their stories, I felt, needed special attention in order for readers to truly see slavery on a Texas plantation. I didn’t want to simply use generalities about slavery in the south. That’s when I discovered a book titled I Was Born in Slavery: Personal Accounts of Slavery in Texas.


In 1936, with the Great Depression raging, the government established the Federal Writers’ Project, with one notable project being the Slave Narrative Collection. Out-of-work writers were dispatched across the South to interview former slaves, all of whom were by then in their 80s, 90s, and 100s. Over 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs were documented and are now archived in the Library of Congress in Washington DC. Some of the stories have found their way into print, like those in I Was Born in Slavery.

The writers/interviewers took great care to preserve the former slaves’ idiom, feeling it was as important to preserve the subject’s manner of speech as it was to preserve what they said. I used that dialect when writing dialog. Some of the former slaves' speech was especially heavy with the dialect, and others weren't. I chose to find a balance between the two, because the dialect can make for hard reading, as in Uncle Tom's Cabin, the 1852 book that is credited as being one of the catalysts of the Civil War. 

While writing my book, I chose two slaves in particular to speak with a heavier dialect: Moses and Mammy. Their usage of words like "dem" and "dat" is NOT to poke fun at their lack of education or in any way to degrade them as people, but rather to remain true to the language spoken on an 1859 Texas cotton plantation. The other slaves in the book use a less heavy dialect, but still stay within the speech used by the former slaves in I Was Born in Slavery. Like the interviewers, I felt it was important to portray slavery and the slaves as they were, not as we would like them to be. 

The former slaves' testimonies in I Was Born in Slavery changed my book. They changed me as a writer and as a person. Long after The Planter’s Daughter is gathering dust on the shelves, a little orange book with a smiling old gentleman on the cover will, I am certain, continue to draw me to it, almost as though I can hear one of the former slaves say, “I was born in slavery. Let me tell you about it.”

I hope you'll grab a copy of The Planter's Daughter (click here to order). I'm getting great feedback from readers who say they can't put the book down once they start reading. One early reader said it was "one of the best books" she's read all year!  

Have a blessed day!

~Michelle

Friday, March 3, 2017

It's Release Day for The Planter's Daughter!


MY BOOK RELEASES TODAY!!!


The Planter's Daughter received her wings and is flying out into the world as I write this blog post! She is right now winging her way across the internet into the computers and iPads of folks who pre-ordered the e-book version. Those who pre-ordered the print version will have her in hand in a week or so. 

It's a truly exciting and humbling moment for an author. 

Like many authors, I've poured my heart into this book. The characters became real people in my imagination. I've laughed with them. I've cried with them. I fell in love with them. And my deepest desire is that you, the reader, will too. 

You can read more about why I wrote the book here, but I wanted to share a few things now so you know what you're getting when you purchase the book (click here to order)

  • The Planter's Daughter is a romance at its heart, but there is so much more going on. Freedom is the underlying theme throughout the story. All of the main characters need freedom from something that is keeping them from living the abundant life God created them to live.
  • Some of the scenes involving slaves are very realistic to what really happened during the days of slavery. After reading true narratives of former Texas slaves, where they told of the abuse they endured, I knew I had to include it in my book. Not for the shock factor or anything like that, but because we should never forget what slavery allowed one human being to do to another. 
  • The Planter's Daughter is the first book in a 3-book series. The second book is tentatively scheduled to release in November 2017. Each book is set on the same Texas cotton plantation but in different time periods with a different hero and heroine in each book. 
If you or someone you know enjoys reading historical fiction, I hope you will get a copy of The Planter's Daughter.  I've woven lots of interesting Texas and American history throughout the book, and I've tried to stay true to the time period and setting as far as language, dialect, sights and sounds.  

I will host a Launch Party on my Author Michelle Shocklee Facebook page tomorrow, Saturday, March 4, all day. I am giving away free copies of my book, some Chicken Soup for the Soul books, gift cards, and some other goodies, so be sure to stop in throughout the day for lots of chances to enter and join the celebration!!

I'll leave you with the words of what one early reader said about The Planter's Daughter:

The Planter’s Daughter captivated me from chapter one. I didn’t just read this story, the author put me in the middle of the setting and I watched the story unfold around me. Michelle Shocklee has done a masterful job of allowing her three-dimensional characters to perform the story on a sensory-rich stage. One of the best books I’ve read this year. BRAVO!

~ Connie Stevens, Author
Brides of Georgia and Hope’s Dwelling Place


Blessings,

~Michelle


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Confessions of a Newbie Author

One week!

Just one week until The Planter's Daughter officially releases and goes out into the world! I received my proof copies (to read through one. last. time before going to print!) and I can't tell you how thrilling it was to actually hold my book in my hands!! I won't go so far as to liken it to holding one of my babies for the first time---nothing can ever come close to that amazing event!---but it was one of those moments in life I hope I never forget.


But I have to be honest with you. I'm a little scared about this whole letting-the-public-read-my-book thing. Okay, okay. I'm terrified! I know millions of authors have done it in the past, and I know millions more will do it in the future. My book isn't anything special when it comes to the vast number of books that have been published. It's just that this particular author has never let too many people read her stuff, so it's kinda scary realizing that people who don't know me and my heart are going to be reading--and judging--this book. Yes, blogging about walking in The Way opens a door for criticism, but somehow the release of my book is different. I poured my heart into this book, so I'm feeling a little vulnerable. My hope and prayer is it will be well received, but ultimately I have to simply leave it in God's capable hands. He is the one who set me on this path many years ago, and He is the one who has a plan and a purpose for me and my writing.

So I thought I'd give you a peek into my brain (I know ... that's a scary thought, eh?!) and let you in on how you can help a newbie author:


  • Buy the book. Yeah, that seems kinda obvious, but the reality is a new author doesn't have a built-in audience in their pocket like multi-published authors. There is a saying in publishing that goes something like, "If a first book doesn't sell well, there won't be a second book." Fortunately, I have already signed the contract for the second book in The Women of Rose Hill series and turned in the manuscript to my editor, so I know there will be a second book, scheduled for release in November 2017. And fortunately I've signed a contract with Barbour Publishing for a novella that will come out in early 2018. God has truly been good to me this year! BUT book sales figures matter to a publisher, current and future. My publisher, LPC Books, is actually a ministry, so they don't have a big budget like many other larger publishers. They take a huge risk each time they publish a book, especially for us newbies. So please, buy the book! I would greatly appreciate it!
  • Tell your friends and family about the book. Statistics reveal that word of mouth is the number one way word gets to readers about a book. If you follow me on social media, share my posts about the book, promotions, giveaways, etc. Anything to help get the word out is deeply appreciated! If you are in a book club, suggest my book. I'd love to participate through live chat or come to the club if it's within driving distance. 
  • Post a review on Amazon and Goodreads.  Reviews are vital to a book's life. Even short reviews like, "I enjoyed this book" help! The more reviews a book has, the more visibility it gets. I realize not everyone is going to love my book, but I think most people can find something redeeming in the story to comment on. 
  • Lastly, pray for me and my book. My deepest desire for The Planter's Daughter is that ultimately it will glorify God! There are themes and scenes throughout the book that reveal how each of us is in need of a Savior. It isn't a "preachy" or "religious" book, but my hope is the trials and tribulations the characters go through will shine a light on the power of God and how it can heal and release each of us from bondage, whatever that bondage may be.  
So there you have it. Confessions of a newbie author. I truly am excited to share Adella & Seth's story with the world! I hope you fall in love with them in the same way I did while writing the novel. Click here or on the link on the side panel to order a print or electronic copy. To read more about The Planter's Daughter and why I wrote the book, click HERE.

Thanks for stopping by the blog! Have a blessed day!

~Michelle

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

29 Days Until THE PLANTER'S DAUGHTER Releases!




Yes, folks, we are closing in on the release of my debut novel,The Planter's Daughter! Just 29 more days and TPD will wing its way out into the world. I know this sounds silly, but it's a bit like raising a child and watching them grow up and fly the nest. My hope is TPD will have a wonderful, blessed life away from the sheltered confines of my computer. I'll blog more about the release in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

BUT ... if you aren't good at waiting, I have good news! You can PRE-ORDER my book on Amazon here! Either in book form or the Kindle version. They will be shipped and/or delivered to your computer on March 3, 2017.

One other tidbit of good news to share: I've recently signed a contract with Barbour Publishing for a novella to be included in the MAIL-ORDER BRIDES COLLECTION, release in January 2018! I am super excited!

I'll leave you with a verse that truly speaks to me as I begin my career as a published novelist. It's from Ephesians 2:10:

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Isn't it wonderful to know God planned in advance the work He wanted you and me to get done while we are on this earth? He has a plan AND a timetable. I find that very comforting!

~Michelle


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Goodbye 2016! Let Go of the Past!

Happy New Year, folks!

In just a couple days we will say goodbye to the old year and ring in the new. It's a time to reflect on the events of the past twelve months, good and bad, and look ahead to the possibilities of the days in front of us. Our family was mightily blessed in 2016. Not everything went as we planned or hoped, but God's goodness can be found woven throughout all 525,600 minutes of it. One of the biggest blessings I experienced was signing TWO book contracts! My novel, THE PLANTER'S DAUGHTER, will release in March 2017, so lots of exciting events are coming up. Stay tuned!

But like most of you, there are things I wish I'd done differently in 2016. Mistakes I made. Choices I wish I could go back and change. But what's done is done. We can't go back. Forward is the only option. And that is the beauty of a new year. We don't have to make those same mistakes in 2017! We don't have to make the same choices. A new year can mean new possibilities. New paths to take. A new you!

How do you go about this? Jesus gave us some pretty clear instructions in Luke 14:25-27:

"One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, "Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters---yes, even one's self!---can't be my disciple. Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can't  be my disciple." (The Message Bible)

Did you notice those two all-important words stuck right in the middle of this passage?

LET GO!

In order to move forward, we have to LET GO of the past! Jesus seems to take this to the extreme, in our human opinion, when he tells us we must let go of all that is dear to our hearts in order to be his disciple. We even have to let go of the person who we think we are! It sounds harsh, but if we truly exam the relationships and other things that take priority in our lives, we might be surprised to find they really are a hindrance. To our personal growth. To our peace of mind. And yes, even to our relationship with Jesus Christ, which is of utmost importance. Have you ever said, "My husband (or wife or child or whatever) is my everything"? Well, what if they were taken from you? Does that mean you are left with nothing? Holding on tight doesn't necessarily mean you get to keep them anyway. It just means you've attempted to take control of something you really have no control over.

When we refuse to let go (which is not always a physical letting go), that's when we can be certain something or someone is keeping us from the abundantly blessed life Jesus has for us. This isn't to say you have to disown your loved ones, but when they take the place of God in your life, you have a real problem that needs to be addressed pronto! (Trust me, I know this from experience!)

As I look forward to 2017, I don't want past mistakes and past sins to drag along behind me, weighing me down like a ball and chain. I want to cut them off. Make a clean getaway. LET GO! Some questions we might ask ourselves as we head into the new year are:

  • Have I neglected my relationship with Jesus? Why? 
  • Am I holding a grudge against someone? 
  • Have I wronged someone and not asked for forgiveness?
  • Could I have made better choices in friendships?
  • What can I do differently in this new year that would draw me closer to God?
I'm ready to greet 2017 with excitement for all God has planned for me! I don't have any grand expectations. I simply trust He knows best, and that's good enough for me!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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This YEAR'S Shout-Out countries are:

USA, Russia, China, France, Ukraine, Germany, South Africa, Poland, Netherlands, Ireland, United Kingdom Sweden, Canada, Latvia, Nigeria, Philippines, Indonesia, Kenya, Spain, Romania, Portugal, Czech Republic, Mexico, Georgia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Slovenia, Malaysia, India, Luxembourg, Portugal,  Cote d'Ivoire, Pakistan, Singapore (and probably some I've neglected to list here).

THANK YOU to all the visitors from around the world who pop in and visit my blog! I appreciate each and every one of you! I hope you will make LIFE ALONG THE WAY a regular stop in 2017!

~Michelle

Friday, December 16, 2016

An Angel's Story

What was it like to be an angel on that first Christmas? 
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Excitement tingled in the air. I and all the angels of heaven, as well as those serving on earth, had been summoned to present ourselves before the LORD. Something big was happening, but no one knew what. I hurried to take my place among the multitude, anticipation making it hard to stand still. When we'd all assembled--ten thousand times ten thousand and more!---Gabriel stepped forward and stood near God's throne. The Lamb sat on a throne on God's right. He looked peaceful, serene.

God rose from his seat and everyone grew quiet.

"Today the prophecy I gave my servant Isaiah will be fulfilled." His voice thundered through the heavens.

A hushed murmur rose from the crowd of angels. We knew God spoke of the covenant he'd made with a human named Isaiah, one of God's chosen race, the Hebrews. Isaiah was obedient and faithful, and God had placed upon him the responsibility to be His voice throughout the ages to the disobedient Jews. Through Isaiah, God promised to send a Messiah, One who would save the entire world from sin. God's patience with mankind continued to amaze me. They deserved the same fate as the people in Noah's day, but God promised never to destroy them again. Instead, He set in place a plan of salvation that even I didn't fully understand.

Seeing Gabriel standing beside God, I wondered if perhaps he was being sent to save the human race. Gabriel would be a good choice. He was strong and mighty, and God had sent him to earth on other occasions.

But just when I expected God to call Gabriel forward, the Lamb stood.

A collective gasp went through the crowd. Surely not the Lamb!

"I am sending the Lamb to be a sacrifice for all mankind," God said. "Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life with us."

"No!" angels shouted all around me. "Not our Prince!"

God raised his hand for silence. "It must be so. There is no other way."

I looked and saw Michael and his army draw their swords. Relief swept through me. The Lamb would be protected. No harm would come to him.

But God instructed them to put their weapons away. "The Lamb will go alone. He will become human. He will be born of a virgin, and he will grow in wisdom and stature. After a time, however, the men of earth will reject him and kill him."

A terrible hurt rose inside me. I'd heard humans talk about something called sorrow, and I knew this must be what they meant. The pain grew deeper than anything I'd ever known as I watched my beloved Prince--heaven's treasure--depart God's presence. I didn't understand how God could allow this to happen, but I trusted Him to know what was best. He had never failed us before, and I knew He would not fail us now.

I felt a strange wetness on my face and was surprised to find tears dripping from my eyes. I looked and saw others around me wiping wetness from their faces too.

I hadn't known before.

Angels can cry.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Click here to read An Angel's Story Part 2.

Click here to read An Angel's Story Part 3, the Conclusion.



Monday, October 31, 2016

Fasting ... Is it Still Relevant to Christians in 2016?

I love food! I don't like to cook, but I do love to eat! Growing up I was a pretty picky eater, but these days you can put just about anything in front of me and I will happily gobble it up! Mmmm!

So when God started calling me to a day of fasting each week, I wasn't exactly hopping for joy. Shamefully, I had only fasted a few times in my life, despite having grown up in the church. (Here's a link to my testimony.) Fasting isn't fun. It is sacrifice. And like most of you, I'm not too anxious to sacrifice what I hold dear. Some folks fast from something during Lent, but God was calling me to something more regular. Like ... one day every week. Every week?? Wow. Could I do that? I hadn't been too great at fasting in the past, so I didn't have much confidence in myself.

But God wouldn't let it go. After a few weeks of knowing in my spirit what He wanted me to do, I gave in. That doesn't sound real spiritual, eh? Giving in. But that's kinda how I felt.

"Okay, Lord," I said, already missing my favorite meals. "You're gonna have to help me do this."

I decided what day of the week I would fast and what meals. I won't spill the details here, because fasting is not supposed to be a public display for all the world to see. It's between you and God. It is a very personal act of worship and obedience.

From the get-go, God led me to Isaiah 58, a chapter with the heading "True Fasting." I encourage you to read it, because God has some very specific things to say about what fasting is and what fasting is not. I read this chapter each week on my fasting day to remind me that what I'm doing is not about me. It's not even about food. It's about being obedient to what the Father asked me to do.

Some Christians don't believe fasting is relevant to us today. "Isn't that an Old Testament practice?" they ask. Why should Christians in 2016 fast? Well, the answer I give to that question is the same answer I give to a few other questions:

Why should Christians in 2016 pray? Because Jesus did. (Matthew 6:9-14)

Why should Christians in 2016 be baptized? Because Jesus was. (Matthew 3:13-17)

Why should Christians in 2016 read the Bible?  Because Jesus loved the scriptures. (Luke 4:17-21)

Why should Christians in 2016 go to church? Because Jesus did, regularly. (Luke 4:16)

Why should Christians in 2016 fast? Because Jesus did. (Matthew 4:1-2)

If we are going to wear his name -- Christ -- then we must be Christlike. In all things. No where in my Bible do I find an expiration date on fasting or praying or attending church. On the contrary, I find plenty of instructions to do these things continually. In Matthew 6:5 Jesus said, "When you pray ..." He didn't say "if" you pray. In verse 16 he said, "When you fast ..." Again, he didn't say "if" you fast. The Apostle Paul also encourages us--New Testament Christians--to pray, to fast, to attend church regularly, to read the scriptures, and to be baptized.

So, let's answer the question I posted in the title of this blog. Is fasting still relevant to Christians in 2016? Answer: a resounding YES, it is!!

In my prayer journal, I wrote down the date I started fasting: September 28, 2015. I am happy to say I have kept up with fasting once a week for an entire year now. I don't say that to get pats on my back, or to toot my horn, or to claim to be holier than thou. I simply state it with a grateful heart for what God is teaching me through my day of fasting. I truly, truly look forward to that day now. Instead of eating a meal, I spend time in prayer. When my tummy starts to growl in the afternoon, I stop and thank God for the provision he has always given me. Several HUGE prayer requests have been answered in the past year, too. If you have never fasted, or if it's been a while since you fasted, I highly encourage you to incorporate fasting into your regular worship time with God.

I'll leave you with these beautiful promises from God found in Isaiah 58:8-9. Promises to those who are sincere in their fasting:

"Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say, "Here am I."

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Prayer Shout-Out countries are:
USA, France, China, Spain, Germany, Japan, Kenya, Philippines, Ukraine, Poland, Netherlands, Russia

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Freedom: Yours for the Taking

We talk about freedom a lot in this country. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Freedom of this and that. Freedom is a very good thing. In my new novel, THE PLANTER'S DAUGHTER, which releases on March 3, 2017, the theme of freedom is woven throughout the story. Each of the main characters desires freedom from something. I'll share more about that as the release date draws closer.

Today, I'm thankful to live in America, despite all her problems. I'm thankful for the brave men and women who crossed the ocean hundreds of years ago seeking freedom from the tyranny of King James. I'm thankful for the men who fought and sacrificed for freedom in the many wars to come, including my own Daddy who was a WWII vet. I'm thankful for the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, even though it would be decades and decades before everyone in America was free.

But today, my unending gratitude is for the One who truly gave me freedom.

Jesus.

Not the President of the United States. Not the Congress and Senate who make laws. Not even the men and women serving in the military can assure my freedom.

Only Jesus.

"If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32-33

 "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!" John 8:36

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." Galatians 5:1

"To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood..." Revelation l:5

The freedom Jesus gives can't be taken away by a ruler. It can't be taken away even if you are behind bars. It can't be taken away by any human effort. The freedom Jesus gives is a gift. It was paid for with his blood.

The freedom Jesus offers is yours for the taking! It's FREE! What do you need freedom from? Guilt? A sinful life? Bad choices? Anger? Jealousy? Temptations? Apathy? If you haven't experienced the freedom Jesus offers, and if you aren't sure how to get it, please contact me. I would love to share the Good News and Freedom found only in Jesus Christ with you!

Today, like King David said: "I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. (Psalm 119:45)

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This week's Prayer Shout Out countries are: 
USA, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, China, France, Germany, Nigeria, Philippines, Netherlands

Friday, May 20, 2016

Fiction Friday: Until the Day Breaks by Paula Scott

I love reading a great book, don't you? I also love recommending a great book! Today is your lucky day, because I'm going to tell you about a book you must read! If you enjoy history and romance, this book is for you.

Until the Day Breaks by Paula Scott is a powerful tale of love, passion, war and faith. Set against the backdrop of California's tumultuous history, a young woman finds her loyalties tested beyond limit and her desires torn beyond measure in 1846 California. Paula's mesmerizing style of writing will carry you away, allowing you to experience the setting and characters in such a way you won't want to put the book down. The historical details are intricately woven into the tale, and my imagination easily produced a picture of a California I was not familiar with. Paula is a 5th generation Californian, so she definitely knows her stuff.

While I don't want to give you too much of the story, here's a little appetizer to tide you over until you get your own copy of this amazing book:

Rachel, a devout Protestant, is summoned to California where her father lives. He has embraced the life of a Californian, marrying a young Spanish woman, and securing his place in the gent de razon, the ruling class of California. Although she is engaged to marry a minister back in Massachusetts, Rachel learns her father has betrothed her to Roman, a proud Catholic Spanish soldier willing to die for his homeland. Neither she nor Roman want the marriage, yet neither can they deny the passion that stirs their hearts for one another.

With the threat of war looming over them, danger lurks in the most unlikely places. Who can be trusted? Roman and Rachel ultimately face the choice we all come to in life: will they trust God for their future or take matters into their own hands?

Until the Day Breaks is available now! Just click the link.

Enjoy!







Friday, April 15, 2016

The Gardener, the Vine, and Why Pruning is Necessary

When most people think of vineyards and wineries, images of the lush hills of France or Napa Valley come to mind. Famous wine regions like Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne are known even by folks like me who aren't exactly wine connoisseurs. Dry, hot, dusty Texas probably isn't on the wine-radar of most people who enjoy a glass of the fruit of the vine from time to time, but here in the Texas hill country, vineyards are everywhere! Seriously. Around  the quaint town of Fredericksburg, you can't throw a stone without hitting a vineyard. We drive past at least a dozen when we go to Georgetown on weekends.

Personally, I love the beauty of a vineyard far more than I love the product produced from its grapes. A well-tended, well cared for vineyard is a work of art. Row after row of perfectly formed vines loaded with fat, juicy grapes. Gorgeous!



Yet grapevines don't naturally grow in nice, neat uniform rows. Left untended, a vineyard quickly becomes a mess. Overgrown vines trail everywhere and weeds fast outgrow the plants, eventually choking out the fruit all together.  


Jesus used the illustration of a vineyard to teach us a vital lesson. In John 15:1-3 he says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so it will be even more fruitful." 

Grapevines begin with one main stem. From that, branches sprout and grow into vines. As any master gardener knows, branches must be pruned and shaped if they are to stay healthy. Pruning may seem like it hurts the plant, but in reality it is helping the plant grow stronger and produce better fruit. Unhealthy, non-producing branches must be cut off in order for the main plant to thrive. 

So why would Jesus compare himself and us to a grapevine? Because the visual lesson really hits home when you see yourself as a branch growing on the main -- true -- vine. Are you a branch that is healthy and producing good fruit? Or are you in danger of the Gardener's clippers because your fruit is rotten, bug (sin) -infested, or maybe you aren't producing fruit at all? 

What exactly is good fruit? Look at Galatians 5:22-23:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."

Proverbs 12:14 says, "From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward."

Good qualities like love and patience don't always come natural to us though. They have to be cultivated by the Gardener. And more often than not that takes pruning. Ouch! But, oh, it is so, so worth it! Sometimes we have to learn lessons the hard way in order to truly take them to heart and apply them to our lives. I speak from experience. I've been pruned until I wanted to cry "Uncle!" But on the other side of it, looking back at who I was before the pruning, I'm ever so thankful God cared enough and loved me enough to help me grow, not as a wild, unruly plant going my own way, but as a beloved branch who tries daily to produce good fruit. 

But what happens to the branches that aren't producing good fruit and are ultimately cut off from the vine?

"Such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (John 15:6)

Friends, Jesus wants us to be part of him. "I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (v. 5) But Jesus is also very clear about what happens when we choose not to be part of him. When we choose to go our own way, following our own beliefs, making our own choices based on worldly knowledge rather than Godly knowledge, we will be cut off from him. Yet as long as you have breath in your body, you have the opportunity to choose Jesus! To choose what is right and good based on biblical teachings. To be part of THE Vine, producing good fruit! 

Boy, it doesn't get any better than that! Let's be fat, juicy grapes together, okay?

I'm suddenly thirsty for a big ol' glass of grape juice! 

Have a great day!

~Michelle