Karen Rees | @ICFWriters Scripture: Luke 6:20-23 Do you know the hymn “Count Your Many Blessings”? Written in 1897, it was one of 5000 songs that Johnson Oatman Jr. composed during his lifetime – he died in 1922 - as a way to preach the Gospel. ...

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Karen Rees | @ICFWriters

Scripture: Luke 6:20-23

Do you know the hymn “Count Your Many Blessings”? Written in 1897, it was one of 5000 songs that Johnson Oatman Jr. composed during his lifetime – he died in 1922 - as a way to preach the Gospel. The song's message? Despite whatever hardships life may throw at us, God has provided us with countless blessings.
But I can't count a blessing I'm blind to.
Thankfully my eyes have been opened to a few blessings through working with a 98% female congregation of live-in household servants imported from the Philippines. These women, many of whom are married and are mothers, have to leave their families behind. They can only go back home to see them for a few weeks each year. Unlike them, I'm blessed to live with my husband and to have raised my children myself.

Despite the hardships these women face, they feel blessed to have a job in Hong Kong because it allows them to provide for their impoverished families back home. Of course, they'd prefer to have good jobs in the Philippines. Unfortunately, long-term endemic government corruption has helped ruin the economy and robbed them of that option. I'm blessed that my country doesn't have this problem.
I've discovered additional blessings since becoming involved with a Tamil asylum seeker family from Sri Lanka.

I have a passport and am free to come and go from Hong Kong. They've been stuck here, living in limbo, for the last eleven years.
I have the freedom to work and support myself. They're not allowed to work so are forced to rely on inadequate government handouts, charity, and begging to survive.
I decide how to use my time. They have to report to the various government authorities whenever ordered even when that means leaving their small frightened hospitalized child.
After my daughter married, I was reminded of another blessing. I can see the vast array of beautiful colors that God used in his creation. My son-in-law is color blind and can only see yellow. For him, this colorful scene would all be in shades of gray.

And thanks to working with generous Filipinas who love custom-made T-shirts, I'm blessed to have enough T-shirts to last the rest of my life.
The song concludes with this verse. “So, amid conflict, whether great or small, Do not be discouraged, God is over all; Count your many blessings, angels will attend, Help and comfort give to your journey's end.”
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:31b-32
Even as we count our many blessings and rejoice that we have such a loving God, let's allow him to use us to bless others.
What unexpected blessings has life revealed to you?

Bio: Karen Rees exchanged life as a farmer's daughter for SE Asian “big city” life when she and her husband began mission work in Hong Kong. They've worked with local Chinese, household servants imported from the Philippines and Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka.
As a result she's eaten chicken's feet, baby octopus cooked in its own ink, barbecued pig's ear and several other delicacies that she didn't ask about.
Karen is the mother of two and grandmother of three, an avid reader, quilter, lover of history and an author of historical fiction set during the English Reformation.
Facebook Author Page: https://www/facebook.com/Author.KarenRees

The Story Behind The Story

Laurie Wood | @LaurieJeanWood

I decided to set my romantic suspense in a small sub-arctic Canadian town because polar bears are such a Canadian icon. And I had fun delving in to the research about Churchill, Manitoba, researching polar bears and the conservation efforts preserving their species.

But the other aspect of the “story behind the story” is how my two main characters changed and evolved as I experimented with the premise for the book. I was a police officer in the mid-1980’s and I read a lot of thrillers and police procedurals, so I started with a hero Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer. I figured a “Mountie”, as we call them, (because it’s shorter), was also a Canadian icon and that might hook an editor or agent’s attention, so he would be a good bet for a hero. And I wrote a great character sketch–but I couldn’t “see” him. I like to search Pinterest for interesting faces for my heroes and heroines but I wasn’t getting a bead on this guy. He felt hollow, and for whatever reason, wasn’t coming “alive” for me.
As for my heroine, I saw her jumping up from a restaurant meal and walking out–running out–from the hero after her proposed to her. And I thought, what would make a woman do that? At that point, I didn’t have her as a polar bear scientist. She was beautiful, but that was all I knew about her. I found this photo on Pinterest, no credit given, and my imagination ran away with me. I dug into the heroine’s background and came up with the “WHY” of her painful story. Why would she run out on a marriage proposal from a man she was in love with?

Once I’d written her background story the “WHO” of the hero transformed.
He wasn’t a police officer anymore. He became a spoiled rich kid who’d had every advantage in life. A lifelong Christian who’d been raised with all the answers to life from the outside looking in but hadn’t tested those “answers” until real life hit him in the face. And his family wasn’t perfect either. He “fell” in to his profession, rather than being a career guy.
I searched Pinterest till I found actor Paul Walker who starred in the “Fast and the Furious” movie franchise before his untimely death at the age of 40. And suddenly, I had my “face” to go with Lukas Tanner. He became the first “boy next door” hero I’ve ever written.

Remember that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. They’re not all alpha males who carry guns and can fight off three bad guys at once. Real heroes are the guys who learn from their mistakes. Who fall down and get up again even if they fall more than once. Who lose more than their possessions and start over and over again. Real heroes can take care of a sick child in the night and still get up and go to work at 7 a.m.
So, why did my heroine not want to marry this guy in the first place? Well, you’ll have to read the story to find out. She has her reasons: fear, shame, a huge secret. Even in our society, we have a “class” system. She didn’t come from wealth. And when she ends up with something in her possession, that other people are willing to kill her for, things take a dark and dangerous turn.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading Northern Deception. I trust I’ve written a tight love story with enough suspense to keep you turning the pages and also give you a taste of Canada’s far north in the middle of polar bear season. It’s been my pleasure to share this Canadian romantic suspense with you.

Laurie Wood is a military wife who’s lived across Canada and visited six of its ten provinces. She and her husband have raised two wonderful children with Down Syndrome to adulthood, and their son and daughter are a wonderful blessing to their lives. Over the years, Laurie’s books have finaled in prestigious contests such as the Daphne du Maurier (twice), the TARA, the Jasmine, and the Genesis. Her family lives in central Canada with a menagerie of rescue dogs and cats. If the house were bigger, no doubt they’d have more.

Website: https://www.lauriewoodauthor.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lauriewoodreadersgroup
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/LaurieJeanWood


Devotion: Musings from a Dot in the Atlantic Ocean

by Sherma Webbe Clarke | @sdwc8181 

Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.
3 John 2 (NKJV)

Inspiration and Habits 

Some writers stick to a fixed schedule. First thing in the morning before the birds and children are moving around. Two o’clock at the same café every other afternoon. Ten o'clock to midnight every evening. Others write when inspiration prompts them, hastily recording their thoughts onto napkins, scraps of paper, or into electronic devices.

One famous writer visited Bermuda many times and considered the Island vital to his health and creativity. Between 1867 and 1910, Mark Twain (born Samuel Clemens) frequented the Island as an escape from his routine life in favor of the natural beauty and slower pace that he enjoyed during his residences here. His famous quote, “You can go to heaven if you want to; I’d rather stay in Bermuda,” floats around the Island like a longtail (white-tailed tropicbird) soaring over the ocean. I liked the idea of a connection between the Island and this revered literary figure, but the statement never settled well with me. As beautiful as Bermuda is, it can't compare to God’s heavenly paradise.

Digging into the context of the quotation, however, I discovered that Mark Twain’s intention is opposite to the message that is conveyed as popular understanding. Or misunderstanding. Whether convalescing at one of the local hotels or enjoying the eerie beauty of the Crystal Caves, Mr. Twain experienced a revival in his health after the doctors had pronounced their grim prognoses. As a man defying his ailments and infirmities, he declared to those who seemed poised to make funeral arrangements, “You can go to heaven if you want to; I’d rather stay in Bermuda.” In other words, “Don’t write me off yet; I’m not going anywhere.”

In one particular way, he was right about staying in Bermuda. Bronze statues of Mark Twain dot the Island, giving him a permanent presence, albeit in an immobile form. I recently worked in an office building that boasted a statue of the author at its entrance. His bronze likeness also sits on a bench at the hotel he frequented in the City of Hamilton.

What inspires you? 

As writers, we receive inspiration from many sources, and we pour these experiences into words, sentences, novels, a series. What inspires you? Is it a long, scenic walk? Camping by a lake? Or playing with your grandchildren? Jesus connected with people through stories crafted from situations in ordinary life. Seeds and sowers. A woman sweeping. Lost coins. Vineyards and grapes. A traveler who helps an unfortunate man without expecting a reward.

Some of us may not be as prolific as Mark Twain. And having multiple statues built in our honor? Probably a long shot. Maybe we have one book in us. One book that will fulfill our purpose. One book that will touch the heart of someone who will experience God’s love and grace through our story. As the words of a favorite hymn say, You may have this whole world; give me Jesus.

Let's chat: Where do you live? Has any particular place, close to home or far away, inspired you on your writing journey? I'd love to hear about it!

About Sherma . . . 

Sherma is a contemporary fiction writer, amateur photographer, reading enthusiast, and wife who often takes her husband by the hand to explore nearby and far-flung areas of the globe. This wanderlust has its perks. She credits many of her story ideas to these adventures, which provide great opportunities for research for short stories and the novel series she is currently working on. Quiet, early-morning walks along the railroad trails on her home island of Bermuda provide inspiration when she is homebound.


English Christmas through History

The Writing Life: A Passion for Christmas through History
posted by Donna Fletcher Crow

When asked to give advice for up-coming writers the first words out of my mouth are usually, "Write from your passion." Few things in my career give a better example of that than do my Christmas novels. 

I love Christmas! I love English history! I love novels! So what greater joy than to be able to combine these loves in telling stories that give us glimpses of English Christmases through the years and have allowed me to call on my own experiences in forming the stories, such as my first English Christmas in a Cotswold village in 2000.

Glastonbury, my epic of the Christian history of England, includes a Christmas story. After all, one could hardly tell 1500 years of history without including Christmas. As a matter of fact, the book opens with a druid on Glastonbury Tor observing the Star of Bethlehem.
It is in the section on Norman England, however, that we experience a full, Medieval Christmas when young Bors returns home to the manor house from schooling in the monastery. (Although not as young as my grandson when he slew his first dragon.) The full Twelve Days of Christmas are meticulously observed, complete with yule log, wassail, a roasted boar’s head, a Lord of Misrule, and mummers performing St. George and the Dragon.
Christmas celebrations in England became more subdued after the Reformation with suspicions that many of the former festivities were pagan. In 1647, Cromwell’s Puritan government actually canceled Christmas. Not only were traditional expressions of merriment strictly forbidden, but also shops were ordered to stay open, churches were closed and ministers arrested for preaching on Christmas day.
By the late 18th and early 19th centuries, although the traditions of a full-blown Dickensian Christmas had not yet been introduced (many of them started by German-born Prince Albert) festivities had been restored. My Where There is Love series encompasses six novels of love and faith—stories of real people and stirring historic events. Where Love Restores, book 4, recounts Granville Ryder’s struggle to find his place in his illustrious family, in God’s work and in Georgiana’s heart. The book takes the reader through the seasons of a late Regency year, including Christmas on an English country estate which included a fox hunt and hunt ball, constructing an English kissing ring, midnight Christmas Eve service, and alms-giving on Boxing Day. All as it was celebrated in Georgiana's home, Badminton House, which I had the delight of visiting many years ago.

For an out-of-the ordinary contemporary English Christmas I draw on the Christmas I spent in an English monastery “helping” my daughter prepare for her Epiphany wedding. Although, I hope I wasn’t quite as pushy as my heroine’s mother.
An All-Consuming Fire, book 5 in my Monastery Murders, finds Felicity and Antony happily planning a Christmas wedding in the monastery. It’s all idyllic until Felicity’s over-bearing mother arrives and tries to turn the whole event into a royal wedding. And Antony is drafted to narrate a television documentary on the English mystics. And then Felicity takes on the challenge of directing a Christmas pageant for Kirkthorpe’s troubled youth on a long-disused stage in an abandoned quarry at the back of the monastery grounds.
At least most of the vexing disruptions occurring on the filming locations are miles away from the Community of the Transfiguration. Until the threats move closer. Close enough to threaten the joy of Felicity and Antony's Christmas wedding.

I hope that one of my stories might help enrich your Christmas season with an understanding of past traditions and provide a few leisure hours spent reading by the light of your Christmas tree. I’d love to hear of some of your favorite traditions—whether from history or all-new.

See more at: https://www.donnafletchercrow.com/


Introducing Tracy Traynor and Grace in Mombasa

By Tracy Tranory @tracy_traynor

Hello, my name is Tracy Traynor. I’m an indie-author and I love to write stories.

From a very early age I used to spend immeasurable amounts of time day dreaming; now I spend every minute I can at the computer putting day dreams to paper and creating stories, which I hope people will enjoy reading.

Grace in Mombasa is fictional, but was inspired by a woman I met in Kenya called Moira Smith. I met Moira twice in 1991, and she made such an impact on me I have not been able to forget her, and over the years I began to imagine what her life might have been like. I would be driving to work and suddenly she would appear in my mind and I started to create a fictional life for her.

I did a lot of research and the book is filled with facts, at the end of the book I mention the things that happen in Grace’s life that were the real things that happened to Moira.

This is a life – and therefore a story in two halves. The first half of her life was spent in England, and so the book’s first part is her life during World War 2 in England. The second half of the book is set in Mombasa.

Moira was an amazing woman who dedicated her life to helping the Kenyan people who came into the Coast General Hospital in Mombasa, a place where people believed they only went to die. She inspired me, and I hope I have done her story justice so that it might inspire others.

To continue with Moira’s good works for the people of Mombasa, I have hooked up with Barnabas Trust Outreach Mombasa, and I am donating 50% of all sales to them.

Sean McIntyre Missionary to Kenya with Barnabas, and minister at AOG Colchester, gave me this endorsement:
The story of Grace captures the experience of many others who, though quite ordinary by themselves, find that the love of God propels them towards quite extraordinary endeavours. Tracy is the author of Grace's story but the inspiration was Moira Smith and the author of her story was none other than God himself, described in the Bible as the 'author and finisher of our faith'. I commend Tracy's book "Grace in Mombasa" to you in the hope that, inspired by the story of Grace and Moira, you will become hungry for a story of your own and that you will turn to the great author of all our lives. He already has a story prepared for you!
The first person to read the book, besides the editors, is Wendy H Jones, Author and member/webmaster of the ACW Scotland – Association of Christian Writers. Here is her endorsement:
Tracy Traynor’s writing transports you from World War 1 and 2 England to the courts of heaven, via Mombasa. With characters which pop off the page and straight into your heart, this is a book you will remember for a long time.

To tempt you to buy the book, please find the blurb below.

Inspired by true events. Grace in Mombasa is an intriguing historical saga of betrayal and loss, romance and heartbreak, and one woman’s journey in faith.

From the day she was born, Grace Clifton has navigated a life of loss and heartbreak, without a mother to guide her and through the ravages of two World Wars. With England in the midst of a Second World War, Grace, experiences the excitement of love and romance, but all too soon it turns to heartbreak. Through it all, Grace is sustained by her unwavering faith in God, but when all she holds dear is ripped away from her, Grace is left devastated and doubting everything she’s ever believed in.

As the world slowly recovers from war, Grace too begins the process of healing from bitterness and the deep wounds inflicted by life. However, her steadfastness to God is lost and she determines never to pray again. When an unexpected opportunity comes up in Kenya, Grace seizes the chance to escape the memories, hoping to find a purpose and build a new life for herself. In the city of Mombasa, Grace soon begins to realise she can’t ever distance herself from life’s complications, but if she’s prepared to open her heart, maybe her shattered faith will once more bring her hope, love and the healing that she desperately needs.

Grace in Mombasa is a story about a woman with amazing faith that is shattered when her life falls apart, but will God simply let her go? If you like heartfelt dialogue, stories seeped in fact and history, and memorable characters, then you’ll love Tracy Traynor’s moving and inspirational novel.

You can find Grace in Mombasa online at:

About Moira Smith ... the inspiration behind Grace

Moira Smith was born in 1912, in England. On 25th July 1953, aged 41, she boarded the ship SS Uganda and set sail for Mombasa, Kenya.

She spent her years on the island helping people who came to the Mombasa Coast General Hospital, in any way that she could - and by taking every opportunity to spread the gospel. She never got to retire in the convent. She died in the hospital in the mid 1990s, where her last action was to give away the medicine that people brought in for her to the other patients.

Moira's ashes are buried in the compound of St Peter's Church, Nyali, Kenya.

Find Tracy Traynor online at:


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