Friday, April 18, 2014

Captain's Orders!




“Captain’s orders!”




That one line uttered near the end of the movie, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” elicited applause and cheers from the audience. I don’t want to spoil the movie but I cheered just as loudly as everyone else.

Reviewers across the spectrum have been universally positive about the movie calling it a “1970s style spy thriller”. I just finished watching “Three Days of the Condor” starring Robert Redford who plays a major role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I was surprised at the set pieces in both movies that paralleled each other. I wonder if the writers of Captain America: The Winter Soldier intended these parallels as an homage to a “1970s spy thriller”. Give the 1975 movie a chance and pay close attention to the elevator scene. It is every bit as chilling as the similar scene with Captain America.

One thing has amazed me, and yes, encouraged me. Many of the younger movie critics commented on their expectation that in Captain America’s third movie (the second being Avengers) he would have to become cynical and dark in our modern times. These critics were surprised that the movie preserves Captain America’s basic belief in good and manages to “sell it” outright. One reviewer even commented that maybe there is “absolute good and evil after all” and found that prospect “encouraging in our dark, disillusioned times”.

I find this fascinating for our postmodern culture when we are led to believe that all truth is relative and situational. Of course, we don’t function that way in our personal beliefs. If I were to take your money because I thought it was right for me to do so, you would immediately proclaim that I was wrong. When it is inconvenient, we fall back to the default reality that our world is one of absolutes. Choosing not to believe in the law of gravity will not allow you to jump out of an elevator fifteen stories high and survive the fall with only a pulled muscle (even if you had a shield!).

Sunday before last, I was in Orlando with my former pastor, Mark Sutton. Mark and I are best friends and we have a new book coming out in September, “Hope Again: A 30 Day Plan for Conquering Depression”. It is an update of our previous book, “Conquering Depression” released in 2001 before 9/11 forever changed our world. Mark and I had gone to his office at First Baptist Orlando to see if we could find our former depression seminar workbook in preparation of updating our new, improved seminar to match our upcoming book.

What is interesting about our new update is the attention we have had to pay to our current social situation. Depression is almost epidemic particularly among our twenty to thirty year olds. This is not something I have made up. It is widely discussed among this age group. I attended an artistic gathering known as Hutchmoot in 2012. Two musical artists led a session on “Recovery Through Song” about their battle with depression. The room was filled with about 80 young adults all under the age of 30. When asked who among them was depressed, almost everyone raised their hands!

Why? Could it be that our cynical and dark times have taken a toll on the hope for our younger generation? Could it be that our postmodern, relativistic society had stressed out our younger generation with this “compartmentalization” spoken of in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”? This extremely important concept plagued Cap. He quickly saw that you could not compartmentalize your morality without deadly consequences. Values and virtues should seep into and permeate all of our conscious decisions. This, if anything, is the ultimate message of that movie.

Mark and I walked down to the auditorium of his church, a huge sprawling room that could easily hold 3000 to 4000 people. He wanted to show me the messages scrawled on every wall. The church was planning on renovating the auditorium and it asked its members to write testimonials of what the church family has meant to them. The walls were covered with quiet, reflective, moving and deeply personal testimonials. As we entered the auditorium, we were surrounded by music. A song boomed over the speakers and I spied two people dressed in shorts and tee shirts standing on the stage. A dozen or so people sat in the front pews. Mark had no idea what was happening but as I watched the people move with the song I realized they were practicing a drama probably for the Palm Sunday service.

Mark took me along the pews toward the opposite side of the room to show me a portrait of
Christ someone had freehand drawn on the wall. Suddenly, the music was interrupted by screams and shouts. We whirled and a crowd of people hurried onto the stage shouting “Crucify him!”

The shock paralyzed me and I watched in utter horror as a young man in shorts and tee short was shoved and kicked and banged across the stage. As the song progressed, the man was thrown to the ground. Two men made motions as if to drive nails through the man’s hands and feet. And then, the man was raised stiffly to his feet and there before us was an image of the crucified Christ. The song grew quiet and reflective and the air filled with electricity and gravitas. I felt tears pouring from my eyes, dripping from my chin. I gasped for air.


This is just a drama, I tried to reassure myself. But, in that moment, the shock of the crowd screaming; the power of the words of that song; the site of a man hanging as if from a cross hair draped across a face etched in pain was more than I could handle. Here before me was truth, killed, nailed, crucified. Is it any wonder we live in an age of relativism? We killed Truth on that day and our world; our hearts; our minds; our future is the worse for it. I felt Mark’s hand on my shoulder. He was just as moved as I was as we watched the crowd freeze and the song drew to a climax.

Like the cracking of ice under great stress, the crowd broke and relaxed. The drama director waved his hands and began giving some last minute advice and the air returned to normal. I was stunned at what had just happened and it reminded me once again of the power of drama to bring stories to life! I wiped the tears from my face and frankly felt somewhat embarrassed that a drama rehearsal would be so moving. I followed Mark out of the auditorium. He informed me that the actor who played Jesus was on the church staff and his passion was ministering to the homeless and the addicts and the broken people on the streets.

There are times as a published Christian author when the ups and downs of this industry get to me. There are times I want to throw in the towel and never put another thought on the page. There are times when a simple business decision to end a contract becomes very personal and painful. There are times when failure is all you can see in the dark shadowy confines of your “creative cocoon” and you wonder why God put this burning desire in your heart to pour out your creative thoughts onto a blank piece of paper. There are times creativity becomes a curse! And then, you see a movie like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” or you witness a moving dramatic recreation of Christ’s final act as a man on earth. And then you pause and you realize that being created in the image of God means that you must honor God’s call to be creative. No matter how that may be received. For story will always move the world when it reflects the Story that God is telling all around us. I chose to pause and ponder that in His infinite wisdom God chose this weak vessel to share bits and pieces of the grand Story that is unfolding all around us. I chose to put aside the cynicism and the sarcasm and the disillusionment that typifies our culture; to push it away and embrace the positive. To press on for the great prize that is before us!

What does this have to do with Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Steve Rogers is far from a Christ figure. But, Captain America does retain a belief in the best that we have ever been. He believes that we are whole and even the smallest lie taints our whole self. We are not the sum of our parts. We are whole, unique, entire souls who must answer for each thought and each discretion no matter how meaningless we may think it to be.

Jesus Christ died on the cross because the world around Him could not stand to look at the awful truth of our broken condition. When we are confronted with truth; perfection; ultimate good we cannot stand in its light without getting burned. So, we snuff it out and choose to live in the shadows. This Easter, take a moment and think on truth and goodness and the wholeness of your being. Dare to hope that maybe, just maybe Truth does exist in this universe and Truth can be known. And, once you know the Truth, it will set you free! When we look into the eyes of Truth, we will see our whole self in a new light. Look upon the crucified and risen Savior and your life will be changed forever.


Captain’s Orders!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

MARY'S BLESSING - Lena Nelson Dooley - Free PDF copy of the book

Here is a peek into book two of my McKenna's Daughters series.


Chapter 1
Outside Oregon City
April 1885
“Pa?” Mary Lenora Murray shouted back over her shoulder as she picked up the heavy picnic basket. “You ready to go?” Why does he always drag his feet when we’re going to church?

Her father came through the mud room into the kitchen, letting the screen door slam shut behind him. He smelled of heat, hay, and sunshine, with the strong tang of muck from the barn mingled in. By the looks of his clothes, attending church was the farthest thing from his mind. His ratty trousers held smudges of several dark colors. She didn’t even want to guess what they were. And the long sleeves of his undershirt, the only thing covering his torso, were shoved above his elbows. Grayed and dingy, the shirt would never be white again, no matter how hard she tried to get it clean.

Mary bit her tongue to keep from scolding him as she did her younger brothers and sister when they made such a racket entering the house. No doubt, he would give her some excuse about having too much work to go to church. Not a big surprise. She’d heard it all before too many times.

He set a bucket of fresh water beside the dry sink and gripped his fingers around the front straps of his suspenders. That always signaled he was about to tell her something she didn’t want to hear.

“I’m not going today.” This time, he didn’t really make any excuses. Just this bald-faced comment.

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to calm her anger. She’d give him a sweet answer even if the words tasted bitter in her mouth. “The new pastor is coming today. We’re having dinner on the grounds after the service. Remember, I told you when we got home last Sunday.” She flashed what she hoped was a warm smile at him and prayed he couldn’t tell it was fake.

“What happened to the last one? He didn’t last very long, did he?” Pa started washing his hands with the bar of homemade soap she kept in a dish on the shelf. “Don’t understand why that church can’t keep a pastor. Someone musta run him off.”

Mary couldn’t keep from huffing out a breath this time. “I told you about that, too.” She clamped her lips closed before she asked the question that often bounced around her mind. Why don’t you ever listen to me? At seventeen, she was close enough to being an adult to be treated like one, and she’d carried the load of a woman in this household for years.

“His wife died, and his father-in-law begged him to bring the grandchildren closer to where they live, so he headed back to Ohio. Living in the same community as their grandparents, he’d have a lot of help with the younger ones.”

Mary had never known her own grandparents, none of them. Not her mother’s parents. Not her father’s parents. Not the parents of whoever gave birth to her. She didn’t wonder about any of them very often, but today, her heart longed for someone who really loved her.

With bright red curly hair and fair skin that freckled more every time she stepped into the sunlight, she didn’t resemble anyone in this family that had adopted her as an infant. Since they were black Irish, they all had dark hair and striking blue eyes, not like her murky green ones. And none of them had ever wanted to know what she thought about anything ... except her mother.

“Well, I’ve gotta lot to do today.” Her father reached for the towel she’d made out of feed sacks. “You and the others go ahead. I might come over that way at dinner time.”

No, you won’t. Mary had heard his statement often enough to know he was trying to placate her so she would leave him alone. So she would.

“Frances, George, Bobby, come on. We don’t want to be late.” She shifted the handle of the loaded basket to her other arm. “Frances, you grab the jug of spring water. We might get thirsty.”

Her father’s icy blue eyes pierced her. “Pretty warm out today. No sign of rain.”

“We’ll be picnicking in the field between the church and Willamette Falls. It’s cooler there, especially under the trees with the breeze blowing across the water.” She started toward the front door.

“Keep your eyes on the boys.” His harsh command followed her. “Don’t let either of them fall into the river. They could drown. Water’s fast right there.”

She nodded, but didn’t answer or look back at him. All he cared about were those boys and getting them raised old enough to really help with the farming. He already worked them harder than any of the neighbors did their sons who were the same ages.

Six long years ago her mother and older sisters contracted diphtheria when they went to help Aunt Miriam and Uncle Leland settle in their house on a farm about five miles from theirs. On the trip to Oregon, one of them had contracted the dread disease and didn’t know it until after they arrived. No one knew they were all dead until Pa went looking for Ma, Carrie, and Annette a couple of days later. He saw the quarantine sign someone nailed to a fencepost and didn’t go closer until he had help. When he came home, he told Mary she would have to take over the keeping of the house. Six long years ago.

When did my life become such a drudgery? Had it ever been anything else? At least not since Ma died, which seemed like an eternity ago.

***

Daniel Winthrop whistled while he dressed for church. He looked forward with anticipation to the moment when he would lay eyes on Mary Murray. Even her name had a musical ring to it.

He’d been waiting and planning what to say when he approached her. Today he would start his subtle courting. With the situation at the Murray farm, he knew he would have his work cut out for him to convince her she could start a life of her own with him. After he achieved that, he’d ask her father for her hand.

Visions of coming home to her each night and building a family together moved through his head like the slides of photographs in the Holmes Stereopticon they had at home. He loved her already, but more than that, he wanted to get her out of that house where she was loaded down with so much work and responsibility.

Daniel had often gone with his mother when she bought fresh produce from the Murrays. So he knew what her life had been like since her mother died. Their families came to Oregon on the same wagon train so he’d known her all his life. He was only three years older than she was, and he had watched her over the last few years as she blossomed into a beautiful young woman.

Mary needed to be appreciated and cared for, and he was just the man to do it.

“Daniel, we’re leaving soon.” His father’s voice prodded him from his dreams.

With a final peek into the tall cheval glass, he straightened his necktie before he headed out the door of his room. “I’m on my way.”

He bounded down the stairs and took their picnic basket from his mother. “Something really smells good.” He gave a loud sniff. “Do you need me to test and make sure it’s all right?”

He welcomed her playful slap on his hand that crept toward the cover on the basket. Her laughter reminded him of the chimes he had heard in the larger church in Portland.

“Not a single bite until dinner.” Like a queen, she swept out the door Father held open for her.

Their familiar ritual warmed his heart. He looked forward to creating family rituals with Mary. Once more, he whistled as he headed toward the brougham. Nothing could cloud his day.

When they pulled up to the Methodist Church, his father guided the team toward the back where a large area paved with fine gravel gave plenty of space for those who arrived in horse-drawn vehicles. While Father helped Mother down from the open carriage, Daniel took the reins and tied them to one of the hitching rails that outlined the space. He chose the rail under a spreading black cottonwood tree, so the horses would be in the shade while the family worshiped.

He scanned the lot, looking for the Murray wagon. Not there. Disappointed, he stared at the ground. Please, God, let Mary come today.

Clopping hoofs and a jingling harness accompanied a wagon taking too fast of a turn into the parking area. Daniel cut his eyes toward the advancing disaster. Two of the wheels did indeed lift from the ground. Before he could get a shout out of his mouth, he heard Mary’s sweet voice.

“Lean to the right, boys!”

George and Bobby, Mary’s brothers, scrambled across the seat, followed by Frances. The wagon wheels settled into the gravel, and Mary pulled on the reins.

“Easy. Settle down.” Even though she spoke to the horses, he heard every word.

His heart that had almost leapt from his chest also settled down when he realized she was no longer in danger. Thank You, Lord.

The wagon came to a standstill, and Mary put her dainty hand to her chest and released a deep breath. The green cotton fabric, sprigged with white flowers, looked good on her, setting off her red hair, pulled up into a bunch on the top of her head. Without a hat or bonnet covering it, the sun danced across the curls. He loved seeing the wisps frame her face. That’s how he pictured her when he dreamed about their future.

Mary sat a moment without moving. She was probably scared out of her wits. Where was her father? He should have been driving the wagon, not her. How long had it been since the man had attended services? Daniel couldn’t remember the last time. It was not a good thing for a man to neglect his spiritual nature. He’d just have to pray harder for Mr. Murray.

Daniel hurried toward them. “Hi, Mary.”

She looked up, straight into his eyes, fear still flickering in the back of her gaze. “Daniel. Good morning.” Her words came out riding on short breaths.

He took hold of the bridle of the horse nearest him. “I can hitch your team under the trees for you.”
After releasing another deep breath, Mary nodded. “Thank you. I’d like that.” She turned toward her siblings. “Frances, you get the picnic basket, and George, you carry the jug of water. Go find us a pew, perhaps near the back of the sanctuary, and put the things under the bench. I’ll be right in.”

The younger children climbed out of the wagon and followed their sister’s instructions. Mary watched them until they’d gone around the side of the building toward the front. Then she stood up.

Before she could try to climb over the side, Daniel hurried to help. He held out his hand to her. She stared at it, then looked at his face.

“I’ll help you down.” He gave her his most beguiling smile.

For the first time since she arrived, she smiled back, and pink bled up her neck into her cheeks. Her blush went straight to his heart. Oh, yes, he loved this woman.

Mary slipped her slim fingers into his hand. Even through the white cotton gloves, he felt the connection as warmth sparked up his arm like fireworks on Independence Day. She glanced down, so she could see the step. When she hesitated, he let go of her hand and both of his spanned her tiny waist. With a deft swing, he had her on the ground in seconds. He wished he had the right to pull her into an embrace. Wouldn’t that just set the tongues a-wagging? He couldn’t do that to her. Mary needed to be cherished for the treasure she was. And as far as Daniel could see, her father really didn’t treat her that way.

He watched her walk toward the front of the building, enjoying the way her skirt swayed with each step, barely brushing the tops of her black patent shoes. That is one beautiful woman. He turned back to her team. Walking beside the horses, he led them toward the hitching rail where his family’s brougham was parked. Her team would enjoy the shade just as much as his would. As he crossed the lot, several other conveyances entered, and he waved and exchanged greetings with each family.

The church was the first one established in Oregon City. At that time, it was the Methodist Mission but grew as the town did. Along the way, members of this body had a great influence on what happened in the burgeoning city. And that was still true today. His Winthrop ancestors, who settled nearby, had been instrumental in both the growth of the church and of the town. He felt a sense of pride at being a part of something that important, and he wanted to increase the town’s assets, because he planned to raise his own family here. Maybe establish a dynasty of his own, watching his sons and daughters, then his grandchildren, prosper.

His woolgathering slowed the progress of tying the horses to their spot. He needed to hurry so he wouldn’t miss the beginning of the service. As he opened the front door, Mrs. Slidell struck the first chord on the new Mason and Hamlin reed organ. The church had ordered the instrument from the manufacturing plant in Buffalo, New York. When it arrived only a couple of weeks before, the music added a special feeling to the worship and helped most people stay on the right tune better than the old piano did. He hummed along with the introduction to “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” his favorite hymn.

Glancing around the room, Daniel finally spied Mary and her siblings sitting on the second pew from the back on the right side of the aisle. He squared his shoulders and confidently approached the wooden bench. He asked if he could sit with them, and she scooted over to make room. Just what he wanted. He would be sitting right beside her.

Throughout the service, Daniel had a hard time keeping his mind on the proceedings. Mary sat close enough for him to touch her if he leaned a little to his right. He was so tempted to bump against her arm, but he held back. He imagined clasping her hand in his and holding it for longer than just a few seconds while helping her down from a conveyance or through a doorway. Really wrapping his large fingers around hers and intertwining their fingers. Just thinking about it caught his breath.

He whooshed it out, and she turned toward him, her eyes widening with a question. After flashing a smile at her, he glanced up at Reverend Horton. The man’s delivery was smooth and his words made a lot of sense. He’d be a good pastor for them, but Daniel couldn’t keep a single word of his message in his mind. Not while he could feel Mary’s presence with every cell in his body.


Instead in his mind, he searched up and down the streets of Oregon City, seeking a place to turn into a home for him and his beloved. If the right house wasn’t for sale, he could build her one. She could help him choose the design. That’s what he’d do. Build her the home she’d always dreamed of. His heart squeezed with the knowledge of what he planned to do. He could hardly keep the idea to himself. He hoped it wouldn’t take too long for him to convince her that they should marry.

He’d even hire servants to help her manage their home. Whatever her heart desired, he’d do everything he could to present her with all she wanted. He only hoped it wouldn’t take too long. At twenty years old, he was ready to move on to the next phase of his life ... with Mary by his side.

“Now let us bow our heads in prayer.” Reverend Horton raised his hands to bless the whole congregation.

Daniel dropped his head toward his chest. How had the man finished his sermon without Daniel noticing? Next Sunday, he’d have to listen more closely. He really did want to get to know the new pastor and his family.

“Amen.” After the pastor pronounced the word, several other men echoed it.

Daniel watched his father rise from the second pew near the front on the left side of the aisle and take his place beside the new preacher. He placed his arm across the man’s shoulders. “Dear friends, on your behalf, I welcome our new pastor. Now let’s all meet his lovely family.” He waved toward a woman sitting on the front pew. “Mrs. Horton?”

The woman stood and turned toward the congregation. She was pretty, but not as young or as pretty as Mary.

“And,” Father’s voice boomed, “these are their children.”

Four stair-step youngsters stood beside their mother. The tallest a boy, the next a girl, then another boy, and the shortest a cute little girl. As if they had rehearsed it, they bowed toward the people in unison.

Several women across the sanctuary oooed or aahed before a loud round of applause broke out. The three oldest children gave shy smiles, and the youngest tugged at her mother’s skirts. When Mrs. Horton picked her up, the girl waved to the people, clearly enjoying the attention.

“I hope you all brought your blanket and picnic baskets.” Father beamed at the crowd.

   “We’re going to spread our food together. I believe there are plenty of sawhorse tables set up near the building. And you can pick a spot under the trees to settle for your meal. Just don’t forget to take the time to greet our new ministerial family while you’re here.” Father led the Horton family down the aisle and out the front door.

Daniel turned back toward Mary. “Perhaps you and your brothers and sister could spread your blanket beside my family’s.”

A tiny smile graced Mary’s sweet mouth. “If you’re sure your mother wouldn’t mind, I’d like that.”
“Oh, yes. I’m sure.” He stepped into the nearly empty aisle and moved back to let Mary and her family precede him, and he quickly followed behind.

His heartbeat accelerated just thinking about spending special time with the object of his affections. Without thinking, he started whistling a happy tune.

Mary glanced back at him. “I didn’t know you whistled.”

“Oh, yes. I’m a man of many talents.” His heart leapt at the interest he read in her gaze. Thing were well on their way to working out just the way he wanted them to.

As a special giveaway today, I'm offering a PDF file of the novel. I don't have anymore giveaway copies of the book.

Readers, here are links to the book. By using one when you order, you help support this blog.
Mary's Blessing (McKenna's Daughters) - Amazon
Mary's Blessing (McKenna's Daughters) - Kindle



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Friday, April 4, 2014

Author Survival

I love being a writer, but there are times when I have to find ways to deal with issues that people with "normal" jobs don't have to face. I thought I'd share some of them here.

Here are some of my challenges and how I (try to) overcome them: 
  • Finding a quiet space to write. I'm someone who needs complete quiet to write, so I have to constantly look for places and opportunities. Most of the time for me it's early in the morning before my husband wakes up.
  • Getting out into the real world. As a novelist, I've discovered that it's way too easy to immerse myself in my fictional world and never come out. I make it a point every single day to go somewhere or talk to someone who does something completely different.
  • Maintaining confidence. As my career progresses, I've discovered that my confidence comes and goes based on many factors I can't control. Editors may have me changing some of my favorite scenes or reviewers may not connect with the story, leaving me wondering if I'm a fraud. I continue to study the craft of writing and work on being the best writer I can be.
  • Dressing for success. Ask any writer who works from home, and I'd be willing to bet that he or she has spent many days working in pajamas or workout clothes that have never been connected with a single exercise session. Although comfort is important, I make myself shower, brush my hair, and put on something I don't mind being seen in if someone comes to the door.
  • Feeling isolated. Writing can be a lonely profession. I think it's important to have friends – both writing pals and non-writing buddies – to prevent feeling as though there is no one else in the world besides the characters in our stories.
  • Balancing the budget. People who are traditionally published know that we get advances when we sign contracts and royalties twice a year (or quarterly, depending on the publisher). This requires budgeting if we want to continue paying our mortgage, keep the lights on, and have enough ramen noodles to last until the next advance.
  • Understanding that perfection doesn't exist. This was a hard one for me. When I first started writing, I wanted every sentence to be perfect. Then an editor gave me some advice that I'll never forget. She said to let go of what I'd learned in middle school English class and allow my characters to breathe.  
What are some of your challenges as a writer or whatever else you do for a living?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Simple Writing Life!

Kia Ora.

There have been many times in this blog over the past few years that someone has commented on their favorite place to write; a location that gives them great inspiration and spurs creativity; a place that seems so perfectly comfortable with the creative energies of our writing minds. Well, I have found the Ultimate place to write — New Zealand!

I recently returned from a three week trip to the land of the long white cloud. I thought I had seen beauty in England, Alaska, Hawaii, Colorado, the French countryside, the Caribbean. But, I have never seen natural beauty like that of New Zealand. Not only was the country side breathtaking, but the citizens of this wonderful country were so, well, Hobbit like! I even wrote about this in my blog here. (The first day of my blogging for the trip.)

I thought I would share with the readers of this blog some of the wondrous locations where I just wanted to plunk down with my favorite writing tool (laptop, journal, yellow pad, old typewriter — it wouldn’t have mattered!) and let the words fly over the page!

Geraldine, a small town on the south island sits near the east coast and consists of rolling green hills rich and verdant with flora and fauna. Not a hill in sight wasn’t covered with sheep, cattle, or deer. Our hosts, Grant and Alex took us to a working farm where we had dinner over an open fire under foreign constellations in a night sky afire with the Milky Way. In the trees above us the fantail birds sang and frolicked and in the distance the lowing of cattle and the sound of sheep just made the evening so surreal. When we returned to our farmhouse, I had received an email with the latest manuscript corrections for my book coming out in September. It was far too late to tackle this that night, so while my wife and our friends went out the next morning to watch the cows being milked, I settled in at our hosts’ kitchen table before a huge picture window looking out over the rolling green hills and mountains. I could just as well have been sitting in Bilbo’s house looking out over Hobbiton (which I was able to do earlier in the week!). Here is a photograph of what I saw from my window as I sipped my creamy vanilla coffee and worked on my manuscript.

Overlooking the farm in Geraldine



Queenstown is the jewel of the south island and sits midway between both coasts. It is the gateway to Fjordland National Park. As we drove along the river used by Aragorn to take the hobbits to safety near the end of “The Fellowship of the Rings” a huge mountain appeared in the clouds on the horizon. We stopped to get some “petrol” and I gasped at this huge mountain towering in front of me reaching from sea level to over 7000 feet. It was no wonder it was called the Remarkable mountain range. We soon drove along the edge of an azure lake sitting at the base of these mountains up and down hills covered with quaint houses and the silver fern trees that represent the symbol of New Zealand. We soon came to our hotel for the next two nights. It was late and we decided to eat in the hotel dining room. When I sat at our table and turned around to the huge windows I was stunned at the sight of these mighty mountains in the setting sun. I was so mesmerized, I had to walk out on the patio and just sit for a few moments to soak in the sights of these majestic mountains and the lake below me. My wife had to drag me back in to our table to eat but I could have sat there and basked in the beauty before me for hours as the sun, fiery orange in its setting state filled the night air with fire! Here are some photographs of this incredible sight.

The Remarkable Mountains




On our trip up the western coast of the south island, we were told the road to the “Gates of Haast” would close by 530 due to a rock slide. It was 4 pm and we had little time to make the journey. Leaving Queenstown behind, we headed out into the Southern Alps. Soon, we were coursing along a huge lake, the size of which I couldn’t begin to fathom. Across the crystal blue waters towered more mountains. For two hours we passed along the winding, climbing road at the edge of two of these enormous lakes and marveled at the reflection of snow capped mountains in the distance and rich, green mossy forests in the foreground. By the time we reached our fiftieth one lane bridge over the Haast pass and the river we had made the Gates of Haast before the road was closed. We reached Haast, a tiny village on the west coast situated between the blue green waters of the Tasman Sea and the rich rain forest growth at the feet of snow capped mountains behind us. We settled into one of only two hotels in the area and had to walk about 1/4 of a mile down the road to the “Hard Antler Restaurant”. This was basic, stripped down, no frills New Zealand. And still, it was wondrous. The food was unbelievable. The night was still and filled with stars behind a gibbous full moon. As I sat on the porch outside our hotel room and breathed in air so pure and so filled with heady, unknown scents I realized I could have spent a week here. Here are a few photos on the way to Haast Pass.

The Southern Alps
Beautiful lakes.




I could go on for pages but I will finish with my favorite place, hands down in all of New Zealand. It is a shock that my favorite would be something fictional, something built from the imagination of a British author living in the early twentieth century. On the north island we drove through rolling brown grass covered hills dotted with sheep and cattle toward Matamata. The air was rich, and I do mean rich with the odor of manure. This was the heart of New Zealand where the land and the people and the love of farming and good tilled earth and gentle sheep and the rich fresh cream from a fresh milking were at the top of everyone’s list. No wifi here. No cell phone signal. No towering buildings or interstates or shopping malls. No, this was true New Zealand as we pulled into the gift shop for the movie set of Hobbiton. We were ushered onto a bus that squealed to a halt at a low metal gate. The driver had to open the gate onto one of dozens of sheep farms. Sheep were all around us, hurrying in panicky jumps away from this awesome behemoth of a bus filled with anxious tourists longing to see the one place on earth where true peace and tranquility literally burst forth from the ground.

We stopped in a parking lot atop a hill. Soon, our host led us through a narrow stone lined passageway and we were in Hobbiton. Oh my! 44 hobbit holes filled the rolling green hill sides. A complete garden with pumpkins and squash was overseen by a pipe smoking scarecrow. Smoke trickled from chimneys. Hobbit clothes hung on outdoor lines and everywhere flowers filled the air with color and fragrance. Amidst this awesome sight, thousands of white butterflies helped themselves to the flowers. For almost three hours, I wandered this landscape filled with utter and complete inspiration. I wanted to write poetry! I wanted to sing songs! I wanted to settle at a table at the Green Dragon pub and share stories both frightening and thrilling with total strangers over a tankard of apple cider. And, when I stood before Bilbo’s house, Bag End and looked out over Hobbiton, I had tears in my eyes. After all, Tolkien wrote the Hobbit from Bilbo’s point of view and I could see the small hobbit sitting behind his round windows at his aged wooden desk scratching words onto rough parchment with his quill. I opened his mailbox. No mail. I touched his sign “no admittance except for party business”! I do not smoke, but I would have gladly settled down on Bilbo’s bench and puffed on a pipe and watched the evening fall over the magnificent sight before me. Here was a writer’s dream utopia. Here anyone could be inspired and rested and gifted to write. Ah, to walk through that circular green door into the world of Middle Earth.

The bridge to the Green Dragon Pub

Sam's hobbit "hole"

Bag End from the party pavilion

No mail for Bilbo!


Then, it hit me. I was IN middle earth! The sights around me, the people with smiles and handshakes and hugs! The towering mountains and flowing streams! Tolkien never visited New Zealand. But, to read his works, it is hard to believe he never saw this land and its people. In “The Hobbit” Bilbo describes the hobbit as one who loves good food, tilled earth, hard work, and a little adventure. Every New Zealander I met, Kiwis as they called themselves, typified this outlook. They were universally kind, helpful, open and inviting with an infectious grin on their face and a song in their hearts. They walked everywhere and I would not have been surprised to see hobbit feet if they took off their shoes (which they did every time we stepped indoors!). They love the land. They love people. And, they love God. You can read more about this at my blog, but suffice it so say I could have stayed there in Hobbiton. It is a place based on a fiction that is, in reality, a mirror of the true nature of New Zealand and its inhabitants. So, sit back with me on a bench surrounded by flowers and flickering white butterflies. Click on this link for a short video of Hobbiton and prepare to be inspired!


Monday, March 31, 2014

Catherine's Pursuit, an Honor - Lena Nelson Dooley



The first few months of the year is the busiest season for book award contests. Catherine's Pursuit is my only book eligible for contests this year, so it was entered in several. One contest that I personally entered the book in is the NTRWA Carolyn Readers Choice award, and it was a kind of last minute decision.

Well, Catherine's Pursuit is now a finalist in the contest. I'm very excited about that.

The only other Readers Choice award I've ever won is the TBN Readers Choice Blogger of the Year contest for my A Christian Writers World blog: http://lenanelsondooley.blogspot.com. Check it out. I interview other Christian authors and help promote their books.


I'm always thankful when people enjoy reading my books. And when anyone gives it special recognition, it's a special blessing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cover Reveal! A Windswept Promise

I'm so thrilled this week to reveal the cover of my new novel, A Windswept Promise. This is the second book in my Brides of Assurance series, set to release on November 4, 2014. It's available now for preorder on Amazon.



From the cover:

Pampered town belle Sophie Charlton has always secretly enjoyed the attention of cowboy Dusty Sterling, a hired worker on her family’s farm, even though she’d never tell him so. But can she go against the will of her family, who insist that she make a good match in Assurance’s most eligible bachelor?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Waves

My Pastor Mike has a wonderful blog that I turn to when I need encouragement.
If you're having that kind of day read this...

Life comes at us in waves. Waves of blessings and sometimes waves of problems.

This morning, with the wonderful blessing of rain comes flooding in our garage. We spent the night manning the sump pump to keep it out of the house. Tired, but victory is ours!

This morning I took my car into the shop. It's not working right. I've tried everything to fix it, but with no success. Now for the pros to work on it.

Waves come and go. We so easily think that when we are crushed by a wave that this is the way it will always be. We're wet, beat up, tired, off balance with the force of the wave, but the wave will pass....another will come soon, but that will pass as well. The challenge for us is to realize that these waves of both good and bad are part of the normal tides of life on a fallen planet. Don't let one wave knock you off your feet and defeat you. It will pass and the next one might be an amazing blessing.

One thing for sure....life on our little world is never boring! There's always another wave coming to make your life exciting. Anticipate what's ahead, don't dread it. God is in charge of your life and if the wave brings flooding and broken cars it's just one wave. It will pass, you will grow in faith and God will work in your life.

Enjoy the waves. They are part of a life lived well.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Making a Major Move - Purging and Starting Fresh

My husband and I are about to wrap up a major move from Florida to South Carolina. We love the "Sunshine State," but we love our children and grandchildren even more, so we decided it was time to get closer to them. It's never easy to move, but this was extremely difficult. I loved our Florida house and thought we'd probably stay there for a very long time. Now we've found a house in South Carolina that I think we'll enjoy just as much. 
View from the front yard of the
house we left behind in Florida.

As we went through the past 11-1/2 years of stuff we'd accumulated, we had to make decisions about whether or not to keep each thing. It was easy to toss the old shampoo bottles half filled with liquid that I didn't like enough to keep but thought they might come in handy if I ever ran out of the one I liked. It wasn't too difficult to get rid of kitchen gadgets that I only used once and then tossed into the back of the drawer.

What was difficult, though, was deciding whether or not to keep old greeting cards. We found boxes and boxes of cards we'd been given for various occasions – birthday cards, Christmas cards, and thinking-of-you cards. They were all thoughtful, but we eventually decided to only hang onto those that were handmade – mostly by our granddaughters.

The coffee table and end tables showed years of wear from our children's art projects and prior moves. I seriously considered keeping them, but I'd have to refinish them to make them look nice with the new furniture we plan to buy. I'd rather spend that time with the family. So I donated them.

After watching our furniture getting carted off by friends, neighbors, and the Salvation Army, we thought about how expensive it will be to replace it. But it will also be a fresh start that enables us to decorate according to our current tastes and where we are in life at this moment.

The timing on this move couldn't be better. I'm in the midst of writing my 3-book Uptown Belles series for Charisma House. Everything related to my career is calm at the moment. Shortly after we settle into our new home, I'll receive edits on my second book, and I'll be ramping up the promotion of the first book, so I'll quickly have a sense of normalcy as I dive into the work. The Lord has had His hand in all of this, giving us a sense of peace about our decision. It hasn't been all smooth sailing, but He has also given us the ability to deal with the glitches that have come our way.


Have you ever made a major move that involved leaving something you like behind? How did you make the decision about what to take and what to give away or donate?