Saturday, April 28, 2007

When I Was Just a Kid...Sarah Anne Sumpolec

When I Was Just a Kid...

Sarah Anne Sumpolec

This photo of Sarah sitting on the windowsill watching "blue gays" was snapped at Nana and Big Buddy's house. Right there you know that Sarah had an interesting childhood if she called her grandparents, Nana and Big Buddy (not to mention the blue jays.), She spent a lot of time with these grandparents when she was little. They were her "center" and the stable forces with a quiet faith that eventually impacted Sarah forever. They were the only ones in Sarah's family and life who loved God. Her life is a testimony for grandparents everywhere who fear that they have no influence on their grandchildren.

These days Sarah is centered with a Mighty Force (Jesus,)

influencing countless others, including her own three little girls. Whether she's appearing on the 700 Club and The Tyra Banks Show talking about her experience with witches in high school,.
teaching at writers' conferences,being interviewed in writer magazines
discussing her books for teen girls, or working with her husband in counseling, Sarah can't be kept quiet. She's going to tell a story, and you better listen up. She is deep into a new writing project and knowing Sarah, it's going to be something we want to see.

Let's see what Sarah has to say about some of her memories of the days she spent growing up:

Childhood Ambition: A writer, a doctor and a Broadway Star. One out of three ain’t bad.

Fondest Memory (then): Probably third grade. I remember visiting an elderly neighbor with Elizabeth, a friend of mine. Her name was Mrs. Latham and she fed us cookies and lemonade long before you had to worry about such things as being poisoned or kidnapped. We rode our bikes all over town without fear and bought penny candy at the ice cream shop out of those big glass bowls stocked with all sorts of wonderful things. I was a kid who moved around all the time, and Elizabeth was one of my dearest friends. Those years in Connecticut were some of my favorite.

Proudest Moment ( then): Getting to be Alice in our elementary school production of Alice in Wonderland. I was too little to realize then that I likely got the part because of my long blonde hair, and not because I was talented in any way. But back then, I felt chosen, and talented, and very proud to have gotten the role.

Biggest Challenge as a child or teen: Moving. I grew up being moved around from town to town, and state to state. During second grade alone we moved three times, with a total of about 14 in all. I made friends but kept everyone at a distance. It was just safer that way since I never knew when we might up and leave. It profoundly changed me and I wonder sometimes what I would have been like if I grew up understanding long-term relationships. And it’s probably why I’ve lived in the same town for the last 17 years – I just can’t bear to pull up the roots that I have finally built.

My First Job: Working at my father’s video store, “The Video Store”, back when there was Beta and VHS. I was probably 14 or 15. I learned how to do basic repairs on VCR’s and videotapes and worked the counter with two chain-smoking women.

[Editor Crystal's note: Wow. Sarah not only knew how to program a VCR, but could fix them! She is awesome.]

Childhood indulgence: Stickers. I spent so much money on stickers. I had albums full of the things. It was a cultural phenomenon at the time, trading stickers with your friends, and I was smack in the center of the hype. I still have a couple of my E.T. stickers, some puffy Michael Jackson ones and a few of the jelly filled ones even survived. Their “stickiness” has long since worn off but the sight of them brings back fond memories.

Favorite Outfit as a Child: I had these awful brown corduroy knickers with argyle socks and a little jacket that rounded out the outfit. I loved that outfit. Though, now, I hardly know why.

Favorite Childhood Movie: Anne of Green Gables. I wore those tapes out. I also adored “Little House on the Prairie” and dreamed of going back in time to give them money or gum – two things I really felt they would have liked.

Favorite Childhood Book: The Shoe books from Noel Streatfeild. There were several; Circus Shoes, Dancing Shoes, Skating Shoes – I loved them all but I think Circus Shoes was my favorite of the group. What kid doesn’t dream of growing up in a circus? I also adored Someday, Angeline by Louis Sacher. I so identified with Angeline – feeling all out of place.

Childhood Hero: The fictional girls in my books were my heroes so I had many – whatever I was reading at the time. I wanted to be Harriet the Spy or become a writer like Anne. I dreamed of spending the night in a museum or reading smelly books with Angeline. I know it’s so cliché for an author to love books, but it’s who I was. Books kept me grounded while the world underneath me shifted.

I would probably consider my childhood “hard” but I cannot deny that it shaped who I was in profound and lasting ways. And that’s not a bad thing. While it’s easy to say “Oh, I wish things had been better while I was growing up”, I’m grateful for almost every experience I’ve had. My imagination helped me to get through those years, and it’s my imagination that helps me fulfill the calling I have now. I wouldn’t trade my difficult childhood for an idyllic one – because then I wouldn’t be who I am today.

You can find Sarah at all sorts of places online so try checking her out:

ShoutLife – A Christian community. She hosts two group message boards there:
Girls & God (listed under Society/Teen Life)
Totally Unfamous Thoughts (listed under Society/Teen Life) Home page there is

Girls, God & The Good Life – A live daily blog featuring eleven YA authors who happen to care about teens and twenty-somethings. Don’t miss your daily dose!
MySpace – While Sarah mostly interacts over at ShoutLife, she also has a MySpace page at:

Don't forget to look at her web site and her blog where she talks about her life and books and ministries:
web site,


And if you have teen girls send them to:

For Teen girls:

NOW, here's something different and FUN:

Read Sarah's online story of Lucy Madison here.

a) An experiment b) A one-of-a-kind book c) a story told in blog form d) a story told in poetry e) all of the above

Answer? E) All of the ABOVE!

From the Totally Unfamous blog:
"Totally Unfamous came about because of…you! I was receiving so many letters from fans of the Becoming Beka series begging for more books that I just had to think of something! I wasn’t ready to write the rest of Beka’s story yet, so I decided to embark on a spin-off. I started thinking about telling Lucy’s story but “she” kept wanting me to tell it through poems. I loved the idea and fell in love with this type of story-telling. I hope you will love it, too. This is a way for my fabulous fans to have a new story without waiting forever. No worries, I’m still at work on projects that will become actual books, but for now, I hope you grow to love Lucy as much as I have.

In “Totally Unfamous” you will find Lucy at seventeen years old, a little more than two years after the Beka series ends with The Encore. Every day (with permission to beg off a day here and there) I will post several new pages of the story. You can read along as I post or you can wait until it’s all online and read it from beginning to end. Whatever you’d like!"

Books by Sarah Anne Sumpolec:

Becoming Beka, a young adult series from Moody Publishers
1. The Masquerade
2. The Alliance
3. The Passage
4. The Reveal
5. The Encore

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

When I Was Just a Kid...LeAnne Martin

When I Was Just a Kid...

LeAnne Martin

LeAnne Martin has written hundreds of articles, she's brilliant in English with the degrees to prove it, and has modeled perfume, as well as is a member in good standing in various writers organizations. Her elegance, gentle accent and gracious manners mark her as a woman who has spent her entire life in the South.(And her favoritism to Coca-Cola might also "mark" her, also.)

As a child, she wanted to be a writer, but she also wanted to hit the baseball far and make homeruns. Yeah, this little "lady" had skinned knees, and her best friend was a boy who played as tough as she did! When I think of LeAnne as a child, images of "Scout" in To Kill a Mockingbird (without all the drama, Boo Radley and people trying to kill her) form in my mind.

LeAnne can still throw a baseball around, but she also loves the arts--and she shares that love with others with her writing. Each week on Mondays and Thursdays you'll meet the people who create, promote and adore the arts in many forms and media. Entitled Christians in the Arts, she features artists working professionally in a variety of fields as well as art experts, enthusiasts, and educators.

LeAnne says,"I'm especially interested in encouraging artists who are Christians struggling to blend their faith and their art. I also want to encourage the Church to get more involved with the arts. It's a topic that I feel so passionate about, and I'm finding that many other people do as well. It has been exciting to meet so many people who love the arts and love the Lord."

That passion is contagious. To find out what went into the molding and sculpting of such a beautiful, intelligent and giving person(one of our eight SALT* sisters,) let's meet LeAnne when she was just a kid: (*Struggling Artists of Literary Talent):

Childhood Ambition: From the time I was seven years old, I wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first story at the age of eight about a set of twins--a boy and a girl--who solved the mystery of the lost ring. (They found the ring in their front yard.) As I got a little older, I wrote "novels"--one about a doll with magical powers and one about a girl and her best friend who go to another world. That was my sci-fi/fantasy stage. I still have all these stories.

As a tomboy, I also wanted to be a police officer, a fireman, or a paramedic. I guess I wanted to either be a hero, or imagine one, and write about her.

Fondest Memory (then): Playing softball with my family and in our church league throughout my childhood and teen years. My fondest memory is the first time I stepped onto the field in a real game. I was a rookie, untried but not green--I'd been playing in our backyard for years. My dad was coaching, and in the fourth inning, he put me in at right field. Everybody knows that you put your weakest player in right field so I figured I'd get a little action from the hitters who could pull the ball.

I was right. Before long, a low fly ball headed my way. I took a few steps, put my glove up, and caught it like I'd been doing it my whole life, which was pretty much true. My teammates and our fans went wild. I think I probably jumped up and down. Dee Dee Brown, the first baseman who was just a couple of years older than me told Dad, "I almost ran out and hugged her!" I don't remember if we won the game or not, but it doesn't really matter.

Proudest Moment (now): When I gave birth to my baby girl. She was 10 lbs, 2 oz. My joy and my delight. I still can't believe I did that! [Crystal editor's note: If you've ever met LeAnne, you'd know that she's not much bigger than that baby was!! And that baby girl is growing up to be as sweet as mom.]

LeAnne,"Smartest Girl" and Bionic Woman Wannabe(who can make the "sound" while running,) even on the go, takes time to connect to home.

Biggest Challenge as a child or teen: I was named "Smartest Girl" in my class in ninth grade. I spent the rest of my high school years trying to live up to that. It was too hard! :)

My First Job: Salesperson in a sporting goods store. I also sold Clinique cosmetics and men's and women's fragrances. Yes, I was a "fragrance model"--one of those women you see in department stores, spray bottle in hand. I never sprayed anyone without permission, though. It was good money for a college student but it involved a lot of rejection--the perfect training ground for a writing career, actually.

Childhood indulgence: Chocolate milk shakes from Dairy Queen (a weekly treat on Friday nights--I loved them!). I would suck mine down before we even got home. My folks would often get banana splits. One night the DQ was especially busy. Mom saw one frustrated employee kick a banana all the way across the floor. Mom watched carefully to be sure that same banana didn't end up in her or Dad's banana split.

Favorite Outfit as a child: In third or fourth grade, I had these dark green pants with fall-colored leaves embroidered on the bell bottoms. I thought I looked pretty groovy.

Favorite Childhood Movie: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. "Truly Scrumptious..." I loved the windup doll scene and the big rescue at the end but that scary child-napper gave me nightmares.

Favorite Childhood Book: Corduroy (I still love it!). Who wouldn't love a sweet old bear like that? I was fascinated by the pretty African-American girl Lisa, her sweet little room with a bed just the right size for a bear, and the apartment where she lived. Living in the suburbs, I had never seen an apartment building before.

Childhood hero: The Bionic Woman. She was pretty but she was tough and strong and tender too. A winning combination. I pretended I was Jaime and could even make that bionic sound when I ran through the yard.

Art you adored as a child: My grandmother Daisy gave my mother a painting that hung in my mother's bedroom when she was growing up. Daisy had given some food to a man in their small town who was struggling financially and he gave her this painting in return. It's of a beautiful blonde-haired young woman in a long blue dress playing a piano with a dark blue candlestick on top of it. When I was young, my mom stored the painting in the back of the closet in my room. I didn't really notice it until my pre-teen years. Since it wasn't hanging up, I asked my mother for it. She promised to let me have it when I left home, and she did. I still love that painting and plan to give it to my daughter one day.

LeAnne's writing these days can cover many topics, as well as her blog about Christians in the Arts on Mondays and Thursdays:

Here are a few articles LeAnne has written that you can view on the internet:

Sabbath Suggestions"

"Where He Leads Me"

"Ministering to Your Minister's Wife"

"From This Day Forward"

Eat, Drink, and Be Family"

"Beautiful Words: Christian Poets, Past and Present"

Friday, April 20, 2007

Christian Women Online Blog Challenge

Today is a challenging kind of day. I have several writing projects and manuscripts to do. (If Christine is reading; I'm typing up all my notes!) My youngest boys have band contest tonight, and I'm a chaperone. There are details galore hanging over my head and I don't know where to begin. I've fallen so far off my exercise and eating-right wagon, I might have to wait for another one to come along.

But challenges make us richer. They give us something for which to breathe in and out.(At least I hope so.)

Over at Christian Women Online, they are always happening. I found them through my friends, Bonnie Bruno and Terry Whalin. CWO helped me to be thankful again. They talk about things that interest me, and they connect in a blogroll. It always amazes me how many talented and thoughtful people there really are in the world. The people with CWO are truly joyful and thankful. But I don't know that I would've been able to rejoice so much if I hadn't been able to share with you. Today they challenge me.They give me things to think about to write and to muster this stuff up from my soul. I'm answering a Blogroll Challenge.

Let me pause to tell you how I got into this: I started blogging in a hesitant, timid way. A friend of mine, who happens to have a fantastic blog, said I should think about blogging.(He's always helping someone.) He said it would keep me thinking along writerly paths and maybe help me sort out my passions in writing. So, I set up my account and for one year I couldn't think of what to do with it. Then, in July 2006 I was at a point in my life where I wanted to change directions in writing, and get back to my first love, fiction, or at least some sort of writing of my own. And there were other things going on, which made it difficult to change these gears.

But I had all of these words scrambling around in my brain and while I wrote in my Life Journal, no one was reading that (or would want to. Talk about a whiner.) A writer likes to be read. So one day, I opened my account and posted my first blog--about dieting. I had to have my friend put up my photo--I had no idea what I was doing.

But wow, as I went along, I grew in a lot of ways. Here are some of the many things I'm thankful for in blogging(how I'm blessed by blogging):

1. friendships (too many to link here)
2. topics I feel passionate about (that's another post!) and what I learn
3. writing regularly
4. pointing out places and people I like
5. discovering my roots
6. discovering how to write from my worldview
7. feedback from people I didn't know existed in the world (but now I do!)
8. Fun

You Are Western Boots

Your boots can sure walk a long mile - but they're still chic!

9. sharing photos
10. sharing childhoods and showing how writers developed

I'm always learning something new. I like to think that I have the mind of a beginner, no matter how old I'm getting (I'm in my year leading up to my Jubilee.) And some of you have shared your thoughts with me--and that's something a writer doesn't get a chance to experience most of the time--feedback. I am absolutely delighted when I get a comment. I'm thrilled when someone emails me behind-the-scenes. I keep all of that stuff to bring out on my rainy days.

If I ever figure out what I'm doing with my fiction, I'll have you all to thank. You will have shaped me and helped me to discover where my own sweetspot in writing is.

Sometimes, I think, we see so many downers and sad faces, we think life is all about that. It's not. It's a joy to cherish. When a life is created, it is cause for rejoicing. When it goes out of the world, we grieve, but we also celebrate that life.

I'm no Pollyanna. I can tell you sad, sad stories and events, and of failures and angst and great grief. I have friends of many kinds of faiths, races and creeds. I delight in discovering who they are and where they came from. (That's another reason I love to read so much.) But there is something wonderful about sharing joy instead of wallowing in self-pity and suffering.

I'm a Christian, and while that certainly is the core of my worldview, I also am a human being, who delights in life.

This is my favorite part of the Bible. I cherish it no matter what happens to me:

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ...we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us...
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5: 1-5;8)

That may mean nothing to you. It may be some sort of philosophy that doesn't appeal to you or you aren't sure of all the other stuff that goes with it, but I'm just showing you how I think. It's how I tick, how I breathe in and out, and from where I pull those writerly thoughts.

There are several quotes I keep above my computer. Here are two of them--the two I use whenever I write to spur me on:

From Anne Morrow Lindbergh:
"I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise. To suffering must be added mourning,understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable."

I hope this quote demonstrates how I operate in this blog.

Then, Stephen King said in his book, On Writing:

"If God gives you something you can do, why in God's name wouldn't you do it?"

Now, Steve may say it in a way that offends some people, but I think it's a clever way to say it. I take it as something holy; like a commissioning of sorts.

What has God given you to do? What tools does He hand to you?

Here are some of my tools:

1. a life that has spanned decades with tons of experience

2. a working knowledge of many things, including the Bible

3. a computer with an internet feed

4. a great husband and kids who encourage me to do things/inspire me

5. plenty of humor (you have to have that when either the computer crashes, you're on the phone with the techie guy or you lose your entire post or email...a sense of humor or irony helps.)

6. connections to many people

7. connection to God

Think about what it is you have been given to do. Do it. And be thankful for the blessings by counting them often. I think blogging has made me aware of all of these things.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

When I Was Just a Kid...W. Terry Whalin

When I Was Just a Kid...

Terry Whalin

Do you ever wonder what someone like Terry Whalin was like as child and teenager? What kinds of books inspired him as a child? Activities and first jobs? Someone like him--accomplished and a well-published author of over 60 books, an editor, literary agent, who works with the American Society of Journalists and Authors, teaching at conferences--who knows everyone and everyone knows him? Who has interviewed the likes of Billy Graham and Chuck Colson?

I did. And he was gracious to take time from his really busy schedule to reply to my probing into his past--with the same dedication that he gives an important deadline, I must add.He seems to have endless energy, as well as bottomless encouragement to those who want to write. And no wonder he does so well with teaching--whether
at a conference or online in various venues--it is really in his genes, we find out. And how many authors do you know who would climb into a speeding bobsled,just to experience the blinding fast motion of his subject, Olympic gold medalist Vonetta Flowers, to write a book?

He patiently answers questions all the time from brand new writers or old pros. And he's the guy responsible for my
cool writing advice widget on the right:Writing Tip of the Day. (Yes, these little gems are given out by Terry from his book, Book Proposals That $ell: 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success. )

And a life-changing moment came for Terry while he was a journalism student on the campus of Indiana University. That moment has in turn touched lives for years to come (or an eternity.)
From his bio:
A journalism graduate from Indiana University, Terry writes a wide spectrum of subjects and topics for the magazine and Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books and published in more than 50 magazines. For five years, he was an acquisitions editor at a book publisher, and now he is a literary agent at Whalin Literary Agency. Terry encourages writers of any level (from beginners to professionals) at To help people pursue their own dreams of a published book, Terry has written Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success.

Let's take a look at how Terry Whalin got started in life:

Childhood Ambition: Newspaper reporter chasing deadlines and stories
For most of my education, I had little idea what I would like to do with my life. I often thought about becoming a schoolteacher since this career is ingrained in my family DNA. My grandfather Whalin was a high school principal and superintendent in a small town in northeastern Kentucky. His father was a Kentucky teacher and the majority of his children (including my grandfather) went into some aspect of education. It's why the industrial arts building at Eastern Kentucky University is named after my great uncle Ralph Whalin. I'd say schoolteacher was as close to an ambition that I had beyond newspaper reporter.

Fondest Memory (then): Curled up on my granny's couch during the summers in Frankfort, Kentucky reading a stack of biographies from the library. I've always loved books and on those rainy summer afternoons, I pored through the pages of real life stories. It built something special into my background, and is probably why I love to tell the stories of others.

Proudest Moment (then): Two or three years in high school, I went to the finals in the National Forensic Society in the discussion category. Each weekend, I traveled with the speech team to a different part of the state to compete and it was a regular part of my high school life. I wasn't an athlete but I did get a high school letter in speech. Almost each weekend I came home with some place in the event--first, second, third, fourth or fifth. My parents gave me a lot of affirmation for this work.
A close second would be when I earned my Masters Degree in 1984. My parents both came for the graduation. It was a little replacement, because I blew off my college graduation ceremony (even though they invested a lot of hard earned money in that period of my life). Thousands graduated at the same time from my college but only a few of us achieved the Masters Degree at the University of Texas at Arlington in mid-year. It was a special experience for me.

Biggest Challenge as a child or teen: One of my greatest challenges came in junior high school (7th grade,) which is a difficult time for anyone. Our family moved from northeastern Kentucky to Townsend, Maryland (a suburb of Baltimore). People wonder about my growing up years in Kentucky and how little drawl is in my accent today--and it's because of this experience. I have clear memories of standing in the recess at the junior high and guys in my class surrounding me saying, "Say PENNIES for us, Terry." I had no idea how to say the word--but I quickly learned and changed my dialect of English--of course, it reverts back whenever I spend any time in that part of the country. My wife will look at me and wonder what has happened to me--but I naturally make the transition each time--then, to her relief, transform back to my normal dialect when I leave the area.

My First Job: In high school, I worked part time at the local newspaper. In general I wrote obituaries and clipped articles for their "morgue" (where the clippings were stored back then--something that is long gone, I'm certain). It gave me a taste of the journalism world.

Then, between my freshman year in college and my sophomore year, I worked on the railroad section crew. Yes, I drove spikes and shoveled gravel all summer with a bunch of guys in a beat-up work truck. I rented a room in Gaston, Indiana (not far from Crystal's home) and struggled to keep up with these stronger men. I would have been fired in the first two weeks except my father was a railroad executive. Whether they liked it or not (and I liked it or not,) I was there for the duration of the summer. I did make some good money toward my college that summer since the job paid well--much better than anything in journalism at the time.

Childhood indulgence: Playing pinball machines

Favorite Childhood Movie: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Favorite Childhood Book: One of the early Dr. Seuss books--and a little known title:
McElligot's Pool. I love this book and still have a copy.

Childhood hero: Superman, of course--comic and the old TV show--loved both of them.

As a child I never expected that as an adult I would: have the opportunity to write books similar to the ones I loved as a child. I'm thinking of some of my biographies that I've written about people like Billy Graham, Luis Palau, Chuck Colson, John Perkins, Sojourner Truth and Samuel Morris[Crystal Editor here: There's a hall at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana named for Samuel Morris. Inspiring man.] It's been a thrill to put together these books and have them help others learn about these remarkable people.

Terry shares with us: "Where we've come from does feed into our lives as adults--but it's not the only factor. If we are open and constantly growing and changing, then we can do much more than we ever dreamed as possible. We serve a God which Paul writes about in Ephesians: He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think. I can think some amazing things and God is able to do above those thoughts."

Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Arizona where he has his literary agency and writes.

If you'd like to find out about his literary agency:

Need to know about blogs? Terry can help you there:

For writing helps and the Right-Writing newsletter:

To find a copy of Terry's book, Book Proposals That Sell:

For 49 cents you can find out how to rejection-proof your manuscript:

For some of the books Terry has written:

Now, you, too, have plenty to keep you busy, if you're interested in writing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I am the mother of two college students, and soon to be three, after he graduates from high school this year. I also have another son who is in high school, but will be making his decision about post-high school schooling soon(the fourth son.) So, when yesterday's murder on a college campus unfolded, I, like everyone else, was struck with grief and concern. And I re-counted my boys' fingers and toes, and held my own boys close in my heart, like any mother does in these situations. I guess that's why I feel a need to comment on my blog today about it.

It was shocking because so many died needlessly in one place, but when is death ever something we welcome? Even when a life has been fully and wonderfully lived and is relinquished because life just can't hang on another day, we fight it, and grieve the person who leaves us. And death comes to us all. It is an uncontrollable certainty. "Death is naked before God; Destruction lies uncovered." (Job 26:6 NIV)

Our college community isn't unlike the one in Virginia. It's close and feels "safe." I live within minutes of three universities, and all three have been hit with students' deaths by either murder or accident, and we take it personally, even if we didn't know the college kids. Another university within two hours from me, and my husband's and brother's alma mater, was the scene for a death of a student only weeks prior to yesterday. And then, just two weeks before, an unexpected death of a student occurred in the small high school population where my boys attend. What it boils down to for me is that I want my own boys to be safe. I want them to live full lives. I want them to outlive me. I panic a little when something like this happens. Fear grips. Uncertainty. Overwhelming sorrow for those parents who dreamed of more for their kids, and for the silencing of a teacher's voice.

If you have found this blog today and you are grieving, know that you aren't the first, and will be not be the last to find tragedy and to bear the grief for it. And that is no comfort to you in knowing this, I know.

Whether your grief is accompanied by a national outpouring with others, or is personal and lonely, it is the same. Death knows no boundaries, and does not care if it is fair or "could have been prevented." It is there, hanging onto your heart to bring you down. Anger is a natural part of that grief, and trying to make sense of it, or to prevent it is also part of it.

Talking helps the process of grief, and our nation stands in the funeral home together with those who suffered losses in yesterday's murder. I, too, mourn, and know what it is like to lose those I've loved to death's grip--both by natural causes and murder.

In Psalms 5:1-3 (NIV) it says,
"Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to You I pray. In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation."

So, whether you talk about your grief with others, or talk it over with God, it is part of the process we all must go through in life. We need to talk about it. It helps.

Jesus told his disciples right before his own death, "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33 NIV) I hold this peace and hope. Maybe you do, too.

Jesus talked about his own coming death, but they weren't ready to hear it. He talked about the hope and the future beyond what was going to happen to him. There is going to be trouble in this world. It is something that has been happening since the day Cain chose to murder his brother Abel. Since their parents invited death into the world. You may think that a God who loves us wouldn't let things like this happen. But there is a bigger scheme of things, and not easy to explain in one post.

How you choose to deal with a loved one's death, no matter how it comes, is a choice. But we all respond the same way--with grief. I am holding the hands of those parents and the loved ones who survived yesterday's attack in mine today. And no words will take away that grief, but maybe talking here will soothe the fear. Soothe the fear in me, too.

Read an excerpt from C.S. Lewis's book written in the aftermath of his wife's death here.
A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis (Author) "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear...
I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid."

Read what Jim Watkins has to say about death, school shootings and grief at his blog today:
• 12:30 pm Monday, April 16, 2007
"How does one deal with horrific massacre at Virginia Tech?
How does one deal with the the worst killing at a school in recent history?"
Some of his links:
Dealing with school shootings
Dealing with death and grief
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Sunday, April 15, 2007

When I Was Just a Kid...Teena Stewart

When I Was Just a Kid...

Teena Stewart

When Teena Lanning was growing up in Virginia, she never expected she would ever leave. But one day she met an exciting American-Scotsman and married him, and it was off on adventures with her pastor-husband from Virginia to Pennsylvania to Colorado to California to Scotland, and who knows where next? Moss doesn't grow under the Stewarts' feet, and certainly not under Teena's. No matter how long she stays in one place, she is moving.

This photo shows Teena with her siblings before her baby sister entered the scene. She's the skinny kid in the dress.

Teena remembers about the photo: "We had a neighborhood 4th of July parade and there was a contest for best theme. My dad chose To Market, To Market to Buy a Fat Pig or something about a farmer taking pigs to market. I was the farmer's wife and my older sister, Vicki, was the farmer. I really didn't wear glasses. I think those were an old pair of sunglasses. Dad made pigs out of Clorox bottles and stuck them on my brother's and sister's heads.

And today Teena, a writer who has penned over 1000 articles, as well as short stories, fiction and ezines, and then finds time to head up ministries from one ocean to the other, still finds occasions to dress up. If we could get her three grown-up kids to talk to us, they'd tell us of the many funny skits and "dress-up" occasions, like posing for the famous Stewart Christmas cards, much like what Teena's dad instigated in a Fourth of July parade.

But Teena is shy and humble about what she does--even though her lifetime of work thus far speaks volumes about her talents. She has a B.A. degree in fine arts and paints portraits of pets, furniture that would make Mary Englebreit feature her if she only knew about her work, and she designs anything--from logos that appear on blogs, to web designs and web sites--well, Teena is an artist, too.

So what can we find out about Teena Stewart as a child that molded a woman so extremely talented? She's still shy, even though she can speak in front of groups with boldness about the God she serves, and topics that drive her passions.

Childhood Ambition: To be a ballerina

Fondest Memory (then): Riding my pony

Proudest Moment (now): Becoming a mom

Biggest Challenge as a child or teen: Extremely shy + severe asthma

My First Job: Clerical worker for the Department of the Navy in Arlington, VA

Childhood indulgence: Moravian Sugar Cake

Favorite Outfit as a child:Dress up clothes--my mom's open-toed black heels and white curtain sheers with red lipstick to match

[Crystal editor's note: Wish we had a photo of her in that! Scarlett O'Hara, move over!]

Favorite Childhood Movie: Pinocchio

Favorite Childhood Book: Little Black, a Pony

Childhood hero: My Dad

Childhood pastime: Playing Tin Can Hide

While growing up, I never expected to: move away from Virginia

Teena Stewart writes a monthly column for DreamBuilders Ministry in Motion's MIM Ezine, a place where those in ministry--whether pastor or other staff members in churches--can go to find solutions, support and materials and ideas and ministry resources. What she didn't include in her information for me is that she created and continues to develop this ministry, and she then was able to recruit others into keeping it going. Don't know what your spiritual gifts are? Teena has answers. If you need some help and support on raising your teen, Teena (alone and with her sometime co-author) covers that.

If you are interested in writing for Dreambuilders, check out the writers' guidelines.

Teena's passions have caused her to write so many articles, she seriously has lost track of the number, but now she is turning her writing to books and Best Practices of Successful Small Groups(Beacon Hill) on small groups will be released in November 2007.

But Teena's passions don't end with nonfiction. She has published and written numerous suspenseful short stories and fiction, and started a blog covering the topic of suspense fiction called Whispers in the Darkness.

Whatever Teena turns her attention to, you can bet she will soon be an expert, and her blog explores the gamut on fiction books and within the genres of mystery and suspense. If you have an interest in this type of writing, check out this blog.

Here is just some of her work that is available in book form:

Soul Matters for Mothers

The World's Easiest Pocket Guide to Marriage and Moneywith Jeff Stewart and Larry Burkett

God's Way book series

Her publication credits also include but are not limited to: Discipleship Journal, Leadership Journal, Minister’s Family Magazine, Ministry Magazine, Woman Alive, Woman's Touch and many other publications.

You heard my prediction here: It won't be long before the name Teena Stewart will be on published, suspenseful fiction, too. Since I've long been a member of the critique/support group of SALT(Struggling Artist of Literary Talent,) which Teena started, I've read her work, both in nonfiction and fiction. She has what it takes, including the perseverence.

Friday, April 13, 2007

When I Was Just a Kid...Tobi Layton

When I Was Just a Kid....

Tobi Layton

Tobi Raney Layton remembers an incident where she got into trouble by her mom, Deb, and dad, Ken Raney (but note that they took a photo of her committing the crime.) This was her crime--eating butter from the tub--but she also counted it as her childhood indulgence. (Her mom, Deb Raney, supplied this photo.)

Tobi is the daughter of author Deborah, and illustrator/artist/children's book author, Ken Raney. Growing up with three siblings, Tobi has plenty of stories. Her mom just grinned when I asked if Tobi would allow me to interview her for this column the day after Deb's own interview in the Chat 'n' Chew Cafe', since the two of them co-author a column over at

Tobi consented, and here are some of her childhood memories:
Childhood Ambition:

Like many kids, I had pretty flighty ambitions. My earliest dream was to be an Olympic Gymnast. Once I hit 5'2" (8 inches ago), I gave up on that one.

In high school, I job shadowed an architect, but decided duct work and plumbing wasn't my speed, so I decided to focus on interior decorating. I soon figured out from countless decorating magazines that there are more ugly styles of decorating than ones that I find aesthetically pleasing. Since I'm pretty stubborn and opinionated, I figured that I probably wouldn't be very successful at trying to decorate other people's homes to their weird tastes.

So, I turned my interests toward a passion I had really been nursing all along - children. I have always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom for at least part of my life, but I also dreamed of being a child psychologist or teacher. The summer before my senior year, God started hinting at my true calling. I taught swimming lessons and received several comments from parents about how good I was with their little water babies. At the same time, I realized that psychology would take years of schooling, and then involve being somewhat detached from my charges - something I don't think I'm emotionally capable of.


My senior year, I enrolled as a student aide for my old kindergarten teacher. When I walked into her classroom that first day of school, I knew instantly that I wanted to teach. Nine years later, I'm doing just that and loving it.

So, what was her first job ? (industrious, ambitious kid!)

My First Job: Babysitting; teaching 3-5 yr olds to swim (or, rather, blow bubbles and splash without crying.)

Childhood indulgence: I remember getting in trouble as a toddler for eating from the butter tub! (See photo above.)

Favorite Outfit as a child:
Definitely NOT the "perfectly good" red corduroy hand-me-down pants that went with NOTHING. My mom made me wear them at least once a week!

I did love my button shirt that Grammy made for me. (See photo below.)

[Crystal editor's note: Tobi claims she looks "dorky" here. But aren't all fifth graders a bit self-conscious about their looks? Now she teaches this age level of students. And obviously the creativity gene that we thought came from both of her parents, was also passed on to her by "Grammy" who made this really cool shirt! ]

Fondest Memory (then): The one afternoon that my brothers and I played "horse" for the entire afternoon without once arguing (and I was just as bossy as usual!). I remember being so happy that Tarl didn't think the game was babyish, even though the horse was a piano bench with paper smiley face and rope tail taped to the ends.

Biggest Challenge as a child or teen: Talking to boys.
[Crystal editor note: I think she got over that one!]

Proudest Moment (then):
I was pretty proud of my stellar Tae-Kwon-Do moves as a 6th grader, even though my whole family joked that for me to survive an assault, my attacker would have to attack from the proper side of my body and at an appropriate speed. But one day I was sparring a male classmate, who happened to be a big jock. I pulled a sweeping spin kick and dropped him flat on his back. I can still remember the look on his face!

Proudest Moment (now ): Giving birth to my son.

(Layton Family Mistletoe Christmas Kiss below)

Favorite Childhood Holiday: Christmas
My favorite Christmas traditions included our annual Christmas light tour in Wichita and our snowflake cutting party. My dad, an artist, could cut a mean snowflake, and I tried to recreate a few of his designs in college. I laminated my "baby Jesus in a manger" and "old fashioned candlestick" masterpieces and put them up in my classroom every December. My mom ended up writing an article about these snowflake parties, and then in college I came up with an extended version of this tradition.

Childhood Hero:
Though I would never dream of admitting it to her,[Crystal editor's note: Shhhh! Don't breathe a word to Deb!] my mom was always my hero. Her very presence annoyed me to death as a teenager, but I subconsciously wanted to be just like her. I respected her decision to stay at home and raise my siblings, and I always compared other mothers to her. Of course, my friends' moms were all MUCH cooler than her at the time, but I knew she made the best decisions for her family and had a strong devotion to God.

Favorite Childhood Book: Miss Suzy - about a squirrel who keeps a tidy home in an oak tree and then is forced to relocate to a dilapidated doll house with a bunch of toy soldier slobs. She performs a total makeover and straightens that place - and those boys - right up! I have always loved makeovers of any type.

Your favorite list of Children's Books: Miss Suzy (of course), Little House on the Prairie series, Nancy Drew mysteries

Favorite Childhood Pastime: I know I'm a total dork, but I went through a phase where I spent hours at a time decorating a little tree root home for imaginary creatures. I strung leaf curtains on dental floss and collected acorn cap dishes. What can I say? I had a Miss Suzy complex!

Favorite Childhood Movie: Princess Bride

Tavia, Tobi and Deb Raney

Childhood Prince Charming: Kris White was my childhood crush - but I threw up all over him during 3rd grade story time, which sort of ruined my chances. I DID get to play his fiance' in the musical my senior year, but by then I was inches taller than him (especially in dance heels!) and holding out for next year's college guys.

As a Child I Never Expected that as an Adult I Would: Be almost exactly like my mother! Mom wrote an article on me as a kid drawing her face on a pillow for a personal punching bag. Who knew I'd grow up to admire her and be proud to be like her.

...And that mother is so proud of Tobi, too. This is from Deb Raney's blog on Tobi when they launched their co-authored articles on marriage at :

Deb Raney: My daughter, Tobi Layton, and I write a column each month on, a great Web magazine devoted to faith, family and community. My husband and I share an August anniversary with Tobi and her husband, Ryan.
Each month, Tobi and I explore various aspects of marriage as viewed from the perspectives of a young married woman (Tobi) and an, I mean long married woman (me). We've had such fun writing together, though I'm not sure our husbands are quite so thrilled, since they are featured prominently every month. ;) Each column contains several discussion questions that would be great conversation starters for your next date with your spouse.

Then, Tobi kicks in again with a bit of humble pie:
Apparently, I was a total brat as a child. None of my coaches or teachers ever realized it, since I saved it for family, but I had a major sass-mouth. My parents blame it on my stubbornness and independence. I think I was just too intelligent for my own (and their own) good. (Big smile!)
Fortunately, my 16-month-old seems to get his temperament from my husband, Ryan, not me. However, my mother has prayed that I will pay for my raising, which has me very scared of the baby I'm due to have in October!

[Crystal editor's note: Ah, the curse of the mother on the child who gave her white hair and knuckles...(it's all goooooood, don't worry.) I pray many blessings on you all, and for a safe and healthy delivery of another cutie Layton baby. God bless! See all of the Raneys and Laytons above.]

Tobi Layton grew up to be a fifth grade teacher and freelance writer in southeast Missouri. Married for five years to Ryan Layton, a high school biology teacher, they are involved with the high school and junior high youth groups at their church in Missouri.
Things are never dull, and Tobi has plenty of stories piling up to use in her column with mom, Deb Raney. Here are their marriage links to their column.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

When I Was Just a Kid...Deborah Raney

When I Was Just a Kid...

Deb Raney

First grade was where Deb Raney learned to read, and "Tip and Mitten" stands out in her mind as the book that launched, well, quite a few books! As a farm girl in Kansas, she got inspiration from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series and at 12 decided to try this writing thing for herself. At that point all history seemed to be the same, and she had accidently put an airplane in a story set in the 1700s. It was then that Deb vowed never to write historical fiction again. Thank goodness for us she broke that vow.

[Crystal Editor's note: Do you suppose she missed her calling as a fantasy/sci fi author? Naah. She writes contemporary women's fiction very well!]

Let's take a look at Deb's past and see how that influences the writer that she is today:

Childhood Ambition: I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books when I was 11 or 12 and from that point on, I dreamed of someday writing a book. But my love for kids kicked in before my writing took off and I also dreamed of raising 12 children. The Lord blessed us with four (which most days seemed like 12) and I’d be hard-pressed to say which “career” I’ve enjoyed the most.

Deb's Family today

Fondest Memory (then): My grandparents were all very special to me and lived nearby for many of my growing up years. I have lots of happy memories involving them. Also, I grew up on a farm and that is a rich resource for great memories, too. The first one that comes to mind is having my Dad storm into the house one day acting like me and my younger siblings were in BIG trouble. In a crabby voice that held the hint of a smile, he demanded, “You kids get out here with a box right now and...take care of the new baby kittens I just found.” We were thrilled! Baby kittens were a highlight of many summers! (I’m sure that memory is close to the surface because our sweet kitty, Biscuit, who wandered onto our property several months ago and never left, just gave birth to four adorable kittens! My sixteen-year-old daughter and I are already sad for the day we’ll have to find them new homes.)

Biscuit and babies (Want a kitten??)

Proudest Moment ( then): I was a terrible klutz—not an athletic bone in my body! But one spring at the country school I attended, I was the hero of the co-ed baseball game. They had me out in right field where I could do the least damage, but a pop fly came staight at me. I put my glove over my head (mostly for protection) and the ball plopped right smack into it to win the game! I was carried away on the shoulders of the older boys, smiling so hard it’s a wonder I didn’t turn inside out. : )

Biggest Challenge as a child or teen:My biggest challenge was asthma. Wheat and hay seemed to be the triggers for my asthma attacks—NOT good things to have to avoid when you’re a little Kansas farm girl! But as I look back on all the things I missed out on because I was stuck in the house trying to breathe, I realize that my mom was always there—reading to me. I think it’s fair to say that I probably wouldn’t have discovered this wonderful career were it not for having asthma, and a mom who shared her love of reading with me.

My First Job:De-tasseling corn! Oh, did I ever hate it! Hot, windy, sweaty, bugs everywhere, scratchy corn leaves. I’m breaking out in hives just thinking about it! But I worked with a fun group of girls, and we each made $100 for a few days of work.

Childhood indulgence:Dairy Queen! One of our favorite things was when Daddy would come in from the field and tell us all to load up in the car because we were going for a drive. We all knew—even though he’d drive for miles in the wrong direction first, just to keep us guessing––that we’d wind up at the local Dairy Queen. We had a 10-cent limit, which would buy a nice-sized cone. Once in a while he’d let us spend 15-cents each and get a malt or a chocolate dipped cone. It was such a secure feeling being locked in the station wagon with my whole family.

Favorite Outfit as a child:Oh, man! Talk about memory lane! I saved my allowance for weeks for a pair of white go-go boots. I wore them with a blue double-knit mini-skirted shift and boy did I think I was hot stuff. LOL!

Favorite Childhood Movie:We didn’t go to the movies very often, and at home we only watched TV on occasional winter Sunday nights. I remember Ed Sullivan and Bonanza in particular. And the smell of fresh-popped popcorn my mom always made for us on those special TV nights.

Favorite Childhood Book:Well, it’s not politically correct to say so now, but my great grandmother used to sit us on her lap and read Little Black Sambo to us over and over again. I’m certain she had NO idea that this fanciful, delightful tale would one day be judged to have racial overtones. We just loved the story of a little boy and his family and some scary tigers who turned into butter for the 169 pancakes Sambo would eat at the end of the book.

Childhood hero:I think my parents have always been my heroes. My mother made being a wife and mom look like the most joyful job in the universe and my dad has always been a man of integrity—someone I could always trust and look up to. They are still my heroes.

From Deb's biography:
After spending two happy decades as an at-home mom to two sons and two daughters, Deborah finally began work on her first novel––a contemporary story––after an intriguing discussion about Alzheimer's disease with her husband, Ken, and their young teenagers. Drawing on her experiences working in a New York nursing home early in her marriage, she crafted a fictional account of one family's struggle with Alzheimer's disease. A VOW TO CHERISH was published by Bethany House Publishers in 1996 and won an Angel Award from Excellence in Media. It has been translated into the Swedish, Danish and Norwegian languages, and is also available in a hardcover large-print edition from Thorndike Press. Steeple Hill Books recently released an update and expanded version of the book.

Here is a list of fiction books Deb has written:

  • Remember to Forget-February 2007
    • A Nest of Sparrows - June 2004
    • A Scarlet Cord - June 2003
    • Playing by Heart - August 2003

    • After the Rains - September 2002
    • Currier and Ives Christmas - Christmas 2002
    • Beneath a Southern Sky - June 2001
    • A Vow to Cherish:
    August 1999 2nd Release
    January 1996 1st Release (Out of Print)
    • Kindred Bond - May 1998
    • In the Still of Night - February 1997

    Storytellers Series
    •The Storytellers Collection - September 2000
    •The Storytellers Collection: Tales From Home - Summer 2001

    Teatime Stories Series
    • Teatime Stories for Women - Honor Books 2000
    • Teatime Stories for Mothers - River Oak 2001
    But Deb doesn't just write fiction. Here are some of the books she wrote in the nonfiction realm:

CHILDREN'S SERMONS TO GO (Abingdon Press 1998)
both written with Deb's sister, Vicky Miller

Contributor to:
THE STORYTELLERS' COLLECTION-Tales from Home (Multnomah 2001)
THE STORYTELLERS' COLLECTION-Tales of Faraway Places (Multnomah 2000)

Featured in:
LET GOD SURPRISE YOU by Heather Whitestone McCallum (Zondervan 2003)
BEHIND THE STORIES by Diane Eble (Bethany House 2002)

Also, she blogs regularly with about two dozen other multi-published authors on The Charis Connection as well as at her own blogspot.

She is now at work on her seventeenth novel. Her books have won the RITA Award, the HOLT Medallion, the National Readers' Choice Award and the Silver Angel from Excellence in Media. Deborah's first novel, A VOW TO CHERISH, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title.

A Vow to Cherish will be released again as a new Steeple Hill version in mass market in October, with a sequel to follow in November, also in mass market. Upcoming books include aforementioned sequel, Within This Circle, Steeple Hill, November 2007 (mass market) and a novella, “Finally Home” in the anthology, Missouri Memories, from Barbour to release in December 2007. The next Clayburn novel, Leaving November, (Howard) will come out early in 2008.

In Deb's own words:

My married daughter ––the one who made me a “Mimi” a year ago!––writes a monthly column with me for, a great Web magazine devoted to faith, family and community. My husband and I share an August anniversary with Tobi and her husband, Ryan Layton. Each month, Marriage Perspectives explores various aspects of marriage as viewed from the perspectives of a young married woman (Tobi) and an, I mean long married woman (me). We've had such fun writing together, though I'm not sure our husbands are quite so thrilled, since they are featured prominently every month. : )

[Crystal Editor's note: I will be featuring Deb's daughter, Tobi, in this same column, so look for that soon! One of those article titles is Should In-laws be outlawed? ]

Remember to Forget (just released Feb. with Howard Publishing) Deb at ICRS Advance in Indianapolis

[Crystal editor's note: I just reviewed this book for Church Libraries magazine (not yet published.) All I can say at this point is that I give it "two thumbs up!" And I've gotten a little picky after over 500 published book reviews here and there.

Some of Deb's many awards:
• 2003 American Christian Romance Writers Book of the Year
• First Place Blue Boa Award Inspirational Fiction
• A Book of the Year for American Christian Romance Writers
• 2002 Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice nominee
• Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence finalist
• Also named one of the Top 20 Fiction books of 2002
in's Fiction Newsletter, Dec. 27, 2002

Go here to see the When I Was Just a Kid interview with her daughter, Tobi Layton.

Deb also serves on the advisory board of American Christian Fiction Writers.