Friday, March 11, 2016

Magnolia Lake Release Day and Giveaway!

It's Magnolia Lake release day! 

I am beyond excited and couldn't wait to share it with all of you! In honor of this special day, I'm giving away one FREE paperback copy of Magnolia Lake to someone who comments on this post. 

Here's the blurb to give you an idea of what the books' about.

Popular and beautiful, Cora Stephens has it all - including the perfect football-star boyfriend - until one fateful afternoon. Facing heartache and betrayal, Cora turns to long-time friend, Landon, for comfort. While his love for her grows, she does everything in her power to avoid getting hurt again - including flinging herself into the arms of another boy.
 Then, just as Cora’s shattered world starts putting itself back together, life throws something her way that’s more horrific than she ever could have imagined. Through the emotional and physical pain, she begins to lose hope and abandon her faith. Will this once light-hearted, happy prom queen find her way back home? 

In case that peaked your interest (and because I love and appreciate all of you reading this blog), here's a little sneak peak! 

I changed clothes and made it just in time to plop down on the hard floor and get into a stretching position before the coach noticed. 

Valerie must have seen something in my expression. “Looks like somebody’s been up to no good.” She winked as we stretched.

My eyes were wide with innocence as I asked, “What do you mean?”

“Oh, come on, Cor! Your face is all flushed,” she whispered, “and you were the last one dressed. I may not have a boyfriend right now, but that doesn’t mean I forgot how to read the signs. You managed to fit in a quick make-out session and still get here with one minute to spare!"

Although her accusations made me blush, the corners of my mouth turned up into a mischievous grin. There was no use trying to lie to her. She had a strange sixth sense about these things. “Well, maybe a quick one,” I answered. “But, in my defense, there are only so many unsupervised hours in a day. Jeff and I don’t get much alone time.”

Lacy overheard us and chimed in. “Oh, you are so lucky! To have such a hot, manly guy. Mike won’t even kiss me on the cheek at school. He’s so worried about what his friends will think. It drives me crazy! I need a little action, ya know. A little adventure.”

Coach Rivers shot us a stern glance. Not wanting to be on the wrong side of one of Coach’s endless tirades, I focused on the hardwood floor, spread my legs, and continued stretching.

After two hours of running, dancing, and stunting, my friends and I walked lethargically to our cars. When we reached Lacy’s car, she hurriedly jumped in with only a quick, “See ya later,” before speeding off.

I looked at Valerie, who gave a quick shrug of her shoulders before asking, “So, Cor, wanna ride together tomorrow and go to the mall after practice?” 

“Yeah, sounds good. I need new jeans. We can look at prom dresses too! Just for fun,” I answered with excitement. “I’ll call Kayla and Lacy tonight. Maybe they’ll wanna meet us.” 

We stood in the parking lot, talking about our shopping trip and which stores we wanted to visit. When we finally finished our conversation fifteen minutes later, I decided to put up the top on my car since the sky promised a downpour.

I was proven right just as I exited the student parking lot and the bottom suddenly fell out of the sky, producing sheets of rain that caused me to immediately let my foot off the gas and turn my windshield wipers up as high as possible. It had been perfectly clear for most of the day. Where’d the sun go in such a short amount of time?

As I came to one of the streets I would normally take home, I noticed it was closed due to a wreck. Detour signs were set up a few feet before the crash site, so I turned down an unfamiliar dirt road. 

That’s when I noticed Jeff’s truck parked on the grass to the right of the gravel. My heart started to pound. I knew it was his by the University of Georgia sticker on the back glass. There was no sign of him, but no sign he’d been involved in a crash, either—no other cars, no tree limbs sticking out, nothing. But also no Jeff.

With my stomach in knots, I jerked the steering wheel and rolled to a stop behind the truck. My imagination ran wild as I pictured Jeff being robbed at gunpoint or something else horrific. I just knew he was in a ditch somewhere, left for dead. I practically flew out of my car and around the front of his truck. There was mumbling and gasping coming from the woods several feet away. 

I started to panic, my mind racing. A million thoughts ran through my head. Was he hurt? Who was that talking? What happened? Had someone dragged him from the car? 

I didn’t even notice the wet grass sloshing under my feet and spraying my ankles and calves with mud. It was a good thing I hadn’t changed back into my school clothes. I was still wearing shorts and tennis shoes, much better to run in than the high heels I’d sported earlier.

The mumbling noises were getting closer. I saw a path I hadn’t noticed before. A car was parked at the end of that path in the woods. I walked closer to the car and peered inside. Through the fog of the windows, there was Jeff. And there was Lacy pressed against him.

I hope you enjoyed that excerpt! Links to purchase Magnolia Lake are below. Don't forget to leave me a comment for the chance to win a FREE paperback copy! 

And remember, reviews are the lifeline of a book. If you read Magnolia Lake, please leave an honest review on Amazon. It's much appreciated! 

Happy reading!




Thursday, March 10, 2016

Why God Calls Us to Dream Big

I’m a dreamer - always have been. I’m a head-in-the-clouds kind of girl. When I was a kid, my dream was to be a country music star. I even started my college career off as a music major. But when I realized all I could do with that degree was teach, my plans changed.

A few semesters later, I switched my concentration to Public Relations...again, dreaming big. I pictured myself doing PR for some major fashion brand, planning runway shows and after-parties - being thrust into a world of glamour and sparkle. Unfortunately, I was one of the not-so-lucky college grads who went into the workforce right as the economy was crashing. And I learned pretty quickly that jobs in PR were few and far between. The glamorous positions I had dreamed of weren’t open to entry level candidates, and most other businesses were cutting back on (or completely eliminating) their PR departments.

But all wasn’t lost. I was fortunate enough to move within the same company I’d been working for as an office assistant to a different position as the PR/Marketing Manager. Basically, it was a small company that created a position for me. I was more than grateful and things went well for a while, but eventually I began to feel burnt out. Some things happened and I needed a change. So, I turned to Mary Kay - another big dream.

When I met my Mary Kay director, I knew it was something I had to try. Now, I’d never been a salesperson before and the thought of selling made me cringe, but Mary Kay seemed like the best opportunity to control my own future. I was excited about the possibilities presented to me.

But yet again, my dreams turned sour. I didn’t have the confidence or the motivation necessary to make something like that work. As much as I loved the product and what the company stood for, I simply couldn’t get my consulting business off the ground running. Maybe I gave up too soon. Or maybe I didn’t have enough passion to drive me to success because it simply wasn’t my calling. 

Naturally, I began looking for my next career move. And what I found was far beyond anything I could have imagined. Because by this point, I’d given up on my “dreams,” with only the need to help my new husband pay the bills moving me forward. Then I stumbled across a small business with big dreams of its own. I stumbled across people who really cared about their employees. I stumbled across a place to call home for the next four years.

I’ll never forget my time there or the people who so impacted my life. But still...something inside me was screaming, gasping for air. No matter how happy I was at my job or how much I loved being a part of something so amazing, I felt that I wasn’t fulfilling my life’s potential. Deep down, I knew God had something else planned for me.

Intensifying that nagging feeling was the desire to be home with my children. Our daughter was three at the time, and I had just found out I was expecting again. And no job - no matter how perfect - could stifle my yearning to be there for my kids.   

So I began to let myself dream again. I dreamed about what it would be like to work from home. I dreamed about spending my days drawing pictures with words.

See, sometime during the last few years, I had started writing a novel. It was just something I worked on when I had a bit of free time. I eventually self-published it - with very little success. I’d always dreamed (there’s that word again) of being a writer, but that seemed to be the one idea I silenced the most. I pushed it to the back of my mind because I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know if it could even be done.

But here I am, on the cusp of that same novel’s official release day. Tomorrow, my dream finally becomes reality. Finally. And it’s surreal.

Looking back on all my failed efforts, I can’t help but smile. It turns out, the one thing I’d avoided - the thing I’d been the most afraid of - was the one thing I was meant to do.

Why? Why did I go through so many trial-and-error dreams before finding my truth? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I don’t regret dreaming big. I’ll never regret it, not even a little bit. Not even those dreams that weren’t meant to be. Because I’ve realized something. God wants us to dream big.

I’ve read the statistics about authors - how much money they make (or don’t make, I should say), how unlikely it is to succeed in this industry. But I still dream. I still cling to the conviction that started all of this in the first place. Have I failed miserably in the past? More times than I can count. And I continue to fail at something - whether it’s motherhood, marriage, or career - every single day. But God doesn’t give up on me.

When I’m falling flat on my face, He’s there. When I’m struggling to remember the why behind all the mess I may be going through, He reminds me. I look into the sweet faces of my children or I see a story about the evil in this world, and I remember my purpose. I remember that if even one person gets inspired to make a change, turn to God, or encourage someone else, I’ve done my job. And it’s all worth it.

Still...why does God continue to let me fail while simultaneously encouraging me to dream? If my dreams might never see the light of day, why does He give them to me? It’s simple: for faith.

How can we possibly know the majesty and unbelievable power of God if we never experience a dream coming true? How can we feel His grace, love, and unfaltering patience if we never fail? How will we know what it means to really depend on God if He doesn’t let us try to first do things on our own?  

I believe with all my heart that God wants us to dream big - as big as we possibly can. Because He has the power to exceed even our greatest imaginings. He can do things that would blow your mind. Things we don’t dare dream about. But He can only do those things if we’re following His path for us.

There’s a Bible verse that a lot of Christians (myself formerly included) misinterpret. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” I used to think that meant God would give me anything I wanted if I just believed in Him. Wrong.

What I’ve learned the verse actually means is this. If we delight in the Lord, really delight in Him - spend time in prayer and Bible study daily, soaking up His wisdom and peace - He’ll show us what He wants to do with our lives. And then He’ll place desires in our hearts. Those things, His plans, will become what we ourselves desire.

This has been a difficult lesson for me to learn. I used to believe if I wanted something that seemed noble or right, then it was part of God's plan. But that’s simply not true. While I do believe He gives each person unique talents and dreams, I don’t think you can consider anything you do ordained by God unless you’re close with Him. Even then, it takes a lot of time in prayer and a lot of being open to opportunities (and failures) to determine your God-given purpose.

Here’s a personal example from my own life. There have been many freelance writing opportunities presented to me lately, but not a single one has worked out. Each time I think something seems “perfect” and would provide more financial stability to my life, it gets snatched away as quickly as it was found. And each time, I get on my knees and plead with God to send me another opportunity. And He does. And then He takes it away. Why? Why, God?

I’m finally starting to see. Through a lot of frustration and even more prayer, the reason is becoming clear. That’s the only way God can get through to me. It’s the only way He can tell me to stop trying to make other things happen and to instead spend that time writing and promoting my fiction. Sometimes God speaks through our struggles. We just need to listen.

This is hard, to say the least. My doubts tell me I’ll never reach the level of success I need. They tell me I’m wasting time on things that aren’t paying me right now, things that might never pay me. But God tells me to have faith. He tells me to stop worrying, because He has always - and I mean always - taken care of my family and me.

And most of all, He tells me to keep on dreaming big.