Today's guest post is by Jennifer Maggio, author of the new book Peace and the Single Mom. Her story blows me away and is a beautiful testament, that no matter where you are, no matter how much you wish you were somewhere else or someone else, there is hope. God has a beautiful plan for you. He's not finished with you yet.
And as a bonus of having Jennifer guest post here, we'll give away a copy of her new book. Just leave a comment on a way God has shown you He's not finished with you yet below for a chance to enter the drawing. And now, here's Jennifer's story.
I would love to tell you I had a “normal” childhood – whatever that is – but I didn’t. I didn’t frolic in the snow, drink hot cocoa, and enjoy snuggles with my parents on the sofa as we watched our favorite television program. Truth is, most of my childhood and teen years were spent in utter chaos. My mother was killed when I was just a baby. Consequently, I was raised by my dad who used alcohol and women to mask the pain of losing my mother so unexpectedly. My dad married a total of six times, not including girlfriends in between the marriages. (Yep, you read that right!) I spent years suffering through sexual and physical abuse at the hands of many. My dad was not one of those abusers. He lived in a cloud for years, devastated by the pain he had endured.
Although I graduated high school valedictorian and class president (and was probably considered an overachiever by most), I became pregnant at only seventeen years old. I was desperate for someone to love me. I was desperate to have this hole in my heart filled. Maybe this new baby would create a bond between his father and me that would give me my “happily ever after.” As you may have guessed, it didn’t. I was a teen mom who had two children by the time I was nineteen. I was severely abused, chasing after a dead-end relationship that would have never worked. I lived in government housing using food stamps and welfare to help make ends meet with my low-paying job. I felt hopeless.
It was in my darkest hour that I found God. I hadn’t attended church in years, but my life was so dark, so lonely…maybe the church could help me. I made a decision to give the church thing a try again. I started attending regularly with my two small children. God slowly began to transform my heart. He healed the old wounds that had left me broken and bitter. He mended a heart that no longer chased after the temporary happiness this world offers. I finally had the strength to leave my old life behind. My Heavenly Father transformed my life, inside and out.
(as I read Jennifer's guest blog here, I can't help but sing Brandon Heath's song, "Wait and See" in my head. In case you are too, here you go ~Laura L. Smith)
Okay, sorry for the interruption. Now back to Jennifer --Today, I spend my days encouraging single moms that they can make it. They can overcome. They can press through and press on. I work with youth to encourage sexual purity. I encourage hurting women with the love that only Jesus brings. I never thought I could be used by God for anything. When I was a kid, I just wanted to be normal. But God has shown me that none of us were called to be normal. We were called to be an extraordinary light for His glory.
Jennifer Maggio is the award-winning author of four books, including her latest release Peace and the Single Mom: 50 Moments of Calm in the Chaos. Her story has been featured in countless media venues. She is the founder of The Life of a Single Mom Ministries, a global nonprofit committed to empowering single mothers. For more information, visit www.thelifeofasinglemom.com.
Don't forget to leave a comment below about how God has given you hope for a chance to win an autographed copy of Peace & The Single Mom.
The brave and beautiful dream chasers I met from Afghanistan last Friday night.
Last Friday we hosted a dinner for ten Fulbright Scholars from Afghanistan. Not your typical Friday night in our house.
My husband is a professor and was running a workshop for 70 Afghan scholars last week. Part of the weeklong visit was a dinner in an American home. We were blessed to be chosen as one of the host families (my husband running the program certainly helped).
Eight men and two women who all speak English, who all have graduated from college in Afghanistan, who all are in the United States for a two year master’s degree in various areas of expertise at Universities all across the states (ranging from the state of Washington to Washington D.C.), who all have been handpicked by the U.S. Department of State to receive these prestigious scholarships shook hands with me, my four kids and my hubby, thanked us graciously for the simple dinner of pasta and salad and shared their stories.
I specifically wanted to speak to the women. They were physically captivating with their olive coloring, large, dark eyes, and thick black hair. But these women blew me away with their inner beauty. One was a dentist in her homeland. She’s come to the States to get a Master’s in Public Health Policy, so she can return to Afghanistan and create better health care policies for her people. The other left home for the first time in her life to pursue her MBA in Finance in Rochester, New York, with dreams of helping non-profit rescue missions with their finances. One said, “I’ve been dreaming of this day since my first year of high school. I worked so hard for this scholarship.”
Yes she did. In a country where men and women are not treated equally, where education and employment opportunities for women pale in comparison to what men are empowered to do, these women fought the odds and went against what was expected of them achieving what some perceived as unachievable.
I take the fact that my daughter attends high school for granted. And living in a college town, it seems the opportunity to attend college is readily available. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed. These women will live for two years in a foreign land, away from their family and their food and their culture, speaking a second language, relying on buses to get them from small apartments to classes, to chase their dreams—dreams of hope and of change.
Let your firework light up the sky!
That kind of bravery in dream chasing deserves to be noticed. So, whatever dream you’re tossing around in your head today, think to yourself:
· Would I move to a country on the other side of the world to fulfill it?
· Would I leave family and friends and the familiarity of my culture to fight for it?
· Would I work years and years to achieve it?
If it burns that deeply in your heart, chase that dream with full force and enthusiasm. Light up the sky with the sparkling firework of your dream. And look to the example of these women as inspiration.
What's your dream?
Edits to a manuscript.
Ask any writer about their WIP and you’ll be sure to spark a conversation. Even if the author is protective of their WIP’s identity, they’ll at least comment about how far along they are with their WIP, what genre it is, if it has a home, etc.
WIP is writer speak for Work In Progress.
Writers are always writing. Even if we’re taking a hiatus from our next novel. We might be working on our blog, an article, a forward or endorsement for a friend’s book. We could be in a rewrite stage or awaiting edits or using our writing to help a family member with their website or our church with a newsletter. Or maybe we’re in the mulling over stage--the plotting, researching or character development stage. But I guarantee, writers always have a WIP.
An empty slate - a work in progress in the making.
I was recently chatting with a writer friend (*ahem* Stephanie) about getting edits back from our editors, and no matter how much we write and how many times we go over our own work, editors find so many ways (major and minor) to improve our writing.
I am a Work In Progress.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Eph 2:10 ESV
God created me (and you and the person across from you and the person down the hall from them) to do good works.
God had this idea for me from the get go. He created me and predestined specific works I would do – how cool is that? But my story constantly changes. I need to listen to my editor (God) about some of my choices, and how to learn from my mistakes. My patience needs a rewrite. Paragraphs and even chapters of my life should go in the “trash” at the bottom of my screen with a satisfying “crumpling”. I am constantly searching for a better way to write myself, a more precise word, a truer reaction. As Robert Fulguhm (author of Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten) says, "I could do better. The president and the pope and all the rest of humanity. We could do better."
The awesome thing about me as a WIP, is I know my ending. Because I believe in Jesus Christ and His unending love for me, I know my ending is actually just my beginning.
But how I get there, what I say along the way, how I interact with those around me, the decisions I make, what I do with the talents and troubles and experiences that come my way… well, that’s a story I’ll always be refining.
Sometimes I think I’m a piece of work. Sometimes I think I’m progressing. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever work things out. But I always know that I am progressing toward the last beautiful chapter. And that the Author of my story is my Savior. He’ll never ever delete me. I’m not any old WIP. I’m His.
My current writing WIP is the third book in the Status Updates series. What are you working on?
When I was on my high school’s dance team, our motto was “Teamwork Makes It Happen”. Not very catchy, but there’s a lot of truth in that phrase. On dance team it wasn’t about an individual’s abilities, it was about dancing in sync, together. The perfect example was the kick line. Everyone’s kicks had to be the exact same height, so it appeared as if one giant leg was going up then down, while the other giant leg followed suit. Shorter girls had to stand on tiptoes to make their legs reach. Uber flexible girls actually had to lower their kicks to line up with the team.
Have you ever been part of a softball team? A play? A fundraiser? If so, you know the risks of putting yourself out there. You’ve had to rely on others. You understand the challenges of working collectively for a common good.
I haven’t been in a kick line for a looooonnnnggg time, but this past fall I was invited to be on a team to launch a new line of young adult fiction books. By now, you’ve probably heard me chat about Playlist Fiction. Ever wonder what authors talk about when they get together? Everything, really. But recently, one of the other Playlist authors, Laura Kurk, and I were chatting about the excitement and uncertainty of banding together to create something new. Here’s an inside peek at our conversation.
LS: I remember when our agent suggested forming a team of authors to launch a new line, to include your novels, my novels, Jennifer Murgia’s latest title, Stephanie Morrill’s newest book and debut author Rajdeep Paulus. I know what was going through my mind. What was on yours?
LK: Writing is a lonely profession. It takes physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries to maintain the integrity of our thoughts and ideas while we work.
I’m usually okay with this, being an introverted soul. But sometimes I feel too alone. I’ve dreamed of having a team of like-minded people who would offer support, guidance, and friendship. I said yes, without hesitation.
LS: Me too. It was an incredible idea to have a support network within the solitude, to not have to go these books alone. But there was still a major unknown. None of us had worked together. All of our writing styles were a little different. What were your concerns?
LK: The same all students have when they hear the dreaded words, “Group Project.” I was always the kid who took on the biggest part—because I wanted the project done right. But, it turns out, I think we were all the kids who took on the majority of the work for group projects.
LS: So, was that because we were overachievers, or because we enjoyed writing essays?
LK: Ha! Both. But the great thing about our team is we overachieve for each other. I’ve never really been on a team, so this is my first experience with seeing other people sacrifice their time and talent for each other. It’s overwhelming. Makes me wish I had played t-ball or something.
LS: T-ball was not my best experience. Let’s just say I sat the bench. A writing team uniform fits me way better. I think the two major factors that have led to the success of our team are communication and a common desire to succeed as a whole. LK: We’ve avoided any of us carrying all the weight. L S: Right. We share it. Our communication from the get-go was key. Remember the dozens of emails about expectations and content for the line? LK: Back and forth, plus the conference calls. We agreed on a mission and a feel. We agreed our books would be unique, real, and match the rhythm of our readers’ lives. We incorporated that into everything from our plot lines to the Playlist Fiction website. LS: And once we identified ourselves, we all took responsibilities based on our strengths. You developed our Twitter account. Jennifer worked with the designer. Rajdeep created the count down graphics and manages our Playlist fan mail. And what would we do without Stephanie who writes the newsletter and runs all the spreadsheets? It was remarkable to watch everyone play to her areas of expertise. We had all poured ourselves into our novels. We longed for them to reach readers who would identify with our characters and gravitate to our plots. The more readers engaged with the Playlist Fiction brand overall, the more opportunities we had to touch those readers. LK: We were all invested. LS: All for one and one for all. What hopes did you have for the team? LK: I hoped I would develop relationships with people who shared my faith and my goals. I hoped for friends who would understand why writing is spiritually fulfilling for me, and who would hold me accountable with the words I choose. We’re not just a team. We’ve found friendship, validation, accountability, a louder voice, a bigger splash. We’re even prayer warriors. LS: It’s awesome isn’t it? It’s powerful for me to see how much stronger we are together than alone. But when you gain something, you tend to give something up. What did you sacrifice to be part of a team verses publishing your novels under a solo contract?
LK: I think there’s a misconception that publishing solo with an existing publisher means you can sit back. Authors have to market themselves constantly, so the team has been a blessing. The sacrifices I’ve made have been easy. The amount of work we’ve done to build recognition for this debut line of fiction has been mind-blowing. We’ve worked a lot of late nights.
LS: Which resulted in a lot of late night e-mails. Some of them made me laugh so hard I almost peed my pants. Others brought tears to my eyes. We swapped lyrics from everything from the Mickey Mouse Club House theme song to old Depeche Mode tunes. We shared stories about our siblings and children, admitted indulgences and weaknesses. We became good friends.
LK: I love how we support one another. Often you see writers who grab attention, because attention translates into sales. Our team members are more concerned with making sure we all find success. We work like this because we believe in the message of hope and healing we each have for our audience. We write for young adults. We found each other because we all felt there was a lack of hopeful fiction for teens.
LS: I’m praying we’ll provide some of that much needed hope.
LK: I believe we are. But despite the encouragement from one another, it does take maturity to keep this team in tact.
LS: Definitely. All teams do. None of us can be scorekeepers. We can’t say, “she did this and she didn’t do that while I did this.” Just like soccer player can’t say, “I scored and she missed my pass and she should have stolen that ball.” Each author has the integrity to give our team her personal best. As a team, we respect and honor the time and way we each achieve this. On any given day one author could be promoting the line, while another is dealing with family issues and yet another is frantically editing her next novel. The following week those roles can and do switch. What’s beautiful is how much we lean on one another, draw from one another, learn from one another. Like you said at the beginning, writing can be a lonely endeavor. But our team offers a community to share the writing journey.
Jesus didn’t leave one disciple high and dry to share the gospel. He introduced them to one another, had them dine together, travel together, so when it was time for Him to ascend, the disciples were prepared to work as a team. I believe God brought our Playlist Fiction team together to share the stories He’s put in our hearts. Are you part of a team? How do you think God’s equipped you to be an important team member?
Tingling all over with the announcement of the second book in my Status Updates series, It's Over, releasing April 19!
Book cover for the sequel to It's Complicated, It's Over. Photograph by Kelci Alane Photography. Cover Design by Angela Llammas.
HOW CAN YOU MOVE ON WHEN IT'S OVER?
When four college roommates lose pieces of their lives, the pain isolates and the tension rises. Emotions are hard to hide and even harder to tackle. How can the girls move forward, when there is so much pain in letting go? Together, Claire, Kat, Palmer and Hannah learn to lean on God and each other, and through it all they learn loss is a part of life."In It's Over, Laura L. Smith confirms the truth we've been told that we are never alone in the midst of heartache and struggle. In fact, she takes us to a place where we not only get to see, but feel deeply the truth of the fact that every single one of us has a story. Every single one of has experienced pain. But more importantly, that every single one of us has great hope. Laura L. Smith's writing strikes a deep chord in my heart. It makes sense. It's real--and in my opinion, that transparency makes all the difference." ~Holly Starr, Christian recording artist
"Laura Smith speaks for the broken. With a voice that’s warm and true, Laura gives words to those rendered speechless by issues that high school and college girls should never have to deal with—but so many of them do. In writing that’s raw, relevant, and real, Smith goes where few authors dare to go: straight into the heart of today’s young woman." ~Amy Parker, bestselling author of Courageous Teens
"YA author, Laura L. Smith crafts another story that will appeal to all girls, because no one is untouched by heartache in all its forms. The grace Smith extends the four girls in It's Over will touch readers in deep ways, as they follow these characters through some of the worst parts of life. Best of all, they'll cheer when the girls lean on one another and find ways to be thankful in everything. This is a fantastic read, one that will resonate with teens, college girls and their mothers." ~Laura Kurk, author of Glass Girl
What trophies from past accomplishments are on your shelves?
I have recently staked out a spot in our house, complete with windows and bookshelves, to be my very own writing nook. I L-O-V-E it! I’ve placed a handful of photos of my favorite places and people on the corner of my desk. I painted the walls a lovely smoky, pale lilac and one square with white board paint, so I can dry erase writing ideas at will. I’ve set my cool pottery coaster in place, so my coffee cup always has a home.
But in order to claim this space, I had to clean.
I had to dig through existing cupboards and go through baskets and file organizers in my previous writing space, a.k.a. the corner of our living room. I found everything from paper clips to business cards of people I don’t remember meeting, from an array of neon sticky notes and magazine images to old plaques and certificates. It was simple to put binder clips in the little organizer on my desk and to recycle hand scribbled notes for articles, blogs and books I’ve already written. But there was this stack of awards from my past that perplexed me. How long had I kept them? Better yet, why?
When I leased shopping malls a new store, like J.Crew, was like a merit badge of worth in my career.
As I lugged the load of metal and wood and paper to the garbage can, I laughed. There was something extremely freeing about no longer being tied by measurements of how many dollars of clothes I sold (my short career as a manager at the Limited) or how many square feet I’d leased (my longer career in shopping mall development). There was a time when those stats, and the status that went with them, were extremely important to me. But those things are irrelevant now, so I pitched them with a hearty heave.
And the next day, I stumbled across this passage:
The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. ~Philippians 3:7-9 MSG
And yes, I giggled at the mention of dog dung in the Bible, then marveled, how liberating it felt to let go of past credentials. But my trip to the garbage was easy. I’m no longer trying to sell the most wool coats or trying to convince J. Crew to come into all of the malls I lease. I’m happy I can let go of the past, but it’s a piece of cake, since those things aren’t relevant to me anymore.
What’s harder is the here and now.
I have two new novels releasing next month. Will I be able to consider my rank on Amazon insignificant? Will I be able to let less than glowing reviews (everybody gets some) slide off my back? I hope so. I’m praying I won’t get tied up in those numbers or any other worldly measures, for that matter. But it isn’t always easy. Today, I’m mentally throwing away earthly labels claiming how good I was or wasn’t. And I’m praying I can keep carrying more bags of garbage out to the curb.
How about you? What’s the craziest old trophy you have sitting around?
Two women running in the wintery woods
I have a friend who makes me run in freezing cold conditions. Yesterday it was nineteen degrees outside and with the wind chill it felt like seven, as in single digits. And yes, we ran – IN THE WOODS - OUTSIDE!
I love to run outside, but come on. I get cold so easily. I’m currently writing this indoors with the heat on, wearing a jacket and sipping my Starbucks (which I just reheated). I have permashiver in my bones.
I’ve tried getting out of these runs before.
I’ve texted: looks too chilly for me
and my friend texts back: bundle up
I'll need to type frantically to finish my manuscript next week!
There are so many things that don’t seem doable, like running in seven degrees, who would do that? But there are bigger things too, like finishing the manuscript I’m working on by the end of next week or completely forgiving someone in my life, who I’m currently holding a grudge against, tightly. There are challenging moments in scheduling, everyday kind of life, like getting my four kids to all of their practices and games while my husband is in Sri Lanka or maneuvering the roads this morning after the ice storm that hit last night. (Did I mention I’m not that strong of a driver?) But with Christ all things are possible, and my friend pushing me to run outside on a freezing cold morning, is the perfect reminder.
One of my all time favorite Bible verses Phillipians 4:13
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13
Not some things, or the easy things or the convenient things, but ALL THINGS. So what things are you struggling with today? What seems difficult or inconvenient or tricky or down right impossible? There is a way around, through, over or under it. For me and my run, it meant wearing long underwear, gloves, “heat wear” and my Columbia. And you know what, our run through the woods was invigorating. I saw the beautiful patterns of water frozen in motion on an icy stream. I breathed in fresh, clean, crisp air after days and nights of stale air recirculated from dusty heaters. The cold breeze on my cheeks revived my senses. I shared laughter and stories with a friend and allowed my mind and body to fall into the healing rhythm of a run.
Not only is the impossible possible, it usually provides an invigorating path for discovery. What’s overwhelming you today? I’d love to pray for you to find your way through it.
The glass pyramids imitating the outside of the Louvre, hallmarking the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
“I can begin again.” New Year’s Day by U2
I spent New Year’s Day 2013 soaking in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Barely visible amidst Elvis’ outlandish purple Cadillac with “EP” blazed on every seat cushion, tire and door (no lie), John Lennon’s neon green silk Sergeant Pepper’s uniform and Katy Perry’s memorable peppermint dress were my two favorite artifacts in the multi level, glass pyramid of a museum (a copy of the Louvre in Paris).
Elvis Presley's purple Cadillac
My favorites weren’t bright or shiny or glitzy or even psychedelic, like all the items I believe rock stars own and save and cherish. They were small and flat and plain. They were rejection letters.
John Lennon's Sergeant Peppers uniform
As a writer I get my share of rejection letters. You might think looking at others’ rejections would be torture. But, actually it’s the opposite. You see, these weren’t random rejection letters written to bands you’ve never heard of like Carl and the Crazies or the Keyboard Lizards, these were rejection letters written to U2.
In 1979 RSO sent a letter to P. Hewson, Bono’s real name, stating the demo tape he mailed “titled U2 is not suitable for us at present". The letter was written on Bono’s 19th birthday. I hope he got a decent cake.
Katy Perry in her peppermint dress
Around the same time Arista Records sent U2 a form rejection letter, the kind they sent to hundreds of bands with just a preprinted signature, and without details of why the band was being turned down.
But those rejections did not make U2 quit. It gave them fodder to begin again. To make another tape, to send it to another label, to try again.
One year later, Island Records signed U2. They went on to become one of the biggest selling bands in the world. Over 7.2 million fans attended U2’s 360 Tour, more than any other fans attending any other tour - ever. U2 has won more Grammy awards than any other band, ever. 22.
U2 the band with the most Grammy awards of any band, ever.
But what if Bono and the boys had listened to RSO or Arista? What if they took those rejections as signs they didn’t have what it takes? That they weren’t good enough? That their sound wouldn’t resonate? That they should give up?
What hill are you climbing today? Who’s told you “no” recently? What roadblocks are you encountering?
What if instead of listening to the negativity, you tried one more time – took the SAT or LSAT one more time to improve your score, auditioned for one more play, ran one more race, applied to one more internship or job, sent one more song to a record label?
Hills are rarely easy to climb. Sometimes they reveal themselves as careening mountains.
But the view from the top of the mountain is glorious.
I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He lift me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay
I will sing, sing a new song
Psalm 40 by King David and revamped by U2 in their song “40”
What new song can you sing today? Where can you begin again?
You can't measure your personal growth with a tape measure - so how can you measure your growth in the new year?
Remember a time when someone said that to you? It typically happens when you see family you haven’t seen for a while - like over the holidays. How about “you look so grown up!”
And then you get spun around like a sweater off the rack at Nordstrom’s and feel like you’re on display for everyone in the room to examine your growth or grown-upedness. It used to make me uncomfortable with the sudden attention everyone turned to me, make me roll my eyes or look the down. But at some point I stopped growing, physically. And now, it’s rude for someone to say I look older or bigger.
But I hope I haven’t stopped growing. I hope I never will.
I want to speak French more fluently in 2013 - what are some of your goals?
In 2013 I want to grow. I want to grow so much it’s visible. I want to grow in my faith and in my writing. I want to speak French more fluently and learn some new healthy, tasty, not overly complicated recipes. I want to learn how to rock a killer headstand in yoga.
How do I start? Well, I just did. I wrote down some goals, some places in my life I want to grow. Next, I need to be more specific. How am I going to amp up my faith? What writing projects do I want to tackle in 2013? When do I want them to be completed? Who do I want to reach through them? How many recipes do I want to learn how to make each month? How much time a week am I able and willing to spend on my passé parfait? By when should I be able to do that headstand, and for how long should I be able to hold the pose?
Now, the action. What can I do today, this week, before Christmas break is over to launch these plans for growing into reality? How about you?
Growing is an integral part of being. It is our way of getting closer to the best versions of ourselves.
There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. Philippians 1:6
God will start this work, but it’s our job to keep at it. How about you? Where would you like to grow in 2013? How are you going to tackle it?
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Melissa Rollins is juggling all the balls in the air; dance team, freshman year of high school, new girl friends, a new boyfriend, grades. And it's all going quite well, it always has, until there are too many balls in the air to juggle anymore. She feels like her life is spinning out of control. How can Melissa be accepted and appreciated when there are so many pressures to be perfect? How can she gain back a little bit of that control?
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