Proverbs 27:19 “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man.”

Thank you, God, for the lesson I seem to need once again. 

On a summer morning last year, I stopped at Starbucks before heading to the rehabilitation center to pick up my dad for an oral surgery appointment. As I walked toward the store, I crossed paths with a homeless woman. All the obvious clues were there. Mis-matched clothing, worn in layers. House slippers for shoes on her shuffling feet. Crazy hair. Quiet muttering, speaking only to herself.

Coffee waited for me inside, and I had an appointment to meet. I didn’t pause as I walked past her. The woman was youngish, between 30-40 years old. A frown creased her face, and her jaw clenched with a belligerent jut. 

She paid me no attention and arranged her collection of plastic bags on a table on the outdoor porch. 

Waiting in line for my coffee, I watched the reactions of the people inside. The barista kept glancing outside, worry in his eyes. Was he wishing she hadn’t set up camp at his store? She was dirty and didn’t present a welcoming presence to customers arriving for their morning pick-me-up. Two women seated inside at a small, round table eyed her avidly, whispering to each other as they laughed, shiny nails glittering on their fingertips, lipstick kisses on the lids of their coffees.

I should talk to her on my way back to my car. Homeless people feel invisible, ignored by the world bustling past them. I should take the few seconds required to ask her a question, say hello. Would she be argumentative if I spoke to her?

She looked angry. Many homeless suffer from mental illness, and can be combative. I glanced at my watch. I had time to stop for coffee. Did I have time to stop for her?

She walked off of the porch and around to the drive-thru. My eyes widened, and I stepped back so I could watch her progress. What was she doing now? What were the people waiting in line in their cars thinking, watching her approach? She startled me by climbing right into the landscaping. The leaves of Asian jasmine still dripped from their early morning spraying from the automatic sprinklers. The water droplets would soak her clothing. She exhibited classic crazy-person actions.

The crazy thing she did? She plucked trash from the bushes, then climbed back out and deposited it into a waste can. 

God, forgive me. 

The homeless woman cleaned the debris tossed aside by a careless person paying $5.00 for a cup of coffee.

I picked up my coffee and turned to leave. I passed the two smirking women, resenting their privilege, resenting their beauty, feeling disappointment burn inside. Disappointment at myself. Was I so different? Disappointment at them. It’s so easy to judge, especially from our oh-so-comfortable lives. I pushed the door open to head outside, calling a greeting to the woman as I did. I said it loudly enough for the ladies with the beautifully manicured nails to hear.

The woman outside looked up. She was someone’s daughter. Someone’s sister? Maybe someone’s mother. Our eyes met, and I smiled at her. 

The change was amazing. A wide grin creased her face, transforming her angry, belligerent look into beauty. I stopped, struck. 

“Have you had breakfast?” McDonalds was 20 yards away. 

Her smile broadened. “Oh, yes!” Her voice was sweet, childish, high-pitched. “I have bagels!” 

What a beautiful, grateful spirit. Shame flooded me.

I touched her on the arm as I passed, a fingertip on her sleeve. “Have a good day.”

“God bless you.” Her reply was fervent. 

She called down God’s blessing on me for speaking to her, for recognizing her as a fellow human being. For seeing her.

Jesus taught us to do this. He led by example, repeatedly. He spoke to the lame man waiting by the pool of Bethesda. He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. He spoke to the tax collector, to the leper, to the demon-possessed men in Gadarenes. 

Today I learned, again, that I want to live my life like Jesus. Help me, God, to see this world and Your people through Your eyes, not mine. Help me to always ask, “What would Jesus do?”

~~~

In my book, PROTECTED, one of the main characters — Manny — is horribly disfigured by a scar he got as a child when a fire burned him. He feels ignored and judged by the people he meets in his life. But God shows him he is worthy of love and brings someone to him. The question is whether or not the two people will trust God enough to let this relationship flourish.

Does God mind if we get mad at Him?

People believe different things about God.

Is God a kind, benevolent, grandfatherly figure who looks after us, extending a kind but firm, guiding hand? Or is God angry, mean, and vengeful, waiting to extract payment from humankind for their sins?

Where you stand on this depends on which religion you follow, and your raising. And believers in both camps find verses in the Bible to support their points of view.

Many people believe it is wrong—a sin—to doubt God or to be angry with Him. Others point to Jesus’ anger in the temple, and his questioning in the Garden of Gethsemane to show He felt these emotions. Therefore, we can, too.

Does God ever leave us alone? I’d love to discuss with you.

Abby, my principal character in PROTECTED, is angry with God. She doesn’t understand why she is in the situation she is in, and she finds it hard to trust God or to pray. She feels abandoned by God. She spends the rest of the story trying to resolve this within herself.

Here is how her story begins:

~~

Abigail Walker stood beside the fresh grave. Noonday sun beat down on the prairie. The wind blew in small, teasing bursts, cooling the sweat on her brow. Trees lined the creek where the kids gathered, the sunlight slipping between the tossing leaves in dappled golden flashes. A nearby mockingbird sang sweetly, running through its joyful repertoire in direct contrast to the grief swamping the girl. Five children formed a semi-circle behind her, clasping their hands together in prayer, some holding back tears. Abby dropped a limp handful of wildflowers onto the mound of loamy black soil. Her parents and her younger brother were dead. It stunned her. She could hardly breathe. She glanced down at the Bible in her hand.

Quoting scripture didn’t sit well with her at the moment. Were she and God even on the same side anymore? Grady, Frank, and Nathan stood across from her. The boys propped their tired arms on the shovels they’d used. With any luck, it was the last grave they would have to dig. No one else exhibited any symptoms. Perhaps the cholera had run its course.

Grady wiped his face, his shoulders drooping with weariness and sadness. “Well… I guess we need to make a plan.”

A surge of anger flooded Abby so fiercely, it left her trembling. Her heart pounded from the effort of holding back the torrent of words piling up behind her teeth. She clamped her jaw shut, afraid of what would spill out of her if she allowed a crack in the dam.

“Abby, what do you—”

She couldn’t face them, couldn’t solve another problem, couldn’t…. The girl tossed the book on the grave, turned on her heel, and walked away. One of the little girls behind her gasped. Another began crying softly, her sobs muffled against someone’s chest. She didn’t care.

~~

Whew. Abby is hurting and scared. She feels like God deserted her. I want to reach into the book and hug her, to assure her things will be okay.

Do you believe God distances Himself from us? Let’s discuss.

Books are like air. . .

“She reads books as one would breathe air; to fill up and live.” Annie Dillard

This is truth. Who’s with me? When I hear someone say they don’t like to read, it leaves me speechless. How is that even possible?

I read an infographic years ago detailing how little Americans read once they leave school. It astonished and saddened me. I was teaching geometry at my local high school, and I did an experiment with my 10th-grade students. Each of them got a survey asking them to rank their feelings about reading from 1 to 5. Don’t you agree— EVERYONE would enjoy reading if they could find the perfect book, the one written just for them? The amount of students who ranked themselves as 1 to 3 was depressing.

This could not stand! They just had not read the right book yet. Survey number two asked them to tell me the last thing they’d read for pleasure and their favorite book and/or author. If they couldn’t answer that question, they listed their three favorite movies.

If they ranked their reading enjoyment at a 4 or 5, they would likely read anything, so I used their favorites and made suggestions I thought they’d enjoy. Got them to branch out. Try science fiction – here is a copy of Dune. Try non-fiction – read The Perfect Storm. How about a classic – here is Pride and Prejudice.

With the 3s and below, they told me about their movie list. We determined the common thread. Why did they like the movies? You would’ve been surprised by their answers, too. One boy loved “Boyz In the Hood” for its theme of friendship and loyalty. Another chose Superman because he cared for underdogs. The hidden depths in their answers would’ve shocked you.

Thus the Soulmate Book project was born. Shelves and shelves of books lined the walls in my home, relegated to gathering dust; meanwhile, my TBR pile grew on the windowsills in my bedroom. It was time to purge—out with the old, give them as gifts to my students. The goal was to change the minds of those 1s, 2s, and 3s.

Do you believe we can learn new things, regardless of age? The heretofore untapped world of Young Adult fiction opened up. My reluctant readers needed books to speak to their quiet souls. Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Ranger’s Apprentice—I needed to read them in order to recommend them. I loved them. Have you tried YA? It may surprise you!

Each of my 170+ students received the gift of a personally curated book. Wouldn’t you LOVE to sit and talk books with potentially eager readers? Wouldn’t you enjoy thinking about their likes and choosing from your favorites to share with them? Each one had a note in the front cover, explaining why he/she might enjoy reading it. They were stacked all over my classroom. The kids grew curious, some excited. They asked me daily what I was doing with all the books. “You’ll see.” They saw their survey answers stuck inside the cover like a bookmark. At the beginning of class, someone would ask, “When can I have mine?!” It was as exciting for me as it was for them.

Each was wrapped to reflect the gift it was. On the last day before final exams began, the books were handed out. The kids were asked to give them a chance, to read without interruption for at least this one class period. If they didn’t want to finish them, they could leave their books behind. If they were interested, they could take them home and finish reading over the summer. So they read. And they took the books with them!

People who love to read want others to love to read. People who like books want to talk about books, discuss the magic inside the pages, share what they’ve enjoyed with others. My teacher friends began saving popular titles for me, helped me wrap them, helped me decide what would be a good match. It was a project of love and generosity.

Teaching geometry is no longer my job, but I still want to share my love of reading. The difference is now you can share my own books. I write inspirational romance. Real people with real faith struggles. Christians are not perfect. And while it is inspiring to read about Christian characters who always know the right thing to say, who always turn first to God when they have problems, who have wonderful, thoughtful prayers, it is also, sometimes discouraging. At least, it is for me. Because I sometimes say the exact wrong thing. I often wallow in my own problems for far too long before finally turning to God for guidance and help. At times, my prayers are a curse and a fist shaken toward Heaven.

So I write about people like me. We struggle. We do better on some days than on others. But we always seem to find our way back to the God who loves us and waits patiently for us.

Follow the birth of these stories. Get to know the characters. Read the deleted scenes. Learn the unique things I discover as I research for the books. See if you relate to anything in their stories. And share this love with me.