Leeann BettsToday’s writing tips comes from Leeann Betts. She writes contemporary suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical suspense. No Accounting for Murder and There Was a Crooked Man, books 1 and 2 in her By the Numbers series, recently released. Book 3, Unbalanced, releases in January, with plans for Book 4, Five and Twenty Blackbirds, due in April, with more planned for later dates. Leeann and Donna have penned a book on writing, Nuggets of Writing Gold, and Donna has published a book of short stories, Second Chances and Second Cups. You can follow Leeann at www.AllBettsAreOff.wordpress.com and Donna at www.HiStoryThruTheAges.wordpress.com . All books are available at Amazon.com in digital and print, and at Smashwords.com in digital.

First for a few announcements:

holidaysToday through February 26: Reduced price to purchase Holidays of the Heart, 4 Holiday novellas. My Candy Valentine obviously features Valentine’s Day and the patriotic themes of Love’s Glory go well with Presidents’ Day.  Purchase Link

LOVE’S SPORTING CHANCE party Thursday, February 25, 11 AM – 9 PM EST. My hour is from 8/7 to 9/8.  There will be two multi-author collections, historical and contemporary, published within a few days. Find us at https://www.facebook.com/events/1017057198349625/

cowboy's brideMarch 1stThe Cowboy’s Bride releases, which includes novellas by nine authors Purchase Link

THE COWBOY’S BRIDE  RELEASE party is Tuesday, March 1, 2-6:30 PST. My time is 4:30-5:00 (6:30-7:00 CST)  Find the party here:

March 4th – Cowboy authors are on a group blog w/giveaways at Petticoats & Pistols http://petticoatsandpistols.com/

March 14th – Check back in for promotions of A Ranger’s Trail on Texas Rangers Day


Now to hear from Leann:

Writing a Series

By Leeann Betts

When first sitting down and staring at the blank screen or page before you, it might be difficult to even think you have more than one book in you. However, if you want to write a series, there are some things to do to set that up in the first book:

  1. If your main character has more than one story to tell, you have a series.
  2. Develop a character arc for each book, taking a series of small steps toward accomplishing the goal of this story and one or two steps toward the overall arc of the series.
  3. Stick to one main plot and usually no more than three subplots. Save the rest for the next books.
  4. The last sentence of the book should point toward the next story, even if you haven’t written word one yet.
  5. Include the first chapter of the next book as a sneak peak at the end of each book to remind readers this is a series and yes, there will be another book this side of the new millennium.

Unbalanced Final with Custom GreenUnbalanced, Book 3 in the By the Numbers series, finds Carly Turnquist, forensic accountant, back at home in Bear Cove, Maine, happily planning her son’s wedding and preparing to testify in court for her client. However, when her husband’s long-lost brother turns up then promptly disappears, leaving his son behind, Carly’s plans are waylaid. A bank robbery she saw but which is being denied as happening calls her credibility into question, and she is determined to get to the bottom of things. Will she discover who is behind this plot to destroy her livelihood, or will she be forced to retire from a job she loves?


I began my first blog in the wake of my daughter Jolene’s suicide on March 13, 2008. My mother died almost two years later, on February 22, 2010. For Jolene, it was three days before her twenty-fourth birthday. Mom had turned seventy-eight on February 12.

So as the days and months and years passed, I would write a blog: Dancing with Grief: Seven Weeks or Dancing with Grief: Three Months. . .Five Years. . .and now eight. I’m a little early this year, but last Friday was Mom’s birthday. I’ve been thinking of her a lot.

Thanks to the Lord, I’m no longer dancing with grief. It’s a part of my past and not my present. God in his mercy sent my granddaughter Jordan nine months after Jolene’s death and my grandson Isaiah seven months after my mother’s death.

I’m reading Knowing God, Knowing Myself by Cecil Murphey. If you haven’t met him or his writing, know that he is as transparent as can be and his books are supremely real.

This statement hit home as “that time” of year approaches: “We can focus on those things taken from us, or we can realize that loss can also bring freedom.”

I loved Jolene with all that is within me. Her loss tore my heart in two, and God healed it, but the scar remains.

Even so, it didn’t take long after Jolene’s death to realize the freedom it gave me. For my daughter suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder. This definition from the Mayo Clinic describes it pretty well:

Borderline personality disorder is a mental health disorder that impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life. It includes a pattern of unstable intense relationships, distorted self-image, extreme emotions and impulsiveness.

With borderline personality disorder, you have an intense fear of abandonment or instability, and you may have difficulty tolerating being alone. Yet inappropriate anger, impulsiveness and frequent mood swings may push others away, even though you want to have loving and lasting relationships.

Living with someone with BPD is like, in the title of a very helpful book, “Walking on Eggshells.”

I was free from the constant mood swings. I no longer had to cling to count times without drama by minutes or hours—never twenty-four hours. I didn’t have to worry about the harm she might do to herself or to others.

I was also free from the constant guilt of not being enough, doing enough

And how much joy do I have, knowing Jolene is in heaven, healed, free to be the person she was meant to be. Picturing my daughter, mother, grandmother, aunts—all watching the family as we continue to grow and serve the Lord.

And some day — not too soon, God willing — I’ll join them.


Author Angela Ruth Strong is my guest this week, sharing some excellent tips on dealing with rejection. She studied journalism at the University of Oregon and published her first novel, Love Finds You in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 2010. With movie producers interested in her book (http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/faithmediaandculture/2012/07/mpi-to-bring-popular-love-finds-you-book-series-to-television.html), she’s decided to rerelease it and write sequels as a new series titled Resort to Love. This Idaho Top Author and Cascade Award winner also started IDAhope Writers to encourage other aspiring authors, and she’s excited to announce the sale of her first romantic suspense novel to Love Inspired Suspense. For the latest news or to contact Angela, visit www.angelaruthstrong.com.

But first, here’s my latest writing news.

My local ACFW chapter, Oklahoma City Christian Fiction Writers, invited me to write the anchor chapter for a group novella project. I’ve spent the last two weeks helping the idea behind The Legacy Letters, about letters left to loved ones after an elderly saint’s death.  I also just signed a contract for three novellas to be released in 2017. Praise the Lord!

Last month I neglected to mention two other books honored by the Overcoming with God blog’s books of the year: The Homestead Brides and Christmas Traditions, both novella collections that I was involved with.


Darlene Franklin reader's journey through matthewMonday February 8th: A Reader’s Journey Through Matthew—a seven-week devotional in the book of Matthew, designed to be used through the Lenten season and culminating on Resurrection Day. (Wednesday is the first day of Lent.) If you miss the free day, it’s only $0.99 regular price. It contains most of the devotions from An Advent Journey Through Matthew plus a lot of additional materialDarlene Franklin my candy valentine.

Sunday February 14th: My Candy Valentine, a historical romance featuring a female chocolatier.


Monday February 15th:   An interview featuring Infusion of Love at http://www.shannonvannatter.com/blog


Angela Ruth StrongAccepting Rejection

By Angela Ruth


Writing is hard, but rejection can be worse. The fear of rejection can keep writers from submitting. Or indie publishing. Or worse—writing.

I’ve had my share of rejection. It hurts. Like any other kind of victimization, I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t feel like I deserved it, yet it happened anyway. So I’ve taken the steps taught to help victims overcome their tragedies, and I’ve applied them to writing. It not only keeps me going, but it helps me become a better writer. And it’s a tool every writer could benefit from.

It’s called the victim ladder. There are eight steps to climb. Here’s a glimpse into my thoughts after I receive a rejection and an example of how climbing the ladder works.

  • I couldn’t have read that right. I’m pretty sure they meant to send this rejection to someone else.
  • It’s not my fault. They don’t get it. Maybe they had a bad childhood experience with this particular topic. I bet this editor would reject Rachel Hauck, too.
  • There’s nothing I can do about it. They suggest I change that part? I can’t. Because then I’d have to change all this other stuff, and it just wouldn’t work.
  • Wait and hope. I’m not making the suggested changes. I’ll send it out again just like this and hope I get it into the hands of someone smarter.
  • They read it. And they couldn’t publish it this way.
  • Own it. They didn’t get it, so I must not have made my theme clear enough.
  • Make a plan. I could strengthen the theme here, here, and here.
  • Move on. Time to get my butt back in the chair.

It’s not easy, but we can grow through the pain. And that’s the value of accepting rejection.

Finding Love in Sun Valley CoverActress Emily Van Arsdale has returned to her Idaho hometown – with an entire film crew in tow! With its stunning scenery and reputation for hosting celebrities, Sun Valley is the perfect setting for Emily’s newest romantic comedy. Tracen Lake is happy to work as a stunt consultant for the movie but not as thrilled to deal with a bunch of high-maintenance Hollywood types. But Tracen is surprised to discover in Emily a down-to-earth Idaho girl who does all her own stunts and loves the outdoors. As filming wraps up and Emily heads off to her next gig, will she be able to leave Sun Valley – and Tracen – behind?


Instead of featuring one new book and one older book, this month I get to feature two new books!

Love is PatientLove Is Patient releases today, November 1st. It’s a 9-novella collection, which includes my story, A Birthday Wish.

A Birthday Wish first appeared in my book, Calico Brides. Gladys Polson is the first of four young members of the Ladies’ Aide Society in Calico, KS. They decide to find personal missions for themselves at home. Gladys takes on a crotchety widower. I’m not sure how the couple show patience, except that the hero has a secret that slows things down . . . a little.

I believe all four of my Calico Brides stories will be published in new collections this year. I wanted to write a prairie romance, the idea of the local missions popped into my head, and since I love alliteration, Calico, Kansas, seemed heaven-sent.

Purchase Link

infusion of loveMy other new release came out January 23rd, Infusion of Love. I was writing this over Christmas and had a blast with it. When Mahala Kent’s tea party honoring her brother’s marriage turns into a brawl over tea, she’s forced out of her wealthy neutrality. A public debate on the subject pushes her even closer to her childhood friend and hoped-for suitor, Jothan Stout. Will the arrival of a tea shipment in Greenwich push Jothan and Mahala further apart—or give them a common taste for herbal infusions?

Infusion of Love is part of the Teacup Courtship collection from Forget Me Not Romances. I first came up with the idea when I discovered the Boston Tea Party wasn’t the only action taken against the tax. Infusion of Love includes the burning of tea in Greenwich, New Jersey, on December 22, 1774. We were going to write four colonial tea party stories, but it didn’t work out. But then my story found a home.

Purchase Link


Today’s special guest is Cynthia Hickey. She’s not only a personal friend and a collaborator, she is also my boss, the editor of Forget Me Not Romances. This multi-published and Amazon Best-Selling author has sold half a million copies of her works. She has taught a Continuing Education class at the 2015 American Christian Fiction Writers conference. She is active on FB, twitter, and Goodreads, and is a contributor to Cozy Mystery Magazine blog and Suspense Sisters blog. Her and her husband run the small press, Forget Me Not Romances, which includes some of the CBA’s well-known authors. Visit her website at www.cynthiahickey.com

Before then, I have news to share:

infusion of loveInfusion of Love, part of the Teacup Courtship series, is available for purchase! When Mahala Kent’s tea party honoring her brother’s marriage turns into a brawl over tea, she’s forced out of her wealthy neutrality. A public debate on the subject pushes her even closer to her childhood friend and hoped-for suitor, Jothan Stout. Will the arrival of a tea shipment in Greenwich push Jothan and Mahala further apart—or give them a common taste for herbal infusions?

Infusion of Love Purchase Link


tobogganing coverTobogganing for Two won the Bibliotherapy Book of the Year award from the Overcoming With God blog. Bibliotherapy is the use of media to bring about a therapeutic result. Counselors, psychologists, and other helping professionals might want to recommend a certain book because it address a specific mental health issue. Or the book may deal with major life events or developmental life issues. In Tobogganing for Two, my hero struggles with his experience as a surgeon during the Civil War and the heroine’s sister is paralyzed.

Tobogganing for Two purchase link


Upcoming Events:

Today: guest post on http://trishperry.blogspot.com/

February 6: guest post on  http://www.jodiewolfe.com

February 7: A Reader’s Journey through Matthew, designed to be used during Lent, is available for free one day only. Available at: Available at:

*************************************************************************************************Now let’s hear from Cindy:


My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day;
in the face of the darkness light is near. Job 17: 11-12

 Writing is a tough business. Someone once told me you can learn the craft of writing, but to be a storyteller is a gift from God.

So, you believe God has called you to write, yet that elusive contract has yet to appear. You’ve studied, attended conferences, sent out proposals, and received rejection after rejection. So many that you are contemplating papering your house with them and calling it quits to writing.

Let’s look at Job. He lost everything: family, wealth, home, friends. Yet, he still believes there is light to come out of the darkness. Most of us have never lost anything close to what Job lost.

I’ve come close to quitting many times, yet the desire to write would never leave me. All I could do was focus on the next word, the next line, the next story. I’ve asked God to remove the desire if it was not His plan for me. The desire never left. The Light continued to shine.

If God truly called you to write, then write. Let Him take care of who reads the words he’s given you. If God has called you to write, then write for Him. He may lead you to traditional publication, He may lead you to independently publishing your work, (which has been a huge success for me), He may lead you to a small press, or He may want you to write only for His eyes. But write! Let the light shine from the darkness.


I’ve been studying and memorizing my way through the book of Isaiah—not all of the book, but verses here and there. I’m almost done, memorizing from Isaiah 58. The words jumped out at me:

I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.

Isaiah 58:11-12

I can’t think of a much emptier place than a nursing homes, and I have plenty of rubble from my past to use for building something new.

This isn’t meant to be a devotional. . .but that’s my big news for this month. This year. God is doing something magnificent in my life. I’m excited about prayer, spending more and more time in prayer—something I’ve always wanted but never experienced before except as drudgery.

The verses above blew me away – what does God want to do with my fix-me-upper life?

As I mentioned on January 4, I feel called to write devotions from Genesis to Revelation, from all sixty-six books. For five days, I made the first book, Beginnings: 30 Days in Genesis – Exodus, free, hoping people hoping to read through the Bible this year would pick it up. I prayed for a tremendous blessing.

137 people took advantage of the offer. And not a one has paid for it yet.

So, a small beginning. As I’m editing the devotionals I wrote on Leviticus, I’m thinking to myself, these are dry and hard compared to Genesis. I find them exciting, but will anyone else? Who’ll buy a devotional that begins with Leviticus, anyhow? I suspect it stands high on the list of people’s least favorite book of the Bible.

And yet—wanting to ask God for a blessing. Will it be like the talents, where the master gave the tenant five more talents in addition to the five they already had? In that case, I’d be asking for 274.

Or should I ask God for the seed sown in good soil—30 times (4110)? 60 times (8220)? 100 times (13,700)?

Or should I ask God for the hundredfold blessing for those who forsake mother and father—that 13,700?

And as I write this, I am listening to Joel Olsteen talking about a “second touch,” the best part of my life still in my future. . .

None of my planning or promoting or praying (or writing) can make any of that happen. I’ll have to trust God to bring it to the right readers.

On a happier note, I just finished listening to the audio recording of my first mystery, Gunfight at Grace Gulch, and I loved it! Two of my books—Gifts of Christmas and Jacob’s Dream—are already available in audio.


Today’s guest is James R. Callan. He’s had a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA. He left the technology field to pursue his real love, writing. He has had four non-fiction books published, but his passion is mystery and suspense novels. His eleventh book is scheduled to be published in spring, 2016. James, I’ve downloaded your book and can’t wait to read it. I love mysteries.

Before we get to James’s word of wisdom, a little of my writing news. We enjoyed a grand party encouraging everyone to read through their Bible this year (or maybe longer) and celebrating the release of Beginnings: 30 Days in Genesis – Exodus. Thanks to everyone who attended.

My Great Escapes Mystery Book Tour starts today. I have a few other blog visits along the way. You can check out the list below or head to (link) which lists them all in one place.

1/11 StoreyBook Reviews

1/12 Babs Book Bistro

1/12 Sarah Ruut

1/13 Laura’s Interests, Giveaway

1/14 Island Confidential, Giveaway working

1/15 MHDeanCollectibles Book Blog

1/16 The Girl with Book Lungs

1/17 Cozy Up With Kathy

1/18 Christa Reads and Writes

1/19 Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book

1/20 deal sharing aunt

1/21 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, &, Sissy, Too !

1/22 Book Babble

1/23 LibriAmoriMiei

1/24 dru’s book musings

Now let’s hear from James:

Learn to Use Dialog Signatures

James R. Callan

Consider making a dialog signature for your major characters. What is a dialog signature? Your signature is a unique representation of you. Put it on a document and people know that document is from you. Similarly, a dialog signature identifies the speaker. It is the unique pattern that makes it clear who is speaking.

So, what makes up a dialog signature? It is what makes a character’s speech unique, what sets her apart from others, at least in terms of dialog.

What does your character sound like? What is distinctive about his or her voice?

When you make up a bio, or character sketch, consider including the character’s dialog signature. What is her

* Cadence

* Vocabulary or word choice

* Diction

* Inflection

* Accent

* Regional dialect

* Sentence structure, or lack of

* Flow

* Volume

* Eye contact

* Mannerisms

* Ease

* Body language

* Favorite words

* Marker words

Each character should have a different set of these aspects of speech. You do not want all characters to sound alike. Ideally, the reader should know who is speaking by the way she speaks.

Does this character answer in as few words as possible ,or does she ramble on and on?

Does she have a regional dialect, certain words or patterns that are different from others in the book? Is her manner easy and smooth, or stilted? Is her body language significant? Does he have certain words he often uses? Does he always speak in complete sentences, or complex sentences? Or maybe he often speaks in fragments.

Write out a dialog signature for your major characters, pin it on the bulletin board behind your computer. Keep it in mind for that person’s dialog. Your readers will appreciate it.

my dead bodyA large corporation is taking land by eminent domain. Syd Cranzler stands in its way, threatening a court battle. After a heated meeting with the corporation representative, Syd is found dead from an overdose of heart medication. The police call it suicide. Case closed.

But Father Frank, Syd’s pastor, and Georgia Peitz, another member of the church, don’t believe Syd committed suicide and begin to look for clues of what really happened. And this has an ill affect on Georgia’s budding romance with the lead detective.

When the priest is almost poisoned, they convince the police to investigate further. Immediately, Father Frank becomes the target of rumors and speculation he might have had something to do with Syd’s death.

The more clues Father Frank and Georgia uncover, the more danger they find themselves in. Can they find the real killer before they become victims? james callan

Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/1eeykvG

Over My Dead Body, is available at: http://amzn.to/1BmYQ0Q

Website: www.jamesrcallan.com/

Blog: www.jamesrcallan.com/blog


P.S. Remember to leave comments all month for chances to win these books, along with mentioning whether or not you’re signed up for my newsletter, twitter, and like my Facebook page.

I released another devotional this month, Beginnings: 30 Days in Genesis – Exodus. For those of you planning to read through the Bible this year, it’s an excellent aid to get started. And if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to read through the Bible, check out my suggestions at More to Life Magazine.

beginningsThis book gives me the goosebumps. I love reading the Bible. Even at my age, I keep finding things I never noticed before, that sense of “how did I miss that before?” Although Beginnings is presented in a devotional style, it shows how my mind works when I’m reading through my Bible. See how my mind works on subjects such as:

  • Timeline. Was Adam still alive when Noah was born? Maybe not, but check out Day Two, The One and Only.
  • What the Bible doesn’t say. Check out Day Three, Where Did All the Bodes Go?
  • Contradictions: Nimrod the “great hunter before the Lord” but also the man who built Babylon. “Righteous Lot” who lived in Sodom. Check out Day Four, The Great Hunter Before the Lord.
  • Does it really say that? Checking different translations of the Bible to arrive at the truth. Check out Day Eighteen, Pharaoh’s Final Solution
  • Why did God act that way? We may not understand God’s timing—look at poor Moses on Day Nineteen, Higher Standard
  • Ouch, God, that touched a nerve. When God shows us something wrong in our own lives—for me, it was Day Twenty-three, Customer Complaints.
  • I never noticed that before. How did I miss seeing something that neat in all the times I read it before? Day twenty-seven, God’s Tattoo.

I hope you join me as I begin this journey through the Bible. Next up, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—hopefully in March.

Beginnings purchase link

dressed for death 3 in 1Since I’ve offered three devotionals in a row, my featured book is the 3-in-1 volume of my mystery series, Dressed for Death. The first book, Gunfight at Grace Gulch, will be featured in a two-week long blog tour, with daily giveaways. Check it out at Escape With Dolly.


So it made sense for me to offer the 3-in-1 volume of the Dressed for Death series. It combines my state of residence – Oklahoma – with my love for history – of course, with a vintage clothing store owner for the heroine – and wacky characters galore.

In addition to the devotional series I am working on this year, I am writing a new mystery series, Murder by the Case. I wrote the first book, Case Closed, during November’s NANO and now I’m editing it. Read any of my Dressed for Death mysteries to discover Darlene the mystery writer!

Dressed for Death Purchase Link


Here’s praying you all had a wonderful Christmas and wishing you a blessed New Year! Today I’m introducing the first of my guests with writing tips, Jeanette Levellie. But first I’ll catch up with my writing news.

Wednesday is your last chance to leave a comment for a chance to win An Advent Journey through Matthew and 365 Fun Bible Facts. Please sign up and encourage others to do so! You can also go to past posts from December and leave messages.

Since last we spoke, I finished the rough draft of Infusion of Love, my Revolutionary War entry in the Teacup Courtship Novella series. I also sent Beginnings: 30 Days in Genesis-Exodus to the editor, and hope to have that published by mid-January. I’m working on edits to my new mystery, Case Closed, and the teacup novella.

No more blog appearances until my Great Escapes Book Tour highlighting my first mystery, Gunfight at Grace Gulch, starts on January 11.


Now let’s meet Jeanette Levellie. Her newest book is Shock the Clock:jeanette levellie Time Management Strategies for Writers and Other Creatives. She is also the author of Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top, The Heart of Humor, and hundreds of articles. She is the mother of two adults, grandmother of three children and servant of four (cats). Visit her at http://www.jeanettelevellie.com.

*Jeanette is giving away a copy of her book, Shock the Clock, with this post. Leave your email like belovedfranklin (at) msn (dot) com to be in the drawing.*

Top 10 Time Management Tips for Writers

  1. Ask the Lord to lead you on the unique writing/publishing path He wants for you, where you’ll be fulfilled and successful. Follow His leading, not others. He is the Shepherd; they are fellow-sheep.
  2. Take a book with you everywhere—you can read while you wait in line at the post office, at a restaurant, and rides at Disneyworld.
  3. Break chores down into baby steps. Satan wants us to believe we must finish tasks in one sitting, so we’ll get discouraged and never start. Every book and article began with the first sentence.
  4. Limit TV watching to a few shows. Don’t simply watch—analyze to become a better writer. What plot lines, characterization, and dialogue works, and what doesn’t? Apply those elements to your writing.
  5. Keep pen and notebook or dictation machine with you, to write down ideas as they come. This includes your bedside table—some of the richest ideas come at night, when your mind is relaxed.
  6. Jeanette Levellie Shock the Clock coverKeep your goals visible—if you see them often, they’ll get done. Use day planners, online tools, or whiteboards—whatever motivates you best.
  7. Reward yourself when you finish a less-than-enjoyable task.
  8. Set the timer for 15 minutes, half an hour, or an hour. Don’t stop writing ‘til it dings.
  9. Make your goals realistic and measurable. Put dates on them, so you can check them off or erase them when you reach them. Share them with others who will hold you accountable.
  10. Know your distracters, so you can avoid or manage them. Mute your phone and email notification; put a Do Not Disturb sign on your door; go to the library, café or park—whatever it takes to get the muse flowing.Adapted from Shock the Clock: Time Management for Writers and Other Creatives by Jeanette Levellie


For this blog, I tried to think of a wonderful Christmas message that doesn’t start with a Bible verse and become a devotional.

But the truth is, Christmas is a ho-hum day for me. The last special Christmas memory I have wasn’t all that happy. The Christmas after my daughter’s death, my mother treated us to a special weekend at a swanky hotel with all the trimmings. She was right. We needed a quiet, but memorable, place to survive that first empty feeling. Of course, it was also my granddaughter Jordan’s first Christmas.

I didn’t and couldn’t know that would be my last Christmas with my mother, either. A year later, she was in a nursing home and I was homebound by a blizzard. A year later, she was gone. Now I have no family left that celebrates Christmas. Jaran and his family enjoy Hanukkah—and I got to take part this year.

The nursing homes hold great Christmas parties, wonderful food, lots of presents—a week or even two before Christmas. We’ll be lucky to get ham or turkey on Christmas day. And the abundance of presents goes down when they’re things like a family-sized tube of toothpaste for someone with dentures! It did include a few lovely items, such as a round-the-neck cream scarf and a Monet calendar and sweet-smelling body lotion.

So I don’t expect much on Christmas day itself but to hold onto the feeling of Christmas. As I continue my study/devotional/memorization of Isaiah, I keep finding reference after reference to the coming Messiah. This week I reached the holy of holies, chapter 53: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6)

It’s powerful whatever version you read it in, but the first verse from The Message hit me like a ton of bricks.

“Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have ever expected God’s saving power would look like this?”

I felt like I was looking at the manger, seeing that tiny, helpless, adorable baby—under the shadow of the cross.

Once again, Christmas is in my heart. God is now here, where He can be seen and heard and touched.

365 days a year.