Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Gift of Encouraging Words

Can you remember when everyone sent out Christmas cards, maybe as many as a hundred? Since I grew up in a military family and moved often, my mother was one of those who sent dozens and dozens of cards. She wrote a family-news-in-a-nutshell note, by hand, for every single one of her friends. Postage was cheap, and she cherished her friendships across the miles, looking forward to hearing the latest about them.

As the price of a stamp increased, and more women added full-time jobs to busy schedules, Christmas card exchanges declined. Sure, we have the internet with all its social media. We can connect daily with old friends if we wish, but there is something about holding a handwritten note in your hand, being able to place it in a drawer or a box, and returning to it so you can hold it in your hand once again.


Christmas cards have always been a means of sharing the good will of the season and giving distant friends a quick sketch of how the year has gone, a way of catching up. However, the most precious of written communications are those that arrive as a surprise. This truth filled up my heart the year I attended a spiritual retreat. The organizers of the retreat asked friends and family, without my knowledge, to send a letter to me, in care of their address. Near the end of the retreat, they handed out the letters, and each person found a space of privacy to read them.

I had just spent two days immersed in Bible study, discussions, and prayer. To receive those gifts of love from those close to me--and some not so close--overwhelmed me. I could barely read the words of encouragement through my tears. When I got home, I placed those cards and letters in a basket, and I have them to this day, adding additional notes of encouraging words as I've received them.

When I get weary or sad, I return to that basket and read as many kind messages as my heart needs. God's love for me poured out through the words of others.

As writers, we pen blogs, novels, news articles, etc. Writing becomes a beloved business. The gift God has given us can also be used as a means to love others. On most Sundays, I write a note to friends, sons, grandchildren, or Mom. Usually nothing deep, but the fact that I take the time to ask about their activities and praise their accomplishments lets them know I love them. My words encourage them, and the grandchildren are learning to reciprocate! When they visit, they check the "special" drawer and see that Nona has kept all their letters and crayon masterpieces.

As my words bring smiles to loved ones' faces and warmth to their hearts, God's approval inspires me to persist in what has become a ministry.

The gift of encouraging words. A joyful investment in time and creativity. The returns are priceless!

Linda Sammaritan writes realistic fiction, mostly for kids ages ten to fourteen. She is currently working on a middle grade trilogy, World Without Sound, based on her own experiences growing up with a deaf sister.

Linda had always figured she’d teach middle-graders until school authorities presented her with a retirement wheelchair at the overripe age of eighty-five. However, God changed those plans when He gave her a growing passion for writing fiction. In May of 2016, she blew goodbye kisses to her students and dedicated her work hours to learning the craft.

A wife, mother of three, grandmother to seven, Linda regales the youngest grandchildren with “Nona Stories,” tales of her childhood. Maybe one day those stories will be in picture books!



Where Linda can be found on the web:






Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Christmas Towels and Tissues

 I love all things Christmas—the shopping, the baking, the decorating, the card sending, the music, the decorating, the giving, the festive splashes of red and green, gold and silver, and holiday entertaining. Imagine my joy a few years ago when I stumbled across Christmas-themed tissues boxes. You can’t—imagine my joy that is. I scooped up several boxes, calculating how soon I could swap the regular ol’ tissue boxes for the special holiday ones. I may or may not have suggested to the family that they “go easy” on their use of tissues, pointing out that toilet paper would work just as well for a drippy nose. But fearing they would be lacking in the self-control department, I tucked the special tissues away until 
moments before the holiday company arrived throughout the month.

The next year when I dashed to the store to snag more boxes of Christmas-themed tissue than I’d purchased the previous year, I found just three beat up boxes. Beat up as in someone had used these oh-so-special cardboard rectangular red, green, and gold adorned boxes as a kickball. Because I knew I would seethe with every glimpse of these sorry tissue boxes were I to buy them, I left the store emptyhanded. I’m sure you’ll be relieved to know that I did come upon a few less festive yet somewhat-holiday-festooned boxes of tissue that stood in for the stunningly-decorated ones from the previous year.   

Christmasy kitchen and bathroom towels also hold a special place in my heart. Unlike tissues that run out each year, the same holiday towels can be enjoyed from years. Yet because I want these beauties to stay nice, I tend to ration them in a similar fashion as the tissues. Hanging them in place when the arrival of December guests was imminent. Over the years, my collection has grown—a gift here, a sales rack that beckoned there, and last year I inherited some when my mom passed. She liked Christmas towels, too.

Well thanks to COVID-19, there will be no holiday entertaining to speak of this year. No parties, doubtful the extended family will gather at our home on Christmas Eve, and our son in Colorado will not journey back to Indiana. As these realities sank in, a bah humbug attitude crept alongside. It won’t be like Christmas at all. So, why bother? Why drag all of those totes from the attic? Why spend hours decorating, baking, and doing all the regular Christmas stuff?

Thankfully the sulking moments passed and the hesitation to not dive wholeheartedly into Christmas evaporated. Because as different as this Christmas promises to be, how much sadder and more depressing it would be with no decorations. No favorite cookies. No sharing of good cheer.

So, we purchased and decorated our traditional real tree. The nativities are displayed in their respective 
places. The snowmen have settled in for their long winter stay. And we added extra lights outside . . . to brighten things up for ourselves and passersby. The cookie and special treat making will commence soon. And guess what I found? Holiday-inspired Ziploc bags! Perfect for sharing those cookies and festive delicacies via doorstep deliveries to friends and family whose physical presence we will miss this Christmas season.

And the towels and tissues? No rationing this year. "We'll be using Christmas towels everyday this month," I announced to my husband on December 2nd. With fewer folks around, the holiday tissues have a greater chance of lasting through the New Year. But if a shortage threatens, I've a plan in place that involves deftly opening the festive box and restocking the tissue before carefully sealing the seam. 

Our plans for this very COVID Christmas have evolved from those Scrooge-like musings to list making and brainstorming how we can make this challenging Christmas as merry as possible. Which I've decided is immeasurably better than fussing and fuming about a wrecked holiday.  

For these many months, I’ve challenged myself to discover positive outcomes from these difficult, worrisome times. Things like—

  • Families spending more time together.
  • A revival of “home-cooked” and the family dinner.
  • The slowing of frantic-paced lives.
  • A spirit of resourcefulness that powers through obstacles.
  • An appreciation for the bounty we too often take for granted.
  • An urgency to not put off until tomorrow.

I’m still struggling with that last one. At times, the dreariness of this ongoing disruption to life as we knew it has struck a major blow to my productivity, creativity, and overall motivation--critical instruments in the writer's toolbox. But I'll not give up. And I hope you won't either. 

We've much to celebrate this Christmas. First and foremost, the babe in the manager whose presence in our everyday lives can quell the fiercest storm. 

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  Luke 2:11 

Rejoice and celebrate HIS birth.  

Beth connects with the YA crowd via substitute teaching and through her “back booth” office at the local fast food joint, and by reading YA fiction. 

She's a "cheerleader" for saving sex for marriage and for "renewed waiting" because it's never too late to make wiser choices. She writes and speaks about her experiences as a "foundling" who located her birth parents and is making up for lost time with her biological family. Find her at BethSteury.com and on Facebook at Beth Steury, Author.


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Creative Power of a Name

A well-chosen character's name can shape our expectations for that person's story, often in subtle ways.

For example, I’m developing a story set in the Great Depression. Its protagonist is a young single woman who wants to leave her hometown in Appalachia to find a new life in “the big city” of Charlotte. I’ve given her the name Ruth Saylor. As Ruth’s story unfolds, we learn that she grew up in a devout Christian family and has a reputation for loyalty. Her plans are interrupted by the death of close family members, but she perseveres in faith. She eventually finds fulfillment and joy in a place she doesn't expect.

If a reader is familiar with the biblical story of Ruth, these features of the new Ruth’s story will seem very natural. And if not, her name nonetheless telegraphs that she is an intrepid young woman seeking a foreign land (saylor=sailor). In either case, her name helps to tell her story.

Theatrical agents understand this dynamic, so they often give an evocative stage name to a rising star. Audiences probably would have expected to see a matronly lady introduced by the name of Ethel Gumm, but her new name of Judy Garland suggested wholesome youthfulness and superlative talent. A young man introduced as Benjamin Kubelsky might have seemed a tad pretentious. But when he used the name Jack Benny, no one took him too seriously, like the stand-up comedian he was.

An evocative name can imply a person’s character. Perhaps it has an onomatopoeic quality (e.g., the echo of laughter in “Benny” or the corroded hinge of “Scrooge”). Or it may hint at a character’s motivation (e.g., a “Saylor’s” yearning to explore distant lands). However, I don't recommend using a name that literally denotes a character’s role in the story (e.g., John Bunyan’s “Christian” in Pilgrim’s Progress). While that technique was common in allegories, allegorical narratives have few readers in the twenty-first century. 

Occasionally, a character's name may even suggest a plot for that person's story. As I was shaving a few days ago, the name Sam McKittrick came to mind. I had not been trying to name a character, it was not the name of someone from my past, and a quick Google search did not identify any well-known person whose name that I may have collected subconsciously. So I turned it over in my mind, rolled it around my tongue, and spoke it aloud a few times. I liked the sound of it, so I made a mental note and went on with my business.

Since then, I’ve caught glimpses of a fellow who might be Sam McKittrick. He’s in his sixties with a balding head and impish grin. He wears a tweed jacket that smells of cherry-infused pipe tobacco. He isn’t ready to talk with me yet, but I won’t impose any contrived character qualities to hurry him along. Sam knows he has a sympathetic listener here, so in due time, he will speak. Then we’ll see what sort of story he may have to tell.

"What's in a name?" Shakespeare famously said. "That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” True. But it would change our perception of the flower, wouldn't it?

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Let's Get Technical: Your iPhone, Friend or Foe??

Welcome to the next installment of “Let’s Get Technical,” a column geared towards better understanding the technology we use in our daily writing life. Here you will find monthly tips and tricks about the software or devices we use to conduct the business of spinning the tales of our imaginations.


Let’s face it, our devices are the link by which we are connected, check our social media accounts, quickly log notes of writing inspiration, and snap pics we want to use in our latest creations. We use them every day to keep in touch, plan our day, and record the impacts from our store visits. When they are not working correctly, it can affect our entire day and even disrupt our ability to conduct daily communication (and let's face it, time is money).

Here are a couple of things you can do to keep your iPhone running smoothly:

1. Power Cycle your device once a week. This clears the cache, refreshes the behind the scenes processes, and re-establishes/updates your connection to the cellular network.

2. Keep your apps up to date. You can have your iPhone automatically update apps when connected to power and a Wi-Fi network, or you can manually check for updates if you want that control. Settings>iTunes & App Store> Automatic Downloads

3. Update your main iOS software. Apple has added new preference controls for this to either happen automatically, downloaded only, or only triggered manually. Settings>General>Software Update>Customize Automatic Updates. I do recommend waiting a few days when new software is released to let others find the issues.

4. Check Available Memory (reminder: there are 2 types of memory)

a. Physical memory: Settings>General>iPhone Storage. This represents the physical storage capacity on your device and NOT the processing memory or iCloud usage. You can identify what exactly is taking up all the space on your iPhone (which is usually Messages and Texts). You can also delete some of those files directly from here.

b. iCloud Memory: Settings>at the top select the arrow to the right of your iCloud Account name>then tap iCloud. This shows you the storage in iCloud and the apps that are using it. This also includes backups your iPhone makes, if you set that up.

5. Installing Apps: Read reviews before installing apps, delete unwanted apps to save space, and avoid installing apps that have not received an update in over a year.

6. Battery life can be improved by turning off background App Refresh: Settings>General>Background App Refresh. This will keep apps from running amok.

  • Keep toggled on those apps you do want to be running: Flowfinity, Outlook, Maps, and Google Maps so that if you close those screens they are still running (meaning you can pick up where you left off). 
  • Keep in mind some updates automatically turn this back on, so you need to check this from time to time.

7. Close all your apps down from time to time to clear out available processing memory. This varies for each version of the iPhone, but generally involves double clicking the home button and then swiping up to close windows.

8. If your vehicle has CarPlay, be sure to use it. It’s a great way to keep your iPhone charged on the go (since it’s plugged into a cable) and you can view directions on your vehicle screen, control music, and make calls. If you use the “Hey Siri” function, you can dictate commands and messages as well.

9. Make use of Apple’s Knowledge Base Guide to help you learn and understand how things work.

  • https://support.apple.com/

These are all great steps to ensure that your device is running at top efficiency, stays charged, and will continue to help your day rather than throw a wrench into it. Knowing your device…and what to do when things go south…can make the difference from a minor bump in the road vs a full-on landslide.

NOTE: While this article applies specifically to the Apple iPhone, other brands follow similar guidelines to help keep those devices running smoothly.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Finding Writerly Inspiration in these COVID Times

 A few days ago, a caring soul inquired, “How are you holding up?”

I knew immediately what his rather generic question referred to—my natural yearning for connections of the people variety, that had been hampered in an incredible way by the coronavirus. Although we don’t share this particular personality trait, he understood that the isolation wrought by the pandemic had been difficult for me.

I have so missed people and conversations, events, activities, and gatherings as well as the planning for, anticipation of, and the lingering memories of heretofore taken-for-granted occasions.  

And boy, did I miss opportunities to connect in-person with other writers. Even during “normal” times, my longing for time spent with fellow writers would compel me to seek out any and all chances to connect with my tribe. Thankfully, my local writers’ group rallied to organize video chats and later outdoor gatherings. ACFW Indiana “went virtual” to continue with a slate of scheduled instructional events, minus the sharing of lunch, of course. The national ACFW Conference adopted an online format that brought educators and authors at every level together for instruction in the craft of writing.    

Guess what? I took advantage of each of these opportunities to learn and connect with others who share my passion for words. While nothing completely replaces that in-person experience, both my mental state and writing skills benefited from these virtual experiences.

While I certainly hope that normal returns next year, allowing for group gatherings of every variety, I’m thankful for these interim arrangements that allow us see and hear each other and to share “space” with folks who understand the workings of a writer’s mind.

Plans are already in the works for the 2021 line up of speakers to address a variety of topics for ACFW Indiana members. We’ll begin the year with a gathering via Zoom in January. While attempting an in-person state-wide meeting during the deep freeze of winter would not have been advisable, an online coming together will not be bothered by the likelihood of snow and ice. And what could be better than sprucing up the dull, slow month of January with writerly companionship?

Another plus to meeting online? With much less hassle and expense, we can invite a guest speaker from across the country to join us—even from the far reaches of the globe, if we can work around the issue of time zones!

I’ve always prized the trait of resourcefulness, admiring the figure-it-out-despite-great-obstacles skill some folks seem to have in abundance while other poor souls possess not an ounce. If only resourcefulness could be bottled and sold to the masses! I’m hoping that the challenges of the pandemic have ignited resourcefulness where it may have become puny as well as introduced resourcefulness to others who have never developed this mighty trait.

So, how and where have you found writing inspiration during these isolating times? What COVID inspired events/activities have you taken advantage of? Are you aware of online workshops, conferences, or other writerly happenings in the near future? Please share info and links in the comments. 

P.S. If you need assistance with the ins and outs of meeting via Zoom, PLEASE ask! It's easier than most folks fear it will be. Shoot an email to acfwindianachapter@gmail.com with questions or concerns.  


Beth immerses herself in the YA world via substitute teaching, connecting with the teenage staff at the fast-food joint where she claims the back booth as her office, and reading YA fiction.

She’s a cheerleader for saving sex for marriage. Her “Waiting Matters … Because YOU Matter” blog helps people of all ages navigate the choppy waters of saving sex for marriage and “renewed waiting.” In her “Choices Matter” YA series, a relevant cast of high school-aged characters face real life choices and consequences in the often-messy, rarely simple world of friendship, family matters, and dating relationships. The mini books of the “Waiting Matters” series offer practical, candid advice for making wise life decisions. 

Beth is also a genetic genealogy enthusiast who used DNA to find her birth parents. Her journey to find and connect with her biological family is chronicled in “A Doorstep Baby’s Search for Answers”. Her “Slices of Real Life” posts find GOD in the day-to-day moments of real life. All of Beth’s writing endeavors can be found on her website at https://bethsteury.com





Saturday, November 7, 2020

Way Station or Fire Escape?

On a recent visit to Mounds State Park, my wife Maribeth and I were delighted to find a butterfly way station. This small patch of land (perhaps a tenth of an acre) is a place of respite for migrating butterflies, especially monarchs and swallowtails. On the chilly October afternoon we visited, a pungent smell of decaying leaves dominated the breeze, announcing the next act in the forest’s continuing drama of life. Except for a small clump of maroon asters, all vegetation at the butterfly way station had died as well. Our local garden club had cleared the blackened leaves away, raking the soil to receive snow melts sure to come in the next few months.

A plaque said that the spot is normally a colorful thicket of wildflowers that provide nectar for mature butterflies, succulent milkweed leaves for caterpillar hatchlings, and thick foliage where these insects at any life stage can hide from their feathered predators. It’s a place where weary migrants find rest and refreshment before they travel on.

Sequestered by the Covid-19 pandemic, most of us have had more time for reading lately, so I have been thinking about the reasons people read Christian fiction. I reflected in an earlier blog that escapism might be one reason, but is it our foremost objective as Christian authors? Is it the primary reason for people to read our work?

Impressed by Christian authors like Flannery O’Connor who wrote for the secular press, former advertising executive Richard Doster observed, “It might be time to reconsider our neighbors and their need to make sense of the world; their need for books, poems, and short stories that probe life’s mystery, that offer hope without flinching from the Fall’s consequences, that don’t—by their sentimentality—mock our true state, or the price that was paid for the world’s redemption.”[1] So Doster began writing Christian novels. Perhaps his convictions resonate with yours.

We live in trying times, as this week's election demonstrated. When the stress is intense, we instinctively look for a fire escape, yet quality Christian fiction doesn't serve that purpose. It doesn't offer us an easy exit from the world where God has placed us.

I believe instead that Christian fiction is a way station for travel-weary people in today’s world. Sometimes it gives us a fresh perspective, sometimes new resources to cope, and sometimes a personal transformation. But by no means does it allow us to avoid the tough problems of our world.

[1] Richard Doster, “The Calling of Christian Writers,” https://www1.cbn.com/biblestudy/the-calling-of-christian-writers


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Ten-Day Countdown!



Jill Williamson

November 7, 2020

Noon-2:00 p.m. via Zoom

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 869 4000 1642
Passcode: 6mxjLB

RSVP to acfwindianachapter@gmail.com


Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms, and the author of 23 books, including the Blood of Kings trilogy and the award winning By Darkness Hid, which was named a Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror novel of 2009 by VOYA magazine. A Whovian, Photoshop addict, and recovering fashion design assistant, Jill loves drawing her own intricate book maps and teaching about writing. She blogs at goteenwriters.com (named one of Writer’s Digest’s “101 Best Websites for Writers”) and also posts writing videos on her YouTube channel and Instagram TV where she encourages other writers to respect their dreams. She grew up in Alaska without running water or electricity and now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two kids. You can find her online at jillwilliamson.com, on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

This May Be the DayJesus Says, "Yes!"


“I’ve prayed and prayed, and God doesn’t answer.” How many times have I heard that from frustrated people? I have voiced the same complaint, praying for salvation for many of those I love, interceding for a friend’s healing, asking to see the fruit of my writing labors.

I’ve stood on the edge of a precipice watching Faith and Hope beckon to me with peaceful smiles from across an abyss. Meanwhile, not far from where I stand, Disappointment sighs and Resentment scowls. That last one snaps its fingers ordering me to join them. How am I supposed to avoid so much negativity and lean toward faith’s glorious promises in the midst of unanswered prayers?

The Bible instructs us to pray believing. Believe God can save. Believe
God provides. Believe He heals. Believe He will give me the desires of my heart.

If I am to pray believing, then I am to be expectant each day. This may be the day! And if God does not answer this day with “yes,” then I am to carry on peacefully and joyfully, persisting into tomorrow with the same prayer.


What about the complaint that I opened with? If God promises to answer our prayers, why doesn’t He? Is it His fault – does He not keep His promises? I can think of three possible answers, and I’m sure there are several more.

1. One of God’s promises regarding answered prayers comes from Psalm 37:4. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Ah, there’s a condition attached to that promise. Is Jesus my delight? Is joy and peace in Christ a way of life for me? Or do I run to Him with my petitions when I need help but otherwise don’t give Him a whole lot of thought?

Evaluation Question 1: Do I really delight in God’s presence in my life every day? If the answer is no, God has no obligation to answer my prayers. He often does anyway, but He doesn’t have to.

2. God also promises to say yes if you pray in the name of Jesus (John 14:13-14). That’s not a magic formula. “In the name of Jesus” is not the equivalent of “Abracadabra.” “In the name of Jesus” indicates that I know He has all the authority, and I have none. He has all the wealth and power in the universe and beyond. I am weak and penniless by eternal standards. When I come to Him with my requests, I must acknowledge that my own account is worthless.

Evaluation Question 2: Do I realize that I’m asking God to benefit me with funds from His bank, that I have no riches of my own other than what He chooses to give me?

3. Give it time, yes, more than you want to give. So many of our prayers hinge on someone else’s will. God is not going to override that. Otherwise, humans would be robots. But He does know how to bring someone around to His way of thinking. Let Him work it out with them.

Evaluation Question #3: Am I willing to give God as much time as He needs to put everything in place so my prayer will be answered? If the answer is “no,” if I’m not willing to keep praying–for decades if that’s what it takes--then how much do I really care?

Don’t think I’m a pointing a finger at you. All these questions are written in first person. After thirteen years of prayer for one individual, I get discouraged. After ten years of writing fiction, I wonder if I was right to follow my passion. I thought God had encouraged me to go for it. Then I remind myself. God is God, and I am not.

I return to my knees, knowing my prayers are the desires of my heart. I delight in the Lord throughout every day. I recognize His name is more powerful than all others. I trust Him to put every detail in place.

Maybe today is the day when Jesus says, “Yes.”


Linda Sammaritan writes realistic fiction, mostly for kids ages ten to fourteen. She is currently working on a middle grade trilogy, World Without Sound, based on her own experiences growing up with a deaf sister.

Linda had always figured she’d teach middle-graders until school authorities presented her with a retirement wheelchair at the overripe age of eighty-five. However, God changed those plans when He gave her a growing passion for writing fiction. In May of 2016, she blew goodbye kisses to her students and dedicated her work hours to learning the craft.

A wife, mother of three, grandmother to seven, Linda regales the youngest grandchildren with “Nona Stories,” tales of her childhood. Maybe one day those stories will be in picture books!

Where Linda can be found on the web: