Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Making of a Novel

They say men plumpen up their first year of marriage. In fact, back in my newly wed days, I heard this was a sign of happiness. You probably know the clichĂ©: "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

Well... uh... my man lost weight. Thirty pounds, to be exact.scale

In our first year. And no, he didn't go on a crash diet, suddenly become infatuated with health, or cut off a limb.

He learned, rather quickly, his bride was a terrible cook. Do you remember Shania Twain's "Any Man of Mine"? That became the theme song for our first year of marital bliss and heartburn!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8N2k-gv6xNE]

You see, I had a diversion to recipes. To following them, anyway. And a rather odd obsession with dill, or at least, the dill that had Firstgardentaken over my tiny vegetable garden and therefore absolutely had to be used.

In everything, from spaghetti to bread. I'm pretty sure, had my mom not pulled me aside one visit, telling me to kill--annihilate, burn, destroy, never to be seen again--the dill, my husband would've starved.

So how did I, the woman who probably should've been banned from the kitchen, end up cooking for 70+ women at Forest Avenue Family Shelter? All by my lonesome, 20140313_095559even???

That was the question I asked myself one afternoon as I stood over three massive hunks of pork, fretting over everything from whether I'd make enough to the very real possibility I could flub it.

Which wasn't an option! Because of all the meals I'd ever cooked (burned, destroyed, shoved down the garbage disposal), I wanted this one to be amazing. To somehow speak love and hope and dignity into the women and children I'd be serving.

Women who, with their frightened children in tow, had fled horrific abuse. Others who'd been tossed out onto the streets by a cruel landlord. Still others, who, after a lifetime of pain unspeakable, had turned to liquor or drugs or anything else that could numb their wounds.

Women who needed to be shown, in a tangible way, how deeply loved they were.

So I did the best I could, praying, angsting, and splattering my small kitchen with pork grease.

A few hours later, as I stood among those hungry, broken women and children, a hunger grew inside me as well. A hunger to be an instrument of God's healing, transforming, life-giving grace!

As God's love poured through me, everything else became inconsequential. That moment felt so incredibly real, and I felt so alive. My mind was flooded with memories--of God's grace and love for me, of all the ways He'd reached out to me, in my period of brokenness.

My heart was flooded with His love to the point it felt it'd explode! His love for me and for them; His love for me revealed through His love for them.

That night, I experienced a taste of the life abundant Jesus promised, and it was empowering, inspiring. Addicting. So addicting, I wanted to share it with others. I wanted to help them experience the heart-exploding emotions that come from serving.

BeyondIDocoverAnd thus, Beyond I Do, my debut novel, was born, a missional romance about a woman who was thrust into a situation hilariously similar to mine. (You can preorder it, at a discounted price, here.) And that situation, and others like it, changed her. Made her see everything differently. Because you can't spend time among the broken without being changed.

I'll be speaking more about this, my story, and the God who's still writing it at a Forest Avenue book-signing event on September 6th. Stay tuned for more information!

What about you? When has a difficult, uncomfortable, or perhaps even painful event turned into something glorious? When have you felt most spiritually alive? In what ways do you show this abundant life to others?

Share your thoughts below and get entered into our May gift-basket give-away!

One randomly chosen winner, selected from the comments left on all posts published from today to May 1st, will receive a copy of the following (some in print others in ebook form.) Please note, the following is applicable to readers living in the continental US only. If a selected winner lives outside the continental US, they will receive ebooks, when available. Books that do not have e-versions will be placed back in the “gift-pot” to be sent to a randomly chosen runner-up living in the continental US.

They will receive a copy of:

Delivery by Diana Prusik, Jasmine by April McGowanHear No Evil by Mary Hamilton,Rodeo Hero and  Rodeo Song by Shannan Taylor VannatterAngel Falls by Connie MannThe Shepherd’s Song by Betsy Duffey and Laurie MyersMarriage Takes Three by G. E. Hamlin, and Worth the Wait by Laura Jackson.



  1. Thank you for that post. Just celebrated my 15th wedding anniversary and I STILL can't cook. Bake - yes but my husband has allergies. Cook - NOPE! Something's always raw and something else is always burned. You made me smile - thanks! Glad my husband (and my Heavenly Father) love me anyway - clSwalwell@gmail.com

    Thank you for this opportunity.

    In Him,
    Cheri :)

  2. LOL! My husband told his family I couldn't cook before we were married, with the idea each woman at my shower would give me a recipe. It was years before they would eat anything I cooked at family potlucks.

    I, too, believe in the changes God works when He brings someone broken across our path. Blessings,

  3. Haha! One of our wedding gifts was a box of canned goods with the labels removed. Early in our marriage (at least for the first month), I could blame my bad cooking on the can goods. Surprise! What you open is what you eat. :)

    Times I've felt most alive are when I'm praising the Lord in the midst of a diffcult season in my life, when I'm writing, sharing Jesus with someone, including my children and grandchildren, and spending time with my husband.

    Love the novel cover, Jennifer! Perfect title. Preordering my copy right now!

  4. That's funny! I knew there was a reason we were friends, Cheri! I'm not sure I can bake well, either, although I've gotten a tad better. 18 years of practice seems to have helped. Although I still don't like following recipes, so when I actually make something the family likes, I'm like, "Well, enjoy it, because I probably won't be able to make this again!" hahaha.

    Fifteen years! Congrats! That's so awesome, and amen regarding your comment on God's love (and your husband's). True love truly does endure all things. ;)

  5. That is too funny! Did you get a lot of good recipes?

  6. Oh, what a fun gift idea! My niece is getting married this spring. Might have to pass such a gift on! Oh, the fun we aunts and cousins could have preparing it!

    That's awesome! I love connecting with God through praise music as well. I especially love grabbing my phone, turning on my Pandor, and going for long prayer walks. It's such a special, quiet time with my Savior.

    Love how involved you are with your grandparents. Godly grandparents are such a precious gift!

    Thank you so much for your encouragement and support! You are such a sweet friend!

  7. Yesterday was our 47th anniversary. We spent a bit of time deciding which of our many homes was the favorite and, I must admit, talked about how lame my cooking was in those early days and the horror I felt when my outgoing husband invited people over for dinner unannounced. He still invites, and I do a bit better these days without the panic.

  8. That is so funny! And wow, 47 years! That's awesome! So, cooking catastrophes aside, are you as extroverted as he is?