Welcome to the blog of author Marlo Schalesky!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Making Your Life a Song ... Even if Off-Key

Hi Friends!

Today I wanted to share a recent story about what I learned from my little girls about making music in the Kingdom of God . . . about how my life can be a melody, even if it is a bit off-key.

So, here ya go:

Small brows furrowed in concentration. Small fingers pressed hard on guitar frets. Small thumbs thrummed the strings.

And music filled the room – awkward, off-key, clashing music. But to my mommy-ears, the sounds were sweet. I smiled.

Bethany and Joelle, my two young daughters, were working so hard to learn how to play real music on their brand new kids’ guitars. They sat on short stools in front of their dad, with their guitars on their laps and their fingers poised over the strings.

Bryan held his own guitar (adult-sized, of course) and strummed the chord again. A perfect C warbled from his instrument. He paused. “See, like that.” The sound died away. “Now you try.” He placed the girls’ fingers on the proper frets one more time.

The girls studied Daddy’s fingers. They glanced at their own, then looked at his again. Then, they took deep breaths, and strummed.

Better. Not good, but at least the sound didn’t leave my hair standing on end.

Bryan adjusted their fingers again. First Joelle’s, then Bethany’s. “Try not to push down the other strings.”

Bethany nodded and grinned. “Okay, Daddy.” She leaned forward.

Joelle stuck out her tongue to focus.

I hurried for the camera.

They tried it yet again – studying the way Daddy did it, checking their own fingers, and playing the note. Studying, checking, playing. Boldly, joyfully, with Daddy’s help.

It wasn’t perfect, but each time, the sound improved. By the end, their fingers were dented by the strings, their picks were well worn, and they had almost learned to produce a decent C chord.

But most importantly, they were happy. Glowing. Why? Because they were playing guitar, just like Daddy.

As I stood by and clicked pictures, I was reminded of how God, my father, asks me to imitate Him too. 1 Peter 1:15-16 (NIV), says “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” And in Matthew 11:29 (NIV), we’re told to, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart . . .”
I’m called to be like Him, to learn from Him.

Doing that, I’ve come to realize, isn’t a whole lot different from my girls learning to play guitar. As God makes beautiful music, He asks me to join in – to try. And though my fingers may be still a little small, and I might bump the wrong strings, still what’s important is that I study the way my Daddy does it and try to do the same myself. Study, check, play. Boldly, joyfully, and with my Father in heaven’s help.

It doesn’t matter if my music isn’t always perfect. What matters is that I watch, learn, and try again. That I practice using my instruments like God uses His. The Bible, circumstances in life, popular culture, off-the-cuff comments by acquaintances, friends, or family – how does God make music from these instruments? How does He work in people’s lives? And how can I make music with those same instruments?

The only way to know is to study the Master. Study the gospels. How did Jesus use scripture, culture, circumstances, comments, in the gospel accounts? How does God work in my own life? In the lives of the people I know? We must study, watch, learn, and play.

God is making music all around us. If we pay attention, we can make music too. It may not be perfect. It may a little off-key, a little awkward. But if we practice and watch the master musician – if we allow him to move our fingers along the frets, we too can play the notes of heaven, and bring beautiful music into the lives of those around us.

So, let us play. Joyfully, boldly, with our gaze fixed on the Master who teaches us the proper chords.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fossil Hunter by John Olson

Hi Friends,

Today, I'm excited to tell you about a new novel by my good friend, John Olson. It's called Fossil Hunter and it's being put out in conjunction with the new EXPELLED! NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED Documentary with Ben Stein. John consulted with the producers on that movie and was commissioned to write this novel to go along with the movie.

I'm about 3/4 of the way through a pre-release copy of the book, and I gotta say - It's great! Full of action, great characters, intrigue, and a plot that MOVES! :-) I think you'll love it. Suspense, romance, thriller, science . . . it's got it all!
The big release date is THIS Thursday, May 1. You can pick up a copy online or at your local bookstore. Here's a convenient link for Amazon:
Now, here's more info, along with some links to John's site. Read on . . .


BACK COVER COPY:

In the desolate Iraqi desert, a lone shepherd stumbles across the fossilized remains of a large whale. Initial analysis indicates that it could be a new species — a key intermediary form that could shed new light on the evolution debate.

Paleontologist Dr. Katie James is asked to lead an expedition to recover the rest of the fossil before her archrival, Nick Murad, can find it first. But while she’s there, Katie also uncovers the unexpected — a human fossil so controversial she’s forced to collaborate with Nick to analyze the find before it can be destroyed by a fundamentalist government faction. Their initial results fly in the face of current scientific theory, and it seems the whole world turns against them, including those they thought they could trust most.

Then the fossil disappears, sending Nick and Katie on a chase that could cost them their reputations, their careers — even their lives.

LINKS:
http://www.fossilhunternovel.com/

And the link to the author’s note with gives his take on the intelligent design issue is:

http://www.litany.com/FossilHunter/AuthorsNote.php

ENDORSEMENTS:

Phil Johnson:

"John Olson's _Fossil Hunter_ is a delightful romantic thriller about a female Indiana Jones off on a scientific treasure hunt who finds it easier to cope with desert brigands than with the genteel back-stabbing of academic politics. Enjoy the great adventure! I did."
by Phillip E. Johnson. author of _Darwin on Trial_


Randy Ingermanson:

"John Olson may be the best in the world at writing woman-scientist-in-jeopardy suspense novels. FOSSIL HUNTER features nonstop action and solid science, and it also does a terrific job of showing the wretched dilemma that every Christian with a Ph.D. in the hard sciences has faced: You'll face suspicion from your fellow Christians AND your fellow scientists. Bravo to John!"

Randall Ingermanson, author of DOUBLE VISION

James Scott Bell:

If you like novels that both entertain and make you think, then Fossil Hunter is for you. This is one fascinating thrill ride from the fertile imagination of John B. Olson.

–– James Scott Bell, bestselling author of Try Dying and The Whole Truth.

Coleen Coble:

Fossil Hunter by John Olson has it all: adventure, romance and an interesting setting. Best of all, it gave me food for thought about Creation. I loved the book and will be recommending it to friends!
Colleen Coble, author of Anathema and the Rock Harbor series

Rene Gutteridge:

"Fossil Hunter is engaging from page one. I couldn't put it down. A great plot and terrific characters make it a novel you won't want to miss." Rene Gutteridge, The Splitting Storm

Alton Gansky:

In the Fossil Hunter, John B. Olson takes us for a blistering ride through deserts and scientific intrigue leaving us to contemplate what it means to be a person of faith in a complex, technical world.—Alton Gansky, author of Angel and Zero-G


PLUS:
John tells me that if you like Fossil Hunter and tell your friends about it via email, he'll send you some fun, wacky prize (and you might even win a new iPod Touch too). All you have to do is copy him on the email you send out to your friends - his email is johno@litany.com.
So, there ya go! I hope you enjoy Fossil Hunter, and also go to see the Expelled! Documentary movie if it's playing in your area.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Publishing...My Unexpected Journey

Hi Friends,

I've been thinking lately how life rarely turns out like I expect (as you've probably figured out from many of my previous posts! :-)). God is so often up to something different, new . . . wild.

Recently, I was asked in an interview about how my publishing experience has met with my expectations. Of course, the question made me laugh. So, if you want to hear about the wild ride that has been my book publishing experience . . . keep on reading!

And hopefully, if you're in a place where God is doing something strange and unexpected (especially if the unexpected is something that seems not so great), you'll find that you're not the only one on that road, and you'll be encouraged to keep on walking down the path with Him ... just to see where He might lead.


So, here's what I said in that interview:

QUESTION: You’ve been in the publishing industry for a while now with four previous novels and a nonfiction book to your credit. How has your publishing experience lined up with expectations? How has it not?

MY ANSWER (after my unwritten "ha ha ha!"):

You’ll find that most of my books include a theme about life not turning out the way you plan or expect. That’s because God has given me the equivalent of a PhD in “My plans are not your plans, saith the Lord . . .” And my publishing experience has been a significant course in that learning process.

Nothing in my experience with publishing has gone according to expectation. At first, that was just because I was na├»ve. I thought I just had to write some good stuff, and I’d get a contract for my first books, which, at the time, was an end times series (this was before the Left Behind craze). So, I went to conferences with my proposal and heard from all the editors, “We aren’t interested in this type of futuristic fiction.” What they meant, of course, was they weren’t interested in that type of story from a newbie like me.

So, I tried historical fiction. And got a contract just as expected. Except the contract was canceled . . . that was unexpected. And it hurt.

Eventually, another publisher contracted that book and it became my first published novel (Cry Freedom). I received a few other contracts, had those books published, and then came another rude awakening in the form of sales figures. I expected to write a good book and have it do well. But that’s not how it worked for my third novel. Because of internal publishing house changes, sales went badly.

And there wasn’t anything I could do about it. That was hard because I’d written the story as an act of faithfulness to God’s call, I felt He was pleased with it, I’d done everything I could in promotion and marketing, and still it “failed.” Ouch!

At that time, I was told to expect the numbers for that book to prevent other publishers from wanting to publish future books of mine. “It would have been better for you if that book hadn’t even been published,” they said. But God was about to crush that expectation as well.

A publisher contracted my next historical novel, I wrote it, and then just before it was scheduled for release, the company went through a large restructuring – they cut fiction, most of the members of the PR department left, the fiction editor left, and my book was stranded. I hadn’t expected that either.

But God was up to something in the meantime – a new story idea that I simply had to write. A story that so moved the Multnomah team, even in its synopsis form, that they wanted to publish it despite my previous sales numbers. They wanted that story, plus two more. The story was Beyond the Night. It came as an unexpected gift from God. (P.S. And here's the final, final version of the new cover!! They added a quote from Laura Jensen Walker - you can't quite see it up there at the top. It says, "I just finished Beyond the Night and can barely see through my tears. What a beautiful love story! Move over, Nicolas Sparks. There's a new girl in town." -- Cool, huh? :-) Okay, now back to the interview question . . .)

And just like everything else in my publishing experience, it has taken me by surprise. Pre-readers are calling me and emailing saying how the story has moved them, impacted them. But it’s not because of my great planning. It’s because God has again done something that I didn’t foresee, didn’t expect. And I thank Him for it.

So, friends, may you find peace in the unexpected twists of life, and in them, may you discover the wonder of an unexpected God!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Change & Cherish Series by Jane Kirkpatrick



Hi Friends!

It's been awhile since I've told you about new Christian fiction, so today, I'd like to tell you about three - these are three historical novels in the "Change & Cherish" series by Jane Kirkpatrick. Below is a little about each. Jane's stories are both lyrical and moving, so if you like my historical fiction, I think you'll like Jane's too. I hope you'll give 'em a try! And let me know what you think!

Now, here's a bit about the books:

Book: The Change and Cherish series
Author: Jane Kirkpatrick
Summary: The Change and Cherish series follows the story of feisty Emma Giesy

A Clearing in the Wild
Spirited young Emma Wagner chafes at the constraints of her 1850s religious community, which values conformity over independent thought, especially in women. Skeptical of the colony’s growing emphasis on preparing for “the last days,” Emma clashes with their increasingly autocratic leader—and faces the unexpected consequences of pursuing independence.

A Tendering in the Storm
This lyrical novel, based on an historical figure of the 1800s, follows the spirited and intelligent Emma Giesy, who achieves her goal of separating her family from the repressive religious community in which she grew up. But unexpected and dire consequences leave her family—and her faith—struggling to survive.

A Mending at the Edge
This richly textured novel, the third in the acclaimed Change and Cherish series, follows the historical figure of Emma Wagner Giesy, who chafes under the restrictions of her 1860s religious colony. When her bid to belong in her unique way unravels her most precious relationships, she seeks new ways to stitch meaning into her life.

And here's a bit about Jane:
Jane Kirkpatrick is the best-selling author of two nonfiction books and fourteen historical novels, including the popular Kinship and Courage series. Her award-winning writing has appeared in more than fifty publications, including Sports Afield and Decision. She’s won the coveted Western Heritage Wrangler Award, an honor shared by such writers as Larry McMurtry and Barbara Kingsolver. Jane is a licensed clinical social worker as well as an internationally recognized speaker. She and her husband, Jerry, ranch 160 acres in eastern Oregon.

Here's a link to Jane's books on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_b?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Jane+Kirkpatrick&x=9&y=16

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

NEW COVER - CHECK THIS OUT!!!


Hi Friends,




It's here! The new cover for Beyond the Night!



And here it . . . sort of . . . is.



I'm seeing this cover as having a lot of blues, but the real cover has more browns. I wonder how your browser will view it.



Anyway, this is the basic idea of the new cover! If you see brown tones, then that's how it'll look. If you're seeing blues, well, you'll just have to imagine it, or send me an email and I'll respond so you can see it in my email signature with the proper colors.



Well, let me know what you think, and watch for the book to release on June 17. It went to the printer today, so it's on schedule for the release date. Yay!

New Cover -- Coming SOON!

Hi Friends,

Just a note to tell you to come by later today because I'm hoping to be able to post the BRAND NEW COVER for Beyond the Night! The new cover has been designed and sent to New York for final approval. The cover has to go to print today in order to be on schedule for the new ship date in June (my new release date for Beyond the Night is June 17). Exciting!

Most of you are familiar with the old cover for Beyond the Night - the one with the gray shades and the bright yellow flower in the middle. Well, it turns out that retailers weren't that excited about that cover. They wanted something better. So Multnomah pulled the old cover and hurried to design something totally new and different.

So, if all goes well, I'll have that cover to show you later today. Check back in and tell me what you think!

And in the meantime, may God bless you with a day filled with his Wonder and Grace!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Opening Old Wounds ... A Thought on Taking off the Bandaids

Hi Friends,

This week, I've been thinking about how God peels off the band-aids in our lives and asks us to move forward in an area where we've been hurt before. He asks us to trust, to do right, to risk. That's what God has been asking me this week. And so, I've been remembering this story:

A shriek pierced the air. Then another. And another.

A chill shot through me. I dropped the papers in my hand and bolted for the door.

Another scream sliced across my nerves as I sprinted down the hill toward the plastic kiddie pool where my three-year-old daughter was playing with her Daddy. I spotted her taut-as-a-bow-string body standing next to the pool. She turned her red, scrunched-up face in my direction and let out another howl.

My husband, Bryan, sat in a chair next to the pool with his arms crossed. White spots shone on his arms where his fingers pressed into his biceps.

I slowed. This didn’t look like the near-death, blood-everywhere, broken-bones, 9-1-1 emergency that I was expecting. Instead, it looked liked a certain little girl was having a fit.

“Hey, what’s going on here?” My voice barely carried over Bethany’s shrill cries. “Did she get hurt?”

Bryan turned toward me. His eyebrows bunched together in a frown. “No.” The words came out like a flat stone hitting water.

“No? But –“ I gestured toward Miss Blotchy-Red-Face who was now taking a ragged breath.

Bryan sighed. “You’re not going to believe this.” He pointed to the small rectangular bandage on her thigh. The plastic strip was dangling from the “owie spot” where she’d gotten an immunization two days before. “I told her we needed to take that band-aid off.”

Bryan had hardly finished the sentence when Bethany started up again. “Noooooo,” she wailed, “dooooooon’t.”

I turned to Bethany, but before I could say a word, she clenched both fists and threw back her head. “I don’t waaaant to take it off. It’s gonna h-h-huuuuurt.”

“It’s half off already.”

“Noooo, noooo, noooo . . .”

Bryan threw his hands up in the air. “I’ve had it.” He thrust himself from the chair and tromped toward the garage. “You sit with her.”

I settled into the chair and grabbed Bethany’s towel. “So, I guess you’re done in the pool, huh?”

Two sniffs, then her arm wiped across her nose. “No.”

I raised my eyebrows.

She jumped back into the pool.

A few minutes later I spotted the bandage floating on water’s surface. I hid my smile. “Hey Bethany, how ‘bout we take off that band-aid now?”

“Aaaa,” she began, then looked down. Her cry stopped abruptly. “Where is it?”

I pointed to the pale pink strip. “Guess it didn’t hurt so much after all.”

She poked at the bandage with her toe. “It came off.”

“Yep.”

“I didn’t feel it, though.”

“Nope.”

She studied the bandage for a moment then plopped down and starting playing with her bucket.
As I watched her, I began to chuckle. All that fuss for nothing. But I guess I’m no different. Often for me, too, the anticipation of pain is more than the reality.

Because God is a good father, He, too, wants to remove the bandages in my life, those things I use to hide old pain. He asks me to open up, to be vulnerable to Him and others. But even though I may not holler as shrilly as Bethany, in my heart I still often cry, “Nooo. It’s gonna huuuurt.”

Yet, God continues to call me to truth rather than hiddenness. In fact, the Greek word for “truth” in the New Testament has the same root as “unhidden.” And so, I think about that bandage floating on the water’s surface and wonder if God’s simply trying to tell me that if I trust him and open up, I’ll find that it doesn’t hurt so much after all. I’ll find that God can and has healed my owies. And now, it’s time to trust, to risk, and to try something new.

So, these days when God asks me to take off the bandages in my life, I’m trying not to fuss too much. Instead, I pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Gen NEXT Marriage by Tricia Goyer

Hi Friends!

Just had to tell you about a new marriage book aimed specifically at Gen Xer's. I read this book and endorsed it some months ago. It's called Generation NeXt Marriage by Tricia Goyer.

I found this book so helpful and insightful at addressing issues specific to those who are members of Gen X (like Bryan and I - we're on the "older" end of Gen X). My favorite part was how the book pointed out how the escalating divorce rate when we were kids affects our attitudes in marriage today - both in the lack of role models and in our determination to make our marriages work and be better than those we saw fail in our youth.

This book showed me why I want not just an okay marriage but a great one, and some important steps (like supporting your spouse's dreams) to getting there.

So, read on for more info about this great book:

Book Description:

Do you still find yourself humming the love songs of the 80s and 90s?Do you still believe that every marriage should be between soul mates?But -- do you wonder how you can succeed at love and marriage when the generation you grew up in didn't?Marriage isn't what it used to be-it can be better than ever.If you are a Gen Xer, your marriage has challenges and potentials that no other generation has known. A Gen Xer herself, Tricia Goyer offers realistic help to achieve the God-honoring marriage you long for. She includes:·Ways to protect your marriage despite the broken relationships modeled in your youth·Stories, suggestions, and confessions from fellow Gen Xers facing the "What now?" question of real-life marriage·Advice from the ultimate marriage survival guide: the Bible·Stats, quizzes, sidebars, and study questions related to this "relationally challenged" time in history·Practical helps for negotiating kids, work, sex, money, and dirty laundry-sometimes all in the same eveningIf you are part of a generation of adults who don't want to bow to their culture or live and love like their parents did -- this book is for you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Tricia's Bio and photo:http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001cQKj4qoIxlv4_uTV49spPuQi-vgyTkl_1LVm7-PW5o14O8Mx9tK0K0nEW1Zq6sOa2EfFJTONDkk0pSrJowWFJFi5FWE3hFjgNARrQ6m8bJQDvR6qOgkzUOyHYnhn3ibq
Book excerpt: http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001cQKj4qoIxlu3KotpGVsISF66x44e15cMJe9I_R1Ep_y2v_T4iF9sgHsCZTWbjH4OJYQ3n5u-x0fZMWInnIN_7pKv9I71brChscuIDz1F-Et8rDu52PXxhAIHssv3Ri2M1Ap_SgE_KOUio_QxT2xwR9DvMTuiHpOP-R3N-kWK01Y=

What people are saying about Generation NeXt Marriage: http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001cQKj4qoIxltJzlJNx14DWCnSGFkSz1t8V9QQtFhRxvy34la3cHcHc68WKp2glmQYsDHuwrHnqy07a02oYtQEf9R2u_7AYI93KgKw319Yz8gxVOJ65eCRYF0qcxHdwG7QQganSpYn-fpQH7zybuEN4H_LCQkQUbU1oiYbX60Paou-xMnyUZtl8fXm2r_Iaz3dON41nH_EEJK1qNhABnPLzAiofg6zpQYf-YTa19Rm5TYKaLwpqa8rBUsbfskp8W-d

Buy the book: http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001cQKj4qoIxlueCGh-qf4oihvUw4iij6H-1gk6QH5__yTzvwLyfzbsQ6GacyZt0DxX9oWwZgJoW6d_QclfjJdz38Z4UnrpAGfDjMAQM-wHQwsfVdLKM0WpnHzYAnJLJQfDAVR8tVQSwxsrWlvwvg13J_j8-a7I00OVvqHvxOSqbQen0kiZ2bMhACsLVvMfo1JQbxvFeMuoeSml2yTKDiCU5ctVlObiaFD0

Tricia's website: http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001cQKj4qoIxlueTXNM8rF9nue0kcQVaKwDW_Xuq7Ftmm4wFtGl1APzxwgnPE3gTifikzMdiUflizjtMGP21YcyGYaQJ4cKRYCOfaG2n89CvaCVzqhdLTV7aw==

Bonus information:

Five unique marriage challenges faced by Gen Xers and how to tackle them!

1. Gen Xers saw more divorces than successful marriages. The divorce rate doubled between 1965-1977 and Gen Xers were the victims. 40% of us spent time in a single-family home before age 16. We grew up in families with step-moms and half-siblings and living every other weekend with a different parent and faced the loneliness and alienation of our splintered families. As married adults, Gen Xers can meet their spouse's need by speaking encouraging words, which are like gold stars to a Gen Xer's heart -- and by never using the D-word. As author Madeleine L'Engle once said, "There are a lot of marriages today that break up just at the point where they could mature and deepen."

2. Without role models, many GenXers turned to music, movies and television for examples of healthy relationships. Now, we often model our relationships after television sitcoms. We are good at quick comebacks and sassy remarks, without taking time to consider the other person's heart. We also want our problems wrapped up in thirty minutes or less! Instead, Gen Xers need to understand that unrealistic expectations can hurt our relationships. We also need to treat out spouses with honor and respect, even when we don't feel like they deserve it.

3. Our teen relationships were intense and often included sexuality, leading to intense breakups and the resulting baggage. By the time many GenXers walked down the aisle, they'd experienced several "pretend-marriages." Spouses can break free from these bonds when we realize the truth about love, the truth about emotions, and the truth about intimacy. It's knowing that what we had in the past wasn't love -- and emotions don't rule. True intimacy is choosing to share our hearts and our struggles with the one we're committed to for life.

4. Gen Xers were starved for quality time, so they appreciate balance. Doing too much stresses us out. The first thing Gen Xers need to do is realize the impact of our faced-pace lives, and then make plans for peace. It's cutting out things that won't matter ten years from now and focusing on the things that will.

5. Gen Xers were labeled the "slackers" and the "grunge" generation. The generations before didn't think we'd amount to much. Because of this, Gen Xers strive hard to prove themselves. We aren't content just "living life," we want to reach our full potential. Spouses can encourage each other to follow their heart dreams. This starts with asking your spouse out his/her dreams, then offering encouragement and support!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Glimpse of Breathtaking Faith

Hi Friends,

It's been about a year since our good friends lost their daughter. A year since we received the shocking email. A year since I sat at the funeral with a tissue clutched in my hand. And it's been about year since I saw one of the most amazing examples of faith in the darkness that I've ever witnessed. So, today, I'd like to share with you the story of beautiful faith in the midst of heartbreaking sorrow. I want to tell you about my friend, Noreene. It happened like this . . .

I saw something beautiful today. I saw it through my tears.

Light splashed through the stained glass windows around me. People dressed in somber black lined the pews. A group of young women huddled together behind me. To the left, a young man sniffed and fought not to cry. A woman dapped her eyes. A baby wailed, and grew silent. Music dwindled.

I glanced down at the paper in my hand. And I saw her face. Sara. Bright eyes peeking over sunglasses, a mischievous half-smile, filled with the promise of tomorrow. A young face. Too young to be printed on the program for a memorial service. Too young to be the cause of mourners dressed in black. Twenty-two years old. Too young to die.

The microphone crackled as one of Sara’s friends stood up to share her memories of Sara. She sniffed and rubbed her cheeks. Her voice wavered. My throat clogged. And then, as she continued her story of Sara and their school days, I snuck a peek at Sara’s parents. They sat on the other side of the church in the front pew. They sat with their faces forward, shoulders touching, their hands clasped.

Tears filled my eyes. These are the worst days of their lives . . . I fumbled for the box of tissue beside me. To lose a daughter . . . even I, the mother of four girls, couldn’t imagine it. Or at least I didn’t want to imagine. It hurt too much. It was hard enough to sit there in the pew remembering Sara - a little girl clinging to her mother’s knees, a young teen flipping the pages in her Bible, an older teen sharing her poetry, a girl whom I’d known and prayed for almost all of her life.

Now, she was gone, and her mother, my friend, sat there, white-faced, in the front pew, listening as others came forward and shared their memories of Sara, as the music played, as the pastor spoke words of God’s love.

God’s love. It all seemed so unreal, so strange, so awful. God’s love. I couldn’t imagine that either. Not here. Not now. Not with Sara’s mom, Noreene, sitting there in that pew with her face washed in sorrow. Where was God’s love in something like this? Where was His care?

I believed in God’s love. But somehow, at that moment, it seemed as impossible as the death of a twenty-two year old girl named Sara.

And then, I witnessed something beautiful. Something that took my breath away. Something I will never forget.

As the final person stood to share memories of Sara, Noreene rose. She walked to the microphone. And she raised her hands toward heaven.

Then, that mother whose heart had been broken with the loss of her only daughter, prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. No “why’s,” no accusations, no questions of how God could have allowed such a thing to happen. Instead, with hands and eyes lifted, she thanked God for the gift of Sara’s life, she thanked him for everything Sara had taught her about God’s love and love for others, she praised him through the deepest part of her pain.

And she meant every word.

So I sat there and witnessed the beauty of faith in a beloved daughter of God. I saw what it meant to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), even in the hardest, most painful circumstance I could imagine.

Today, I saw a real woman of faith. And through her, I beheld the face of God. And it was the face of love.