What IS the Reason for the Season?

nativityI keep hearing folks admonish the world to stop focusing on presents and holiday trappings. Rather, focus on the reason for the season. Which is Jesus, right?

Except I think we get mixed up about the reason for the season. I mean, what would Christmas look like if it really were just about Jesus? Sit with that a minute.

There’s a lot more than presents and fancy Christmas dinners that would go out the window if the season really were all about Christ and him crucified (because crucified is the whole point!). Maybe even some good things like time with family and church programs and nativity scenes.

I think our biggest Christian holidays boil down to two things:

  1. He is come!
  2. He is risen!

To take that a bit further. He came to die for YOU and for ME, but he’s not dead. And really, there’s only one way to celebrate that–tell someone.

So, today, I’m telling you. You who are having a remarkably perfect Christmas. And you who’s Christmas is just awful. You who don’t have enough fingers and toes to count your blessings and you sitting alone, steeped in sadness.

Christ came as a vulnerable baby, lived a perfect life without sin, and then sacrificed himself for YOU. And if you want, you can live forever with him. It really is the perfect gift and this Christmas my wish is that we’ll get to spend eternity together.

Jesus loves you. That, I think, is the reason for the season.

 

Just One Week Till Christmas!

church-doorsAre you ready?

Tree lights twinkle in the window, I’ve finished my shopping, made a pan of fudge, even sent out some actual Christmas cards . . . I guess I’m ready.

Do you remember Christmas Eve when you were a kid? Lying in bed, eyes wide open, listening for reindeer on the roof or the jingle of sleigh bells? Then, somehow, actually falling asleep and waking in the small hours of the morning to wonder if you could get up yet. And finally running to the tree to find all those wonderful gifts.

When’s the last time you were that excited about anything?

Of course, by the end of the day I also remember being tired from too little sleep, worn out with excitement and cousins, and somehow finding my gifts–as nice as they were–less exciting than they’d been that morning. The shine always wore off . . .

Maybe that’s because I’ve typically prepared for the wrong thing. It’s easy to say Christmas is about more than presents and decorations and food, but it’s hard to live that out. It’s hard to hold on to the idea of God incarnate when the world is so determined to draw our attention with all the little gods of the season.

So this week–this week leading up to the celebration of Christ’s birth–my goal is to prepare my heart for Christ and him crucified. Which the world would say is a funny thing to think about at Christmas. But which my heart tells me is exactly what I should be preparing and living for every day . . . with excited anticipation.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 – And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Please Stop Asking Authors THIS Question

4 booksI love talking about my books and my writing. And it’s so nice when friends, family, readers, and others ask for details.

But there’s one question that comes up over and over that I simply don’t know how to answer. It usually comes up in that quiet time after the flurry of releasing a book is over but before I’m really promoting the next one.

The dreaded question is some variation of . . . How are your books doing?

Oh wait, I do know how to answer it. I DON’T KNOW.

And even when I kind of know, I still don’t know.

Here’s the problem. I get statements twice a year. Sure, they list how many books have been sold . . . as of three or four months ago. So I kind of have an idea of how many books moved a while back. Of course, if a new book has released in the meantime, I don’t know much about that one at all.

Oh but wait. The statement doesn’t actually list how many books SOLD, it lists how many books have been ordered by bookstores and other vendors. And guess what–they get to return the books they don’t sell.

For example: Say a June statement shows that 1,000 copies of a book published in January had been ordered as of February. The December statement may show that 250 of those were returned as of August. Does that mean 750 sold? Maybe. But not necessarily. Another 250 might have been returned in September.

Sigh.

So here are a few questions I’d love for you to ask instead:

  • How’d you come up with the idea for that last book?
  • What are you working on next? (I’ll be vague, but it’s still nice to be asked.)
  • What do you like to read when you’re not writing?
  • Or any of a dozen what’s-your-writing-life-like questions.

Basically, ask me about writing. Because I really don’t know how my book is doing . . .

Advent – Looking Forward to Christmas

YChristmas 1974esterday was the first Sunday of Advent. Which, in my book, means the Christmas season has begun.

Advent is traditionally a time of preparation, of looking forward to celebrating the birth of Christ and to his return.

Do you remember what it was like to look forward to Christmas when you were a kid? I know I was on pins and needles. I’d mailed off my list to Santa. We’d be baking cookies, singing carols, and decorating the house. There might have been a visit to some obviously lower level Santa at the mall. The anticipation was building and . . .

. . . I was EXCITED!!

So how do I look forward to Christmas these days? Hmmmm.

There are presents to buy, decorations to put up, parties to host or attend, cards to mail, food to prepare, family to wrangle, and expectations to . . . well . . . fail to meet.

Oh, and then there’s all the church stuff. Greening the church, our ladies’ Christmas party, a Christmas program, a Christmas Eve service . . .

And somewhere in there maybe, just maybe, pausing to remember what’s actually worth looking forward to–what I really should be anticipating. In a word–Jesus.

The Christmas season is upon us. We all know how easy it is to be swept up by our to-do lists and to end up just checking off each day until suddenly, Christmas has come and gone.

This Advent season I encourage you to pause and remember that tingle of anticipation you felt when you were a kid. And then to realize that while you may not believe in Santa Claus anymore, you still have something truly wonderful to look forward to.

Merry Christmas.

 

Appalachian Thursday–Feeling Thankful

I traveled to West Virginia this week for an early Thanksgiving with my family. Having enjoyed turkey and all the trimmings there, my southern husband and I will enjoy shrimp and grits today. (And sweet potato pie–you can’t let all the traditions go!) Here are pictures of some of what and who I’m thankful for this year. How about you? What (or who) are you thankful for today?

The Reviews Are Coming In

reviewsWell, at least some reviews. And they’re pretty alright. When I write a book, I tend to think it’s really good once I’ve finished the edits and turned it over to the publisher for the last time.

Then, about a month before the book releases, I start wondering if it’s actually terrible. Or at least not up to par. I keep reminding myself Bethany House wouldn’t publish it if it weren’t at least adequate.

And then, the reviews roll in and in a world where there isn’t much feedback, they can be reassuring. So in the interest of boosting my confidence while doing a little self-promoting, here are some snippets:

  • Thomas is a master storyteller, and her latest novel does not disappoint. Readers are quickly invested in the lives of the characters as their stories unfold. Beautifully written and rich with atmosphere, The Sound of Rain is a novel readers won’t want to miss. – RT Book Reviews
  • Thomas’s easy prose, flavored with Appalachian dialect, light tone, and steady pace as the relationship between ­Larkin and Judd slowly blooms, make this an enjoyable historical romance. – Library Journal
  • Thomas delivers an enjoyable and earnest inspirational romance that examines legacy and longing.The characters are incredibly relatable as they grapple with the fear of failure and the struggle to find and hold on to love. – Booklist
  • Sarah, you outdid yourself! – My friend Joan who finished the book last week

Honestly, that last one is my favorite.

I guess maybe the book IS pretty good after all. I sure hope you think so, too.

Is There Sex in Christian Fiction?

book coverChristian fiction sometimes has a reputation for being prudish or stuffy. And I suppose it can be. But it can also be passionate, moving, and yes . . . even sexy.

This blog sees occasional spikes in traffic as posts particularly resonate with readers, but most posts fade into anonymity pretty quickly. Except for one. The 2011 post I wrote about sex in Christian fiction STILL gets hits EVERY week.

Which leads me to believe folks are interested in the subject. I was inspired to write the original post after reading a scene in Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz. Here it is:

“He took his time, his mouth moving along the damp wisps of her hairline to her ear. Breathless, she freed his hair of its leather tie till it spilled like a black waterfall onto the thin fabric of her nightshift. Oh, but she’d forgotten how sweet he could be . . . how unerringly gentle, even gallant. She felt like a bride again and shut her eyes, remembering how he’d held her that very first time, beside all that rushing water. Only now, with time against them, it was sweeter still.”

This is a passionate scene between two people who are deeply in love, who long for one another, who are . . . married. And frankly, the fact that they’re married makes this scene even sexier in my opinion.

So how do you incorporate romantic sex while still staying true to expectations for Christian fiction?

  • First, it should be appropriate. As I mentioned, the couple in Laura’s passage is married, which means sex is part of the arrangement. God designed physical intimacy to be a blessing to married couples—let’s celebrate that!
  • Second, all Frantz gives us is kissing, unbound hair, and a thin nightshift. There’s no mention of specific, sex-related body parts or acts. Instead, she hints at what’s happening and leaves readers to fill in details as they choose.
  • And finally, the scene focuses on the mind and the emotions stirred more than the physical act. “How sweet he could be . . . even gallant . . . she felt like a bride again . . . how he’d held her that very first time . . . sweeter still.” Sigh.

I don’t know about you, but I find this MUCH sexier than descriptions of body parts and the actual mechanics of the sex act. There’s nothing scandalous, nothing titillating. Nothing like the romance novels I used to sneak when I was in high school. And I vastly prefer Frantz’s love scenes to those much more explicit ones.

Is there sex in Christian fiction? Absolutely. Just like there’s sex in Christian marriages. Our jobs as writers is to work to return God’s precious gift of physical intimacy to its rightful, holy and blessed place.

And if you need inspiration, read the Song of Songs.