Friday, December 23, 2022

This Christmas, Celebrate Differently...

Friends, it’s been a challenging year for us, rife with illness and struggle, and now we’re wrapping up 2022 with a wicked bout of Covid. We’ve been sick for almost 3 weeks. To date, we’ve cancelled 8 different Christmas concerts. It’s hard to state the toll this has taken on us. 

Frankly, we’re just exhausted - vocally, physically, and emotionally.

So, we’ve decided to celebrate Christmas differently this year.

We’re keeping it simple. 

We’re choosing new priorities.

One of my favourite Christmas traditions is decorating, but the idea of getting a tree and hauling out the tinsel was just more than we could handle.

So, we did something different:

We’d like to share with you our Christmas Card Tree for 2022.

Four feet tall, doesn’t need water, and placed on a table high above the reach of our little puppy, Max.

Last week, my parents dropped by.

We pulled out curling ribbon, pinking shears, and last year’s Christmas cards

Over cups of espresso, we cut the cards into ornaments, and tied them on the tree with ribbon.

Coloured lights and our Victorian glass beads tied the whole look together.

Finally, we tucked our nativity under the tree, surrounded by my collection of angels.

In just a few hours, with a few snips of paper, our home transformed from everyday to extraordinary.

It started as a simple art project, but in the making it became so much more.

It’s covered in cards given to us by people we love.
It was created in an afternoon of laughter and family.
And it’s giving us light in our darkness - something we all need.

Friends, we know we’re not alone. It’s been a tough year for many of us.

If you’re struggling this Christmas, may we encourage you to celebrate differently:

Choose to do less.

Spend time with the people you love.

Find new ways to do things.

Spend a little extra time in prayer.

And however you choose to celebrate,
remember that whatever our personal circumstances,
the Reason for the Season never changes.

From our family to yours,
we wish you a peaceful, joy-filled & healthy Christmas!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     

Please enjoy my Dad's Christmas message:

A "Way" in a "Lodge of Broken Bark"

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Guest Post - A “Way” in a “Lodge of Broken Bark”, by Rev. Hollis Hiscock


Please welcome my Dad - Rev. Hollis Hiscock -
as today's guest blogger!

Dad is currently serving as 
Interim Priest-in-Charge at St. John's Anglican Church, Burlington.

This is his Christmas letter to the parish, and to all of us:


The above sentence brings together two of my favourite Christmas carols
with an inspiring message for our COVID-affected world:

describes the birth of Jesus in its original setting - 
in a manger in a stable in a distant country.

describes the birth of Jesus in its adopted setting -
in a lodge of broken bark in Canada.

In both carols, the lodge and the manger 
have deep spiritual symbolisms. 

The lodge and the manger signify new life and new beginnings.
God has entered humanity, responding to age old pleas to have mercy and save people from sin. 

The manger and lodge became the launching pad for Jesus and his Gospel of good news ministry. 

The lodge and manger, for the fragile baby Jesus, turned out to be His place of comfort and security from physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental assailants.

The manger and lodge were and are a gathering place for all people of every nation, age, and value system, where they can encounter unity and find a sense of purpose. 

The lodge and manger provide a source for basic needs like food, clothing, shelter, protection, companionship and much more. 

The manger and lodge - physically or figuratively - become the place in our lives to which we can return periodically to refocus, to restart, to reappraise or to be “born again”.  

This Christmas, think about the manger and the lodge
and their place and meaning in your own life.

Also, think outwardly to other lodges and mangers in God’s world where people walk or gather to be fed, find shelter, receive healing, and feel safe, and how you can respond to God’s presence in God’s world. 

Let me suggest a Christmas exercise for you to do:

form a cradle by placing one hand on top of the other.

reflect on these words:

“Come, kneel before the radiant boy, who brings you beauty, peace and joy.”
(‘Twas In The Moon Of Wintertime)

“Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask you to stay close by me forever and love me, I pray.”
(Away In A Manger)

Thirdly, repeat several times,
“Come into my heart, Lord Jesus! There is room in my life for You.”

May this Christmas bring our own lodges and mangers
into a heightened relationship with God
 and grow into new journeys and realities with other individuals in the coming year.

And on a personal note:

Helen, our family, and I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

From, Hollis

Monday, December 19, 2022

Book Review: The Premonition at Withers Farm, by Jaime Jo Wright

Well, here's a first: reading a ghost story at Christmas!
(And not a Dickens ghost story!)

Technically, this book came out in the fall, but when your copy arrives in December, whatcha gonna do?

I've already reviewed two of Jaime Jo's books - On The Cliffs Of Foxglove Manor and The Souls Of Lost Lake - and I will jump at any chance to read and review her fantastic stories!

The Premonition at Withers Farm tells the story of a Michigan farm haunted by murders, ghosts, and mystery.

In 1910, we're introduced to self-proclaimed healer, Perliett Van Hilton, and her spiritualist, seance-holding mother. When one of the Withers' daughters is murdered in her own family's corn field, the whole town in swept up in fear and mystery. Is the answer in the field or in the beyond?

In the present day, Molly and Trent Wasziak have suffered greatly in their personal lives. When they move into the Withers Farm, the young couple is forced to confront the unsolved mysteries of the past, a current murder in the present, and how their family's history ties into it all.

I'm hesitant to say much more.
This is a book that must be allowed to unfold on its own terms!

Like any great ghost story, The Premonition at Withers Farm relies on intriguing characters, a killer plot (pun not intended, but kind of perfect!), and copious amounts of tension. Jaime Jo is a Christian writer with a passion for all things Gothic, so you know it's going to get scary without getting too gory or bleak.

I am such a superfan of Jaime Jo Wright! 
Pick up a copy of The Premonition at Withers Farm,
and any other copies of her books you can find... 

Jaime Jo has a great newsletter, a really fun Facebook group, 
and lots of encouragement for writers. 
You can find out more at:

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Book Review: The Blackout Book Club, by Amy Lynn Green

For the last two weeks, we've been wiped out by Covid. It's the first time we've had it, and despite our vaccines, it's really done a number on us. 

The one perk? Lots of time for reading, 
and this book was the perfect balm for a rough few weeks.

The Blackout Book Club by Amy Lynn Green appealed to me from the start. Historical fiction, a library, letters from the front, and a secret backstory - what's not to love?

Avis Montgomery unexpectedly finds herself as a librarian in a privately owned library in small-town Maine. When the owner threatens to close the library, Avis creates a book club in an attempt to save the special place. A disparate group of men and women start to gather on Saturday mornings to read classics and favourites. As their lives weave together, they start to learn the power of story - fictional and real - to save communities and themselves. 

I loved this book! Amy's writing is beautiful, creative, and clear. I could see every person and imagine every corner of the library. Different characters lead different chapters, and each voice was perfectly clear. Amy also mixed in a few letters from the front, as well as "notes" from the book club meetings, all of which made for a fun narrative experience.

And check out this beautiful piece from Amy's Facebook page. Isn't this charming and kind?

I completely recommend getting two copies of this book - 
one for yourself and one to give as a Christmas gift.

You can learn more about Amy's books and writing at

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Book Review: Dangerous Beauty, by Melissa Koslin

Several reviewers said, "Don't pick up this book unless you have time to read it one sitting" and they weren't kidding!

Dangerous Beauty, by Melissa Koslin,
grips you from the first page. 

Liliana Vela is running for her life in the dark of night. She's in America, not her native Mexico, as a victim of human trafficking. She finds herself sneaking into a gas station, desperately in need of help, and not knowing how to ask for it. 

Meric Toledan is just stopping by the gas station for a drink, when he sees Liliana and quickly assesses the situation. The authorities arrive, but Liliana has no options for safety. They'll have to send her back to Mexico.

Until Meric makes an offer - 
he will marry Liliana to keep her in safely in America.

Okay, here's where I had to raise an eyebrow. I knew this was the premise of the book, but it all happened so quickly and all I could think was "This isn't realistic."

But it was in the moment, my friends, that I learned of a whole new literary genre: 
Marriage by Convenience.

Little did I know that this was an entire, hugely popular sub-genre of romance novels and movies! I guess that shows how few romance books I read...

Well, once I learned that this is an accepted genre (with apologies to all those who already know and love the genre!),  I was able to enjoy the story much more.

Dangerous Beauty is a fast-paced, thriller-romance that is set in the world of human trafficking. Melissa's writing is sharp, with a strong narrative pulse. She found a wonderful way to express the heaviness of the subject matter without ever slowing down the plot or exploiting the topic.

I'll definitely be looking out for more of Melissa's writing in the future!

Melissa offers a free novella to all email subscribers! You can find out more here:

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Book Review: The Clutter Fix, by Shannon Acheson

In 2020, I reviewed Home Made Lovely by Shannon Acheson, and became an instant fan! 

Shannon weaves creativity, practicality, and spirituality 
to create beautiful, comfortable living spaces. 

As an avid follower of her blog, I was super-excited when I learned she was releasing a new book in 2022!

The Clutter Fix is exactly what it sounds like - 
a practical journey for removing clutter from your home.

Anyone who has ever tried to remove or reduce clutter knows it's a challenging and often overwhelming project. 

Shannon starts with giving some some quick, focused projects. These allow you to practice decluttering, while also gaining some easy wins.

She takes time to look at the psychological and spiritual side of clutter. How does it affect our emotions? How often do we carry guilt about throwing things away? And how can we work through those feelings to achieve a calmer home?

Finally, Shannon gives us a whole-house decluttering project, complete with lists, detailed work plans, and worksheets. To top things off, she ends with a section on maintaining your clutter-free home.

I read this book in one sitting, but my plan is to return to it in January for the continuation of my own decluttering journey. Wish me luck!

You can follow Shannon's blog and learn more helpful home-tips at her beautiful site: 

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Saturday, October 01, 2022

The Sermon I Wrote But Never Spoke - GUEST POST!

Please welcome my dad, Rev. Hollis Hiscock, as today's guest blogger!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  


 I prepared my sermon on September 27, 2022  for the following Sunday, October 2nd.
I called it my pre-harvest Thanksgiving sermon because I was not going to be preaching on Canada’s National Thanksgiving Sunday (October 9th).
However, COVID intervened, and my plan was thwarted: 
I tested positive on Thursday – two days after writing my message.
So, from my quarantined cloister, I offer you this written version as you and I prepare for Thanksgiving 2022.  

I call it, “The Sermon I Wrote But Never Spoke”.

As I walked from St. John’s Church in Burlington, Ontario, towards the Parish Hall, somebody said, “They are waiting for you to say grace so people can eat at the BBQ”.

Not wanting to keep people waiting too long, I rushed upstairs and wondered what grace I should say.

In my wallet I carry three graces, two humorous in nature and the third called the World Hunger Grace.

I decided to use the third.

It is attributed to the Girl Guides, initially used in Huron Diocese in Ontario, and repeated often in multiple venues around the world by Archbishop Ted Scott, former Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Here are the words for the World Hunger Grace …

For food in a world where many walk in hunger;
For faith in a world where many walk in fear; 
For friends in a world where many walk alone; 
We give you humble thanks, O Lord.

This grace is very fitting for us as we pause and reflect on what we have and who we are as we prepare for our Thanksgiving.

This grace is very fitting in light of the Act passed in Canada’s Parliament on Jan. 31, 1957 – declaring the 2nd Monday in October as: 


This grace is very fitting as it reminds us of what Charles Dickens wrote, “We complain and gripe for 364 days every year and give thanks on one --- it should be the other way around”.

Traditionally HARVEST meant sowing the seeds in the spring and harvesting the crops in the fall, but there are many kinds of harvests in our lives.

Harvest can mean the gathering of crops, as well as the product or results of an action. It can come in the form of financial growth, creative output, or even renewed relationships. 

Think of which harvest applies in your own situation ...

The World Hunger Grace helps us to focus both on what we possess ourselves
and what we can do unto others.

Firstly, FOOD - all we need to live – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual food.

Secondly, FAITH – our value system, our belief in a loving God, our trust in one another’s righteousness.

Thirdly, FRIENDS – who walk with us faithfully, who give us assurance, guidance, compassion, confidence, and encouragement. 

The challenge of the prayer is that while giving thanks for what we have,
we are acknowledging what others do not have and then pledging ourselves to help them.

For those who WALK IN HUNGER - 
We can donate to the food drive, volunteer our services, or send a cheque to help those devasted by floods, hurricanes, fires, droughts, and other dehumanizing conditions.

While stopped at a red light, a man approached my car. As I reached out to give him money, he handed me cards for free coffee from a nearby take out. He said, “I really wasn’t asking for money.” I replied, “I really don’t want the free coffee cards, but I will take them and give them to someone who does.” I think each of us was fulfilling what the prayer is asking us to do.

For those who WALK IN FEAR –
People being bullied, discriminated against for many reasons, forced to choose between heating their homes during winter or proving food for their family, fearful of their job security or the pandemic or wars or the many other situations where people can lose hope and vision - we can be their model and inspiration, showing that that even though we are “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” (our worst possible scenario) we are not afraid because we believe in a loving God who is with us at all times, in all places and in every conceivable situation. 

For people who WALK ALONE –
Those living in our city or neighbourhood, those waiting in hospitals, those residing in their own residence or long term care facilities, those coming to church - we can be their friends by welcoming them in person, making a telephone call, sending a card or email, etc. to assure them they are not alone.

Keith decided he would walk with people who were in palliative care facilities. During his visit he would read to them their choice of books, magazines, or papers. Over many years he walked with nearly one hundred people as they walked towards eternity.

This Thanksgiving, as we give thanks for our food, faith, and friends …
let us renew our commitment to help those walking in hunger,
those walking in fear
and those walking alone.

Maybe in your personal prayers, as a grace before your meal or in some other venue,
you can pray silently or aloud or together with others …

For food in a world where many walk in hunger;
For faith in a world where many walk in fear; 
For friends in a world where many walk alone; 
We give you humble thanks, O Lord.

(The Reverend Hollis Hiscock is Interim Priest-In-Charge
at St. John’s Church, Burlington, Ontario, Canada.)

Friday, July 29, 2022

Book Review: Joanie, by Elizabeth Deveau

I always love when I can claim this bias:

I'm friends with this author!

Is there anything more thrilling (and more stressful!)
that being able to review a friend's art?

Gerald and I met Elizabeth Deveau at our first GMA Canada event in Ontario (Gospel Music Association of Canada - the folks who give out the Covenant Awards). Over the years, we've kept in touch, and followed her passionate and prolific music ministry.

Earlier this year, Elizabeth shared that she'd been working on a biography of her mother, Joan. She asked if I could read the book and provide a review.

I jumped at the chance, but yes, there is definitely added stress when you review a friend's work! I've done it a few times over the years. It's both a tremendous honour and responsibility. I know how much time and heart goes into creating art, and I never want to take that effort for granted.

Joanie tells the story of a young girl growing up in troubled times. Joan Crabb and her siblings experience a tumultuous childhood, worthy of any dramatic film script. When Joan is only 6-years-old, the children unexpectedly find themselves living in the orphanage of their home province of Nova Scotia. After several troubled years, they're adopted by a loving couple, only to be ripped away from them years later by the birth-father they barely know.

But Joanie isn't just the story of a troubled childhood.
It's the story of a life redeemed, and the deep love that can grow from a broken heart. 

Joanie is also a love letter. The book is rich with details of Joan's entire life, which must have taken countless hours to collect. As I read, I often imagined Elizabeth sitting with her mother, hearing the stories of her past, and lovingly transcribing them for the ages. 

Reading the comments on the book's Facebook page,
it's clear that Joan had a tremendous impact on her family and her community.
I know this book will be well received, and will celebrate Joan's legacy of love!

You can find out more about Joanie at 

A complimentary e-copy of this book was provided in exchange for an unbiased review.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Book Review: The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip, by Sara Brunsvold

I'll admit, the title and cover of this book 
completely pulled me in,
but what I found inside was so worth discovering:

The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip
by Sara Brunsvold
might be one of the most special books
I'll read this year.  

Aidyn Kelly is a young, ambitious reporter looking for her big break. In her enthusiasm, she steps on some toes and is relegated to the menial assignment of interviewing a dying woman and writing her obituary.

But Mrs. Kip is no ordinary woman. Behind her failing body and witty sarcasm beats the heart of spiritual warrior, carrying a story for the ages. This is a woman who's experienced grief, and learned the power of sacrificial love.

I don't want to reveal too much about this book, because I think it's one that really benefits from its own gentle reveal. Like last year's The Nature of Small Birds, it's a book that's driven by character, story, moments, and relationships.

In sharing Mrs. Kip's fictional story, we also delve into a piece of real history. Again, I love the power of historical fiction to shine light on the hidden and lost stories of our past. Strangely enough, it's a story that is still current today.

I highly recommend The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip!

I think it would be a particularly lovely selection for a book club,
especially one open to faith-based discussions.

And, look at all the neat bonus opportunities that come with this book:

Baker Book House is offering a FREE ONLINE AUTHOR'S NIGHT with Sara this Thursday!

You can sign up here:

UPDATE: The video for this event is now on the Baker Book House Facebook page.

Signing up for Sara's newsletter gets you some free gifts,
and she even has a neat trailer for the book. 

You can find out more at: 

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Book Review: When The Day Comes, by Gabrielle Meyer

This is going to be a different kind of review for me.
I've got a bit of a hot take on this book, 
and I've genuinely struggled with how to write this.
Okay, here we go...

When The Day Comes by Gabrielle Meyer 
is a fun blend of historical fiction, romance, 
and time travel science fiction.

Libby is a "time crosser." She was born on the same day in two completely separate locations and eras. From birth til her 21st birthday, she exists in both 1774 Colonial Williamsburg and 1914 Gilded Age New York City. When she falls asleep in one life, she wakes up in the other without any time passing. When she reaches 21, she can choose one path for the rest of her life, but choosing one means forfeiting the other path forever. 

There is so much that I love about this book! The story is so creative, and Libby is a wonderful heroine and guide to the novel's unique world. I loved all the characters, settings, and relationships. 

I haven't read much about Colonial Williamsburg, so that was a really fun journey. That said, I know a fair bit about the Gilded Age New York, and that felt both familiar and exciting.

The storyline kept me guessing with some really smart twists, and the ending was beautifully written.

But here's my struggle, and full warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Seriously - if you haven't read the book - STOP NOW!!!

Also, full disclosure, we're about to discuss some difficult trigger topics.

(Whew, dramatic!)

Warnings done. Here we go...

I would love to wholeheartedly recommend this book, save for one important matter. In her Gilded Age life, Libby is forced into an arranged marriage (not uncommon for the era and her status). Libby is raped not once, but twice by her new husband. They have no incidents of consensual intercourse in their marriage. The second rape results in a pregnancy. 

I'm not offended by the subject of marital rape in a novel. What offends me is how it's handled.

In the historical context, marital rape was legal. In the novel, her husband blames his "bad behaviour" on drunkenness, which historically, would also have been accepted as an excuse.

I always want my historical fiction to be in a proper historical context, but here's where I struggled:

First, as her husband writes her "kind" letters, we see Libby second-guessing her own feelings about the rape and her future with this man. At one point, she actually asks "Reggie's letter made me wonder if he would be a good father. Could we find a way to move part the tragic way our marriage started?" Again, she's asking this about her two-time rapist. In other sections, Scripture is used in a disturbing way to justify her choices.

Second, it's hard to stomach this thinking within the context of the novel because of Libby's mom. Also a time crosser, she spent the first part of her life living in 1990's America. This shapes her as a parent, and there are many references to Libby being raised with modern, feminist values. Why on earth would she never say to her daughter, "This is wrong. In the future, it'll be illegal, but you can still make different choices now."

I've read several discussions about this book online.
Some people don't seemed phased by the rapes or Libby's reaction.
Others hated the plot choice entirely. 

I guess the good thing is that it's encouraging dialogue about a difficult topic,
and that's the sign of good art.

But because of the way it's handled, I just can't recommend the book.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Book Review: The Master Craftsman, by Kelli Stuart

Historical fiction, Faberge Eggs, and a treasure hunt?

Sign me up!

With that description, I was so excited to receive my copy of
The Master Craftsman
by Kelli Stuart. 

The Master Craftsman features a smart interweaving of historical and modern timelines that's popular in historical novels right now.

The historical side of our tale bring us to Russia in the early 1900's. Karl Faberge is at the peak of his success, crafting his iconic Faberge Eggs for the Tsar of Russia. 

We meet Alma Pihl. In real life, Alma was first woman to become a "Master Craftsman" in the Faberge studio. She started as an apprentice, graduated to making jewellery, and eventually designed two of the Faberge Eggs. I've included a photo of my favourite design on this page.

Real life Alma Pihl. SOURCE
If you have any interest in the Faberge Eggs at all, you'll want to keep Google close at hand while reading this book! Kelli describes each egg beautifully, but to truly appreciate their exquisite creativity, you'll want to see photos. 

Even though Karl Faberge is at the peak of his success, Russia is changing swiftly. Our timeline takes us through rebellion and political upheaval in the streets of St. Petersburg. In a moment of crisis and desperation, Karl entrusts Alma with his most precious creation - a final, secret Faberge Egg.

Decades later, treasure hunter, Nick Laine has become obsessed with the mysterious egg. As he faces his final days with cancer, he reaches out to his estranged daughter, Ava, to help him find the missing piece of Faberge history.

Alma's "The Mosaic Egg and Surprise" SOURCE
I don't always read other people's reviews before reading my own, but for some reason I did with this one. It was curious reading the other responses. Some people loved the historical storyline, and dismissed the modern one as far-fetched. Others found the historical parts were filled with too much description, but loved the fast-paced treasure hunt.

The two storylines are very different, but to me, those differences are part of the strength of the novel. As a creator myself, I really loved all the details of the eggs, the jewellery, and the studio. The historical chapters felt rich and full. In contrast, the treasure hunt was fast paced, with the right amount of heightened drama and humour.

I really enjoyed The Master Craftsman,
and I can't wait to read more of Kelli's beautiful books!

You can find out more about Kelli and her writing at 

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Book Review: The Souls of Lost Lake, by Jaime Jo Wright

If you've been looking for your next spooky summer read, I've got it right here!

I was first introduced to the writing of Jaime Jo Wright last year when I reviewed On The Cliffs of Foxglove Manor 

I was completely shocked to find out there was such a thing as a Christian Fiction author who loved mysteries, ghost stories, and all things Gothic.

Having a Christian writer compose stories about fear and death might seem antithetical to some people, but you know, as Christians, we have a unique relationship to fear and death. At the end of this review, I've included a screenshot from Jaime Jo's spring newsletter that sums up her approach to writing in a really beautiful way.

Jaime Jo is an exquisite writer and an incredible storyteller,
so I was completely excited to receive a copy of her latest tale: 
The Souls of Lost Lake

Our story spans two time periods, with both set in the Northwoods, surrounding infamous Lost Lake.

Ava Coons is but a child in 1920 when she appears in town, covered in blood. Her recluse family is missing, presumed dead. When we meet Ava as a young woman, she is still haunted by the mysterious ghosts of unsolved murders and missing memories.

Wren Blythe, our modern day heroine, has loved growing up on the campgrounds of the Northwoods. But when a little girl goes missing, past and present collide to stir up campfire stories and rumours. Is a still-vengeful Ava Coons roaming the woods? Where is the missing girl, and why does Wren's name start to appear in creepy places?

The only way to read a campfire ghost story...
Honestly, I couldn't put this down! It's scary enough to be fun, but not so dark as to delve into horror. 

(That said, I'm easily scared, so when I read this at night, I made sure I had a funny story to read right before falling asleep!)

Jaime Jo's writing is truly beautiful, delving into near-poetry at times. Each timeline was distinct, capturing the unique flavour and behaviours of the day. And the characters and storyline were fantastic! I hate being able to see the ending, and this kept me guessing til the final twist.

I highly recommend The Souls of Lost Lake for your summer read!

Jaime Jo has a great newsletter, a fun Facebook community, podcasts,
and lots of great mentoring tools for writers. 

You can find her online at

Screenshot from Jaime Jo's most recent newsletter.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

A Queen, a Priest, and a Ghost Walk Into a Church ... - GUEST POST!


Please welcome my dad, Rev. Hollis Hiscock, as today's guest blogger!

This post is inspired by his Pentecost sermon. You can watch it live HERE.


Screenshot of Rev. Hollis Hiscock in action...

A Queen, a Priest and a Ghost walk into a church on a Sunday morning ...

 I know you're waiting for the punchline.

Today, the message of the homily is the punchline:

The Queen is Elizabeth …. The Priest is Hollis … the Ghost is Holy.

How are they connected with Pentecost?
 And what is their message to us in the year 2022?

The three go to the front of the church and take turns speaking ...


Queen Elizabeth goes to a table, picks up a plate, and shows it to the people sitting in the church. The plate is a souvenir of her coronation which happened on June 2, 1953.

She explains that she wants to take people back to the previous year. In 1952, when she gave her first Christmas message as Queen, she asked people that “whatever your religion may be, (I ask you) to pray for me on that day (her coronation)—to pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.”

After all the ups and downs in the ensuing 68 years as Queen, in her 2020 Christmas message, she spoke about the festive mood created by Christmas lights - how lights bring hope, and how Jesus Christ is “the light of the world”.

She went on to say that “the teachings of Christ have served as my inner light”, and that we should “let the light of Christmas, the spirit of selflessness, love, and above all hope, guide us in the times ahead”.


After the Queen sits down, the Priest picks up a Bible and shows it to the people.

He says it was given to him on June 13, 1965, when he was ordained to “the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God”. He explains why it looks rather unused: the King James Bible was the only version available for hundreds of years, but after 1965 there was an explosion of Bible translations. Today, portions of the Bible are available in nearly 3,500 languages.

Like the Queen, he wants to take people back to the winter of 1964: "Four of us were preparing to be ordained. We met for 2-3 hours with the Archdeacon, and I was so upset after the meeting that I went back to my room and documented my feelings." 

He shows a letter outlining why he was upset, disillusioned, and wondering if he wanted to be a Priest, after he observed the behaviour and heard the words of the Church authorities. 

After struggling through questions, like “do I preach the Gospel of Jesus or be restricted by the whims of fallible beings?” and “whom do we serve - God or church hierarchy?”, he concluded that “my firm conviction in God kept my hopes for the ordination to the Priesthood alive”.

“I have carried the copy with me ever since and when things were not going well for me in my ministry work, I reread it for guidance. My firm conviction in God kept me going”.

Hollis goes on to share:

In 2004, on my 40th anniversary of ordination, I said in a sermon, “I am still sane and have kept my faith in God”.

On my 50th anniversary, I wrote, “God is still around and promises to meet us - at all times, in all places and under all circumstances”.


When the Priest sits down, the Holy Ghost picks up a red candle, and says:

“I was there at the first Pentecost” (Acts 2:1-21).

The followers of Jesus were a sorry lot. After waiting for 40 days (not really knowing why) they were disillusioned, bored, complaining, and ready to give it all up.

But when God’s mighty wind entered the house, they opened their eyes, and when they felt God’s 'tongues of fire' touching their heads they stood up, and when they were 'filled with the Holy Ghost' they were ready to act … and they did.

First, they told the people nearby about God’s love. 

Then, they spread it across countries and down through the ages. 

One day, God’s spirit touched you and you began to follow God. I was there then and with you ever since, like I was with the Queen and the Priest." 

This brings us to today, a time to renew our faith in God:

 - Light a candle or visualize a lighted candle in your church.

- Feel God’s spirit waking or renewing your faith.

- Feel God’s fire bringing new life and energy to you.

- Feel yourself being filled with God’s spirit.

- Remember the Queen’s words, “Jesus is the light of the world”.

- Remember the Priest’s words, “wherever we go, God is there waiting for us”.

- Remember God’s (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) promise, “I am with you always”.

- Repeat, repeat, repeat...

Happy Pentecost!
May God's light shine brightly in your heart, today and always...

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     

Want even more Pentecost inspiration?

Please enjoy our first episode of Breaking Light Broadcasting:

Pentecost - A Musical Celebration

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Book Review: "God, Take Action", by Janis Cox


There's something so special about combining prayer and worship with visual art. I love attending a worship service where someone paints during the music, or reading a book of prayers with beautiful artwork.

That's why I was so excited when Janis Cox asked me to review her latest book:

"God, Take Action"
- Visual Inspirations for Prayer

In full disclosure, I don't know Janis personally, but we've "met" through InScribe Christian Writers' Fellowship. She's an incredibly prolific writer and creator based out of Ontario.

"God, Take Action" was inspired by a 30-day Facebook prayer challenge. On the second to last day of the study, Janis was inspired to pick up her paint brush and add art to her prayer journey. One month later, Janis joined International Justice Mission Canada in a fundraising effort that also involved praying and painting. From this 2-month journey, "God, Take Action" was born.

Along the way, Janis also partnered with The Joy Smith Foundation in fighting human trafficking.
This extraordinary group has endorsed "God, Take Action." 

The format of the book is simple: Each of the 30 entries opens with one of Janis's bright and inspiring paintings. Next, we're given a verse of Scripture, followed by a prayer. Finally, we're given a "prayer focus" for our own private prayer time. The book itself ends with a helpful list of resources.

The prayers could be for anyone who is suffering, but Janis's heart for those who are trafficked and abused comes through in every line. More than once, I was reminded of the classic prayer, "Break my heart for what breaks Yours." In her generosity, Janis asks us to pray for people on all sides of the abuse spectrum, including vulnerable children, fragile families, and women in shelters, without every forgetting the more complex prayers for churches, perpetrators, and those in law enforcement. 

"God, Take Action" has such a heart for the vulnerable in our world! I can see this being a powerful, personal devotional for any season of the year. Likewise, its entries are brief enough that they could be used as the opening prayers in your weekly small group meeting. 

I read this as an e-book, but for those of us who like to make art ourselves, stay tuned:
Janis is also creating a colouring book of the same title!

Please check out all of Janis's beautiful creations at:

Screenshot from Janis's website.

This book was provided to me in exchange for an unbiased review. 

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Book Review: Until Leaves Fall In Paris, by Sarah Sundin

Paris in WWII seems to be an obsession with so many authors!

And it's easy to see why:
one of the most romanticized cities in the world, under siege. 

Art, war, romance, danger -
the dramatic possibilities are endless!

Until Leaves Fall In Paris opens in the rehearsal room for the Paris Opera Ballet - yes, the same one made famous by both the paintings of Degas and the novel and musical, The Phantom of the Opera.

On the cusp of the Nazi invasion of Paris, American ballerina Lucie Girard leaves the stage to buy and run her favourite bookstore, thus allowing her Jewish friends to escape Paris. 

American car manufacturer and recent widower, Paul Aubrey, wants to escape Paris, too, but the US Army convinces him to stay in business and feed them information about his German customers.

Each, in their own way, starts to find their path in the Resistance.

War is a time for secrets, so when Paul and Lucie meet, they don't know what to make of each other. But there's a connection they can't resist. And that's where our story starts to unfold...

As I mentioned off the top, there's a lot of competition for Paris-in-WWII books these days! Until Leaves Fall In Paris is a completely lovely book. Where it falls on the spectrum of similar novels will depend on your personal literary preferences. It's not as dangerous as some of the other books I've read about this era, but that might make it the perfect book for you!

Some of Sarah's writing is truly beautiful, and I especially found myself loving and underlining the passages about the dark and light green leaves (trust me, you'll know that part when you get to it!)

My favourite scenes involved the comings and goings at the bookstore. As I was reading it, something felt very familiar. Then, I read Sarah's wonderful note at the end of the book, where she recognizes the "real life" characters in the novel.

Lucie and the bookstore are inspired by real-life bookstore owner, Sylvia Beach and the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. Sylvia is a "character" in Ernest Hemingway's beautiful Parisian memoir: A Moveable Feast! I love it when books I've read overlap!

Until Leaves Falls In Paris also comes with a set of Discussion Questions, as well as a preview chapter of Sarah's upcoming novel.

Sarah's website has lots of great info about WWII,
including a special collection of blogposts when you sign up for her mailing list.

Screenshot from Sarah's website

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Book Review: Shaped by the Waves, by Christina Suzann Nelson

Is anyone else a sucker for books set by the sea?

As a girl who grew up by the ocean,
I was captured by the title of Shaped by the Waves,
and hooked from the first chapter.

Cassie is a young single mom, struggling to complete her doctorate, raise her energetic little girl, Lark, and, quite frankly, find a way to leave her broken past. She left her small seaside town in Oregon for a fresh start in California, but a single phone changes everything. Shasta, the aunt who raised her, is facing a desperate health crisis, and Cassie realizes it's time to go home and face her past.

Cassie arrives home and begins to care for Shasta, but before long, a mysterious package arrives. It's filled with anonymously written pages telling the story of a woman's life, marriage, and child. But who sent it? And what does this have to do with Cassie?

When I first started Shaped by the Waves, I assumed it would be a straightforward telling of "There's no place like home", but the anonymously written confession really takes this story in a whole new direction. I found myself completely sucked in by the woman's story, the mystery of who sent it, and how it all tied into the main storyline.

There's so much to love about this book! The characters and setting are all beautifully fleshed out, with relationships that are both realistic and inspirational. The issue of faith is treated with a delicate hand - present, but never preachy. 

Oh, it's so clear that Christina Suzann Nelson looooves coffee! One of the central settings is the family cafe. The descriptions of making, smelling, and tasting cappuccinos and lattes sent me downstairs to my own machine more than once! And let me tell you, if I ever discover Christina actually hates coffee, I'll be even more impressed with her writing skills! 

With summer coming up, Shaped by the Waves 
will be a great addition to your seaside reading list!

You can learn more about Christina's books, blog, and social media at 

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Book Review: Sheltering Mercy, by Ryan Whitaker Smith & Dan Wilt

It's rare for me to review a book before I've finished reading it,
but this is not a book to be rushed.

Sheltering Mercy: Prayers Inspired By The Psalms
is something special, something unique.

I met Dan Wilt many years ago when he taught worship leading workshops at Break Forth in Edmonton. I was impressed by his leadership skills, but also by his true heart for ministry.

Sheltering Mercy is a collection of "prayerful responses" to the psalms. 

They're prayers that read like poetry.
Poetry that feel like psalms.

It's a bit hard to describe the experience of this book. It starts with the physical presentation - a solid hardcover book with a classic, tactile cover. Open the pages to discover gracefully laid out text, interspersed with woodcut-style images. 

Each of the 75 prayers was inspired by one of the first 75 psalms. They're numbered, and also have Scripture references, but don't expect new translations of each psalm. These are like improvisations, starting from a key verse, and branching out into new words, new cries, new praises. The writing is lyrical, with gorgeous turns of phrase and poetic images.

I've taken to reading a prayer a day, before I begin my own writing practice. I know some readers who are using it as their Lenten devotional. Others are reading the psalm from the Bible, followed by the prayer from the book. One reader said that, inspired by the artwork, she's using her pencil crayons to doodle, colour, and journal as she reads. 

However you enjoy Sheltering Mercy, it will be a blessing to your devotional life!

This beautiful video gives you the prayer inspired by Psalm 1, 
read by Dan Wilt, with music by Michael W. Smith. 

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Guest Post: Getting UltraReal by Martha Tartanic

Welcome to a very special Goal Setting Fridays!!!

Today, I'm excited to introduce you to 
my dear friend

Be sure to read her fabulous bio at the end of this post,
and I also invite you to check out the
Book Review I wrote of her first book
- The Living Diet -

Please welcome Martha,
and enjoy her inspiring post!


By Martha Tatarnic

I am not naturally athletic.  I’m the kid who was picked last for every sports team in gym class growing up.  One of the happiest days of my high school career was when I graduated Grade 9 gym and never had to struggle through another class being graded on various forms of hand-eye coordination, running, jumping and throwing.

Nobody has been more surprised than I to find myself as a runner in my adult life.  Running has now been a consistent part of my life for the better part of two decades, and I have embraced long distance running in the last ten years.  In 2021, I trained for and ran my first marathon.  I enjoyed it so much that I’m training for another one now.  

Running is stress relief, it is prayer. 
It is the space I need in order to be able to reflect, rather than just react,
to the circumstances of my life.  
When I make room for running,
I seem to have room for all of the other family, church, work,
community commitments that I also have on my plate.

I know all of these things about running.  I know why I do it and why I love it.  And still, every time that I go out, putting foot to pavement, I can feel my mind rebel against the exercise.  Sometimes, when I am pushing myself to be faster or to run longer, my body starts to rebel too.  But mostly - and this sounds somewhat counter-intuitive - running is a mind game.  

Training for a marathon involves a regimented schedule for slowly building up my weekly mileage, as well as inching my long-run mileage closer and closer to the 42km mark needed to complete a marathon.  Each day that I head out to tackle my planned mileage, I have to fight the monkey on my shoulder nattering in my ear about the cramping I am sure I can feel in my side, the impossibility of the miles stretching out in front of me, the labour of breathing that already threatens to derail my plans, and the sure and certain feeling that I have to pee, even though I went just before leaving the house.  I worry that it’s too hot or too cold or too windy or too slippery; I don’t believe that I can complete the assignment in front of me.

Ultrarealism* is a powerful technique from the realm of endurance sports,
and it has been a game changer for me - as a runner, and also as a person. 

It is the practice of seeing, accepting, and embracing the actual circumstances in which you find yourself.
It is about responding to the moment in front of you rather than the moment you worry might be coming
or which circumstances you wished were different. 

When people talk about positive thinking, I instantly lose interest.
Ultrarealism, however, isn’t about training the mind
to squeeze reality through the frames of any sort of rose coloured glasses.
It’s about getting real. 

It is easy as a runner to expend large amounts of energy and anxiety worrying about what might happen or wishing that things could be different from what they are when you have twenty, thirty or forty kilometers stretch in front of you. If we instead train our minds to focus on what is actually happening and how we really feel, then a new sort of freedom opens up. 

I might get freaked out about how my breathing is uneven. I might feel despair about the spitting rain outside and how slowly the first kilometer seems to have gone when I still have twenty-nine to go. But while these things about breathing and rain and mileage might be true, I can choose to note that my leg muscles feel strong, the rain is refreshing, and I have the great privilege of being able to run. I am not just not dying; I am not just safe and okay. I am running and it feels good. 

“I’m doing it!” my friend Sarah uses as her power statement. It’s an ultrareal power statement. It’s not the power of positive thinking. It’s a statement of fact. For all of the worry or uncertainty or reluctance that we might feel about putting on our shoes and tackling some mileage, here we actually can find ourselves - out running. We are out here. And we are doing this.

The benefits of ultrarealism don’t just apply to running.  

Instant gratification is easy to come by, but a lot of what makes life worth living requires a measure of patience and openness to stick it out past beginnings that aren’t comfortable or fun.  Whether you want to learn a new skill, take on a creative project, meet your professional goals, improve as an athlete, or even just increase your capacity for prayer, the practice of getting ultrareal can provide perspective that can allow you to overcome the challenges of your own mind convincing you that you can’t do a certain thing.

Ultrarealism is like the famous serenity prayer: 

God grant me the courage to change the things that I can,
the serenity to accept the things I can’t,
and the wisdom to know the difference. 

There is much about the circumstances of a run - not to mention the circumstances of my life, and all of the other challenges that I take on - that I can’t change or control, and within all that isn’t shaped and dictated by me is the choice to keep one foot going in front of the other. 

Somewhere in the letting go and the choosing anyway is a wild and surprising joy.

MARTHA TATARNIC - Author. Priest. Runner.

Martha’s second book - Why Gather? The Hope and Promise of the Church - will be published this June. She has also authored The Living Diet:  A Christian Journey to Joyful Eating, an exploration of our relationship with food and our body through a Christian perspective. She is the lead priest of a thriving downtown Anglican church in St. Catharines Ontario, St. George’s. She writes a regular blog for the Anglican Church of Canada, which can be found at  Details on writing, speaking engagements and her author’s journey can be found at

* Matt Fitzgerald coins this term “ultrarealism” in his book, The Comeback Quotient, 2020, as a mental fitness technique which he applies particularly to endurance sports. I (Martha) adapt his definition slightly in applying it to my life.