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TunnelToTower

2012-2013 Show Choir Mobile – Tunnel to Tower Run

There was this kid I met through Show Choir Mobile.

Nearly two years ago, we—the Mobile County high school choral directors—held auditions for a show designed to showcase the music and dance of Michael Jackson. I don’t know how many kids showed up at Theodore High School that day, but I’d guess thirty-five or forty, and as you might suppose, the balance was overwhelmingly female. To put it bluntly, we needed to keep as many boys as possible.

Most of the kids knew the music fairly well, but when Angie Dussouy, the dance instructor from Davidson High School, taught the whole group a rigorous five-minute routine, the sheep separated from the goats. I have a priceless video documenting skinned knees, copious sweat, ruddy faces, and laughter. The urban kids fared the best, but let’s just say the pale-faced country boys from Theodore and Semmes didn’t have quite the groove we were looking for.

MJRehearsal

Early Michael Jackson rehearsal – Brady rocking the back row

But we needed boys. Boys who could sing.

And Brady Hoffman, a tenth-grader from Mary G. Montgomery High School could sing. He was well over six feet tall, with shoulders like a linebacker, size 14 shoes (both apparently left-footed), Nordic blue eyes and blond hair—and a well-trained baritone with massive range.

Meeting after the audition to set the choir roster, we directors all looked at each other. “Maybe we can put Brady on the back row and nobody will notice he can’t dance,” somebody said hopefully. But Angie laughed. “Come on, I can teach anybody to dance.”

Thriller2

Rehearsing Thriller – Brady in turquoise on the back

As it turned out, she apparently can. All twenty-five kids we chose for the choir threw themselves heart and soul into polishing the music and learning those signature liquid, spine-jolting MJ moves. Brady worked harder than anybody, often spending his break times practicing those complex dance combinations, learning to control his big, awkward adolescent body—until by the night of the opening performance he was, if not front-row quality, at least not a major distraction.

Word got around quickly how spectacular the show was, and the choir was invited to perform for several community events. By the end of the 2012-2013 season, Brady blended in seamlessly, and had become an integral part of a truly heart-knit, multicultural group of gifted teenagers. And he had gained enough confidence to become a leader in the 2013-2014 choir.

MJPubShot

MJ Tribute Publicity Shot – Brady far left in red hat

HealTheWorld

Singing “Heal the World” – Brady in red, center front

One of my favorite memories is the day he sheepishly brought me his red silk shirt, one of the costumes for the Michael Jackson show, with the under-arm seam torn apart. When we’d ordered the shirts, the biggest size available was extra-large—still about two sizes too small for Brady’s huge shoulders. So we ordered two shirts for him, and I took them home, cut them up and pieced them back together as one shirt, praying the seams would hold together under the stress of all that energetic choreography. I only had to sew it back together that one time, which is pretty miraculous.

SmokinWeed

Rehearsal for Dance Through the Decades – Brady (in yellow) pretends to smoke weed in a 70’s disco

FrontRow

Finally Front Row

AllTheGold

“All the Gold In California” solo – in 80’s attire

I came to love Brady for his relentless optimism. Like most innately musical kids, he sang twenty-four hours a day—undoubtedly even in his sleep. He hated for anybody around him to be sad or lonely. He would seek out anybody sitting alone and bring them into the group, or just strike up a teasing conversation. For any stressful or potentially negative situation (such as being late for rehearsal), he found an appropriate—or inappropriate, as the case may be—song for the occasion. If he was feeling emotional, he would start praise-and-worship sing-alongs, drawing other kids in and settling nerves. All that over-the-top energy could be exhausting—or even frequently annoying—but you couldn’t be irritated with him for long without laughing at his nonsense and appreciating his sincere devotion to God.

So when all this young, boundless joy and potential is wiped off the earth in the blink of an eye, the natural question is why. If I were God, I would have left him here to have a long, fruitful life. I would have sent an angel to shove aside the car that killed him. I would have allowed one of those miraculous interventions that sometimes happen, so that Brady could walk through life with a powerful testimony of God’s goodness. I would spare his parents the ache of missing an only son and his young friends their bewildered sorrow.

CrackerBarrelAllState

All-State Choral Festival 2013 – Brady thoroughly enjoying Cracker Barrel with his choir-boy (and girl) buddies.

But I am not all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful. I cannot see the fruit that will come from a memorial service where more than fifty individuals committed themselves to Brady’s Savior and Lord. I can’t imagine the impact that short life will have in ten public high schools spread across a sprawling south Alabama county. I can’t predict how the very loss of that beautiful, contagious faith-walk will exponentially multiply in spiritual life, as a seed, dead and planted in the ground, becomes a harvest to feed nations.

Is it possible to hate the action of an unseen God because it hurts me personally, yet acknowledge its ultimate goodness?

I know it is. Because that’s what it means to be made in God’s image. To be human is to experience and relish all kinds of music—the exultant, the comic, the quiet, the angry, the patriotic, the blood-pumping rhythmic. We are made to be filled by God’s Spirit, and when we submit to and fully embrace his Son, as Brady Hoffman did, there is indeed fullness of joy—such that even in death, lives are changed for good.

Brady’s song. A song that celebrates, even in grief. A song that unites and invites. That’s a song worth singing.

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A Promise Kept cover

I would like to introduce my readers to a new book by my dear friend Robin Lee Hatcher. The only reason I haven’t read it yet is because it will release in a couple of days! Robin has been one of the most influential authors of my life, both personally and professionally. She has mentored and taught me (often without being aware) and many, many other Christian writers—and she has produced some truly groundbreaking novels in the Christian fiction marketplace. I’ll never forget reading The Forgiving Hour, early in my own publishing career. (Go. Get. That. Book.)

After, that is, you’ve read this new one! Personally, I can’t wait! And tomorrow I will post an interview with Robin about A Promise Kept.

A promise from God is a promise kept

Robin Lee Hatcher draws on her own personal pain to illustrate God’s goodness.

When Robin Lee Hatcher’s marriage ended in divorce, she was devastated.I’d been so convinced God had promised me that He would save our marriage,” the author says, but she quickly learned that sometimes God answers prayer in the most unexpected ways. In the following years, God used the pain of what appeared to be a failed marriage to draw her closer to Him. In A Promise Kept (Thomas Nelson/January 7, 2014/ISBN: 978-1401687656/$15.99) Hatcher draws on that personal pain to craft a story about a woman married to an alcoholic, a woman who has to learn the value and importance of surrendering everything to the Lord.

 

 

Despite the similarities to her own life, Hatcher notes, “Allison’s life is not the same as mine. I didn’t retreat to a mountain cabin nor have an aunt whose journals helped me discover truths I needed to know, nor did I withdraw from God during the depths of my grief as Allison does. But every lesson God teaches me eventually makes its way into one of my stories. That was certainly true of A Promise Kept.”

 

 

In A Promise Kept, Allison finds herself divorced despite her long-held belief that God would save her marriage. She’s left asking, “What became of God’s promise?” Tony Kavanagh had been Allison’s dream-come-true. They were in love within days, engaged within weeks, then married and pregnant within a year. Her cup bubbled over with joy . . . but years later, that joy had been extinguished by unexpected trials.

 

 

The day Allison issued her husband an ultimatum to get and stay sober or leave, she thought it might save their marriage. She never expected he would actually choose to walk out the door. She was certain God had promised to heal; it was clear she’d misunderstood. Now, living in the quiet mountain cabin she inherited from her single, self-reliant great aunt Emma, Allison must come to terms with her grief and figure out how to adapt to small-town life. But when she finds a wedding dress and a collection of journals in Emma’s attic, a portrait of her aunt emerges that takes Allison completely by surprise: a portrait of a heartbroken woman surprisingly like herself.

 

 

As Allison reads the incredible story of Emma’s life in the 1920s and 1930s, she is forced to ask a difficult question: Has she really surrendered every piece of her life to the Lord?

 

 

Drawing from her own heart-wrenching story of redemption and eventual reconciliation with her husband, A Promise Kept is Hatcher’s emotionally charged thanksgiving to a God who keeps His promises. “I hope readers will be encouraged to keep walking forward,” Hatcher says. “I hope, if they are in a troubled marriage, that they will seek God with their whole hearts and not act out of selfishness but out of obedience. I hope reading A Promise Kept will deepen their faith in a God who answers prayers, in His own way and His own time.”

 

Robin Lee Hatcher will be hosting a Facebook party on Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 8:00 PM EST to chat with readers about A Promise Kept, give away copies of the book and reveal the grand prize winner of a social media giveaway. More details will be available on her Facebook page.

 

Advance Praise

 

“A beautiful, heart-touching story of God’s amazing grace, and how He can restore and make new that which was lost.”

 

~  Francine Rivers, New York Times bestselling author

 

 

“Hatcher’s beautifully crafted tale alternates between the past and the present. Allison and Emma are incredibly relatable characters, and readers are able to examine their own lives through the mirror of the novel’s events. Filled with family and faith, the author’s phrasing is exquisite and a treat to savor.”

 

~ RT Book Reviews Top Pick

 

 

“Hatcher departs from her more recent historical novels for this contemporary exploration of the conundrum faced by believers when they accept God’s word but can’t see it being manifested in their lives. Seeking refuge from the pain of her recent divorce, Allison Kavanagh moves to the remote mountain cabin in Idaho, bequeathed to her by beloved Aunt Emma… With the help of family and newfound church community, Allison reconsiders the trajectory of her marriage, and gradually works through her spiritual and emotional turmoil. The mountain setting is as appealing an aspect of this upbeat, well-paced novel as Allison, Emma, and their family and friends.”

 

~ Publisher’s Weekly

 

“Award-winning Hatcher’s latest is a story of love, heartbreak, and redemption… Hatcher’s inspirational novel dramatizes the perception that even when it seems like you’re alone, you are always a part of a greater plan.”

 

~ Booklist 

 

About the author

 

 

robinLeeBest-selling novelist Robin Lee Hatcher is known for her heartwarming and emotionally charged stories of faith, courage, and love. She discovered her vocation after many years of reading everything she could put her hands on, including the backs of cereal boxes and ketchup bottles. Winner of the Christy, the RITA, the Carol, the Inspirational Reader’s Choice, and many other awards, Hatcher is also a recipient of the prestigious RWA Lifetime Achievement Award. She is the author of 70 novels and novellas with more than five million copies in print.

 

 

Hatcher’s own experience being married to an alcoholic led her down an unexpected path. Her divorce, though painful, strengthened her faith and gave God the opportunity to save not only her husband but her marriage as well. Their reconciliation became the answer to prayer Hatcher had been waiting for and it became part of the deeply personal story she wanted to share with her readers in A Promise Kept.

 

 

Hatcher enjoys being with her family, spending time in the beautiful Idaho outdoors, reading books that make her cry, and watching romantic movies. Her main hobby (when time allows) is knitting, and she has a special love for making prayer shawls. A mother and grandmother, Robin and her husband, Jerry, make their home on the outskirts of Boise, sharing it with Poppet, the high-maintenance Papillon and Princess Pinky, the DC (demon cat).

 

 

For more information about Hatcher and her books, visit her online home at www.robinleehatcher.com, become a fan on Facebook (robinleehatcher) or follow her on Twitter (@robinleehatcher). 

 

 

 

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In High Places by Tom Morrisey

I hardly ever write book reviews anymore, particularly for books I haven’t yet read. For one thing, this blog is not about sales and promotion, except incidentally as the subject arises. But today I received notice that a good friend of mine, Tom Morrisey, has a book being offered FREE in electronic form for the next few days, in time for Fathers Day. I have already downloaded In High Places and plan to gift it to my son, who is an avid reader. (Aside: I have read and enjoyed other books by Tom.)

My first connection with Tom was through one of our mutual publishers. We met at an author retreat in Grand Rapids a few years ago, where we had a chance to encourage one another in writing and family and ministry. I discovered Tom to be funny, warm, adventurous and a knock-your-socks-off writer. In fact, he’s so good that the Disney corporation hired him to be their on-site “writing guru.” He currently suffers for Jesus in Micky World, Florida!

In High Places is a Christy Award finalist about the journey a father and son each take to deal with their loss in their own way. I hope you’ll take advantage of this great offer as an introduction to a wonderful author.

Here are the URLs:

Kindle

Nook

Kobo

iBook: Available through the app or the iTunes Store

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The young people in the cover photo with this blog entry are more dear to me than I can say. Six of them are seniors, and my eyes instantly sting when I think about their upcoming graduation. The ten or so missing from the photo—due to scheduling conflicts, family emergencies, and disciplinary issues—are equally part of my heart. The stories I could tell, the lessons I have learned, would fill up an entire year’s worth of Glee episodes. The old maxim that “the more you put into something, the more you get out of it” has become a cliche for a reason. It’s true.

And, as I noted a few months ago in another blog, the more you invest in another person’s life, the more joy and pride explodes when things go well. And the more it hurts when disappointment or separation ruptures the relationship.

Multiply that by forty.

To the right are four of my brightest and best. We had been invited to sing the National Anthem for the Opening Ceremonies of the Mobile Special Olympics. So last week on a cool, perfect spring morning we loaded my little Honda and drove to the  “prep school” side of town. Of course the students were thrilled to be released from classes. But more than that, I saw a blossoming of generosity and humility as they understood they were giving to students less physically and mentally blessed than themselves. I wish I’d had my camera ready to capture the expressions of awe when the four of them looked up as the Coast Guard planes zoomed overhead while they sang “o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Truly a grand moment.

A few days later, I arranged to take twenty or so students to a matinee production of Puccini’s Tosca, performed by Mobile Opera at the Civic Center Theater. Gorgeous sets, full live orchestra, $60 seats for $5 (it was the “dress rehearsal,” but I didn’t see a single glitch). Can’t beat a deal like that.

That was the first time I’d seen Tosca, though I was familiar with many of the arias from my undergrad studies at Mississippi State and graduate work at Southwestern Seminary. I missed a lot of the performance, though, because I kept watching my students’ faces as these wonderful professional musicians brought 19th century Italian and French history to life in glorious color, sound and language. During the scene where Tosca lies prostrate, singing her grief and love—from a position in which most of us have difficulty breathing, much less effortlessly zinging out high C’s—I was afraid a couple of my girls might leap onto their chairs and whoop. They managed to maintain dignity, but it was a near thing. Beautiful.

So I would like to take this opportunity to thank a few friends who have invested monetarily in my work with the music students of LeFlore High School this year. You’ll never know until you get to heaven what a difference you’ve made in the lives of young people who will, in turn, make a difference in the lives of others to come after them. Besides the two events mentioned here, I have been able to take students to choral conferences, college scholarship auditions, and arts festivals. I’ve purchased music, CD’s, and small equipment which has put items in their musical toolboxes. I’ve wrestled in prayer over every nickel I spent, because I wanted to make the highest possible impact for good.

I don’t know how else to express my gratitude except to say thank you and God bless you.

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I wish my teaching experience could be all beaming smiles like those of my beautiful Advanced Chorus ladies in the photo above….

Unfortunately, the knuckleheads have to come to school, too. And they have to have a Fine Arts credit. And they get stuck in my beginning chorus class. And it’s fourth block, the wrap-up to the day. Erg.

So here’s the ridiculous thing that happened yesterday.

There’s this boy and girl in the beginner class, neither of whom possess one iota of interest in singing. Nothing unusual. But not too long after the semester started they decided they couldn’t live without each other, and it became progressively more difficult to keep them from breeding more morons right in the chorus room. And before you start throwing rocks at the teacher, remember I’ve got 12 practice room/studios off the main room, and at least half the locks are broken on the doors. I do what I can, but the CIA I am not.

Three days ago I noticed the two of them actually sitting on opposite sides of the room without being ordered to do so. Hmm. Strange. And then yesterday all heck broke loose. I’d disbanded rehearsal and asked the students to put away their books and folders (normal procedure) while I shut down the electric piano and stowed equipment. I heard a little bit of a ruckus in the back of the room behind the risers, which didn’t disturb me much—it’s a loud, rowdy class.

But the rumble grew to a roar, so I rounded the risers to see what was going on. There were my two lovebirds, Darryl and Shanquita, in a double headlock, with the two biggest boys in choir trying unsuccessfully to pull them apart. Hair pulling, dreadlocks flying, profanity that would singe your scalp. How could a love so right go so wrong?

Needless to say, we called for administrators, the two combatants were suspended, and classtime today was eerily peaceful. Hoo-boy.

Well, I press on.

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Sophie Frangos is torn between the love of two men and the promise that binds them all together. Markos Stavros loves Sophie from afar while battling his thirst for vengeance and his hunger for honor. Dino, his quiet and intelligent brother, simply wants to forget the horror that drove them from their Greek island home to start a new life in America. One of these “sons of thunder” offers a future she longs for, the other—the past she lost.

From the sultry Chicago jazz clubs of the roaring twenties to the World War II battlefields of Europe to a final showdown in a Greek island village, they’ll discover betrayal, sacrifice, and finally redemption. Most of all, when Sophie is forced to make her choice, she’ll learn that God honors the promises made by the Sons of Thunder.

Read an excerpt here.

About Susan:

Susan May Warren is the RITA award-winning author of twenty-four novels with Tyndale, Barbour and Steeple Hill. A four-time Christy award finalist, a two-time RITA Finalist, she’s also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Book of the Year.

Susan’s larger than life characters and layered plots have won her acclaim with readers and reviewers alike. A seasoned women’s events and retreats speaker, she’s a popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation and the author of the beginning writer’s workbook: From the Inside-Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you!. She is also the founder of www.MyBookTherapy.com, a story-crafting service that helps authors discover their voice.

Susan makes her home in northern Minnesota, where she is busy cheering on her two sons in football, and her daughter in local theater productions (and desperately missing her college-age son!) A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: www.susanmaywarren.com. Connect with Susan on Facebook here.

Buy the book here.

Enter Susan’s Memory Prize Pack contest:

Each one of us has a wealth of stories from the past – while they might not all be as sweeping and dramatic as that of Sofia and the Stravos brothers (swoon), your family history is a treasure nonetheless.

Well – let’s hear them! Were your great-grandparents ‘fresh off the boat’? Was your great uncle a war hero? Did your grandmother make unbelievable sacrifices to help or protect the family? Did your father harbor a family secret until his death? Are you related to someone famous (my assistant is related to presidents Harrison and Jackson – wow! Who knew?) Do you have a family treasure? Maybe you just have some lovely memories. Whatever it is that is unique in your family history – share it with us.

Have a photo to go with your story? Even better!!!! Email those to amy@susanmaywarren.com !

One grand prize winner will win a Memory Prize package containing a gift certificate to create your own hard cover photo book, a 6 month membership to Netflix (to satisfy that flick fix!) and a signed copy of Sons of Thunder! 5 runners up will also win signed copies of Sons of Thunder! Contest ends March 31st. Winners will be announced April 2nd.

TO ENTER THE CONTEST VISIT THE SONS OF THUNDER WEBSITE AND CLICK ON THE SHARE PAGE!

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Here’s a little info on a new book by my friend Rachel Hauck. Looks like a lot of fun:

Jade Fitzgerald left the pain of her past in the dust when she headed out for college a decade ago. Now she’s thriving in her career and glowing in the light of Max Benson’s love.

But then Jade’s hippie mother, Beryl Hill, arrives in Whisper Hollow, Tennessee, for Jade’s wedding along with Willow, her wild younger sister. Their arrival forces Jade to throw open the dark closets of her past–the insecurity of living with a restless, wandering mother, the silence of her absent father, and the heart-ripping pain of first-love’s rejection.

Turns out Beryl has a secret of her own. She needs reconciliation with her oldest daughter before illness takes her life. In the final days leading to the wedding, Jade meets the One who shows her that the past has no hold on her future. With a little grace, they’ll meet in the middle, maybe even before that sweet by and by.

“…heartwarming collaborative debut.” – Publishers Weekly

“This Southern mother-daughter story is refreshingly well written and will easily engross readers of women’s fiction.” – Library Journal
Multi-platinum recording artist Sara Evans has garnered such honors as ACM’s Female Vocalist of the Year, CMA’s Video of the Year, named one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People,” and she was the first country star to compete in ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. This is her first novel. Sara has said that the redemptive message always attracts her to a given story. It’s the story she’s cares about most in the songs she records and sings; it’s the story of her life; it’s the story she looks for in the faces of those she meets.”I’ve been a Believer since I was 21. My faith has been everything to me in my life since then. In my marriage, my motherhood, my career, and just dealing with everyday life, God is my constant companion and friend. I find myself praying constantly prayers of gratitude and guidance. As a mom and a career woman, my life is filled daily with choices and decisions to make that will affect lots of people. So I rely on God to guide me!”

Best selling, award winning author Rachel Hauck is known for well-written stories that paint real-life characters facing real-life challenges. She writes with depth and humor. As an author, worship and prayer leader, it’s Rachel’s heart to spread the love and fragrance of God to those she meets. In person or on the page. His plans for each individual are vast and good. “I have one goal in life. To seek His face. Everything has come together for me because of seeking Him. Even in my weakness, He is strong. I’d like others to know the same success.”

Rachel lives in central Florida with her husband, a teacher and pastor, and their ornery pets.

You can buy In the Sweet By and By here.

And here’s an interview with Rachel:

Q: How did this collaboration come about?

RH: Really? God. Thomas Nelson approached Sara about a fiction project, then approached me about writing with/for her. My career was in a place of make-it or break-it, and I’d just prayed one of my “surrender prayers” to the Lord and was ready to go anywhere, do anything. Not having children, I am prett y much 100% available to pick up and go whenever and wherever. Knowing the Lord would take my husband and current writing and worship commitments into account, I was ready to go! It was very freeing to say, “God, I have nothing. What do you want to do? I’m 100% available. You’re so good, whatever it is You want for me, I’ll love it.”

I’ve loved this journey writing with Sara. I struggled in some of my weaknesses from time to time, but this was one of the easiest books I’ve ever written even though I’d never written women’s fiction. Never written flashbacks. Never written a continuing character series.

Q: What was Sara’s part of the process?

RH: She cast the vision. We sat down and talked about what she wanted in the book, what kind of story she wanted to tell, and hashed out an overview. I went home and added the details and did the writing. If I was unsure about something, I’d email her and ask for her input. For example, we ended up dealing with a controversial social issue in this book and I wanted to know she was ready to assign her name to it.

Q. What do you want readers to take away from this story?

RH: God is good. There is always hope and redemption. While our past can impact our present, we don’t have to carry the burden of pain and sin into the future. God truly does work all things together for our good.

Q. What’s next for you and Sara?

RH: The second book, Softly and Tenderly, is written and releases January 2011. We are collaborating on two more books to be released January 2012 and 2013. They will be a continuation of the series. Book two is really exciting. Hit’s the ground running.

Q. As an author, how did this book impact you and your work?

RH: I learned a lot about myself. Going back to the original prayer of surrender, I had to see that when God brought something to me to do it might not center around me! Maybe He wanted me to use my gifts and talents for others. At the same time, what amazing grace and peace He gave me.

My writing had to take on a different flavor and tone. I learned to write about two women instead of a romance with a hero and heroine. I had to develop back story that worked on stage instead of through dialog. This project forced me to work on a much deeper emotional level. I was exhausted when it was done. But I loved the process.

Q. Who is your favorite character?

RH: Well, Jade, the protagonist, of course. But her sister Willow really captured me. We had to back her up a bit or she’d steal the show! I also really had an affection for the character Dustin.

Q. What’s next for you? Any solo projects.

RH: Yes! I have a late 2010 release from Thomas Nelson, Dining With Joy, about a cooking show host who can’t cook.

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