trees and hills

Friday, April 18, 2014

Dr. Ryan Fraser: A Hope Dealer

Everyone's Story welcomes Dr. Ryan Fraser. My main objective of this blog is to uplift and encourage others by sharing personal stories of how God is always with us and loves us. Yet, life happens. Sometimes, the tragedy level is high, the stress seems ready to trip you, and the landing pad resembles shattered glass. I am awed at people who get through all these trials and offer a hand and listening ear to others in need. Please visit with Dr. Fraser this week as he shares the past that has shaped him to counsel others and follow his passion for writing. Dr. Fraser looks forward to seeing your comments and why you're fond of writing and reading.


 Dealing Out Hope by Dr. Ryan Fraser

I want to thank Elaine for inviting me to guest post on Everyone’s Story. I count it such an honor and am grateful for the opportunity to interact with this special community. I promise not to be boring.

The first indication that I was destined to write was when my marvelous fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Howell, informed the class that we were going to be putting on a play for our parents and families. The production was entitled, “The Small Miracle,” and would be based on the life of St. Francis of Assisi. She then proceeded to ask for some volunteers to write the script.

Her challenge captured my 10-year-old, starry-eyed interest. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “this sounds cool!” Without a second thought, my hand shot up along with a friend of mine. Surprisingly, nobody else took the bait. We were encouraged to share the workload, but within a couple of days, it became clear that my buddy’s initial enthusiasm had evaporated and the responsibility had fallen squarely on my skinny shoulders. But that didn’t bother me, and, quite frankly, I reveled in the chance to excel at something—to shine.

After several exciting days of writing and editing, the script was finished. We rehearsed for a couple of weeks and the play was a huge success. In fact, I was given the lead role of St. Francis. The panty-hose bald wig I got to wear was absolutely fantastic. Anyway, this was my first real writing project that required true vision and commitment. I was hooked. I relished the creative process and delighted in the sense of satisfaction that comes from completing a worthy and inspiring project. It was enthralling to me.

Throughout my life, I have had an ongoing love affair with words. Whether preaching or writing, painting word pictures for my audience invigorates me. Finding subtle and unique combinations of words, especially when employing the art of alliteration in turning a phrase, truly brings me joy. I can feel my chest warm as the words are welcomed like newborn babes to the white page and take on a life of their own.

The writing I do nowadays has shifted just a bit since the fifth grade. As a minister, counseling professor, clinical therapist, and preacher, my focus relates primarily to pastoral care and practical theology. I feel that God has blessed me with the tools, training, and talents to make a positive impact in the lives of those who are suffering and struggling. But my lived experiences have, of course, shaped me the most as a Christian and writer. I am a “hope dealer.”

As a sixteen-year-old growing up on the mission field in South Africa, I suffered a fluke gym accident and broke my neck resulting in two months of hospitalization. It changed my life forever and later led me into the ministry. In 2005, my son was diagnosed with leukemia at age four and our family went through three grueling years of chemotherapy at St. Jude. During that same time period, my wife’s kidneys failed and she required a kidney transplant. A couple of years later, she developed endometrial cancer. I am thankful to report that both she and my son are doing fine today.

However, these traumatic events have affected my priorities and perspectives in life and ministry. Whether I’m writing about marriage and family issues, anxiety, depression, grief, or guilt, it’s my passion to communicate biblically sound concepts and ideas that help people to live faithfully no matter their circumstances.

So why do I write? To me it’s a spiritual calling and stewardship. Writing is a unique ministry that touches people at a deep and profound level. Whether I’m writing books, magazine articles, weekly newspaper columns, blogging, posting on Facebook, or Tweeting, I seek to challenge believers and non-believers to grow in their faith in Jesus Christ. I want to point them heavenward.

Thanks again, Elaine, for this opportunity to share my thoughts. It’s good to remind myself of why I write. People need hope and encouragement. I want to help them find God’s peace along life’s pathway. This is why I deal in words.

Dr. Fraser's Ah-hahs To Tweet:
What’s a “hope-dealer”? Dr. Ryan Fraser! Find out why on Everyone’s Story. (Tweet This)

Dr. Ryan Fraser shares his life experiences that shaped him as an author. (Tweet This)

What do you have in common with Dr. Ryan Fraser? (Tweet This)

Author's Bio:
Raised on the mission field in South Africa, Dr. Ryan Fraser has been happily married to his college sweetheart, Missy (Housel), for 25 years. Together they have been blessed with two wonderful children.

Ryan holds a B.A. in Bible and Master’s in Ministry from Freed-Hardeman University, a M.Div. from Abilene Christian University, and a Ph.D. in Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Counseling from Brite Divinity School (Texas Christian University). He teaches courses in the graduate counseling program at Freed-Hardeman University (since 2006), has a private counseling practice, and counts it a privilege to serve as the pulpit minister and an elder for the Bethel Springs church of Christ.

Dr. Fraser has recently written a book entitled His Heart, My Hands (Caring Like Jesus) that should be available in bookstores soon. Another work based on his doctoral research was recently published, entitled: The Spiritual Narratives of Adoptive Parents.

Ryan likes 80’s music, is an avid hiker, thrives on Indian curry and Thai Food, and loves hanging out with his wife and kids.

Places to connect with Dr. Fraser:

Third Anniversary Thank You

It's Everyone's Story
3rd Anniversary!

Thank you for making this blog a true blessing for me. When I first began Everyone's Story on April 19th of 2011 I followed this mysterious stirring within me to develop an online presence, but what I received continues to amaze me every single day: an international following, the connection to the most phenomenal and heart-giving guests and viewers ever, and last but certainly not least, an unfailing and simple means to uplift others and share God's love.

I couldn't do this without any of you! I hope you will accompany me into the adventure of my 4th year.

And, Happy Birthday, Ma. April 19th would have been your 72nd birthday. Your love of the written word had inspired me to write. May you be in His forever peace.
--Elaine Stock

Friday, April 11, 2014

Lisa Carter: Proving There's No Expiration Date On Dreams

Everyone's Story welcomes author Lisa Carter. Lisa has a lot to share with us this week. Although it may be (finally!) spring, Lisa shares with us a heartfelt message about the lessons she has learned from her grandmother's Christmas cactus, applicable for every season of life. Her answers to a short Q&A are intriguing, and do check out her book giveaway and correlating book trailer of BENEATH A NAVAJO MOON. We have a little something for everyone this week, and Lisa to thank. Both Lisa and I look forward to reading your comments. 

Book Giveaway:
Lisa is offering one copy of her new release BENEATH A NAVAJO MOON to one randomly chosen commenter--US residents only. The winner will be announced here on Friday, April 18th, between 5-6 PM EST. For convenience, please leave your contact information within your comment. Thanks!


 What I Learned from a Christmas Cactus by Lisa Carter

My grandmother loved Christmas cacti. Her house was filled with them in a range of pinks, whites, and reds. A Christmas cactus is thus named because they usually bloom around the holidays.  My grandmother died over twenty years ago, but sprigs of her original cacti were rooted into thriving plants today devotedly tended by her daughters and granddaughters.

A friend of mine has a family Christmas cactus that is 75 years old. It’s huge. Visitors and family members alike monitor its vitality and continued longevity. Maybe a Christmas cactus isn't important where you live. But most Southerners have a Christmas cactus story—and associated beloved family member—among their treasured memories.

What I’ve learned about life and God from a cactus:

To consider the legacy I will leave.

With a cactus, you must be careful not to over or under water. You stick your finger into the soil of the plant to test for moisture. You must examine the plant’s surroundings. Humid environments require weekly watering. Dry climates demand watering every 2-3 days.

In the same way, God looks at the soil of my heart. He is able to provide just the right amount of whatever He deems I need.

To trust the sunshine and the rain from God’s hand.

During autumn, the cactus should be watered less frequently to achieve maximum bloom. I stop watering my cactus mid-September. The key to beautiful flowers is: proper lighting, correct temperatures, and limited moisture. During daylight hours, my cactus remains in indirect light, but at night for a period of 12 hours I exile the plant to the darkness of an interior bathroom. And amazingly, after the plant endures these months of seeming unending drought—about Thanksgiving, buds begin to appear. Followed by radiant blooms come December despite harsh conditions.

Sometimes God allows a period of drought in my life. I feel like I’m sitting alone in the dark. But I’m never alone. And if I place the situations of my darkest times upon the altar of obedience and praise, times of refreshing come.

Often, I bloom the brightest after a season of drought.

Cactus should be pruned about a month after blooming to encourage branching out. I, too, usually can anticipate a pruning after a season of blessing and/or productivity. I do not relish this; but know to expect it. Though it hurts, pruning promotes new growth. And without it, neither I—nor the cactus—will ever achieve all we are capable of becoming.

Don’t fear the pruning.

Cutting off sections of cactus and planting into new soil can propagate entirely new plants. The blooming possibilities become exponential.

Be intentional in propagating growth in those around me.

Several years ago, God put it on my heart to get serious about this secret dream of writing I’d had since I was a child. In fact, He compelled me to take the stories that had been swirling in my imagination and write them down. That story became Carolina Reckoning. Aloha Rose was the result of a God-ordained reunion and in March Beneath a Navajo Moon released.

Sometimes people stop reaching for their dreams because of fear of failure. Yet I am the living proof that there is no expiration date on dreams. Rather in my life, God carefully orchestrated my experiences with the proper season and planted me at a place that would bring Him honor through my writing.

But the best thing about my cactus—

My Christmas cactus—started with such love by my grandmother and now carefully nurtured by me—sometimes blooms again, unexpectedly at Easter, too. Kind of how I want to live—as a repeat bloomer who blooms wherever God plants me, in all the seasons of my life for His glory.

As the holy season of Easter approaches, I pray whatever growth cycle in which you find yourself that you will dare to dream, consider your legacy, step out of your comfort zone, be intentional, and bloom gloriously for Him.

Questions for Lisa:
When I prepare for an interview I like to explore an author’s website in search of a quote. Your quote fascinates me: “Always there has been an adventure just around the corner—and the world is still full of corners” (Roy Chapman Andrews). Do you seek adventure, or enjoy adventure vicariously through your characters?

I’ve been blessed to have been a part of some amazing adventures in my life, including working behind the Iron Curtain (I’m dating myself) with the Underground Church and almost getting kidnapped in Morocco. I once had an English professor tell me I could make visiting the restroom a thrilling adventure. So I do a little of both—seek adventure out and create adventures through my characters, too. I still believe the greatest adventure of any we can experience is the journey of faith—oh, the places you’ll go, to quote Dr. Seuss.

Some writers are amazed by life lessons their characters teach, others are amused by word choices that come to mind that they’d never use unless in writing. While you write, do any pleasant surprises pop up that make the journey fun?

I am a discovery writer. I cast my characters with a face (usually a well-known model or actor). I know the situation and conflict of the beginning. Most of the time I know what happens at the end. The middle is usually murky. I begin writing and as I get to know my characters better and better, I just let them “have their head.” They always surprise me with where they take the story. I’ve learned to pay attention and hang on during the ride. It’s fun and humbling as the story/spiritual arc comes full circle.

For fun: if you were marooned on a desert island with three of your favorite authors (or perhaps the ghosts of past authors) whom would they be and why?

I’d have to pick Jack London for his survival skills; Elizabeth Peters to entertain us with her fascinating and funny tales of history’s mysteries; and Harper Lee because she’s so Southern and brilliant.

Lisa's Ah-hahs To Tweet:
Everyone’s Story: author Lisa Carter shares lessons of life and God from a cactus. (Tweet This)

Lisa Carter: Why does God let a season of drought in your life? (Tweet This)

Visit with Lisa Carter, an author that proves there’s no expiration on dreams. (Tweet This)

Win #BookGiveaway of Lisa Carter’s Beneath a Navajo Moon. (Tweet This)

Author's Bio:
Lisa Carter shares her own journey of faith regarding the sufficiency of the cross and His grace in her life. She is the author of two romantic suspense novels, Carolina Reckoning and Beneath A Navajo Moon; and Aloha Rose, a contemporary romance in the Quilts of Love series. Under a Turquoise Sky releases August 2014. She and her husband have two daughters and make their home in North Carolina. When she isn't writing, Lisa enjoys traveling to romantic locales, quilting, and researching her next exotic adventure.

Places to connect with Lisa: 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Marlene Bagnull: How To Go Far Despite Self-Doubt

Everyone's Story welcomes Marlene Bagnull: author, Christian writers conference founder and director, wife, mom, grandmom, and one of the nicest and most giving woman I've been blessed to meet. Each time I attended the Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference I returned home not only inspired to write more, and to glorify God with my writing, but I'd left feeling spiritually at peace. Like the uplifting prayers, stories, and praises that are shared at these conferences, I know Marlene's personal story below will encourage many. Please leave a comment for Marlene. She and I both look forward to hearing from you. Also, check out her BookGiveaway that will help to motivate and guide you in your writing.

Book Giveaway:
Marlene is offering one copy of her powerfully helpful, non-fiction WRITE HIS ANSWER to one randomly chosen commenter. The winner will be announced here on Friday, April 11th, between 5-6 PM EST. For convenience, please leave your contact information within your comment. Thanks!

Only God . . . by Marlene Bagnull

If anyone had told me when I was growing up that one day I would have a writing and speaking ministry, I would have said, “A loving God would never do that to me!”

I hated English in high school, and I was terrified of the public speaking class we were required to take. Still, I couldn’t shake the call I felt to full-time Christian service. After reading the entire New Testament in King James English, I searched the shelves of my local library for Christian novels. Back then they were scarce. I devoured The Robe and read Taylor Caldwell’s Tender Victory at least five times, never dreaming that one day I would write words that others would read.

The more real Jesus became to me, the more I longed to share Him with others. But how? Where? Certainly not in the halls of my high school. I read about the exploits of missionary evangelists. Yes! That’s what I would become. I would go to a remote jungle and  boldly preach the gospel. It obviously didn’t connect that I’d have to speak!

I knew I’d need a college education. Hopefully it would help me overcome my huge inferiority complex. My parents did not support my decision. “What makes you think you’re college material?” they scoffed. Evidently the people in the admissions office of my top choice colleges agreed. Finally, a little Bible college down south accepted me.

Meanwhile, I had fallen in love with a sailor. When he broke up with me, I was devastated. “Okay, God,” I sighed. “This must be confirmation that you do want me to go to college unless – unless You bring Paul back into my life.” He did! And I said yes when Paul asked me to marry him over fifty years ago.

I’ve never regretted my decision or ceased to be amazed at the way God has worked out His plans for my life despite my self-doubts. For years I felt ashamed that I was only a high school graduate. I questioned how He could use me. It was easy to believe the lies of the evil one that I was not smart enough or good enough.

Still the call to ministry never went away. Ever so slowly I began to believe God’s promises and to step out in faith to do things I was not qualified to do. I clung to the words of the apostle Paul. “When I am weak, then I am strong – the less I have, the more I depend on him” (2 Cor. 12:10 TLB).

Today, I’ve made over 1,000 sales to Christian periodicals and published nine books including Write His Answer–-A Bible Study for Christian Writers that has been in print for twenty-four years. I’ve watched the Lord expand my ministry of writing and speaking, in Ephesians 3:20 ways.

Thirty-one years ago He led me to begin the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Fellowship. He didn’t tell me that this ministry would grow into a three and a half day conference or that fourteen years later He would call me to direct the Colorado Christian Writers Conference. I’m sure I would have run the other way! After all, I wasn’t qualified. I’m still not. But I’m learning that “I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power” (Phil. 4:13 TLB).

What is holding you back from becoming all God is calling you to be and to do?

Marlene's Ah-hahs To Tweet:
Everyone’s Story: Meet Marlene Bagnull, author & Christian writers conference director. (Tweet This)

Everyone has a story: how Marlene Bagnull overcame inferiority complex to achieve her goals. (Tweet This)

Marlene Bagnull: what is holding you back from success? #BookGiveaway (Tweet This)

Author's Bio:
Marlene Bagnull is the author of five books including Write His Answer: A Bible Study forChristian Writers and the compiler/editor of four other books. She also has made over 1,000 sales to Christian periodicals. Marlene has given her Write His Answer and Get Your Book in Print seminars over 50 times around the nation in addition to serving on the faculty of over 75 Christian writers’ conferences. She teaches At-Home Writing Workshops, freelance edits, leads two critique groups that meet in her home, and helps Christians publish affordably and professionally through Ampelos Press. She has directed the Colorado ChristianWriters Conference since 1997 and the Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference, which she founded, since 1983. In 1999 she received an honorary Doctor of Letters. All she could say was, "Wow! Only God could take someone who felt as inadequate as I did (and often still do) and make all this happen.”

Places to connect with Marlene:

Friday, March 28, 2014

Rachel Phifer: Why We're All Special

Everyone's Story welcomes Rachel Phifer as its guest this week. When I first met Rachel at an ACFW conference I was awed at her sereneness considering the excited atmosphere. This week she shares with us a continued sense of peace when she poses the question of whether each one of us are special and why. I've read her piece several times and always finish it with a warmth of acceptance, which I believe we all crave. I'd like to know what you think after reading Rachel's words. Rachel is offering a BookGiveaway of her novel THE LANGUAGE OF SPARROWS, which you can check out an excerpt from below. Rachel and I look forward to hearing from you.

Book Giveaway:
Rachel is offering one copy of THE LANGUAGE OF SPARROWS to one randomly chosen commenter. The winner will be announced here on Friday, April 4th, between 5-6 PM EST. For convenience, please leave your contact information within your comment. Thanks!



April knew she’d find her daughter close to home. That’s why she didn’t search the streets of Houston when the school called this time. And as expected, she found Sierra sitting in the apartment courtyard with her back against the willow tree. Oblivious to the cars speeding by and the crowded apartments surrounding her, she wrote in a notebook with utter concentration.

It wasn’t until Sierra noticed her blocking the light that she glanced up. They looked at each other for what seemed like a long minute before Sierra spoke. “I couldn’t stay there, Mom.”

As she lifted her face to the sun, it took on a quality that didn’t belong on a fifteen-year-old. April lowered herself to Sierra’s level, taking a moment to balance on her pumps. “You couldn’t stay in school because …?”

Sierra sent her a pleading look.

“Sierra,” April insisted.

“It’s not like my old school. There aren’t any windows in most of my classrooms. It’s so dark.”

There it was—the best explanation her daughter could offer for skipping school. Again. Sierra, with her knowledge of languages. But she never could seem to find the words she needed most.

As they talked, Sierra’s hand kept moving across the notebook in her lap. Writing by touch and not by sight, she guided the pen right and then left, then down. Every now and then she’d stop to hem a section of her strange script in black boxes.

“Baby, you’ve got to talk to me eventually.”

“I am talking to you.” But Sierra looked into the distance, tracking the movements of a cat, a blur of white that leaped from balcony to balcony. And her pen still moved.

April tried not to hate the symbols on Sierra’s page—Hebrew, Greek, an occasional column of hieroglyphs. Pages of archaic languages were absorbing more and more of her time. The girl had filled reams of paper with ancient words since they’d moved.

April sighed. Only on the news did people disappear in an instant. One minute a girl was walking to her bus stop. The next she was gone. Cable stations broadcast the missing child’s photo nationwide. Crews searched the woods. Everyone mourned when a child disappeared in a flash.

Not so the slow disappearances. No one called a press conference when Sierra’s grades began plummeting, when she dropped each of her friends one by one or refused to make new friends when they moved to Houston. The alarms on the school doors didn’t go off when she left in the middle of the day. The policeman at the front entrance didn’t even notice her leaving.

Only a computerized phone call alerted April to Sierra’s skipping classes at all.

There was no need to make threats or offer encouraging words. April had tried them all since they moved here last January. And Sierra was smart enough to understand the risks of skipping school—the danger of the streets where they lived, the potential failure to graduate, trouble with the police.

Instead of the old standbys, April looked through Sierra’s letters until she found a familiar one—a hieroglyph in the shape of an eye. “I see you, baby.”

That caught Sierra’s attention. She looked directly at April and blinked.

The school might not notice Sierra’s disappearing act. Maybe friends were nonexistent. Sometimes it seemed that God Himself had found someone more newsworthy to save. But it was impossible to disappear with a witness.

April underlined the hieroglyph with her index finger. “You are not invisible. I would have seen you walking past me if I’d been at the school. I see you, Sierra. Okay?”

When God Calls Us By Name by Rachel Phifer

Sometimes it’s dramatic. It comes in a blinding flash of light, and God asks you to give up everything you’ve known. Sell your possessions. Go to China. Know that He is God. And know nothing else. Your life looks like it belongs in the Book of Acts.

Truth be told, we don’t see enough of that. My life certainly has never looked like it belonged among Peter and Paul’s stories, and it’s probably due to my own lack of faith.

And yet, so often, when God calls your name, it’s a quiet whisper. He delivers a simple reminder that He knit you together. He made you for a purpose. It may be a quiet purpose, but it fits you like a glove.

Recently I had the opportunity to take a tour of a research lab where DNA gets modified. There were little petri dishes with microscopic cells floating in them. With the injection of a single new gene, healthy cells became cancerous or cancer cells became healthy.

The lab manager showed us a DNA construct with the letters identifying it. Since we were all non-scientists, she explained it in simple terms. “My name is Samar. My name tells who I am. But suppose, we change a letter of my name. Suppose I take out the “r” and replace it with a “t.” Samat does not have the same identity as Samar. Samat behaves differently than Samar.”

Courtesy Google Images
And I couldn’t help but think of the special name God has given us in the Book of Life. Perhaps it will even look similar to the name we already knew – encoded in it might be the same talents, the same appearance, more or less the same personality, the same history. But when we turn to Him for our identity, He alters our DNA by a smidge or by a yard, and we find there’s a brimming-over of life, which we didn’t have before. We are redeemed to be everything He created us to be.

Last week I picked up writing after weeks of not being able to get to it. And I hate to say it. It sounds too lofty. But with each word I typed, each phrase I edited, I felt God’s whisper. This is who you are. This is how I made you. Why have you stayed away? I have something for you to do here. I can meet you here.

What is it for you that brings God’s whisper –I breathed this joy into you when I breathed life into you?

Maybe it’s something ordinary such as cooking dinner for your family or crunching numbers. Or maybe it’s something identity-shaking such as going, full-time, to take the good news to the street people of Albania.

What good thing did God give you to do to build up His kingdom? God made each saint unique in their saintliness, after all. He gave each one of us our own story. So our call may involve a lot of self-sacrifice. It may be all joy. But you’ll know it’s you He’s calling because whether God comes to you with a mighty trumpet blast or by tiptoeing quietly into your life, He’s called you by name.

Rachel's Ah-hahs To Tweet:
Everyone’s Story: Visit with Rachel Phifer, author of LANGUAGE OF SPARROWS. #BookGiveaway (Tweet This)

Author Rachel Phifer: How do you know when God is calling you? (Tweet This)

Rachel Phifer challenges you: Do you think you’re special? (Tweet This)

Author's Bio:
As the daughter of missionaries, Rachel Phifer grew up in Malawi, South Africa and Kenya, and managed to attend eleven schools by the time she graduated from high school. Books, empty notebooks and cool pens were her most reliable friends as she moved from one place to another. She holds a B.A. in English and psychology, and lives in Houston with her family.

Places to connect with Rachel:

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