Friday, January 30, 2015

AnnaLee Conti: The Secret Of Managing LIfe Storms

Everyone's Story is blessed by this week's appearance of AnnaLee Conti, not only a dear friend but a wonderful author. Every now and then one just knows when God has introduced you to a special person and without hesitation, I know this is true when I met AnnaLee. The times she and I have met (living within driving distance of each other) I've been warmed by her genuine warmth and regaled by her stories of Alaska, which I think you will be as well. Please check out AnnaLee's opening of TILL THE STORM PASSES BY and her special BookGiveaway offer. We both look forward to hearing from you!

AnnaLee is offering 1 e-book edition of the reader's choice of either TILL THE STORM PASSES BY or A STAR TO STEER BY to 1 randomly drawn commenter. The winner will be announced here on Friday, February 6th between 5-6 PM EST. To be entered in the Giveaway, please leave your contact information within your comment

Here's a sneak peek at the opening of TILL THE STORM PASSES BY:


Chapter 1
I awoke with a start, my heart skipping like my fourth graders playing double dutch with their jump ropes. Even my fingers and toes were pulsing to the pounding rhythm. My body was clammy with sweat. My parched throat ached.
A sense of profound loss sucked the breath from my lungs. I sat up in the predawn darkness and shivered as the chilly air turned my damp nightgown icy. I pressed my trembling hands to my cheeks and found them wet with tears.
“Why now?” I moaned. I hadn’t had this nightmare in years—the one that had tormented my childhood. I thought I’d outgrown it along with my fear of the dark and the bogeyman.
My bedroom door opened. “Evie, are you all right?” Mother asked. “I heard you cry out.”
“Oh, Mother! Remember that nightmare I had every night as a child? I had it again. Why now?”
She turned on the table lamp and sat on the bed beside me. Blinded by the soft light, I squinted at her as she pushed the damp hair from my forehead as though I were a little child, not her almost twenty-three-year-old daughter. She looked a little pale, but I assumed it was the lighting.
“You want to tell it to me again?”
Closing my eyes, I tried to gather the fragmented scenes of my kaleidoscopic dream. Drawing a deep breath, I licked my lips and attempted to clear the cotton from my throat. “It’s never a connected scenario—only flashes and impressions. I’m a little girl again, but I’m in a place I’ve never been except in my nightmare.” I paused and opened my eyes, looking beyond Mother, trying to see something I couldn’t quite grasp.
“Is it always the same place?”
“Yeah, I’m standing on a sandy beach surrounded by mountains. Water ripples at my feet. A beautiful woman appears. Her long blond hair is pulled back into a ponytail, and her scarf flutters in the breeze. Excited to see her, I wave. As she turns toward me, a monster looms over her head, and she suddenly disappears.”
Fear and sorrow constricted my throat, and I broke off. Swallowing hard, I rubbed my forehead to ease the tension behind my eyes, but it didn’t help.
“I’m sorry, dear.” Mother stroked my hand. “Is that all?” Her tone sounded strangely flat.
“No.” I hesitated, trying to put into words what had only been pictures—like a rapid slide show. “After that, I see men running, people shouting, water splashing. Then the woman lies stretched out on the beach, cold and wet and still.” I shuddered. “So still.”
“Do you know who she is?” Mother seemed to be holding her breath until I answered.
“No, I’ve only seen her in my nightmare, but I throw myself on her, crying, ‘Mommy! Wake up, Mommy!’ She doesn’t respond. That’s when I wake up sobbing, feeling all alone and afraid.”
As waves of sorrow washed over me, I shivered and lay back against my now-chilled pillow. Mother tucked the blanket around my shoulders.
“Thank you. I guess I’m not too old to need a little mothering now and then.” I sighed, studying her concerned brown eyes framed in tousled dark hair sprinkled with gray. “You know, the strange thing about my dream is the woman I call ‘Mommy’ doesn’t look like you at all. She’s tall and blond and doesn’t resemble anyone I know.”
Mother’s fleeting look of pain—or was it fear?—caused me to break off my recital and sit up. “Oh, Mother, I’m sorry I woke you when you haven’t been feeling well. You’d better go back to bed. I’m all right now.” I faked a bravado I didn’t really feel.
“Well, if you’re sure you’re okay.” She seemed anxious to leave. I assumed she wanted to get back to her warm bed. She turned off the light and slipped softly from the room.
I was wide awake, though. With the adrenalin pumping, my thoughts raced. I lay still a few minutes but couldn’t stop shivering. Hoping to warm up and be able to go back to sleep if I changed into a dry nightgown, I slipped from beneath my covers and tiptoed barefoot to my dresser. Brr! Hopping from one foot to the other on the cold plank floor, I changed quickly and rushed back to my snug bed.
Even then, my thoughts wouldn’t turn off. Why did I have that dream so often as a child? Why did it recur now that I’m a grown woman? It must mean something, but what?
That place. I’ve never been there, have I? There are no snow-capped mountains in Rhode Island.
And I don’t know anyone who looks like that woman. Why do I call her “Mommy”? I frowned into the darkness. Haven’t I always lived with my parents, Jack and Louise Parker, in this tidy white Cape Cod house on High Street in Jamestown, Rhode Island? And hasn’t Father owned his hotel on Conanicut Island overlooking Narragansett Bay toward Newport since before I was born?
As the questions swirled through my head, an impression slipped into my mind. I was a tiny child being put to bed in what seemed like the top drawer of a very large dresser. I could almost hear the wind scream all around outside and feel the tiny room rock violently. Then a black curtain fell on my memory—if it really were a memory and not just my imagination.
The questions pounded on relentlessly. Still, no answers came. Finally, I gave up trying to sleep and got up. Since I was awake anyway, I might as well calculate the grade averages for report cards due the end of the week. Maybe that would break the endless cycle.
 Quietly, so as not to awaken my parents, I turned on the lamp. Pulling on my slipper socks and blue chenille robe, which I belted snuggly at the waist to keep out the chill, I padded over to my desk and slid my grade book out of my briefcase. I sat down and began to add the numbers, a chore I usually enjoyed since I like math, but my mind refused to focus. I would add a few figures and catch myself staring off into space, and I would have to begin adding the same column again.
Enough of this! I stuffed my grade book back into my briefcase. Hoping a brisk walk to school in the fresh air would clear my head, I decided to get dressed and leave early.
I smoothed the covers and pulled up the quilt coverlet on my bed. Mother had made the star-patterned quilt in my favorite colors—the colors of the sea—when I outgrew the frilly pink bedspread of my childhood. Otherwise, my room looked much as it always had with its painted white steel bed frame and furniture and a round braided rug on painted gray floorboards. The walls I had painted a soft sea green, the color of the waves as they foamed and hissed against the rocks at Beavertail Lighthouse, my favorite refuge.
Quickly surveying my room to see that everything was in its proper place, I wished I could so easily set my thoughts in order too. If only I had time to go to Beavertail. Oddly, those restless waves, always constant and rhythmic, seemed to soothe and reassure me.
Slipping down the hall to our family bathroom, I brushed my teeth and splashed cold water on my face. As I ran my brush through my blond, shoulder-length hair and pinned it up into a French twist, a few wisps escaped and fell softly around my face and nape. I decided I liked the look, less severe. I usually didn’t wear makeup, but seeing how pale I was, I pinched my cheeks and bit my lips to bring some color into them. I didn’t want my bad night to show on my face.
Before going back to my room to dress, I checked my appearance one more time. My image in the mirror suddenly caught my attention. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I peered more closely.
I looked like the woman in my nightmare.
Who is she?

My Watershed Moment by AnnaLee Conti

The watershed moment that would change my life forever interrupted my freshman year at Seattle Pacific College on March 27, 1964.

I grew up in a missionary family in Alaska in the fifties and sixties. We lived by faith on Daddy’s meager pastor’s salary. My personal faith grew as I experienced many answers to prayer. Feeling called to fulltime Christian service, I wanted to attend a Christian college, where I hoped to find a godly husband. I knew I couldn’t expect financial help from my family, but with a scholarship and money I’d saved from hundreds of hours of babysitting and ironing, I enrolled at Seattle Pacific College, an accredited Christian college closest to home.

Clocks stopped at 5:36 p.m. that memorable Good Friday in 1964 when the largest earthquake ever to hit North America struck South-central Alaska. At 9.2 on the Richter scale (the recent Japan quake registered 9.1), the quake centered in Prince William Sound, along the northern edge of the Gulf of Alaska. It generated tsunamis and devastated every city, town, port, connecting highway, and railroad in the region. 

Seward, before the quake. Courtesy US Geological Survey
Horrified, I watched coverage of the destruction on television. Seward, a port just south of Anchorage, where my entire family lived, had been hard hit: the docks swallowed up by Resurrection Bay; oil storage tanks ruptured, belching flames and black smoke for weeks; homes destroyed; bridges stranded 8-12 feet above shredded ribbons of highways. Several tsunamis carried burning debris inland, setting everything on fire. Many people were killed. For a torturous week, I didn’t know if my family had survived.

That summer, I returned home to a very different landscape. Miraculously, our church and parsonage had survived, but everything south of us was gone—many homes, the docks where my father had worked as a longshoreman to supplement his income, the shrimp cannery where I had pulled several night shifts while in high school. Ninety-five percent of the industrial area had been destroyed. Family men couldn’t find work, let alone a single college girl. And no one needed a babysitter.

As that jobless summer progressed, I prayed and tried to have faith, but I knew it would take a miracle for me to return to college that fall. In July, evangelists visited our tiny church. We agreed together to make it a matter of special prayer, and my faith increased.

Seward, ayer the quake. Courtesy US Geological Survey
The first week of August, the local librarian asked me to help her catalog new books. She could only promise me babysitting wages (50 cents an hour at that time). It wouldn’t pay my way to college, but it was something useful to do.
While I was working at the library, a bulletin from the Ford Foundation arrived announcing an “Earthquake Relatedness” Scholarship for those who had lost a family member, property, or employment due to the earthquake. It would cover up to full expenses according to need. I was eligible.

But there was one catch. This scholarship was only for students attending universities in Alaska. I could not use it at Seattle Pacific College.

Although it was not what I’d hoped for, I knew this was God’s answer to my prayers. I immediately applied to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and felt peace. At least I would be able to continue my education.

The week before school started that fall, I received my letter of acceptance and a scholarship covering full expenses for the year. It even included money for books, a fur parka essential to living in the interior of Alaska where the thermometer reaches 50 and 60 degrees below zero for weeks on end, and spending money. And all of my credits transferred. When I graduated three years later, the scholarship had covered all of my expenses for all three years.
But that’s not all. Not only did God meet my needs, He gave me the desire of my heart. The first week of school that fall of 1964, I met a young man at Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. We married three weeks after our graduation in 1967. We will celebrate our 48th anniversary in June.

I often laughingly say, “God had to send an earthquake to introduce me to my husband.”

Check here for more photos of Alaska's Good Friday Earthquake.

AmnaLee's Ah-hahs To Tweet:

Any benefit from the Good Friday Alaskan Earthquake? Author @AnnaLeeConti shares on Everyone’s Story (Tweet This)

Meet @AnnaLeeConti, pastor & author of novels set in #Alaska. #BookGiveaway (Tweet This)

Like novels set in #Alaska? See what @AnnaLeeConti offers: #BookGiveaway (Tweet This)

Author's Bio:
AnnaLee Conti is an author, teacher, and ordained minister. She resides in the Mid-Hudson River Valley with her husband, Bob. Together, they have pastored churches in New York State for 35 years, including pioneering a church. She has taught ministerial and Bible courses, and served as minister of Christian education and music in the three churches they have pastored as well as statewide on denominational Christian education and women’s ministries committees. Now retired, her greatest joy is time spent with their son and five grandchildren who live nearby.

Conti worked as an editorial assistant at Gospel Publishing House, where she wrote freelance articles and short stories which were published in EPA award-winning magazines such as The Pentecostal Evangel, Youth Alive, and Woman's Touch, as well as church school curriculum on assignment.

While showcasing the majestic beauty of Alaska in these stories, she explores important themes she has struggled with in her own life—God's love and human love, forgiveness and reconciliation, rebellion and redemption, fear and faith. She tries to give readers satisfying stories that inherently illustrate, without being preachy, the value of choosing God's way.

Places to connect with AnnaLee:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Brian Dickinson: Must Blind Descents Be Made Alone?

Everyone's Story welcomes former US Navy Air Rescue Swimmer, and now author, Brian Dickinson. I've always been fascinated by people who can brave the elements of nature and take chances on exploring where some of us can only dare participate via books or movies. But, that's what I admire about this week's guest: Brian encourages us all to honor the unique gifts that God has blessed us with, whether it's mountain climbing, writing, or helping to make a child smile. Please take the time to visit with Brian this week as he shares about his experience on the world's highest mountain, as told in his non-fiction book, BLIND DESCENT, a Tyndale House publication. Do check out his amazing BookGiveaway! Both Brian and I look forward to hearing from you.

Brian is offering 1 hard-cover edition of his true-life account, BLIND DESCENT to 1 randomly drawn commenter (U.S. residents only). The winner will be announced here on Friday, January 30th between 5-6 PM EST. To be entered in the Giveaway, please leave your contact information within your comment

Surviving Blind and Alone on Mount Everest by Brian Dickinson

On May 15, 2011, I soloed the top of the world.  It took over a month to properly acclimate to the extreme altitude in the death zone, consisting of a 38-mile trek to basecamp and multiple partial climbs up and down Everest (climb high and sleep low).  This process allowed my body to produce additional red blood cells, which in turn carried more oxygen so I could survive higher on the mountain.  I never intended to climb to the top alone, but I had to make a serious decision at 28,000’ when my climbing Sherpa, Pasang, felt ill and went back down.  We had a conversation there, calculated the risks and decided it was safe for Pasang to wait there (he ended up descending to high camp), and for me to head up alone.  In the mountains you live and die by the decisions made based on the information you have at the time.

Those last few hours alone, putting one heavy foot in front of the other, were filled with peace and satisfaction.  Around 6am when I pierced the top of the 29,035’ summit with my crampons I felt everything from joy and relief to exhaustion.  I made a quick radio call down to some lower camps to let them know I had made it and then took some pictures.  I then gathered my gear to head down and a couple steps into my descent everything went completely white.  I dropped down, grabbing the rope I was attached to and assessed the situation.  I was snow blind.  Due to a goggle malfunction the previous day on Lhotse Face, as soon as the sun rose and banked onto the ice, it fried my cornea.  At that elevation there’s only a third of the air and ozone protection as there is at sea level.  With snow blindness it typically takes 24 hours to heal, I wouldn’t fully regain my eyesight for over a month.  At that moment I didn’t panic, I thought of my navy training to never panic but to focus on the mission at hand, so I got up and slowly started making my way down the mountain.  Everest has fixed lines, which are ropes anchored to rock / ice and I was attached to that rope with safety devices attached to my harness.

As I made my way down the mountain I felt a calming presence around me.  It’s as if I wasn’t alone.  I never spoke to anyone, but I just felt that there was someone beside me during the descent.  I slid down the famous Hillary Step, took a major fall down the South Summit and eventually ran out of oxygen at 27,500’ after continual climbing for over 30 hours.  As my mask sucked into my face I ripped it off, dropped to my knees and surrendered to God.  I simply said, “I can’t do this alone, please help.”  At that moment I felt unexplained energy enter my body and was lifted to my feet.  I blindly attached a spare oxygen bottle, which had previously failed and I got a positive flow of air.  Without overthinking it I made my way down the remaining vertical 1,500’ to high camp where Pasang helped me back to the tent.  In total what should have taken 3 hours to get to high camp, took me over 7 hours. 

I’ve always been a big goal setter, pushing my limits beyond what seemed possible.  To me, that’s living.  I grew up very adventurous in a small town in southern Oregon and then served 6 years in the US Navy as an Air Rescue Swimmer, stationed in San Diego, Ca.  After getting married and moving to the Pacific Northwest for graduate school, I took to the mountains.  I worked in technology firms like Cisco Systems and Expedia, but escaped into the Cascade Range to fulfill my need for adventure.  Having two kids changed my perspective on life, but it didn’t change the way I was wired.  I definitely had a new sense of responsibility, which factored into the calculations of my risk taking.  To most, climbing high peaks is an insane invitation to certain death.  To those closer to the sport it couldn’t be more opposite.  God created us in a unique way and we must understand and utilize our uniqueness to truly live life to the fullest.  The key is to identify your God-given talents then use them in a way that honors God, fulfills your life and helps you create a legacy to inspire others.

Brian's Ah-hahs To Tweet:
Imagine snow-blindness on Everest? Meet author & former US Navy Air Rescue Swimmer @BrianCDickinson (Tweet This)

Everyone has a story: What did @BrianCDickinson do when blinded and alone on Mount Everest? (Tweet This)

#BookGiveaway of BLIND DESCENT by @BrianCDickinson (Tweet This)

Author's Bio:
Brian Dickinson served for six years as a US Navy Air Rescue Swimmer before he moved to the Pacific Northwest to get his MBA and pursue his passion for extreme sports and mountain climbing. He has climbed in expeditions on the highest peaks of the seven continents, including Mount Everest, with the majority of climbs in the Cascade Mountains, near his home. He uses his climbs to help raise money for charities such as the AIDS Research Alliance, visit orphanages and as an opportunity to share his faith with others around the world. Brian, his wife, JoAnna, and their children, Jordan and Emily, live in Snoqualmie, Washington. Brian is the author of Blind Decent.

Places to connect with Brian:

Friday, January 16, 2015

Braxton DeGarmo: On Letting Your Babies Grow Up To Be Writers

Everyone's Story welcomes fiction author  Braxton DeGarmo. I've been intrigued by Braxton ever since we've met, especially due to his edgy fiction. Knowing my viewers, I believe you will also be interested in Braxton's stories. And, like me, you will want to know what inspired Braxton to write the type of story he does and what message he hopes to convey to the reader. Check out Braxton's Giveaway offer and take a moment to visit his website to read the first chapter (preferably after viewing the words he shares here first and leaving a comment--wink, wink). We're both looking forward to hearing from you.

Braxton is offering 1 copy of INDEBTED to 1 randomly drawn commenter (for a printed copy only U.S. residents, outside the U.S. will receive an eBook edition). The winner will be announced here on Friday, January 23rd between 5-6 PM EST. To be entered in the Giveaway, please leave your contact information within your comment

If you'd like to read the first chapter of INDEBTED you may check it out on Braxton's website.

As a first-time guest posting here, I’d like to thank Elaine for this opportunity. By way of introduction, I’m a retired Emergency Medicine physician who writes what I call “true life” Christian suspense and thrillers – “true life” because I have no objection to using mild profanity if it fits the character. My stories also involve current-day issues such as racism and human trafficking, issues that can show the worst side of humanity. In addition, I live in Ferguson, MO. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Writers … 
by Braxton DeGarmo

With apologies to Ed Bruce, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, I’d have to say that writers are the cowboys of the creative arts. For (some) writers, it’s a lonely life – immersed in a world of their own creation – and hard on those who love them. We’d rather write you a book than give you diamonds or gold, but maybe that’s because few writers actually make a living by following their passion. And every night starts a new day … as we often toil long into the wee hours of the morning, in our faded blue jeans.

Yet, have you ever asked a cowboy to give up his lifestyle? The handful I’ve personally met over my lifetime would say “no.” There’s something about working hard in the wide, open ranges of a ranch that permeates their very being and becomes part of them. They’d no sooner give up that sense of freedom and gratification of a job well done than to give up an arm … or their favorite horse.

Writers can be like that, too. Give up that freedom of creating a world full of intriguing characters, wondering what kind of trouble they’ll get into next? Never. Abandon that sense of fulfillment in completing a story that entertains and touches others, perhaps keeping those readers reading well into those same wee hours the author works crafting his next tale? Not only no, but … well, you know. They’d rather give up that arm, as long as it’s not the one they use to write.

I know firsthand how writing can become a passion that seeps into your soul. I can’t say I always wanted to be a writer, but I always wrote. I wrote technical papers, journal articles, and manuals. I even tried my hand at magazine articles. However, the craft of creative writing was never something I had aspired to. I’m not sure why, but I think it had more to do with not having been exposed to it in school than anything else. 

And that’s where my “Mamma” came in. You see, she let me grow up to be a doctor and such. And yet, she kept at me, urging me to write. I guess my seventh grade English teacher first saw that spark of creativity in me and convinced my mother that I could be a great writer. However, I kept rebuffing her suggestions that I write a book. You see, there was med school, military service, getting married and starting a family, starting a civilian career, and all of those “real life” time demands that we all face that limited my view of a horizon that she seemed to see clearly. She eased up on me for a bit, but began to hammer away again when our children went off to college and the nest emptied. After yet one more of her “reminders,” I happened upon a writing contest and decided to give it a go. Placing in the top five was enough to ignite something inside. Seventeen years and multiple novels later, I can honestly call myself an author and not only has that passion for writing soaked in, it now oozes out.

So, Mammas (and Papas) remember that you can and will influence your children’s lives not just in those “formative” years, but well beyond. There will be times when you can see a hidden talent in your child that you know beyond doubt could change his life. As parents, we’re a lot like God in this way. He sees in us the talents He gave us and He gently pushes us to utilize those gifts. It seems that most of the time, though, that His timing does not correlate to our timing, and sometimes He has to give us a swift kick to get us back on course. So, if your child doesn’t see it right away, maybe the timing isn’t right. Stick with it, just as God perseveres with us. Oh, and it’s okay to let your babies grow up to be writers.

Braxton's Ah-hahs To Tweet:
Meet Braxton DeGarmo, author of “true life” Christian suspense and thrillers. #BookGiveaway (Tweet This)

Everyone’s Story: Author @BraxtonDeGarmo’s message for parents of creative children #BookGiveaway (Tweet This) 

Like to read Christian #suspense & #thrillers? @BraxtonDeGarmo’s #BookGiveaway (Tweet This)

Author's Bio:
Braxton DeGarmo, MD is a retired Emergency Medicine physician who lives in Ferguson, MO with his wife and garden. He is the author of “true-life” Christian suspense and thrillers, whose titles include: “The Militant Genome,” “Indebted,” “Looks that Deceive,”  “Rescued and Remembered,” and “The Silenced Shooter.”

Places to connect with Braxton:

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