Author: Sharon Hughson

Sharon Lee spent her youth talking to animals, who never replied, until she escaped to Narnia, where animals did talk back. The magical portal of reading made her a dream weaver. Now, she invites fantasy addicts and dreamers to time travel into immortal, mystical realms.

Merry Christmas from Mary

This month, I’ll be giving away the first three chapters of the first book in my Reflections series. That’s right. If you follow the blog, you’ll get to read the first three chapters (one per week) without investing more than your time.

Of course, I hope you get invested in the story. I hope you love it like so many readers who’ve left ONLY POSITIVE reviews about the story.

Reviews like this one:

But now, as I’ve promised. Here is chapter one of A Pondering Heart, Reflections Book One:

The day my world changed began like every other day in recent memory. An orange sun rose over the brushy hills. Pasty clouds chased each other across the blue expanse of sky. A refreshing chill from the autumn air nipped my cheeks.

I meandered along the worn dirt path. My destination was the same as every morning: the cave beneath the terraced hillside where my father planted his crops. Over the past three years, the path had worn to little more than a rut beneath the constant traffic of my sandal-clad feet and the goats’ sharp hooves.

At the mouth of the cave, I swung the wooden gate toward myself and ducked to keep from knocking my forehead on the rocks. Not that I was tall, but the entrance wasn’t even six spans high.

When I entered our makeshift stable, the milk nanny rubbed her nose against the wool girdle that secured a water bladder to my hip. I pushed her away, scratching her forehead to ease the rebuke. She whined. One look at her engorged udder explained her urgent desire to follow me out of the pen. With one hand on her leather collar, I secured the gate behind me. Not a moment too soon. The other goats pressed their faces through the wide rungs. Their persistent baas echoed around the cave.

I patted a few of their heads. Pushing the shawl back onto my shoulders, I knelt to begin the task of milking. A hummed tune lifted my heart and kept the bleats of the kids in check. My thoughts wandered to the dream I had about my wedding last night. Rather than my face being hidden, the face of my groom was covered with a veil. Some say dreams have significance. If that’s true, what did this one mean?

Soon, the udder hung limply, and the nanny pushed her nose into the enclosure. I never had to tie her as long as her kids were penned up. Most of the young ones were meat goats, not her babies at all, but she seemed to adopt them anyway. The goat knew mothering better than Anna, my father’s wife. But I shouldn’t complain. It would harden my spirit, and if my stepmother had taught me anything, it was that I didn’t want to become bitter.

I carried the pot of milk through a narrow tunnel into a cool room. Light filtered through several fissures. I strained my eyes to make out the large pot and small jar sitting on a ledge in the wall. I placed the fresh milk beside the other containers and reached into the large pot.
The sour smell of curdling milk stung my nose. The curds were still too small and soft. At least one more day before the cheese would be ready for draining. One less thing on my list of responsibilities for today. I sighed. I loved making the cheese almost as much as eating it, but I hated listening to Anna complain about the smell when I brought it into the house to mix in the herbs and salt.

I scuttled back to the main cave, wiping my hands along my skirt. The goats bleated as I opened their enclosure. My little flock surrounded me, snuffling at my girdle, hoping for a treat. I laughed, fondling their ears while leading them into the scraggly grass surrounding our home. Now that the harvest was well past and Father’s winter wheat plucked its head in the midfields, foraging became a chore. There wasn’t much fodder, since they had been grazing these fields for a month. The time for selling the young ones neared. Luckily, the market for goat meat never waned in Nazareth.

With a critical gaze, I studied the three male kids. I would need to choose the most perfect one and keep it for Pesach, still four months away. Since I had begun caring for the goats, Father always let me decide which one was unblemished and fit for sacrifice.

Gamboling, frolicking, nipping at each other, the kids led the way to the watering hole. Adults pulled chunks of grass, wayward leaves on the bushes, and even strips of bark along the way. All around me, the pasture looked forlorn. It was nearly time to stake my herd closer to the house, where they would clean up the remainder of Anna’s vegetable patch. Of course, I would need to be doubly certain she was finished with it. For such a small woman, her rants stung like a whip. At least she saved most of them for me or my sister, Mary (how confusing to have two Marys in the house), leaving my not-quite eight-year-old brother Jesse unscathed.

The sun rose, and my breath no longer misted in the cool air. I glanced at the sky, measuring the height of the sun. Still plenty of time to sweep the floors before Anna trekked to market, leaving me in charge of the young ones and preparing the midday meal for Father.

I herded the goats back into the cave, promising to give them another chance to graze before dinner. Maybe I was crazy for talking to them. They weren’t human after all. But life could be lonely on a farm.

I pulled the jar of fresh milk from the cool room. Amazing how a single hour in the dark space dropped the temperature. I carried it in the crook of my elbow.

When I left the cave, a draft pushed the scents of goat, manure, and moldering straw away from me. I didn’t mind the smell of the goats, but fresh morning air always relaxed me. My shoulders sagged, and I trudged away from the cliffs, never too anxious to return to Anna’s domain.
As I rounded the bend, I glanced up at the dusty track leading to the house. What I saw froze me in place.

A most unusual man blocked the path. His white flowing robe reflected the sunlight. Golden-white hair haloed his sharp, pale features, which sparkled with iridescence. Eyes the color of the sky, seeming illumined from within, pierced me as easily as a sharp knife.

“Hail, thou that art highly favored.”[Luke 1:28] His voice shook the ground. Or maybe that was just my legs trembling.

My heart thumped against my ribs, and my breath gurgled in my throat. I clenched the pot, unwilling to let my morning’s work fall prey to my terror.

“The Lord is with thee,” the man continued. “Blessed art thou among women.”[Luke 1:28]

My mind spun, waking, at the strange greeting, from the paralysis his musical voice caused. How was a farmer’s daughter highly favored? Certainly the dung caking the soles of my sandals sang a different tune. Who was this man to assure me of my relationship with Jehovah? Yes, I prayed each morning and night, as Father had taught us all, but how could this one know that?

Most disturbing was the final part of his greeting. Only one woman would be considered blessed among the daughters of Eve and Sarah. I was not that woman. I was just a girl.

“Fear not, Mary.” He extended a pale hand toward me. “For thou hast found favor with God.”[Luke 1:30]

Was this a heavenly messenger? I loved Jehovah as much as any of my friends, but why would the Almighty give honor to a girl like me? A haze of unreality veiled my mind.

“And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.”[Luke 1:31]

Now I knew the messenger had the wrong house. I couldn’t have a baby, because I didn’t have a husband. Yet. Was he accusing me of being intimate with a man? My face flushed.

“He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David.”[Luke 1:32] I admit I gasped at this. “And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”[Luke 1:33]

My stomach dropped to my feet, and my arm lost all strength, sending the clay pot plummeting to the earth. It splattered near my toes, sloshing goat’s milk onto the barren ground. The words proclaimed by this messenger echoed the prophecies of old and the promises made to my father’s great-grandfather. The phrasing matched words spoken by my father’s deep, warm voice during our evening devotions. A similar thrill evoked by those recitations tingled along my skin.

This messenger spoke of the Messiah, but what he said couldn’t be true. I could prove it to him.

“How shall this be?” When I asked about this delicate subject, heat flooded my face, and I couldn’t look directly at the man. “Seeing I know not a man?”[Luke 1:34]

I was betrothed, yes, but I remained innocent. I might be a simple farm girl, but I knew how children were planted in a woman by the man’s seed. And I had never been with any man in the intimate way reserved for married couples.

I pictured the kind face of my betrothed, and my heart skipped in my chest. He was godly, handsome even, but we had never even touched hands. To lie with him as a married woman? I couldn’t imagine it.

The Lord’s messenger didn’t seem surprised by my question. He continued without pause.

“The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.”[Luke 1:35]

A verse Father shared from the prophet Isaiah rang in my mind: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”[Isaiah 7:14]

My mouth dried like summer-parched ground. I forced saliva in, swallowing past the pomegranate in my throat.

“Immanuel?” It still came out as a whisper.

The angel-I can hardly believe Jehovah sent an angel to me-nodded and said, “That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”[Luke 1:35]

My mind, whirling and bucking, refused to process the full meaning of these words. Even as I’m jotting the whole thing down now, it seems so unreal. A fantastic dream.

“Thy cousin, Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age,” the man in white said. “This is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.”[Luke 1:36]

Elisabeth? She had been an old woman when last I saw her. Older than Father. Women that old were beyond childbearing years.

The angel gave a slight nod of his head. He must have seen understanding glimmer in my eyes.

“With God nothing shall be impossible,”[Luke 1:37] he said.

Elisabeth had miraculously conceived. According to Jehovah’s messenger, I would experience a similar conception. Similar, but not the same. The Spirit of God would father my child. My hand flew to my flat stomach. With fingers buried between the folds of my gray robe, I wondered how it would be possible. Had it already happened?

The man in glistening white garments waited. Did he expect me to have a return message? My throat constricted again. What could a poor girl say to the King of Glory?

Finally, I found my voice. It sounded stronger than I felt.

“Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” I said, bowing my head toward the angel, “be it unto me according to thy word.”[Luke 1:38]

When I looked up, the path before me was empty. The house was only a few steps away. My foot throbbed, waking me from my stupor. My smallest three toes had blackened ends. A puddle of thick white liquid slowly soaked into the ground.

Who can I tell about this? I can’t tell Joseph. He would never believe such a tale. Who would?

Enjoying the story so far? Grab your copy now. REFLECTIONS: A PONDERING HEART is available in paperback, eBook and audio.

Happy Thanksgiving

Today this author is with her family. She’s enjoying some fresh-roasted turkey with a large helping of her sister’s homemade cornbread dressing.

It’s delicious. And time with family along with dressing and gravy make this MY favorite holiday of the year.

Even better, this is my beautiful granddaughter’s first Thanksgiving and she’s spending it with Lolly and Pop (and her parents and adoring great aunt Connie).

There is plenty of food. We’re laughing around the table while we play games and enjoy spending time together.

Yes, there is football on the television. The “old men” are downstairs watching that while we’re upstairs laughing and socializing. Which do you prefer to do on holidays – watch TV or socialize?

Today is also my sister’s birthday. She LOVES hosting family dinners, and since she lives in Lincoln City, Oregon (within steps of a Pacific Ocean view), we’re happy to accommodate her. Also, I baked a cherry cheesecake dream for her “birthday cake.” Sure beats pumpkin pie!

Aside from telling her “Happy Birthday,” I’d like to acknowledge that she’s my biggest fan. She owns every book I’ve written. She will read them all even if I decide to write some genre she doesn’t read all the time.

That’s what a “fan” does!

Now, on to this idea of being thankful. I’ve had a difficult, transitional writing year, but I still have much to be thankful for. I hope you enjoy my recap of the top five blessings of my year.

#5 – A Money-Making “Traditionally Published” Book

(As a side note, this book has MORE reviews than any of my others. Is that why it has sold so well? Could be! So if you read a book, please leave a review. It helps the author. Really.)

 

#4 – Persevering to Finish my Indie Series

#3 – A Home for my Heart

#2- Regular Time with My “Core Unit”

#1 – Becoming a Lolly

I’d love to hear about five things you’re grateful for this year. One thing I’ve learned about gratitude, the more people share it the bigger it gets. It’s hard to be grumpy when positive vibes blind you.

What’s your favorite holiday?

The Real Deal of Indie Publishing

Ever since I started on this “author journey” I’ve considered what I was doing to be more the “indie author” path than the traditional publishing path. But this year taught me the truth.

I wasn’t.

Taking manuscripts from idea to published book BY MYSELF, as I’ve done with the three books in the REFLECTIONS series was indie publishing.
And I didn’t like it.

The Process

These days, people write a story, use a free program to create a “cover” and throw it up on Amazon.

That is NOT publishing. These people might say they’ve published a book, but the process of publishing a “readable” book is lengthy. The indie and small press methods are generally NOT a long as New York publishing, but the good ones follow the same process.

What the Author does:

1. Comes up with a story idea
2. Drafts the story (some do an extensive outline first)
3. Rewrites the story
4. Asks test readers for input
5. Revises the story using the input
6. Edits the story
7. Sends the manuscript to the publisher
8. Signs a contract
9. Gives input into cover design
10. Markets the story using every possible outlet
11. Begins the process again with a new idea


What the Publisher does:

1. Vets manuscripts to find stories that will sell (or at least connect with readers)
2. Assigns an editor to work with authors on content (or developmental) edits
3. Hires a cover artist
4. Writes blurbs and marketing copy
5. Performs line edits once author and editor agree story is ready
6. Purchases ISBNs and applies for copyright
7. Sets up publicity (including Amazon advertising or book signings)
8. Formats the book for digital and print
9. Contracts producer to make audio book
10. Uploads the manuscript and graphics to book distributor websites
11. Sends press releases to appropriate newspapers/magazines
12. Distributes galley copies and does final proofing (netting some reviews)

The exception here is that my current small press does NOT do the developmental or line editing. They expect authors to pay for an independent editor to vet their manuscripts.

If you’re an indie author? Both of those lists become your responsibility.

Why Some People Like It

In a word: control.

For those of you who thought I was a person who liked being in control, I can assure you that in the case of book publishing, I don’t. I want to write the story and send it off for someone else to magically transform into a book.

If an author has a substantial following and can get traction on Amazon, they can earn more money as an indie author. Most small presses offer larger royalty percentages than New York. Without an agent, all the royalties go to the author.

For the author who is both writer and publisher, they get all the proceeds. But they also bear all the costs of hiring and paying contractors to handle everything they can do.

For me that includes cover design, editing and formatting. For the first book in the REFLECTIONS series, I’m into it for close to $1000. That means I have to sell a LOT of copies to even break even.

Why I Don’t Want to Do It

Writing used to light me up.

Notice the past tense here?

This year, I wrote solely in a different genre, and it was hard work. I couldn’t let my characters tell their story. I had an “outline” to follow and it wasn’t flexible.

I knew this. But it’s the Bible, and I felt compelled to tell these stories as a way to invite women to see the Bible in a new way. To see the people in the Bible as “real people” and hopefully gain hope in the process.

I’d like to think all my fiction offers hope to readers. After all, my characters face big problems but find a happy ending (guaranteed).

I don’t like having to find contractors. I don’t like making every decision about my book’s format and cover. Most of the joy and excitement I felt in the past when the publisher sent me my cover to reveal didn’t exist when I was working with the designer on the projects this year.

Every part of it feels like work, and writing the story can be hard enough. By the time I uploaded A Pondering Heart, I didn’t want to think about it or talk about it anymore.

Except then I needed to start marketing and promoting it so it would sell. Because I’m in the hole financially!

Looking Forward

If you’re a reader of my books, maybe you’re wondering what this means for the future.

What it could mean is that you won’t see as many new stories from me published next year (or the year after that). In the midst of having the indie author experience this year, I also have been querying other small presses looking for a home for A VIRTUAL LOVE STORY and AFTER THE APOCALYPSE: UNKNOWN.

In 2020, I’ll be querying Sweet Promise Press about having my own series. I’ll apply to write in one of their existing series, and if the paranormal romance series they introduce isn’t vampires, werewolves or ghosts, I’ll apply to write for it, too.

I plan to attend the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference with some sort of completed manuscript to query. That will be my new thing: querying agents and publishers because that’s how authors get traditionally published.

What sort of stories would you like to read?

A Preview of A Laboring Hand

November is halfway over. My Reflections series has been introduced, and I’m thankful for those of you who have purchased, read and reviewed the book. But it is only the first in a series, and I’m going to give you a peek inside the second book in the series today.

Today’s excerpt comes from A Laboring Hand, Reflections Book Two, which releases to the public in January 2020.

If you’re familiar with Mary and Martha of Bethany, you’ll recognize this scene. It’s based on Luke 10:38-42. I’m intentionally starting in the middle of the scene so you can’t see what leads up to Martha’s frustration.

I hope you glimpse the overwhelmed, responsible big sister whose trying to make sure her guests are content and satisfied. Not only is she serious about being the “hostess with the mostest,” Martha wants her siblings to help.

How often have you been frustrated with the lack of help from your family during a hosted event? Or maybe I’m the only person who can imagine this actually happening.

Excerpted from A Laboring Hand, chapter four:

Soon enough, the laughter and banter of a crowd of dusty men filled the room. I welcomed them with a small bowl of water and a clean linen cloth. Well, it was clean for the first man or two who dried their hands.

Yeshua reclined at the head of the table on the largest cushion which my parents had often shared. John bar Zebedee, one of the Boanerges, sat on it with the Master. He was only a couple years older than Mary and the youngest of all the Master’s followers.

The crowd of dirty disciples filled the room, folded onto other cushions. Some chose to lean against the wall on rugs Laz had pulled from his room and ours. The dirt floor could hardly be seen with so many men sprawled around the room.

Mary and I circulated with pitchers, filling every cup we owned and still two men shared each one of the battered pottery pieces. Once we finished, I began to distribute bowls of spiced beans and cloth-wrapped packages of bread, still warm from their place on the hearth. I turned to ask Mary to assist me, but she’d seated herself cross-legged at Yeshua’s feet, staring up as he started to teach.

I blinked hard. What on earth was she thinking? Was this her rebellion since I hadn’t let her get water for foot washing? She was certainly positioned in a way that she could wash his feet if she had the supplies.

I continued bustling around taking care of our guests, but my frustration grew. Yeshua’s authoritative voice, usually so soothing, fueled the ire inside me. He could make her help me. I glanced at Laz, but my brother was watching the Master and scribbling on a piece of parchment. Mary never once looked my way, even when I nudged her with my ankle as I passed to refill the cup John shared with Yeshua.

They had promised to help. When I’d first mentioned inviting the group to stay over for more than a day, both Laz and Mary agreed to help with the work. Now they sat there, enjoying Yeshua’s teaching while I served everyone.

With a careful eye, I glanced at every cup and bowl. Levi raised his cup in my direction, and I sidled through the sprawled bodies to fill it, nearly tripping on another man’s filthy feet.

The mud-caked toes never even flinched, and my bubble of anger swelled. I swallowed it, and turned to top off his cup. He stared through me, as if I were invisible, but I was used to that from working in the Pharisee’s home. In the past, Yeshua’s friends were more gracious.

Unrest stirred inside me as I shuffled around, refilling cups and then fetching more bread to replenish the diminishing stacks. After refilling my pitcher from the jar stored beneath the eaves, I counted the loaves in the linen clothes on the counter. Only three dozen were left. Soon, I would need to bake more.

And that’s when it became too much. I strode toward Yeshua holding the jug of watered wine aloft and jabbed my sister with a meaningful kick. She blinked, staring at me for a moment as if I’d woken her from a deep sleep.

As I filled the Lord’s cup, I said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”

A hush descended in the room. I heard the wine trickle against what was in his cup. Our eyes met.

“Bid her to help me.” Couldn’t he see how much work needed to be done? And Mary was just sitting there like a useless lump.

“Martha.” His voice was quieter than it had been, almost gentle.

At the sound of my name from his lips, the turmoil loosened inside me. Why had I waited so long to ask for his assistance? His dark eyes filled with understanding and concern. I knew he would help me because he cared about me.

“Martha, you’re anxious and worried about many things.”

The comfort oozing through me turned sharp and became a prickle of conviction. Worry was sin. My father had told me so.

“But one thing is needful.”

One thing? I wanted to jerk my hand around at the crowd of hungry men who needed food, drink, and places to sleep. There were many things that needed to be taken care of. I knew he could see that.

Yeshua sighed. His fingers rested on the handle of the pitcher beside mine. They were square and scuffed—working man’s hands.

“And Mary hath chosen that good part.” His voice rose slightly, but not with anger or impatience, and his hand dropped to his lap. “And that won’t be taken away from her.”

Everything warred within me as I struggled to comprehend his words. Mary was sitting there while our guests needed food and drink. How was that better than helping me meet their needs?

With one long glance, he turned to scan the room. “A certain man…”

I recognized the beginning of a parable. Usually I loved his stories—they always carried so much spiritual significance. Tonight, I couldn’t listen because the words he’d spoken to me stung my heart.

Mary hath chosen that good part.

I filled cups with lowered eyes. Tears burned at the back of my eyelids whenever I blinked, but I widened my eyes and jerked my shawl up to cover most of my face.

Mary sat at his feet doing nothing, but Yeshua said she’d chosen the good part. Mary hath chosen that good part. The words kept echoing all evening, drowning out the Master’s stories and the disciples’ questions.

Even now, as I’m writing about it, his gentle admonition stings somewhere deep in my soul. Was there something wrong with my desire to make the men comfortable? Did Yeshua not want a meal and refreshment while he was talking?

One thing is needful. What one thing?

Mary stirred on our shared bed. Her forehead wrinkled and then smoothed. As I’d helped her prepare for bed, I’d wanted to ask about the lessons, but I felt foolish. If I asked, she would know that I hadn’t paid attention while Yeshua taught.

Why did that make me feel guilty? Yeshua wasn’t angry with me. He even thanked me for the food and drink as I passed him to go to bed.

Yahweh help me understand what this means. What is the one needful thing for me to do? Sit and listen like my sister?

I sighed and my heart weighed more heavily in my chest. But if I do that, who will do the work?

**This is copyrighted material.

Are you ready to read MORE of Martha’s story? If you will commit to posting a review of the book on Amazon (and perhaps Goodreads and Book Bub), you can sign up for an advance copy. They will be going out to my Advance Review Team in December. Sign up here.

Take a Look Inside My Newest Series

This comes to you from chapter six of REFLECTIONS: A PONDERING HEART, the story of Jesus Christ from the journal of his mother, Mary.
Is there a better way to spend Christmas than with the Christ?


The sun’s last rays kissed the walls of Bethlehem as our group straggled within view of the city. Rather than heading toward the gates, Joseph followed a well-worn path to the east. His uncle lived outside the walls, near the shepherds. He spun cloth from the sheep’s wool and grew a supply of linen on a small plot of ground. Most farmland stretched further to the west, away from the meandering sheep. Or maybe away from the shepherds, who weren’t considered the cleanest of people.

We parted from the other travelers, including the grumbling man and his donkey. My feet protested against walking. I rubbed my lower back, stretching my shoulders to relieve the pressure. It would be good to sleep on a mattress again. The hard ground hadn’t done any favors for my already stressed muscles.

Joseph lessened his stride so I could remain beside him. Bleating and the familiar odors of sweat and dung eased my anxiety. These were smells and sounds of home. A group of keepers milled around the low walls of a sheepfold. Three stood in the doorway.

One goat rubbed its head against a shepherd’s leg. A twinge of sadness poked my heart. I missed my goats. My sister Mary cared for them, but she had given up the cheese-making. My mouth watered at the idea of spreading the soft, fresh goat cheese on bread. Perhaps Joseph’s uncle would invite us to join his table for dinner. Anything other than stringy dried meat sounded appealing.

The pathway widened into a well-traveled track with deeper ruts. I stumbled on a rock, too busy gazing at the shorn fields to watch my step; the advancing twilight didn’t help matters. With a strong hand on my upper arm, Joseph steadied me. Our pace slowed even more. I yearned to arrive at his uncle’s house, but my legs rebelled against moving any faster.

The smoky odor of cooking meat made my stomach rumble. I pressed my fingers over it and earned a kick from the babe. Out of the shadows, two buildings emerged beside the road.

From the larger of the structures, candlelight flickered invitingly. It was a flat-topped adobe building, common in Nazareth for merchants and shop owners. It was strange to see one outside the city walls.

I stood behind Joseph when he knocked on the door. It seemed a long while before the man appeared in the doorway. He had more gray hair than Joseph, but otherwise didn’t seem much older.

“Joseph,” the man said. His eyes slid toward me and he stepped outside, joining us in front of the house. “Your cousins arrived yesterday.”

“Travel was difficult,” Joseph said.

Uncle Biram nodded. “I have no room left in the house.”

He seemed embarrassed to admit this, looking toward the ground rather than directly at Joseph.

“The roof would be fine. Something for Mary to sleep on is all we really need.”

His uncle’s gaze rested on me, sliding down to where my hand rested on my distended abdomen. His eyebrows drew together. Would there be no escaping the judgmental scowls? We were miles from home and the untimeliness of my motherhood still garnered speculation.

“The roof is where we put Nadab and his family. They arrived two days ago.”

Joseph nodded. Were we being turned away by his family? Trembling started in my lower legs. I leaned into Joseph’s broad back. Behind his uncle, the door to the house opened and a woman emerged, holding a candle in a shallow pottery dish.

“Biram? Oh, it’s Joseph. Hello.”

“Aunt Leah.” Joseph nodded his head in respect.

“I was just telling them about our full house,” Biram said.

“This crazy census.” Aunt Leah shook her head, corners of her generous mouth turning down.

“I can find other accommodations tomorrow. If you could at least spare some floor space for one night—”

I could see Uncle Biram opening his mouth to deny this plea. Shame and anger clashed in my gut, making the empty organ churn. The baby kicked against my ribs.

“The barn,” the woman said. “We’ve room in there for you.”

I turned to gaze at the other building, stone and wood, shabbier than the adobe structure. It would be out of the wind and cooling night air. Perhaps I would find clean straw to mound into a pallet. It would be an improvement over sleeping beside the road. My back cramped at the thought of another night on the sun-hardened earth.

“Thank you.”

“I’ll bring some food out,” she said. “I see you have blankets.”

“Sorry I couldn’t offer you something more.” Biram sounded apologetic, and his gaze didn’t stray toward me this time.

“Times are hard for everyone, Uncle,” Joseph said.

He turned to me, face in shadow. His fingers closed around my elbow. We moved toward the barn. Behind us, the door to the house closed.
“It’s because of me.”

Joseph draped his arm over my shoulder, pulling me against his side. My head nearly fit there.

“My cousins came to register. You heard them.”

“The way he looked at me . . .”

“I’m sorry.” His lips pressed against the top of my head, reminding me of something my father did when I was a much younger girl. When would we have a normal husband and wife relationship? Maybe never. Nothing was normal for me now. It never would be.

I swallowed away the tears. The dark doorway into the barn loomed before us. Stepping inside, the familiar scents of animals and manure embraced me. Tension drained from my shoulders.

I would be more comfortable here than in a house full of condemning relatives.

Pick up a copy now. It’s available in paperback, digital and audio formats. This makes a great gift for the readers in your life, too. Better yet, with the purchase of the paperback, the digital and audio copies are reduced in price, so you can shop for three distinctive readers.

Thanksgiving is Coming! Time for Thirty Days of Gratitude

Gratitude is one of those non-negotiable items in my world. I love making the month of Thanksgiving a month-long celebration of gratitude.


You’ve seen my memes before.


This year, it will be a little different. I’ll be running the thirty memes on my Facebook Author page. Find it here.

I’ll be asking for your input, too.

What are you grateful for?

Remember when I ran a year-long campaign of gratitude? I had that hashtag. You know #365DaysofGratitude.


That was the year that Gratitude was my “guiding word.” I found the smallest things to be thankful about.


Sometimes the little things are really the big things.


As I type this, I sip cold, clean water out of an insulated tumbler.

There are millions of people in the world who don’t have cold water to drink. In fact, there are hundreds of millions who don’t have clean water to use for any purpose.

How often do I take those 60-80 ounces of water I drink daily for granted?


I hope you’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with me all month long. Grab the #30DaysofGratitude hashtag (not my invention) and use it on all your social media platforms.


I can hardly wait to be reminded of all the blessings I enjoy.

Which of the memes shared here resonated most with you?

A Wide Angle Bible Study on Teaching

Life is a classroom. The sooner we give up on the idea that we learn only at church or during study sessions, the easier it will be for the Lord to open our eyes.

Do you remember what Paul told Titus? “The aged women..teach the young women” (Titus 2:3-4). There is no qualifier. Paul didn’t say the older women should be teaching, but that they taught. Their example resonated, and he wanted them to be “teachers of good things” (Titus 2:3).
Dear reader, you are teaching someone right now. It might be your children, or a young woman who admires you or the lady across the street. We teach, and we should become more deliberate in the lessons we’re sharing.

Teaching Life Skills

What do you know that you didn’t learn? Nothing. How many of those skills were taught to you by someone? Almost all of them.
What are life skills you feel are essential?




Who taught these to you?

Most of us had parents to show us the basic life survival skills. Or there might have been an elementary school teacher who we bonded with, or a Sunday school teacher.
You are that person to someone else.
Read Titus 2:3-5 again. What things should the older women teach the younger women?

How do you teach someone to love their husband and children?

Once again, this teaching can be done more effectively by example. Believe me, if people think you have a great marriage, they’ll ask you how you do it. My answer is always, “By the grace of God.” (Being married to Mr. Wonderful also helps.)

How is teaching different from mentoring?

How are they related?
You can teach without mentoring someone, but it would be difficult to mentor someone without a small amount of teaching.

Modeling Holiness

Now let’s get back to the subject of godly focus in our lives. How can we model this for other people?

What is holiness?

People get confused about this term. They think it is something superlative and out of reach. If that’s the case, why did God instruct us to be holy like He is (1 Peter 1:16)?

This is what Vine’s says about holiness:
It is used of men and things in so far as they are devoted to God…This sainthood is not an attainment, it is a state into which God in grace calls men; yet believers are called to sanctify themselves…from all defilement, forsaking sin, living a “holy” manner of life and experiencing fellowship with God in His holiness.5

Great, but what does this holy manner of life look like? Read Titus 2:11-15. According to verse 12 what does God’s grace teach us to avoid?

What does it teach us to do instead?

In verse 13, Paul tells Titus what the people who live by God’s grace focus on. What is it?

How does looking to Jesus help us in our walk (v. 14)?

Notice verse 15. These things are so important, the Apostle Paul told Titus to speak about them, exhort according to them, and rebuke concerning their lack. Wow.

Look at 2 Peter 1:3-8. This passage has much to say about holy living.
First things first. According to verse 3, what does every person who knows Christ as Savior have?

How do we get this “divine power”?

In Christ, we are heirs to exceeding great and precious promises. One promise is access to the very nature of Jesus Christ himself.

Is this automatic at salvation? I don’t believe so.

Picture this if you will.6 Christ’s nature is a tower. When we’re saved, God hands us a key to the door. Ahead of us, a staircase winds up and up. At the top hangs a mirror where we see ourselves conformed to Christ’s image.
The stairs are found in verses 5-7. What are the things we must add to our faith if we want to access Christ’s holiness?
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Christianity requires a lifestyle of dedication to constant learning and improving. I thank the Lord for the love of learning He gave me. Some days it even helps me live the way I should.

This Bible lesson was first published in FINDING FOCUS THROUGH THE LENS OF GOD’S WORD in 2016, copyright belongs to Sharon Hughson

FINDING FOCUS: Teaching

I spent fifteen years working in public education. During that time, I met fabulous teachers who cared about every student and mediocre teachers who plodded through their classroom like an ox with a plow. I learned tons about teaching theory, application and practice from these educators, but my most important lessons came from the students.

One remarkable example: I cried in front of a classroom filled with teenagers. Okay, the first time it was merely three students, but I was doomed to repeat this humiliation more times than I wanted. So why didn’t I learn from my misery? Because emotions are slippery fish.

Rewind to my first year as an instructional assistant. The teacher assigned me three small groups of students, each reading a different novel aloud and then discussing it together. Everything seemed fine until I saw the title of one of the books: Where the Red Fern Grows.

“I can’t read this book,” I told her.

“What?”

“I can’t read this book.” Repetition is often the key to understanding. For emphasis, I shook the book at her.

“Why not?”

“The dogs die.”

Blank, non-comprehending eyes stared back at me. What part of “I can’t read aloud a book in which dogs die” is so difficult to understand?

With a heavy sigh, I admit with unapologetic sharpness, “I cry every time.”

She nods. “I know. It’s sad.”

That’s it? It’s sad? I think heart-rending, painful and guaranteed to induce tears is more accurate. My stunned disbelief must be apparent because she asked, “Would you like to take a different group?”

“What are the other books?”

She gestured to the stacks of novels on the round table behind her. I stepped around her to peruse the titles. Gang wars and the Nazi occupation of Denmark. None of the choices looked more appealing than the dead dogs.

“I guess I’ll stay with this.” It will be weeks before we got to the sad part of the book. I’m pretty sure I felt a sick day coming.

Nature offered up a summery spring afternoon when the coon hunt gone bad made its appearance in the read-aloud. Our group was outside, reading beneath tall evergreen trees. Wind ruffled the pages. The fresh, pine-scented air brought those fictional woods to life.

I tried to cover my emotions, but there’s just something about a clot of mucus in the throat that makes speaking impossible.

Three young teenagers practically gaped while my tears, unwilling to be quelled, strangled me. I pretended not to notice their shock, but I felt mortified. To my distress, their attention had never been so completely focused on my face or words.

“Are you crying?” one girl asked.

Gulping down the infernal throat-frog, I admitted, “This part is so sad. It always makes me cry.”

“I hate when animals die.”

“I cried when we had to put my dog to sleep last fall.”

Who knew overly dramatic, hormone-driven teenagers could be compassionate and empathetic?

My tears provided an effective teaching aid. If nothing else, they proved that effectively written prose can evoke deep emotions.

The lesson was about more than that, though. And it took something bigger before I learned it.

Bigger? Oh yes. I broke down in front of the entire seventh-period class. By “broke down,” I mean I wept. Shoulders shook and snot ran like a flood-swollen creek. It was so extreme my co-teacher was forced to take over for me.

Those 24 eyes staring at me expectantly weren’t waiting to hear the rest of the story. Nor were they judging an over-emotional, pre-menopausal, middle-aged woman.

They knew my grandmother had recently passed and that my mother was undergoing a life-threatening treatment. I’d missed work to take her to chemotherapy at least once.
Their silence respected my grief. It endorsed the teacher’s freedom to be human, to show weakness, to be vulnerable. And, in the end, it made the story I was reading more meaningful.

Teaching others means realizing your own shortfalls. A good teacher doesn’t know everything and won’t enter class with haughty arrogance. Transparency is the key to effective teaching because it gives silent permission to the student.

They don’t have to pretend either. So what if they don’t get the concept? If this lady CRIED, they can set aside their pride and ask for further explanation. When they’re having a rough day, they can vent steam in the corner until they collect themselves. They recall when the teacher had to take a break to pull herself together. If all else fails, there’s a box of tissues to mop up tears.

Even the teacher gets overwhelmed sometimes.

Christians must walk with the same authenticity demonstrated in that classroom. No sense pretending we’re infallible when the Bible clearly teaches us Jesus is the only perfect man who ever lived.

If we want our teaching to find it’s mark, our first lesson is humility. The second is honesty. With both of those book-ending the classroom of our life, we might impart a few truths to those we teach.

This Bible lesson was first published in FINDING FOCUS THROUGH THE LENS OF GOD’S WORD in 2016, copyright belongs to Sharon Hughson

Just Another Substitute Teaching Job

September comes. School is back in session, but I know it will be several weeks before I’m called upon to fill in for teachers.

Until I get the first call…before September comes. WHAT?

The Long-Term Job that Wasn’t

So I was a tad surprised when it wasn’t even September and my cell phone showed a text from one of the language arts teachers at the local high school.

This is the same teacher who asked me to talk about writing tropes during her J-Term book club. I’ve covered her classes many time.  At the last-minute or while she was off for long weekends with her family.

Apparently, she hadn’t had the best summer. In fact, she needed surgery and hoped it would only mean two weeks out of the classroom. I hope that’s true.

I conceded to cover for her. The entire month of October if she needed me.

Fast-forward to the last week of September. The job was cancelled. At the same time my inbox got that notification, a text came from the teacher. Complications. She has to wait until January for the surgery.

She’s frustrated. While I understand her irritation, I’m actually a bit relieved. I have deadlines and projects that need my attention at the moment. But January? I don’t even know what I’ll be working on then.

Maybe nothing. Read more about that here.

My Favorite School

After the cancellation, I decided I should check out the updated computer system.  While I was there, a job popped up: Friday in a social studies classroom.

At my favorite school. This also happens to be my local high school, the place where I won’t be doing a long-term job in October.

Civics class? A bunch of seniors who have a current events quiz and then preparation for presenting in a faux congressional hearing.

Topics they’ll “debate” ranged from lessening gun control (does this surprise you?) to improving schools to changing immigration policy. Yes, I’m the substitute teacher who walks by every group to ask what they’re working on (even if they’re on their phones and don’t appear to be doing anything remotely scholastic).

Two Weeks with Freshmen

This first job is in the hall where I worked with freshmen for the final weeks of the term last May while their social studies teacher was in Germany with a group of students.

When that teacher walked into the classroom, he gave me a high five. He informed me he was heading out of the country again in the spring. Would I be interested in covering for him again?

Because he wanted me to do it. And there would be dark chocolate as part of the bargain.

It’s nice to be wanted, right? Even if it does mean a couple weeks trapped in a room with freshman. One of the weeks in question being the week before Spring Break.

Can anyone say “Spring Fever”?

But, since I don’t know what else will be on my calendar, it felt pretty good to accept a paying gig for a couple weeks. It was my favorite school, after all, even if it wasn’t my favorite subject.

What do you remember about substitute teachers “back in the day”? I remember they didn’t do much teaching, but they did seem to think they had “all the power.”

I Don’t Know What to Write

I am a published author. It’s my job to write all the things…and when I finish writing them, to write something else. For the first time in five years, I don’t know what to write next.

That doesn’t sound too bad, right?

But it is. Because I don’t know if I even WANT to figure out what to write next.

Where is this Coming From?

This year, I stepped outside of my comfort zone to write a series. No, it’s not a series that is out of the zone for me. It’s the genre of this series and the method of publishing it.

I don’t want to be an independently published author. Crazy, right?

In this day when indies make as much money as many traditionally published mid-list authors (if they have a backlist and a decent following), you’d think I would embrace this new paradigm. Ah, the freedom! The income!

The stress. The multiple hat-wearing. The crazy schedule. The headaches of finding affordable cover designers, editors and formatters.

But I didn’t consider all this. After all, I had the second story half written. The third book was the same story from a different character’s perspective (how hard could that be?) And the fourth story…yeah, it might never exist.

I wrote two stories. I’m revising and editing book three (while book two is with my line editor), but the plan to write book four during November? It’s out. Because there is NO story. Not enough to write 30,000 words for sure.

I tell myself it is the burnout of writing this difficult genre (historical fiction based on biblical characters). Or it’s the fact I’ve been doing so very little “creative” work during this process. After all, I’m following the Bible’s outline.

Too much revising and editing make this writer a very cranky girl. Could I sell that along with a little “redrum” to the horror crowd?

Where could this Lead?

What’s scary to me is that in the five years I’ve been “doing this author thing” for real, I’ve never ONCE run out of passion, drive or stories.

Truthfully, I haven’t run short on story ideas now, either. But not a single one of them calls to me. Nothing says, “Tell my story or I will keep you awake.”

And since I don’t want to be an indie author, I’m looking mostly to my small publisher for ideas. Of course, SPP is all about series. The publisher is offering two “solo series” each year to authors who have published in any of her shared series. I have some ideas to pitch.

But none of them are siren songs to my creative soul.

I applied to write a story in one of the existing series. (The one that I wrote for originally is NOT going to be opened for any new stories.) The “open worlds” are going to be released in batches and only one time per calendar year. I have several ideas for that series, but I don’t know if I want to write them or not.

This lack of passion could lead to a total derailment of my “author career.” And just when I’m starting to get a “regular” paycheck that can buy more than a cup of coffee, too.

What if I have to take more sub jobs? Or write a ton of $5 emails on Fiverr? Is that what I want to do for the rest of my life?

No. I’ve said it before. My sub license expires in 2021, and I’m praying I’ll be making enough from other sources (especially my back list of novellas) that I won’t “need” to renew it. And I raised my prices on Fiverr which has led to a marked decrease of orders because I didn’t have time to deal with those piddly emails.

Where I’m NOT Going with This

Earlier this year, I mentioned taking a dive into the nonfiction world. I’d outlined and drafted a book called THROUGH THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS that chronicled my “grief” journey.

I’ve invested time on this idea this year, too. You can hear about my attempt at writing a proposal that would sell it to agents here.

I attended some online conferences especially to drop into sessions about writing nonfiction and memoir. During one of these, I signed up for a free 15-minute consultation with an author coach. She graciously agreed to look over my proposal and give me an idea of what she thought I’d need to write this book.

Needless to say, the book needs an overhaul. Mostly because I wrote it for me without a clue about structuring a nonfiction book.

Do I want to spend a $1000 and several months turning it into a finished product?

I know I won’t be able to sell it to an agent. I learned that from the Book Proposal Workshop I took this spring, and I don’t foresee anything changing that reality.

The answer here is pretty obvious.

Which brings me back to the original question: What do I want to write next?

What Do You Want to Read?

Thanks for stopping in to read my blog. Not many people do. That’s why I’ve trimmed back to posting once per week and often recycling older posts or content from some of my published works.

If you read my books, this is where I need your input.

I’ve been kicking around the idea of pursuing my “dream” of writing fantasy (possibly young adult fantasy). Would you buy and read it?

I’m also considering delving into women’s fiction since many of my romances are more about issues than finding love. Would you buy and read those?

Better yet, what do you LOVE to read? What do you WISH someone would write because you can’t find it anywhere?