Monday, November 25, 2013


For some years, my husband and I lived in the beautiful Elgin Valley of South Africa, home of Elgin apples and Appletiser®. 

We often traversed the magnificent Houw Hoek mountain pass, about an hour from the city of Cape Town. After leaving the valley with its acres of apple trees, the road ascends at a fairly gentle gradient to the summit. Majestic mountains tower overhead, casting long shadows across the road.

After negotiating a steep U-turn, the road continues down a steep descent to a spectacular valley. It's like entering another world. The farming landscape is dotted with small buildings and grazing cows. And as the mountains slip into the background, the road is often bathed in bright sunshine.

One sunny afternoon, my life journey arrived at just such a pass, only it wasn't beautiful. One minute I was enjoying life as a busy registered nurse and pastor's wife, and the next I hit a U-turn.

"You have cancer," announced a radiologist. "And I don't think they'll be able to get it all out." My life spun out of control as I attempted to negotiate this unexpected twist in the road. God promises in his Word that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28). I had often seen this verse in action, but I admit, I couldn't see how he was going to do it this time.

With the use of a skilled surgeon, an unconventional and courageous oncologist, a supportive family, and many praying friends, God pulled me through a pretty grim year of treatment. At the end of the year, I started the descent into the valley. My future lay spread before me, but it was so different. I could no longer nurse, due to a weakened immune system. What would I do with my life?

I hadn't anticipated being blindsided by cancer, so I had made no plans. But then God had known about the cancer long before I did. And he did have plans.

Suddenly doors opened for me that I would never have anticipated. My hobby of many years turned into a full-time occupation as I began to share in print some of the good things God had done in my life as a result of cancer.

At the time my treatment came to an end, I had no idea how long it would take for my life to get fully back on track. Nor did I realize that when it did, I would be travelling in a different direction. From nursing sister to published author. But then, isn't that what a U-turn is all about? 

Purchase Strength Renewed (print or Kindle)
Rise and Soar Website (encouragement for those in the cancer valley)  


About two years after my cancer treatment ended, I attended a cancer survivors' seminar in Cape Town, South Africa, with my oncologist and some other cancer survivors. Part of the program included a panel of ladies sharing their cancer experiences. I listened in dumbstruck amazement as one after the other gave praise for cancer. That's right. For cancer.

The last woman to speak gripped the mike and blurted out, "Cancer ruined my life!" She dissolved in tears, and a couple of ladies rushed forward to assist her from the stage. One of the leaders got up to explain that the poor woman was only a few months out of her treatment regime, and that it took time to gain perspective on something as drastic as cancer.

"Gain perspective?" I said to my husband when I got home. "She's the only one that made sense! The others are crazy. Sure, I'm thankful God brought me through it, but to be thankful for cancer? Never."

I knew of the promise in Romans 8:28 that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him." But honestly? How could that include cancer?

As I mentioned in my previous post, once my treatment was over, doors started to open for me in the writing field. At the age of 60 years, I flew unaccompanied from Cape Town via London to the United States of America where I attended a writers' conference in Baltimore. The Lord provided finances for the trip in miraculous ways. A few years later, I started work on a book of meditations in which I shared 90 stories of how the Lord blessed and protected me through the journey of cancer.

In 2010, I flew from Johannesburg to attend another conference, this time in Florida, USA. While there, I met an editor who liked my book, and in 2012 it was published by a mainline publisher in the States.

Today, I can see how much richer my life has become because of cancer. I speak at meetings on a variety of topics. But they all bring out the same point. I am thankful for cancer, the lessons I learned and the blessings I received. Would I go through it again? I pray daily that I will never have to. I hated every moment of the journey. Yet I can honestly say I'm grateful for the experience.

I guess I have gained perspective.

Oh . . . one more thing. When Scripture says in Romans 8:28, "in all things God works for good to those who love him"? Yes, that even includes cancer.

Purchase Strength Renewed (print or Kindle)
Rise and Soar Website (encouragement for those in the cancer valley) 

Friday, November 22, 2013

LIGHT AND DARKNESS -- by Gail Kittleson

The following is an excerpt from Gail Kittleson's non-fiction book Catching up with Daylight. Enjoy!!!!

Sometimes I wonder about the shift from night to day. What exactly defines the difference between night and morning, darkness and light? The Apostle John encourages us to claim our status as God’s children and keep our footsteps out of the shadows.

Lectio Divina, an ancient Benedictine form of meditation, invites us deep into the word light. From the first chapter of John’s Gospel, what one word draws my attention today? After several readings, I wait. Light focuses my thoughts . What does the writer mean by light, and what action would God have me take concerning that meaning?

First, the context: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of the world” (NIV).  I didn’t get very far. Four verses. That’s okay. Gone are the days of complicated, application-oriented Bible studies that tackled a whole chapter or more at a time in verse-by-verse analysis. Today I ruminate about light, and that’s enough.
Jesus’s life was the light of the world. How did that light affect His world? Not always met with gratitude and approval, He knew some would attempt to snuff out the flame, and temporarily succeed. Yet that light has pervaded throughout the ages, down to this time in history. It’s the same light that beckoned us when we first heard the Good News.

Joy behooves us to remember that first light.

Sometimes darkness closes in on even God’s most devout followers, as it did on our Lord. Saint John of the Cross, along with countless other ancient believers, experienced this. Saint John’s sole goal—to love God—seemingly led him away from the light. We can relate to his statement: “Desolation is a file, and the endurance of great darkness is preparation for great light.”

When it seems our Savior’s life-giving rays flee the scene of our everyday life, we suffer a tangible sense of loss that sneaks up subtly, silently, like a snake winding its way into a camper’s bedroll. Suddenly we find ourselves deep in shadow country, enveloped by a penetrating chill. Where has the light gone? What has happened to our relationship with God?

Walking in the early morning reveals gradations in atmospheric light. As a temperature change occurs with the sun’s disappearance at day’s end, so dawn’s light streaks from the east in a vast beam, drastically changing our perceptions. Still, the precise moment when darkness becomes light escapes an astute observer. With little ado, morning comes, and with it warmth and a new day.

The atmosphere gives clues, and meteorologists work to isolate sunrise and sunset, offering precise information in their weather broadcasts. “August 27,  sunrise at 5:21, sunset at 8:36.”

Spiritually, I’ve attempted the same sort of analysis. But sometimes life moves so fast, it becomes difficult to pinpoint the appearance of light or stall the coming of darkness.
Perhaps analysis sits less well with our spiritual journeys than with meteorologists’ goals. In certain seasons of life, recollected light may be enough, and we simply need to keep walking.

When have you needed to rely on recollected light? 

 Available November 15, 2013 in print .  . .

Catching up with Daylight makes a pleasant companion for this season of reflection. Snuggle near the fire with this volume, or give a friend a gift to . . . 

celebrate the power of friendship

explore historical and contemporary passages from darkness to light

discover an ancient Benedictine meditation practice

re-experience the beauty of the present moment

                        rethink your favorite gospel stories

Many of us long for rest, as the author did while renovating an old house after her husband’s first deployment to Iraq. Yet a different hunger undergirded that desire: a hunger for wholeness.

No fast track exists to a closer walk with God, but the ancient Benedictine practice of Lectio Divina enhances and extends our times with our Creator. Allowing the Spirit to emphasize one word and ruminating on that word throughout the day empowers us to remain present for every moment, attentive to embrace all that God has for us.

About Gail Kittleson:

After teaching expository writing and English as a Second Language, Gail Kittleson enjoys her family (married 35 years, delightful grandchildren), teaching a local memoir-writing class, and writing. Her nonfiction (Catching Up With Daylight/WhiteFire Publishing) and fiction (World War II era--still in the works) share consistent themes—personal growth through life's challenges, finding one's voice, and gratitude.

Monday, November 18, 2013


Ever wonder how a writer’s perception differs in terms of events, circumstances and the seemingly insignificant, mundane things of life? 
Writers take mental snapshots of people, events, and places, and we hold them in our memories, imprint them on our hearts. Years later, I still remember some of those fleeting moments in time.

One of the most interesting things I ever wrote was on a tray liner at a Burger King while sitting in Piccadilly Circus in London as I observed a man interacting with a series of young women who slid into the booth across from him. It was pretty clear what his relationship was to those women. 
My heart ached for them, and it opened my eyes a bit to the ways of the world, that so-called “seamy underbelly” a small-town girl from Indiana had never glimpsed before. Then there was the bride outside a suburban Boston Marriott, dressed in her finery, running down the sidewalk alone at midnight. I’ll always remember the abandoned pair or well-worn cowboy boots in an alley by an abandoned building in downtown Dallas. 
These are the kinds of mental images that stay with me. The writer in me knows there’s a story to be told.

Take the time to watch and observe carefully over the next few days, and you might be surprised. One morning on my way to work (a twelve-mile trip across a double-decker bridge stretching across the Ohio River dividing Indiana from Kentucky), I saw the following:

*Four elderly women standing outside the Catholic church, hands clasped together, waiting until it was safe to cross the street. Reminded me of the yellow diamond-shaped street sign near our home in Massachusetts that read “Dear Crossing” with the silhouettes of a “finely-aged” man and woman holding hands in a crosswalk. 
My eyes well with tears when I see these women, as I often do. It’s their morning routine. They’d been to the church, but I can’t help but wonder about them. Are any of their husbands still living? How long have they known one another? Where did they meet? What I see is the deep friendship, the caring and the protectiveness they share.

*An older man using a long metal stick, pointed at the end, to pick up trash on the side of the road. I see him most mornings as I turn the corner onto the main road from our neighborhood. He does his part to keep that part of the road clean and litter-free. 
 But he always looks somber, sad, the lines on his face etched deep, his mouth downturned. I wonder if he lives alone, how he came to pick up the debris so faithfully as his daily mission, and what he thinks of those who throw their trash out their car windows with no regard.

*A four-car pileup. Didn’t look like anyone was hurt, thank the Lord, but a couple of cars were most likely totaled. Some drivers waiting to get past the accident scene were impatient, others bided their time. But almost all were on their cell phones calling someone to say they’d be late. What did we ever do before cell phones were invented? 
They’ve changed the entire way we communicate. In some ways, like immediacy, it’s good. In other ways, it’s self-limiting and perhaps cuts us off from interacting and reaching out to new people.

*A woman pulling down her rearview mirror and applying mascara as she waited to turn the corner. I see this a lot. Is this grooming in the car part of her usual routine? Why would she risk poking her eye with a mascara wand? What could she possibly have been doing before leaving home? 
Is she single, married, with or without children? Maybe she’d been so busy taking care of everyone else in her family she hadn’t taken time for herself. Or maybe she stayed up late the night before and opted to sleep in.

*A homeless man, a cart loaded with his worldly possessions beside him on a downtown street, poking in a trash can for leftovers. Puffing on a cigarette. What kinds of things run through this man’s mind? How does he spend his time? Does he know about the local mission and nearby shelter? Has he been there for the night? What kind of daily existence must he lead? 
 That one’s difficult for me. It’s beyond the scope of my understanding, but at this point, I do what I can for him: I pray.

*The Coca-Cola driver unloads his truck in front of my office building, chatting and smiling with the office worker walking toward the revolving doors. The man with the Volvo stops to ask for directions. The group of tourists heads to the Convention Bureau to hear the life story of Colonel Sanders or the Muhammad Ali Center to hear more about The Champ. The businessmen and women hurry across the street, wearing nametags, going to a seminar. The Mercedes and the Lexus, with rushed drivers behind the wheel, speeding toward the stoplight, hoping to turn left before the light turns. You know the type—yellow means speed up, not use caution and prepare to stop.

*Multiple school buses, parked in front of the Kentucky Center for the Arts (where I worked part-time before my writing career took flight), with children lining up by the front steps, smiling and chattering, ready to see a special play. They’re happy, full of the innocence and boundless faith of youth. How exciting that is to see. 

Some of these children might not otherwise have the opportunity to attend a performance here. It’s exciting for them, and it shows in their body language, their facial expressions. It makes me smile.

I can see a lot of life, a glimpse of humanity and its best and worst, in just one trip to work—things I’ll imprint on my mind and in my heart. Writer or not, we can let the world pass us by, or we can stop and pay attention and use what we see to stimulate our minds and to enhance and enrich our lives. Feel the emotion. Glimpse the beauty in life, the hope, and the joy, to help balance out the inevitable sadness and the loneliness. All the emotions that make up life.

Author Bio: JoAnn Durgin is the author of the popular contemporary romance Lewis Legacy Series. A standalone romance, Catching Serenity, released in September 2013. 

Her Christmas novella, Starlight, Star Bright, the follow-up to 2012’s Meet Me Under the Mistletoe, released this past week. 

JoAnn lives with her husband, Jim, and three children in southern Indiana, and she’s a full-time wealth administration paralegal in a Louisville, Kentucky, law firm. 

She’d love to hear from you at or her Author JoAnn Durgin page on Facebook.