Fall Writing Frenzy 2021

I love participating in writing contests because 1) it helps strengthen my creativity and 2) it forces me to think in ways I might not have before. Plus, when I create something it can be very therapeutic, especially in this day and age. So… at the last minute I decided to throw my hat in the ring and write a story for the Fall Writing Frenzy contest.

The rules:

Choose one of the offered images and write a story about it. The age range: kidlit–from board book to young adult. I chose middle grade.

The catch: the story can only be 200 words, not including the title. Mine comes in at 195 words.

My story was inspired by my recent trip back home to Tennessee where I saw lots of old churches like the one in the photo below. That’s why I chose this photo. I love mysteries and anything that can’t be explained, so I wanted to write a story that was intriguing, yet hopeful.

We all could use a little bit of hope right now.

An Unexpected Hope

By Sheila Alford

Something caught Birdie’s eye as she walked past the window of the church. The old, weathered building had been there two hundred years. Full of history, it served as a hospital in the Civil War and had seen plenty since.

Birdie shivered and pressed on toward home. She stopped. She didn’t want to go home. There was too much drama at her house.             

She turned back to the worn steps leading up to the church. Stepping onto the sagging porch, Birdie tiptoed to the window.           

It was too dark to see anything, but something seemed to call her inside. 

The ancient door creaked on its rusty hinges as Birdie crept inside.           

As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw the pulpit.           

Birdie made a beeline and stood behind it.           

A yellowed piece of paper was perched on top––like someone had just left it there for her to find.

“I know things are hard, but it will be alright. Go on home, now. I’m with you.” Granny Oglesby.           

Birdie gasped.           

Her deceased granny.

 A dove cooed from the rafters. For the first time in ages, Birdie felt hopeful.

She smiled and turned toward home.

It Might Be Hope

It might be hope. That’s the title of one of my favorite songs by Christian artist Sara Groves.

During the 2008 recession, I was struggling. My husband had just lost his job with no other opportunities in sight. I didn’t know what we were going to do. And then there were the other things going on that put me and my family in the eye of a perfect storm.

At that time, I was a stay-at-home mom with two school-age children. Though they were getting older, Christmas was still their favorite time of year. We lived on a street that went all out for Christmas— decorating every nook and cranny with lights, fake snow, and blow-up snow globes. Everything looked joyful and perfect on the outside of our house; but like my life, the inside looked drab and drear.

I stopped talking to God. I had never done that before, but I was wounded in ways I didn’t even understand at the time. Why had God moved us all the way from Tennessee to California just a few years earlier? Now my husband was going to be unemployed soon after Christmas. We left everything for this?

I trudged out to the mailbox. There was a package from my sister. I placed it under the tree and forgot about it until Christmas Day.

Her box was the last one I opened. She loved sending me copies of her favorite CDs and there was usually a note to tell me which songs were her most-loved. This time was no exception. One of the songs on her favorite list was entitled, “It Might Be Hope” by Sara Groves.

I opened the packaging and inserted the CD in my player. I listened to the words:

Hope has a way of turning its face to you
Just when you least expect it
You walk in a room
You look out a window
And something there leaves you breathless
You say to yourself
It’s been a while since I felt this
But it feels like it might be hope

As I listened— and I didn’t know why— but I began to cry. What did she see outside her window that gave her hope? I needed to see something that would give me hope again.

That was the first time I had talked to God in a while. I had always shared everything with Him, talking to Him all day long, every day.

That night I had a dream (another first-in-a-long-time event):

I was standing in the bathroom of the house where I grew up. I looked out the window to see the neighbor’s weeping willow tree (where, in real life, my sister and I used to run through its branches). There was a screen on the window and I couldn’t quite see the tree clearly. My husband walked over to take off the screen so I could have a better view. When I walked to the window, I could see the lush green weeping willow. But it wasn’t just the tree I saw, it was thousands upon thousands of beautiful hummingbirds. They were everywhere! I couldn’t even count them all. (I’ve always loved hummingbirds and God seems to use them to remind me of His promises). As I looked more carefully, one hummingbird flew toward me. As it flew, it turned into gold and disappeared. I gasped. I turned to my husband, “Did you see that?!” He smiled and nodded.

The next morning after the dream, and as I was waking, I began to think about the dream. I asked God, “What was that all about?” He spoke to my heart, “Listen to the song again.” When I did, I cried— this time with joy: I was overwhelmed with a sense of God’s love for me. I knew He was showing me that He hadn’t forgotten His promises and had not given up on me, even though I had given up on Him…for a little while. He hadn’t gone anywhere. He loved me no matter what. I was greatly affected by the dream and how much God loved me. It was the beginning of finding my way back to God— trusting Him again.

Remembering what God did for me then, how He showed His love for me those many years ago, is now giving me a renewed hope for this season we’re all in. I hope it helps to give you hope, too.


Spring Fling Kidlit Contest

I enjoyed participating in the Spring Fling contest last year so I thought I would put on my creative hat and write another story for this year’s contest.

The rules:

The story should be geared to children 12 or younger.

Find a GIF that inspires your story.

The word count can only be 150 words or less.

Sounds easy, right? But I did enjoy the creative process and it was a good distraction.

See what you think. I posted my entry below.


spring park bench

The Park Bench

by Sheila Alford

The park bench sat empty except for a thin pink-petal blanket.

It remembered Mondays when children would run and play after school.

On Tuesdays, an elderly couple would sit, feed the birds, and talk.

Wednesdays often saw a woman resting with her dog before continuing their walk up the hill.

Thursdays, a teenager would sit, read and giggle while she waited on her mom to pick her up.

On Fridays, a couple from the office building across the street would sit and eat lunch together.

On weekends, many people would come. The bench was a place of rest, relaxation, and laughter.

But for now, the bench sat empty except for a thin pink-petal blanket.

Huddled in their houses, the people missed the bench, too. Soon they would venture out again—to play, eat together, simply stand near others, or hug.

The bench would wait.  Spring wasn’t over yet, just delayed.

Hope in the Time of Corona

What is hope? What exactly does it mean to be hopeful— especially in such unprecedented, turbulent times?

My mind goes back to 2012 when I was barely hanging on. Something happened to me beyond my control and I was suffering physically. I didn’t know whether I would live or die or if what I was experiencing would be my new normal. It was a scary time, to say the least.

I began to cling to God like never before, and I found things to watch on YouTube that provided me with hope. Testimonies of people who had come out of excruciating pain or been healed of “untreatable” illnesses gave me hope. I could not watch anything on TV that increased my fears. That meant muting the ads for medication that detailed all sorts of awful side effects. I listened to the Bible on my phone and wrote Scripture verses on notecards that dealt with fear, hope, healing, and other topics. I put the cards all over my house where I could see them. I memorized the verses and hid them in my heart. Some of these notecards are still on my mirrors and walls. One of my favorites is Romans 15:13 (Amp):

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing [through the experience of your faith] that by the power of the Holy Spirit you will abound in hope and overflow with confidence in His promises.

I had to believe that I would be stronger for having gone through this experience.  And you know what? It took some time, but God brought me through and made me stronger. I have to believe He will do this again in the time of Corona.

According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word for hope is “elpís (from elpō, “to anticipate, welcome”)– properly, expectation of what is sure (certain); hope.”

This truth reminds me to focus my attention on a God who never changes and to remember what He has done for me in the past.  He is still good even in the midst of incredible suffering and turmoil. I find myself going back to limiting what I watch or read about the virus. I’ve been watching a lot of Hallmark feel-good movies; listening to praise music from the ’90s because that gives me comfort in some way; working on things that give me hope for the future (writing); and, of course, making sure I spend time with God and having a daily quiet time meditating on Scripture. I’ve been doing a few online Bible studies that have been helpful, too.

I know I will come out of this changed. It will be up to me to choose hope, not despair. I know if I rely on God, He will bring me through stronger and more compassionate.

But now, O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand.  Isaiah 64:8 (NKJV)

I love what Christian author Lysa TerKeurst says about potters and clay:

Lysa learned from a friend (whose mother makes pottery) that a wise potter knows how important it is to add some dust, called “grog,” to new clay. “To get this grog, the broken pieces must be shattered to dust just right. If the dust is shattered too finely, then it won’t add any structure to the new clay. And if it’s not shattered enough, the grog will be too coarse and make the potter’s hands bleed. But when shattered just right, the grog dust added to the new clay will enable the potter to form the clay into a larger and stronger vessel than ever before. And it can go through fires much hotter as well. Plus, when glazed, these pieces end up having a much more beautiful, artistic look to them than they would have otherwise.”

Well, that’s my prayer for me, and for you, too: that God will use the dust from our shattered lives to make us into something even more beautiful than we can ever imagine.