Jennifer Sienes

Let me be totally transparent—I was not given the gift of hospitality. Living in the South for more than three years now, I’ve come to realize this is a character flaw. While most of the ladies at my church pull out all the stops when it comes to a potluck, I’m scrambling for recipes and the time to prepare them. Imagine how much harder it is when we have guests for dinner or (gasp!) people staying for days, which was a non-issue until this past year.

Aside from the abundance of down-home cooking, we found another cultural difference in Tennessee. Families stick. Three, four, and five generations line the pews of our church every Sunday. People raise their children in the same town in which they were raised, and their grandparents were raised. Our own kids scattered the moment they could, and even when we lived in California, we were hours from our parents when they were still alive. Now, with only the two of us sitting together in a pew among these large families, we feel almost bereft.

Until recently, our guest rooms have remained vacant aside from a holiday or two when our son blessed us with his presence. I don’t worry too much about food when he’s around because he’ll eat anything—and sometimes does the cooking. In fact, last Thanksgiving, we didn’t have a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Instead, he made beef wellington. It’s clear the cooking gene skipped me—it went from my mom straight to him. It’s not that I can’t boil water or follow a recipe. Food isn’t all that important to me, so I’ve never taken to the idea of being a foodie. However, I’ve been told I make a wicked good salad! I suppose that doesn’t actually count as cooking, though.

Over the last several months, my lack of the hospitality gift has been challenged, and I’ve tried to rise to the occasion, even if it’s kept me awake nights worrying and planning. I believe the influx of visitors was in preparation for more. My mom used to say, “Be careful what you wish for.” In fact, what I’ve been wishing for—or more accurately, praying for—is that we might be surrounded by family, even if that means I’d be required to feed them. My prayers started the day after we arrived in Tennessee. You’d think if family was so important to us, we wouldn’t have left Northern California in the first place. We were both born and raised there, so that’s where most of our friends and family still reside. What would compel us to leave such a vital component of our lives?

The simple answer is that God called us out. The how of it is complicated and better left for another article. But when God says, “Go,” you don’t question Him. It may not have been a command of Abrahamic proportions, but we are simple people who desire to follow as the Lord leads. We didn’t know why He chose Tennessee. It was before the great exodus from California, so we certainly weren’t following the pack. Although we love living here, have made wonderful friends, and adore the culture, we knew there had to be more. We just weren’t sure how it would all play out.

Let me interject right here that just because your prayers aren’t answered according to your timeline, it doesn’t mean God isn’t working in the background. Can I get an amen? He puts the desires on our hearts that He intends to fulfill—eventually. My desire to write was born when I was twelve. It took decades for the Lord to work that particular gift into something He could use for my good and His glory. It certainly didn’t look like I initially expected. The same is true for those prayers I began uttering over three years ago. How would God respond to them?

It started when Chris’s mom passed on September 11, 2020. Chris’s sister, Diane, was the main caregiver for Mom, although Chris (often with me and our Maltese, Gracie) flew back every four to six weeks. We spent more time with Mom after we moved to Tennessee than when we lived only a few hours away. Without Mom to care for any longer, Diane was ready for a change. She decided to follow us to Tennessee. Unexpected blessing number one.

Our daughter and her husband live in Louisiana while Nikki completes her master’s degree. If all goes well, she’ll be done by the time this article is published, then they will focus on finding a home in our neck of the woods. Unexpected blessing number two.

We have an unofficial “adopted” daughter, Rana. It doesn’t matter that we adopted her when she was in her early 20’s, we love her just the same as if we’d acquired her at birth. Now she has a husband and two little girls—our granddaughters. Because of the restrictions in California, they decided it’s best not raise their girls there. After a visit this past summer, they made the decision to relocate near us. They were here in time for Christmas. Unexpected blessing number three. Rana’s sister, husband and three children followed so they’d be near family. Unexpected blessing number four.

We had ten adults and five children for Christmas this year. And while that’s not much for most, it was a definite test for me. However, that was a temporary stress that passed with the holiday season. The true challenge will be learning to effectively balance family and work. Because until this time, I’ve had all the hours necessary to keep up with the demands of my publisher. Factor in being available for our adult children and grandchildren, things will get a little trickier.

But the Lord never gives us more than we can handle. In fact, I believe He’s been stretching me this year for just this occasion. The abundance of visitors we’ve had since May is teaching me to live in the present rather than stress about the future. I know that my writing will be richer because of the impact of these relationships. When we’re required to be in the trenches with others, we have a deeper appreciation for the trials and tribulations they go through. We learn how to navigate the hard questions, witness in a real way, and love more thoroughly.

A bigger family means more food. More food preparation. More hospitality. But our God is so good. My husband recently decided he needed a hobby he could literally sink his teeth into. Cooking. Unexpected blessing number five. He wants to learn the culinary arts, and now he’ll have more mouths to feed than I ever have. I will happily relinquish my spatula into his more capable hands while I tend to writing and whatever else God calls me to. Because we all know it’s not cooking!


Susan K. Beatty

Struggling with Forgiveness

In a recent #BecauseFiction article, I explored the strong women characters I write about in my books.

I’d like to introduce you to Fiona Hanlon, the main character in my upcoming novel, The Fragrance of Violets, to be released May 2022.

As are most of my main characters, Fiona is strong, but she doesn’t recognize it when the story begins. She’s saddled with hurt and devastation from the abandonment of her father figure when she was twelve.

Plus, she and her mother effectively had to switch roles about that time because, unable to cope, her mother became entangled in the addiction trap.

With the encouragement of her best friend Lottie and Lottie’s family, Fiona graduated from college and succeeded in the hospitality industry. Her people skills and attention to detail earned her the position of sales and catering manager at a luxury Southern California beach resort.

Fiona thinks she has her emotional wounds under control. But they seem to keep her from the promotion she’s been after. As if that weren’t enough, she runs into her father figure and is forced to be on his son’s wedding planning staff at the resort.

Lottie is a secondary character who is also her roommate and a strong Christian who walks with her along the path of unforgiveness to forgiveness.

But are there two sides to the story? Her father figure, Nason Williams, is also a main point of view character, and we get to see memories and events through his eyes. A corporate attorney, he has his own tale of betrayal and the need to forgive.

Life is often several conflicts at once. Woven throughout Fiona and Nason’s struggles with each other are additional personal difficulties. Fiona attempts to help her mother, possibly begin a new romance, and grapples with losing her roommate when Lottie gets married. Nason has several battle fronts: his wife Irina, his son Ricky, his son’s wedding, his new boss, and his law firm’s accusations of wrongdoing.

Juggling so many issues, Fiona and Nason, both new-ish Christians, need to find courage by relying on their faith. But can they also call upon their grit to step out when the Lord calls?

The Lord requires us to forgive as we have been forgiven. But it often takes a courage we think is impossible to exercise.

I learned a lot about forgiveness while writing The Fragrance of Violets. Conviction often set in, and it wasn’t always comfortable. Nor can I say I’m perfect at it now. I think it takes a lifetime of practice.

And what about Fiona and Nason?

Will Fiona forgive Nason? Will Nason come to understand his need to ask for that forgiveness? Will he forgive those who falsely accuse him?

I can’t wait for The Fragrance of Violets to be released so you can discover the answers. While you’re waiting, you can read more about characters looking for forgiveness in my novelette Carmen’s Journey of Courage.