Jennifer Sienes

My husband is a prankster. It’s something I picked up on early in our relationship when he shared anecdotes of his past, but I hadn’t experienced it until our first real vacation. The two-week road trip was a test of sorts. We’d been together for a year and planned on being married, although he hadn’t officially popped the question yet. He quipped that if we traveled well together, we were a good match. Since he loved to see new sights, it actually made sense, although I doubt it would have been a deal breaker.

At the time, we lived in Northern California. I hadn’t been farther east than Oklahoma, and aside from a trip to Hawaii several years before, I’d never left the continental United States. We planned to drive up the Oregon Coast, through Washington, into British Columbia then return via Idaho. Believe it or not, I was most excited about needing a passport and collecting stamps. There was talk of a trip to Spain in our future, but my first stamp would be Canada.

It all started with that all-important passport. From the moment I got it, Chris teased me about my picture. “You look like Pollyanna. No one’s going to buy it.”

“What are you talking about?” I was never a fan of my own photos, but this one wasn’t too bad, aside from my goofy grin, which clearly communicated my delight.

“It’s going to raise suspicions,” he said.

I grabbed his passport and waved it in his face. “Talk about raising suspicion. You look like a gun runner or a drug lord.” And it was true. He hadn’t bothered to wash (or trim) his hair or mustache before the photo was taken, and it was in black and white. It reminded me of a picture of Poncho Villa in my 8th-grade students’ history book.

He wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “They’re used to photos like mine. You’ll see, babe. It’s going to cause problems at the border.”

And wouldn’t you know it, when we got to the Canadian border, they asked us to go into the office while they inspected our car. Was that typical? Did they inspect everyone’s vehicle or just those who seemed questionable?

“I told you,” Chris whispered as we entered the immigration office. “It’s your passport.”

“Very funny.” I nudged him with an elbow. “If anyone’s passport’s going to cause a ruckus, it’s not mine.” I wasn’t worried. Well, maybe a little. I needed to go inside anyway if I wanted my passport stamped.

Chris saw the immigration officer standing behind the desk and raised his voice. “Might as well come clean now, Jennifer. They’re going to find out what you did sooner or later anyway.”

I could feel heat rising up my neck and burning my cheeks as I glanced at the uniformed, gun-toting man. It didn’t appear he had a sense of humor with his crossed arms, narrowed eyes, and deep frown. Was Chris trying to get us into trouble? With a clenched jaw, I muttered to him, “I don’t think you’re funny, and neither does he.”

“Passports,” the officer barked.

We slid them onto the counter, and he snatched them up. “Wait here.” Then he disappeared into the back room.

“I can’t believe you did that,” I said under my breath.

Chris just grinned as if he hadn’t likely started an international incident.

It felt like we waited forever while my heart raced. We were two of the most strait-laced people I knew, but that might not matter. I’d read a lot of crazy stories in my time and had created more than a few myself.

Finally, the officer came out as stern-faced as he’d been when he went in.

“You have two choices, young lady.” He slammed a pair of handcuffs onto the counter with a loud bang, and I thought I was going to pass out. “We can either lock this jokester up for you, or you can both get on with your trip. Which do you prefer?” Only then did he crack a smile.

Hand to my heart, I started laughing. “I should have you lock him up, but I guess it would kind of ruin the vacation.”

“Good choice,” he said, handing us our passports.

“Did you stamp them?” I asked.

He looked a little confused.

“My passport.” I held it up, emboldened by his kindness. “Did you stamp it?”

Chris leaned his elbow on the counter. “It’s kind of her thing,” he explained. “She wants proof she was here.”

“Ahh.” He smiled. “You got it.”

The rest of our trip went without a hitch, and when we were stopped at immigration on our way out of Canada, I was much more relaxed. We went into the office, just as we had when we entered, and slid our passports to the officer on duty.

“Can I get mine stamped?” I asked the officer.

He tilted his head and squinted. “You’re entering the United States.”

“I know,” I said, ignoring Chris’s chuckle.

“You’re an American citizen, entering the U.S., and you want an American stamp?”

I nodded. “A stamp is a stamp.”

He barked out a laugh. “Well, that’s a new one. Let me see if I can find my stamper.” He wandered into the back of the office, scratching his head.

“You’re pretty cute, you know that?” Chris kissed me on the temple. “And you’re a great traveling partner.”

It seemed I’d passed his so-called test, and I got two stamps in the process.

We ended up getting married that very summer. Good news, bad news. Because I changed my name, I needed a new passport, and I had to start from scratch.

When I had my new photo taken, I was told not to smile. “No one smiles when they’re traveling,” the postal clerk said. “It’s better if you look a little road weary.” I guess Chris was right after all.


Susan K. Beatty

Lessons I Learned from My Novel

Recently, my husband and I experienced an expensive and disheartening set of trials. I felt as if I were Job or in the middle of Egypt’s ten plagues. Of course, in hindsight, it wasn’t nearly that bad. No one was dying (although some days I felt like I was), no hospitalizations or illnesses.

Yet, I felt weak and wondering how I would survive.

That’s how Olivia felt in my upcoming novel, Faces of Courage. She battled an abusive husband, breast cancer, desertion, and loneliness. How could she survive?

Was her faith strong enough to survive such trails? If not, where would she find it? Where would she find the intersection of faith and grit to be courageous enough to abide in God and trust Him for the outcome? Good or bad?

Olivia’s situations were far worse than my puny trials. Yes, I know. She’s a fictional character, and her trials were at the hand of a cruel author (me!). Nevertheless, I learned something from Olivia.

The Lord often has authors write from lessons learned, but it’s ironic that He’d have me learn lessons from my writing. Without claiming divine inspiration (I wouldn’t dare!), did He have me put Olivia through hardships and have her learn lessons in faith, grit, and courage, just so I could put these lessons into practice in my own trials?

Something to think about, for sure.

You may wonder, “Well, what are these lessons? What did you learn? How did you apply them for yourself?”

Here’s the thing. If I gave you the answers, you wouldn’t need to read Faces of Courage, get to know Olivia, or experience her courage. Maybe even learn some lessons.

Faces of Courage will be released on May 11. It’s available for pre-order in Kindle format. Paperback will be available eventually. In the meantime, two companion books, House of Courage and Isobel’s Mission of Courage are available now.

Courage: The Intersection of Faith and Grit.