Jennifer Sienes

Glossophobia. There’s a word. Do you know what it means? Glosso is apparently Greek for tongue and phobia is a fear of something. No, it’s not a fear of tongues. That would just be weird. It’s a fear of public speaking. I didn’t make the connection myself until I suffered from it. Let me backtrack a bit.

A couple of years ago, one of the ladies in my church told me she and some of the other members wanted to put together a Women’s Day event. Someone would teach a craft and they’d have a luncheon. She asked if I’d be willing to speak about writing. It sounded like a small craft party to me, so I didn’t give it much thought when I said, “Sure.”

Then Covid hit, everything went on hold, and I didn’t even think about it again. This past February, my husband Chris and I were out of town for most of the month, and I got a phone call from Patty, another lady from our church. “I understand you agreed to speak at our Women’s Day event,” she said. “We plan on holding it at the end of April. Are you still on board?” Hmm. It didn’t sound like a little craft party anymore, but what could I say but yes?

The following month, I attended the event meeting. This time, Patty was out of town, and I hadn’t spoken to her since the phone call. I felt as if I’d showed late to the party. When the pastor’s wife announced that she’d scheduled a speaker for the event, I took a deep (internal) breath of relief. Thank You, Lord. I was off the hook.

After a few of the women went over their tasks in preparation for the event, I asked what I could do to help. “It doesn’t appear I’m on any of the committees,” I said.

The pastor’s wife turned to me. “You’re speaking, of course. That’s more than enough.”

“But I thought you just said you found a speaker, so I assumed you wouldn’t need me.”

She smiled. “She’ll be speaking in the afternoon. You’ll speak in the morning.”

“Okay.” My heart started racing. “How long should my message be?”

I thought the pastor’s wife said fifteen minutes, to which I replied, “15 minutes? That’s not a problem.”

“Not fifteen,” she corrected. “I said fifty.”

Fifty minutes! That was, like, almost an hour. “About what?” I couldn’t imagine I’d have anything of value to share that could take that long. Fifteen minutes was a stretch.

Another one of the ladies spoke up. “The theme is Tearing Down Walls to Build Bridges to Self, God, and Others. But I think you should talk about your writing journey.” She looked around at the group. “Don’t y’all agree?” And they did.

It just so happened our first annual Women’s Day was scheduled for the same date as two of my book deadlines—a Christmas novella and Book 2 in my new series. It was also smack in the middle of the eight-week launch for Book 1, which would release two weeks prior. I had the sense that God was using this opportunity to stretch me a little. Every time I got a tad comfortable and felt as if I could handle my schedule, He would come along and shake things up a bit so I would lean on Him.

I was kicking myself for even agreeing to be a guest speaker. What did I know about speaking? I’d never done it before, and every time I thought about the subject matter (my journey) it felt so…self-centered. I am an introvert, and the last place I like to be is in the center of attention. How could I have been so arrogant to think I could do this? Fortunately, I had six weeks to pull something together, so I focused on my writing deadlines and figured the Lord would work out the speaking thing.

Every now and then Chris (who had preached at our church a few times) asked if I’d started on my speech yet. “I’m thinking about it,” I’d say. And I was. In my quiet time with the Lord, I’d come across a scripture verse or quote in one of my devotionals that connected with my journey, and I’d write it down. I prayed about it. A lot. Or I should say, I complained about it. How could I possibly share my journey and not make it all about me? I wanted to spin it, so my journey connected with everyone else’s journey in some manner.

Coincidentally (or not), I started giving podcast interviews. The motivation was to get some traffic for my newest release. The podcasters were pastors or Christian leaders who wanted to know how I went from teaching to writing. How had God inspired me to capture the season of loss, grief, and pain into the pages of the fictional books I’d written? The more interviews I did, the more passionate I became to share how God’s sovereignty had bolstered my faith, even in the hardest situations.

And that was what I needed to share at Women’s Day. It wasn’t really about me. Instead, it was about the Lord, and how He was faithful to use the difficult things He’d allowed in my life to grow my faith and give me abundant blessings. And I wanted everyone who heard me speak to know that He wanted the same for them, too.

Sounds good, right? I wrote out my speech (thirteen pages of it!) and practiced. And practiced. And practiced. But the more I practiced, the worse it got. Finally, the night before the event, I almost broke down and cried. “I can’t do this,” I told Chris. “I’m going to make a complete fool of myself.”

“May I make a suggestion?” He asked.

“Absolutely. Anything.”

“You’re trying to read it without looking as if you’re reading it. I don’t know how you can keep track like this.”

“I don’t know how else to do it.”

“Babe, it’s your story. You know it inside and out. What if we trim it down to bullet points? That’s how I do it when I’m sharing the message at church. Put your scripture verses and quotes in bold but keep everything else simple.”

So that’s what I did. But I still had to survive speaking in front of seventy women, many of whom were not from our church. As I stood behind the podium from which out pastor preached every Sunday, the strangest, most amazing thing happened. The Holy Spirit took over. I remember uttering my opening lines, and from then on, it was no longer me who was talking. The only time I looked down at my notes was to share a verse or quote—except I didn’t even do that on my own. It just so happened my eyes dropped to the paper at the appropriate times.

When I finished, I’d been speaking for a full hour, and I’ve been told it was inspirational. I wouldn’t know because I don’t remember it. God is so good. When He calls us to do something, He is faithful to see it through—despite our inadequacies and weaknesses.

So, to make this article not all about me—if the Lord asks you to step out of the boat and walk on water, He will be there with you. He won’t let you sink. Trust me, I know.


Mountain Brook Ink

Tough Questions

Grief. Depression. Anxiety. Addiction. Abuse. These are just a few tough topics that many Christians struggle to find a Biblical response to.

Too often, Christians throw out trite phrases such as “you’ll see them again” or “you should have ‘the joy of the Lord’” or “honor your husband” or “have you prayed about it?” to people struggling with these heavy situations. There is truth in each of these phrases. After all, they’re from the Bible! But the Bible should be read in its full context, not simplified to a single prooftext.

Often, these proof texts cut apart from their context cause more harm than good. I have a friend who struggled with anxiety. She was told by her pastor that Jesus says “do not worry” in Matthew 6, and therefore her anxiety was sinful. Such an interpretation completely ignores the context of the passage about God’s love for even the smallest sparrows—and pushed my friend to worry more, not less.

Another even more difficult topic—one that even well-meaning churches have sadly been complicit in—is abuse. Marriage is a good thing. Faithfulness is a good thing. Respect is a good thing. But what happens when a husband harms his wife physically? What if he does it twice? What if he says he’ll do better, but he does it again three months later? What if he does it to your child? When is it okay to leave—and how can a woman leave without the abuser harming her even more?

These are tough, tough questions, and they can’t be answered by a single Bible verse. Scripture is full of truth, but it doesn’t speak to our specific context and the specific people in our lives. Sometimes, different Biblical principles seem to pull us in different directions. It takes prayer, discernment, and bravery to choose a direction and follow through.

I have never endured abuse myself, but while working on an app alongside a licensed Christian counselor, I had the opportunity to become more educated on the topic. It was shortly after editing a section in the app about Abuse that I had the privilege to read One Woman Falling by Melanie Campbell.

Campbell writes from the wisdom of experience—and I was blown away. I could see abstract concepts I’d learned from the counselor brought to life with poignancy and realism. In every inch of the story, I felt Cassie’s fears and hurts, her hopes, and her determination to protect her daughter. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where the lead character felt so beat-down and helpless, yet simultaneously so impressed me with her determination and bravery.

One Woman Falling is not a light story, but it’s a kind of story I want to see published more often. Because I believe that if Christ can handle my hard questions about the world, so should Christian fiction.


Susan K. Beatty

Also Starring – The Cast’s Secondary Characters

Characters give a story heart. They draw us in and make us care. (Well, that’s the idea anyway.)

Readers are mostly concerned about the main characters (also known as lead or primary characters). But other figures are important too. We call them secondary, minor, or extra characters. Each has a slightly different role.

Secondary characters play supporting or, as the name implies, secondary roles. I like to make my secondary characters as interesting as possible because they are important to the story and the lead figures, influencing them for good or bad.

In The Fragrance of Violets, the story is about Fiona and Nason, so naturally, they are primary. But how could we have a story without Fiona’s best friend or her mother? Without Nason’s wife and son? And everybody loves a romantic interest, right?

I fell in love with Fiona’s best friend, Lottie. I probably made her too perfect. She’s wise, caring, smart, and has been Fiona’s mentor in her new walk with Christ. Then again, she’s not really perfect. Her love for pizza may have given her a few too many curves.

Romance was not part of my original story idea, but suddenly Trevor showed up. Say what? As a male model, he challenges Fiona’s idea of what a man’s career path should look like. He also knows what Fiona’s going through with Nason, having suffered from the actions of his own father. His empathy and counsel, along with Lottie’s, are essential to Fiona’s path to forgiveness.

Then there’s Fiona’s mother, Maeve. A complicated person with a lot of problems and baggage, she brings a lot of conflict to the table. Important, because stories are all about the conflict. But she’s also a hurting person, harboring a secret, a lie. How will Fiona act if/when it’s discovered? Maeve is also a troublemaker in Nason’s life. She can’t forgive him for abandoning their relationship.

Another agitator in Nason’s life is his wife, Irina. She resents Nason’s past liaison with Maeve and his so-called daughter, Fiona. Irina thought marrying an attorney meant she’d have a glamorous, sophisticated life. And she means to have it.

Irina also thinks it is her duty to see her son, Ricky, and his fiancée, Rainbow, get a lavish wedding to make up for Nason’s past. Ricky would settle for something less, but he won’t settle for Fiona being brought back into the family fold. He learned entitlement from his parents.

I love to give at least one character a quirky name. Thus, Ricky’s fiancée became Rainbow. And I couldn’t resist naming her parents Red and Violet. Rainbow and her parents are considered minor characters. These characters serve the story, and in this book, I use them to explain why Rainbow has such an unusual name.

Extras, like in the movies, aren’t usually named. They’re the cab driver, the waitperson, the stranger across the room.

I hope you’ll read The Fragrance of Violets and come to love the characters, both primary and secondary. Then again, you may strongly dislike a few. There we have the conflict, the story, the heart.

The Fragrance of Violets, book 2 in my Faces of Courage series, released in May and can be ordered on Amazon!