Jennifer Sienes

Until I met my husband Chris, I never traveled much. Twice to Hawaii and several camping trips does not an experienced sightseer make. Chris, however, inherited the bug from his father, who was quite the adventurer. From the moment I married into the family, Dad was coming up with one trip or another. He and Mom preferred cruises in their advanced years. I’d never been on one myself, so when they suggested the whole family go on an Alaskan cruise, I was ready to pack my bags.

Navigating this particular trip would be a little tricky, because we had to fly from San Francisco to Fairbanks via Canada, which was considered international travel. Chris made all the plane reservations for the family. He didn’t take into consideration that Mom didn’t do early, so it was no surprise when Dad changed our flight out of San Francisco to a later time. The only problem was, he didn’t bother to change our connecting flight from Canada to Fairbanks. Those Canadians are sticklers for the rules. When they say you’re required to arrive two hours ahead of flight time, they aren’t kidding.

Needless to say, when we attempted to check into our Canadian flight forty-five minutes before departure, we were nearly laughed out of the airport. I think Dad was feeling a little guilty, and he wasn’t about to let all of us down. He used all his powers of persuasion on the registration clerk until she gave in.

“You can try,” she said. “But it takes all of ninety minutes to get through baggage claim and security, so I don’t think there is any way you’ll make it.”

I filled out the required Customs Declaration Form and gave it to Chris. Being the gentleman that he is, he took Mom’s carry-on bag, because it was slowing her down. We got all the way to security before things went south. Or should I say further south. Since we were bogged down with more luggage than anyone else (with Mom’s added bag) we were the last to get to customs.

While my heart raced, we piled everything onto the scanning belt. We had less than twenty minutes to make our flight.

The agent pointed to Mom’s bag. “Are there any liquids in here?”

Chris, who is nothing if not completely honest, said, “I don’t know. It isn’t mine.”

I can’t properly describe the expression on the agent’s face—or the incredulous words going through my mind. It didn’t help that Chris was so calm and relaxed while I bordered on a full-blown panic attack. He explained that it was his mother’s bag.

“And where is she?” the agent asked, looking around as if Mom would appear.

“Already gone through security,” Chris explained. “I’m carrying it for her.”

“We’ll need to inspect it, then.” The agent waved over a colleague and they proceeded to open up all our bags.

Great. It would be a miracle if we made it through customs let alone to our departure gate. It didn’t help matters that Mom had packed full-sized bottles of lotion and shampoo. I could feel my blood pressure rising so high, steam was coming out my ears. They confiscated Mom’s bottles, did a secondary search just in case they missed something, and finally let us go. The rest of the family was nowhere to be seen. No doubt they were on the plane ready for take-off.

We still had to pass through the custom’s officer. “Do you have your Customs Declaration Form?” he asked.

Chris looked at me. “Well?”

“I gave it to you.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did,” I said through gritted teeth. This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. I recalled a similar experience with a bus transfer in San Francisco the year before.

“No problem,” the agent said. “Here’s another one. Just step aside and fill it out.”

I was ready to walk away right then and there. Traveling to exotic locales was overrated, so who needed it? With tears of frustration blinding me, I couldn’t see well enough to fill out the form, but Chris didn’t have his glasses. I did the best I could and slapped it into his hands as we got back in line.

“We’re never going to make our flight,” I said, tears coursing down my cheeks. “Your whole family will be on that cruise, and we’ll be stuck here.”

The agent’s eyebrows shot up. He pulled a box of Kleenex from his podium and offered it to me. “Run,” he said. “Forget the form. Just run.”

We took off down the airport terminal like the hounds of hades were on our heels. Of course, our gate was at the very end, and when we arrived, there was Chris’s sister waving us forward.

“Hurry,” she yelled. “They’re holding the plane for you.”

When we were finally seated, and I could breathe again, Chris patted his shirt pocket. “Uh oh,” he said.


He pulled out a folded sheet of paper and handed it to me. It was our Customs Declaration Form.

“I told you I gave it to you.” But it didn’t matter. Somehow, by the grace of God and a sympathetic customs agent, we actually made it.


Katherine Scott Jones

Why Bolivia?

Many readers ask me why I chose to set parts of my second novel, Shadow Sister, in Bolivia. The quick answer is: I didn’t choose Bolivia; it chose me.

The more involved answer is this: Just like with my previous novel, Her Memory of Music, in writing Shadow Sister I sought to explore the ways in which women from different parts of the world can figuratively—and sometimes literally—join hands across cultures and continents.

The idea for how I could accomplish this in Shadow Sister first came to me in the form of tragic news: the twenty-five-year-old daughter of someone I knew perished in Bolivia, in much the same way as does Jenna in the story’s opening pages. Although I did not know this vibrant young woman personally, her life, dreams, and untimely death left an indelible mark on me—and my imagination. When I started to explore the what if questions that eventually bloomed into the book that became Shadow Sister, it made sense to maintain the Bolivian setting.

Bolivia lends itself naturally as a writer’s choice because it possesses a widely varied terrain, ranging from chilly heights to arid salt flats and lush rain forests. It’s also rich in paradoxes and extremes—the complexity of which offers plenty of scope for exploration.

For example, despite its great natural wealth, Bolivia is the poorest country in South America—thus, its earned moniker: “a beggar on a throne of gold.” It also claims three official languages—Spanish, Amaya, and Quechua—and yet is one of most illiterate South American countries. And despite medical advances, it still has the highest infant mortality on that continent.

But alongside these sobering realities is the resilience of the people who live there—many of whom cling to a vibrant faith in the goodness and provision of a loving God, despite the harshness of their circumstances.

My research and interviews developed in me a deep appreciation for the people of Bolivia—their strength and creativity and ability to endure. They inspire me, and I hope that after reading Shadow Sister, they will inspire you too.


Susan K. Beatty

Sharing a Call to Courage

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking before a group of ladies from my church about “A Call to Courage.” After months of not gathering with these dear women, it was a time of joyful fellowship.

The bonus was being asked to speak on my passion subject: courage at the intersection of faith and grit.

Fourteen months (and counting) of information and misinformation overload, isolation, and confusion have left many of us weary. Add to that the usual trials that occur outside of the pandemic, like finances, health, family relationship issues, and a myriad other life stresses—no wonder many of us are wondering what happened to our grit. Some may even waver in faith.

I shared with the women how, through my family’s trials that included cancer, a heart attack, and household disasters, I have been holding onto Hebrews 10:21-23 (CSB):

“and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful.” [Emphasis mine.]

The Lord has given each of us a measure of faith (Romans 12:3). Holding on to that faith, that confession of hope without wavering equals the grit.

We find a Biblical example of that intersection in the story of David and Goliath. I Samuel 17 tells us about David’s faith and grit.

David said in verse 37, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Further in I Samuel 17, David tells the Philistine that he comes against him in the name of the Lord of the Armies and that He will hand Goliath over to David, and “this whole assembly will know that it is not by sword or by spear that the Lord saves, for the battle is the Lord’s.”

There is David’s faith.

So, what about David’s grit? Verse 48 tells us, “When the Philistine started forward, David ran quickly to the battle…” [emphasis mine]

A perfect example of courage at the intersection of faith and grit.

What do you need courage for today? What giant is taunting you?

Let’s hold on to God’s promises and with confidence persevere in faith. And where the Lord leads, boldly step out.

I called the ladies to courage, because, as with David, we can face the giants of adversity with a small measure of faith and rush into battle, knowing He who promised is faithful.