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A Peek Into The Mended Hearts Photo Album

September 29, 2015

Swimming SceneMy edits for book three, Jilted, are due soon, and I’m frantically scrambling to finish in time. After working around the clock, I’ve determined that deadlines are appropriately named, because I’ve witnessed the death of several of my favorite pastimes. Like sleeping, exercising, even family time.

Another hobby that has died a painful death is blogging. I know this madness is temporary, and soon my life will be back to normal, but for now, I only have time to share pictures from my photo album.

These are some of my favorite West Texas shots which have inspired scenes in the Mended Hearts seriesCan you identify any of them? (for answers, see below)

Wind Farm

Background Favorite

Scenic Overlook




Where are these scenes in the books? Here are explanations:

  1. The holding tank in Ansel and Velma’s side pasture. JohnScott was baptized here in Jaded, and in Justified, he and Fawn had a heart-stopping encounter while swimming.
  2. This wind field plays a major role in Jilted, and Lynda spends a lot of time staring at the slow, rotating blades because they sooth her trouble nerves.
  3. The Llano Estacado Caprock Escarpement. In Justified, Fawn’s house perches on the edge, and she has a splendid view for miles around.
  4. The scenic overlook where Tyler hangs out in Justified. This is where he carves Fawn’s name in his arm and watches her house through binoculars. *creepers*
  5. Random pump jack. In Jaded, Ruthie mentions the odor … I think.
  6. Flat Top Mountain. In Justified, Fawn has a fleeting memory of her father’s ranch hands riding here. (I have a fleeting memory of riding here when I was a young girl.)
  7. Random pasture. This could be part of Ansel’s back pasture where Dodd and Ruthie had their date (dinner, movie, and dancing) in Jaded.
  8. Downtown Abernathy, Texas. But let’s pretend it’s Trapp!

For pictures of the CHARACTERS in the Mended Hearts series, check out my Pinterest boards.

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Media Credits:

  • Llano Estacado Caprock Escarpement – Wikimedia Commons, Leaflet
  • Concrete Water Trough (holding tank) – Manna Precast Concrete
  • Big Spring State Park Picnic Table – Wikimedia Commons, Leaflet

Click to Tweet: A Peek Into the Mended Hearts Photo Album 

Do Christian Romance Novels Cause Unrealistic Expectations?

September 15, 2015

From Varina Denman's blog: Do Christian Romance Novels Give Women Unrealistic Expectations?

I’ve blogged about this topic before, HERE, but I have new-and-improved thoughts, so I’m hitting it again.

There’s a lot of talk about the pros and cons of Christian romance novels, especially whether or not they give women unrealistic expectations of men. In these books, the heroes are often depicted as near-perfect specimens of masculinity—which leaves real men lagging in comparison.

First of all, I want to say … I get it. I hear the argument, and it’s valid.

Even though most Christian novels bless me, I’ve struggled with a few titles just like I’ve struggled with a few PG-13 romantic comedies. (even some PG) I find myself comparing my husband to fictional perfection, and not surprisingly, he begins to look sort of pitiful.

But my unrealistic expectations began in childhood when I read Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Then came scores of other books, movies, TV shows, commercials, songs, even stories in school textbooks. A lifetime immersed in happy-ever-afters has left me perplexed with real-life relationship issues, so I tend to be cautious about what I read and watch.

But not everyone is the same.

I have friends that are not affected that way and never have been. They read a story with a typical alpha male hero while they live out their own dream with their non-perfect significant other, and they never think twice. They’re happy, and the story seems to solidify that happiness, reminding them that their man is perfect for them by their own definition of alpha male.

Novels that are meant to be a brief getaway from reality often pull readers away from their worries and remind them that love is worth the trouble of real life. They give readers hope. The same book, movie, or song that damages one relationship, helps another.

So I’ve determined something about novels, which can also be applied to movies, videos, TV shows, magazines—or anything else that puts information into my brain—and that is this: We’re all different, and we’re all influenced by different factors. Christian romance novels have blessed thousands of lives, but if I find one that’s not for me … by all means, I’ll shut the book. If it takes my thoughts where they shouldn’t be, or if it seems that the characters (especially the hero) are giving me a false impression of real Christian men, then it’s MY responsibility to put the book down, just like I need to eject the DVD, or change the channel, or turn my eyes away. It’s my responsibility to guard my heart no matter where the influence is coming from.

So is it true that Christian romance novels cause unrealistic expectations? Sure. Some of them. For some women. Some of the time. But those books are also a huge blessing to many readers because the underlying stories of hope help women see the good in their own lives.

What about you? How are you affected by Christian romance?

From Varina Denman's blog: Do Christian Romance Novels Cause Unrealistic Expectations?

Justified CoverRead about my latest novel, Justified, (a Christian romance!) in which the heroine’s expectations are so mixed-up, she can’t make sense of any of the men in her life.

In a small Texas town ruled by gossip, Fawn Blaylock believes others are justified in condemning her untimely pregnancy. Stifled by guilt, she yearns for grace while the local football coach treats her with gentle respect.


Tweetable: Do Christian romance novels give women unrealistic expectations?

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That Icky Back-to-School Question I ask Myself Every September

September 1, 2015

From That Icky Back-to-school Question This Mom Asks Herself Every Year

My social media threads have been flooded with first-day-of-school pictures from friends and family. Snaggle-toothed first graders defying gravity with backpacks larger than themselves, high schoolers sitting behind the wheels of first cars, college freshmen moving into dorm rooms miles away from home.

As I admire these picture-perfect scenarios (and compare my parenting skills), a nagging question creeps into my brain concerning my own little chicks. Three of them have flown the nest, but I still have two under my wing (though they insist on stretching their fuzzy feathers to make routine test flights—but that’s another story).

The icky question gets louder while a negative-talk meanie (in my vivid imagination) crosses her arms, narrows her eyes, and asks: Are your children learning enough? Are they getting enough exercise? Enough love and encouragement? Enough spiritual direction? Are their extra-curricular activities enough? Are their friends enough? Are YOU enough?

For five seconds or five minutes or five days … I listen to the meanie voice, and I doubt my choices, my actions, my abilities. But then I yank myself out of the pessimistic stupor I’m wallowing in and tell the meanie to hush up, because … of COURSE, I’m not enough for my kids. I’m human, therefore I’m going to mess up. It’s a simple fact of life, but on the bright side … my two youngest children have a far greater advantage than did my older three because I’ve learned from my mistakes—and my kiddos are turning out all right in spite of me.

I wish I had known years ago what I know now (which I should have known years ago because it’s so in-my-face obvious), and that is this: God makes up the difference. As a human mother, all I can do is my best. I literally can’t do better than that, but God takes my offering and makes it into what my children need. He fills the gaps with His Spirit, in the form of family, friends, mentors, ministers, and even books, movies, and online media, and this is SUCH GOOD NEWS for me as a mom … because I don’t have to be Superwoman. In fact, I can’t be. All I can be is me.

And that’s enough.

I can do all things through Him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13 NIV

Justified CoverNow that the kids are back in school, maybe you’ve got time to read. If so, check out my latest novel, Justifiedthat tells the story of a young woman dealing with her own insecurities about parenting.

In a small Texas town ruled by gossip, Fawn Blaylock believes others are justified in condemning her untimely pregnancy. Stifled by guilt, she yearns for grace while the local football coach treats her with gentle respect.

vvdenman newletter sneak peek

Tweetable: That Icky Back-to-school Question Mothers Ask Themselves Every September.

I Survived … My First Public Speaking Engagement

August 18, 2015

I never intended to be a public speaker, but in spite of my insecurities, I had a BLAST at my first book signing. Saturday at the Mahon Public Library in Lubbock, Texas, I talked about my writing then read an excerpt from my debut novel, Jaded. There were cookies, veggies, and raspberry tea, but most importantly there, there were friends, family, and readers. I owe a huge thanks to the librarians and patrons!

VarinaDenman Library Signing

Varina Denman

vvdenman newletter sneak peek

Are You Good Enough For God?

July 7, 2015


Do you ever worry that you’re not good enough?

That you’ll somehow be turned away at the pearly gates, even though you faithfully attend worship three times a week and never ever say naughty words?

Sometimes I worry about that. Not that it makes sense. Even though those things are important, they aren’t necessarily a sign that my heart is in the right place. Still, an insecure, childlike voice in my head whispers:

“I can’t believe you said/did/thought/didn’t do that, Varina.”

“You could be more loving and compassionate.”

“Probably God doesn’t like you any more.”

It’s like this: One day I feel good about myself, holy and heaven-bound, but the next day I do something un-Christlike, and I feel that my one-way ticket to Heaven has been temporarily revoked. Not until I earn a few credits to make-up for it, do I once again feel like I’m good enough.

Do you ever do that?

It’s appropriate for me to repent of my sins, but I take it a step further by tacking on a requirement of works. In my immaturity, I gain confidence by doing more and more ministry activities. All good things … but sometimes for the wrong reasons.

I spin my wheels in an effort to feel worthy, even though the Bible plainly tells me that works are not what saves me. If I honestly answered the question, Am I good enough for heaven? … the answer would be NO! Of course not. Even if I bake ten dozen cookies for the Vacation Bible School, I’m nowhere near as pure as Christ, and I can never be as loving or compassionate. That’s the point of Christianity.

I don’t have to be perfect.

If I’m diligently trying to serve God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind, the good Lord justifies me every day, and my name remains written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Right there next to Peter, Paul, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

For the record, none of them were good enough either, but God justified them too. The voice inside my head needs to remember that.

“He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” Titus 3:5 NIV

Have you ever gotten caught-up in trying to be “good enough” for God? What helped you overcome the tendency?

 Related posts from the judged and justified blog series:

Jaded Justified coversBook Bundle Give-away!

My publisher is giving away five sets of the first two books in the Mended Hearts series, Jaded and Justified. Winners will be drawn on July 14th.

Click HERE and enter to win!

ClickToTweet: Am I good enough for God? Are any of us? #justified

When Christians Judge Non-Christians

July 1, 2015


This is the 3rd post in the Justified blog series. Check-out the others:

June 16 – Will I Ever Forgive Myself?

June 23 – When Christians Judge Christians

In light of last week’s SCOTUS decision, it’s quite a coincidence that I’m blogging about Christians judging non-Christians. I don’t keep up with politics, and even if I did, I’m not the type to publicly voice my conservative opinions. I’ve been planning this blog series for months, scheduled to coincide with the release of my novel, but after the hubbub surrounding the same-sex marriage decision, my original post sounded lame and irrelevant, prompting a re-write.

And a re-think.

I’ve shied away from all but a few online articles and social media comments because I tend to get overwhelmed when strong opinions are shared in a not-so-diplomatic way. In spite of that, I found myself wondering what I would say if I were the type to say something. Honestly, I’d rather shut-down the laptop and cancel the blog post, but that would be the coward’s way. Especially when it’s something I care so much about.

The depth of my concern is triggered by the fact that I have a homosexual family member. I haven’t seen him since I was eighteen-years-old, and other than a few letters, we haven’t had contact. Back then, I was an immature teenager, more concerned with mascara and lip gloss than the sexual orientation of my family members, but things were said, lines were crossed, feelings were hurt–on both sides of the wall.

Love is a funny bird. Especially when it’s family. Especially when fundamental beliefs are involved.

None of us planned for things to work out like they did. In the 80’s, there were no online discussions, no LGBT political groups, and as always, no instruction manual on how to resolve family issues. We were just a group of people who loved each other, caught up in our fears and emotions, trying to communicate our concerns.

I don’t think my family is unique.

In fact, I see our country playing-out the same scenario. Some people are yelling; others are crying. Some are praying; others are fighting. Most are desperately trying to defend their beliefs and struggling to find a way to do so with grace. It’s problematic because each of us has our own set of beliefs, and we BELIEVE them. Very strongly.

Christians and Non-Christians have different beliefs … but so do Christians and Christians. In different regions, or different denominations, or different congregations, or different ends of the pew. My beliefs won’t coincide with every other person’s, not even every other Christian’s, but still … I believe them. Very strongly.

In my sheltered, narrow-minded brain, those first two beliefs often blur the third, and I have trouble relating to non-Christians, or even other Christians who live their lives differently than I do. Well, shame on me. It’s easy for me to write stories and create fictional scenarios where Christians do or say the right or wrong things. I toss around words like jaded and justified and judgment, but when it comes down to it, in the nitty-gritty of real life, I’d rather not blog. I’d rather not get involved. I’d rather not risk offending someone or tarnishing whatever image I think I possess. I’d rather not listen to the emotional comments and take the time to respond. I’d rather not get my hands dirty.

I don’t think I’m unique.

But I’m convicted. And convinced that I need to love more, care deeper, think broader, and go to the edges of my comfort zone. I need to accept the lost for what they are: lost. Christ didn’t yell or pout. He didn’t write rude comments. He certainly didn’t hide in His office and write stories. He went outside, found the hurting, built relationships, shared His love … and then He died for them.

If I’m truly a follower of Christ, worthy of calling myself a Christian, then I need to be less concerned with the acceptable rules of judgment and more concerned with being real to the lost. It’s not a matter of judging non-Christians, it’s a matter of loving them–of listening to them, sharing their lives, protecting them from harm. Until I do those things, I have no right to offer my advice, much less my rebuke.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1 NIV

Book Bundle Give-away

My publisher, David C Cook, is giving away five sets of the first two books in the Mended Hearts series, Jaded and Justified. Winners will be drawn on July 14th.

Click HERE and enter to win

Are you a blogger who has something to say about judging others? Link your own blog post here.

ClickToTweet: Should Christians judge non-Christians?

When Christians Judge Christians

June 23, 2015


It was three days before Vacation Bible School, and I was in my mid-twenties. Two friends and I scrambled frantically to ready our classroom for an onslaught of preschoolers while we discussed a fourth friends’ lack of participation. Didn’t she know we needed her? Two-year-olds require a low teacher-to-student ratio, and she had left us in a bind. (She hadn’t even offered to help decorate.)

As we stapled construction paper to the bulletin board, a sweet voice called from the doorway. “Now, Ladies, I bet you’d finish quicker without all that discussion.” It was Ms. Bonnie, an older woman who had been working in the hallway. She smiled, and in her eyes I saw compassion and understanding, even empathy. “Don’t you think?” she added softly.

All three of us froze in place, construction paper and staples in hand, as if God himself had shined a floodlight on us. We were speechless.

Bonnie smiled again, seeming to say she didn’t hold our actions against us, then she walked slowly away. My friends and I worked in silence for a while–chastened, humbled, and just a teensy bit more mature.

I still get emotional when I think about it because I greatly admired that woman, and knowing she caught me doing something so unChrist-like, embarrassed me. But I’m so glad she did. If not for her, I wouldn’t have grown that day, and I might still be talking about my friends behind their backs.

But Bonnie taught me more than just to avoid gossip. She also taught me that every now and then, even if it’s awkward, Christians need to shine a spotlight on each other. Not out of spite or with condescension, but gently and carefully like Bonnie did for me, so as not to damage my soul while she strengthened my conscience.

Did she judge me? Absolutely. Was she justified in doing so? Without a doubt. Bonnie didn’t want to reprimand me (I could tell by her expression), but she didn’t want me to displease the Lord either. She loved me enough to judge me.

I’ve sat through countless sermons about judging others and not judging others, and whom we should judge, and whom we shouldn’t. After a while the topic morphs into a complicated Calculus equation that takes two pages of notebook paper, front and back.

But it all comes down to love.

And loving each other isn’t easy. Apparently God knew we would have trouble judging-with-love, because for every verse that tells us we should hold each other accountable, there are three that tell us not to judge. Evidently, there’s a fine line between love and pride.

Matthew 7:5 tells me to get the plank out of my own eye before trying to remove the speck of sawdust from my brother’s. And honestly, it’s taking me a lifetime to get all the planks out of my own. Fortunately, my Christian brothers and sisters are helping me. They’re watching, noticing what’s going on in my life, maybe even judging. And I thank God that they are, because these planks are too cumbersome to deal with alone.

Have you ever had a fellow Christian call you out for something? Was it done with love and compassion? I’d love to hear your story, so please leave a comment by scrolling to the bottom of this post.

Related posts from other bloggers:

 Andi Newberry – Justified, by Varina Denman, Plus an Interview with Varina
To link-up your own blog post, click HERE.

Jaded Justified coversBook Bundle Give-away!

I’m giving away five sets of the first two books in the Mended Hearts series, Jaded and Justified. Winners will be drawn on July 14th.

Click HERE and enter to win!

ClickToTweet: What happens when Christians judge Christians?


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