It’s A Wonderful Life

Merry Christmas, everyone!

As we have been approaching this most blessed and wonderful of holidays, there has been something on my mind.

Traditions.

There are so many of them, for so many different people. From the kind of dinner that is served, to the way the tree is decorated, to the movies we watch, there are different traditions for different people. One of those traditions, in my house, is watching the movie It’s a Wonderful Life.

Whether we watch it a few days before, the day before, or the day of Christmas, we always manage to put it on for Christmas. But I started wondering … why? It’s a Wonderful Life is defined as a Christmas movie because of the way it ends: on Christmas Eve. But the message in the story is much clearer. So I would challenge that it’s not so much the holiday that makes a movie a Christmas movie, but what we learn from it.

It’s a Wonderful Life deals with so many real issues in life. From financial struggle, to denying our inner most desires in an act of selflessness, to a generosity beyond a poor man’s normal capacity. Not only that, but it reveals to us that we do have angels on our shoulders, even when we do not feel worthy or even truly believe it.

What makes It’s a Wonderful Life a Christmas movie? Well, it starts in the beginning, really. Barely fifteen minutes into the movie I always find myself in tears. Why? Because of young George Bailey and Mr. Gower. What compelled George Bailey to embrace Mr. Gower, even after the man had hit him? Was it only because Mr. Gower was grieving over the loss of his son? Only because of the near-fatal mistake he’d almost made? No, I would say it wasn’t. Young George Bailey already knew, deeply in his heart, that Mr. Gower was a good man, who would never intentionally do anything to harm another human being. It was Young George’s unconditional, irrevocable, immeasurable love that made him embrace a man who’d just hit him in the head so hard his ear bled. He understood, even in his youth, what grief could do and how a gesture of love and kindness could heal. Even if it was only a hug from a little boy.

And what about young adult George? The adventurous young man who wanted a BIG suitcase to carry with him all across the world. He was a young man with big plans and he swore nothing and no one would get in his way. Yet, at the first sign of trouble in his family and their business, George not only gave up his dreams, he gave those dreams to his little brother. An act of selflessness so rarely seen in anyone. And by doing so, he would touch more lives than he could possibly imagine.

As we continue to follow the story of this extraordinary man into adulthood, married life, and fatherhood, we discover that this man who thinks he has so little, truly has everything in the world. And, in his darkest hour, God even sends an angel to show him what his kindness, love, and generosity has done to shape his world and every person he ever came in contact with.

This is what makes It’s a Wonderful Life a Christmas movie. Though he didn’t realize it, George Bailey expressed the true meaning of Christmas throughout his entire life, throughout every year, not just during the season. In subtle depiction of a life well-lived, George Bailey showed what Christ would want of us, not just as we celebrate His birth, but all year round.

That said, let us strive to embrace those that hurt us, comfort those who treat us badly, love those who persecute us, and pray for those who desert us. For this is what God wishes for our lives.

A life well-lived.

A wonderful life.

Merry Christmas! God bless 🙂

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Ladies & Gentlemen, It’s a BOOK!!

It’s here everyone!

Today is the official release day for The Lost Generation: A Novel of World War I! My debut novel is now available on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback edition!

As you can imagine, I am so very excited! I’ve been waiting a very long time for this; imagining what it would be like to have a book published and to (hopefully) touch people with my stories. When I first wrote The Lost Generation I had this feeling, deep down, that this was it. This was the story I would share with readers first. I was right. 🙂

The Lost Generation was born through a series of events. From comments made in my home to my own respect for the men and women who have fought and sacrificed so much for our country, this book came alive. I wanted to express not only what the generation of 1914 went through on the battlefield, but what the families who were left behind experienced as well. We see this war through the eyes of six people, each with a different perspective on how it plays out.

I am so blessed to be able to share this story with you now! I truly hope you enjoy my debut novel! (Perhaps even enjoy it enough to rate it and write a review on Amazon or Goodreads …) 😉

You can purchase The Lost Generation: A Novel of World War I Here

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Why I ‘Acknowledge’ Halloween

Recently, I was doing research on Halloween. I recalled hearing about such things as Mischief Night etcetera either from films I’d watched or books I’d read. I thought it might be interesting to incorporate some of these old traditions into one of my books. Unfortunately, Mischief Night was no longer in practice during the time period I was working on at the time but with a new story idea, I realized I might have a place for some of these more ancient traditions.

As I began my research again, it started me thinking about why I acknowledge Halloween. I’ve met many people with many opinions on Halloween. I’ve met people who celebrate it with all its drama and creepiness. I’ve met people who darken their windows and lock their doors, hiding away from the holiday altogether. Then I’ve met people who sort of shrug and say ‘eh, I can take it or leave it’. But now I’m going to talk about why I choose to acknowledge Halloween.

When I was little, we celebrated Halloween all the time. I’d dress up as my favorite disney princess and we’d go trick or treating around our old neighborhood on Long Island. We knew all of our neighbors and they loved to see what my sister and I dressed up as every year. I remembered it as being fun; a time when I would be given candy for merely say “Trick or Treat!”. It was a game. Fun. Innocent.

As I grew up, things started to change. As my family’s religious views changed, so did our views on things like Halloween. We stopped dressing up, stopped trick or treating, or even thinking about going to Halloween parties. Though, I’d say the ‘masquerade’ parties we’d go to were pretty much Halloween parties. We just couldn’t call them that.

Now, let me make something perfectly clear. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and belief. I am, in no way, trying to belittle what someone may or may not believe. That is not my goal here. I am merely expressing my own opinion and experience in this area.

There was one thing that my family never did. One thing my mother never allowed. We would never turn away kids who came to our door giggling and shouting ‘Trick or Treat!’. We always had candy ready for the little ones who showed up at our door dressed as bumble bees or princesses or super heroes. We even had candy for the older kids who showed up as zombies or vampires. Just because we weren’t dressing up, didn’t mean that we would punish kids for what we believed.

As the years past, I think my whole family began to realize that there really wasn’t anything wrong with dressing up, having a little fun, and calling the day Halloween. One thing that I personally began to realize was that we were punishing ourselves for the mistakes in the past. Isn’t looking toward the future about changing what happened in the past? Halloween is only about devil worship if you make it that way. For me? It’s just a cute little holiday when I get to give out free candy to kids dressed in cute little outfits. And, if I choose to dress up, then there’s nothing wrong with that either.

In fact, I went to work this year dressed as a 1920s vampire. No joke. You can check my Facebook profile for pictures. I really went for it too! Red eyes, fangs, and dark red lip stain. And you know what? I had SO much fun! There was nothing ‘demonic’ about my outfit. If anything, it was a mockery. Because guess what? It was all make believe!! There is nothing wrong with dressing up as make believe things and having a little fun.

But my opinion on dressing up aside, there’s one more thing I wanted to talk about. I could never understand why people chose to turn away trick or treaters. It kind of hurts my heart to think about it. I’ve never actually asked anyone why they do that, and honestly, I don’t want to because the answers will probably be a little bit weak in my opinion. I can’t even imagine locking my door and turning out all my lights to make the little kids walking by in pretty pink princess outfits, or dressed as Iron Man or Captain America think I’m not home. I never understood the harm in giving these children a Kit Kat or M&Ms.

The point of this little rant? I’ve come a LONG way from the person I once was. The person who just did something because someone else told me it was right and God would be happy with me for it. What I have realized? God isn’t proud of me for shutting out kids who are just trying to have some fun and–most likely–get a stomach ache from eating too much candy. 😉 Be loving. Be a light. It’s kindness that wins hearts over to God. Spoiling a child’s innocent fun isn’t showing God’s love. Show His love by going to your door tonight with a big smile and a bowl full of candy. Trust me, there’s so much joy in seeing the sparkle in their eyes. 🙂

Happy Halloween!

Coming Soon…

…from Elk Lake Publishing!

 

Three couples. Three countries. One War…

On August 5th 1914, the world changed forever. For John and Beth Young, it meant the happiness they finally achieved was snatched out from under them. For Emma Cote, it meant that her husband Jared would do his duty, despite her feelings. For Christy Simmons it meant an uncertain future with the boy she loved. The lives of six people, spread across the British Empire to America were changed forever.

When John, Jared and Will find themselves thrust together in France and Emma and Christy decide to seek out their missing husbands, the lives of these three families intertwine in ways that none of them could possibly have imagined. Working together in a field hospital, Emma and Christy learn to rely on and protect each other. Lost together in a strange forest and cut off from their unit, the three soldiers run and hide.

But the further they go, the more they realize that the chances of all of them making it out unscathed are nonexistent and Emma and Christy find that blood is not easy to wash off, but no friendship is stronger than that made during times of war, sacrifice and healing.

The Lost Generation

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I am so happy to reveal the cover for my soon-to-be released novel, The Lost Generation! This journey has been long and hard, but I’ve had such amazing support from everyone around me from my agent to my publisher to my friends and family. Being so new to the process was difficult and stressful, but with the right encouragement from those with more experience, I’ve finally reached my goals. Seeing this cover has made all of the hard work worth it as it has made what’s about to happen real.

I started writing The Lost Generation two years ago. I finished it within three months and then, I let it sit. I knew I’d have plenty of time to go back and edit it later. But even after two years, I wasn’t prepared for the work that needed to be done. When you put your heart into something, it’s very hard to change anything, even if you know it needs work. But after working for months with a wonderfully patient editor, we shaped The Lost Generation into a story that I still love with all my heart it makes me nervous to share it! Not because I don’t want my friends to enjoy it, but because I want them to love it as much as I do.

I am preparing myself to step onto a whole new path on this journey. The one where my book is shared not just with a few people close to me, but with everyone. It’s huge and exciting and utterly frightening. But I know that God has brought me to this moment and I believe that my stories are meant to be shared.

Thank you everyone for your love and support! I hope you enjoy The Lost Generation when it’s released.

What You Never Saw When You Looked At Me

I grew up a Christian. I declared my belief in Jesus as my savior when I was five-years-old. I loved Jesus. I embraced faith so easily when I was little, because the faith of a child is incomparable. It’s absolute. It’s flawless. There is no room for doubt in the heart of a child. It’s only when they get older that doubt creeps in, that they start to believe the hurtful things that people say. That they let themselves believe that maybe they’re not as worthy of love as they once thought.

This is what you never saw when you looked at me.

I’ve been battling depression since I was thirteen.

It started small. I didn’t even realize what it was at first. It was like a heavy feeling, falling on my shoulders, burdening me. I let people convince me that I was just lazy. That I just needed to get out and do more things. I let people judge me and convince me that there was something wrong with me. And there was. But I couldn’t tell them. Because if I told them I was depressed, then that meant I wasn’t a good Christian.

How did I get this idea about myself? Based on religious views and the comments of others, I came to the conclusion that if someone said they were deeply depressed, it meant that there was something wrong with them SPIRITUALLY. That only made me more depressed, because apparently, there was ALREADY something wrong with me spiritually as I didn’t always agree with what others around me believed. I didn’t feel wrapped up in love, like the love Christ tells us to have for each other. I felt wrapped up in judgment and it was killing me.

Even when I would encourage others who came to me for advice, to be themselves, to believe what was in their hearts and trust it as God’s guidance, I was depressed. I would advise others, but then not take my own advice for myself. Because I had let depression convince me that I couldn’t be rescued from myself. That I was what others said I was. That there was simply something wrong with me and I had to examine myself (over-examine myself), to figure out what it was and fix it. I conformed myself to what others said I should be instead of thinking about who I was.

I thought there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t in a serious relationship by the time I was eighteen. I thought I was ugly. I was body-shamed, but not in the way you think. I was offered diets when I didn’t think I needed them. But I was happy with my body…until I wasn’t. Until I was convinced I shouldn’t be.

I was treated strangely for the curves God had given me. One moment I was told I was fearfully and wonderfully made by God; the next moment I was made to feel ashamed of the fact that I had a well-developed bust for a teenager. Like I should be ashamed of it and try to hide it. I had people coming up to me all the time, telling me to pull up my shirt. The problem? If I’d pulled up my shirt any more, it would’ve been up against my chin. I wasn’t even showing cleavage! But I was ashamed of my body. Of something about myself that others (I’ve been told by family and friends alike in more recent years) wish they had.

I remember one time, years ago now, I was sitting outside one night with my dad and a friend. He was a young man, just a couple of years older than me, and he and my dad were talking about serious stuff. I can’t even remember the subject. At some point, my dad got up and went inside, leaving me alone with this friend. I was shy and insecure, unsure of how to approach any subject, but I’d been doing research lately and I was excited to share with someone. I’d just gotten the courage to say something, when the friend stood up and started to walk away, without a word to me. In a moment of pure frustration, even anger, I called after him and said, “You don’t have to go inside. I have interesting things to say too, yah know!” In response to this, he laughed and continued on his way, leaving me all alone. He laughed. Like I had made some big joke about my own intelligence. Like it was a joke to think I might have something to contribute to the conversation; something interesting and smart to say. He probably doesn’t even remember doing that to me and most certainly didn’t mean it the way I took it. But I remember. Because it crushed me. It affirmed all my insecurities that I wasn’t interesting; that I wasn’t smart.

The influence of people who aren’t even family on the teenage mind can be damaging. Because while my family reminded me every day that I was beautiful, talented, smart, and a good Christian, it was other people who had my ear. Other people who convinced me that my family and I were wrong about me. I still struggle with these thoughts every day. I was so convinced that there was something wrong with me, that I let those ideas become me. I lost my strength. I lost my fire. I lost all desire to make myself better because I let depression convince me there was nothing I could do to change what I’d become.

Yet with all these feelings roiling inside me, I smiled. I put on a façade. I convinced everyone who knew me that I was a happy, faithful person who was trying to be what they thought I should be. My mouth smiled at you; my eyes screamed for help. I laughed with you; my heart was shattering. I sang with you; my soul was crying.

This is what you never saw when you looked at me.

You said I was shy.

I felt WORTHLESS.

You said I was quiet.

I was ASHAMED.

You said I was easy-going.

I was DEPRESSED.

Depression is real. In many people. In all religions. In all aspects of life, depression is real and no one—NO ONE—should feel ashamed to say they’re depressed. No one should be made to feel that there was something WRONG with them, because they’re depressed. No one should ever feel that they aren’t a good Christian because they’re suffering from depression. I suffered for years and kept my mouth shut, because I was so afraid of being judged by people who said they cared about me.

Maybe, to some, this sounds harsh. Maybe you’ll even take offense; feel defensive. But my thinking, in the depths of depression, was based on things I was being told. On things that people said, sometimes directly to me. So, I kept quiet. I suffered in silence. I endured. But it was painful. I was devastated. I couldn’t drag myself out for a long time. I can’t undo my past, but I can move forward.

Because I’m pulling myself out now. I’m overcoming. I’m conquering and for the first time in my life, I’m happy with myself for WHO I AM.

God is my JUDGE.

The Holy Spirit is my GUIDE.

Jesus Christ is my SAVIOR.

This mighty Trinity is all I need to move forward. To keep going. My story isn’t over. It’s just beginning. So I ask only one thing of you.

Look at ME.

SEE ME.

See me for who I am. Not what you want me to be. Not what you think I should be. My name is Erica Marie Hogan. I love to write dramas and romances. I like vanilla lattes and chocolate. I change my hair color twice a year, just because. I think that if a tattoo is pretty and tasteful, there’s nothing wrong with it. I think nose piercings are pretty (I got one last October). If I could, I’d have a whole farm of cats and dogs, all mixed breeds, rescued and loved. I watch old movies, I love I Love Lucy, and I have ten-thousand books 😉 (half of which I haven’t even read yet and half of which aren’t Christian Fiction or religious based). I’m 24-years-old and in no rush to be in a serious relationship with anyone; I’m happy being single for now. I’m the best introvert I know, but it doesn’t mean I don’t love my friends and family. It just means that crowds make me nervous, I’m more comfortable one-on-one with a friend, and I prefer being at home. I’m a bit claustrophobic.

I believe that, no matter what I do, no matter how bad things get, God is on my side and Jesus is here to save me.

This is me without my makeup on. This is me, vulnerable and exposed. This is me, unashamed to say that this is who I am and if you think I’m weird or in sin, then it’s your loss. I’m not going to be ashamed of who I am anymore. I’m not going to pretend to be like you, just so you’ll like me. I’m not going to let myself fall into that pit again.

Being depressed didn’t make me a bad Christian. What made me a bad Christian, was letting others whisper in my ear what was wrong with me instead of listening to the other Voice that told me what was RIGHT with me. God was always with me, I just forgot how to look for Him. The voice of depression told me I wasn’t worth it. It told me I wasn’t worthy of love or friendship. It told me to run away from someone who wanted to help me. From the first person I confided my years of battling depression to. I ran, because I didn’t think I was worthy of his help. I ran, because I didn’t think anything would actually help. I ran because I was afraid of being judged again. If that person is reading this, then he knows who he is and I hope he can forgive me. For cutting myself off. For going my own way.

The voice of depression told me that people who said they were my friends, didn’t really want to be my friends. That they tolerated me, instead of actually liking me. It told me I was annoying, ugly, full of sin, completely unworthy of God’s love.

But that’s not true. None of it. Not for anyone. The truth is, if we were all faultless, then we wouldn’t need God’s mercy. We wouldn’t need His forgiveness. I was led to believe that because I didn’t think the way others did, because I didn’t do things the way others did, it made me a bad Christian. I was convinced that I needed to change who I was in order to have a place in God’s heart and house. I didn’t believe that God—or anyone else for that matter—could love me for just being ME. I thought I had to be better than myself to be loved and have friends. But what’s the point in having that kind of love and friendship if you’re miserable? It isn’t real, none of it.

I thought things you’d never imagine I would think. I considered actions you never thought I’d consider. I kept secrets. I fell far. I was told that there were a lot of people far worse off than me and I should be grateful.

No one should have their feelings belittled. No one should be made to feel guilty for feeling. If you make a depressed person feel guilty, that just makes their depression worse. Trust me, I know. Guilt & Depression are old friends of mine. They work together like a poison, wrapping themselves around you like a snake, trying to squeeze the life from you. I felt guilty for being depressed. But no matter what a person is going through, no matter how small you think their troubles are, depression is still depression. It doesn’t matter if you think that person shouldn’t feel depressed. It doesn’t matter if you think they have nothing to really be depressed about. You don’t know what’s really going on inside. You don’t know what they’re thinking. You don’t know about their health. You don’t know about what happens behind closed doors.

They are not yours to judge. As Christians, we are to love each other. Forget about the splinter in their eye and look at the plank in your own.

God is their judge. God is my judge. He did not appoint you to judge me. He did not give you the authority to tell me what you think is wrong with me.

Jesus said:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Nothing I say here, is said in bitterness or anger. Writing like this is how I heal. This is how I move forward. Some would say they told me the things that they did because they love me. But I can’t believe that. Telling someone over and over again how they’ve failed, how they’re sinning, how they should be more like you, isn’t being loving. Loving someone is helping them; telling them that you think they’re a beautiful person, no matter who they are or what they look like. Telling them they aren’t in sin just because their opinion differs from yours; their choice of dress differs from yours; their choice of living differs from yours.

Yesterday I did something I never thought I’d do. I got a tattoo. But not just any tattoo. I went out and got a semicolon on my wrist. It’s small and barely noticeable, but it means everything. It’s quirky, because I’m a writer ;). But it means something, too (if you don’t know what I mean, Google ‘Project Semicolon’). That’s why I chose it. Because you know what? My story isn’t over. Far from it. I’m moving forward now, with a new sentence. A new chapter. A new life. I’m pulling myself out piece by piece, with God’s help, a loving family, and friends.

For the first time in a long time, I like myself.

I am not ashamed. I do not feel guilty.

I’m me, exactly as God made me.

And it’s the best feeling in the world.

If you were at all offended by this post, then I am sorry. But this is me. I am finally saying what I’ve been screaming inside for years. Forgiveness is a powerful thing, and that’s what this post is about. I am moving forward now, which means—in simple terms—I am ‘over’ the past. If you decide to remove my friendship on your social media because of this, then I am sorry. That is your choice, not mine. If you wish to leave a comment, then please leave something positive. This post is not meant to start debates or arguments. Any negative or defensive comments will be deleted. This post is meant to encourage any and all who have suffered with depression; to show that you can conquer this. That this point of your life shall pass. That you are loved and cherished, no matter what the world tells you. God is always with you, even in your darkest hour. Even if you don’t believe it.

I am LIVING proof of that.

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Read, Write, Read Again

Read, write and then read again. That’s been me these last couple of weeks. Sometimes, reading is the only way I can break through when writing slows down. When my mind just can’t get past that block that won’t let me continue. Or when my book seems to be slowing down, getting boring and I can’t figure out a way to bring it back to life. Sometimes, just reading a little bit gets my head spinning and I can write. Sometimes, it takes reading a whole bunch of books before I break through.

As a person with OCD, editing my book has also been a slow process. I need to check it again and again, until I’m certain that I covered that bit. Until I’m certain that everything is the best it can be. Sometimes it’s not, and getting through that is hard. No one wants to hear that their book needs work (especially if it’s more work than you expected) but that’s all part of making it the story you envisioned. Rewriting, adding, and correcting the book is all a part of turning the book into the story you wanted it to be in the first place. It’s a slow process, but the best part? It gives me a chance to relive my story, to go through and correct things I was going to correct in the first place. To add new moments that bring more life and individualism to the characters. Edits are hard to handle at times. That tightness in your heart that threatens to break it until you calm yourself and say, “It’s okay. This is good. This is the best thing for your book and you can do this.” Sounds dramatic, huh? But when you put your whole heart into a story, when you love your characters like they were your friends, it can be dramatic.

I think reading as much as I have these last couple of weeks has really helped me. Reading, in the past, always helped me with my writing. But now that my book is being edited, and I’m working through all the wrinkles in it, reading as like a whole new experience for me. I wondered what it was like for the author when they had to change things in their books. I wondered how they handled it. I’ve always heard authors say they were anxious about getting the edits back from their editor. I understand that now. Knowing that it made authors anxious, I thought I was prepared for it. I wasn’t as prepared as I thought, but it’s having an open mind and heart that makes the difference. It’s rocky road, but it’s getting better. I am opening up to needed changes and I’m learning! That’s the best part! I love learning. Reading and writing all the years that I have has been a learning process itself. This is like moving up to the next level of learning. It’s the best.

Read, write, read again. That’s me, doing what I love. These two weeks have been full of that. Some of the best advice I was ever given about writing was to read as much as possible. That’s why my room is currently overflowing with books. Because once I started, I couldn’t stop. 🙂