Author Archives: Renea

An Update on Our Friend Jack

Almost a year has passed since God put “Jack” in my path while my daughter and I volunteered at the Distribution Center after the #GatlinburgFires. If you aren’t familiar with his story please take a moment to read about it here.

For those who prayed, thank you. For those who sent clothes, thank you, and money, thank you.  To the Gillette Motel who allowed Jack to stay, and the readers who paid for him to stay when he had no other place, thank you. Jack and I pour a lot of love into those two little words. Truly, we still weep at your kindness. You helped save him!

It is difficult to write an update while maintaining my vault-like confidentiality. I pride myself on being a person in whom you can place your trust. So I will continue to use the name Jack when referring to our friend to maintain20161225_140136 our level of trust.

Something happens to a person when the fires of hell walk through your rented home, a home shared with other young adults. Yes, Dolly Parton extended money to those whose names were on the lease. Yes, many received financial help. Jack did not. Jack didn’t because he was “chipping in” along with another person to pay rent: three together living in a cabin that didn’t even have a full-size refrigerator. That is the reality of the working poor across this country. A reality of finding someone with good credit who can sign a lease, but can only afford rent payments if two other friends pitch in, sleeping on a couch, on a cot, on the floor. When the fire torched their rented home and scorched the earth, the roommates parted. Two stayed with family, for a time Jack didn’t. Jack worked 30 hours a week, and then 20 hours a week when tourists stopped coming. Jack depended on us.

Young people don’t have credit these days. Their cell phones are in the names of their parents (or paid month-to-month via Walmart gift cards); their cars (if they have one) are in the names of their parents. This, compared to most of us who had a credit card at age eighteen with a five-hundred-dollar limit. It took years for us to establish “good credit.” These days, working for $8.00-10.00 an hour while owning nothing isn’t conducive to establishing good credit, but I digress.

By the end of January 2017, Jack careened toward rock bottom. His family lived miles away. He had always walked to work, and he desperately wanted to stay in Gatlinburg. That didn’t happen. Rock bottom landed him in Georgia, where he received grief, and spiritual, counseling.

God love those Georgia folk.

Jack has spent a year in Georgia. Healing. Getting better. Reading The Word. Getting help. Journaling his Journey and dreaming of a future.

A few weeks ago, he returned to Tennessee, and currently works for UPS while praying they put him on full-time.

He has dreams. Big dreams of working in ministry. No one knows The Word like our Jack. He’s an encourager, a believer, and the ultimate example of how God uses others- regardless of their faith, or belief- to pull someone out of the miry rock-bottom clay. I pray God opens this door for Jack.

He dreams of attending school. He wants to go to Bible College, but like others working through post-traumatic stress, he doesn’t really know how to make that happen. He doesn’t exactly have a load of money with which to fund his dreams. Let us unite in prayer that someone can guide him.

Dear Ones, the young man whom God thrust into our lives . . . well, he’s so grateful. He’s trusting God.




He’s taking his life one day at a time. He appreciates your prayers and I appreciate your trust.


Renea Winchester is the author of a Hardscrabble Christmas and other works of non-fiction. She is currently working on her novel, Outbound Train.



Posted by on December 7, 2017 in Uncategorized


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What God Wants Me To Do

Thanks to everyone who messaged me after my last blog post. Having these discussions doesn’t make us “bad” Christians. Instead, when we reveal our vulnerability to fellow Christians we strengthen the Body of Christ. I think many of us want to know God’s will; some struggle to do the thing He drops on our heart. That’s why today’s topic comes with another confession; a secret I’ve kept since March.

The Holy Spirit revealed several months ago what I should do, but I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind.

Remember in the Book of Exodus when God said to Moses, Go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.

Now Pharaoh was a dangerous ruler. Moses knew God was sending him somewhere he would most-likely be killed. Moses wasn’t raising his hand saying, “pick me!”

Make no mistake, I am by no means anything like Moses, and what the Holy spirit has been telling me has nothing to do with bringing people out of Egypt, but the dialogue between me and the Good Lord does mirror the conversation Moses had with God. I suspect the dialogue you have with Him is similar.

In March the Holy Spirit whispered to me, You need to start writing a weekly column for the newspaper.

Me, looking around because I’m sure the message was for someone else: Umm, I’m not a Botanist, I’m not a horticulturalist, I’m not a Naturalist. I don’t have a single “ist,” to add to the end of my name. I’m writing a novel remember? 

I imagined the Holy Spirit giving me the look.

Next week, same whisper: You need to start writing a weekly column for the newspaper.

Me: I am under a self-imposed deadline. I have only a few chapters left in the novel. Besides, I can’t come up with weekly content.

This dialogue went on for a while. Now let’s look back at Moses.

But Moses said to God, Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?image

 And God said, I will be with you.

Spring came and went all while I worked the garden. This is the first garden I grew completely on my own. I’ve been right smart proud. The next time the Holy Spirit spoke with a warning, I’ll just give the newspaper stories to someone else. Someone else will be eager to do it.

Me (knowing what I wanted to do) said: Novel deadline . . . remember?

And with that I headed to the South Carolina conference with the intent of finishing The Novel. Remember how that worked? Lost keys. Creativity evaporated. Zero novel work. Eventually my thick noggin’ realized my prayer had been answered. While I may finish the novel in time, I will not finish it on my timeline.

In the book of Exodus, Moses and God continued their conversation.

Moses said to the Lord, Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.

The Lord said to him, Who gave human beings their mouths?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.

Our modern-day dialogue with the Lord stems from a healthy fear of God, fear of making the wrong choice, but our questions might also be laced with stubbornness. After all, we want God to answer our prayer. We may pray, Lord, if it is your will, and mean the prayer sincerely, right until God points us in another direction. At that point we become Moses and say, “Lord, are you sure? Look at my inadequacies.”

My friends the Lord is sure about you. He knows us better than we know ourselves. We see our inadequacies; God sees our possibilities. So the question becomes, what is The Lord whispering to you? If He asks you to do something, do we then believe he will abandon us and laugh if we stumble?

We are afraid he won’t be proud of us, that we won’t be a good witness. Let us remember that God has more faith in us than we have in ourselves. Let us respond to the whisper with a resounding “Yes Lord!”


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Posted by on September 8, 2017 in Uncategorized


My Deal with God

My Deal with God

Journal Entry February 2015: Lord, I surrender to your will. If it is your will that I never write again, let me accept it and move forward, never looking back.

Those who follow me on Facebook know that I write down my prayers. I do so as a way of reminding myself when I am low (like now) that God is always at work in my life. Y’all also know that I’m honest. So today I must share that I kinda want this prayer back.

In 2015, my husband and I were planning to put the house on the market. We had an atypical Atlanta house, not a “white columns” type of abode. No pool. No HOA. No lawn boy. I knew selling the house would require divine intervention. I also knew my husband needed a change, but most of all, I knew that I had put writing in front of many things in my life.

On this particular date, I poured out my worries as we should. But now, over two years later, with the house sold I want my prayer back. I want to write again. (and no, blogging isn’t writing).

I have- for years- been working on an incredible novel set in my hometown of Bryson City, but now that I am almost finished with it, the words will not come. And if you read my previous blog about the conference I attended, I’m pretty sure that God doesn’t’ want me writing anytime soon.

So now I must ask, what DOES God want me to do?

That questions also comes with its own problems, for God really hasn’t commanded us to “do” a whole lot of hard things: Love One Another, Feed My Sheep, Give Thanks to the Lord for He is good.

Goodness gracious, those are easy things, aren’t they?

They why do we (meaning me) struggle so?

Why do I struggle with feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, fear, anger, despair?

Why did I pray that prayer with all sincerity, but now want it back because I think I know what’s best for me? Which begs another questions, do I really want God’s will in my life, or do I just want my way? Did I really surrender to His will . . . or only if His will aligns with my wants.

These are the hard questions I ponder as God deals with me.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of In the Garden with Billy, and, Farming Friends and Fried Bologna Sandwiches by Mercer University Press. She is currently working on her novel, Outbound Train, set in her hometown of Bryson City.


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Farm to Table Flatbread: Healthy Pizza

Farm to Table Flatbread: Healthy Pizza

Note: This is NOT a Gluten Free recipe, but the amount of gluten is dramatically decreased and still produces a delicious crust. Recipe Makes Two Flatbread Crusts


(1) cup Gluten Free Flour (I only use King Arthur)

(1 ½) cup Bread Flour (that has gluten)

(1)  Egg

(1) package of yeast

(1 1/4) cup hot water 120 degrees

(1)  teaspoon garlic salt

(1)  teaspoon rosemary (or, 1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning)

(2) Olive Oil, plus an extra tablespoon added to edges of dough before baking

(1) small bunch of fresh basil

(4) small tomatoes sliced

(1) green pepper, sliced

(1) small onion sliced


Your choice of Cheese

The Process:  Note: Use Dough Hook When Mixing

Pour gluten free flour into bowl, add bread flower, and yeast. Turn mixer on and mix to incorporate dry yeast into flour. Slowly add egg, oil, and water. Add garlic salt and dried rosemary. If dough is too sticky add more flour one tablespoon at a time until dough forms a ball.20170805_120844

Remove hook from mixer and set dough aside to rise until double in size. Approximately 45 minutes.

While dough is rising: Slice vegetables. When using fresh vegetables remember to place them on a kitchen towel after slicing. This removes excess moisture and will prevent a soggy flatbread.I always precook the onions a bit in the microwave which removes the moisture, but they still need towel-time to remove excess moisture.

Shaping the Crust:

First, preheat the oven to 400.

Punch down the dough and cut it into two sections. Refrigerate one section and shape the other into the desired shape for your pan. I used a rectangle cookie sheet.

Press tomato slices into the dough. One might think this makes the flatbread sticky, but it doesn’t. Snip fresh basil with scissors, then add onions, green peppers, peperoni and any other topping you desire.

Brush olive oil around crust edges. If you want an extra brown crust, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and add a pinch of garlic salt, then brush around edges.

Bake 10-20 minutes depending on oven performance and the consistency of crust you desire.20170806_113325

A word about Basil: Because basil tends to darken when cooked. Placing it close to the dough may prevent discoloration, or, you can wait until the flatbread has cooked and garnish with basil (and extra cheese).

Renea is an award-winning author, blogger, and Georgia Writers Group Board Member . She has belonged to a phenomenal critique group for over a decade and both of her books, Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches and In the Garden with Billy received  SIBA nominations. She is a passionate friend of SIBA and local independent booksellers throughout the South. Renea is vested in the writing community of North Carolina and Georgia and has judged multiple writing competitions. She lives on a farm with two goats names Frosty and Oreo. Contact her here.



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Finding Tomato Treasures at JW Mitchell Farms

Readers of my blog know that I am a strong supporter of local farmers, which is why I introduce you to JW Mitchell Farms located at 405 Bradley Creek Road in Franklin NC. For my Atlanta friends, this farm is three minutes off the beaten path. Trust me when I tell you the trip is worth three minutes of your time, because currently Mr. Mitchell (whom you will personally meet upon your arrival) is have a big ole tomato sale.

Yes my friends, “tow-maders? are on sale at JW Mitchell Farms.

Now for those who love salsa let me share a little secret. You can get an entire BOX of tomatoes for eight dollars! Toss in a few onions and bell peppers (also available at the farm) and you’ll have enough veggies to can an entire run of homemade salsa.

How much is in a “run?”20170725_201135

As my granny would say, Depends on how much you eat-up during the making. As for me, this recipe usually makes 7 pints. However, if you purchase an $ 8.00 box of tomatoes at JW Mitchells you’ll be able to can – at least 14 pints for $ 8.00.


10 Cups cored, chopped and peeled tomatoes.

TIP: Place tomatoes in hot water for 45 seconds to loosen skin and make tomatoes easy to peel.

4 Large Bell Peppers (discard seeds)

6 to 8 medium—sized onions

1 ½ cup Apple Cider Vinegar

3 Cloves garlic finely chopped

2 Tablespoon chopped cilantro

1 Tablespoon salt (more if necessary. . . to taste)

1 tsp hot pepper sauce (optional).

Ball Jars (I use pint jars)

Note: You will need to water bath jars to seal. Instructions follow.


Place chopped onions and garlic in a pot. Add vinegar. Bring to a boil.

Add chopped green peppers and cook them for one minute. *Vinegar is added to incorporate acidity. Because peppers are a low-acid vegetable, the additional acidity is required for safe processing. This will not affect salsa flavor.

Add tomatoes, cilantro and hot pepper sauce.

Bring Mixture to a boil.

Packing and Processing Jars

In separate pot, heat water that will be used for a water bath.

Taste the salsa first to make sure you don’t need extra salt. If so add in small quantities.

Ladle salsa into jars. Add lids and rings.

Place jars into hot water and cover with ¼ inch of water. Process them at a boil for 15 minutes.

Remove from heat.

Refrigerate any jars that don’t seal and enjoy.


Renea is an award-winning author, blogger, and Georgia Writers Group Board Member and the author of three books. She has belonged to a phenomenal critique group for over a decade and both of her books, Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches and In the Garden with Billy received a SIBA nomination. She is a passionate friend of SIBA and local independent booksellers throughout the South. Renea is vested in the writing community of North Carolina and Georgia and has judged multiple writing competitions. Every client she has accepted has enjoyed the pleasure of publication either traditionally, or via self-publication. Contact her here.





Lost Things

Lost Things

I lost something. Something I dearly needed. . . my keys. Specifically, my room keys with my car keys attached.

I was key-less and 90 miles from home.

On an ordinary day I would classify these items as misplaced, something found later after a diligent search; but on Saturday they were lost.

The instructor gave an out-door classroom assignment. Since the workshop was held on a college campus, and because I wanted to collect as many experiences as possible, I wedged my car keys (key fob inside pocket) with the metal room key sticking out.

Then I was off.

Outside with pen and notebook in hand, tasked with collecting, observing —and then analyzing said observations into a story.

My novel in progress features a train and since I want to write accurately about my character’s experiences, I lit out, walking at a rapid clip.

Walking while writing.

Writing while walking.

Thinking. Listening. Observing. Writing.

I wove through the campus, through the woods, off the designated concrete path. 20170715_110450

Off the designated concrete path, I found a tree house that no one else knew about. Later, I found the tracks. I touched the tracks, laid down on the tracks, collected nails and bolts from alongside the tracks.

Then I returned, carrying said bolts and nails back to class, (mercy, they are heavy). I placed them on the table with a need to wash the rust from my hands. I reached into my pocket.

No keys.

The keys were lost.

Not missing. . . lost.

Creative minds will understand me when I say that I literally felt every drop of creativity leave my body. It slipped down my arms, cascaded from my fingertips.

Dashing to the restroom, I washed my dirty hands then whispered to the coordinator, “I lost my room key. No, not the swipe card.” I double checked my name badge where the exterior door swipe card safely remained tucked inside.  “Just the door keys.”

She called facilities and ordered a spare key.

Returning to the classroom, I wrote my observations, penned them into a story I would not share with the class. Creativity tends to take Confidence with it when it leaves. From that moment forward I focused on lost keys, especially after a pop-up storm dropped an inch of rain.

Sunday morning came, bringing with it the realization the keys were gone. I arose early, lit out again retracing my steps through the grass and gravel for the umpteenth time. With my aging car, I’d need a new key fob which would required an (expensive) call to a dealer.

Whatever, I thought, feeling lower than a whale’s belly. What-ever.

Then I began to pray.

Lord, I’m not going to pray for my keys because I know they’re gone.

I’m not going to ask you to return them, because I’ve already done my due diligence, retracing my steps, walking, looking, laying sideways in the gravel looking for something shiny. The keys are gone and I know that. So I’m moving on.

The catering van drove by, almost breakfast time. The driver smiled. I waived and continued praying, aloud.

Lord, thank you for everyone I’ve met here this weekend.

Thank you for the talented women at my table. I praise you that the agent is interested in Erika’s work and that Whitney might consider finding a place for her short story. Bless them both Lord. Bless our presenters, Jim, Bryn, Gary, Megan for their vulnerability and displays of raw emotion. Bless Christopher. Thank you for his honesty and that all the instructors were approachable and kind.

My walk, and prayers continued: Lord, bless Meg, Kate and Betsy who have labored in the sweltering heat to bring us a fantastic conference. May they be restored after the conference.

I made the loop, from beginning to end, praying out loud, walking, talking, and looking down at the grass, and the gravel, should the soggy keys magically appear.

They did not. I returned to the common area to the breakfast buffet. I placed items on the plate and settled in for another round of workshops.

Taking a seat, I began eating when Meg raised her hand and said, Renea, are these your keys?

From Meg’s beautiful hand dangled my room and car keys.

Of course they are my keys, I responded. I was just praying. I took the keys. “I’m curious, how did you get them?

“Someone found them lying in the concrete walkway,” she replied.


Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of In the Garden with Billy, and, Farming Friends and Fried Bologna Sandwiches by Mercer University Press. She is currently working on her novel, Outbound Train,  set in her hometown of Bryson City


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What Did Jesus Do ? (to deserve your denial)

This week a person dearest to me publicly denied Jesus. To say that I’m heartbroken is an understatement, but this post isn’t about me.

After two hours in the closet crying, the only words I could pray were: Lord, help.

These two words were not uttered in a flippant manner; these two words – Lord, help –were the utterance of a broken hearted woman. I’m broken because I know that without Jesus my life would be in shambles.

Without Jesus my life isn’t worth living. denyingjesus

I know that without the Grace and Mercy of Jesus, my mother would have died months after her initial cancer diagnoses, as would her sister-Della- who was given 6 weeks to live, but triumphed for eleven.

I know Jesus works in the lives of those who trust Him. He answers the prayers I pray for you. He answers the prayers you pray for me. He stopped the fire in Gatlinburg that lapped against the door of my father-in-law’s house. Jesus knows our name and He wants the best for us, always.

Jesus answers our prayers even when the answer isn’t exactly what we wished (or demanded).

There were moments in the crying closet where my face touched the carpet fibers, my lungs gasped for breath, and my heart hurt so badly I thought I’d vomit. In my despair, I reached out to Neisha, one of the strongest prayer warriors I know, whose wisdom provided comfort, but still pain stole my breath. Three days later, I weep while typing this because the word of God is clear . . . whoever shall deny me before men, I will deny him before my father which is in heaven. Matthew 10: 33-35.

Jesus, with all of his grace and mercy, will deny those who deny Him.

We don’t teach that particular truth these days, that Jesus will deny every person who denies Him.  We have led people to believe that denying Jesus is a trivial matter.

Still in the crying closet, the question came to me, Why?

Why do people hate Jesus so much?

What did Jesus ever do to generate such hate?

Why do we trust complete strangers with our lives, yet deny Jesus and his love for us?

When did Jesus ever do something so bad to you that you decided to deny His existence?

Remember if you can, the moment you denied Jesus. Was it because Jesus did something to you . . . or were you hurt and offended by an imperfect human who represented Jesus so badly that you swore you didn’t want to be like Him, nor did you want to follow his teachings or be one of “those” Christians. So you were done . . . finished.

Because if you hate Jesus based on what an imperfect human did to you, then I need to tell you a secret.

This world is full of people who will lie to you and hurt you; Jesus isn’t one of them. The Jesus I know, loves me.

The Jesus I know, loves you.

The Jesus I know has a broken heart when you deny his existence.

The Jesus I know is lonely for you.

The Jesus I know stands at the door of your heart and knocks.

Jesus is waiting for you to allow Him to love you. You are in charge. Jesus won’t barge into your life unexpected or uninvited. He only lives inside the heart of someone who wants Him there.

Jesus won’t break your heart, I promise.

You can open the door of your heart. You can trust Jesus . . . I promise.