Food for the Soul

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Posted 11/3/17 at 12:34 PM |

New book addresses major reason religious “nones” left their faith

A recent Pew Research Study discovered that one of the main reasons religious “nones” – people who do not identify with any religious group – left the church or faith in which they were raised was that there are “too many Christians doing un-Christian things.” In his new book “When Good Samaritans Get Mugged: Hope and Healing for Wounded Warriors,” Pastor David Stokes addresses this issue head-on. Stokes shares practical strategies for overcoming the depression, anger, and discouragement that people deal with when they are hurt by Christians.

“I often refer to myself as a ‘church survivor,’ having been in church since I was eight-days old,” says Stokes, who currently pastors a church in Fairfax, Virginia. “My father was a pastor. My mom really didn’t enjoy being a pastor’s wife—she got hurt a lot, so I saw things like this early on. The key is to learn how to truly forgive, and to learn what that means and what it doesn’t mean. Forgiveness doesn’t always mean reconciliation, because that takes all parties. And forgiveness doesn’t mean broken trust is immediately restored. I’ve forgiven many people I will probably never be able to trust again.” FULL POST

Posted 10/27/17 at 1:13 PM | Audra Jennings

Life’s problems are what can bring you closer to God

Part 2 of an interview with Micah Maddox,
Author of Anchored In: Experience a Power-Full Life in a Problem-Filled World

Click here to read part 1 of the interview.

Abingdon Press
Anchored In by Micah Maddox

Problems can make you feel like God is far away, but they can also be the very things that bring you closer to him.

Anchored In (Abingdon Press) by Micah Maddox isn’t a book of Christian cliché’s or sweet stories to warm the heart but rather an authentic look at the hard parts of life. It challenges us to stop running from and clinging to the past, and to grasp tightly to the only unshakable Anchor that is able to sustain our souls through the storms of life.

Maddox shares personal stories, such as her father’s abandonment of her family, and couples them with biblical application to offer real-life glimpses of God at work. She offers inspiration to live a life full of God’s power rather than one that causes us to turn away and be paralyzed by problems.

Q: What experience from your past played a major role in leading you to write Anchored In?

Anchored In was a journey of healing for me. After being abandoned by my dad (who was a pastor) when I was six, I spent my life wondering why bad things happen. As an adult, I finally faced the biggest fear of my life and tried to reconnect with my dad, but when I did, he did not pursue a relationship with me. At that point, I was forced either to turn to God and find my anchor in Him or choose to continue running from my heartache. I chose God. I found Him to be the most firm, secure, comforting healer and cornerstone. He is my Anchor, and He proved His love to me. I learned it doesn’t matter what we face on this earth. God’s power and presence is greater and stronger than anything this world throws at us.

I began writing before I realized I was actually writing a book. I began with a blog, and every time God would put something on my heart, I would write it down. After a few months, I realized everything God was speaking to my heart had a common theme. I began organizing my thoughts and stories and eventually had a solid outline for a book.

I wrote Anchored In to let others know that God’s power is available and freely accessible even when life seems like it is falling apart.

Q: Why is it beneficial to reflect on the difficult times in our lives rather than simply putting the past in the past?

Our past defines us. It makes us who we are. If we never dig into the things we have been through, never deal with them and never use them to become stronger, we waste a valuable piece of our lives. Putting things in the past is good but only after we’ve dealt with them. If we pretend away the problems of our past, we are truly only compounding the pain in our hearts, and at some point we will be forced to deal with it.

Q: Tell us about your journey into ministry, especially after being hurt through your father’s decision to leave the ministry he was involved in.

When I was a teenager I attended a small Christian school, and we had chapel services every week. One week a pastor was speaking on living a life of full-time ministry, and I knelt down at the end of that chapel service and felt God speak to me. He said, “You are going to finish the ministry your dad started.” At that point I knew God would use me to share the truth of His love with the world.

I began teaching the Bible right out of college, and for eight years I stood up in front of teenage girls and women and gave them whatever lessons God was giving me. When my husband and I made a major move and transitioned from one ministry to another, I went through a season of silence. I wasn’t teaching or speaking. I knew God had placed a call on my life to share His Word, but in this season I couldn’t understand why the opportunities were not available. As I sought the Lord and asked for direction, God clearly led me to start a blog and share my heart in that way. This was never on my radar, nor was it a desire I had ever had before, but I grew to love writing and found God had a place for me in the writing world.

Micah Maddox, author of Anchored In

Q: What are the steps required to anchor our thoughts in God’s power rather letting our problems consume our minds?

In the book I include five simple steps to follow to change the old thought patterns we tend to revert to.

1. Pray over it. Too often we wait to pray until prayer seems to be the only option. We are going to look at it as the foundation of making real life change.
2. Identify it. We must identify the thought patterns that consistently cause us to focus on our problems. Once we identify it, we must take action.
3. Obey. Obedience means we do what Paul reminds us to do with our thoughts in II Corinthians and take every thought captive.
4. Stop it. This is continual obedience. It’s making the choice to change every time you are tempted with a new thought that threatens to derail you.
5. Replace it. This is my favorite step and the one that holds the most value. However, without the other steps we may never get to this point. When we pray over it, identify the thought, obey God and stop the thought in its tracks, we are ready to replace those old musty thoughts with God’s truth.

I like to claim specific verses for specific thoughts. If I’m struggling with fear, I will claim Psalm 56:3, which says, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in you.” If I have felt left out or alone and keep dwelling on the people who put me in that position, I will claim Hebrews 13:5, which says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” When we can name our thoughts by identifying them and calling them out and then make the active choice to obey God in that moment, we seek Him. In our seeking, we find the truth of His word. It’s power-full. It gives us power over the thoughts that typically cause us to end up in a downhill spiral. Problems are going to come, but we have what we need to move beyond them without letting them consume our minds. We have the power of God available to us through the truth of His Word. Transformational thinking comes when we begin to see truth instead of trauma.

I’ll be honest; I have to work on this constantly.

Q: What advice do you offer for those who are living in a “season of darkness,” or a time when it does not feel as though God is present?

I think we all go through these seasons. I can even find myself there today. When we go through hard circumstances, it’s natural to feel discouraged and that dark cloud comes rolling in. Here is what I have learned about the dark seasons, though: “Darkness is only a distraction. It does not mean God has departed.” When I remember this truth, I cling to the fact God is still with me even in the dark moments and seasons of life.

Learn more at www.micahmaddox.com. She is also active on Facebook (@micahmaddoxencouragement), Twitter (@MrsMicahMaddox) and Instagram (@mrsmicah).

Posted 10/27/17 at 12:58 PM | Audra Jennings

'Rule of Law' based on real-life inspiration

Part 2 of an interview with Randy Singer,
Author of Rule of Law

Click here to read part 1 of the interview.

Tyndale
Rule of Law by Randy Singer

Inspired by real events involving American contract workers detained in Yemen, Singer wrote Rule of Law to address what he describes as critical issues lurking on the horizon. “Is the president above the law in matters of foreign policy?” Singer asks. “Should the CIA be fighting shadow wars with drones and special forces in countries where we have not declared war? What happens when the lives of service members are sacrificed for political gain?”

To avoid getting bogged down in political polarization, Singer assures readers his fictional president, cabinet and Supreme Court bear little resemblance to the current administration and Court. He does, however, anchor the story in reality with historical references — political, military and legal — based on actual events. He also has great respect for the sacrifices made by the Navy SEALS and their families, some of whom attend the church where Singer serves as a teaching pastor.

Q: While you made sure the characters such as the President and members of the Supreme Court in Rule of Law were not based on anyone in the current presidential administration, you did have real life inspiration for the book. Can you tell us about the people who did inspire you and the story?

Two remarkable people inspired me to write Rule of Law. They are both clients of my law practice.

Rule of Law begins with a SEAL Team raid of a prison camp in Yemen where the Houthi rebels are housing two important political prisoners.

Mark McAlister was working for the United Nations on October 20, 2015, in Yemen when he was captured by the Houthi rebels (who believed he was working for the CIA). For the next six months Mark was confined to a small, windowless cell where he was abused and interrogated. Through it all, he never renounced his faith. On the contrary, he boldly told his captors that he was a follower of Jesus. After they took his Bible, Mark would pace his small cell, praying and reminding himself of the miracles of Jesus.

“Lord, if you can walk on water, you can get me out of this cell. Lord, if you can heal the blind, you can get me out of this cell. Lord, if you can come back from the dead after three days, you can get me out of this cell.”

Six months into his captivity, Mark was miraculously released by his Houthi captors. By then, he had won their respect and developed a relationship with them. I had Mark share his testimony with my church which can be accessed, along with the message I preached that day, here: Lord of the Nations.

The second person who inspired this book was Dana Wise. She is the widow of a former Navy SEAL who attended the church I pastor and who was killed by a terrorist in Afghanistan. Dana’s grace and class in the midst of tragedy have been an incredible testimony to so many people. The main character in this book is a young female lawyer who is on a mission to avenge the death of her boyfriend, a Navy SEAL killed in the line of duty. The strength and class of Dana served as a great model for my protagonist. Dana shared her story on Memorial Day at our church, which can be seen, along with my message, here: Greater Love.

In Rule of Law, I want readers to experience triumph in the midst of tragedy, and justice rising out of pain.

Q: Your church serves many servicemen and women. How did your work with military families influence you as you wrote Rule of Law?

Rule of Law begins with a tragic ending to a military mission. As part of my duties as pastor, I have been called on to minister to families who have lost loved ones in battle. The valor of these gold-star families is amazing. Rule of Law is, in many ways, a tribute to them. Additionally, just being around a military community and having friends who can answer my questions about how things would work (and I had tons of questions) helped make the book more realistic.

Randy Singer, author of Rule of Law

Q: You are a lawyer, a pastor and an author. How do all of those roles work together in writing Christian legal thrillers?

Writing Christian legal thrillers is the ideal intersection of my “lives” as pastor, lawyer and author. I believe I can write more realistic legal thrillers because I am still in the arena—trying cases in court and experiencing the kinds of emotions, victories and defeats that my characters experience.

I would also say that my three lives collide a fair amount. My writing is inspired by cases I’ve handled. My wife reads my initial manuscripts and gives me feedback. My daughter and I practice law together. My law partner is an elder in my church. My sermons are influenced by the storytelling tools I’ve learned as an author and the persuasive skills I’ve developed as a lawyer. Everything bleeds together and feeds off everything else.

To my church members, I’m a pastor; to my clients, a lawyer; and to my readers, an author. In today’s specialized society, it seems like it should be hard to juggle all three. But if you look at it historically, it was not at all unusual for one person to fulfill numerous roles. I think it helps me to be better at each one. As a pastor, I know what my church members go through in the “secular” world each week. As a lawyer, I can help bring a spiritual perspective to bear on my client’s biggest challenges. And as a writer, I can draw from both of those other wells for inspiration, experience and ideas.

Q: In the midst of tragedy, what does it mean to rely fully on God to get you through?

There are times in our life when we can hardly find the strength to take the next step. Friends tell us God can turn even this tragedy into something good, but we are hurting so much that we can’t find the faith to believe that. It is in those heartbreaking and gut-wrenching moments that we discover God’s amazing grace and the truth that Jesus is enough no matter the circumstances. I have found God does not give us the grace and strength ahead of time but that He always gives us exactly what we need for the next step, even when it feels impossible. We do not serve a Savior who is above our suffering; we serve one who suffered himself and who walks through tragedy with us, one who fully understands the pain of loss, abandonment, rejection and injustice. He is also a Savior who promises the power of the resurrection — that God can restore and redeem something hopelessly broken and lost.

Q: Rule of Law uses the platform of fiction to bring a true-life message to a wide audience. What is the message you hope readers gain from reading the book?

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

I also want to remind them that God will give us the courage and strength even in our darkest days to do what He has called us to do. The same power that brought Jesus back from the dead is alive in us. Ephesians 1:19-20.

Learn more about Randy Singer and Rule of Law at www.randysinger.net.

Posted 10/26/17 at 1:55 PM | Audra Jennings

When a mother-daughter relationship is strained

Part 1 of an interview with Kim Vogel Sawyer,
Author of Bringing Maggie Home

WaterBrook Press
Bringing Maggie Home by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Mother-daughter relationships can be complicated. When secrets from the past are involved, the best of intentions can be entirely misunderstood. Bringing Maggie Home (WaterBrook/September 5, 2017) by award-winning author Kim Vogel Sawyer explores the hearts of three generations of women whose lives have been shaped by the 70-year-old unsolved mystery of 3-year-old Maggie Blackwell.

Q: Bringing Maggie Home explores the relationships between three generations of mothers and daughters. Do the relationships mirror your own relationships with family members in any way?

I think it’s inevitable that personal experience finds its way into every story because writing is an intensely personal activity, and we tend to write from the view of our own “life’s glasses.” I didn’t have the privilege of a relationship with my grandmothers — they both died when my parents were children — but I had Tantie, a dear woman who was an important part of my life until her death on my 16th birthday. She filled the role of “grandma” for me, and much of the advice Hazel gives to Meghan are gems of wisdom passed from Tantie to me. Diane (Hazel’s daughter and Meghan’s mother) tells Meghan at one point, “I did the best I could with you, and everything I did was out of love.” This is so true for me with my three daughters. I loved them endlessly, but that didn’t mean I made no mistakes with them. We enter any relationship with the best we have to offer, and we pray it will be enough.

Q: When there are strained relationships in families, someone often gets put in the middle as a mediator. In what ways is this unfair to the third party involved?

Oh, poor Meghan. She loved her mom and her grandma, and the great divide between them was more painful for her than it was for Hazel and Diane.

Can you imagine being the “rope” in a tug-of-war game? Being trapped as the “middle-man” is no less uncomfortable, and it really isn’t fair to the individual because they end up less a mediator (guiding two opposing sides into agreement) than a complaint department for both parties. All a middle-man can do is defend one side or the other; they can speculate but not really know the problem at its root. It’s best for the two differing parties to come face to face and talk things out—not in an accusatory way, but to illuminate the issues and eventually find a way to forgive and start fresh.

Q: Carrying guilt and fear can be detrimental to ourselves, but how can it overflow to those around us?

I’ve heard it said we all are products of our past experiences. For instance, after being bitten by a dog, most people are uneasy around dogs. They would then, whether intentionally or unintentionally, convey that fear to others, who become uneasy around dogs, too. Thus, a person who might have loved having a dog as a pet, misses the opportunity because of someone else's fear. We learn by our own experiences, but we also learn from observing others’ actions and reactions. Healthy fears as well as unhealthy ones are passed on in this observation process.

Q: Hazel was a child when her younger sister disappeared one day when they were out together, and she has always felt responsible for what happened. How did she overcompensate for that loss when raising her daughter, Diane?

Hazel vowed never to be so irresponsible again, and she kept careful watch over her precious Margaret Diane. This, in itself, was very loving — she wanted her daughter to be safe. However, the “careful watch” was viewed by Diane as an overprotectiveness that smothered her. When Diane became a parent, determined not to imitate her mother’s cloying presence, she did the opposite and gave Meghan free rein . . . so much “free rein” Meghan sometimes questioned whether her mother really cared about her. Extremes in any behavior have the potential to result in the opposite of what we intend. This was seen in the relationships between Hazel and Diane, and Diane and Meghan.

Kim Vogel Sawyer, author of Bringing Maggie Home

Q: How did what happened in Hazel’s childhood impact her granddaughter, Meghan, and in turn Meghan’s relationship with both her mother and grandmother?

Hazel’s experiences colored her means of parenting; Hazel’s means of parenting prompted Diane to choose a different pattern. Meghan was exposed to what she perceived as indifference from her mother and lavish affection from her grandmother. Although she loved both women, she felt more loved by her grandmother and wanted to spend extra time with her, which of course stirred jealousy from Diane. It’s interesting that both Hazel and Diane loved Meghan fiercely, but they chose very different ways of expressing it. Each of the women had a different opinion about the way she showed love. We are all unique!

Learn more about Sawyer and her books at www.kimvogelsawyer.com, on Facebook (KimVogelSawyer.Author.Speaker) or by following her on Twitter (KimVogelSawyer).

Posted 10/26/17 at 1:14 PM | Audra Jennings

Lori Benton reminds readers of God’s power and perfect timing

Part 2 of an interview with Lori Benton,
Author of Many Sparrows

Click here to read part 1 of the interview.

WaterBrook Press
Many Sparrows by Lori Benton

Set in 1774 and based on historical facts, Many Sparrows depicts the harrowing account of a young mother who will stop at nothing to find and reclaim her son after he is taken by a native tribe. Clare Inglesby, a settler of the Ohio-Kentucky frontier, finds herself in a perilous situation when an accident forces her husband to leave her alone on a remote mountain trail with their four-year-old son, Jacob. Her precarious circumstances only intensify when Jacob is taken by the Shawnee under the cover of darkness. Clare awakens the next morning to find herself utterly alone and in labor.

Clare will face the greatest fight of her life as she struggles to reclaim her son from the Shawnee Indians now holding him captive. However, with the battle lines sharply drawn following a conflict between the Shawnee and new settlers, Jacob’s life might not be the only one at stake. Frontiersman and adopted Shawnee Jeremiah Ring comes to Clare’s aid and promises to help her recover her son. However, his deep familial connection to the Shawnee makes his promise more complicated and the consequences more painful than either party could anticipate. Can Jeremiah convince Clare that recovering her son will require the very thing her anguished heart is unwilling to do — be still, wait and let God fight this battle for them?

Benton deftly handles the moral complexity of the two ways of life that clashed against each other as colonists encroached upon Native American territories on the Ohio-Kentucky border. “I was inspired to write it by my research into the 18th century and also by what God’s been doing in my own heart in recent years,” Benton shares. “I hope to convey [in Many Sparrows] a picture of what it means not to rely on our own understanding and strength, but wait on the Lord to work on our behalf.”

Q: Have you always enjoyed studying history? What drew you to writing specifically about 18th-century America?

I had no particular interest in history as a subject until around my sophomore year in high school, when I discovered the Sunfire Young Adult historical romance series (Jessica was my favorite) and Christy by Catherine Marshall. That’s all it took to engage my interest, although it wouldn’t be until I started writing historical fiction I began what I’d call studying history.

What drew me to write about 18th-century America in particular was nothing more profound than a liking for men’s knee breeches. I’d seen the movie The Patriot (starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger) and for the first time, for some reason (Mel? Heath?), paid attention to what the guys were wearing. I’d been thinking of trying my hand at historical fiction and suddenly knew that if I did, I’d want my male characters wearing knee breeches. A quick Google search told me the fashion began disappearing around 1800, so I zeroed in on the late 1700s as I began hunting for a time and place to set a story. Little did I know I’d taken the first step on a journey that has lasted nearly two decades. I discovered a passion for 18th-century Colonial and early Federal American history I certainly didn’t see coming when I sat down to watch that movie.

Q: What inspired the storyline for Many Sparrows? How much of the book is based on historical fact?

Story ideas set on the 18th-century frontier are constantly spinning around in my head as I research whatever novel I’m presently writing — too many to write in one lifetime. The initial kernel/idea for Many Sparrows dates too far back to recall it specifically. For years I had a file going called “The Frontiersman” because I knew I wanted to write about one. From time to time other ideas began sticking to the bits in that file, and eventually I saw the beginnings of a story forming about a man who lived his life on both sides of that frontier. I wasn’t really sure yet why. Still on the backburner, I began thinking about what sort of woman I might add to my frontiersman’s story. Why would she be on the frontier? What might compel her to cross the line, and in what way might my frontiersman’s path get tangled up with hers? As I asked such questions, Clare Inglesby eventually formed. At the same time I started looking at what was happening on the frontier at various points before and after the Revolutionary War, seeking the exact year for the story’s setting.

I landed on two incidents that occurred in 1774, one to use as the inciting incident from which the rest of the story flows, and the other much deeper into the story. The Yellow Creek Massacre formed the book’s opening scene. The murder of nearly the entire family of the Mingo warrior, Logan, on the banks of the Ohio happened April 30, 1774. It and his subsequent revenge is part of what escalated the brutal conflict between Native Americans and white settlers along the Ohio that year, culminating in Lord Dunmore’s War and the Battle of Point Pleasant in October. Numerous other incidents portrayed in Many Sparrows are drawn from the historical record, but Logan’s tragedy and Virginia Governor Dunmore’s campaign against the Shawnees are the most prominent.

Q: Can you tell us about the research that went into writing this book?

Like most of my story research, there was a lot of book-reading. My primary source for the historical timeline of 1774 turned out to be a slender volume in the Osprey campaign series, Point Pleasant 1774, by John F. Winkler. Though I spent half my life on the east coast and have nearly 25 years of memories to draw from, I now live 3,000 miles away from the settings of my novels. However, while writing Many Sparrows I was able to take a road trip with a fellow historical fiction author. We covered a lot of ground in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, including spending a night in a hotel on the east bank of the Ohio across from Yellow Creek on the spot where Logan’s family was murdered.

Lori Benton, author of Many Sparrows

Q: There are many things we never learn in history class, and it seems as if students are taught less about history today than ever. What are some lessons from history during this time period that would be beneficial for us to know, especially from a cultural standpoint?

If I could change anything about the way history is taught in school (or was taught when I was coming up), it would be to add historical fiction to the curriculum. Facts, figures, dates — none of that translates to caring about what people in the past experienced or the choices they made that have shaped who we are as a nation. If you can see the past through their eyes — even fictional eyes — it comes alive in a way that actually makes an impact on our thinking (perhaps on our own choices).

What I’ve learned in my study of those who lived in the 18th century is, like us, they were flawed human beings, whatever side of the frontier they happened to be born. Men and women on both sides of the 18th-century frontier made selfless choices, and they made cruel and grasping decisions. Brutality isn’t limited to one skin color or another, and neither is grace and love, forgiveness and friendship, or the capacity to have a heart changed and a life transformed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the only One who can with any finality disrupt the cycle of enmity that has been in play across the face of this earth since Cain turned his hand against Abel.

Q: It is well known that traveling west was a dangerous endeavor, and many lost their lives not only to the elements and illnesses, but to native tribes. What added dangers did a pregnant woman face?

Childbirth was one of the riskiest things a woman in the 18th century could experience. Death in childbirth was common, even in the best of circumstances. Couple that hazard with heading into the wilderness perils you mentioned, and I’m amazed any woman, such as Clare Inglesby in Many Sparrows, survived at all.

In truth, I know of at least one woman in a similar situation to Clare’s who did survive: Mary Draper Ingles. Mary was pregnant when she and her two young sons were taken captive by Shawnees from her frontier home during the 1750s. She went into labor during the long march to the Shawnees’ Ohio villages. She survived childbirth, the march, months of captivity, an epic escape and retracing a journey of hundreds of miles back to her Virginia home. The courage, strength and fortitude women in far less desperate straits than Mary had to possess to venture westward to settle the frontier is astonishing to consider. I’m thankful they did it and I don’t have to.

Learn more about Benton and her books at http://loribenton.blogspot.com. She is also active on Facebook (@AuthorLoriBenton), Twitter (@LLB26) and Instagram (@lorilbenton).

Posted 10/18/17 at 11:42 AM |

New book about peace birthed in the midst of incurable cancer diagnosis

When Dr. David Butts, long-time Chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, began writing his new book “Prayer, Peace and the Presence of God: A 30 Day Journey to Experience the Shalom of Jesus,” he didn’t know that the words he was writing after six months of study would soon become desperately needed in his own life. Barely one week into the writing process, Dr. Butts was diagnosed with Stage IV Mantle Cell Lymphoma, an incurable cancer. It was devastating news to his family.

“My wife, Kim, often tells people that we have not shed a single tear over cancer, but many tears over the love shown us by so many people,” says Dr. Butts. “There’s no doubt that the cancer diagnosis caused us concern, but I have to say firmly that we never lost our peace. I had been studying Scriptures on peace for over six months in preparation for the writing of my book, and those scriptures had prepared my mind and my emotions for this jarring intrusion into normal life.” FULL POST

Posted 10/10/17 at 11:15 AM | Audra Jennings

God has a plan in the messiness and confusion

Part 2 of an interview with Cindy Woodsmall,
Author of Gathering the Threads

Click here to read part 1 of the interview.

WaterBrook
Gathering the Threads by Cindy Woodsmall

Cindy Woodsmall’s latest series, Amish of Summer Grove, introduces readers to two young women, one Englisch and one Amish, who were switched at birth and follows them as they discover what their lives would have been like had the switch never taken place. In Gathering the Threads (WaterBrook), Woodsmall deftly weaves complex issues of identity into the story. What makes us who we are? Are we simply a result of our genetic ancestry? Does our family determine our future . . . or is there something more to identity?

Q: Skylar experienced a culture shock when she arrived in Summer Grove. What lessons did she learn from her new Amish family that helped her overcome her battle with drug addiction?

Oh, my, where to begin when it comes to Skylar! I’ve had readers contact me, sharing they felt she was unredeemable and wished I wouldn’t waste any more time on her and just toss her to the side to focus on Ariana and her Amish family. That surprised me, and it hurt because I have someone in my life who once had many of Skylar’s traits. We can’t give up the fight. Everyone wants the sweet, stalwart child. However, like winning the lottery, reality doesn’t give us everything we want.

Skylar lives a selfish life unchecked. Her desires for admiration and drugs are a bottomless pit of hunger, but despite those things, when Ariana was forced to live with her biological parents, Skyler was the only person who had the ability to save Ariana’s café from going under. Skylar is smart and talented, but her addiction threatens to ruin her life before it can really get started.

It was quite a battle for Skylar to get clean, and she fought with her Amish family to leave her alone and let her be an addict. One Amish sibling fought back, saying, “Don’t let something that cares nothing about you control your life. It will make you as apathetic as it is. Fight, Skylar. Decide that you, your family and your future are worth more than these stupid pills!”

Other things came into play concerning Skylar and her addiction, but Skylar finally understood the value of life. She began the battle to get clean and stay clean.

Q: What lessons in hope and faith do you hope readers takeaway from reading Gathering the Threads?

Metaphorically, we often have an idea or vision or number in our heads of what life and people are supposed to add up to be. In reality life is messy and confusing, and it’s rarely what we thought it would be. Even God doesn’t always add up to our ideas or dreams or that elusive number, and we can’t make ourselves, others or God add up. We must accept and believe despite all the messiness and confusion. In the series, Ariana realized there were many translations of God’s Word, and it seemed to her there needed to be more grace and less legalism about exactly how to live. That’s the theme. Hebrews 13:9 says, “It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace.”

Q: Is there a subtler, maybe even hidden lesson you hope readers consider as well?

I think there are many. A fictional story has the power to slip into a reader’s skin and enable her to see nuances of understanding that make life as broad and beautiful as God intended. I didn’t intentionally write hidden lessons, but when readers slip into a character’s world, they often discover things the author didn’t see. As readers, personal insight is our superpower.

Q: Some people who have never read Amish fiction usually have a certain perception of the genre without giving it a chance. What would you say to encourage new readers to branch out and try the Amish of Summer Grove series?

I would say they may be missing out on some of the best reads of their lives. In any genre, there are different types of books. I’d like to think this series goes deeper than most and leaves readers breathless, thinking they were going on one journey and discovering they went on an entirely different one. I enter the Amish world and lift the veil of presupposition, not showing readers what they expected to see, but showing them a very different reality — one I hope builds faith inside their own lives.

The Amish way of life challenges us to consider more than the mantra of self-discovery and self-rule. When we get a peek into their way of life, we can begin to understand how and why they put sacrificial action behind their beliefs. At the same time, we take a journey into a world that struggles to uphold all the previous generation upheld. The heart cry of the faithful in every generation, whether Amish or Englisch (non-Amish/non-Plain), is to do what is best for the family, the faith community and those we influence. We learn how the Amish pass their faithfulness from one generation to the next while we see the weaknesses of trying to have too tight of a grip on the next generation. The determination and struggles of the Amish are a clear depiction of our struggle with the world around us.

Cindy Woodsmall, author of "Gathering the Threads"

Q: Gathering the Threads is the third and final book in your Amish of Summer Grove series. Is it difficult for you to end a series and leave the characters behind?

Yes and no. After three books there are many pieces to put together and many facets of the story to juggle and remember. It’s a bit of a relief to get to start a fresh story, but at the same time, it feels like I’m saying good-bye to close friends. How can I not write any more about Ari, Quill and Skylar? Possible spin-offs about their future lives fill my mind when I close my eyes at night, even though it’s not feasible to bring those to the page right now. The good thing about book-friends is they are always there on the page and in my heart whenever I want to visit them.

Q: Can you share a little bit about the book you are you writing next?

I just finished writing my first non-Amish novella with my daughter-in-law, Erin. It comes out in October and is titled The Gift of Christmas Past. I’m currently writing a full-length non-Amish book that will release in the fall of 2018. Its working title is Soft Dusks and Noonday Fire, and the setting will be the beautiful St. Simons Island, Georgia. I have an amusing, spunky cast of characters I think my readers will enjoy getting to know.

Learn more about Woodsmall and her books at www.cindywoodsmall.com. She is also active on Facebook (@authorcindywoodsmall).

Posted 10/10/17 at 11:09 AM | Audra Jennings

Finding God in the Messes of Life

Part 2 of an interview with Hayley DiMarco,
Author of A Woman Overwhelmed

Abingdon Press
A Woman Overwhelmed by Hayley DiMarco

The phrase “a woman overwhelmed” is one many women can relate to. Research reveals women are more likely to admit to being stressed and suffer from depression than men — yet there is hope. In A Woman Overwhelmed: Finding God in the Messes of Life (Abingdon Press), best-selling author Hayley DiMarco shows readers what would happen if they traded in being overwhelmed by life for being overwhelmed by God.

“Women have a list of things to be overwhelmed with, but most of the time it comes down to their to-do list, which includes working, nurturing, loving, exercising, cleaning, cooking and more,” DiMarco explains. “We also tend to use comparison as a way of determining our value and our success. With all that has to be done, it would be much easier if everyone would do what we want them to do, but alas, our lack of being able to control others ends up overwhelming us as well.”

Q: Is it true you have never met a woman who wasn’t overwhelmed by life? Why are women easily overwhelmed?

Yes, it is true! I think it is simply because we were made to be overwhelmed by the goodness and grace of God. Because of that, our hearts search for something bigger than us, and when we see our to-do lists and plans as the biggest things in our lives, we naturally become overwhelmed with them. In fact, when our heart, soul, mind and strength are all focused on anything, it tends to overwhelm us. That is why Jesus says the most important commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul and mind. We were meant to be overwhelmed by God.

Q: Do single women struggle with being overwhelmed as much as married women?

I don’t think marital status has anything to do with being overwhelmed. Where a married woman might be overwhelmed with being a wife and mother, a single woman can be just as overwhelmed with her singleness. For example, she may struggle with loneliness or the financial restraints of a single income. No one is exempt because no one is righteous, not one.

Q: You write, “If I’m honest with myself about it, I’m not so much overwhelmed with my life as I am with everyone else’s.” Explain how the lives of others contribute to your (and our own) sense of being overwhelmed.

Here’s the thing: I’m doing what I want to do, but they aren’t doing what I want them to do. If everyone would just do what I want them to do, I wouldn’t be so overwhelmed. From my husband and daughter to my friends and enemies, getting people to see my ways as the best ways is like trying to convince my dog he doesn’t want my dirty socks. It’s a losing battle. I’m overwhelmed simply because I’m not in charge of everyone. From my family and friends to the person driving in front of me, I want people to do things the way I want them done, and since they’re not doing it my way, I’m overwhelmed.

Q: How does comparison and competition fuel our state of being overwhelmed?

The way I look at it, there are there are two possible results of comparing ourselves with another human being: pride and depression. Comparison promises to help us to stay on top, out-do others and be accepted, but the result is ultimately pride when we measure up or depression when we don’t. When we see ourselves as better or worse than everyone else, we have taken our eyes off the Father and placed them squarely on ourselves.

Competition is a symptom of comparison; it’s the yardstick by which we measure our success. At the root of comparison is our stubborn need to feel superior and bolster our pride. On the flip side, the foundation of righteousness is humility, a self-proclaimed neutrality in the competition of life. When we humble ourselves, we are no longer overwhelmed by life but by the love of a God who loves us in spite of our sinful nature and repeated failure. We see comparison and competition stand in direct contrast to the humble life God calls His children to in James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10, ESV).

Hayley DiMarco, author of A Woman Overwhelmed

Q: You also say an important part of escaping overwhelmedness is adopting “the Mission of God over the Mission of Me.” Can you explain what that means?

When our mission in life is to accomplish our own plans, dreams, hopes and desires, we are fertile ground for too much to do and not enough time or resources to do it. The Mission of Me is not a road to emotional or spiritual success because there will be difficult times and devastating failures, but the Mission of God, though fraught with difficulty, sees success because God will not be frustrated. When we align our will and mission in life with His, we see life through different lenses, and suddenly everything that would have overwhelmed us is now a tool for our good.

Q: Can you share the story of the first time you felt overwhelmed by God?

I tend to find myself overwhelmed by God when I am in nature. Just walking around in the midst of His glorious creation overwhelms me — it is a sight and a sense of His love that is more than I can imagine. When I feel overwhelmed by life, I have to remind myself to go or look outside and remember the lengths to which God has gone to show us His love. When life seems overwhelmingly impossible and I see how He cares for everything — the birds of the air, the flowers of the field — and supplies us with all we need for life, I am overwhelmed by His goodness and His power.

The key for me is to remind myself of who He is. Whether it’s in nature or in His Word, when I see the true character of God, when I study His attributes and see who He is, I cannot help but be overwhelmed by the notion He is truly all I need.

Q: What lessons has God taught you about patience, especially when it seems like there is so much to do in so little time?

The biggest lesson He has taught me is I’m not in control of circumstances, and when circumstances don’t go the way I want (when I am interrupted or plans are changed), I can trust Him to work it all for good. In fact, the good starts the moment I am patient in these instances because then I am listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, producing His fruit in my life and able to feed those around me. Patience is impossible in the flesh. However, when I put everything that happens to me into His hands, I can be patient and can trust His hands are big enough and good enough to change what needs to be changed and to make happen what needs to happen. I have learned His ways are better than my ways and time is in His hands.

Learn more about A Woman Overwhelmed and Hayley DiMarco at www.HayleyDiMarco.com. Readers can also follow her Facebook (hayley.dimarco) and Twitter (@hayleydimarco).

Posted 10/6/17 at 12:17 PM | Audra Jennings

The beautiful sacredness in the life you are already living

Part 2 of an interview with Kari Patterson,
Author of Sacred Mundane

Kregel Publications
Sacred Mundane by Kari Patterson

When life seems ordinary and unexciting, it is easy to slip into the mindset of being stuck and in need of a change. In Sacred Mundane: How to Find Freedom, Purpose, and Joy (Kregel Publications), Kari Patterson shows the reader the key to change is already in her hand once she realizes what is holding her back. “In 2 Kings, we read, ‘Naaman was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.’ He had so much going for him, but his leprosy threatened to steal it all,” explains Patterson. “I ask readers to consider their own lives and prayerfully simmer down their own life into a sentence. So often we’re vaguely aware of the areas we want to change, but we don’t take the time to narrow down and identify the one thing hindering us most. Identifying the one thing helps us see more clearly how God wants to use our mundane to make us more like Him.”

Patterson points readers to the truth: In each unremarkable life lies an opportunity to see, know, love and be transformed by God, who meets everyone right where they are. Instead of stepping away from real life to find God, Patterson equips women with a six-step practice to move forward and meet Him in the humdrum moments of everyday existence:

1. Look: see the world through the word
2. Listen: discern His voice in daily life
3. Engage: enter in
4. Embrace: love the One
5. Trust: live the blank
6. Thank: find fulfillment

Q: What is the first of six steps to move forward and meet God in the humdrum moments of everyday existence?

The first step is to look. Most importantly of all, we must learn to use the Scriptures as a lens through which we see every situation. Until we see as God sees, nothing will make sense. We will go through life stumbling and fumbling until we learn to see all things through the truth of God’s Word. In my opinion, this is the biggest deficiency in the American church. We don’t know God’s Word. We’re shallow. We go through the motions of religiosity and church attendance, but we don’t truly know the Word of God and let it soak into our souls and permeate every part of our being. God’s Word isn’t the end all — He is — but it is through the Scriptures we learn to see as He sees.

Q: Can you share your simple approach to scripture and reading the Bible?

Look through the Word to see everything else. As we study the Scriptures every day, we don’t evaluate them, standing over them as a judge; we receive them. That is, we don’t overly concern ourselves with some big, new revelation no one has seen before. We don’t have to know Greek or Hebrew or do the latest Bible study. We simply need to sit like a child at His feet, opening up God’s Word and determining we will do whatever we read, no matter what. Our aptitude for the Word matters less than our attitude toward the Word.

Q: How do we listen to and discern God’s voice in our daily life?

First by getting into the Scripture so we know what He sounds like. I know the sound of my husband’s tires on the gravel outside our house. How do I know? It’s a different tires-on-gravel sound than any other car, and I’ve heard it so many times that I’ve learned to discern it throughout time. There are a lot of voices out there: the world, the enemy, my own thoughts and emotions. The only way to discern what God’s voice sounds like is to practice listening and see if it lines up with the Word of God. The more time we spend in the Word, sit quietly and listen in prayer, obey what we hear, and take steps of faith to do anything He asks of us, the more we increase our ability to hear from Him.

Q: Step three in the process is engaging. How exactly do you engage with God in the monotony of life?

At any given moment throughout my day, I have the choice whether I will engage and enter in or draw back, escape, and check out. We can do this in many ways: by ignoring a difficult situation, avoiding conflict, not dealing with a child who needs discipline, getting on my phone and mindlessly scrolling through social media, sitting and vegging in front of my TV shows, eating, shopping, or staying so busy I don’t have to deal with hard things. But when we stop, slow down, and engage, we step into the hard, mundane, and ordinary moment. We learn to commune with God in the midst of it, asking Him how He wants us to respond to any given situation. We have an opportunity to see Him in the midst of the ordinary, but not if we’re checked out on our phones.

Kari Patterson, author of "Sacred Mundane"

Q: Who did God put into your life to teach you about loving people? What did you learn from opening the door and letting her in?

God placed a young woman on our doorstep who was homeless, addicted to drugs, and struggling with severe mental illness and PTSD from abuse. I let her in, and she lived with us for a time. I learned loving people is messy, and we don’t always do it perfect. However, that isn’t the point. I also discovered addiction and homelessness are complex issues. Most importantly, I learned the only answer is the gospel and about the love and accountability of gospel community through the Church. People can never become projects, and loving others always includes a cost. Jesus paid the greatest cost ever out of love for us, and He calls us to love others in that same generous, selfless, costly way.

Q: Why is it hard for us to trust God and His plans for us?

It’s hard to trust God’s plan for us because we can’t see the end! We are control freaks, especially in this culture where we have (or think we have) so much perceived control. For example, most of us aren’t farmers with huge variations in crops from year to year. Instead, we get a regular paycheck, often a fixed salary, and have five-year plans, big buffers on our savings accounts. We have climate control in our homes and cars and have gates and locks on our doors. We like to make our own plans so we feel in control. Trusting God is hard because He usually doesn’t give us much advanced notice. In fact, He often makes it look as if everything is disastrous before He swoops in and fulfills His promises. He does this so our faith, more precious than gold, will be tested and found pure. He knows the greatest joy, peace, and transformation happens when we learn to quit trying to be God and let Him be all.

Q: What is the final step of discovering God in the mundane?

The sixth step is to thank, and that’s most certainly the culmination of the Godward, worshipful life. We all know we’re supposed to be thankful, and perhaps we’ve written gift lists and tried to count our blessings. Still we struggle with this nagging feeling of disappointment and frustration. Often we think if we’re truly spiritual or if we’re good Christians, then we won’t feel disappointment. We sing, “You’re never gonna let me down,” but if we’re honest, we often feel disappointed and let down by God. What do we do with that disappointment? In this chapter we discuss two cycles, the disappointment cycle and the fulfillment cycle, and look at the difference between expectancy and expectation. We look at the lives of seven godly men and women in the Scriptures who all experienced profound disappointment as part of God’s glorious plan for their lives. Here we learn the secret to seeing God’s fulfillment, learn to cast aside our flimsy handmade expectations, and learn to squint the eyes of our souls to see God in the darkness.

Then we finish our time together in the book by emphasizing the importance of letting our lives be poured out in worship to God for the sake of others. Transformation is really all about bearing fruit, and fruit was meant to be picked. The purpose of fruit is not to preen. Trees don’t take selfies of their fruit. The purpose of fruit is to nourish others by the beauty and nutrients. When our lives are transformed, the world is blessed. Sadly, we often divorce these two aspects of the Christian life — sanctification and mission. I’d insist they are one and the same. As we are sanctified, we are more effective in carrying out the mission of God, and as we carry out the mission of God, we are sanctified, made more like Christ. This book isn’t about naval-gazing, self-focus, or being all we were meant to be simply for the purpose of looking better. The point is freedom, purpose, and joy, for the glory of God and the good of the world. The point is to display the goodness and glory of God to a world in desperate need of His hope. That’s the point.

Q: Tell us more about the nine-session small-group Bible study included in the book.

The Bible study can be used by individuals or as a group study. It is great for a summer book club, meeting informally in someone’s living room, or a church’s women’s weekly Bible study (large or small). All that’s needed is included in the book, so it’s ideal for a low-cost, easy-to-facilitate, nine-week study.

Learn more about Sacred Mundane and read Patterson’s Sacred Mundane blog at www.karipatterson.com. She is also active on Facebook (sacredmundane) and Twitter (@sacredmundane).

Posted 10/6/17 at 12:08 PM | Audra Jennings

Biblical literacy and mentorship are important to Christian walk

Part 2 of an interview with Donna Gaines,
Author of Choose Wisely, Live Fully

Abingdon Press
Choose Wisely, Live Fully by Donna Gaines

The Book of Proverbs is a gold mine of divine wisdom. Author and speaker Donna Gaines applies that wisdom in very practical ways to the issues women face. Choose Wisely, Live Fully (Abingdon Press) examines the blessings and curses associated with the choices made by the two women in Proverbs: Wisdom and Folly.

Within the book, Gaines also harnesses her two passions—discipleship and literacy—to challenge women of all ages to become “biblically literate.” Biblical illiteracy makes us vulnerable to influences that do not represent biblical truth. This book is a discipleship tool that will help equip readers to: discern the voice of God and follow His path (the path of Wisdom instead of the path of Folly); experience the joy of wholehearted obedience; and let God help them mentor the lives around them in remarkable ways.

Q: What is Biblical literacy, and how do you address modern Christians’ lack of it in Choose Wisely, Live Fully?

Bible literacy is the ability to understand the grand narrative of God’s Word and apply its truths to life. We must read and study that we might “rightly divide the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Then, through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are able to choose to bring our lives into conformity to God’s Word.

Biblical illiteracy (the lack of knowing what the Bible says) is rampant. Most of us honestly don’t know what God has said in the first place. Many church attendees profess Christ yet deny Him by their behavior . . . so what are we to do?

I encourage people to read the Bible annually. Reading what someone else says about the Bible is no substitute for reading it yourself. When I disciple women, my goal is for them to become self-feeders. I want them to feed spiritually on the Word of God on a daily basis. If we knew God’s Word we would not be so easily discouraged or led into false teaching.

Q: How does the general lack of Bible literacy in today’s world create havoc in everyday life? What are some examples of hot-button issues further complicated by Christians not personally knowing what God has to say on the subject?

We all must be cautious not to lean on our own understanding but instead to ask, “What does God’s Word say about this?” It is easy for us to be influenced by our emotions, friends, media or what current culture dictates.

Many Christians only know what other people say about God, which leaves the door wide open to individual interpretation, personal agendas and propaganda to make a point. People in the church have been as impacted by media and culture as those outside the church.

The only way to be wise and live the life of spiritual blessing is to immerse ourselves in God’s Word and obey it. God is not just an idea or a concept. He is the Creator, Savior and King. When we come to Him through Christ, He becomes the reality around whom all the rest of our life conforms. Then it doesn’t matter what the issue may be: marriage, divorce, immorality, lying, or caring for the least of these — we choose to line up with God’s Word.

Q: Why is mentoring younger women in discipleship important to you? Should every older woman actively aspire to be a mentor?

In Titus 2, every older woman is commanded by scripture to teach the younger women. We are also commanded by Christ to make disciples and teach them all they need to know (Matthew 28:19–20). This call is for all believers. I find as the mentor and teacher, I always get the most out of it. That is why it is important for those we disciple to disciple others themselves later. The truths of scripture really become our own when we can articulate them to someone else.

Donna Gaines, author of Choose Wisely, Live Fully

Q: Is it ok for a younger woman to search for a mentor instead of an older woman seeking her out? What should a younger woman look for in a mentor?

It is absolutely fine for a younger woman to seek out a mentor. She should look for a woman who walks in wisdom, peace and Christian love. She needs to be a woman of the Word and prayer. I have had several women in the churches where my husband served as pastor I approached and asked to spend time with. It was not a formal mentoring or discipleship relationship, but I learned and was challenged spiritually by time spent with them.

Q: Where can readers find your free downloadable resource on how to start a mentoring program?

By visiting www.AbingdonPress.com/DonnaGaines, readers can download a free resource giving them a schedule for a year-long discipleship program. This schedule is designed for a two-hour weekly study. The mentor guide also includes suggestions for books to study in addition to reading through the Bible. There are also scriptures to memorize.

Learn more about Choose Wisely, Live Fully at http://donnagaines.org and follow Donna Gaines on Twitter (@donnadgaines).

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