Food for the SoulTweet
Posted 7/2/15 at 10:34 AM | Audra Jennings
Marriage is serious business — both for the couple tying the knot and for wedding vendors, with the average cost of an American wedding topping $25,000. As budgets get stretched, so can fraying nerves and already-taut emotions, as captured in Beth K. Vogt’s new Destination Wedding series.
In the first novel in the series, Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Howard Books/June 30, 2015/ISBN: 978-1476789781/$14.99), paramedic Vanessa Hollister thinks she has moved beyond the pain of her first marriage — a “what-were-you-thinking” teenage elopement — and is planning an elegant destination wedding in Destin, Fla., with her new fiancé. Her dream of an idyllic beach wedding is disrupted, though, with the sudden reappearance of her first husband.
Storm chaser Logan Hollister is used to taking risks, but a reckless decision during the last tornado season has him questioning his career’s future. Coming face-to-face with his ex-wife eight years after their divorce compels him to confront his greatest regret: losing Vanessa.
When a powerful hurricane throws Vanessa and Logan together, the pair battles unexpected renewed feelings for each other, and the two are left with a choice: Should they accept, once and for all, their teenage marital mistake? Or is God offering them a second chance at happily ever after?
Vogt’s Destination Wedding series will explore the power of love and the possible mishaps and missteps that happen on a couple’s journey down the aisle. Vogt says she was ready to write something a little different. “So often in contemporary romance stories, the wedding comes at the end of the novel — often as an epilogue,” Vogt points out. “In this series, the wedding is a main plot point. And travel — who doesn’t love to read about new travel destinations?” Fans of Vogt are in for an extra treat; Vogt is releasing an e-short, Can’t Buy Me Love, on May 5, 2015 in which chic bride-to-be Bellamy plans the Manhattan wedding of her dreams.
Vogt’s writing process always starts with a story question. For Crazy Little Thing Called Love, her question was: Is it possible what you thought was your biggest mistake was actually the right choice? “God’s best often waits behind the doors marked ‘never,’” Vogt muses. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love delves into the choices we make and asks, if we are given a second chance at love, should we take it?” Vogt says she hope readers will close the covers of Crazy Little Thing Called Love understanding that while a second chance in life or love might not be an automatic affirmation from God, it should be approached prayerfully and counted as a treasured opportunity.
About the Author
Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author who said she’d never write fiction, the wife of an Air Force physician who said she’d never marry anyone in the military and a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. Vogt believes God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “never.”
A 2014 Carol Award finalist, Vogt enjoys writing contemporary romance fiction because she believes there’s more to “happily-ever-after” than the fairy tales tell us. Her 2014 novel, Somebody Like You, was one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of 2014. In 2015, Vogt introduces a four-part Destination Wedding series with the eBook, Can’t Buy Me Love, and her new novel, Crazy Little Thing Called Love.
A magazine writer and former editor of the MOPS International magazine, Connections, Vogt is a part of the leadership team for the writing community My Book Therapy. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Rob, and their youngest daughter.
Posted 7/1/15 at 10:25 AM | Audra Jennings
If you asked anyone who knew Laurie A. Coombs, they would tell you what an incredibly strong person she was — the kind of person who can make it through anything. As Coombs details in her new memoir, Letters from My Father’s Murderer: A Journey of Forgiveness (Kregel/June 27, 2015/ISBN: 978-0825442292/$14.99), that outward veneer of strength masked a crumbling interior.
People had good reason to believe Coombs was as tough and tenacious as she appeared. When her father was murdered while she was in college, she sought justice — and found it. Her father’s killer now serves two life sentences with no possibility of parole. “I certainly had been through quite a bit, and it seemed to me I had been the one who had gotten myself through it all,” Coombs admits. “‘I don’t know how you do it, Laurie,’ some would say. And in my heart, I’d think, ‘I know. I am pretty amazing.’ These comments were intended to encourage me, but they only fueled my pride. And as Proverbs says, pride most certainly does come before a fall.”
After the trial ended, Coombs began to rebuild her life; she graduated, got married and began a beautiful family. Yet, Coombs’ life soon became overwhelmed by pain, bitterness and anger she couldn’t control. She went from doctor to doctor, desperately seeking relief for the physical, mental and emotional symptoms of anxiety and depression. Then one day, she accepted a friend’s invitation to church where she found a faith that would transform her heart and start her on the road to healing.
“I felt free for the first time,” Coombs reveals. “The joy and peace I so desperately sought finally took residence in my heart. The void I had been unknowingly trying to fill with worldly things, accomplishment, and accolades was filled with the light and love of Christ. I had been made new. “
Coombs began to realize complete healing would only come when she began to seek something infinitely more difficult than justice: true forgiveness of her father’s murderer. Coombs’ situation took the biblical imperative to “love your enemy” to a whole new level, and as readers will learn in Letters from My Father’s Murderer, she discovers just how far the power of Christ’s redemption can reach when she begins to correspond with the killer.
Filled with the actual correspondence that took place between Coombs and the prisoner, Letters from My Father’s Murderer provides a unique glimpse into the practical process of forgiveness. It is messy, it is painful, but most of all, it is possible. Anyone who has been affected by the sins of others and is desperate to let go of their pain and resentment will find encouragement through Coombs’ story; freedom is within reach, and there is absolutely nothing that is irredeemable through the power of Jesus Christ.
About the Author
In 2010, Laurie Coombs was called to forgive the man who murdered her father. What happened as a result of that journey is now the subject of her new book, Letters from My Father’s Murderer (Kregel, 2015). Her story has also been featured in Billy Graham’s new film, Heaven, a part of the “My Hope with Billy Graham” national broadcast.
Coombs writes on her blog and is a regular writer for iBelieve.com and Crosswalk.com. She is a contributor to the NIV Bible for Women: Fresh Insights for Thriving in Today’s World (Zondervan, 2015), has been published in FullFill magazine and has appeared on the radio program Living Joyfully Free.
With a background in teaching, Coombs is a passionate speaker on the issues of forgiveness, redemption and the blessings associated with following Jesus. She and her husband, Travis, make their home in Nevada along with their two daughters, Ella and Avery. Together, they are in the process of adopting from Ethiopia.
Posted 6/24/15 at 1:50 PM | Audra Jennings
Q: Why do you think some parents dread the idea of their kids being out of school all summer? Is it the added pressure of having to entertain them?
Florea: I’m not sure parents dread the summer as much as they have to get used to a new routine and spend more time organizing schedules. But, yes, there is added pressure to keep kids engaged and active over the summer. No parent wants his or her child sprawled on the couch for months watching TV and playing video games. And kids don’t want that either.
Smithouser: Parents get tired of hearing “I'm bored,” as if it's their job to keep the kids occupied 24/7 between now and Labor Day. Shortly after school lets out, there's the stress of adapting to a new routine. By August, we're wondering what's left to do we haven't already done. Fatigue can set in. Like Jesse said though, we don't want to cop out and let our children zone out with endless hours of TV and video games. That's why Adventures in Odyssey is great, because those audio dramas stimulate the imagination. And combined with the activities, daily devotions and message boards in the Odyssey Adventure Club, there are plenty of safe, spiritually enriching ways to keep kids engaged. It's the best possible answer to “I'm bored.”
Q: Some research shows that kids from ages 8 to 18 spend more than 7.5 hours a day with electronic devices such as a computer, phone or TV. Why should this be a concern to parents?
Lynn: We believe kids should be using their imagination and interacting with their family and friends. Many times media today tend to isolate. While the Odyssey Adventure Club is consumed through a computer or mobile device, it doesn’t require a child to sit and stare at a screen. Kids can listen to episodes while doing other activities, such as coloring, playing with their toys or outside, riding in the car or exercising. The Odyssey Adventure Club also provides activities and devotions meant to be done as a family, encouraging that important interaction. Through the audio dramas, imagination is brought to life for kids within the theatre of the mind.
Q: How does the Odyssey Adventure Club help moms and dads make spiritual investments into the lives of their children?
Lynn: Through the power of story and imagination, Adventures in Odyssey teaches life lessons through the lens of a biblical worldview. This helps a child grow and develop spiritually. All of our episodes with the Odyssey Adventure Club are also connected to a devotional, which will give parents the ability to tie together easily the program to a scripture and a spiritual lesson. Additionally, parents will find a daily devotional on the website that will take their children and their family deeper on their spiritual walk.
Q: How will the Take the Plunge challenge help parents spiritually disciple their kids while giving them a great time with their family?
Florea: The Take the Plunge challenge focuses on a child’s mind, body and spirit. We want families to be active together and create memories. At the same time, we want to see our members grow closer to Christ. As parents help their children memorize God’s Word and reach out to others in God’s love, the kids will see God move and understand He can use them to further His kingdom.
Smithouser: Research tells us the more senses we involve when teaching children a principle, the more likely the principle will stick. Bible memorization by itself is great, but it becomes even more powerful when put into action. Know it. Share it. Live it. Any campaign that helps families make memories while being the heart and hands of Jesus to a hurting world is one worth getting behind.
First-time authors Ryan Mix and J.T. Payne held nothing back from their initial endeavor into Christian fiction with the new book, The Academy, releasing from Rossling Publishers and distributed by Ingram. Abortion, drugs, suicide, evolution, and death are just a few of the concepts the main character encounters at a fictitious Christian school. The Academy has a suspense element that both Mix and Payne wanted to create to keep readers on their toes. They admit to intentionally making “75% of the book anti-Christian,” but they had a good reason for doing so.
“We tried to take a bold new approach,” says Mix. “We wanted to build tension for Christians reading the book by flipping stereotypes and clichés on their heads so readers cannot assume anything and are forced to question what is coming next. But we also wanted to offer a storyline that might draw in non-Christians as well. Jesus taught in parables all the time in order to get people to think about spiritual things." FULL POST
Posted 6/22/15 at 12:13 PM | Audra Jennings
Every married couple has tensions they need to work through, but can a relationship survive hundreds of miles and endless yards of razor wire? The tenacity of God’s love and His longing to redeem broken people and their relationships are principles at the core of award-winning author Cynthia Ruchti’s new novel, As Waters Gone By (Abingdon Press/May 5, 2015/ISBN: 978-1426787270/$14.99).
Q: In a few sentences, tell us about As Waters Gone By and your inspiration for the book.
As Waters Gone By is the story of a woman struggling to figure out what happens to a marriage when the distance they face isn’t miles only, but concrete walls and razor wire. Emmalyn and Max’s marriage was given a court-mandated five-year time-out when Max’s actions sent him to prison and put an end to Emmalyn’s hopes for motherhood. On a self-imposed exile to beautiful but remote Madeline Island in Lake Superior, Emmalyn has only a few months left to figure out if and how she and Max can ever be a couple again.
When writing As Waters Gone By, I quickly saw the connections for those whose spouses are deployed or gone for long stretches because of their jobs. How do you make a home when your mate is never home?
Our family has been plunged into some of the chapters in As Waters Gone By. My brother-in-law is currently incarcerated several states away. I’m watching my sister react to the situation with such grace, and the remarkable strengthening of their marriage and their faith despite the grave disappointments and uncrossable distance. Their marriage has been an inspiration to others who make the natural assumption that time behind bars is an automatic death knell for a marriage. It doesn’t have to be. Through this novel’s characters—whose story is much different than the one my sister and her husband are living—I wanted to communicate the Hope I’ve personally witnessed, and the grace that can transform a long distance relationship from unraveled to hemmed in that Hope.
Q: You aren’t afraid to take on difficult subjects in your stories. As Waters Gone By deals with serious life issues such as infertility, broken marriages and even the incarceration of a spouse. Why do you take on these heavy-hitting topics?
It would be far easier to pretend these issues don’t affect us or to write about the most popular topic of the day. Instead, I feel most drawn to the stories that rattle us to our core but offer unshakable hope. My books are an emotional journey for the characters and usually prove to be the same for readers too. And yet, there are moments of humor and tenderness in the stories because those elements also show up in our life crises. I pray readers find themselves identifying with the characters and their faith struggles as well as their conflicts. And if they don’t identify with the circumstances, I pray they’ll empathize. My hope is that their compassion for those who do face stories like Emmalyn’s will grow, that books like As Waters Gone By will touch readers at a soul-deep level. While answering these questions, I heard from a reader who gave me the greatest compliment by saying that I have such a way with broken characters that she has a hard time leaving them behind.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your heroine, Emmalyn. Did you include any elements of yourself when crafting her?
Emmalyn Ross had her life plan figured out. Her career path and her husband’s tracked as they wanted them to. But heart-wrenching disappointments chipped away at their carefully crafted plans and at their pride. Emmalyn is unlike me in dozens of ways. I haven’t faced her battle with infertility, but I care deeply about those who do. And through Emmalyn, I had the opportunity to explore what happens to a strong woman when she’s rendered helpless to make a difference in the most important areas of her life — her marriage and her longing to have a child.
I probably identify most with the character who owns the Wild Iris Inn and Café. The owner saw hope hiding behind Emmalyn’s pain and served as a spiritual midwife, in a way, to help Emmalyn see the hope too.
Q: Do you think a marriage can survive any kind of trial?
It’s not easy. I watch as my sister and brother-in-law grow their marriage during his incarceration. They’re intentional about seeking God’s help, about beating the odds, about doing what it takes to invest in their marriage at a time in life when the natural thing would be to walk away. They’ve become living examples that even prison bars don’t have to spell the end of a marriage. And they’re helping convince other couples of the same truth. Emmalyn and Max did almost everything wrong when faced with that forced separation. And still, hope fought its way to the surface.
This is a theme that found expression in my first novel, too—They Almost Always Come Home. In that story, the husband and wife grieved in completely different ways, and it almost spelled the end for them as a couple. I think where we lose our way when faced with what we feel is an unbearable situation is in giving up because it’s easier to give up, or calling it quits because it’s the expected thing to do, or pulling away from each other because of the crisis rather than leaning INTO each other.
Q: How can families come together during a tragedy rather than letting it drive them apart?
Some families might find that natural. Their individual personalities make linking arms and hearts at a time like that seem the obvious choice. But others—especially those who’ve been bombarded with a history of tragedies or shredded by past relationship distresses—might find they have to work at it, seek outside counseling, take determined steps toward each other rather than away.
When Emmalyn and Max in As Waters Gone By began talking—really talking—and watching out for the other’s best interests, when they sought outside help, and subconsciously renewed their commitment to the marriage is when change started to happen and hope was reborn.
Q: How can unmet expectations drive a wedge between us and God?
Unmet expectations can become a wedge in any relationship. Parent/child. Marriage. Friendship. When life doesn’t turn out like we thought it would, our natural inclination is to look for someone to blame. Max made an easy target for Emmalyn’s blame-fixing. She might not have admitted to herself that she also blamed God — for not preventing what happened, for not answering her prayers, for seemingly abandoning her. How many people would tell the same story: that unmet expectations escalated to blame-fixing and bitterness and ultimately to emotional distance from those they love? When Emmalyn learns how to guard her heart against the effects of unmet expectations, she can finally start to gain her footing.
One of the significant subplots in As Waters Gone By is the undercurrent of acceptance and mending that is rooted in the Wild Iris Inn and Café. It’s a location that represents an attitude—taking people as they are—unmet expectations and all, understanding the pain that lies behind unwise choices and the power the lies in second chances. The owner of the café lives an outrageous example of love and acceptance that becomes contagious within the community and for Emmalyn. And for me.
Q: In your own life, how have you found peace in life despite disappointments or troubling circumstances?
Life is laced with disappointment and troubles — some small enough to weather with a mere sigh before we take a deep breath and move forward. Others rock us to our core.
I sometimes need the reminder, though--and I assume many readers do too--that every disappointment we face in life is temporary. And that we’re not left alone to flounder during those times.
Q: Do you think God brings certain people into our lives at the right moment? Could you share a story about someone who came into your life at just the right time?
I think that’s been His pattern from the beginning of time. We read in the Bible that He brought Boaz into Ruth and Naomi’s life at just the right moment. He sent Mary to Elizabeth’s house at a time that provided much needed encouragement for both of them. In my own life, I’ve often had reason to lean on the Bible verse in Habakkuk 2:3 TLB that says, “But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, do not despair, for these things will surely come to pass. Just be patient! They will not be overdue a single day!” Sometimes the answer I waited for was a person. I remember going through a stretch of time when I had no kindred spirit friend. Lots of acquaintances, but my heart longed for that heart-to-heart kind of friend. I prayed and prayed. Waited and waited. My answer lived next door. She was 22 years older than I was, but our friendship has lasted more than 36 years and eventually led us into decades of working together. Hope often shows up in the form of a person.
Q: How important are strong female friendships during hard times?
Immeasurably important! A circle of caring friends—even a small circle—can:
· Help us laugh when that’s the last thing on our mind.
· Remind us someone cares.
· Remind us God cares even when we don’t see the evidence at the moment.
· Hold us up when our knees are weak, when our faith is wobbling.
· Help keep us from drowning in the details of the crisis.
· Return our focus to the act of living while we’re waiting.
It hasn’t been intentional on my part, but in every novel I write, female friendships play a significant role. It’s been there all along in They Almost Always Come Home, When the Morning Glory Blooms, and All My Belongings. In As Waters Gone By, Emmalyn found pieces of her broken heart’s puzzle through her friendships with Boozie and Cora.
In the novels yet to be released, it will play out again—that remarkable impact of friendship.
Q: You use actual locations and geographical features found on Madeline Island, Wisconsin, in the book. Tell us about your trips to this area and how the setting, including a little cottage, stayed with you.
Almost everything location and geography-wise in As Waters Gone By is authentic, with a few exceptions. The Wild Iris Inn and Café — and its outrageous owner — are products of imagination, as is the hunting cottage Emmalyn worked to restore. Someone’s home stands not far from where Emmalyn’s cottage lives in my imagination. Maybe I should put that piece of property on my bucket list.
My husband and I vacationed on Madeline Island years ago. We biked the backroads of the island. The memory of the bike trip is vivid in my mind, as is the moment when the road led us to a sharp elbow of asphalt with the clear waters of Lake Superior on our right and an enormous maple tree in front of us, an explosion of sunlit yellow leaves. Just beyond the tree lay a stretch of cobbled beach . . . and a for sale sign.
We had no money for vacation property. We barely had money enough for the ferry ride back to the mainland. But when we returned to the village, we stood outside of a realty office and looked through the listings plastered to the windows until we found the listing for that piece of property. For a few moments, we allowed ourselves to dream about calling that enchanting intersection of woods, water and shore ours. Ours.
What a sweet memory. Even before writing my first novel, I held onto that scene in my mind.
Q: In what way is that setting—and the timeline of late autumn and winter—key to the story?
I live in the Northwoods, about 200 miles south of Emmalyn’s Madeline Island. So I understand the starkness winter often represents-- the loneliness that winter’s bitter cold exaggerates. The sense of imprisonment Emmalyn would have felt when the island’s ferry stopped running and she was cut off from the rest of the world, just as Max had been. I think as the island changes from a tourist destination to the quieter season when the island’s residents began to hunker down for winter, Emmalyn felt Max’s isolation on a soul-deep level. She hadn’t felt a soul-deep connection to anything with Max for too long. Symbolically, the seasons had a voice in her healing.
Q: Most of the characters in As Waters Gone By are layered with their own painful histories or current crises. How did it change you as you created them?
Every book I write educates me. I learn more about myself, about humanity, about the intersection of God’s story and ours. Fleshing out characters like Boozie Unfortunate and Pirate Joe, Emmalyn’s mom and sisters, Cora and the book club ladies deepened my understanding that the people who surround me every day — those I meet through speaking engagements, listeners to interviews, readers I’m privileged to connect with — have stories behind their stories too. How could my compassion and empathy not grow?
Q: You chose to use several instances of symbolism in As Waters Gone By. What was the most meaningful piece of symbolism for you?
I’m not alone in being mesmerized by waves on what we sometimes call “big water” — oceans, inland seas like Lake Superior, large lakes. The rhythm of the waves, the realization that they have their source far beyond the shore, their consistency yet uniqueness, the treasures they carry to shore and debris they carry out to sea. . . . The premise of As Waters Gone By was birthed from a single verse of Scripture I must have tripped past dozens of times throughout the years. Now that I’ve seen it — really seen it — it won’t let me go. It’s Job 11:16, and it helps explain why waves represented hope to Emmalyn, why they represent hope to me. It reads, “You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by.” (NIV)
Q: What do you hope readers learn about the evolution of personal faith by reading As Waters Gone By?
I think one of the smartest things Emmalyn did — despite her long line of less-than-wise decisions — was to allow herself to be real with the God who knew what was going on inside of her all along. She risked trusting again.
Faith is always a risk. And always a risk worth taking. So is love.
Posted 6/18/15 at 8:02 AM | Audra Jennings
Can love really conquer all? For the walking wounded who carry deep pain, a phrase like that can seem trite. Becky Wade weaves a moving tale of the hope of redemptive love in her new book, A Love Like Ours (Bethany House/May 5, 2015/ISBN: 978-0764211096/$13.99). In it she introduces us to former Marine Jake Porter, who carries scars far deeper than the one that marks his face. After serving his country in the Middle East, he returns home struggling with symptoms of PTSD. His pain causes him to live a solitary life, avoiding relationships even with his dearest loved ones.
Q: What is the overarching theme of A Love Like Ours?
Finding hope. The hero of the novel, Jake Porter, is a former Marine and Thoroughbred racehorse trainer. Eight years after returning from his final tour, Jake still struggles with PTSD. A Love Like Ours is about rediscovering hope that once was lost.
Q: Why do you think we’re so susceptible to looking for hope in sources apart from God?
Because God isn’t tangible. We can’t see, feel, hear or talk with Him in the same ways we interact with everyone and everything else. It requires effort on our part to refocus our minds and our hope on Him. Even though He’s the only source of lasting, meaningful hope, it’s sometimes easier to grasp for the things around us that seem to provide “happiness.”
Q: How would you describe your writing style?
Heartwarming. Humorous. Modern. Romantic. Jake is a brooding hero, but his heroine, Lyndie, is funny and outgoing and brave. The overall tone of A Love Like Ours is hopefully very optimistic.
Q: Why did you begin A Love Like Ours with a prologue that gives the reader a glimpse into Jake and Lyndie’s childhood?
Jake and Lyndie were best friends as children. I felt a glimpse into their past together would give the love story between them as adults sweetness and depth.
Q: Jake Porter, the hero of your book, is an actual hero. He served with the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan and now struggles with PTSD from his experiences overseas. According to statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs, 11-20 percent of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year. What motivated you to write this type of hero?
I’m extremely grateful to our veterans for their service. I cast Jake as my hero because I was moved by news stories I’ve seen and read throughout the years about service men and women who come home with physical injuries and/or disorders such as PTSD.
Q: Is love enough to help people overcome their PTSD symptoms?
No. Everything I read on the topic indicated there is no straight path to a “cure” for PTSD. Not even love. I certainly believe love can motivate someone to turn toward healing and toward God. However, I was careful not to portray Jake’s love for Lyndie as something that solved his issues. Toward the end of the novel, in fact, his love for her actually brings all his issues to the fore.
Q: Not only does Jake suffer with PTSD, but he isn’t a Christian, which causes stress in his relationship with Lyndie. How can a woman’s desire to “fix” a broken man come back to hurt her?
Only God can fix broken people. So whenever you or I latch on to the belief we have the power to change someone else, we’re in trouble and possibly bound for huge disappointment.
Q: There’s a subplot in A Love Like Ours about Thoroughbred horse racing. Did you learn something about horse racing you didn’t know before while doing research for the book?
Jake is a Thoroughbred trainer, and Lyndie is an exercise jockey. I had a wonderful time researching Thoroughbred racing for this novel! I read two books by trainers from cover to cover, as well as numerous online articles. I visited our local horse track and took a tour of the backstretch. I communicated with a woman who spent the bulk of her career in the horse-racing world. I watched a season of the reality show Jockeys set at Santa Anita. And I listened to the audio book of Seabiscuit.
Just about everything I learned was new to me! One fun fact: Great Thoroughbreds often have companion horses they stable next to, travel with and that act as their lead ponies before races. The two horses seem to form a deep and calming attachment to each other. The idea of that caught my imagination, and I immediately wrote a companion horse into the book.
Q: Has bonding with and caring for horses proven to be therapeutic for those who have experienced trauma?
Absolutely. I live in Dallas, and there’s a fabulous therapeutic riding stable here called Equest that has programs for a wide range of people, including veterans. Riding seems to empower, lessen anxiety, bolster confidence and build bonds of trust between animal and human.
Q: Lyndie’s sister has cerebral palsy and needs constant care. How did that help shape the person she became?
Life with her sister gave Lyndie a tender heart toward people who are different and who have challenges. She’s doggedly hopeful, and she’s not easily dissuaded. All qualities that come in handy in her relationship with Jake!
Q: Can you tell us about the family on which you based much of this story?
A few years back, my daughter had a pre-school teacher named Kari. Kari is the kindest, warmest, most fun and most tender-hearted woman I could have hoped for my daughter to have as her teacher. In getting to know Kari, I got to know her family. Kari has two daughters. Her oldest is a completely healthy eighth grader. Her youngest was born with severe cerebral palsy due in part to her skull being shattered at birth by the use of forceps. Kari’s younger daughter is blind and non-verbal and requires round-the-clock care. Yet, in spite of their challenges, this family blew me away with their joy and energy and positivity. I knew from the time I met them I wanted to base a fictional family on them.
Q: Please tell us about the charity that is going to benefit from a portion of the sales of A Love Like Ours.
The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund is building centers at bases across America that aid veterans in their recovery. I selected this charity in particular because IFHF addresses physical rehabilitation, but also helps with traumatic brain injuries and with psychological health conditions. A portion of the proceeds from sales of A Love Like Ours through May 17 will go to Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.
Q: In what way do you hope A Love Like Ours encourages its readers?
I hope the novel reminds readers that in God, there’s always reason to hope! He has the power to redeem all things in His time.
Posted 6/16/15 at 12:39 PM | Audra Jennings
Every family has secrets they’d prefer to stay hidden, but where is the line between protecting the ones you love and simple self-preservation? The theme of Melanie Dobson’s sweeping new novel, Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor (Howard Books/May 5, 2015/ISBN: 9781476746142/$14.99) is how the choices of a few can impact generations. FULL POST
Posted 6/15/15 at 12:15 PM | Audra Jennings
Against the backdrop of one of the most turbulent times in American history, the post-Civil War era, one woman struggles against prejudice, injustice and suffocating conventions of the 19th century to pursue her dream. Tamera Alexander’s To Win Her Favor (Zondervan/May 12, 2015/ISBN: 9780310291077/ $15.99), the second stand-alone novel in the Belle Meade Plantation series, is already receiving high praise. According to Library Journal, “Strong characters, a sense of the times and the themes of love, friendship and the importance of loyalty and determination make To Win Her Favor a triumph.”
Maggie Linden lost nearly everything in the Civil War — including most of her family. She’s about to lose her stables and land at Linden Downs, and her racing hopes as well. A gifted rider in a world where ladies never race, Maggie is determined that her mare, Bourbon Belle, will become a champion. Indeed, her only hope of saving Linden Downs is if the horse takes the top purse in the inaugural Peyton Stakes, the richest race ever run in America. To give his daughter a chance, Maggie’s wily father makes a barter. But his agreement includes one tiny, troublesome detail: Maggie must marry a man she’s never met — a man she never would have chosen for herself.
Q: What made you choose to set your new novel, To Win Her Favor, during the tumultuous years following the Civil War?
Born and raised in the South (Atlanta, GA), I’ve long held a strong connection with Southern history. And what historical event defines the South as much as the War Between the States? Family homes became headquarters for troops, churches and schoolrooms became hospitals for the wounded, and the hills thick with pine and the meadows lush with grass became hallowed ground with the blood of the dead and dying. The years of Reconstruction forged a steel in the hearts of surviving men and women for a new life, a new country. I find myself fascinated by what they accomplished in the face of overwhelming odds. And remember, ultimately, so much good came from this time of suffering in our history too. So many advances in medicine, botany, mental health and social justice, to name a few.
Q: What is the central message of To Win Her Favor?
That through hope and determination even the greatest obstacles can be overcome. The story explores questions of race, faith and loyalty and offers perspective on how Reconstruction affected racial relations, social status and economic fortunes in the post-war South — and a passionate love story is at its very heart.
Q. Many Kentucky Derby winners today trace their lineage back to thoroughbreds at Belle Meade Plantation in the 1860s and 70s. Describe the horse racing culture of the 19th century and what part it plays in your story.
Through three generations of the Harding/Jackson family at Belle Meade, Belle Meade Plantation became the preeminent stud farm and nursery for the horse racing industry. Belle Meade’s thoroughbred legacy is at the center of the history of American horse racing and owes its heritage to a line of successful studs, starting with Epsilon in 1844, then following in the 1860s with Jack Malone, Vandal, Bonnie Scotland, Great Tom, Enquirer and Luke Blackburn. You’re familiar with the 1973 Triple Crown Winner Secretariat and perhaps the 2012 Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another. These modern-day winners and so many more trace their lineage back to Belle Meade. Horse racing in the 19th century was the king of sports, but it was an industry dominated by males. White men owned the blood horses, and young slave boys were the ones who jockeyed the magnificent thoroughbreds. Women and girls weren’t allowed — at least, not until Margaret Linden in To Win Her Favor.
Q: What was it like for African Americans in the south during this era? Were they the only ones who faced racial discrimination in this country?
The Emancipation Proclamation (1863) granted freedom to slaves in the 10 states that were still in rebellion, but it didn’t outlaw slavery, nor did it grant citizenship to freedmen (ex-slaves). And that freedom, as we know, was ultimately hard won. But former slaves weren’t the only ones who suffered enormous abuse and ridicule. Irish immigrants ranked only slightly above that of freedmen in social status and were frequently scorned in both newspapers and society. NINA signs (“No Irish Need Apply”) really hung outside of many retail shops and businesses, as depicted in the story.
Q: In the book, Cullen McGrath is an Irishman trying to start a new life in Tennessee while overcoming not only discrimination but also a haunted past. Why is he so angry with God?
Cullen is angry with God because he believes God let him down, that God didn’t follow through on His end of the bargain. How often have we felt that way? We think, “If I do this for God, then of course God will do this for me.” That’s very dangerous theology and certainly not Biblical. Part of Cullen’s journey — just as it is each of ours — is to learn what it means to trust God . . . no matter our circumstances.
Q: Some of the scenarios in the book paint a gritty picture of this unsettled time. Why do you think it’s important we not gloss over this chapter in American history?
The old adage comes to mind, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Human history is filled with atrocities: race against race, religion against religion, and greed-lust that annihilates anyone in its path. No matter the era, be it the 19th century or the 21st, human nature hasn’t changed. We still struggle with the same sins and temptations, and we have a responsibility to remember our past. So many of the racial issues people dealt with following the Civil War are still prevalent in parts of our country (and world) today, and glossing over — or rewriting history — not only denies the truth, but it cheapens the price so many paid for the freedoms we do have.
Q: As a southerner yourself, how do you embrace the culture of the south while still acknowledging its difficult place in the American story?
Very simply, the only way to embrace the Southern culture (or any culture) is by knowing how that culture was formed and by acknowledging all parts of its history, even the ugly and shameful parts. Dig deep enough into any culture’s history (you won’t have to dig far), and you’ll find deceit, greed, lust, murder, envy, and strife. Because at the core of who we are, we are all the same: sinners in need of a Savior, no matter the color of one’s skin. So to downplay the racial injustices perpetrated by the people of that time — toward people of every race, color and creed — is to risk making those same reprehensible choices again.
Q: What can this era and the story in To Win Her Favor teach us about forgiveness?
I’m always amazed at how those who have suffered the most are often the most forgiving. At the heart of forgiveness is a humility of spirit and an awareness of personal sin. Once you’ve seen how much you’ve been forgiven, I believe it’s easier (not easy, but easier) to forgive others for wrongs done to you. The characters in To Win Her Favor each learn about forgiveness — both in the giving and receiving — in their own ways.
Q: Your heroine, Maggie Linden, has lost all four of her brothers in the war and her mother shortly thereafter. Why do you think God allows such hardship and grief to affect those who love him?
Ah . . . the age-old question. Volumes have been written attempting to answer this question, so I’ll briefly share what helps me reconcile a hurting world with a loving God. This earthly life is transient. This world is not a believer’s home and was never intended to be. It’s vital in a believer’s faith walk to continually draw our focus back to an eternal perspective, which isn’t our natural bent. Not by far. I try to see each day (and everything that happens) as a way to grow closer to Christ. I try to focus not so much on “why” something is happening in my life but rather focus on what I can learn from it. And, more importantly, how I can bring glory to Jesus Christ through the experience. Eternal perspective changes everything.
Q: Have you ever felt like something bad that happened to you was a punishment for past choices?
Sure. Because sin has consequences. However, not everything bad that happens in a person’s life is due to him or her having done something bad. We live in a fallen world where bad things happen to good people all the time. It’s the nature of free will and a consequence of living in a fallen world.
Q: Like many women throughout history, Maggie finds herself in a position where it seems her only way to save her dreams and family fortune is through a marriage of convenience. What do you think you might have done if you were in her shoes?
I think I would’ve done precisely what Maggie did, which made it especially interesting to take that journey with her. Someone recently said to me, “All marriages are marriages of convenience on some level.” It’s a thought-provoking statement.
Q: You’ve said Kizzy is your favorite character in this book; tell us about her and why she captured your heart.
I fell in love with Kizzy and would love to write her continuing story some day. Kizzy represents so much of the bold hope, tenacity, and raw courage that was present in the generation of freedmen children coming of age after the Civil War. In many ways, it was a brave new world for them. Yet, in others, the world hadn’t changed nearly enough, and the war was still being fought. I adore Kizzy’s approach to life and how she sees herself. And how she sees others.
Q: Do you have a favorite way to celebrate the completion of a new novel?
I’m embarrassed to tell you, and no one has ever asked me this before. But I treat myself to one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Remember the Hostess cupcakes with the cream filling? The ones that come in the two-pack and are absolutely horrible for you and have so many preservatives they could withstand a nuclear holocaust? Well, I treat myself to a pack of those, and then I read for days on end. Just dive headlong into a stack of novels and relish the experience.
Q: What kind of impact do you hope To Win Her Favor will have on readers?
The same kind of impact it had on me . . . that it will cause readers to search their own motives and hearts in relation to prejudice and that they’ll have the courage to follow God’s lead in taking whatever steps are necessary toward healing the divide.
Posted 6/12/15 at 4:17 PM | Audra Jennings
Everyone has been hurt. Everyone experiences conflicts, great and small. Everyone has someone to forgive. In The Heart of the Amish: Life Lessons on Peacemaking and the Power of Forgiveness (Revell/May 5, 2015/ISBN: 978-0800722036/$12.99), bestselling author Suzanne Woods Fisher reveals the lessons that the Amish teach about what to do when we just can't bring ourselves to forgive someone who has wronged us.
The Heart of the Amish invites readers into the world of a people renowned for their ability to forgive. Her in-depth, personal research uncovers the astounding, yet fundamental way the Amish can forgive anyone — from the angry customer at the grocery store to the shooter at the Nickel Mines schoolhouse. Through true stories gathered from a variety of Amish communities, Fisher illustrates how they are able to release their pain and desire for revenge, living at peace with others. Readers will learn how to invite God into their stories, apply lessons from the Amish to their own circumstances, and find the freedom that comes with true forgiveness.
Q: Where did you get the idea to write The Heart of the Amish?
It began years ago as I was working on some non-fiction books about the Amish. The book came into focus for me as I was hosting a radio show called Amish Wisdom. I kept bumping into stories that held such meaning and significance, real-life stories I couldn’t stop thinking about. The people I interviewed had faced some very difficult experiences, and yet they offered grace and forgiveness to their wrongdoers. Some were the recipients of grace and forgiveness. The outcome of the experiences was vastly different than what we’re accustomed to in our modern world. What a difference it makes to invite God into the conversation of conflict!
Q: What first drew you to the Amish way of life?
My grandfather was raised German Baptist (Dunkard), a cousin to the Amish. He was one of 11 children, so I have quite a few Dunkard relatives. Quite a few! I’ve always been intrigued by the choices of my relatives and their aim to be “in the world but not of it.” Studying the history of the Amish meant I was studying my own family tree. The origin of these churches, both Amish and German Baptist, is rooted in Anabaptist theology.
Q: Can you share your research process for this book? Did you find Amish communities were open to talking to you about their experiences?
It wasn’t easy! This book handles some very personal, gritty topics. Thankfully, the relationships I have built over the years with some Old Order Amish individuals bore fruit. One friend would connect me to another, to another, to another. Not everyone allowed their story to be told in a book, and some (though not all) insisted on changing names and details to protect privacy, but little by little, this book grew and took shape.
Q: The Amish have always held a certain fascination for many. Why do you think they are so interesting to us?
Such a good question! I think there are a lot of reasons people are fascinated by the Amish. Their pastoral lifestyle, their simpler way of living, their clear priorities, their emphasis on family, faith and community.
Q: There has been a recent rash of reality television shows that have awakened a new curiosity in their ways. How has this hurt or helped the Amish?
This is just my opinion, but I think those “reality” shows only perpetuate myths and misunderstandings.
Q: What is the number-one lesson the Amish can teach us about forgiveness?
To make forgiveness your aim in everyday moments so God has something to work with in you when big events come along (and they do and will come along . . . for all of us).
Q: Many are familiar with the shooting that took place at the Nickel Mines schoolhouse, which shed a national light on how deeply committed the Amish are to forgiveness. Why was it so intentional for that community to forgive what happened?
The Amish take the need to forgive very seriously. It’s woven into their daily life, modeled to their children, encouraged and valued. They practice forgiveness in the small moments of life, so when the big moments arrive (such as the Nickel Mines tragedy) they are prepared to respond with intentional forgiveness.
Q: You say forgiveness to the Amish is not an option — it is essential. What do you mean by that?
The Amish believe that to forgive an enemy — so contrary to human nature — is to follow Jesus’s instructions on forgiveness, as well as His example. And they don’t just seek to forgive. They also love and bless those enemies.
The fundamentals of Amish forgiveness rest on a literal interpretation of this verse: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14–15 KJV).
Most Protestant traditions assert that forgiveness begins with God, that we receive it and then are able to forgive others. The Amish believe they receive forgiveness from God only if they extend forgiveness to others.
Better minds than mine have tried to settle that sticky theological debate. Anglican theologian John Stott might have best captured the intention of Jesus’s words in his book Through the Bible, Through the Year: “This certainly does not mean that our forgiveness of others earns us the right to be forgiven. It is rather that God forgives only the penitent, and that one of the chief evidences of true penitence is a forgiving spirit.” Whether, like the Amish, you accept a literal interpretation of those verses or a more figurative interpretation, it is clear that forgiving others who wrong us is evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
Q: Why is it important to forgive as early as possible, even when the offense is small, like a little pebble in the shoe?
Practice, practice, practice!
What will spill out of you when you are under great stress is what spills out of you now in the day-to-day friction of living. Our ability to forgive what seems unforgiveable is deeply connected to how we handle the smaller transgressions: when someone cuts in front of us at the grocery store, when our spouse forgets an anniversary, when our family accidentally locks us out of the house.
Q: What are some practical ways the Amish teach their children lessons on forgiveness?
Right from the start, Amish parents model forgiveness to their children, turning negative thoughts into positive ones, being the first to extend the olive branch to others.
Q: What are some tips for making forgiveness a daily habit?
The Amish believe life isn’t fair — the toast burns, the milk spills, the car breaks down. They believe we are part of an imperfect world, far from the Garden. They expect life not to be fair, so when the hard things come into their life — and they do, just like everyone’s life — they’ve had experience with how to manage them. Forgiveness is like a muscle. The more it’s exercised, the stronger it becomes. Each time you forgive, it becomes easier to forgive the next time.
Q: What is your favorite Amish proverb about forgiveness?
“You can stop forgiving others when Christ stops forgiving you.” Think about that. It’s really the essence of humility!
Q: How do you hope The Heart of the Amish affects its readers? How did writing this book impact your own life?
The goal of this book is to help readers make a habit of forgiving. None of us can know for sure where life will take us, but we do know there will be potholes and detours and fender benders along the way. We just don’t have much control over the things that happen to us in life. To think we won’t need to forgive others is just . . . faulty thinking. Why not prepare our hearts and minds to be forgivers? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who taught and lived forgiveness, said it best: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. Forgiveness is a permanent attitude.”
I think there’s a pretty good chance readers won’t feel like the same person after reading this book. That is exactly what happened to me.
Posted 6/11/15 at 4:37 PM | Audra Jennings
God promises in Psalm 68:6 He will place the lonely in families, and in The Inn at Ocean’s Edge (Thomas Nelson/April 14, 2015/ISBN: 978-1401690267/$15.99), author Colleen Coble paints a picture for readers of how comfort, acceptance and love can come from the most surprising sources and in the most dire of circumstances. In the first installment in the new Sunset Cove series, Coble introduces us to Claire Dellamore, who — at first glance — seems to have lived an idyllic life. Even to Claire, her childhood seemed like a fairytale, and a vacation to Sunset Cove is her way of thanking her parents. FULL POST