Food for the Soul
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Audra Jennings

Audra Jennings is a publicist with Litfuse Publicity Group.

Posted 4/23/14 at 1:31 PM | Audra Jennings

Tracy L. Higley Challenges Readers to Live their Calling

Thomas Nelson

Sometimes the loudest voices in our lives are the ones we need to silence the most. In Tracy L. Higley’s latest novel, The Queen’s Handmaid (Thomas Nelson/March 18, 2014/ISBN: 978-1-4016-8684-0/$15.99), the author explores the importance of finding our identity in God and not in the opinions of others — no matter how large of a presence those people are.

This search for true identity is the foundation for The Queen’s Handmaid, a story that will take readers on an adventure through an ancient world and give them a unique understanding of the culture and setting into which Jesus was born. Set in Alexandria, Egypt, in 39 BC, The Queen’s Handmaid connects the history we learn in school with the Bible stories of childhood, giving readers a peek into a lost world.

Q: The Queen’s Handmaid is set in Egypt, Rome and Jerusalem in 39 B.C. How did you first become interested in this time period?

I find so much of ancient history to be fascinating — and I especially love connecting the world history we learn in school with the Bible stories of childhood. I loved researching this period for a previous book that featured Cleopatra, and it was fun coming back to it, to explore her relationship with Herod the Great.

Q: What kind of historical research did you do in preparation for writing this book? Have you been able to travel to Egypt and/or Jerusalem where the story takes place?

My research is done on a variety of levels, from quick overviews to get story ideas to deep research once I have the period, setting and historical events nailed down. And yes, the best part of my research has been travel! I’ve visited Egypt, Rome and Jerusalem, exploring the sites and getting inspired!

Q: Is it difficult to create the settings in which your characters live, given that the story takes place more than 2000 years ago?

I love creating the settings! One of my favorite parts of writing is being able to take readers on a journey through the sights, smells, sounds, colors and textures of the ancient world.

Q: Can we expect to see biblical characters throughout the pages of this story, and if so, what was it like to bring them to life?

The main biblical character readers will encounter is Herod the Great. We know him from the stories of Jesus’ birth, but for me, getting to peek behind the scenes at palace life and the mind of this man who was both a great leader and a murderous madman was challenging and exciting.

Q: In The Queen’s Handmaid, your heroine is “chosen and marked for this purpose.” Do you feel everyone is marked for a purpose, and how can we determine what that purpose is?

I absolutely believe each of us has a unique calling, a grand adventure planned out for us before the foundation of the world. Staying open to our own hearts and the way God both whispers and shouts His plan to us is so important. In my experience, most people have a sense of their own unique calling, but fear keeps us from it.

Q: Your heroine works hard at what she does, but she doesn’t trust people easily. Are you guarded the way she is or do you find it easier to believe the best in people?

I think I’m probably too trusting, actually. I’ve been blessed with many wonderful relationships, unlike Lydia’s challenges. But I know that for so many people, trusting others does not come easily.

Q: You’ve said the main theme for this novel is that our identity is found in God and not in what others think about us. Is this something you’ve wrestled with, and how do you learn to care less about what people think and more about what God thinks?

This goes back to trust, in my opinion. When we make people too “large” in our lives — allowing them to define who we are — we become focused on achieving and performing to please them. This is Lydia’s challenge, but I think it applies to all of us. We are all trying to gain the love and admiration of others in our lives, to feel good about ourselves. The only way we can escape this self-oriented life and really live our calling is finding acceptance and love in the God who will never fail us. He frees us up to love others well, without arranging our lives to please them.

Q: What are some of the great conflicts your heroine faces that the modern-day woman might relate to most?

For one, I think 2000 years later, it’s still a challenge for women to be comfortable with themselves outside the definitions of husband and family and to find their unique place in the world. Also, unfortunately, fighting against corruption and cruelty never goes out of style! To take a stand against evil for the sake of those we love is part of our calling, whether ancient or modern.

Q: How does your heroine overcome her fear and live a life of courage?

Practice! No, really — these things don’t come easily, do they? A series of challenges begins to teach Lydia about where true strength comes from, to help her see the gifts she has within herself and the God who can work through her. It’s the hard stuff that teaches, for Lydia and for all of us.

Q: The Queen’s Handmaid falls into the genre of biblical fiction. Some people are leery of this category because it puts the words “biblical” and “fiction” together. How would you describe the genre, and what encouragement would you give to skeptical readers in hopes that they would give biblical fiction a try?

Thomas Nelson
Tracy L. Higley

I could go on here for awhile, but one thing I will say is that we “fictionalize” our Bible stories all the time, for the sake of understanding. Every time we picture the Christmas story with three wise men or even the innkeeper at the door, it’s an expansion of the scant details that are there. When a story expands the Scriptural record without contradicting it, we are immersed in that time and culture in a way that makes the story, and subsequently our faith itself, so much more real.

Q: What do you want readers to walk away with once they turn the last page of The Queen’s Handmaid?

I would hope readers leave with a sense of satisfaction with a story well-told, a broadened understanding of the culture and setting into which Jesus was born and the inspiration to go out and live an adventure of their own!

For more information about Tracy L. Higley and her books, visit tracyhigley.com, become a fan on Facebook (tracyhigley) or follow her on Twitter (@tlhigley).

Posted 4/15/14 at 8:49 AM | Audra Jennings

Emily T. Wierenga’s New Novel Reveals How Love Conquers Loss

Abingdon Press

God has a way of piecing together His promises in ways we would never expect. In her debut novel, A Promise in Pieces (Quilts of Love series from Abingdon Press/April 15, 2014/ISBN: 9781426758850/$13.99), Emily T. Wierenga presents the story of two women who met under the worst of circumstances but were able to turn their grief into healing for those they came into contact with.

After nursing school, Clara Wilson feels the call of freedom pull her away from both her small town and the watchful eye of her strict parents. In the midst of World War II, Clara and her best friend, Eva, see the hurt in the eyes of those who have already lost loved ones in the war. Hoping to save the lives of more soldiers, the two join the Army Nurse Corps and soon find themselves in Normandy.

Once the war is over, Clara must fulfill a dying soldier’s last wish: convey his love to his young widow, Mattie, by delivering his last letter with apologies for the missed life they planned to share. Struggling with her own post-war trauma, Clara doesn’t think she is prepared to handle the grief of this broken family. After meeting Mattie and receiving a baby quilt that will never cuddle the soldier’s hoped-for child, Clara vows to honor the sacrifices that family made.

When Clara returns to her hometown, she settles into life as a midwife. She wraps each newborn in the gifted quilt and later stitches the child’s name into the cloth. As each baby is welcomed by the quilt, Clara begins to wonder whatever happened to Mattie — and if either of them will ever experience love and a family of her own. Having witnessed so much loss, Clara fears marriage and motherhood most of all. Little does Clara know what God has in store for her or the importance of the quilt in the lives of those it touches. Years later, she will have the opportunity to re-gift the special quilt, carrying even greater significance than when it was first bestowed.

“I connect with Clara, who is a very broken person,” says Wierenga. “She’s a pastor’s daughter who, like me, was disillusioned about religion and desperate to encounter God for herself. I too needed to get away from home in order to realize that God had been there the whole time. My relationship with God was restored upon returning home to care for my mum. I’ve also battled infertility and miscarriage and could relate to Clara’s fear of loss.”

Wierenga hopes in reading A Promises in Pieces that readers will find the courage to love, especially if loss and fear have been standing in their way. “God mends the most broken of hearts and places the lonely in families.”

For more information about Emily Wierenga and her books, visit her online home at www.emilywierenga.com. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

About the Author

Abingdon Press
Emily T. Wierenga

Emily T. Wierenga is a former editor, ghostwriter, freelance writer and staff journalist. She was a monthly columnist for The Christian Courier and has written for numerous Christian publications including Focus on the Family, In Touch and Today’s Christian Woman. Wierenga is the author of three previously released non-fiction titles: Save My Children: The Story of a Father's Love, Chasing Silhouettes: How to help a Loved One Battling an Eating Disorder, and Mom in the Mirror: Body Image, Beauty and Life After Pregnancy. Her memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I thought to Look, will release July 1, 2014. A Promise in Pieces is her first novel.

In July 2013, Wierenga wrote a letter on her blog to Kate Middleton on the postpartum body. The post went viral, receiving more than half a million views in one week, and was shared by Dove. Currently, Wierenga is a blogger for the World Help Organization.

Wierenga speaks at women’s retreats, universities, churches and conferences, about her journey with anorexia nervosa and was one of the keynote speakers at the premiere Christian eating disorders conference, Hungry for Hope 2013. She serves as an Official Ambassador for FINDINGbalance and is a Navigator with the National Eating Disorders Association.

Wierenga is wife to a math-teacher husband and mother and foster mother to four boys. The Wierengas make their home in Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada.

For more information about Emily Wierenga and her books, visit her online home at www.emilywierenga.com. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

Posted 4/10/14 at 9:13 AM | Audra Jennings

Billy Coffey Tackles Themes of Guilt and Regret in Latest Novel

Thomas Nelson

What can’t be laid to rest is bound to rise again. Everyone has a past and has made mistakes, but what happens when those secrets grow and control our lives? “We can all be hampered by our pasts, but that in no way negates the power of choice that’s available to us all. We can choose to become more. We can choose to live better.” Billy Coffey knows life isn’t easy, and like the characters in his latest release, The Devil Walks in Mattingly (Thomas Nelson / March 11, 2014 / ISBN: 978-1401688226 / $15.99), he hopes to guide people who are shrouded in the darkness of regret to the hope and light of redemption.

Q: What was the inspiration behind the storyline for The Devil Walks in Mattingly?

He was a short, awkward boy plagued with acne and a head of greased auburn hair that he kept parted to the side. I shared seven years of my life with him, from the sixth grade through our high school graduation. He wasn’t the only one I spent that time with, of course. There were others, eighty or so of us, all bound by the same small town. Spend that many years with people, you get to know them. We hung out with one another and got in trouble with one another, hated and loved together, all of us but him.

He was the loner, the outcast — the shy boy who was never bright and whose mother was rumored to be a witch. It was easy to pick on him, this boy who never spoke up in class and could not look you in the eye. He was the perfect target: a ready-made punching bag for every bully and a gullible scapegoat for the rest of us.

Aside from the occasional nod in the hallway between classes, I never had dealings with him. I never picked on him, never blamed him for anything. He was a nonentity to me, a barely-there ghost I chose not to see. I knew even then that made me an accomplice in some way, just as guilty as the football players who once wedgied him to tears in the gym locker room or the girls who taunted him for his ugliness. They did much to bring him down; I did nothing to lift him up, and so we all harmed him.

Even now, some twenty years later, that boy will cross my mind. I have not seen him in my small town since our graduation. I don’t know where he’s gone or what’s become of him. I like to think he’s made something of himself. I often think he hasn’t, and I wonder how much of that is because of me.

That boy became Phillip McBride’s character in The Devil Walks in Mattingly. In many ways, Jake’s, Kate’s and Taylor’s struggle to atone for their sins somehow of what happened to Phillip mirror my own struggle to come to terms with that boy so long ago. The novel is three people’s quest for redemption, but it is also my attempt at an apology.

Q: In The Devil Walks in Mattingly, we meet three characters whose lives are crippled by secrets. We all must deal with failure and regret, but many struggle moving forward. Why do you think we allow our pasts to dictate our future?

I think a lot of it centers upon the fact that we’re largely powerless to do anything about what’s been done. We can try to make amends, try to move on, but yesterday often finds a way to leak into today. The past can be a great source of comfort, but it can also be a ghost that rattles its chains whenever things get dark. What makes it scary is that ghost is us — it’s who we once were. And no matter how far we’ve come, those rattling chains can tempt us into believing people never really change at all.

Q: One of the character says, “Secrets fester on your insides, but you live on the outside.” What are the consequences of holding on to secrets?

Those secrets grow. You hold them in and there they sit, tucked away in some dark corner of yourself, and soon they sprout and bloom and spread. But you still hold them in because you think it’s noble — you’re suffering so others won’t. That’s what’s happened to Jake’s character in the last 20 years. On the outside, he’s just as calm and strong and confident as he’s ever been. But on the inside, he’s little more than a boy. I think that’s the biggest consequence of holding on to secrets. They end up hollowing you out, robbing you of you.

Q: What advice do you have for people who find themselves constantly reminded of their mistakes? How do we move forward?

I believe the only way forward is through forgiveness. God’s forgiveness, absolutely, which is always given and given freely. But I’m talking about forgiving yourself as well, and that is much harder. We’re taught to be merciful to others, show them grace. We understand there isn’t a soul in this world who isn’t fighting a great battle every moment of every day. Yet when it comes to ourselves, all that teaching and understanding goes out the window. We can’t grow up until we screw up. It’s as important to remember that as it is to remember that God is our judge, not ourselves (which is a good thing because He’s much more loving).

Q: Sometimes we try to justify or rationalize our bad decisions by saying what we did was for the greater good or was for the best in the long run. Do you think that is just a way of trying to cover our guilt, or do we really believe a wrong somehow makes a right?

Speaking just for myself, I’d say both. Our current culture seems to believe a wrong somehow makes a right — that it doesn’t matter what you do or how you do it, so long as the end result leaves you better off than you were. And more than anything, we certainly want to justify ourselves in the things we do, even if we know justification is a lie, if only to preserve our egos. We’re great masters of deception, but we have yet to learn that we don’t deceive others nearly as well as we do ourselves.

Q: One of the commonalities between the main characters is having abusive or absent fathers. What encouragement do you want to offer your readers who come from similar backgrounds?

I witness secondhand the plague of fatherless children every day, especially when it comes to young boys. My wife is an elementary school teacher, and the vast majority of the troubles facing her students can be traced to the disarray of their home life. I wholeheartedly believe in the presence of a strong male role model, just as I believe life without one can leave young children unmoored in the world. But I have known many boys who grew up with abusive or absent fathers and are now wonderful fathers themselves. To a man, they’ll always tell me the same thing — some kids have the benefit of being taught what to do, but they learned to love and live well by experiencing what not to do. We can all be hampered by our pasts, but that in no way negates the power of choice that’s available to us all. We can choose to become more. We can choose to live better. And we can choose to devote our lives to ensuring that the sins of our fathers (and mothers, for that matter) will not be visited on our own children.

Q: Do you tend to write yourself and your own faith journey into your stories? If so, what are some similarities in The Devil Walks in Mattingly and your own life?

I don’t know of any authors who can’t help but include a bit of themselves into their stories. I’m no different. The characters I create are always some part of me, whether large or small. In this case, I’d say I’m no different than anyone else with regard to regrets and remorse, much of which haunt me still and perhaps always will. And in the process of learning to deal with those feelings, I became all three of Devil’s main characters at one time or another. I was Jake, trying to push it all down and keep it hidden. I was Kate, trying to balance scales that could never be balanced at all by my own power. And I was even Taylor, trying to craft some sort of righteous reason for the mistakes I’ve made.

Q: One of your characters quips, “God laughs at what we say we’ll never do.” What “never” have you said at one time or the other that God may have gotten a good laugh out of?

I discovered I wanted to be a published writer in high school and devoted the next 20 years of my life to that single goal. In all that time, I swore I’d never, ever be a novelist. I was a personal essayist at heart and maybe still am. I could not fathom fiction — conjuring characters and crafting entire worlds from the imagination. Even though I still spend much of my time not fathoming fiction, I’m pretty sure God hasn’t stopped laughing over that one.

Q: What is the key message you hope readers walk away with? Is there a Bible verse that goes along with The Devil Walks in Mattingly?

Forgiveness comes through the grace of God, unearned and free, and that through Him our broken pieces can be made whole again. I thought often of Psalm 68:19 as I wrote this story: “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.”

Q: Your books seem to get progressively darker and more intense — what made you delve into weightier issues?

Thomas Nelson
Billy Coffey

I’d say it’s been a process. I had to decide early on if I was going to consider myself a Christian fiction writer or a fiction writer who happens to be a Christian. I’ve opted for the latter. Redemption is a big theme in all of my novels, but to find that is to start out in a bad place and fight and struggle and lose and win your way out. As strange as it may sound coming from someone who’s written a novel about haunted forests and holes in the world, my aim as a writer is to remain as true to reality as possible. To me, reality is that none of us were made for this world. Reality is that we will experience pain and loss and confusion. That we will always carry questions we will never be able to answer. And that perfect endings exist only in fairy tales. Life is a hard thing. To me, pretending otherwise is a disservice to anyone willing to spend both their time and their money reading about what I have to say. There are novelists out there who build careers on helping you escape that hard life, and I think that’s wonderful. But I don’t want you to escape the world around you. I want you to face those hard questions. I want you to embrace hard life and live it better.

Q: What are you working on next?

I’ve just finished my fifth novel, titled In the Heart of the Dark Wood. It picks up a little more than a year after the events of When Mockingbirds Sing and focuses on Allie Granderson’s character from Mockingbirds and Zach Barnett’s character from Devil. They have quite the adventure together. It’ll be out in November of this year.

For more information about Billy Coffey and his books, visit his online home at www.billycoffey.com, become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

Posted 4/8/14 at 1:40 PM | Audra Jennings

Tracie Peterson to Celebrate 100th Book in Print with Webcast

Bethany House

In honor of the release of her 100th book, A Sensible Arrangement (Bethany House Publishers/April 1, 2014/ISBN 978-0764210587/$14.99), best-selling author Tracie Peterson will be hosting a webcast. During the live event on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 8:00 PM EDT, Peterson will introduce readers not only to her latest release, but to her new Lone Star Brides series, both of which hold a tender place in her heart.

“Wow, what a journey! A Sensible Arrangement is book 100 for me, and I stand absolutely amazed at what God has done with and through the books He's given me to write,” explains Peterson. “This new series — Lone Star Brides — ties together two former series (Striking a Match and Land of the Lone Star) by marrying characters Jake Wythe and Marty Dandridge together and following their lives and those of others the readers will recognize from the previous series. This was so much fun and came about because readers kept telling me they wanted to see more of Jake and Marty, so I thought, ‘Why not put them together?’”

Peterson feels blessed to have this writing ministry and loves the way the readers continue to connect with her, sharing how God has used her stories to bring them closer to Him. With the opportunity to connect with so many readers at once, the possibilities for new inspiration are endless! During the hour-long event, Peterson will host a book club discussion, answer reader questions and offer an exclusive sneak peek of the series. Readers will have an opportunity to chat with other fans, answer trivia about the book and submit their own questions for Peterson to answer during the evening. A number of prizes will be given away to those participating in the discussion, including copies of Peterson’s books and gift cards. At the end of the webcast, the winner of an iPad Mini will be announced. The iPad giveaway is being held in conjunction with the blog tour for A Sensible Arrangement coordinated by Litfuse Publicity Group.

The webcast will be hosted on Peterson’s Facebook page, as well as Litfuse’s website for readers without a Facebook account. Leading up to the webcast, readers can RSVP for the event and sign up to receive an email reminder. From April 14-29, fans can also enter the contest for the iPad Mini via the author’s Facebook page.

Tracie Peterson is an amazing author who has such a heart for her readers,” states Noelle Buss, marketing manager at Bethany House. “Her desire to keep encouraging and entertaining them has helped make the release of A Sensible Arrangement her 100th book in print. That is an incredible feat, and we are so honored to be able to be a part of her long and very successful writing life.”

Readers can watch Peterson’s Facebook Page (Tracie Peterson Author) for more details.

About A Sensible Arrangement:

Marty Dandridge Olson is ready to leave behind the pain of the past. Answering an advertisement for a “Lone Star bride,” she leaves her Texas ranch and heads to Denver to marry a man she doesn't know.

Jake Wythe is the man waiting for her. Burned by love, he marries now simply to satisfy the board of Morgan Bank, which believes a man of his standing in society should be wed. Together Jake and Marty agree they are done with romance and love and will make this nothing more than a marriage of convenience.

When missing money and a collapsing economy threaten his job, Jake's yearning to return to ranching grows ever stronger, much to Marty's dismay. But a fondness has grown between them, as well, further complicating matters. What will happen when their relationship shifts in unexpected ways . . . and dreams and secrets collide?

A Sensible Arrangement is the first book in the Lone Star Brides series. A Moment in Time will be available in June followed by the release of A Matter of Heart in October.

Tracie Peterson

About Tracie Peterson:

Tracie Peterson is the award-winning, best-selling author of 100 novels, both historical and contemporary. She published her first book in 1993 and has co-written with a variety of authors including Judith Pella, Judith Miller, James Scott Bell, and her daughter Jennifer. Having a special heart for new authors, she frequently speaks to writers’ conferences. Her avid research resonates in her stories, as seen in her bestselling Heirs of Montana and Alaskan Quest series. Peterson and her family make their home in Montana.

Visit Tracie's website at www.traciepeterson.com or keep up with her on Facebook.

Posted 4/1/14 at 9:15 AM | Audra Jennings |

2 comments

Spiritual Health for Busy Moms

Abingdon Press

When caring for a baby it often becomes difficult to focus completely on God. When exhaustion sets in and the baby is crying, prayer and meditation tend to take a backseat. When nap time dictates your daily routine, going to the weekly women’s Bible study is often the first thing taken off the calendar. When mother and author Julia Roller’s first son was born, like all new moms, her world was changed in more ways than she ever could have imagined. Perhaps most surprisingly, she found herself unprepared for the impact motherhood would have on her spiritual life. In her new book Mom Seeks God: Practicing Grace in the Chaos (Abingdon Press/April 1, 2014/ISBN: 9781426771026/$15.99), Roller inspires other mothers by sharing about her struggles as a new mom and how she was able to reconnect with God by reintroducing spiritual discipline into her newly changed life.

Having written with and edited for Richard J. Foster (author of the respected Celebration of Discipline), Roller was very familiar with the concept of the spiritual disciplines, practices Jesus modeled that help us stay connected with God. “I had a lot of ‘head knowledge’ about why I should be engaging in these practices, but with the life changes necessitated by motherhood, I was really struggling to incorporate these practices into my life,” she explains. “Motherhood opened my eyes as nothing in my life ever had to just what a spiritual mess I was. I felt so busy and overwhelmed that it didn't seem possible to do anything about it. Yet after seeking to meet God through engaging in spiritual practices as best as I could with a small child at home, I began to see motherhood was a spiritual discipline helping to make me more like Jesus as I served God by loving and caring for (and learning from) my children.”

Mom Seeks God was written primarily for moms of young children who are struggling through the life changes new motherhood brings and are looking for a way to stay close to God. Mothers typically turn themselves inside out trying to make everything perfect for their children, yet all too often neglect their own spiritual encouragement and growth in the name of putting their family first. But a mom can’t fully demonstrate a solid spiritual life to her children without personally taking the time to pursue one.

In Mom Seeks God, Roller shares how she focused on one specific practice each month for a year and outlines 10 essential spiritual disciplines for busy moms: prayer, fellowship, submission, study, simplicity, silence, fasting, worship, service and celebration. Having felt as though she was starting all over again when fitting these practices into her new life as a mom, Roller offers her self-described “non-expert” advice. She is quick to point out that focusing on disciplines is not always about doing something new, but rather paying greater attention to how you are already practicing them. Most times the disciplines are not independent of the others but overlap and are lived out in unison. By the book’s end, readers will discover, much like Roller did, that motherhood itself may be God’s most effective technique for forming a more faith-filled life.

Abingdon Press
Julia Roller

About the author

Julia Roller is an author and editor. Her books include Mom Seeks God (Abingdon Press), A Year with God (with Richard J. Foster), A Year with Aslan, and 25 Books Every Christian Should Read. Working with Renovaré, she has also co-authored four spiritual formation guides, including Connecting with God, Learning from Jesus, Living the Mission, and Prayer and Worship. She has written study guides for authors such as Desmond Tutu, Richard J. Foster, Henri Nouwen, Jenna Bush, and Rob Bell. Her articles have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, Street Spirit, Group, Rev.!, and Children's Ministry. She and her family live in San Diego, California.



For more information about Julia Roller or Mom Seeks God visit her online home at juliaroller.com, become a fan on Facebook (JuliaLRoller), or follow her on Twitter (@julialroller).

Posted 3/27/14 at 9:03 AM | Audra Jennings

Odyssey Adventure Club Creates Safe Online Entertainment for Families

Focus on the Family

As media use continues to explode among children and teens, parents’ concerns about what their children could be uncovering while online increases. On average, children get their first smartphone at age 12, and research suggests kids and teens are spending more than 7.5 hours a day with their electronic devices — and often without a safety net. That’s exactly why Focus on the Family is launching the Odyssey Adventure Club, a safe and fun environment where children can explore, create and imagine, all while developing their faith and learning biblical truth.

For less than the cost of a monthly night out at the movies (membership costs $15 per month for up to six users), families will be able to stream the Adventures in Odysseylibrary, plus listen to exclusive new monthly episodes. Busy families will find 24/7 access to the content through the Odyssey Adventure Club mobile iPhone app

“Kids today have so many media choices, and not all of them are positive,” says Adventures in Odysseyproducer Brock Eastman. “We’re providing fans with interactive content that builds on the lessons they’ve received through Odyssey and helps them grow in their walk with Jesus.”

Children can also read daily devotions, interact with hands-on activities and view video documentaries featuring a behind-the-scenes look into the production of the Adventures in Odyssey stories. Parents can feel confident their children are safe on the Odyssey Adventure Club website — Focus on the Family staff will be monitoring all comments before they’re publicly posted.

For more than 25 years, Adventures in Odyssey has delivered innovating and award-winning audio dramas that have sparked imagination in children, while infusing them with character and the biblical values parents love. This radio journey has grown into a treasure trove of nearly 750 Adventures in Odyssey episodes, all of which are now being launched into the digital world.

A portion of each Odyssey Adventure Club membership will benefit Focus on the Family partner relief organizations, including Christian Veterinary Mission, Operation Christmas Child and Compassion International. This provides parents with an opportunity to teach children about the value of giving and serving others.

Odyssey Adventure Club joins hands with parents as they seek to disciple their children spiritually and protect them when they use ever-expanding technology.

To learn more about the Odyssey Adventure Club, visit www.oaclub.org, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


About the Spokesperson

Brock Eastman

Brock Eastman is an Odyssey Adven­ture Club producer for Focus on the Family where he produces a monthly video, writes devotions, interviews actors and hosts a Q&A for fans. You may have even seen him on the official Adventures in Odyssey podcast and Social Shout Out. Working on Adventures in Odyssey is special to Eastman, as he grew up listening to the program himself, and he is excited to bring the new club to a new generation, including his own kids.

In addition to his work on the Odyssey Adventure Club, Eastman is the author of The Quest for Truth and Sages of Darkness series. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s AIO The Imagination Station series, which introduces children to historical events and includes a curriculum element for homeschooling families. He also writes a monthly article for Family Fiction.

Eastman lives in Colorado with his wife and three chil­dren. While inspiration comes on his morning drives to work with America’s Mountain in view, he misses the chilly sweatshirt morning air and colorful leaves of autumn in the Midwest where he grew up.

Readers and audiences can keep track of what Brock is working on at www.BrockEastman.com or via Facebook and Twitter.

Posted 3/20/14 at 9:21 AM | Audra Jennings |

1 comment

All Women Have the Opportunity to Lead

New Hope Publishers

The majority of Christian women are familiar with the example of the godly woman described in Proverbs 31. Her characteristics are most frequently associated with a woman’s place within the home; however, in their book Real Women Leading: With Proverbs 31 Values (New Hope® Publishers/February 3, 2014/978-1-59669-396-8/$14.99), business executives Lisa Troyer and Dawn Yoder assert the qualities of the woman described apply to leaders in the workplace as well. “Whether we are homeschooling children — which truly is a full-time vocation — or leading the board of directors meeting at a Fortune 500 corporation, the Proverbs 31 woman has something to teach all of us.”

Q: To what areas of a woman’s life does your book apply — work, church, ministry, home?

DY: It applies to all areas of life because it affects who we are and how we live. Who we are follows us to work, to church, in our homes and with our friends. When we embrace and apply the values of Proverbs 31, it improves the quality of our relationships and just makes our lives work better.

LT: God has given us the opportunity to influence no matter our background or station in life — homemakers as well as CEOs, Queen Esther’s or Samaritan women.

Q: The common perception of a leader is a person in a position of power or authority, whether in the workplace or church. Do you have to hold a title to be a leader, or as Christians do we have the responsibility to be leading by example constantly?

LT: Leadership is really influence — and each and every one of us has been given the opportunity to influence the environment in which God has placed us. We have a responsibility to God to be engaged, seeing where He is at work and joining Him there.

DY: Good leadership is not about power and authority; it is about relationship, service and influence. We are all in relationship with someone. We are all called to serve those around us, and we all have the ability to influence our environment. Matthew 5 talks about how we are here to be salt and light. I love the Message translation of this passage where it talks about bringing out the “God colors” and “God flavors” of this earth. We can all lead in this way from exactly the place God has us.

Q: How does a woman lead differently than a man?

LT: Often, but not always, there is a more nurturing aspect to the female leader’s approach. Whereas men tend to be more black-and-white, it’s been our experience that women will take a broader look at the potential that lies within an individual. Because women traditionally have more of a multi-tasking attitude, this may also attribute to the philosophy of “let’s explore a little deeper to find the best fit.” Sometimes that’s an incredible growth and building experience, but often it’s a bit tougher to make a break when needed.

DY: I don’t think it is so much about leading like a woman or leading like a man. I think the bigger concern is leading like Jesus. Seeing who others can aspire to become, adding value to them, serving them, setting them up for success, having a heart for them, telling them the truth in absolute love, forgiving them — these are the important things. Male or female, we all have a responsibility to do that well.

Q: How did you narrow down and choose the 10 key principles that are outlined in the book? Of the 10, which do you find the most challenging personally?

DY: In carefully combing through the passage, many values leapt off the page at us, and it was difficult to narrow it down to just 10. We thought about which ones have the biggest effect on our personal development, our spiritual growth, and our relationships with others (in the home, community, church and corporations) and used those to put the book together.

New Hope Publishers
Lisa Troyer and Dawn Yoder

There are times when I struggle with each of the values, to be sure. There are moments I say something I wish hadn’t, situations that are tough to forgive and times when I just don’t want to choose a good attitude. However, for me the most challenging value on a daily basis is planning. We all have our areas of strength, and planning is not mine. However, I know I cannot be successful without planning — it isn’t something I can decide not to do if I want my busy life to work well. So it requires discipline, focus and intentionality for me to do well with it.

Q: If readers only walk away with one thing from Real Women Leading, what do you hope that will be?

LT: God has placed you where you are at in this season to influence those around you for His Kingdom purposes. You have the choice to embrace transformation for yourself and to use what God has already given you to impact those around you.

DY: God has given us all we need to be what He has called us to be, if we do it in and through Him.

Join Lisa Troyer and Dawn Yoder for a live Facebook Party on March 20 at 8:00 PM EST where they will chat with readers and give away copies of Real Women Leading.

Posted 3/17/14 at 2:59 PM | Audra Jennings

The Search For Identity Often Leads Us Astray

Thomas Nelson
The Queen's Handmaid

Sometimes the loudest voices in our lives are the ones we need to silence the most. In Tracy L. Higley’s latest novel, The Queen’s Handmaid (Thomas Nelson/March 18, 2014/ISBN: 978-1-4016-8684-0/$15.99), the author explores the importance of finding our identity in God and not in the opinions of others — no matter how large of a presence those people are.

“When we make people too ‘large’ in our lives — allowing them to define who we are — we become focused on achieving and performing to please them,” Higley explains. This is the challenge for her heroine, but the truth behind it is universal. “We are all trying to gain the love and admiration of others in our lives, to feel good about ourselves. The only way we can escape this self-oriented life and really live our calling is finding acceptance and love in the God who will never fail us.”

This search for true identity is the foundation for The Queen’s Handmaid, a story that will take readers on an adventure through an ancient world and give them a unique understanding of the culture and setting into which Jesus was born. Set in Alexandria, Egypt, in 39 BC, The Queen’s Handmaid connects the history we learn in school with the Bible stories of childhood, giving readers a peek into a lost world.

Lydia, a servant in Cleopatra’s palace, works hard to please but keeps everyone at a safe distance. Though she’s young, rejection has left her brokenhearted too many times. When her dying mentor entrusts her with secret writings of the prophet Daniel and charges her to deliver this vital information to those watching for the promised King of Israel, Lydia must leave the nearest thing she’s had to family and flee to Jerusalem. Once in the Holy City, she attaches herself to the newly appointed king, Herod the Great, as handmaid to Queen Mariamme.

Trapped among the scheming women of Herod’s political family — his sister, his wife and their mothers — and forced to serve in the palace to protect her treasure, Lydia must deliver the scrolls before dark forces warring against the truth destroy all hope of the coming Messiah.

The heroine of The Queen’s Handmaid is chosen and marked for a purpose, something Higley feels strongly still applies to each of us today. “I absolutely believe that each of us has a unique calling, a grand adventure planned out for us before the foundation of the world,” she says. “Staying open to our own hearts and the way God both whispers and shouts His plan to us is so important. In my experience, most people have a sense of their own unique calling, but fear keeps us from it.”

Thomas Nelson
Tracy L. Higley

About the Author: Tracy L. Higley started her first novel at the age of eight and has been hooked on writing ever since. After attending Philadelphia Biblical University, she earned a B.A. in English Literature at Rowan University and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Ancient History. Her lifelong interest in history and mythology have led Tracy to extensive research into ancient lands and shaped her desire to shine the light of the gospel into the cultures of the past. Higley has authored eleven novels, including Garden of Madness and Isle of Shadows, and has traveled through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Italy, researching her books. She is thrilled to bring readers adventures set in the ancient past, and it’s her hope that in escaping with her, readers will feel they’ve walked through these deserts, explored ruins, felt the white sand and blue sea under their feet and met with the Redeeming God who is sovereign over the entire drama of human history.

To learn more about Tracy L. Higley or her latest book, The Queen's Handmaid, visit her website, become a fan on Facebook (tracyhigley) or follow her on Twitter (@tlhigley).

Posted 3/13/14 at 9:33 AM | Audra Jennings |

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A Different View of the Proverbs 31 Woman

New Hope Publishers

Most Christians associate the virtuous woman described in Proverbs 31 as the ideal wife and mother whose place is within the home. However, are we not seeing the full picture?

In her new book written with Dawn Yoder, Real Women Leading: With Proverbs 31 Values (New Hope® Publishers/February 3, 2014/978-1-59669-396-8/$14.99), business executive Lisa Troyer writes, “Often thought of as the ‘most intimidating woman in Christendom,’ perhaps the Proverbs 31 woman — this skillful, conscientious, creative, entrepreneurial, merciful leader — has been saddled with a false persona of perfectionism and unattainable achievement. The Proverbs 31 Woman is one whose success is predicated on living a life based on values — whether she's dealing with domestic issues, marketplace opportunities or relationships. Truth is truth no matter what environment we operate/live in.”

Q: Most likely, our audience is familiar with the Proverbs 31 woman, but for those who may not be, who is this woman, and why should women strive to be like her?

DY: The Proverbs 31 woman is referred to as “the virtuous woman.” She is the original woman who brought home the bacon and fried it in a pan. She is a role model — someone who uses all she has and does all she can with excellence and for the glory of God. She is honest, trustworthy and generous. She is a good steward, understands people, plans for the future and likes to put together a nice outfit.

LT: She’s a wise woman, using what is “in her hand” to influence and enhance the lives of those in her circle. She realizes she doesn’t have to “do it all” to be effective. She knows how to evaluate, invest, encourage and ultimately bring out the best in those around her.

Q: Most associate the Proverbs 31 woman as a godly wife who tends to her home, but you write about her entrepreneurial spirit. What have we been missing when reading this passage from scripture?

LT: For a vast number of women in the United States, the Bible-belt environment has been one of primary homemaking from our culture’s perspective. The more believers travel internationally, it’s easier to understand the totality of this woman’s influence. Our white picket-fence environments are the exception, not the norm, throughout the world. Women in other countries are often going to the market to sell what they’ve grown or created. There’s also a generational involvement in small enterprise that is not modeled in the same way as often in the US. Industrialization here has influenced the labor structure in such a way that there’s been a distinct separation between working women and staying at home. With the advent of our economic changes in the US, enterprising women have had to look outside their mother’s model to make ends meet. We’re from Amish country, and there are many roadside stands with baked goods and produce. These ladies are using what’s in their hand — resources and talents — to augment the well-being of family

DY: I guess we let our culture define how we read the scripture. Honestly, it amazes me that I missed it the first time I read it and heard teaching on that chapter. I feel as though I related to what I saw and heard in the church and somehow just overlooked the rest of the details. It is so clearly outlined in the chapter that this woman was selling goods, buying fields and managing people along with the other more-traditional homemaking aspects.

Q: Many women aspire to be like the Proverbs 31 woman but feel that achieving every one of her characteristics is a daunting challenge, if not an impossible goal. What encouragement do you have for women aspiring to be like her?

LT: Seek God to understand how He’s designed and gifted you with spiritual gifts and natural talents and learn how to delegate well and embrace responsibility. So often we allow fear to keep us from maximizing what we already possess. Perfectionism will ultimately steal our joy and opportunity. Prepare and pray; often our level of preparedness indicates how much trust we place in God to reveal next steps.

New Hope Publishers
Lisa Troyer and Dawn Yoder

DY: A friend of mine always says, “Better is possible.” That statement is not designed to bring pressure. It is designed to bring hope. I think the Proverbs 31 chapter holds a lot of hope and possibility. It shows women that there are a lot of things we can be and do, and they all fall under the umbrella of what God intended for us.

Q: If readers only walk away with one thing from Real Women Leading, what do you hope that will be?

LT: God has placed you where you are at in this season to influence those around you for His Kingdom purposes. You have the choice to embrace transformation for yourself and to use what God has already given you to impact those around you.

DY: God has given us all we need to be what He has called us to be, if we do it in and through Him.

Join Lisa Troyer and Dawn Yoder for a live Facebook Party on March 20 at 8:00 PM EST where they will chat with readers and give away copies of Real Women Leading. Watch for more details on Troyer’s Facebook Page.

Posted 3/12/14 at 2:17 PM | Audra Jennings

Betrayal Brings Family to the Brink in Blackstock's New Novel

Zondervan

In the second installment of her Moonlighters series, Distortion (Zondervan/March 11, 2014/ISBN: 978-0310283140/$14.99), author Terri Blackstock explores the deadly consequences a husband’s lies can bring upon on his family.

When Juliet Cole’s husband of fifteen years is gunned down in a dark parking lot before her eyes, she thinks it was a random shooting. Devastated and traumatized, she answers hours of questioning. When she’s finally allowed to return home to break the news to her boys, she hears a voicemail that takes the situation from a random shooting to a planned, deliberate attack. “Mrs. Cole, we know you have access to the supply and the money. If you don’t turn fifty million over to us and give us the codes, then you’ll be burying more family members.” Suddenly, Juliet realizes that she and her children are in danger.

She teams up with her sisters and PI Michael Hogan to dig into the sham Bob has been living for years. The more she learns, the worse the betrayal. A drug trafficking history, a fortune in cash, and a secret family all emerge to turn Juliet’s belief system on its head, and threaten the things she loves. Are she and her sisters skilled enough as sleuths to get to the truth?

Q: Where did you get the idea for Distortion?

My husband and I were returning a U-Haul truck one night after moving, and the rental store was in a scary area. As my husband walked through the dark parking lot to return the key, I worried someone would mug him. My suspense writer’s mind wouldn’t let go of that, and by the time we were home, I had “experienced” his murder and plotted out who killed him and why. (Poor Ken!)

Q: It doesn’t take long for tragedy to strike in Distortion, and we see a variety of responses from the characters. How does faith shape the way we should respond when those unthinkable moments happen?

In the Moonlighters Series, I have three sisters—a blogger, a stay-at-home Mom, and a ne’er-do-well taxi driver. They are each on different faith walks as a result of something that happened in their childhood. But Juliet, the oldest sister (the stay-at-home mom), has the deepest faith. She sees everything that happens through the filter of God’s love. But when her life begins to fall apart and her husband’s lies are apparent, she has trouble lining up reality with what she’s always believed. But her faith doesn’t rest on her circumstances. It rests on God, who sees around corners and over hills, who has her best interests at heart, even when it seems that he’s forgotten her. Ultimately that faith is what drives her.

Q: Juliet Cole thought she knew her husband. But after his death and secrets are revealed, Juliet questions everything. What do you want readers to learn from their relationship?

I want readers to rehearse that day when everything shatters, and think through what they will hang onto when that happens. Will they become bitter and angry and raise their fists to God, or will they reach for him like a child reaches for his father, and trust in His love? Bad days will come for each one of us, and the more we’ve thought these things through ahead of time, the better prepared we’ll be when tragedy strikes or struggles emerge in our lives.

Q: Betrayal doesn’t just impact a marriage. It affects the children as well. How much should children know about the challenges their parents face?

At first, Juliet tries to keep the darkest aspects of her husband’s death from her children, but it’s impossible because it’s all over the internet and the news. I think you have to pray a lot about how to break bad news to them, and take your own defensiveness and ego out of it. Your main concern should be, “How can I tell them in a way that leaves them with hope and security?”

Zondervan
Terri Blackstock

Q: What can we expect to see from you in the near future?

I’ve just finished the third book in the Moonlighters Series, and we’ve started the editorial process on that. I’m not entirely sure what the final title is going to be, so I’d better not give you one. Meanwhile, I’ve begun work on my next series. I’ve had this character walking around in my head for a few years, and I was chomping at the bit to get to her story. I think readers will really like it. I don’t have a title yet—at least not one that will stick. But if readers want to stay informed, they can sign up for my email updates at http://www.terriblackstock.com/Contact/.

To learn more about Terri Blackstock, visit her website or become a fan on Facebook.

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