Food for the Soul
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Audra Jennings

Audra Jennings is a publicist with Litfuse Publicity Group.

Posted 4/4/13 at 4:56 PM | Audra Jennings

The Gospel-Centered Woman Points Readers to Their Ultimate Example—Christ

The topic of women and the church puts many people on high alert, ready to defend their views. But what is the Bible’s view on women? What does God want a woman to be? Is the Proverbs 31 woman God’s ideal? In The Gospel-Centered Woman: Understanding Biblical Womanhood through the Lens of the Gospel (January 2013/ISBN: 978-1451574821/$8.99), author Wendy Horger Alsup sets out to help readers understand what the Bible truly says to and about women.

An interview with Wendy Alsup, author of The Gospel-Centered Woman | Part 2 of 2

Q: From the world’s perspective, what does the “perfect Christian woman” look like? Is that ideal really Biblical?

In some circles, she may be the home-schooling, breast-feeding, stay-at-home mom. In others, she may be the woman volunteering 24/7 in a homeless shelter or some other type of full-time ministry. There are a variety of stereotypes, depending on your cultural base. Many Christians lift up the Proverbs 31 woman as the prototype for good, Christian women. If you look at the whole of Scripture, there are a lot of different women in very different circumstances that shed positive light on Biblical womanhood. Abigail, Ruth, and Esther. Priscilla, Phoebe, and Lydia. Some had husbands, some did not. Some had kids, some did not. Each had very different stories and responsibilities in life. But perfection (which means maturity when the Bible uses the term) in Scripture for both men and women is Jesus. He is the author and finisher of our faith. We were created, male and female, as image bearers of God, and we all, male and female, are being conformed back to the image of Christ.

Q: We tend to think of most of the women in the Bible as wives and mothers, but you point out that there are a number of women who were single or whose marital status we do not know. Can you tell us about one or two that stand out to you?

Lois and Eunice stand out to me, single or widowed—we really don’t know. Maybe there was a husband/father, but he’s no where to be found in terms of raising Timothy to love the Lord. Ruth also stands out. She’s well known because of her eventual marriage to Boaz, but the aspects of her character that we most admire were forged when she was a widow with no prospects for marriage.

Q: Many women believe Ruth is the example of what they should be. Why do you say that she is actually not the example we should strive for?

There are many women in Scripture that flesh out aspects of our one true example, Jesus Christ. I am inspired by Ruth’s unconditional fidelity to Naomi and the way she boldly lays her own honor on the line to bring honor back to her mother-in-law’s family. But Scripture doesn’t teach that God planned before time to conform me to the image of Ruth, but to the image of Jesus! Ruth and others are conduits to that end, and I thank God for their examples. But they are not the end themselves.

Q: As women, we strive for the example given in Proverbs 31, but is that really achievable?

We need to receive the Proverbs 31 woman as wisdom, not law. She’s an inspiring example, but ultimately we were not created to be conformed to her image, but to Jesus’. We often call her the Virtuous Woman, but it’s probably more accurate to call her the Virtuous Wife (the Hebrew word translated woman/wife can mean either). Given the context, calling her the Virtuous Woman makes it sound like the only path to virtue for a woman is through marriage and family. Yet we have many examples in Scripture that set that notion on its head. Instead, I read the Proverbs 31 wife as an inspiring example of what is possible in a woman’s heart who is at peace with her God through the gospel and the subsequent possibilities in her home. Her example is beautiful and helpful when we allow the Spirit to apply wisdom from that chapter to our lives in ways that are actually wise for our homes and our families, as opposed to an unattainable self-imposed standard that brings condemnation instead of hope and inspiration.

Q: What does the gospel say to minister to the singles longing for the relationship of husband and/or family?

The good news of Christ is that we have hope that equips us to endure. That hope is not that our circumstances will change. But it is the confidence that when we finally sit with Jesus in heaven, we will NOT be disappointed in how He directed our life. The story is written, and the end is certain. And the final scene is each of us in Him with a satisfied smile on our face in perfect relationship with our eternal Husband, Jesus Christ.

Q: In Genesis 2 it is written that woman was created to be a helper to man. What did God mean by helper in that context?

We were created in God’s image, and He is the first example of what He means by ezer, the Hebrew word for helper. Scripture goes on to use that term 16 more times in the Old Testament with God Himself as the object of the verses. Ezer is a strong word. God our help nurtures His people by defending, protecting, and comforting them. He nurtures us from a position of strength. It is incredibly inspiring to study His example as ezer when trying to understand His plans for me as a woman.

Q: Our culture depicts the strong woman as the one who doesn’t need a man, but as Christians we’re supposed to rely on Christ. Does that make us weak?

In my culture, strong women don’t need men, and weak women follow loser men around like a whipped puppy. But I believe God sets up a beautiful 3rd way—calling women to strong, inner peace so that they can stay engaged with the man, comforting, supporting, and perhaps even defending and protecting at times. That inner peace in Christ allows us also to accept protection, support, and leadership from the men in our lives without feeling threatened by it.

Q: People often ask why bad things happen to good people, but really isn’t the question that we should be asking how Christians will react to the circumstances they are put into since everyone will have something bad happen?

We live in the already, but not yet Kingdom of God. We know Jesus is king. But Hebrews teaches us that even so, we do not yet see everything subject to Him. In all of our lives, we live in the tension between what God declares good and right and the realities of life in a fallen world—including sickness, sin, suffering, and death. So, yes, we are all guaranteed some measure of suffering in life. And, often, that suffering feels overwhelming. The Bible does not teach that if we are good enough or make wise enough decisions that we won’t suffer. But God does promise to equip us with a spiritual inheritance that sufficiently equips to face our suffering head on. It’s why the Apostle Paul was able to say that we are “perplexed but not driven to despair.” The Gospel-Centered Woman takes a deeper look into exactly how God equips us to face the disconnect between what God declares good and the reality of our suffering in life.

Q: Grace is such a central part of the gospel, but we often get snagged up with the concept. Shouldn’t it be easier to understand?

Grace is completely counterintuitive to life in a fallen world. We think we understand the word and maybe can even correctly cite the basic definition, but it is so opposite our innate self that truly understanding and implementing it is a lifelong struggle. That’s why even 3 full years after sitting at Jesus’ feet, His disciples seemed completely unprepared for the crucifixion. Jesus gave them repeated examples of the sacrificial and unconditional nature of God’s love (the Prodigal Son, instructions on turning the other cheek, His straightforward explanation of grace in Luke 6). Yet Peter still cuts off the soldier’s ear in the garden when they come to arrest Jesus. It wasn’t until the moment that Jesus said “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do” as He hung on the cross that I think the disciples finally started to grasp the true nature of gospel grace. It’s OK that we struggle to understand it too. It’s only wrong to dismiss it as something that isn’t relevant to you or as something that you have already mastered, because I can pretty much guarantee none of us have mastered grace as the Bible uses the word.

Find out more about Wendy Alsup and The Gospel-Centered Woman at www.theologyforwomen.org. Readers can keep up with Alsup via the Practical Theology for Women Facebook page and follow her on Twitter (@WendyAlsup).

Posted 4/3/13 at 5:30 PM | Audra Jennings

The Year of Discovery Continues with Ephesians Study

Sue Edwards will lead women in interactive online Bible study

In January, Sue Edwards and Kregel Publications challenged women to join in The Year of Discovery, an interactive online experience where women all over the world can participate in a Bible study together. The Year of Discovery launched with a nine-week study of Revelation from Edwards’ newly released Discover Together Bible Study Series, and starting April 15, participants will begin a study of Ephesians.

Edwards will be kicking off the Ephesians study with an online Facebook chat on April 11 at 8:00 PM EDT, where she will be answering reader questions and giving a preview of what to expect in the weeks to come. From April 15-June 17, Edwards will be interacting with participants and making posts about each week’s lesson on The Year of Discovery Facebook page.

The theme of the Ephesians study is centered on discovering your identity and purpose in Christ. “If someone asked you, ‘Who are you?’ what would you say? Would you list your relationships or your abilities? Those are important components of your life, but they don’t fully answer the question,” Edwards writes. “What if those relationships ended? What if you lost that ability? Would you still be you? Paul wrote Ephesians to help us discover who we are in Jesus Christ and what God created each of us to do on this earth, an identity and purpose we can never lose. When you unearth those personal treasures, hold on! Your life will never be the same.”

To understand the context of Paul’s writings better, Edwards gives readers a brief historical background of Ephesus, including more information about the city itself and the situations the Ephesians found themselves in. “When Paul planted a church in Ephesus, he knew he was invading Satan’s den. This letter contains numerous references to spiritual warfare. Remember that when Paul wrote this letter, the Ephesians were only six years old in the Lord, and many were saved out of the occult. If the Ephesians learned to live victoriously, so can we!”

The Discover Together Bible Study Series includes six of Edwards’ popular studies (Psalms, Proverbs Volumes 1 & 2, Luke, Ephesians and I Peter) that have been reorganized and revised to be more reader-friendly for both personal and group reflection along with the completely new release on Revelation. Each of the seven books is divided into weekly lessons and includes new inspirational sidebars and QR codes to take readers to supplemental teaching videos.

While the Discover Together Bible Studies are designed for both individual and group use, readers will benefit most by going through each week’s lesson on their own, then meeting with other women to share insights, struggles and aha moments. Bible study leaders will find free, downloadable leader’s guides for each study, along with general tips for leading small groups, at www.discovertogetherseries.com.

Through short video clips meant to bless, encourage and challenge participants in their daily walk, Edwards shares personal insights to enrich the Bible study experience. For ease of individual viewing, a QR code, which can be simply scanned via smartphone, is provided in each lesson. Readers can also go to the Discover Together website and easily navigate and find the corresponding video title.

About Sue Edwards:
Sue Edwards is associate professor of Christian education with a specialization is women’s studies at Dallas Theological Seminary where she has the opportunity to equip men and women for future ministry. She brings more than thirty years of experience into the classroom as a Bible teacher, curriculum writer and overseer of several megachurch women’s ministries. As minister to women at Irving Bible Church and director of women’s ministry at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, she has worked with women from all walks of life, ages and stages. Her passion is to see modern and postmodern women connect, learn from one another and bond around God’s Word. Her Bible studies have ushered thousands of women all over the country and overseas into deeper Scripture study and community experiences.

Visit www.discovertogetherseries.com to learn more about the Bible study series, download leader’s guides and watch Sue Edward’s video messages that correspond with each lesson.

Keep up with The Year of Discovery on www.facebook.com/DiscoverTogetherSeries. FULL POST

Posted 4/1/13 at 6:09 PM | Audra Jennings

A Restoration of the Heart

The Misty Harbor Inn series has something for everyone: romance, history, mystery and faith

What happens when three sisters come together in Nantucket for the first time since their mother’s death? Much more than the Marris sisters could have ever anticipated! The Postcards from Misty Harbor Inn series (Guideposts Books) introduces readers to Caroline, Gracie and Sam as they gather for a vacation where they spent the summers as children, and follows their adventures as they fulfill their mother’s dream of opening a bed and breakfast. As the sisters heal from their mother’s passing, they bond in ways they never imagined and discover evidence of God’s hand in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

A team of four authors come together under the pen name of Evangeline Kelley to bring the unique personalities of each sister to vivid life and welcome audiences to the charming and historic island of Nantucket, complete with cobblestone streets, quaint shops, ferries, sandy beaches and salty air. The series weaves together the stories of each of the sisters as they progress through their own unique personal journeys. Along the way, readers will discover the wonder of God’s love in the lives of each of his children. FULL POST

Posted 3/29/13 at 1:38 PM | Audra Jennings

An interview with Susan May Warren, Author of 'Duchess'

Best-selling Susan May Warren brings what she considers to be her most ambitious series yet to a dramatic close in her latest release, Duchess (Summerside Press / March 1, 2013 / ISBN 978-1-609367718/ $14.99). The Daughters of Fortune series is an epic generational series following the family of New York newspaper magnate August Price from the Gilded Age to the end of World War II. Each generation of Price women must navigate love and ambition in a world of wealth, power and social expectation.

In this final installment, Duchess, readers pick up the story of Rosie Worth, who has achieved her dream of becoming a starlet and is now known as Roxy Price. The golden age of Hollywood is in the business of creating stars, and Roxy has found everything she’s wanted in the glamour of the silver screen. With adoring fans and a studio-mogul husband, she’s finally silenced the voices — and grief — of the past. Her future shines bright, that is until the fated Black Friday when it all comes crashing down.

Q: Each story in the Daughters of Fortune series carries with it a parable or moral lesson, more subtle to some readers than others. What is the message you hope your audience will take away from Duchess?

I really feel for Rosie in this story. By now, she’s has her heart broken by her father, lost her true love, given up so much of herself, and she comes into this story hoping that finally, she’ll find a future. She believes if her audience loves her that will fill up all her broken, hollow places. But it isn’t until she is able to take her eyes off herself that discovers true happiness. I believe so many people are thirsty for love, for the hope that God shows them, and that He will fix their broken hearts. He will, and Duchess is the proof of this truth, through Rosie’s life.

Q: In what ways does the series come full circle by the end of Duchess?

Oh, I can’t give away any spoilers! But I love this story because the things lost or broken in books one and two are revisited . . . and in many ways healed. Most of all, Rosie and the rest of the Daughters of Fortune discover God had a plan in it all, from the beginning. I based this story on Jacob and Esau, and then Joseph and Benjamin, and very much on, “What man meant for evil, God meant for good.” This truth is played out in the final chapters of Duchess.

Q: This is a little bit of a spoiler, but do any of the Price women find the real love and true happiness they have been searching out?

Yes. Of course. It’s a Susan May Warren novel! But it might be a different kind of happiness than they imagined.

Q: In Duchess, the characters live through events such as Black Friday and the aftermath of the Night of Broken Glass. Could you share a little bit of the history behind both of these dates and how they impacted your characters?

Black Friday is briefly touched on in the beginning of the first section of the novel — it shaped the fates of so many wealthy people who believed their worth was found in their wealth. When they lost it, they lost their identity. Rosie is affected by this, and she has to discover who she is, also, after this terrible event. It’s part of her journey — stripping away of who she believes she is to discover something more.

The Night of the Broken Glass was the official beginning of the Nazi pogroms to destroy the Jewish population. Many people believe it was planned long before it happened, and the Nazis were simply waiting for a suitable moment to enact it. As it was, it started with the assassination of a German diplomat in Switzerland by a Jewish man (some say he was framed), and it rippled throughout Europe in an attack on all Jews. Through Austria and Germany, Jews were ousted from their homes and places of business, made to watch helplessly on as they were destroyed. Those who resisted were beaten, and the worst was their fellow man stood by and watched, or participated. Those who tried to help were also beaten and arrested. I built this moment in as an opportunity for Rosie to look beyond herself . . . and really invest in the lives of others. It’s a watershed moment for her that is used in the final part of her journey. I hope she pays attention!

Q: What are some of the most interesting things you learned about 1930s Hollywood while writing Duchess?

Where do I start? The most fascinating piece was the making of movie stars and how they were groomed by the studios. The studio had a machine, and they put actors and actresses through it in a grueling transformation — including the kind that made Jean Harlowe’s blonde hair fall out! Also, it was news to me that actors and actresses were signed onto a studio via a term contract — and paid per week, not per movie. If they decided to quit, their pay was held back until they agreed to come back to work. And they could be loaned out to other studios. So, let’s say Jean Harlow (the first bombshell) signed a contract with Warner Brothers for $1000/week. She could be loaned out to MGM for $3000/week and never see a dime of this. This is why United Artists was formed by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith — so they could control their own destinies. The studio controlled everything, including who they dated, their publicity schedule and what they wore. Their lives were not their own.

Not that they suffered. Movie stars, even more than now, were considered American royalty.

Q: Which do you enjoy writing more, historical or contemporary novels?

Oh, I love them both, but historicals require more research — and I love research! I love to dive into the period and learn all I can about every aspect of it. So, the writing is more fascinating with a historical.

Q: What kind of “crazy things” do you do while you are writing a historical novel?

I wear period clothing (especially shoes). I play period music. I watch movies and read books set in the era, and attempt to read books set in the era. For example, I read Emily Post’s etiquette book for Heiress and read the tabloids of the times for Duchess.

Q: You encourage authors always to visit — in person or virtually — the locations where the book takes place. Are there any places you’ve been unable to get to that you would like to visit one day? Do you have any trips planned?

I was able to visit Hollywood for my research for Duchess . . . and of course New York and Montana for Heiress. I wasn’t able to fit in a trip to Paris for Baroness. However, I’m taking that trip in April, and I can’t wait to see the places I researched and dreamed about! I think I’ll bring the book with me!

A full listing of Warren’s titles, reviews and awards can be found at www.susanmaywarren.com. Readers can also keep up with her on Facebook (Susan May Warren Fiction) and Twitter (@SusanMayWarren). FULL POST

Posted 3/28/13 at 10:16 AM | Audra Jennings

Understanding Biblical Womanhood through the Lens of the Gospel

Many Christian books written to women claim to present God's good instructions for their lives. Some expound on the value of marriage and children. Many extol the virtues of the Proverbs 31 wife. A good number teach the value of love, submission, and respect in Christian marriages. Though Wendy Alsup’s book deals with these topics, The Gospel-Centered Woman addresses women from an entirely different perspective.

An interview with Wendy Alsup, author of The Gospel-Centered Woman | Part 1 of 2

Q: How does a math teacher end up writing a book on theology?

The winding road of life is hard to predict, isn’t it?! I love teaching, especially the look in someone’s eyes when the light comes on, and they finally understand a concept I’m attempting to communicate. Those moments were THE thing that made teaching worthwhile. While I was teaching math as my job, I started teaching discipleship classes on the side to women at the church I attended. I always longed to show my students in school why math mattered—why it was relevant to their daily lives. I don’t have much use for a discipline that doesn’t matter in the practical issues where we live. When it dawned on me how relevant theology was to our daily lives, my focus changed. I could not NOT teach it, and my opportunities to teach took off at church. I’ve heard others say that it is not until you learn the relevance and value of something for yourself that you are best able to communicate it to others. That has definitely been my experience with theology. FULL POST

Posted 3/27/13 at 4:10 PM | Audra Jennings

Living Life While You Wait

It is estimated that one in six American couples (7.3 million women) are affected by infertility. Christian women are no more immune to these astounding statistics than anyone else. When experiencing infertility, a woman’s feelings about herself, her relationships with others and her belief in God become confused and complicated. Having experienced these emotions herself, Lesli A. Westfall has written Dancing Upon Barren Land: Prayer, Scripture Reflections, and Hope for Infertility (January 18, 2013 / ISBN: 9780615746128 / $12.99) not only as a prayer guide for women facing infertility, but as a resource for churches and support groups.

Westfall shares more about her book and ministry in the interview below.

Q: Infertility is a problem far more couples face than most of us realize. Can you share a few statistics with us?

  • Infertility’s is defined when a couple 35 years or younger is unable to conceive within one year of unprotected intercourse, and for couples over 35, if unable to conceive after six months of unprotected intercourse.
  • Infertility is one in six American Couples (15% of couples), one in 13 women, even more worldwide.
  • There’s a misnomer to think it’s just a female problem. The breakdown of infertility/sterility is ⅓ female, ⅓ male, and ⅓ a combination of both male and female, or unexplained infertility.
  • The term “delayed parenting” is when couples choose to begin their families later in life. Therefore age is the most important issue in conceiving. This is consistent with our present-day culture.
  • The World Health Organization in 2009 defined infertility as a disease.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your own struggle with infertility?

For me, as a young child I had always dreamed of being married and having children. Once I did marry, we waited to start a family. Our goal was to further our careers and to save up enough money to put a hefty down payment on a house—essentially what is now called within the fertility world “delayed parenting.” Yet, there would be days I’d have this intense longing.

It was during a Mother’s Day church service when the pastor spoke on barrenness that stirred in me that childhood dream to have children. I left the church that day feeling a sense of peace and purpose in my life, to become a mother, finally. Since I had such a profound impression of God’s purpose in the Mother’s Day service, I just assumed that I would get pregnant easily, so I did not obtain diagnostic testing for my infertility.

As the months and years passed, no pregnancy. Eventually, I saw the first fertility specialist at the age of 40, which for most medical professionals would be too late in life. I had diagnostic tests, which revealed a few problems, and I had surgeries to correct them along with medicines to balance hormones. But still no baby after the corrective surgeries and thousands of dollars spent.

I sought another fertility specialist and went through additional treatments. With the last treatment, we were given the news, “With your age and egg maturity there is no hope for you to conceive.” I felt as if those words left me lifeless. I felt as if something died within my heart. The only thing I could think of to do after receiving this terrible report was to turn to God. I prayed asking God to mend my broken heart, which was shattered in a million pieces. Truly, he supernaturally brought healing to my confused mind and broken emotions.

Q: What does it mean to dance upon barren land?

Dancing upon barren land means to enjoy life now, to live life while you wait for life in your womb or to hold your adopted baby in your arms. You can learn to “dance” by discovering who you are in Christ, enjoying the relationships around you and exploring your passions and pursuing them along the journey to parenthood. I expand more on this in chapter five of the book, Living Life While You Wait. This scripture sums up “dancing upon barren land” in Romans 15:13: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing as you abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Q: Why did you write Dancing Upon Barren Land, and what do you hope readers will gain by reading it?

From leading support groups I sensed a felt need for a resource to help women and couples going through infertility. Initially I just wanted to have a simple, small paperback a woman could tuck in her purse and just pull out when she felt the need to be spiritually uplifted. But the book has evolved and expanded due to my writing coach, Karen Porter’s, prompting. While she was reviewing and editing the prayers she said, “Lesli, you have lived through this struggle and are experiencing peace and joy. You should write how to live this thing out.” So I did.

I hope readers will gain an understanding that:

  • they are not alone, God loves them and they are not forsaken
  • the prayer and scripture will sustain them in this hard journey
  • even though there may be conflict within relationships, there is also resolution
  • to discover joy and peace during the journey while they wait the desires of their hearts

Q: Dancing Upon Barren Land focuses on specific prayers for women to pray concerning their infertility. What are some of the things you encourage women to pray for?

First of all, I encourage them never to give up on praying for the desires of their heart even though their journey has been long or full of misunderstanding. Peace for their mind and emotions within their relationships and their fertility options. For God’s perfect will to be done and their hearts to be open to His will and plan on how to grow their families.

Q: Why is it important for churches to offer support groups for women dealing with fertility issues?

Given the statistics above, there's a probability someone is hurting within their congregation, whether from infertility or infant loss (miscarriages/stillbirth). For women, there is a loss that is silent and secret. The loss can be from a desire yet to be fulfilled or loss experienced through miscarriage or failed adoption attempts. The social interactions often decline due to the feeling of “not fitting in.” A church could offer support groups, helping them through the complicated grief via Biblical principles, provide a safe haven to connect with others, essentially offering acknowledgement there is help and hope for the hurting. My new book, Dancing Upon Barren Land, is a resource support groups can use and Dancing Upon Barren Land ministry and website is available to help churches start a support group.

Churches are very family-centric and rightfully so, but there is a need not being met within the body of Christ. Due to delayed parenting, single women attend my support group because they are hurting, because they are not married yet and because they feel their chances of having children is very slim. Couples will not attend church on Mother’s or Father’s Day because the focus is on a role in life they’ve yet to achieve. Also, those who’ve experienced miscarriages/stillbirth will refrain from churches on that day. Their loss is never validated.

Q: Some people simply don’t identify with the strong biological desire to have children of their own and might ask, “Why don’t you just adopt?” How do you respond to questions like these?

We’ve been asked this question a lot. And we’ve prayed about it, but we feel for us, presently, adoption is not the way to grow our family. I know, as a Christian, we’ve been adopted by God into His kingdom (Ephesians 1:5). At times I know other Christians and even our friends who don’t understand why we don’t adopt. When we’ve been presented with the actual offer to adopt a baby on several occasions, we’ve not closed the door but are open. Our first response to them is that we will pray and discuss it. Once we discuss the options, we give it some time. It is very tempting to take in a child who needs a home. Yet we are careful not to make a decision based upon our emotions, but instead based on praying and being led by the peace of God.

Q: Even if a person means well and doesn’t set out to hurt any feelings, what are some of the things that you should never say to a couple struggling with infertility?

  • Give up. Let it go. It will happen.
  • Just go and get drunk.
  • Just relax.
  • Just adopt.
  • You’re too old to have a child.
  • It’s not the end of the world if you don’t have kids!
  • Can I have some grandchildren, please?
  • It will happen when you are least expecting it.
  • At least you are an aunt and uncle, that’s fun!
  • Complain about your own children

Find out more about Westfall, and the Dancing Upon Barren Land book and ministry at www.DancingUponBarrenLand.com, or on Facebook and Twitter (@DUBLhope).

Click here to watch the Dancing Upon Barren Land video, which features eight individuals sharing their stories about the journey through infertility.

Posted 3/26/13 at 5:20 PM | Audra Jennings

God is the Defender of All His Children

New book and curriculum open the doors to talking to children about missions and orphans

As we start planning the summer for our children—signing them up for t-ball, summer drama camp, trips to see grandparents, vacation Bible school—we often forget how fortunate we are to be able to offer such opportunities to our children, especially when many children around the world don’t get to participate in activities like these. In her new book Tales of the Defended Ones (Standard Publishing / January 28, 2013 / ISBN: 978-0784736975 / $ 8.99), Beth Guckenberger skillfully and lovingly tells the stories of adopted children from Ethiopia, a child in slavery in Cambodia, a special-needs orphan from Mexico, and a foster child in the U.S. all with one thing in common. They are all real children whose lives of heartbreak and abandon became stories of hope. Not only has God provided for these children, Guckenberger shares how we, too, young and old, can help defend these children who are defenseless on their own.

Tales of the Defended Ones is the second release of Guckenberger’s Storyweaver series, written to highlight the plight of orphans throughout the world in personal, heart-grabbing stories of loss, struggle and redemption. The premise of the series is that as the great Storyweaver, God is working in the lives of each of us and our stories can be more incredible than we could ever imagine. “It’s important that we not only care about our own stories, but also about the stories of others,” writes Guckenberger. “Orphans don’t have a lot of people watching their stories. It’s our privilege to watch them and then tell about them, and sometimes even be a part of them. That is a bit of the God-design he put in us, to care for others. He cares about each of us and wants to bring us into each other’s lives.”

Written for ages 8 and up, Tales of the Defended Ones presents an easy-to-read picture of the way God is intervening on behalf of orphans throughout the world. The inspiration for the title of the book came from Proverbs 23:10-11: “Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; he will take up their case against you.”

Like its predecessor, Tales of the Not Forgotten, which has helped teachers, mentors and families have meaningful conversations about clean water, orphan care, education and hunger, a corresponding six-part Tales of the Defended Ones Leader’s Guide on CD (ISBN 978-0784736982) is also available. The leader’s guide helps turn the book content into a simple, yet powerful six-week curriculum for any church or small group, complete with fun activities, compelling stories, biblical teaching and practical applications that can be customized based on time and setting.

The book and leader’s guide are driven by the personal mission experience of Beth and her husband, Todd Guckenberger, who serve as co-executive directors of Back2Back Ministries and are raising nine children—biological, foster and adopted. Beth was recently honored with the 2013 International Network of Children’s Ministry (INCM) Legacy Award at the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in Orlando, Florida, for her impact on children around the world.

“Beth’s heart for the orphan is passionate and contagious,” says Stephanie Woeste, vice president of marketing for Standard Publishing. “With her ability to communicate the reality of life as an orphan, God is using her to get people involved in one of the most important tasks He gave the church: to care for widows and orphans.”

Guckenberger has partnered with Standard Publishing on the mission content in its 2013 VBS program, God’s Backyard Bible Camp, as well as a Mission Project Pack. The goal of the VBS curriculum is to show children they can make an impact on the world and be a part of something larger than themselves. Through God’s Backyard Bible Camp, students can engage in interactive service opportunities that reach far beyond their own backyards, benefiting the orphans Back2Back ministries serves in Mexico. The Mission Project Pack includes everything you need to get your kids involved in serving others. Kids taking part in the program will not only help individual orphans but will join a movement of VBS kids that are committed to service. In the fall, Standard will be releasing a SuperSimple™ Mission Kit which will include all of the mission resources developed for God’s Backyard Bible Camp, as well as the Tales of the Not Forgotten book and leader’s guide. The SuperSimple™ Mission Kit will provide churches with the tools they need to emphasize missions anytime during the year.

What better way to spend this summer than helping children in our own backyard and around the world? For more information on how to get involved, visit www.vacationbibleschool.com or back2back.org.

Join Beth Guckenberger for her Facebook chat with readers on April 25 at 8:00 PM EDT. Watch the Standard Publishing Facebook page for more details about the party and a social media giveaway opportunity.

About the Author

Beth Guckenberger and her husband, Todd, are the founders of Back2Back Ministries (based in Cincinnati, Ohio), which communicates a lifestyle of service by sharing the love of Christ and serving God through service to others. Back2Back Ministries connects willing workers to open hearts through international and local ministry opportunities. Their ministry is currently caring and providing for orphan children and needy people in Mexico, Nigeria, India and, most recently, Haiti.

Guckenberger travels and speaks regularly at women’s and missions conferences, as well as youth gatherings and church services. Her topics include orphan care, missions, parenting, marriage/intimacy and faith. Her storytelling style captures audiences, and she draws from her field experience as a missionary and parent for illustrations to biblical concepts.

In addition to her children’s releases in the Storyweaver series, Tales of the Defended Ones (Standard Publishing 2013), and Tales of the Not Forgotten (Standard 2012), Guckenberger has written two books for adults: Relentless Hope (Standard, 2011) and Reckless Faith(Zondervan, 2008). She has also partnered with Standard Publishing on the mission content in its 2013 VBS program God’s Backyard Bible Camp and a missions kit to be released in the fall.

The Guckenberger family lives and serves in Monterrey, Mexico, where they have hosted more than 12,000 guests on their ministry campus. Between biological, foster and adopted additions to their family, Beth and Todd are raising nine children.

Learn more about Beth Guckenberger and Back2Back Ministries at www.bethguckenberger.com, http://back2backministries.org, the Back2Back Ministries Facebook page (back2backministries) or Twitter (@bguckenberger).

Posted 3/25/13 at 5:08 PM | Audra Jennings

An interview with Colleen Coble, author of Safe in His Arms

Each and every one of us has felt unattractive or awkward at one time or another. Our insecurities often give us the false impression that we are not worthy of the unconditional love and acceptance that we all desire. This sense of love and security is something Margaret O’Brien thought she would never find. In Safe in His Arms (Thomas Nelson/January 29, 2013/ISBN 978-1-59554-914-3/$15.99) by best-selling author Colleen Coble, readers follow Margaret’s journey from never fitting in to realizing the love and acceptance we can only find in the safety of God’s arms.

Q: The heroine of Safe in His Arms feels very awkward and unattractive, as we all do at times. Did you draw on any of your own experiences as you wrote Margaret’s story?

There’s a lot of me in Margaret. Growing up, I always felt awkward and unattractive. I was taller than every boy in my class until I was in the seventh grade. I hated my wavy hair and ironed it when I got to high school in the sixties. I wanted blue eyes, not brown. My feet were too big, and so were my hips. Sound familiar?

Women are indoctrinated from infancy about beauty. We feel we must be superwoman and have it all: beauty, brains, a good work ethic, great with children, a good cook. I think it’s particularly hard for women to accept the unconditional love God offers. We are so used to being held to such a high standard—and failing—that we feel we can never measure up.

What a blessing when we realize we don’t have to. God loves us, warts and all. We are safe in his arms. Safe to tell him our dreams, our fears, our failings. Safe to relax in his unconditional love.

Q: What is the message you hope readers will walk away with after reading Safe in His Arms?

We women are an insecure bunch, aren't we? We wish we had a different color hair or eyes, we look at our thighs and see only fat. We look at other women who seem to do it all, and we feel we don't measure up. It shouldn't be this way. But God doesn't make a mistake and each of us is worthy of unconditional love. I want women to see we can let this issue drive us crazy if we let it. But we can let all of that go and learn to rest in the knowledge that we were created just the way we are. And we're lovable just like we are.

Q: Safe in His Arms features different lead characters than Blue Moon Promises. How is the Under Texas Stars series tied together?

The main character in Safe in His Arms is Lucy's best friend. Lucy is the main character from Blue Moon Promise. There are many familiar characters from town as well. I hope the reader feels she is coming home when she goes back to Larson, Texas in Safe in His Arms.

Q: Has something happened in Margaret’s past that spurs on her independence as well as her suspicions about Daniel?

She's had to fight society and stereotypes all her life about a woman's role on the ranch. She fears he'll take all that away from her. And her father doesn't hide how much he admires this big, capable new foreman. Daniel didn't even have to earn her father's respect—it was just there. She's tried and tried to earn it and has failed. When she first meets Daniel, he doesn't react to a bank robbery the way all the other men in town do either, so her suspicions rise.

Q: Why has Margaret given up hope on finding love, having a family and living a life of her own away from the ranch?

In Blue Moon Promise, Margaret's only hope of a family was Nate whose family owned the next ranch over. Their families assumed they would marry and merge the ranches, but Nate's father brings pretty little Lucy home as a bride to Nate. Lucy is everything Margaret has never been--womanly, sweet, and totally admirable. The contrast cements Margaret's belief that she's not good enough for any man. She's too tall, too competent, and too red-headed.

Q: You have written both historical and contemporary romance. What’s your favorite time period to write about?

I love both. I love the turn of the 19th century for a historical time period. But I do love contemporary. The fun thing about historicals is seeing how humans don't really change. Women still face many of the same challenges. No matter what era, we look at ourselves like Margaret did in Safe in His Arms, and wish we were better.

Q: Is it difficult to keep up with your characters when you are in the middle of writing more than one series?

I have to keep focused. When I have to stop to edit another series, for example, I generally jump back to the earlier one only after rereading several scenes. It can be challenging though, because I'm usually writing one book, editing another, and thinking about yet another. It can get crazy! But I do love it.

Q: This isn’t your first series written in Texas. Do you have a special connection to the Lone Star State?

I cut my "writing teeth" on westerns, and nothing is more western than Texas! While I've never lived in Texas, I love the Lone Star State. It's a happy time whenever I get to visit. You can visit so many different types of things in Texas too, from the green hill country to the gorgeous West Texas desert. And the history of Texas is so unusual.

Readers can connect with Colleen Coble via her website, ColleenCoble.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@colleencoble).

Posted 3/22/13 at 2:52 PM | Audra Jennings

What Does it Look Like When You Lead Your Family Like Jesus?

Leadership experts Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges team up with parenting mentor Tricia Goyer to present a revolutionary approach to parenting

Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager® (a New York Times Best Seller for two years), has teamed up with his Lead Like Jesus co-founder Phil Hodges, and author/parenting expert Tricia Goyer to release Lead Your Family Like Jesus: Powerful Parenting Principles from the Creator of Families (March 25, 2013/ISBN 978-1-58997-720-4, HC, $19.99, Tyndale House Publishers). Recognized as one of the world’s top business leadership experts, Blanchard now looks to Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, as the model for this new, revolutionary parenting book.

Does your family need a five-star general at the helm? A psychologist? A referee? Lead Your Family Like Jesus, points to a better role model. In Lead Your Family Like Jesus, the authors show how every family member benefits when parents take the reins as servant-leaders. Moms and dads will see themselves in an entirely new light—as life-changers who get their example, strength, and joy from following Jesus at home.

The book begins by explaining that leadership is an influence process and that anyone who influences the thinking, behavior, or development of others is a leader—making parenting the most important life role leadership position most people ever hold. Offering practical examples from real-life parents, the authors then encourage the alignment of four leadership domains:

Heart - the character and values employed in influencing children
Head - one’s viewpoint and beliefs about leading
Hands - what a parent actually does while leading and influencing
Habits - how a parent must continually refocus his or her desires to lead as Jesus would do.

Published in cooperation with Focus on the Family, this book provides 12 powerful parenting principles, which are easily extendable to grandparents and other caring adults within a family; Pause and Reflect questions; and Points to Ponder—making it an excellent selection for both personal reading and group discussion.

This user-friendly book’s practical principles and personal stories mark the path to a truly Jesus-centered family, where integrity, love, grace, self-sacrifice, and forgiveness make all the difference.

“When my kids were young, I often used Ken Blanchard's business books to train my children. I knew that as a mom I was a leader, and the more I had my act together the better I could lead the troops,” says Goyer. “A mutual friend encouraged me to put together some ideas to share with Ken for Lead Like Jesus for Families at the same time Focus on the Family approached Ken with the same concept. Maybe God was speaking to a few hearts!”

“What I love about this book is that it reminds us of our role as parents,” Goyer continues. “Any time we are trying to influence the thoughts, behaviors, and development of another person we are a leader. If this isn't the definition of a parent I don't know what is!”

Goyer is teaming up with fellow Focus on the Family/Tyndale author Tracey Eyster (Be the Mom: Overcome Attitude Traps and Enjoy Your Kids) for the Lead, Momma Lead webcast on April 16 at 8:00 PM EDT. During the event, Goyer and Eyster will offer encouragement to moms based on their respective books and interact with participants by asking questions submitted during the webcast. Moms can join the live event via Tricia Goyer’s Facebook Page.

Visit leadyourfamilybook.com for more information about the book, the authors and for free family resources.

About the Authors

Ken Blanchard:
Leadership expert and author of over 50 books, including the New York Times bestseller, The One-Minute Manager®; co-founder of Lead Like Jesus; and coauthor of Lead Like JesusLessons from the Greatest Leadership Role Model of All Time.

Phil Hodges:
A human resource and industrial relations manager in corporate America for 36 years with Xerox Corporation and U.S. Steel, co-founder of Lead Like Jesus; co-author of five books, including Lead Like Jesus, The Servant Leader and Leadership by the Book with Bill Hybels.

Tricia Goyer:
Bestselling author of more than 33 books, including nine non-fiction releases, and more than five hundred articles for national publications; selected as one of the Top Moms to Follow on Twitter in 2010 by SheKnows.com; popular blog contributor, Teen Mops mentor, speaker, and radio host.

Download full author bios at http://leadyourfamilybook.com/authors/.

Posted 3/21/13 at 5:43 PM | Audra Jennings

Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate: Wit and Wisdom for Sidestepping Life’s Worries

An interview with author Deb Coty

*A longer form interview is available upon request.

As much as we would hate to admit it, most of us struggle with some kind of fear, worry or anxiety on a regular basis. Whether the fear is something that seems insignificant to some (like spiders) or is more common to mankind (like the loss of a loved one), we need to find the faith to hand our worries over to God to handle. In Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate: Wit and Wisdom for Sidestepping Life’s Worries (Barbour Books/February 1, 2013/paperback/ISBN 978-1620291696/$9.99), Debora M. Coty uses her trademark humor to draw readers out of a lifestyle of worry and anxiety and into living life with the security of knowing that God has everything under His control.

Q: In the introduction of Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate, you write that you conducted a survey of 500 random women from age 18 to 80 to pinpoint their fears. That sounds like a major undertaking! How did you pull that off, and how long did it take?

The survey took about four months to complete and consisted of wonderful ladies at my speaking engagements, those filling out the survey online through my blogs and website, and various church and civic groups throughout the country who were kind enough to participate. I was overwhelmed by the number of responses; I was originally hoping for 200 responses and ended up with more than 500, which increases the validity of the data and ensures that the information gleaned is reflective of the real fears of today’s women.

Q: What are the three top things women fear most?

The number-one fear of women surveyed is loss of a loved one (spouse/children/parent); number two is debilitating or terminal illness; number three is fear of failure. You may be surprised at the other seven in the top ten — I was!

Q: “Fear not” is the most repeated command in the entire Bible. Why do you think it had to be reiterated so many times?

Fear is a natural by-product of man’s fall. Adam and Eve feared facing their Creator so much after the first sin that they hid. I think mankind (and womankind) has been hiding one way or another ever since. Fear first worms its way into our thinking processes, then it affects our actions. If we allow fear to continue to wreak havoc in our lives unimpeded, it can eventually erode our self-esteem, relationships, and even our faith.

Fear is passion in a negative direction. Our fears spotlight what matters to us most—those hidden corners of our lives in which we trust Papa God the least. These are the hot spots we need to work on, and that’s what Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate is all about.

Q: Fear can often result in a lot of anxiety. What are some of the steps to overcoming anxiety when we feel it pressing in on us?

1) Postpone worry. Set aside 15 minutes a day as your designated worry time. Then, whenever a niggling fret worms into your brain during the day or night, jot it down. Now that you’ve recorded it, you can forget it and not waste precious living time dwelling on it.
2) Believe you have a choice. You don’t have to be controlled by your emotions (fear, anxiety, panic). Discern the difference between reacting and responding. Understand that feelings don’t dictate truth — it’s actually the other way around. Emotions are subjective and can change with the twist of a hormone. Search for biblical truth and allow it to manage your runaway emotions.
3) Feed your boldness, starve your triggers. Surround yourself with people and things that nurture, encourage, and uplift you. Strengthen your emotional muscles like you do your physical muscles — by practicing fearlessness.
4) Tap into Papa God’s supernatural strength.
5) Morph worry into prayer. Worry is a non-productive waste of energy, but prayer is the nerve that innervates the muscles in the hand of Papa God.
6) Action defuses anxiety. When you start to worry, get your hands busy and your mind will follow.
7) Exercise intentional gratitude every day.
8) Consider a fret fast.

Q: What are some of the fears you struggle with most?

I’d say fear of the unknown in the form of the what-ifs has been my most persistent personal struggle. I have a hard time living out loud the reality of Proverbs 20:22 (NASB): “Wait for the Lord, and He will save you.” Instead of relaxing in that promise, I charge ahead into the fantasy world of the what-ifs and wrestle with real and imagined fears. What I would do if this happened? What would be the best way to handle that remote contingency? In short, I’m attempting to save myself.

This, of course, only serves to magnify small worries into HUGE anxieties and self-perpetuates my fears. I’ve been told by many women that they suffer the very same problem.

Sometimes it’s what we can’t see that’s the scariest. Fretting over the what-ifs causes many a long, sleepless night as we sculpt features onto our faceless anxieties, effectively giving fear laser eyes, supersonic ears, and a cavernous mouth.

Learn more about Debora Coty and her books at deboracoty.com. Readers can also keep up with her via Facebook and Twitter.

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