Posted 4/28/16 at 12:22 PM | Audra Jennings
From Penn State to the Catholic Church scandal, stories of sexual abuse are covered in the national media, but news reports do not reveal all the facts of how prevalent abuse is among males. “The standard statistic is that one in six boys is sexually abused before the age of 18 (1in6.org). However, Male Survivor recently reported one in four men has been sexually abused,” Andrew J. Schmutzer, co-author of Naming Our Abuse: God's Pathways to Healing for Male Sexual Abuse Survivors (Kregel Publications/April 27, 2016/ISBN: 978-0825444005/$14.99), explains. “One thing to understand about these statistics is that they are largely based on self-reporting, so they have been historically hard to come by. As specialists know, men don’t readily talk about their abuse.” FULL POST
Posted 4/27/16 at 12:03 PM | Audra Jennings
A woman who was sexually abused as a child can wrestle her whole adult life with questions such as, Am I worthless? How can I move past the hurt? Do I matter to God? This internal turbulence can carve a deep hole in an already wounded soul. Crystal M. Sutherland’s own experiences as a child led her to write Journey to Heal: Seven Essential Steps of Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse (Kregel Publications/April 27, 2016/ISBN: 978-0825444012/$14.99).
With more than 42 million victims (both male and female) of child sexual abuse in the U.S. alone, the need for healing is enormous. While there is no simple formula for those seeking recovery, Sutherland believes the Bible contains essential guidance for moving toward peace. Journey to Heal is a practical and comprehensive study of seven steps specifically for female survivors who want to progress from simply coping with life to living abundantly. Calling her book “a road map to recovery,” Sutherland invites readers to process their stories, reject shame and discover God’s love for them.
Many of the lessons Sutherland shares in Journey to Heal were learned in the trenches of her own prayerful and painful recovery. Abused by a stepfather for several years as a child, she lived in a broken state. Acting out promiscuously in high school, she soon found herself in the midst of a teen pregnancy. Even after she married, started a family and reconnected with her childhood faith, she still attempted to mask her pain through food, shopping and staying busy all the time. After years of hiding, her world started to fall apart. She finally responded to God’s call to seek him and his word and found her path to healing. “As the Lord brought restoration into my life, I sensed He was encouraging me to share my journey with others so they too could experience the freedom His love brings,” she reveals. “Telling my story is a small part of this book. I share it so my readers know I am a friend who understands what they are going through.” FULL POST
Posted 4/25/16 at 5:08 PM | Audra Jennings
Part 1 of an interview with Jeff Vanderstelt and Ben Connelly,
Authors of Saturate Field Guide: Principles & Practices for
Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life
For far too many Christians, the idea of being part of a church simply means attending a Sunday morning service, maybe a small group or a sprinkling of special events each year. Is that what God had in mind for his bride, the Church, when he sent his son to save her? Pastor and church planter Jeff Vanderstelt, along with his co-author, Ben Connelly, invite readers to experience something deeper in their new book, Saturate Field Guide: Principles & Practices for Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life (Saturate/February 15, 2016).
Inspired by Habakkuk 2:14, which reads, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea,” Vanderstelt and Connelly wrote Saturate Field Guide to show believers how to allow the gospel to permeate every aspect of their world. This begins with understanding ministry isn’t just what pastors do on Sundays and discipleship is much more than a class or program. Instead, both are a 24/7 call for all Christians to live in absolute submission to the Lord, joining with others in a missional community, where each person sees himself or herself as a servant missionary sent to make disciples. FULL POST
Posted 4/19/16 at 12:28 PM | Audra Jennings
Finding hope in dark times is not an accident. Sometimes it has to be hunted, and that chase takes great strength. Author Nika Maples wants to help others find the fierce bravery required to excavate hope from hardship with her new book, Hunting Hope: Dig Through the Darkness to Find the Light (Worthy Inspired/April 19, 2016/ ISBN: 978-1617956652/$15.99).
Nika Maples certainly knows of what she writes: at age 20, she suffered a massive brainstem stroke that left her a quadriplegic. Doctors warned her loved ones she could have as little as 48 hours to live, and if for some reason she survived, she would never be able to walk or talk again. When Maples pulled through those critical hours, she awoke to find there was no hope on the horizon. So, she started to hunt for it. Today she not only walks but speaks to audiences all over the country about the power of relentlessly holding to faith when a situation appears impossible. FULL POST
Posted 4/8/16 at 12:21 PM | Audra Jennings
An interview with Ruth Logan Herne,
Author of Back in the Saddle
Family relationships are never easy, and loss, grief and greed can compound normal everyday tensions. Ruth Logan Herne offers hope for hurting families with the messages contained in her new book, Back in the Saddle (Multnomah Books/March 15, 2016/ ISBN: 978-1601427762/$9.99).
Q: Your latest release, Back in the Saddle,is a modern twist on the biblical parable of the prodigal son. Can you tell us a little bit about the story?
Take one smokin’ hot hero with a chip on his shoulder, turn his hard-won world upside down at the same time his estranged father is diagnosed with deteriorating liver disease and watch the sparks fly!
Colt Stafford grew up with resentment burned into his soul. His mother told him to trust God with all his little heart and soul, and when Colt lost her to a tragic car wreck, he realized that if God existed, he sure wasn’t anyone who could be trusted. He was left with a power-loving, money-hungry father who saw gold in establishing a new kind of beef empire, but Sam’s quest for world beef domination left little for his son. When he tried to rectify that mistake with more mistakes, their relationship dissolved.
But grown-ups see things through a different reality lens, and Colt’s return sets a new normal in motion. His presence disrupts the status quo for the better, and when he gets beyond his initial affront of having a woman running part of the show at the Double S, he realizes that maybe God does exist. And maybe, just maybe, that imperfect timing of his youth was pretty perfect after all.
Q: Your leading man, Colt Stafford, is a proud man who has to return home in disgrace after a personal misfortune. How did you tap into some of your own life experiences to paint his character?
Great question! I took that time I was crazy rich and gambled it all on one roll of the dice and rolled snake eyes. . . . OK, I wasn’t ever rich, and I don’t throw dice, but I have two sons living in Manhattan. I watched their skilled, brilliant friends get rolled under a financial bus with the crash of 2008, and examining the underpinnings of what went wrong, I saw an area ripe for character development.
And that’s where Colt came from. But the expert advice on pegging Colt in Lower Manhattan came from my youngest son, Luke, who is currently working in hedge funds. Fans of Michael Lewis books will recognize that Wall Street doesn’t talk easily or freely, so having an insider point of view was clutch for developing Colt’s career and his downfall with accuracy. I did buy Luke a lot of coffee out of gratitude!
Q: When you’re caught at a crossroads in life, such as a couple of your characters were, what process do you have for weighing your options and making a decision?
Then or now?
Because younger people might go at this very differently than a mother who’s raised six kids through various levels of Ivy League education while waitressing in a Greek diner.
When I was younger, I tended to jump first, ask questions later, and I was pretty sure I was right. Maybe for that time I was, because what working mother of six has time to think? So I acted often on instinct, but when faced with a particularly tough crossroads, I always turned to prayer and patience. The prayer was easy. Sitting back and letting God take lead? I have found that smart folks have a hard time with that initially, and when I finally broke through the “But I should be able to do this!” wall I erected, life got calmer. I got calmer. It wasn’t age; it was learning I don’t have to do it all. Sometimes, I can simply be an enthusiastic (or sad) bystander. And that was OK.
Q: For the Stafford family, marriages don’t seem to last a lifetime. What advice do you have for those who want a healthy marriage but didn’t have the opportunity to observe one in their own family?
Marriage is work.
Let me repeat that.
Marriage is work.
And in that work comes the essence of love, patience, grace, forgiveness (lots of that on both sides, I reckon!) and joy.
Now having said that, I think there is a formula. First, marry the right person as best you’re able. People don’t mature at the same rate, and the ideas of twenty-somethings are rarely the reality of thirty-somethings. That State Farm commercial “All the Nevers in Life” is a perfect example! What we say “no” to initially often comes back to be our new normal.
I believe faith is a huge binder, but faith alone can’t hold two people together. But faith, love, respect, flexibility, understanding and forgiveness go a long way. I’m a firm believer that you should always marry someone who loves different snacks than you do. For instance, if you like ice cream, marry someone who’d rather have something salty — such as potato chips. I’ll tell you why. At the end of the day, when you want that last half-cup of Chunky Monkey, and you’re tired and you’ve been thinking of it all day while eating celery leaves and twigs to fit into your jeans, working your job and tending kids, house, taxi service for sports and dancing, committees and shopping for the packaged cookies your kid needs for school tomorrow, it is in everyone’s best interest if your husband, when faced with a choice, wolfed down the half-bag of chips instead of the Chunky Monkey.
That’s all I’m saying.
Q: Sibling rivalry is one of the major themes in Back in the Saddle. What do you find is the best way to handle tension in family relationships?
OK, now that I’m up off the floor, let me just say that the newly visible accidents of genetics should give us a much better idea of how diverse siblings are and how amazingly blessed we are when any of them get along!
“Daughters! You think it’s going to be like Little Women, and they’re at each other’s throats every day!” —Cora Crawley, Downton Abbey
Laughter. Honestly, give them a good faith base to help offset the chronic craziness of an instant gratification world around them, but beyond that, help them learn not to sweat the small stuff while expecting them to respect one another. They don’t have to be best buddies, but respect is a huge component. A dear friend of mine, a Sister of St. Joseph, once said that holding grudges in families is one of the most grievous of sins because how can we expect to change the world if we can’t forgive one another? I’ve always held that close to my heart. Forgive, put a smile on your face and move on.
Q: Despite all of the challenges the families face in Back in the Saddle, when push comes to shove, they stick together. How has the love of family been important to you?
Well, cowboy lore dictates that we might die separately but most assuredly we will all stand together, and I think that’s a good backbone for family dynamics.
I look at the good and the bad of the families I know, see and work with, then I try to build on the good and minimize the bad. That’s really not a difficult concept if you simply adopt it as your go-to methodology.
My children are a God-send, a huge blessing to me. I see their uniqueness, and I love their diversity. It makes me laugh that out of one set of parents, so many variances emerge. However, now that we can actually see gene sequencing, it makes perfect sense! They grew up in complete ignorance of my parents’ alcoholism and depression problems until they were old enough that they needed to know. I like a little bit of fairyland for kids so they can grow those imaginations. Reality hits all too soon, and I wanted them to have a chance to know and love the grandparents on both sides. If that meant I had to eat a little humble pie and do some strategic planning, that was OK.
Q: What is your favorite thing about your heroine, Angelina? Will readers find any parts of your own personality in hers?
That’s a loaded question! I like strong heroines. I like strong women. I like championing for strong women, and even if a heroine has reason to cave, my goal as an author is to show how she picks herself up and gets back on her feet. And if there’s a wonderful hero to make the picture complete, better yet!
There’s a little bit of me in every heroine, but I had to make Detective Mary Angela (Angelina) even more self-protective, defensive and tough than, let’s say, a kindergarten teacher. So I took a little bit of me, a dash of Kate Beckett on Castle, a hint of the household staffs from The Help and a smidge of Catherine Zeta Jones from Zorro. A woman cop, skilled in negotiation techniques and trained in undercover work, is the perfect setup for dealing with a huge, busy ranch kitchen filled with sometimes-clueless men. One of my greatest joys is how women are loving Angelina as a heroine because I was pretty much guaranteed they’d love Colt. But to have them embrace and cheer on a tough-girl image heroine, that’s awesome!
Q: Is there a way to balance meeting one’s own needs with the biblical principle of putting others first?
I think so. It’s called sacrificial love or selflessness. I think that’s a missing component in too much of today’s society, and worry about self and meeting our own needs is far too prevalent. How easily we talk about the sparrows and the birds of the air in Scripture and how readily God cares for them, but then we freak out if our iPhone breaks down or we have to wait 30 minutes for a doctor’s appointment because we’ve grown accustomed to here-and-now, instant answers.
We taught JOY to junior high kids in religious education classes — Jesus, others, you. The simplicity is perfect and mind-bogglingly easy, but it’s tough to do because we tend to be somewhat selfish creatures.
Q: You talk on your blog about your upbringing and how you were born into poverty. In what ways did your early life experiences shape the writer you are today?
I cannot even begin to say what a huge influence all of that was on my life as a wife, mother, employee and now author. I see all of that as God’s preparation for me for the job he and I both knew I would do some day: write books people love and help women see and build their inner strengths through faith and love.
It is so easy to blame the past and let it wither us. Far too easy. Parts of society actually encourage that.
No. Grab those bootstraps, avoid negative people, surround yourself with positives and thank God daily for all the wonderfulness in your life, no matter how big or how small! No matter how menial the job, do your best every day.
I’ve held a great many nametag and hairnet jobs in my time, and the blessing of that was a paycheck to help put shoes on my kids’ feet . . . and research for books! Take those down times and use them to minister to others.
Take the good and run with it. The rest is up to you!
Q: Other than writing, what are some of your interests? Tell us about your roadside vegetable stand back home in upstate New York.
My love for gardening comes straight from my grandma Myrtle Herne. It’s funny how things get passed down, but I could literally live in a garden if time allowed — and it hasn’t for many years. However, my husband is retiring this year, and he’s started up our truck farm again. We’d done it for a dozen years when our kids were younger, and that gave us lots of field hands when they weren’t playing soccer, tennis or baseball or running track-and-field or cross-country.
A truck farm is an old-school name for a small farm that trucks this, that and the other thing to roadside stands, so in front of our big, old farmhouse (160 years old, and when you fix one thing, you break two others!) we haul out the produce stand every spring . . . and it begins. We have a henhouse of nearly 50 laying hens I handle, and the initial farm work comes down to my husband, Dave, our son Seth, and son-in-law Jon. In the fall during pumpkin and squash season, it’s all hands on deck! A great pumpkin year is a wonderful thing, and there are no worries about staying in shape when you’re hauling 30-pound pumpkins from the field to the tractor path! It’s so pretty to fill the yard with hundreds and hundreds of pumpkins and watch folks drive in with little kids and fill their trunk.
When there’s time I bake bread and cookies for the produce stand . . . and the customers love it, so I don’t tell them that bread’s supposed to be bad for them!
Q: Can you give us a hint as to your plans for the Home on the Range, the next book in the Double S Ranch series?
I love Home on the Range! Oh, poor Nick, he is just so beside himself with what he thinks he wants and the image he’s tried so hard to portray of the modern-day cattle breeder with one foot in suburbia and one on the rugged terrain of the Double S. He was so sure he could do it right and best his father, but one marriage later and two very unhappy little girls means that somehow, someway, Nick’s got to get his life back in order.
Who better than an emotionally-tanked therapist, leading a reclusive life while hiding in the woods in a hobbit-style house because she can’t come to terms with life, to do it? It sure sounds like a match made in heaven to me!
Posted 4/5/16 at 1:49 PM | Audra Jennings
What’s the first thing mentioned when introducing two strangers? Typically, one person introduces another by saying the individual’s name, followed by his or her vocation. “This is my friend, Bob. He’s an airplane mechanic.” “I’d like you to meet Sally. She’s a triathlete.” It’s natural for people to derive their sense of self from what they do, not who they are. In her latest novel,Song of Silence (Abingdon Press/April 5, 2016/ISBN: 9781426791499/$14.99), award-winning author Cynthia Ruchti reminds us God takes a different approach when it comes to identity and explores what happens when identity can no longer be linked to an occupation or life’s passion.
In Song of Silence, readers meet Lucy and Charlie Tuttle who, despite their differences, can agree on one thing: They’re committed to each other for life. The trouble is neither of them expected life to look like this. Charlie retired early, but Lucy has been completely devoted to her long-term career as a music educator in a small Midwestern school . . . until the day she has no choice.
Forced into retirement because of school budget issues, Lucy can only watch helplessly as the music program her father spent years building disintegrates before her eyes. As the music fades and a chasm separates her from the passion of her heart, Lucy wonders if her faith’s song has gone silent too. When her grown children have to move back into the family home, new challenges emerge, and the musical score of her life seems to be missing all the notes. When a simple misstep threatens to silence Lucy forever, a young boy and his soundless mother change the way she sees — and hears — everything.
All authors put at least a hint of people they know into their characters, and Ruchti’s husband recognized himself in Lucy’s husband, Charlie. Although he was forced into retirement similarly to Lucy, his approach to retirement more closely resembled Charlie’s. Ruchti admits her reaction would have been more like Lucy’s. “What was only a minor interruption for my husband would have been more devastating for me.” Ruchti adds, “When Lucy’s occupation was stripped from her, she flailed and floundered. However, who we are, and whose we are, are because of who God is, eliminating long-lived identity crises. No matter our position, station, work, or lack of it, I know I am His beloved child and He is my loving Father. The rest are mere details.”
The author also drew from her own life when creating the main character, Lucy, whose name and influence were inspired by her fifth-grade music teacher. “Some teachers leave a lasting impression on our lives and on our souls,” Ruchti reflects. “Like the ‘Lucy’ I know, in the story Lucy taught the students entrusted to her not only the enriching importance of music, but its elegance and ability to communicate.” Ruchti’s father was also a highly-respected music educator, and he added to her appreciation for how music could convey deep emotions such as joy, peace, sorrow, and strength.
Ruchti hopes readers will not only find themselves lost in a compelling story, but will hear in the background notes an encouragement to hold onto hope even when life’s song is silenced, even when unexpected and unwelcomed pauses interrupt the music.
About the author
Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed in hope through her novels, novellas, nonfiction books, articles, and devotionals, drawing from 33 years of on-air radio ministry. Ruchti has 17 books in print, and her books have received numerous awards and nominations, including the RT Reviewers’ Choice, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year nominations, two Selah Awards, Christian Retailing’s BEST, and was an ACFW Carol Award finalist, among other honors.
One of Ruchti’s greatest joys is helping other writers grow in their craft. To that end, she has served as worship and devotions staff and faculty for the Write-to-Publish conference and teaches at other writers’ conferences across the country and internationally as opportunities arise. She also serves as the professional relations liaison for American Christian Fiction Writers.
Ruchti speaks frequently for women’s groups and serves on her church’s worship team. She and her husband live in the heart of Wisconsin, not far from their three children and five grandchildren.
Posted 4/1/16 at 10:07 AM | Audra Jennings
Part 1 of an interview with Sherri Burgess,
Author of Bronner: A Journey to Understand
God teaches and refines us through pain and suffering. Author Sherri Burgess, wife of Rick Burgess of the syndicated The Rick and Bubba Show, knows this to be true. After the earthly death of her youngest son, Bronner, Burgess asked, “Why?” And God answered.
Journey with her through this powerful testimony of healing to understand the purpose behind the pain. With a reader’s guide in the back, this resource makes an empowering tool for book-club discussion or small-group Bible study. Bronner: A Journey to Understand (New Hope Publishers) is much more than a retelling of an inspiring story. It is a call to action!
Q: Your book is named after your youngest son. Tell us a little bit about Bronner and his short life on earth.
Bronner was the baby of the family, the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, and we adored him. He knew it too. Bronner kind of had that air about him like he knew he was a big deal. He was so much fun and super snuggly. He was like a cookie right out of the oven, and every morning was like Christmas morning with him. I couldn’t wait to unwrap each day with him. He was a two-and-a-half-year-old baby boy. You’d be hard-pressed to find much in the world better than that! He was curious, playful, spunky, loving, fun, precious and beautiful, and life with him was amazing. He was sunshine and a cool breeze kissing my face with life, and when I lost him I was utterly crushed and completely devastated. But God picked me up and gave me peace through understanding and hope for the things of the Spirit — things such as eternity, Heaven, God Himself and ultimately a greater understanding of who God is and why He allows such great suffering in the world.
Q: You write about the inexplicable moment of peace you experienced at the hospital shortly before you learned there was no hope for Bronner. Could you tell us about that experience?
I fell on my face in prayer as soon as we entered the emergency room, begging for Bronner’s life. I had been praying nonstop almost the same thing over and over and over again. “Please, God, don’t take him. Please give him back. Please, God. Please, please give him back to me.” I would look up at the heart monitor to see if they had gotten a pulse, then I would bow my head again to pray. That last time I looked up hoping for anything but that straight line, and then I bowed over a chair. I remember a nurse taking my hand and an instantaneous exchange with our eyes that seemed to contain all the grief and hurt and sympathy one woman could muster for another. As I closed my eyes again, I felt something rising up from deep within me. It was like I was hearing it in my mind, but I consciously said it. “Lord, not my will, but thine, O Lord, be done.” A peace came over me that transcends understanding. I stood up, looked at the doctor in charge and heard him say, “We’re going to have to stop.” I nodded my head and said OK. I’ve known from the beginning this was God’s will because that was what the Holy Spirit had prayed for and through me, but what took me a long time to figure out was why. Why would God will this? That is what my book is about.
Q: How has your marriage been impacted by your loss?
It’s given it weight. Our marriage is ultimately more important than it ever had been before. I needed Rick like I needed water. He was our rock, and he knew it. He had to hold it together so he could hold us all up. There’s a myth that has been debunked that the death of a child causes divorce. That is completely opposite of the truth. Studies show that people who have lost children divorce at significantly lower rates than the average. That’s because shared pain between two people bonds them like nothing else can. I remember that night in the hospital waiting on Rick to arrive. He was speaking at a youth retreat in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, when it happened. We had friends who flew him home as quickly as possible. My pastor, my music minister and his wife, and three other friends waited with me at the hospital, and they were ready with answers for me. I had lots of questions, but what I remember most about that wait was the uneasiness in the room. We were all distraught, but when Rick finally walked through those doors, calmness walked in with him. His presence put everyone at ease, especially me. His eyes went immediately to me, and he walked over and wrapped me up in his arms. I felt safe with him.
Q: How did you walk your other children through the loss of their brother? What advice would you offer to parents going through a similar situation right now?
We walked them through it Biblically. We taught them everything God was teaching us: the truth that even though bad things happen in this world now, it won’t always be like this. Jesus will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death will be no more. My children know they’re going to see their brother again. They know an eternity with God is far better than any pain or suffering or hurt they have to endure in this life. They know their pain will end and a reward is coming that surpasses anything they’ve ever experienced before. My children know love never ends and Bronner loves them now just as much as he ever did. He remembers them just like they remember him. They look forward to that time just as Rick and I do.
To parents of children who have lost a sibling I would say, “They’re going to be just fine.” Children are naturally trusting. They trust God. They trust you to take care of them, and they need you. They are worth living for. I know it hurts to lose a child. I believe it must be one of the worst things a person could possibly have to endure in life, but I encourage you to gain strength and understanding from God so you can still be the parent you need to be for those you have left.
Q: When you had the pool installed in your backyard, you prayed God would not allow anyone to drown there and that He would use it for His glory. In what way did God answer that prayer differently?
Early on in this journey, as I was trying to understand God’s purpose behind the pain, I was desperately crying out for Him to tell me, “Why the children?” I said to God, “There is nothing worse than losing a child. I know You lost your Son, but You got Him back after three days! Three days!” I heard that still, small voice answer in my spirit, “But what about the others? They’re all mine. You’re going to get this glorious reunion with your child, but I won’t get that with all of mine.” I understood in that moment that God was using my temporary separation from Bronner to bring some of His wandering children back to Him forever. Maybe for the first time ever, I had compassion for God. God doesn’t delight in death — not real death, the kind that sends souls away from their maker forever. I decided I could do this for Him because I love Him and because I know what it’s like to lose a child. If I can help bring one, just one, back to Him, then I will. I know I’m not the only brokenhearted parent in this equation. My heavenly Father is a brokenhearted parent too, and He longs to bring all of us home. There’s room for us all in our Father’s heart. That’s why He waits. He’s gathering His children and creating for Himself a people who choose the good portion, the bread and living water, the Lord.
Q: How do you answer people when they ask you why God allowed Bronner to drown?
He did it for the lost souls that would found through it. He did it for the church: to provide a message that would ignite a fire within to be about God’s business in this world and in this generation because the time is drawing near. He did it to refine us, to humble us, to make us see our need for God, to make us holy, to create in us fearlessness and boldness for God and the things of God. He did it to bring us into a closer relationship with and an understanding of Himself, to fit us for Heaven and to clothe us in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. He did it for love.
Q: After all your family has been through, do you still believe God is good?
I know Him to be. He was good before. He was amazing in the midst of it, and He is my constant and closest friend, my desire, my hope, my everything right now, today and forevermore. He changed me for the good by taking my son. I’m no longer in love with the world, and that is freeing. I’m unchained from the world with half my heart already in Heaven, and a person like that doesn’t live any longer for the shiny things the world has to offer. Instead a person like that lives for the will of God, for His delight and approval. I seek His joy, not my own. I live to make Him smile. That’s why I wrote this book: to please Him, to bring Him glory and to help people see His goodness and His purpose behind it all. People look around and see how bleak things can get on earth and wonder, “Where is God in all of this?” I’ll tell you where He is. He’s right in the middle of it. He stands with outstretched hands, waiting and saying, “Come to me, all who are weary, and I will give you rest. I will never leave you nor forsake you. Trust me. It won’t always be like this.”
Posted 3/17/16 at 1:14 PM | Audra Jennings
Fans of Christian fiction will find an unlikely heroine within the pages of New York Times best-selling author Terri Blackstock’s latest release, If I Run (Zondervan/February 16, 2016/ ISBN: 978-0310332435/$15.99). Wanting to feature a heroine different from what some readers might be used to, Blackstock’s protagonist, Casey Cox, isn’t a Christian, and when her life becomes complicated, she resorts to lies — even crime — to survive. While Casey is broken in many ways, Blackstock admits she is one of her favorite characters from any of her books.
Q: How does a Christian book feature a fugitive from the law, who changes her identity and lies about everything?
I wanted to feature a character who is an unbeliever, who has nowhere to turn when life crashes down around her. Casey Cox is one of my favorite characters in any of the books I’ve written because she’s complex and simple at the same time. When she’s accused of committing a heinous murder and knows her DNA is all over the crime scene, she decides to run. I wanted Casey to have a growth arc through the series that shows her journey from faithlessness to faith, and that allowed me to do some interesting things with her. She does lie and break some laws to protect herself, but I think readers will realize lost people act lost. They don’t always make the decisions Christians might make. So that’s not such a shocking thing.
Q: Why do Christians so often seem shocked when lost people act lost?
Maybe it’s because we know sin and bad choices wreak such destruction in people’s lives. We wish they understood God’s values are for our good, that His commandments keep us safe and enable us to live lives of peace. But more often than not, it’s because we’re judgmental, and we think people should just behave better. However, if they don’t have an underlying reason to behave better, why would they? The only reason Christians have any hope of living righteous lives is that the Holy Spirit empowers us to. And still some of us don’t.
Q: Did anything specific, or even personal, inspire the storyline of If I Run?
I’m just a fan of the movie The Fugitive in which the hero has to run from the law while he tries to find his wife’s real killer. I wanted to explore a female fugitive who has to keep running, starting over in new places and trying to forge a life when she knows everywhere she lands will just be temporary. It gave me a lot of great opportunities for her to get into situations that were fun to write about and I hope were compelling for the reader.
Q: Casey struggles with her view of God. Why is it so difficult for Casey to believe in God?
Casey found her father dead when she was 12. Police ruled it a suicide, but she knew it wasn’t. She felt an intense sense of injustice, and those authority figures were very negative to her. She also hasn’t had much of a Christian influence in her life, so she wasn’t trained to look to God for answers. She’s just always had to look for them on her own.
Q: It can be tempting at times to rely only on ourselves. How do you remain trusting, but wise, in a world full of unreliable and even duplicitous people?
In Casey’s case, she’s learned to stay quiet about the things in her life that trouble her. She feels like it could be dangerous to vent about the things that don’t make sense in her life. She feels that silence is what will protect her family and friends. The murder of her best friend has proven that to be true, but now Casey is accused of his murder.
Q: Casey contemplates taking her life after she’s forced to run after her friend’s death. What would you say to someone who thinks suicide would be the easy way out of their problems?
When life gets unbearable, suicide is often what seems like an easy answer. But in Casey’s case, she pictures her mother and sister at her funeral, unable to be comforted, and people performing her psychological autopsy. She says, “Taking my own life would be too selfish. Too many dominoes would fall, too many people would be impacted, and not just for a day or a week or a month, but for years . . . for decades. You can’t just check out and think it will all be over. It won’t be over for anyone who loves you. You’ll only leave them to run after the pieces that scatter in the angry wind. You’ll leave them desperately trying to solve the problems you wouldn’t. . . all while plugging their own wounds. Even if you’re like me, single without children, you could impact generations. Is quick relief worth it? No. I realize it isn’t. I’d rather take the pain myself so they won’t have to.”
Q: The investigator in the novel, Dylan Roberts, is an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, who is suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. How does PTSD impact his life and his search for Casey?
Dylan is 30 years old and has been working in the Criminal Investigations Division of the Army, but because he’s a survivor of some IED explosions that killed several of his buddies, he has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Due to his condition, he’s been discharged from the Army, and he’s had trouble getting another job. The family of the murder victim hires him to find Casey, the fugitive they think killed their son. As experienced as he is at solving crimes, his personal problems sometimes get in the way. He reacts intensely to loud noises, has nightmares that keep him from wanting to sleep at night, is depressed, has survivor’s guilt, and deals with a number of other things. But I really like him because he doesn’t see himself as a victim. He’s a Christian who’s trying to overcome his problems through his faith, but sometimes they’re just bigger than he is.
Q: When Dylan begins to understand Casey’s background, he realizes she has PTSD, too. How does this intersection of their lives help them to relate to each other?
When Dylan learns about Casey finding her father dead at the age of 12, presumably from suicide, he begins to relate to her. The more he gets into her head, the more alike he realizes they are. He thinks she may be suffering from PTSD, as well, and he wonders if that is what made her snap and kill her friend, even though nothing in her history suggests she would do something like that.
Q: You must have done a lot of research about PTSD. What was the most surprising thing you learned about it?
I was shocked to learn how many of our veterans are coming home from war with PTSD and how it manifests itself in their lives. Triggers, such as loud noises, can take them right back to that initial situation that caused it, and their brain and emotions react as if it was happening all over again. If they don’t get the help they need for it, it can impact their relationships, emotions and thoughts for the rest of their lives. We need to take better care of the people who are willing to lay their lives down for us and give them all the therapy they need. There are treatments that are successful in helping them. It’s a wound that is as deep as a physical wound, and it should be treated just as aggressively so they can live normal lives.
Q: You’ve written more than 70 books in your career, but only half of them have been Christian titles. Why did you make the leap in 1994 from the general market to the Christian one?
I was a Christian when I started writing romance novels in the general market for publishers such as Harlequin and Silhouette, but I told myself I would only write clean love stories. But those books didn’t sell that well, so in the interest of fame and fortune, I began to compromise. I added a little more sex and a little more, trying to justify it to myself and to God. But after 32 novels and 13 years, I found it had taken a serious toll on my spiritual life. I wound up repenting and telling God I didn’t want to write another book that didn’t glorify Him. I had to buy back some contracts, but I eventually found my way to the Christian market. I started over with my real name — Terri Blackstock — and tried writing suspense novels, which were what I was reading at the time. I wanted to see if I could incorporate a suspenseful plot with faith-based elements that pointed people to Christ rather than giving them stumbling blocks. I sold my first series to Zondervan, which was part of HarperCollins, and I’ve been writing for them ever since.
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Posted 3/16/16 at 5:18 PM | Audra Jennings
How do you continue to walk in grace and faith when your life turns out differently than how you dreamed? The late Kara Tippetts' example, as captured in her final book, And It Was Beautiful: Celebrating Life in the Midst of the Long Good-Bye (David C Cook/March 1, 2016/ISBN: 978-0781413527/$14.99), is a beacon for all who find themselves in the throes of the "hard" in life.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, this young wife and mom began a journey of learning how to cling to hope even while battling intense physical and emotional pain. She began her blog, Mundane Faithfulness, hoping to bring the truth about suffering to those who struggle. Soon, thousands around the world were reading her words, gleaning hope and comfort from Tippetts' experience and graceful wisdom.
Now, a year after her passing in March 2015, And It Was Beautiful brings a collection of Tippetts' insights. While ultimately answering the question of how one dies in a way that will glorify his or her maker, Tippetts' final book reminds readers whether they are in the midst of mundane moments or dark days, Jesus is always there, life is surprisingly beautiful . . . and God is forever good.
Life without a Bucket List
I can confidently say that I don't live with a long list of things I want to do, see, or complete before I'm done in this place. I carried a dream for years of having a farm. I was in love with all things Wendell Berry. I could picture it, the life of routine created by the land and its rhythms. But beyond that I've never longed for having a list and checking things off. I'm happy with my old cars, my simple wardrobe, my lack of fancy things and vacations. Don't get me wrong, I do love a good concert, but I also love an organic dance party in my kitchen. I love great food, but I also love a hot dog over the fire pit in my backyard. I love a hike in the mountains, but I also love a walk around the block with my people.
Last week, when I heard I may have another long road to travel on this journey, I turned to Jason and cried. I told him how day after day this place is losing its grip on me. Driving down the street this place sometimes feels so slutty, so wanting my money without a care for my heart. Billboards blare at me what to buy, what to think, how to vote. But the tie that binds me here is relationships. Sickness makes those bonds more real, more important. It's people who grip my heart.
Suffering has a way of exposing our theology, certainly our practical theology, where what we believe about God collides with where we live. My heart always hurts a little when someone hears my story and begins to question God's goodness. I have found that suffering makes my faith more childlike, more simple. Our ideas of God are not necessarily made bigger or more grandiose through suffering, but they are simplified as we wade through the unknown of what comes next. Last week, in that unknown, I was smooching on Lake and the thought hit me that I won't be around to help him navigate his first heartbreak. I was in a public place and I nearly lost my footing because of the fear that gripped me in that moment. I looked up and saw my growing girls and was almost suffocated by the thought of who will help them during the awkward years of puberty. Shouldn't it be me? That's the way it's supposed to be, right? Can't I stay and be here for them when they need me?
The truth is none of us know the length of our lives. So we pray for daily bread and say thank you when it comes. For today I have a little boy who will cross the room to give me a hug. I have a baby girl who gives me ten kisses when I ask for five. I have a preteen who still holds my hand in public, in front of her friends even. I have a second born who loves to tell me every tiny detail of her day. I have a guy who makes coffee just like I like it. A bucket list? No, I don't need one. I'm so rich. It's relationships that matter. And for me, paying attention to the precious gift of today is the only thing on my list.
Kara Tippetts' life was dramatically changed in 2012 when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. She shared her journey on her popular blog, www.mundanefaithfulness.com. She was the author of The Hardest Peace and the co-author of Just Show Up. Since her death in March 2015, her husband, Jason, is parenting their four children and leading the church they founded in Colorado Springs, CO.
Posted 3/15/16 at 11:08 AM | Audra Jennings
Family relationships are never easy, and loss, grief and greed can compound normal everyday tensions. Ruth Logan Herne offers hope for hurting families with the messages contained in her new book, Back in the Saddle(Multnomah Books/March 15, 2016/ISBN: 978-1601427762/$9.99). Colt Stafford grew up with resentment burned into his soul. His mother told him to trust God with all his heart, but when Colt lost her to a tragic car wreck, he decided if God existed, he sure wasn’t anyone who could be trusted. His dad, Sam, was a power-loving, money-hungry man building a beef empire, but his ambition left little for his son.
It wasn’t too difficult for Colt, once grown, to shrug off his cowboy boots for shiny Manhattan loafers and a promising career on Wall Street. When stock market manipulations send his career as a hedge fund manager plummeting, he’s left financially strapped and decides to return to the sprawling Double S ranch in Gray’s Glen, Washington. Herne painted Colt’s experiences from what she had learned of real-life stock market woes. “I have two sons living in Manhattan. I watched their brilliant friends get rolled under a bus with the crash of 2008, and examining the underpinnings of what went wrong, I saw an area ripe for character development.”
Colt may be broke, but he’s not yet broken. As he limps home, he doesn’t expect to be greeted on arrival by his dad’s new house manager: a tough but beautiful stranger with a loaded gun pointed at his chest. Colt senses there’s more to Angelina Morales than meets the eye, and he’s determined to find out what she’s hiding . . . and why. Meanwhile, his younger brother, Nick, has been Dad’s right-hand man for years and isn’t thrilled with Colt inserting himself into Double S affairs. As Wall Street recovers, will Colt succumb to the call of the financial district’s wealth and power, or will he find the courage to stay in the saddle for good?
Herne encourages readers that family tensions, while never easy, can be more easily solved than one thinks — and it’s important to mend those fences. “A dear friend of mine once said holding grudges in families is one of the most grievous of sins because how can we expect to change the world if we can’t forgive one another? I’ve always held that close to my heart,” Herne admits. “Forgive, put a smile on your face and move on.”
Ultimately the lessons learned in Back in the Saddle are lessons for everyone: that disruptions to the status quo might be a reminder of God’s presence and the imperfections in life are sometimes pretty perfect after all.
Readers will want to keep their eyes peeled for more in the Double S Ranch series, with book two, Home on the Range, releasing in October of this year.
About the Author
Ruth Logan Herne is the bestselling author of more than 30 full-length books and novellas, with more than half a million books in print. She’s written 15 Love Inspired contemporary novels, and Back in the Saddle is the first book in her new western romance Double S Ranch series. Herne is also a founding member of Seekerville, a popular writing collective blog.
The 2010 Carol Award finalist and Holt Medallion finalist is a self-described country girl who loves the big city. Life is always interesting for the mother who raised six kids through various levels of Ivy League education while waitressing in a Greek diner. Herne lives on a farm in upstate New York with her husband, and when she’s not writing books, she can be found baking bread for their roadside stand or gathering eggs from her henhouse.