Archives for category: Christianity

Sharon Garlough BrownEditor’s note: This is the final piece in a series of four author interviews.

I first fell in love with Sharon Garlough Brown’s story in Sensible Shoes – a work of fiction full of spiritual truths. That book introduces readers to four strangers who meet at a spiritual retreat center and begin to learn the value of community and of spiritual practices like walking a labyrinth and praying the examen.

Hannah is a pastor on a forced sabbatical. Meg is a widow haunted by her past and struggling with an empty nest. Mara has experienced a lifetime of rejection and now is in a difficult marriage. And Charissa is a graduate student who desperately wants to do what is right.

Their stories continue in Two Steps Forward, which releases in October and offers plenty of truth of its own.

I feel like your characters in Sensible Shoes became my friends, and I’ve been wondering about how they are all doing. Are they all included in the sequel? If so, do they share the spotlight like they did before – or does this book focus in on one character in particular?

Yes, Two Steps Forward follows the stories of each of the four main characters in Sensible Shoes. It picks up right where Sensible Shoes ends, with Meg on the plane to England.

In your first book, we saw how each character had struggles and spiritual lessons. What are some of the issues we’ll see them deal with in the sequel?

One of the differences with Two Steps Forward is that the characters are no longer participating in a retreat together. So the question is, what will they remember (or forget) about what they’ve learned, especially when life falls apart? The primary theme of Two Steps Forward is persevering in hope and trusting that somehow in the midst of the mess, Jesus comes to reveal his presence. Since transformation is a slow and non-linear process, you’ll see the characters wrestling with some of the same issues they struggled with in Sensible Shoes: perfectionism, anxiety, rejection, grief.

One of the things I enjoyed about Sensible Shoes was that it combined a great fiction piece with solid spiritual practices that I could put to use in my daily life. Is there more of that in this book?

Yes! Though Two Steps Forward does not contain teaching handouts like Sensible Shoes, the spiritual disciplines are embedded and integrated into the story. You’ll get to watch how the characters are practicing the disciplines they’ve learned. A study guide is included at the back of the book, with opportunity to engage with reflection questions and spiritual disciplines.

Emily FreemanEditor’s note: This is the third in a series of four author interviews.

If I thought I could get away with it, I’d type amen after each of Emily Freeman’s answers. Because this author? She gets it. Her latest book is Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World. It releases on Aug. 18, which is of course a Tuesday.

What’s the message of your newest book?

My newest book is called Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World. Tuesday offers the gift of now, of seeing how the kingdom of God hides in small things – beneath the pile of laundry and woven into the dinner conversation. This feels counter-intuitive in my world. In our culture and even in the church, we always seem to praise the Big and Important: the growing congregation, the rising star, the giant donation, or the big and amazing dream. But Jesus said the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, he said God’s people are like salt, he said his kingdom belongs to the children.

Growing congregations, rising stars, giant donations, and big dreams are great! But the truth is that isn’t where most of us live. The Bible says we are not to despise the days of small beginnings. I admit, that sounds lovely and offers relief maybe. But when you have to actually live the small beginnings, when you have to get up every morning for what feels like an eternal Tuesday, it’s hard to not despise that. Too often my soul feels held hostage by hustle – which basically looks like me trying to hustle my way out of the Tuesday moments and grab on to something that looks more like a Friday night.

I sense Jesus inviting me to release my obsession with building a life and trust in the life Christ is building within me. And in my life the way he’s doing that is one small moment at a time.

In a world where we spend hundreds and hundreds on children’s birthday parties and create elaborate prom-posals, how can the small moments compete?

Prom-posals! Ha! How have I never heard that term before? Yes, it’s so true that it seems like the small-moments are over-looked and I understand why. Who would choose small if there’s potential for big? I guess my only answer to the question “how can the small moments compete” is that they can’t. Which is precisely the point. I think a lot of us are actually tired of competing – we live in this world of hustle, hurry, produce, deliver and maybe we’re successful at that. Sometimes. But beneath the surface, at the core of who we are, I believe our souls are longing for space, for margin, and for rest.

We might be able to sustain this pace for a while, but no one can do it for a lifetime. At least not in a healthy way. I don’t think it’s wrong to go all out or to celebrate or achieve in big ways. What I do think is that it’s also important to remember that Jesus came as a baby and not as a king. And that the kingdom of God shows up in ways we might not expect – in the whisper, in the seed, in the child.

3.What role do these small moments play in our contentment?

I’m still learning this. But one thing I’ve noticed in myself is that if the light of a Tuesday morning candle isn’t bright enough to light the room, a spotlight won’t be either. If the regular work I do on a Tuesday doesn’t feel important, I will become addicted to comparison and forget compassion. If the people in my life now aren’t sacred companions for me, I realize I’m competing with everyone and connecting with no one.

Jesus became less and arrived small and keeping company with him, celebrating my smallness in his presence rather than despising it – this brings a surprising freedom that seems impossible. I don’t always choose the small way, but contentment is a natural result when I do.

Cathy GohlkeEditor’s note: This is the second in a series of four author interviews.

I’ve enjoyed three of Cathy Gohlke’s novels and am anxious to read Secrets She Kept, which releases in September. Read her answers below for a sense of why she’s one of my favorites.

I know you do extensive research for your novels and this is your second one that is set in Nazi Germany. What is it that intrigues you about that time period? What is it that we can learn? 

It has fascinated, even frightened me that an entire nation was swept into a passion while persecuting an entire group of human beings. Why didn’t more Germans stand up to Hitler and his degrading Nuremberg laws? How did intelligent people step onto such slippery moral slopes, losing their moral and spiritual compass, ultimately losing their ability to stop the monster they’d enabled? Can such superior racist attitudes be prevented in the future, and what are the warning signs? Do we see them in our society? If the answer is yes, what can we, as individuals, do about that?

One of my favorite things about your writing is that your characters struggle with faith and mature in their understanding of God. What are the struggles in this book? 

Secrets She Kept is my first time split novel.

Lieselotte, the young woman in Nazi Germany, needs love, acceptance and a purpose, but the cost for each of these is greater than she knows. When everything is taken from her, who will she be and what will she believe?

Hannah, Lieselotte’s grown daughter of the 1970s, longs for a connection with her estranged mother. Only after her mother’s death does she discover her family’s tragic wartime past. Hannah struggles to understand their actions and is desperate to redeem the tragedy of those actions. But, can any person redeem the deeds of another? Can one person forgive the deeds of another? Must children bear the consequences for the sins of their parents?

What makes this book different than your last book – and from most other books about Nazi Germany? 

Saving Amelie probed the consequences of the eugenics movement popular in Nazi Germany and around the world. It also asked why the church and German people did not stand against Hitler. 

Secrets She Kept explores questions of guilt, redemption and forgiveness of enemies as well as of those with whom we are in close relationship. It asks, how do survivors of war reclaim their lives? How do we respond when we, or someone in our family, have been responsible for something tragic—something that destroyed the life of another? These questions bring the aftermath and the results of war crimes and desperate acts home to us. Secrets She Kept reveals that the root causes of war do not disappear with victory or defeat, and when a nation is conquered, its ideologies do not necessarily or immediately change. Consequences of war cannot be swept away as if they do not exist—not in the current generation nor the next.

Sherry GoreEditor’s note: This is the first in a series of four author interviews.

The Plain Choice: A True Story of Choosing to Live an Amish Life tells how Sherry Gore, who moved several times across the country looking for a new beginning, finally found one – in faith.

Gore’s book, which releases next month, walks the reader through her difficult childhood, her six months of homelessness and her eventual focus on living for God.

She graciously tells us more:

What do you hope readers take away from the difficult parts of your story?

All my life I knew God was real. I could see Him working in the lives of others. But my feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth were overwhelming. I couldn’t see an end to my emotional pain. The bad choices I continually made in the past left me thinking I’d missed any chance there was for me to ever have a personal relationship with God. I thought I was unforgivable. I had no faith. What I learned when I did give myself over to God – and every day since – is that His grace is powerful enough to redeem anyone. Including me.

Sometimes the Amish life – and even just choosing to live more simply – seems so far away. What are some steps people can take to begin to shift priorities?

Living with a sense of community in your heart can do wonders for your psyche. This is easily achieved by turning our attention away from things that drain us of our time, and giving more of ourselves – be it a listening ear, or offering a helping hand where needed for others. … Being present for others is what makes a community.

How common is it for an adult to join the Amish? What was it that the Amish offered that spoke the most to your heart?

Hosting visitors is fairly common in the Mennonite church. Actually joining the church is not. Most of the letters and emails I receive from those seeking the Plain community entail a desire for a lifestyle that appears romantic and ideal. Once the “romantic” aspect of living Plain wears off – this often happens in six months or less – they’re left feeling unsatisfied. The path that led me to the Plain church was any but romantic. My discovery that there were people in this world who were living a life parallel to my own (based on my own bible reading and convictions) was what set my search in motion. Once there, I knew I was in God’s will. I’m exactly where God wants me; in a place where I can fellowship with like-minded individuals allowing me to flourish in my relationship with Him every day.

When I go in Christian bookstores the shelves are full of novels that feature the Amish. Why do you think people are drawn to that subject?

I think the initial attraction to Amish fiction is the longing readers have for a simpler life. … I believe what keeps the readers coming back for more is that most Amish fiction books are written with wholesome, clean storylines, and have characters with surprisingly every day, true-to-life problems readers can identify with. At the same time they offer a look into the lives of a culture not readily understood by most people in society. Amish fiction is here to stay.

IMG_4055I walked in to the church a bit nervous mainly because I’m used to the process of writing where I can cross my words out and try again before anyone knows my mistake. But these were women who had read my words in the newspaper already. They wanted to hear them. From me.

We talked for the better part of an hour and then the questions came. Some about my family. Others about my writing process. Then, at the end, we talked books. They wanted specifics. Titles. Names of authors. These were women who read, and read seriously.

They are the inspiration for what you’ll see in my columns for the month of July. I’ll share three books that are next in my personal queue today, and then each of the following four weeks I’ll share interviews with authors of new books that I know you’ll really enjoy.

Today my bookmark is on page 10 of Longing for Paris: One Woman’s Search for Joy, Beauty, and Adventure – Right Where She Is. It’s written by Sarah Mae and releases in August. It promises to be “for the woman who knows she can’t uproot her life to discover herself and her longings, but who desperately wants to uncover them so she can get unstuck.”

Next in line for me is Brave Enough: Getting Over our Fears, Flaws, and Failures to Live Bold and Free by Nicole Unice. It also releases in August and asks tough questions like, “Is fear holding you back from becoming your best self?”

“Bravery doesn’t have to mean cliff diving out of your comfort zone,” the synopsis says. “Life is about being brave enough – for yourself, for God, for your tasks, and for your calling – right where He’s placed you.”

After that, I’m hoping to start reading the Believe series by Randy Frazee. The premise is to encourage readers to think, act and be like Jesus. The study includes scripture, life application questions and books for all ages so an entire congregation (or family) can work through it together.

What are you reading? Remember I’m hosting the Simply Faithful Book Club starting Oct. 8 so email me at markettagregory@yahoo.com to share your book recommendations.

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