Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Read the First 3 Chapters of Pearl in the Sand for Free!!

Good Morning, Readers!

I have some exciting news: Tessa Afshar's debut novel, Pearl in the Sand, comes out September 1st and you can read the first 3 chapters for free starting then!

Here's what you need to do to take part in this special preview:

1) Go to Tessa's website under the "FREE DOWNLOADS" tab and sign up with your email.  This will also give you access to some other exclusive features from Tessa. 

2) Starting September 1st, you will receive an email with an excerpt from the book! Over the course of a few weeks, you will receive the first 3 chapters of Pearl in the Sand, delivered straight to your inbox.

If you don't know about Tessa's novel yet, read the description below.  Hope you enjoy!!

Can a Canaanite harlot who has made her livelihood by looking desirable to men make a fitting wife for one of the leaders of Israel? Shockingly, the Bible’s answer is yes.

Pearl in the Sand tells Rahab’s untold story. Rahab lives in a wall; her house is built into the defensive walls of the City of Jericho. Other walls surround her as well—walls of fear, rejection, unworthiness.

A woman with a wrecked past; a man of success, of faith …of pride; a marriage only God would conceive! Through the heartaches of a stormy relationship, Rahab and Salmone learn the true source of one another’s worth and find healing in God.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Eat Pray Love: A Critique of the Memoir

By: Stephanie S. Smith, blog editor

Last night my husband and I settled into a movie theatre, surrounding ourselves with middle-aged women, some by themselves, with a friend, or with a whole book club, to watch the film rendition of popular memoir, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia.

I was skeptical about the movie for the same reasons I am skeptical about the book, but looking forward to a sweeping visual tour of Italy, India, and Indonesia to which the main character travels throughout the story.  I also banked on the fact that Julia Roberts (playing author Liz Gilbert) would show less of the self-focus that made the book distasteful to me.  And it's true, the film omitted much of the self-saturated theme that Liz Gilbert infuses her manuscript with. 

I cracked the cover on this one several months before, loving the concept of insightful living through travel and the introduction where author Elizabeth Gilbert masterfully structures her book around the beautiful overarching metaphor of prayer beads. I ate it up.  But alas, it went downhill from there.  Her writing is impressive and eloquent, her cultural observations are sharp and fascinating, but the personal journey of Gilbert through depression to self-actualization was hard to swallow.

Perhaps the most common critique of Gilbert's book is its obsession with the self.  In and of itself, I do not think it is terribly self-centered to travel as a way of processing and healing, or to write a memoir about it.  I think dedicating your year to the search of God and learning about yourself in the process is actually an admirable quest, but Gilbert blends the self and divinity in a way that I found disturbing.  She allows incredible overlap between God and the self, two separate identities that she views as one. 

Gilbert's idea of God is "an experience of supreme love", which sounds about right, but sounds plain creepy when applied to yourself since you and god are the same being.  To love yourself, forgive yourself, and do what's best for yourself are the primary morals of the book, and God is portrayed as a tool or a resource in the process.  Gilbert's god is so tangled with her inner world that she hears her own voice as divine communication.  There are scenes where Gilbert gives her id a pep talk saying things like, "I will never leave you. I love you." In fact, she has a notebook where she writes two-party dialogue between....who knows? Gilbert writes, "Maybe the voice I am reaching for is God, or maybe it's my guru speaking through me, or maybe it's the angel who was assigned to my case, or maybe it's my Higher Self...." Whatever it is, Gilbert pinpoints its location as "within." She writes, to sum up the fruit of her spiritual experiences, "God dwells within you, as you."

This self-stuck focus reads more like therepy than spirituality.  Not to mention that it dismantles any possibility for relationship, for community, and for intercommunication.  If the Highest Being in the universe resides in your very chest, isolation would be the natural course for everyone.  There would be little need for reaching out; our souls would become ingrown.

By the end of the book, Gilbert has transformed from a depressed, divorced, depleted woman into a self-actualized woman who has not only discovered who she is, recovered from all her losses, and learned to love life again, but she has found a new man as well who she eventually marries.  After all this, she insists, "I was the administrator of my own rescure" and states that it was most likely her Higher Self, her enlightened self who had already made it through all these enriching experiences, who had been the voice of comfort and strength  when she was falling apart.  She would like to take the credit for whatever grace she has been given. 

Probably the reason this strikes me as so conceited and presumptuous is because I so often do this myself, patting myself on the back for something I think I have earned and forgetting to thank God who is the Source of all the goodness in my life.  As Christians, we know we are not able to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  Grace is essential for living, we are ever in need of rescue, and a dialogue with the Savior can truly save us in a way our self-soothing strategies never could.

What did you think about the book and/or the movie? What flaws did you find in it, and what redemption? I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Interview with Tessa Afshar, author of Pearl in the Sand

What are some of your favorite books?

Jane Eyre is hard to beat; it has everything—intrigue, romance, God, a critique of Christianity gone bad, and Mr. Rochester. Anything by Jane Austen. Most things by Dickens. The Narnia Chronicles; The Lord of the Rings Trilogy; Busman’s Honeymoon; The Princess and Curdie; To Kill a Mocking Bird. O my gosh, I think I’m running out of room; this is tragic. There’s so much more…

What’s your favorite food?

Steak and fries and anything my father makes. But don’t tell my mom; she’ll kill me.

What do you do for fun?

Hang out with close friends. Read. Read while hanging out with close friends. Watch DVDs, especially BBC period pieces. Did you know they cost around $25,000 a minute to produce? One feels obligated to watch just so the money isn’t wasted.

What’s your definition of close friends?

When you go to the bathroom, your stomach isn’t tied in knots in fear that they might hear something. That, and being able to share absolutely everything in your heart and knowing that you’ll be loved and accepted at the end of the conversation no matter what you say.

Did you always want to be a writer or is it a new desire?

I grew up in a culture that reveres poetry and literature. Living in that atmosphere, it was easy to fall in love with books. Enraptured by stories, I found myself writing them from an early age. What can be more fun than making up your own world?

What circumstances led you to write the story of Rahab?

This novel started as a short essay on the walls of Jericho. I was fascinated by the way this symbol of unassailable strength was in the end breached and vanquished. It seemed like such a sign of hope to me: a reminder that what may seem to be an impossible barrier can indeed be conquered with God.

Then during a visit to Florence, I noticed that Ponte Vecchio—the famed bridge straddling the Arno River for almost seven hundred years—had tiny shops built right into its walls. They bulged out of the sides of the bridge like odd-shaped barnacles sticking out of the hull of a ship. Walking over this bridge reminded me of the story of Rahab. The Bible tells us that she lived in the bowels of a wall too. Her house was built right into the defensive walls of Jericho. I wondered what it was like to live in a wall as I crossed Ponte Vecchio. Then I realized that we all know a little something about that. Most of us have to contend with walls in the interior places of our souls. Walls built on foundations of pride, fear, rejection, loss; walls that keep others at bay and shield us from drawing close enough to get hurt again. Suddenly I was hooked. I wanted to write about walls, about living in them, about pulling them down. I wanted to write about Rahab.

Were there any surprises as you started writing the novel?

Originally, I wrote the first three chapters of Pearl in the Sand in the first-person point of view. It wasn’t a deliberate strategy so much as a fortunate mistake! Later I was told that publishing houses preferred a third-person point of view novel from debut novelists and rewrote the POV accordingly. But writing those first chapters from the point of view of Rahab really helped me get into her psyche. As a writer, it is important for me to know my character’s motives; to know her wounds and strengths. To know the lies she believes about herself and the defenses she has erected because of those lies. So those three initial chapters were a perfect way of getting to know Rahab. She became real to me.

What type of research did you have to do in order to write a convincing novel?

Researching for historical novels can be tricky. Everything from language to customs to food and clothes has to be researched. There are so many things we don’t know about this period. For example, Rahab calls her father “Abba.” The truth is that we have no idea how a Canaanite child would informally address her parents. We have some ideas in terms of other ancient languages with the same root – like “Av” in Ugaritic or “Abba” in Aramaic. So I chose the more familiar Aramaic form, still used by Jewish children in Israel today.

We have literally no archaeological knowledge of Israel’s life during their wanderings. What information we have, comes from the Bible. But we do have archaeological evidence from Canaan and we think we know where Jericho was located. So I obtained information where I could, left it blank where possible, and made up the rest!

Did your background help with the writing of this book?

Having lived in the Middle East for the first thirteen years of my life, I had a first-hand sense of customs and topography, which I tried to weave into the atmosphere of the novel. It’s not that Twentieth Century Iran is the equivalent of life in Canaan at the time of its conquest. But there is an indefinable aura—a character to the region that I think surpasses time and cultural changes. I tired to capture that sense in the mood of the novel. For example, whenever we had guests in my childhood home, we walked them out part way at the end of the visit, and waited at the door until they were gone. Not doing so would have been considered very rude. I worked that custom into the storyline to show a glimpse of the importance of hospitality.

What do you hope your readers will take away from Pearl in the Sand?

Pearl in the Sand recounts the tale of a woman whose world was a mess, whose life was a mess, whose heart was a mess, but in encountering God, she found to her shock that her life was salvageable. More than that—it was valuable. She found that she was lovable.  Having worked in women’s ministries for the past twelve years, I have become mindful that many of us need to hear that message.

God started the most significant part of Rahab’s life by literally pulling down the walls of her home around her. As traumatic as that moment must have been for Rahab, she could not have moved on to the future God had planned for her without it. In a parallel pursuit of healing for her broken soul, Pearl in the Sand portrays a God who just as determinedly set out to ruin the walls surrounding Rahab’s heart. I think women today need to know God as the wooer and pursuer of their hearts. They need to know that sometimes the most glorious breakthroughs of life come through a vector of God-ordained pain. More than anything I hope the reader of this story will come away with a deeper glimpse into her own soul, and a more profound understanding of God the Father. Rahab learned to cling to God in the midst of her sorrows, to believe in Him more than she believed in fear. For me, that is one of the most crucial components of faith: becoming a person who gives God full access to every part of one’s soul, even if that access sometimes hurts because it involves the demolition of one’s defensive walls.

This is your debut novel. What are you thinking for the future?

I am currently researching for a novel set in Persia during the time of Nehemiah. The two central characters are fictional, but Nehemiah and several other biblical characters will play important roles in the story. Like Pearl in the Sand, this is a love story that asks some deeper questions about life. I’ve been having a lot fun working on this novel. I’ll tell you where I am stuck: I haven’t been able to find the perfect names for my central characters: a Jewish girl and a Persian nobleman. The Achaemenid Persians had some really long and hard to pronounce names!

Visit Tessa at http://www.tessaafshar.com/ or her facebook page

Monday, August 2, 2010

Father to Son: One Father's Journey from Adopting to Adopted

By: Stephanie S. Smith *Here is my review of Hello, I Love You, as originally published on crosswalk.com!*

The year I graduated high school my parents decided to follow in the growing evangelical trend of foster care, and for the first time I had “brothers”. DJ and Ozley (as whimsical as the wizard he is named for) quickly settled into our hearts and home which they tore through daily with the little-boy thunder of a pair of tumbleweeds. If need be, we would have adopted them in a heartbeat.

Many families in our circle of friends have adopted: a single mother who adopted a disabled child from Kyrgyzstan, a couple who suffered through a miscarriage and later adopted a boy and a girl from South Korea, a crisis pregnancy of a local teenager that turned into one of the biggest blessings a young couple could ever receive. The church is beginning to tell more and more of such stories. Ministries such as Focus on the Family and Family Life Today are championing the need for Christian adoption, driven by the conviction that to bring an otherwise estranged child into a family is to reenact the gospel. To adopt is to practically live out the metaphor of the new birth we have in Christ in our own homes.

My family desired to open our home as such, but with foster car there is always the inevitable fear of letting go. And that summer, this fear hit me head on in the form of a compact vehicle that plowed into my rear passenger door at 50 mph.

DJ could have been in the care that day, joking with me about how funny it would be to have strawberries for noses. Ozley could have been singing in his car seat, “Oh the Lord is good to me…”; his “oh”s like the Fruit Loops he had for breakfast: small and enthusiastic.

But In God’s great mercy, I drove alone. The impact was a tangle of sounds, airbags, smoke. After it hit, I saw that I was generally unharmed and stumbled shaking out of my car. The other driver was young, she gnawed at the tip of her hair. On my way to a wedding, she said. Late for a wedding, her boyfriend said. Her dress was funeral black.

“Can I ask you something?” She ventured, measuring out her syllables as if they were fragile, “Do you have kids? Because I saw the car seats and I…” She did not finish; I felt ready to punch her if she tried. The airbags began to wilt, and between them I saw it: two car seats, vaulted against the wall of the front seats, forced to the floor by the crunched-in passenger door. Hauntingly and blessedly empty, like the third day tomb. This is when I start to cry, broken by relief.

Reading Hello, I Love You: Adventures in Adoptive Fatherhood, I am reminded of the way a child under your care can make your heart skip hourly through cycles of tremendous love, frustration, defeat, and relief. Author Ted Kluck is a sports aficionado and looks the part, yet even a rock like him couldn’t write this true-life narrative without admitting, “There’s nothing like adoption to make a grown man cry. Repeatedly.”

Hello, I Love You is a story about making a family. In Kluck’s own words, “[It] is the story of two Ukrainian adoptions, told from the perspective of a father who desperately wanted children, who felt called to adopt orphans, but who struggled to enjoy the process.” Ted and his wife, Kristen, navigated through foreign customs and culture shock, the painful reality of infertility, and even a few near-death experiences to bring Tristan home with them. Even to their Christian adoption agency, it was the most turbulent adoption process they had ever seen. Then, a few years later, the Klucks went through it all over again to welcome Dima into their family. Yet in all of this, God’s faithfulness marks every turn, threading the events together with the grace of One who risked everything to adopt His church.

Hello, I Love You is not a theological treatise by any means, but throughout his story Kluck unearths parallels between the Father’s love for His children and his own role as a father in his earthly family. In the midst of Ukrainian water outages, foreign cop encounters, and orphanage waiting rooms, Kluck translates this cosmic concept of adoption into terms any father, mother, son or daughter can understand. The result is a heartwarming story that highlights several spiritual truths about adoption.

Adoption Requires a Cost

Kluck’s first chapter is aptly titled “The Price of Love”. Not only would adoption cost Ted and Kristen at the bank, but it would also cost them emotionally. The Klucks were broken time and again by phone calls bearing bad news, thorny government procedures, and the strain of procuring a five-figure sum, but most of all by the fear of losing a child. “I feel like Kristin and I have been to hell and back, twice, through all of this,” Kluck writes; and while this comment sounds tongue-in-cheek, the truth is this is exactly what Christ did to secure our heavenly adoption. Galatians 4:4-6 teaches that God’s Son came “to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.” The cost of the cross culminated in our spiritual adoption, and like the Kluck’s journey to bring home their sons, the cost is far outweighed by the relationship.

Adoption Requires Fatherly Discipline

Ted Kluck is the first to admit that his numerous trips abroad trained him to be a world-class complainer, yet it was his son’s misbehavior that revealed to Kluck his own need for discipline at the hands of His Heavenly Father. “If [Tristan] has been whiny and petulant, I’ve been the same…And God, thankfully, has gotten my attention and forced me into a closer, more sanctified, more joyful relationship with Him as a result.” Scripture affirms this, “The Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes those He accepts as His children” (Hebrews 12:6). The Father’s punishment is not without purpose, rather it is intended for us to “share in His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). And for Kluck, who would not have known the deep faithfulness of God without faith-testing times, this purpose was mercifully achieved.

Adoption Requires New Identity

When the Klucks left the orphanage with little Dima in the stroller, their new son experienced the world outside for the first time. He was spellbound by the city sights, and his delight in buses and street vendors reminded his father of the joy experienced by a person who has been reborn in Christ. No longer bound to a history of abandonment, child illness, and estrangement, Dima now knew love and care from those who called him their own. “As my boys climb on me, smiling and laughing, I’m reminded of the fact that the difficult circumstances in their past…are washed away in light of the new life they have with our family,” Kluck says. Like Tristan and Dima, we have been pulled from darkness and are sensitized to a new world of being in which we are no longer slaves but sons (Galatians 4:7).

The joy of bringing a family together is deep, perhaps because it gives us a glimpse of the glory of the King who went to hell and back to make us His own. Just ask Ted Kluck: “…It was these adoptions, more than any other event or events in our lives, that truly taught us to find our peace, comfort, and identity in Christ.”
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