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FREE on Kindle today and tomorrow! Rebekah Redeemed, by Dianne G. Sagan

PhototasticCollage-2016-01-30-10-44-28Rebekah Redeemed Rereleased by the author with a new cover, this is the story of a shepherd’s daughter who is orphaned and forced to endure a life of servitude. Find out how her life changes after she meets the extraordinary young rabbi from Galilee. http://amzn.to/1Sd8H21

Dianne G. Sagan has been on the Amazon Bestsellers list 45 times for Rebekah Redeemed and The Fisherman’s Wife from her Women of the Bible series.

Get your copy now http://amzn.to/1Sd8H21

“Beautiful and touching …” Kim Black, Pres. Panhandle Professional Writers

“The insight shown in this book amazed me …” Review by J.M. Perhach

“Engaging, authentic, I loved this book …” Review by Katrinka Mayus

Happy New Year

I wish everyone a Happy New Year and hope you enjoyed a joyful Christmas with family and friends. A new year always excites me with possibilities. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I’m a list person. Over the years, my lists haven’t become shorter but I have learned to prioritize and accomplish my goals one bite at a time. I still have a tendency towards long lists. I’m just learning to spread them over a longer period of time and experience more success. Of course, one of those lists is books I want to read.

5159MHuBr2L._AA160_Like many of you, I keep a stack of books by my bed and another by my favorite chair. When I’m not writing, I love to read. I’m currently reading The Residence: Inside the Private World of The White House, by Kate Andersen Brower, a former White House press correspondent. She interviewed some of the staff members who keep the White House and the President’s family residence running. Rather than an expose, it is a delightful book about people who serve and take great pride in their jobs.  It has me laughing, smiling, and remembering. It’s a look at real life behind the scenes of government and diplomacy.

Z is for Zealotry

Roman Soldiers At EasterIn the first century the Zealots were those who fought outwardly against Rome. They tried to start revolutions to overthrow their oppressors, and the usual result was that they were crushed and the survivors crucified. About the time Jesus was a boy the Zealots staged an uprising, and the history resources I’ve used say the roads entering Jerusalem were lined with hundreds of crosses bearing the rebellious contenders as a warning for the people to go home and submit to Roman rule.

And it wasn’t just that the Romans ruled over them. Rome taxed them and even demanded that Roman subjects bow down to the image of the Emperor. Among the Jews, bowing down to anyone but Yahweh, the One True God, was forbidden by the Mosaic Law, and in bowing to a mere man a Jew could be put to death. However, if they did not bow down to Caesar then the Roman governor of Palestine could have them crucified. This was undoubtedly the origin of the dilemma, “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

The High Priest tried to reason with the Roman officials but with little success. The Zealots incited riots, killed Roman soldiers caught alone in the streets of Jerusalem, or attacked small cohorts of soldiers marching across the countryside. Palestine was considered the most rebellious province in the Empire by many officials in Rome and the worst place to be stationed by most legionnaires. Why?  Because of the Zealots and their One God for whom they would so readily die.

This is the turmoil that is the backdrop of my stories, and it provides a constant, visceral tension on top of everything else that happens to my characters. It is into this world that Jesus was born.

I’d like you to consider another side of zeal for a moment. This is the side that Jesus had and that his dreamstimefree_27664970disciples shared. It’s constructive, not destructive. It’s what Rebekah, Johanna, Miriam and Mary all found after their encounters with Jesus. The dictionary defines zeal as great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective. It is a passion, a devotion, often for only an idea.

In those private moments after each woman meets with Jesus she is changed forever in the way she thinks and in the way she acts. She finds a new sense of purpose for her life and a new zest for living it. She is filled with both joy and passion.

My own path in this life has been an answer to the “Jesus question”: What greater cause is there than love for and service to your fellow man?

Thank you for joining me on my journey. I hope I have helped you answer this question for yourself, and I hope you live the rest of your life with zeal.

W is for Worry

Holy MultiplicationWorrying is a familiar pastime for most of us today and has been shared over the centuries by men and women alike. In my Women of the Bible series I incorporated this common human characteristic into each of the women. After she becomes a slave Rebekah worries that she will spend her whole life in bondage. Johanna worries that with the miscarriage of their child her husband, Simon Peter, will divorce her for being barren. Miriam worries that she cannot be both mother and father to her son, John Mark, after the death of her husband, Ezra. Mary worries for the safety of her son, Jesus, when they escape to Egypt.

Each woman, like us, worries and focuses on the events in front of her, not able to see beyond the present challenge. She broods about it. She only speaks about her heartache if those around her force the issue. Her worries become fears that control her thoughts and behavior until she finally encounters Jesus.

These meetings turn into what psychologists call “pattern interrupts” for each of them. He listens to them, seeking out and examining what concerns are driving each one in her own direction. When he speaks to them his words and his attitude of loving acceptance for all that is grant each one a perspective of timelessness. In the process they each surrender the quality of worry for some other quality that produces both inner peace and altered actions. Even Mary feels this from the young Jesus when she needs it the most.

In the four gospels, we read about Jesus’ life. They each tell us that when Jesus felt tired, when he was at a low ebb, when he worried about the future he faced, he prayed.

Each of my stories is an example of this transformative power of prayer. Our prayers may not remove the source of our worries, but they can, should and often do “reframe” that which we worry about to permit answers that may have eluded us before.

V is for Vanity

Vanity is generally defined as excessive pride in one’s appearance, achievements and qualities. As such, it can be viewed as an expression of one’s ego, that part of us that yearns to assert our uniqueness and our valu-Vanity - dog in the mirrore. Vanity might be considered as the triumph of image over substance. In Catholicism vanity is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, a quality so destructive as to condemn us to damnation unless we overcome it.

I chose to make vanity an essential characteristic of various characters in my “Women of the Bible” series. For example, in Rebekah Redeemed Rebekah’s aunt Mara, with whom Rebekah went to live, thought only of herself and her own needs and wants. In Mary’s Exile, Herod is known throughout his kingdom for his paranoid compulsion to eliminate any who would deprive him of his power or glory. History tells us that he was so focused on himself and his position that he ordered his own wife and son killed to protect his throne.

By using characters who are pictures of vanity in my stories I can show the great contrast between that kind of thinking and behavior and what Jesus reflected. He enters each story through what characters say about him when they hear him teach, and when my main characters meet him they have a universal experience of someone of divine carriage and poise. Through this I can begin to reveal his character as I see it. As each story unfolds I can then demonstrate Jesus’ impact through the subsequent behavior of and consequences to my main characters.

The message in every one of these stories is similar: That we are all bound to each other, that we are all accountable to God for what we do in spite of the forces we believe are “making us” do it, that life lived in service to others is the most reliable and enjoyable way of defeating vanity with spirit.

If my stories touch my readers this way then I am content.

U is for Unusual

bigstock_Fisherman_240621When I started writing my Women of the Bible series, it was unusual to find books about little-known women mentioned in the Bible. (I guess that’s why they were “little-known.”) The idea for The Fisherman’s Wife came from the gospels of  Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each one mentions in one verse that Jesus went to Simon Peter’s house and that Simon’s mother-in-law was ill. Jesus healed her and she served them. Like many other people, I read this story for years before realizing the clear implication: Simon Peter had a wife.

I immediately realized that I knew nothing about her, not even her name. Nor could I find anything Roman roaddefinitive anywhere about who she was, where she came from or what her life was like. From studying Catholic sources of church history I found out only three things: that she and Simon Peter had a daughter, that she often accompanied Simon Peter when he travelled, and that she was crucified with her husband in Rome.

So I started by I asking myself these questions:

– Given how and where Simon Peter grew up, where was his wife most likely from?

– Knowing what I do about Peter from what I read in the scriptures and in other sources, what might it have been like to be married to a man like him?

– What kind of life events might most likely cause chronic and heartbreaking stress for a first-century Jewish woman and her husband?

– What would it feel like to have an unknown rabbi come to my village and take my husband away with him  and leaving us to fend for ourselves?

– What would I think when this rabbi unexpectedly came back with my husband, my brother-in-law and a dozen or so of their close friends and wanted to stay with us?

– What would I do when hundreds of people crowded inside and around our house trying to see Jesus and refused to leave?

– What might this rabbi do to convince me that he was the prophesied Messiah?

– What would I say when I met Jesus face to face?

– How would I come to terms with this new rabbi and his teachings?

I soon saw that there were a number of ways to answer these questions. Some were so “usual” as to be trite, even hackneyed, and those answers, I knew, would not tell the story that I felt squirming around in my head.

So I took a chance. I reached for something “UN-usual.”

The squirming stopped.

T is for Transcendence

first century homeI chose the subjects and circumstances for these stories to make them examples of transcendence. I illustrated this transcendence in two ways. The first was  transcendence in time – the sequence of act and consequence that defines the path of the story. The second was the transcendence in Jesus’ relationship with the women he encountered. Rebekah, Johanna, Miriam and Mary are all faced with challenges in their lives that they experience as too overwhelming to handle by themselves. There may be other characters in the stories trying to comfort and support them, but they each feel deserted, defeated and alone. Even when they cry out to Yahweh, His lack of immediate relief for their distress feels to them as if He doesn’t hear them.

It is when they cannot understand what to do next that Jesus comes to them. In each case he first listensLet the Children Come to MeCarl Vogel von Vogelstein, 1805 to them. He empathizes with their emotional stresses. He accepts their descriptions of their circumstances. He responds with compassion, with clarity, and with a point of view different from the one they each seized upon. He gives each one exactly what is necessary in the deepest part of her soul to continue with courage, strength and gentle joy.

To transcend anything is, for me, to rise above it, to climb to some higher vantage point that allows a person to see what was hidden from the lower vantage point of life’s daily travail.

The story is told of a small party of adventurers hacking their way through a dense jungle. Tired, hungry and blistered they come to a clearing. As they rest they hear a helicopter approach. It lands, and one of the party climbs aboard. When the helicopter rises the adventurer can see many things: hills, streams, villages and, in the distance, the mountain that he knows intuitively is their goal. He also sees, about one hundred yards from the trail they had been hacking and running parallel to it, an asphalt road. When the helicopter lands again, the adventurer takes his party, turns ninety degrees, and hacks the short distance to the roadway.

This, to me, is transcendence.

S is for Set-up

book - pencil writingI have a plan for the Women of the Bible series even though I’m not an outliner. Some writers never type a word without a completed outline. Others are what we call “pantsters” -writing by the seat of our pants – developing the story as it comes out on the screen in front of us.

I began writing as more of an organic/pantster writer, but as I’ve written more books I have developed an appreciation for what an outline can add. Now I have a combination that works for me, a little from both the structured and the unstructured worlds. I start out writing organizally first, as the story just flows out of me, and then I use a story board to keep myself organized. If I need to keep my timeline straight then I include a “work-in-progress” outline as part of the process.

Setting up my stories is more than just adapting a structure. I put my characters into situations where they face physical and spiritual crises in their lives, reach a point of realization that they cannot solve it themselves, arrive at the end of their rope, and then encounter Jesus. The whole story up to that point has been set up so that the reader experiences the character’s circumstances as they unfold, identifies with the character’s frustrations and disappointments, and then walks with the character through a change of heart after she talks one-on-one with Jesus.

My own point of view about Christianity is not particularly dogmatic. The value I have found in following a Christian path is that life events that might otherwise be enraging, defeating or terrifying become spiritual lessons which, when learned, make me a better person – to my family, to my friends, to my readers and to my God. But I also know that anyone can follow such a path, we only need to make the choice. Consequently, I write my stories from a Judeo/Christian perspective, but I try to do it in a way that will appeal to any reader of any conviction.

So when I set my stories up I’m not aiming at converting my readers to Christianity in any of its forms. It’s nice if that happens, but it isn’t my goal or purpose.

My true goal is to tell stories that define and resolve spiritual dilemmas in ways that parallel what we know about the words and the message of Jesus.

R is for Respect

Christ with Mary and Martha Henryk SemiradskyIn some ways the women’s world of the first-century hasn’t changed. I know that some of you who read this will disagree, and I never expect universal agreement with any of my views, but when it comes to “respect for women” it’s hard to deny the truth of the proposition that women today must still put up with a lot of disrespect from men, from governments, even from other women.

For me, respect is a lynchpin of relationships, whether it is between me and a friend, me and my husband, me and my children, or between me and my God. Without getting into etymology or philosophy, I will put it simply like this: If I feel heard then I can assume there is respect for me in another person. A lack of respect between and among people is the fountain from which injustice springs.

The first-century women I write about lived in a world where women were little more than property. The Fishermans Wife - full coverUnder Jewish law, the marriage contract at that time did commit a husband to provide food and shelter for his wife. However, he could divorce her if she could not give him children. Her family was expected to provide a dowry to “sweeten the deal.” In some cases a woman could inherit, but it was usually tied to a minor son. A woman had some rights under Jewish law that women in the surrounding cultures did not have, but that should not be confused with whether they received actual respect. Much like today, some men had great respect for their women, most did not, and the penalties for exhibiting contempt for a woman were episodic and capricious. It was generally regarded as a greater crime for a man to come between another man and his wife than it was for the other man to do to his wife whatever required such an intervention.

When Jesus began teaching he included women in his inner circle, which was counter to his culture and religion. He spoke directly to women; and, just as important, he listened to them and gave weight to their words. In short, he treated them as equals. He made no differentiation between men and women when it came to his message of how to live with one other.

It is subtle, and it actually takes up very little of each storyline, but Jesus’ respect for women is a central message of every story I write.