Annie Wald: An Allegory About Marriage

With her two daughters approaching marriage, Annie Wald wanted to share with them some of the hard lessons she had learned after years of matrimony. She found inspiration in the classic Pilgrim’s Progress to write an allegory about the marital journey’s challenges and rewards.

“I could tell a story instead of writing a memoir,” says Wald, author of Walk with Me: Pilgrim’s Progress for Married Couples (Moody/River North). “As a writer, I’m sort of steeped in allegory.”

Wald, a former editor-in-chief at Princeton University Press, lives in Morocco and has been married for 35 years to Jack Wald, pastor of Rabat International Church there. She wrote the book and had it spiral-bound as a gift for the 2002 and 2004 weddings of their daughters. “I wanted to tell both the truth of our grace and of our selfishness,” says Wald.

She and her husband kept meeting couples who were struggling in their marriages—“just as we had”—and the Walds would give them copies of the manuscript to encourage them. Last year, when Jack Wald was visiting the United States, he gave the book to a friend who told editor Deb Keiser at Moody/River North about it.

In Walk with Me, the characters Celeste and Peter are each traveling to the King’s City. They fall in love and decide to become partners and be bound by the Cords of Commitment as they undergo both the journey and the process of being refined for their destination.

When they take a shortcut to avoid climbing the Mountains of Maturity, Peter and Celeste find themselves in the Swamp of Selfishness. They cross over the Bridge of Forgiveness many times and wonder just how often they must make that trip. They have to choose whether to stay together at all.

During her 12 years living in Morocco, Wald, who is now writing a novel, has become friends with people from all over the world, including people in arranged marriages. She observes that married couples share common struggles to love and forgive that transcend cultural and religious differences.

“People start their marriages with hope that their marriage will be different, and that their love will be stronger than the failures they’ve seen,” she says. Though each marriage follows its own path, sooner or later all couples will endure internal and external stresses, Wald says.

In writing Walk with Me, she drew on the conflict and eventual healing she went through in her own marriage. Wald says it was a privilege to revisit the journey and be reminded of how God’s redemptive wisdom and grace can transform a hopeless, broken relationship into a thriving partnership.

—Juli Cragg Hilliard

Amanda Davis: Youthful Phenom

At 19, Amanda Davis sold her first novel, Precisely Terminated, based on only one completed chapter. That chapter launched the Cantral Chronicles, a YA trilogy. The second book, Noble Imposter, was released in July, and Davis, now 21, is working on the finale, tentatively due to appear summer 2013. Davis, who says her youth helps her write YA fiction, won the 2012 Family Fiction Readers Choice first-place award for new authors.

The Cantral Chronicles is dystopian fiction, set hundreds of years in the future. In the trilogy, a group of nobles controls its slaves by implanting computer chips in their bodies. Hope for the slaves’ freedom rests on Monica, a fugitive slave who has thus far avoided chip implantation.

The opening chapter of Precisely Terminated came to Davis in a dream and is replete with images evocative of Nazi concentration camps, including crowded bunks and mass gassings. “The crowded, terrible conditions of the camps along with the gassings were definitely reference points for me,” Davis says. The books also share similarities with the Hunger Games—all are dystopian novels centered on a teenage girl, but, Davis says, a main difference is her trilogy’s emphasis on hope. The first book ends with the rescue of thousands of people.

Although published by Living Ink Books, an imprint of Christian publisher AMG, the trilogy so far does not offer an overtly Christian message. This accords with AMG’s strategy of trying to reach general audiences with Christian-themed books, says publisher Dale Anderson. As with C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, the series’ theme is foundationally Christian—good versus evil—with a clear line drawn between who is morally good and who is evil. The main character, Monica, displays Christian virtues of courage, self-sacrifice, and compassion toward others.

Rather than meticulously plotting her novels, Davis lets them unfold and surprise her. “I try to sustain momentum by always leaving questions unanswered until the end. There’s always something left for the reader to wonder about. Mystery keeps the pages turning,” she says.

Davis hopes the final book in the trilogy will be more overtly Christian, though she says she won’t know how to do that until after she is done writing it. She hopes Monica won’t die in the middle of the third book, as that would complicate the story.

Davis learned writing from her father, Bryan Davis, author of the Dragons in Our Midst YA series for the Christian market. “He gives me lots of advice and help with my novels, though I’m never willing to show them to him until they’re completely written,” Davis says. “He reads every word of my novels before they go to print and gives suggestions and changes for me to consider. I’ve been on a thousand different book tour events with him, listening to his author talks and writing seminars hundreds of times.”

Of the final book in the Cantral Chronicles, Davis says, “I really like the idea and plot, but since I started writing [it] when I was 15, it needs a complete rewrite before I’m willing to show it to anyone. It has been five years since I dreamed my idea, and I think I’m ready now to create an even more amazing story that will rock my readers’ worlds.”

—Diane Reynolds

John Swinton: Remembered by God

While working as a hospital chaplain, John Swinton visited many patients with dementia, who sometimes sat for long hours, seemingly lost to themselves and forgotten by others. But when he offered them communion or prayers, often they brightened and became more animated. Swinton recalled this experience when he entered academia, and the questions it raised became the basis of his newest book, Dementia: Living in the Memories of God (Eerdmans).

Swinton says the book revolves around two questions: what does it mean to be who you are when you’ve forgotten who you are? And what does it mean to know and love God when you’ve forgotten God? Swinton’s conclusion: “Who we are is something beyond ourselves,” he says. “Most of who we are is what we are as we’re remembered by God.”

Swinton recognizes that the topic of dementia can evoke fear, which sometimes results in denial or avoidance. But he says that the issue is a growing one, and many people are looking for ways to understand what is happening to their loved ones.

Today, Swinton, a professor of practical theology and pastoral care at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and founding director of the Centre for Spirituality, Health and Disability at Aberdeen, lectures and blogs on the topic of dementia for a wide variety of audiences. The center is designed to develop research projects with a practical focus that draw on academic knowledge; Swinton’s book was one of those projects.

“I hope readers can take away from the book that dementia isn’t hopeless,” Swinton says. “It may be painful, but there can be hope. We can develop the types of communities that enable people to be remembered. There is a tremendous sense of isolation, and dementia has as much to do with being forgotten as it does forgetting.” Swinton’s book offers insight into practical, pastoral issues, as well as a deeper look at the theological implications of the disease. “When you get down to it, you’re really asking, what does it mean to be a human being, and a human being before God?” Swinton says. “It’s a theological book but it aims to change practice, to understand better, and to practice better.”

Swinton’s own understanding of dementia has grown since he began his work on the subject. “When I began to research dementia I was afraid of it; by the time I finished I was less afraid.” he says. “I’d seen so many examples of bad practice, but I was also afraid because to lose your memory seems to mean you lose yourself. But I know even if I forget everything I know, I remain myself. And it helps to have the right people around you.” —Kerry Weber

MaryAnn McKibben Dana: A Day of Rest

As a part-time pastor of Idylwood Presbyterian Church in Falls Church, Va., MaryAnn McKibben Dana knew it was important to keep holy the Sabbath day. But as a wife, writer, and mother of three, finding time to actually do so sometimes proved to be a challenge. As her children grew, Dana felt “it was harder to find moments to be present with them,” and found herself caught up in “that harried experience of jamming feet into shoes and getting the kids out the door to whatever activity.” She recognized that her family needed a change. Dana considered cutting back on work or moving to a new city, but realized that, rather than drastic action, her family simply needed “a day to let go of that stuff and rest and play and be together.” Her efforts to achieve that are chronicled in the book Sabbath in the Suburbs: A Family’s Experiment with Holy Time (Chalice, Sept.; reviewed in this issue).

“I wanted to take this on for myself and to look at, practically, what does it mean not to work on the Sabbath,” Dana says. “Especially when you have little kids who need to be entertained.” For Dana’s family it meant reconsidering technology use, cutting back on errands, and doing a lot of planning. She began to see the Sabbath as more of a mindset than a day of the week. “What Sabbath does is give us permission to do what we don’t give ourselves permission to do the rest of the week,” Dana says. “We need to get rid of the separation between sacred activities and secular activities. The things we did on Sabbath became sacred for us. My husband brewed beer. This might seem heretical to some people, but it was really restorative for him.”

These days Dana’s schedule is beginning to fill up once again. She is leading workshops and speaking at various churches about the book. She’s also working on a Web site that will offer inspiration and online coaching for families and individuals looking for support and accountability while they pursue a similar spiritual goal. Chalice also has produced a notepad that offers the option of creating a to-do or a to-don’t list to help support readers’ efforts. Sabbath in the Suburbs will also be available in e-book format, and Dana is considering using Skype to join book group discussions.

Dana still tries to make time for rest, even though refraining from e-mail and overlooking piles of laundry in the name of the Sabbath can be complicated—a reality she tried to convey in the book. “What I sought to do is to find those moments where it felt beautiful and effortless, and also the moments where I wanted to tear my hair out, and put all those together in a portrayal of how honest and awesome the Sabbath can be and how difficult it can be,” she says.

—Kerry Weber