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Why I Don’t Usually Read Bible Study Books (but I did read Dena’s)
There was a period in my life — mostly middle and high school — where a good chunk of my babysitting money was spent at the Christian bookstore. After I became an adult, I found that most of those books didn’t have anything to say to me. Occasionally, I try again. I look for a good cover, flip through a table of contents, then quietly put the book back on the shelf and sigh, Not for me.
I am ashamed to admit that if I didn’t know Dena Dyer, if we hadn’t walked miles together when we lived in the same neighborhood, I still might not have picked up “Wounded Women of the Bible: Finding Hope When Life Hurts” (even though it has a lovely cover). When I flipped to the table of contents, it shocked me — in a good way. The two women in Solomon’s court? Really? Ichabod’s mother? Really? And a chapter titled “Wounded Relationships: From Passion to Pain.”
Dena (and co-author, Tina Samples), you just broke one of the rules in Christian publishing. You ended on a bad note, on pain. Oops, you did it again in the chapter titled “Jephthah’s Daughter: From Healthy to Hurt.” Didn’t your publicist tell you that you just can’t do that?
Dena said she had two completely opposite thoughts when Tina first approached her about writing the book.
“I said, ‘Of course, I’ll do it with you.’ My second thought was, ‘Oh, no!’” she said. The “of course” was because she’d always wanted to work with her friend, Tina. The “oh, no” was because she knew they would get into some gritty territory: abuse, betrayal, infertility, depression, grief.
In addition to the Bible story, each chapter contains stories from other real-life women and stories from Dena’s and Tina’s own lives. The book includes a study and discussion guide, which can be used in a group setting. I read the book alone, but I did two of the sets of questions. Not only was it an enormously helpful exercise, but the prayers in this section are, well, they’re just comforting. They go down easy.
I spoke with Dena by phone last week and did the interview as if she was going to be a Q&A feature in the magazine, so it’s longer than what I usually post here. Dena’s traveling this week, promoting the book, so she may not be able to answer all comments. I could pretend to be her, but I can’t imitate her sweet Panhandle accent.
“Wounded Women of the Bible” is available online and at many Christian bookstores.
Who did you write this book for?
It’s funny. The first person I wrote the book for was me because I needed to hear what I was writing about. God always works that way. I was going through a difficult time in our marriage and our family. I just studied and wrote about the things I needed to hear. But I also think every women is hurting, every woman has a wound, but my wounds aren’t the same as other people’s “Everyone’s got their own bag of rocks that they’re carrying,” [my husband] Carey says.
How did you go about choosing women from the Bible to feature?
We actually started with a list of about 22 women in the Bible that were wounded in some way and then we honed down, depending on what we felt were the more relatable issues or the ones that hadn’t been written about all the time. I didn’t want it to be just another book about Mary and Martha and Hannah and Ruth, although we include some of those in the book.
It was double-sided — relatable to today’s women, but also which ones were the most current or the most on our hearts. We wanted it to be wide-ranging, to minister to the most wide range of women.
I love that you chose to feature some women in Scripture that I’d never heard of, like Ichabod’s mother.
Tina brought the list to me first, and I’d never heard of her. I’d heard of the daughter of Jephthath. I’d never really looked at that story very much. You never hear sermons from the pulpit on that. We made a lot of interesting discoveries and just wild things that we learned about these women and God.
It was definitely a transforming experience, more than any other book I’ve written.
Was it always the plan for you and Tina to include your own personal stories? I know that was a difficult part of the process, probably part of that ‘transforming experience’ you mentioned.
Definitely. It was so hard at some points to write the book, but there was nothing I could to but lean on God and cry out for his wisdom, his endurance, his creativity. There were times I didn’t think I could finish it. It was hard to look at some of the places that were wounded in my own heart. But he wanted to write the book through us, and I feel like he did. But it’s that death to self that Scripture talks about.
Kind of a similar question, did you always want to include stories from other women?
That was from the beginning something that we wanted.
Tina and I met almost 20 years ago, and we’ve been prayer partners and kindred spirits almost since the first minute we met. We’ve both walked each other through some incredibly hard things and also walking other women through in ministry. We wanted to be real because we relate to people who are real. We didn’t want it to just be theories. [We wanted it to be] this is how I’m working through this, and this is what God is doing in me. Because that’s so powerful. It’s not theory; it’s living it out, and it’s practical.
I have a passion for telling other people’s stories. I love to work with other writers, and it just rounded out the experiences in the book. It gave even more reliability to readers. God brought some incredibly gifted writers and women in our path. It was hard. We got a lot more than we could use. I love being able to point at other people and say, ‘Isn’t God awesome!’ That’s where we get our strength as believers is from the community. Cheering each other on, giving our testimonies of what God has done.
I was so glad you shared Shaela Manross’s story, which I had first seen on your blog. It seems that Christians don’t talk about mass shootings (maybe because it always ends up being a discussion about guns). But these tragedies have been among us for a long time — the shooting at Wedgwood Baptist Church was in 1998 — and there are a lot of survivors out there.
That came about through a relationship that God put into place when I was in college. She was a young girl at a church I was a youth minister at for the summer. We didn’t have contact until I moved back to Amarillo a few years ago. She was an ESL instructor, and I recognized her right away, and she recognized me right away.
She has the sweetest heart and is a godly woman, and she told me about her story and going through all that and how God ultimately brought her healing. She wants to be a missionary. She’s got a heart for Thailand. She shared with my kids’ school in chapel, and I just wanted her to be a part of the book because it’s so powerful the way she’s walking through even now other things that are really hard, but she’s not turning her back on God. She’s working through the questions and doubts. She’s not afraid to be honest with God. She’s real, but she’s hopeful because she knows that she doesn’t have to be hopeless with the Lord. I saw her walking it out daily, and that was powerful to me.
You’re right, [mass shootings] haven’t gone away. It hasn’t been talked about enough. It’s a hard issue because there’s all the questions about God’s sovereignty. You hear about it for a couple of days in the news, and then it goes away. What about all those people that were traumatized? That doesn’t go away.
You have written devotionals for The High Calling, the Daily Reflections, on occasion, but am I correct that this is your first time to write a Bible study book?
It is. I probably wouldn’t have done this without Tina because she’s an incredibly gifted Bible student and has led Bible studies with women for years with good theology, good study habits, all those things you have to have. It was really eye-opening to me some of the things that she drew out. It was definitely the Holy Spirit giving her inspiration. She’s such a woman of prayer.
Now I might could do it on my own, but it was a neat transition. It showed me how you can do it in a fresh way. That’s what’s hard is we didn’t want to say the same thing everyone else had said.
Who are some women in the Bible that you left out?
We didn’t do anything with Mary Magdalene. She’s been written about a lot. We didn’t end up using Hannah. Those had been covered a lot in Christian literature and unless we had something brand new, we just didn’t feel they were as necessary. We actually saved back enough that we could do a second volume, which we’re praying about. I think we could do just a sequel with different issues.
Would it still be around the theme of wounded women?
I appreciated that not all of the stories ended on a happy note. You feature Biblical women whose stories end in pain or hurt.
There’s a segment of Christianity that sometimes misleads believers into thinking that if God’s in it, he’s gonna work it all out and you’ll end up better than you were before. And those things are true, but sometimes those things don’t happen until heaven. Sometimes our healing doesn’t happen until we reach eternity. So, I didn’t want to give people false hope or false teaching about, ‘Do these three things, and you’ll have peace.’ Or, ‘This is five steps to victory.’ I get so turned off by that.
God works differently in every person. His ways are so mysterious sometimes that to box it up and package it up to me is just doing him a disservice and doing the reader a disservice. You’re not giving them truth.
I also liked that some of the Biblical women made their own bad choices and had to live with them.
I love that about the Bible.
My 9-year-old asked if he could read it, and I said, ‘Sure,’ and then I said, ‘Wait a minute. I need to read it with you and talk about it because there are some adult themes in the Bible and adult situations that people get into, sometimes by their choices, sometimes not.’ But we wanted to show that these people are all too human. Let’s not put them on a pedestal because the Scriptures don’t do that. I think sometimes we want to do that — they all had halos and walked around in a pool of light. They were human!
Tina had some amazing insights that I’ve never heard anywhere before.
It came out of her personal time with God. Falling on her face and praying and crying out. That’s her reality. Through all of her suffering, she turns to God, and he blesses her with incredible wisdom. She’s very inspiring to me.
You always share a lot in your writing, but this book had more of a memoir-ish feel to it. Has writing this made you more or less inclined to look at writing memoir again?
Probably more. I think that a lot of my writing has been personal, but this was a new level for me. And while it was difficult it was also very rewarding because when you write, you can see the patterns and the things God has done. It was really encouraging to me to see, Wow, look at this. God had planned this all along. Or God used this in my life to bring me to this point.
Another important part of this puzzle is that my dad and I talked pretty openly after I turned in the book but before it was [printed]. I told him there were some new things I was sharing that might hurt him, but I needed to share them. I could not, not share them. (Double negative there.) I had to show how far I’ve come and how good God is. So, my dad gave me permission: ‘Dena, you have to tell it. It’s gonna help people.’ That was worth the whole book.
Because there are some things I’ve never shared, and I’ve been waiting, and I’ve been afraid. I don’t want to not honor my parents because they’re sweet, godly people. But there are things I want to share sometime. Whether I do it right away or not, I know I’ll tell those stories, and I’ll be at peace because my dad knows why I have to tell them. Not to get back at them. To show the depths of mercy and what God can do. We’re totally different people than we were, our whole family. It could’ve gone the other way, could’ve ended with all of us bitter and separated and hurt and angry and non-communicative.
How has the response been to the book so far?
The response we’re getting is so amazing. Women are saying, ‘Oh, this ministered to me in this way.’ They get it. They get why we did this. They get how we did this. They buy three more to give to their hurting sister-in-law or their mom. Sort of like the loaves and fishes, God multiplies it.