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Reading scary stories, romance, and imaging God

I’ve never been a fan of horror movies. In fact, when my dad and sister used to watch them together, I would almost always find something—anything—else to do. In another room. Outside, if the weather was nice. I’m not a fan of gore, but I am a fan of stories that create an emotional response, particularly ones that cause some genuine fear and excitement. And I enjoy sharing these with my kids (in age-appropriate ways, of course).

But what’s the benefit of this? Why should we engage these kinds of stories? That’s what N.D. Wilson and I discuss in part two of our conversation on Reading Writers.

Also in this episode, we discuss:

  • Wilson’s love for and collection of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy;
  • How reading is connected to imaging God; and
  • Why you should read romance of the Jane Austen variety… just not schlocky ones.

Be sure to check out Wilsons books, including the 100 Cupboards and Outlaws of Time series, which are available through most major booksellers. And b sure to take advantage of the special offer he mentions at the end of the program: purchase Outlaws of Time books one or two and send your receipt to sam_at_outlawsoftime.com, and you’ll gain access to a free writing course.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Reading Writers. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving a rating and review on iTunes. Your feedback really does help more people find the show. Tune in next time as I’m joined by Max McLean to talk about plays, poetry and CS Lewis.

[Reading Writers] What should you NOT read on a family road trip?

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It’s not always easy to choose the right audiobook to enjoy on a road trip. Sometimes the book chosen is wonderful, but other times it leaves your children crying messes in the backseat. Today, Michael Kelley and I discuss what happens when you make the wrong choice and more on Reading Writers.

In this episode, you’ll hear

  • How Michael traumatized his children on a family road trip;
  • Why it’s hard to write good stories (especially for kids);
  • Why there shouldn’t be another Harry Potter movie; and
  • How our ordinary lives really aren’t.

A few of the books and resources discussed in this episode

Can I sponsor Reading Writers?

Want to sponsor a future episode of Reading Writers? Send me a note and let’s talk.

Subscribing, sharing, and your feedback

You can subscribe to Reading Writers via iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast catcher. Please also consider leaving a rating and review on iTunes. This only takes a second and will go a long way to helping other people find the show. Finally, if you know someone who would benefit from listening, share it on your favorite social media network.

You can also connect with me on Twitter at @aaronstrongarm, on Facebook or via email to share your feedback.

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Reading Writers!

[Reading Writers] How to be a curious reader

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What are some great fantasy books that are actually worth reading—and do “must read” lists help or hinder us as readers? Andrew Peterson, musician and author of The Wingfeather Saga, joins me discuss this question and more in the second part of a two part interview on today’s episode of Reading Writers.

In this episode, you’ll hear

  • The role of the whim in choosing what to read;
  • How reading lists can hinder you as a reader;
  • How to protect yourself from distraction; and
  • What we really think about Amish Romance and paranormal teen romance

A few of the books and resources discussed in this episode

Can I sponsor Reading Writers?

Want to sponsor a future episode of Reading Writers? Send me a note and let’s talk.

Subscribing, sharing, and your feedback

You can subscribe to Reading Writers via iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast catcher. Please also consider leaving a rating and review on iTunes. This only takes a second and will go a long way to helping other people find the show. Finally, if you know someone who would benefit from listening, share it on your favorite social media network.

You can also connect with me on Twitter at @aaronstrongarm, on Facebook or via email to share your feedback.

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Reading Writers!

[Reading Writers] Jared Wilson: calling, creativity & evanglism

Reading Writers with Jared Wilson

A pastor might be a great preacher, but great preachers aren’t always great writers—so should they be writing books? Today, Jared Wilson and I discuss this and more in the first part of a two part discussion (yes, a two part!) on Reading Writers.

In this episode, you’ll hear:

  • Why calling and gifting really matter for ministry, creativity and writing;
  • Why Unparalleled didn’t feel like it was written for me (in a good way);
  • The assumptions we make when we’re talking to people;
  • Who he wanted to read The Story of Everything; and
  • What happened when Jared left a copy of Unparalleled for the Mormon missionaries when they were coming by the house.

A few of the books and resources discussed in this episode

You can follow Jared on Twitter at @JaredCWilson. And be sure to stick around to the very end of the episode for a special bonus.

Who will be on the next episode of Reading Writers?

Next week, Jared and I continue our conversation, delving into some pretty serious stuff as we talk about comic books, storytelling, and how reading helps us become better listeners.

Can I sponsor Reading Writers?

Want to sponsor a future episode of Reading Writers? Send me a note and let’s talk.

Subscribing, sharing, and your feedback

You can subscribe to Reading Writers via iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast catcher. Please also consider leaving a rating and review on iTunes. This only takes a second and will go a long way to helping other people find the show. Finally, if you know someone who would benefit from listening, share it on your favorite social media network.

You can also connect with me on Twitter at @aaronstrongarm, on Facebook or via email to share your feedback.

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Reading Writers!

[Reading Writers] Dan Darling on reading to engage the culture

Dan Darling joins me on this week's episode of Reading Writers

Jesus is more popular than ever—but which Jesus? Today, I’m joined by Dan Darling, author of The Original Jesus, to discuss the Jesuses of our own imagining, and how reading helps us as we seek to show the real Jesus to the culture around us on Reading Writers.

Books and resources mentioned in this episode

And be sure to follow Dan on Twitter at @DanDarling.

Who will be on the next episode of Reading Writers?

Next week, Gloria Furman, author of Missional Motherhood, joins me to discuss how busy mothers can find time to read, a broader meaning of motherhood, and what beverage goes best with Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics.

Can I sponsor Reading Writers?

Want to sponsor a future episode of Reading Writers? Send me a note and let’s talk.

Subscribing, sharing, and your feedback

You can subscribe to Reading Writers via iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast catcher. Please also consider leaving a rating and review on iTunes. This only takes a second and will go a long way to helping other people find the show. Finally, if you know someone who would benefit from listening, share it on your favorite social media network.

You can also connect with me on Twitter at @aaronstrongarm, on Facebook or via email to share your feedback.

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Reading Writers!

Reading Writers: Tim Challies, Reading Plans and Essex County

Reading Writers Podcast

Welcome to the second episode of Reading Writers. Each week, I’ll be speaking with Christian authors and writers about what they’re writing, but also about what they’re reading—and how reading widely can help us grow as believers, as creators and disciple-makers.

What you’ll hear in this episode

This week, I’m joined by author and blogger Tim Challies. Tim’s most recent books include Visual Theology and Do More Better. He serves as elder at Grace Fellowship in Toronto, Ontario, and is living the dream as full-time writer. In our discussion, we talk about:

  • Reading challenges and arbitrary numbers;
  • The importance of pacing yourself;
  • Why Visual Theology wasn’t a coloring book;
  • Why Tim likes digital over paper books;
  • What Tim really thinks about comic books and graphic novels.

You’ll also notice that for two Canadians we do a good job of not saying “eh” or “aboot.”

Resources and links from this episode

You can also follow Tim on Twitter at @challies.

Who will be on the next episode of Reading Writers?

Next week, I’ll be joined by Barnabas Piper about his forthcoming book, The Curious Christian, and how reading feeds his curiosity and why he is almost always reading three to five books at any given time.

Sponsoring Reading Writers

If you are interested in sponsoring a future episode of Reading Writers, let’s chat. Send me a note and we’ll get started.

Subscribing, sharing, and your feedback

You can subscribe to Reading Writers via iTunes, Google Play, or your favorite podcast catcher. If you like what you’ve heard, please consider leaving a rating and share it with your friends. It takes only takes a second and will go a long way to helping other people find the show.

You can also connect with me on Twitter at @aaronstrongarm, on Facebook or via email to share your feedback.

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Reading Writers!

Reading Writers: Brandon Smith, J.A. Medders, & 100 Deadly Skills

Reading Writers Podcast

It’s finally here: episode one of Reading Writers is now live!

Each week, I’ll be speaking with Christian authors and writers about what they’re writing, but also about what they’re reading—and how reading widely can help us grow as believers, as creators and disciple-makers.

What you’ll hear in this episode

This week, I’m joined by Brandon Smith and J.A. Medders, authors of the new book, Rooted: Theology for Growing Christians. During our discussion, we talk about:

  • Why we can’t leave theology to the (professional) theologians;
  • The good news about eschatology;
  • Brandon’s first and most important reading rule, and why he likes reading sports biographies;
  • The sentences and paragraphs that have shaped us;
  • Brandon slamming Canadians (at least this one); and
  • What Jeff’s learning as he reads 100 Deadly Skills.

Resources and links from this episode

Who will be on the next episode of Reading Writers?

Next week, I’ll be joined by Tim Challies, to talk about his brand-new book, Visual Theology, reading challenges and what he really thinks of graphic novels. There are some fightin’ words in this one, so look for a new feud to start soon.

Sponsoring Reading Writers

If you work for a publisher or Christian ministry and are interested in sponsoring a future episode of Reading Writers, let’s chat. Send me a note and we’ll get started.

Subscribing, sharing, and your feedback

You can subscribe to Reading Writers via iTunes, Google Play, or your favorite podcast catcher. If you like what you’ve heard, please consider leaving a rating and share it with your friends (it takes only takes a second and will go a long way to helping other people find the show).

You can also connect with me on Twitter at @aaronstrongarm, on Facebook or via email to share your feedback.

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Reading Writers!

Your story is worth sharing, even if people don’t take it seriously

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My wife’s used to not having her story taken seriously. For years, whenever she or both of us have told the story of how we came to faith, we’ve seen people stop speaking to us, back away slowly as if we were whacked, or (in one instance) convert to an entirely different religion.

But that’s what happens when demons are involved.

I say all this because Emily’s never been an attention seeker, or a glory hound. She’s been quite content to hang out here at the house, raise our kids, and live a quiet life. This year, though, God had something else in mind.

It started with a compulsion to write down her story, with the idea of sharing it with our church. About a week later, Christianity Today asked her to share it in the magazine (which you can read here). After it was published, things got a bit interesting. Members of our congregation have approached one or both of us expressing their appreciation for what God has done in her life. A few people have done the same on social media. Then she was asked to be a guest on a radio show, where the host approached the story from a skeptic’s point of view.[1. whether he was actually skeptical or it’s a schtick, I don’t know.]

Around the same time, a couple of major Christian outlets got in touch wanting to share the story on TV, but she was extremely hesitant about doing these—largely because she was concerned about the story being focused on spiritual attack and not on Christ. But eventually, she decided to go for it, and yesterday, her interview with Cheryl Weber aired on 100 Huntley St. Check it out:

When all this happened, I was thrilled for her. Not because she was going to be in the spotlight, but because she had an opportunity to share the good news of Christ in a highly unusual way. She has a story that matters in that it is a story about how Christ is at work saving lost people right now. People like the family members at least some of us will be spending time with over the holidays. Like our neighbors, our friends and coworkers. You have a story like that, too. The details will be different. It may be more unusual than ours, or it may be considerably more “normal” (if such a thing can really be said of these things). Regardless of the specifics, your story is a gift from God—one worth sharing, even if people don’t take it seriously. So share it. Invite questions. Embrace the awkwardness. And as you share your story, share the bigger story—the story of Christ’s coming to this world that he made to seek and save the lost. People like you and me.

And if people don’t take us seriously, that’s still good news worth sharing.

Does debt have to be part of the college experience?

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When I started down the road of going to seminary, I made a commitment to avoid student debt. It is something that, even if it meant taking 10 years to get a two year degree, I am committed to avoiding. I’d already made that mistake once. The first time I went to college, it was funded almost entirely with student loans. When I got out of school, I owed about $15,000, and eventually got a job that paid a whopping $12 an hour with which to pay it off. (I shared my story and experience in greater detail here).

I wasn’t alone, though. Most of my friends and classmates had tons of student debt, and a number of them are only now getting out from under it all, 13 years after we graduated. Entire generations have been crippled by college debt—to the point that it’s not assumed that if you go to college, you’re going to come out owing tens of thousands of dollars.

What I wish I’d known then was whether or not this could have been avoided. Could I have gone to school and not come out the other side drowning in student loan debt? Was there any way for me to eliminate it up front, or at least minimize it?

This is one of the reasons I’m looking forward to reading Alex Chediak’s forthcoming Beating the College Debt Trap (despite it being written based entirely from the perspective of the American college system). Recently, Alex agreed to answer a few questions about his new book. If you’re a student or parent figuring out how to pay for school, or a graduate looking to pay off your loans without living with 18 roommates, I hope you’ll find the discussion helpful.


You wrote a book for students a few years ago called Thriving at College. Your new one, Beating the College Debt Trap, is also for students. How do the two differ?

Thriving at College is about making the most of the college years, about using that season in life as a launching pad into all that’s associated with responsible Christian adulthood. But while I briefly addressed money management skills, the whole idea of paying for college is more or less assumed.

In the four years since I wrote Thriving at College, the economics of college have continued to evolve. In 2013, a majority of families (57 percent) reported a student living at home or with a relative, up from 43 percent in 2010.[1. Douglas Belkin, “Parents Shell Out Less for Kids in College,” Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2013.] Online education is increasingly popular. “Non-traditional” college students (i.e., not 18-23 year olds enrolled full-time) have become increasingly numerous. And, of course, a greater percentage of college students are borrowing greater amounts of money each year, even though starting salaries for graduates have been virtually stagnant for a decade.

For many in our society, college seems maddeningly out of reach. But this is an illusion. The hopeful message of Beating the College Debt Trap is that Americans from all socioeconomic backgrounds can, armed with accurate information, and through the exercise of discernment, resourcefulness, and creativity, get the training they need to access a meaningful career without going broke in the process.

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Is this a book for families with more challenging financial circumstances?

First generation students certainly face unique challenges with the college experience. It’s not just that their parents have a limited ability to guide them through the maze of standardized testing, college applications, and filling out the FAFSA. It’s that they don’t have the professional networks that many of us take for granted. I’m talking about the people who encouraged us to pursue specific majors and colleges and exposed us to countless opportunities for advancement. As I discuss in the book, first generation students tend to undermatch—they pick colleges that are below their academic abilities. Some of these colleges lack the financial means to give generous need-based tuition reductions, which means the very students most in need of assistance end up carrying higher than necessary debt loads.

But plenty of middle class families fall into the trap of borrowing obscene amounts of money so their children can attend “the college of their dreams”—as if the incremental value of a “prestigious” college is higher than the incremental value of a college degree. Provided you graduate, the research shows that where you go to college is less important than that you go to college. The other way this trap works—and I know I’m on sensitive ground here—is this notion that “my child must attend a Christian college, whatever the cost.” The nurturing environment of a distinctively Christian institution has its advantages, and I do think it’s often worth it if you have the money, but it’s not as if Christian students can’t be successful at secular universities. I’ve met graduates of Christian colleges with debt loads greater than twice their annual starting salary. They simply would have been better served going elsewhere, and that’s by no means intended as a critique of their institution.

What is the argument you make in Beating the College Debt Trap?

The central message of the book is that Americans from all socioeconomic backgrounds can, armed with accurate information, and through the exercise of discernment, resourcefulness, and creativity, get the training they need to access a meaningful career without going broke in the process. I unpack this in four sections which build on each another.

First, I examine some of the assumptions people make about the college process. There’s the perspective that just about everyone should aspire to earning a bachelor’s degree. This view fails to account for the diversity of talents and interests young adults have, not to mention the diversity of jobs in our economy. Associate degrees and trade schools, for example, can represent excellent paths to rewarding professions. Then I examine the assumption that college debt is fine because “it will all work out after graduation.” This is another variation of the “everyone is doing it” myth. The point of this section is that unmasking false assumptions is a prerequisite for smart, informed decision-making.

Second, I assess three crucial decisions: the choice of a college, the selection of a major, and deciding what to do about loan opportunities. With choosing a college, I address three common pitfalls that lead to students spending more than they should. With choosing a major, I stress the importance of assessing your skills/interests (looking inside) and learning about the prospective field (looking outside). I also discuss the differing financial prospects for different fields, the dangers of over-specializing, and how to take the right steps during college to best stand out to employers after college.

Third, I look at the nuts and bolts of earning and spending during the college years. What can college students do to earn more and spend less? I give a bunch of ideas while explaining the importance of living frugally. The possibilities for professional development during the college years are also discussed. And I warn of the danger that credit card dependency represents for college students.

In the fourth and final section of the book, I look beyond the college years. New graduates face big hurdles in what’s become a slow-growth economy. First-job wages for college graduates have been stagnant for about a decade, even as debt loads at graduation continue to explode. In March 2014, a reputable survey found that only one in five 2012 & 2013 graduates was earning over $40,000 per year. Graduates need to jettison the entitlement mentality, roll up their sleeves, and prove themselves in the marketplace.

Underemployment is a common phenomenon for young graduates, but not all underemployment is bad. Graduates have to distinguish between jobs that have long-term potential and those that don’t. And if they job-hop, they need to do it in a way that will make sense to future employers—in a way that lets them build on their existing skills and that contributes to the narrative arc of a nascent yet discernible career trajectory. That’s how financial and professional advancement are earned, and that’s ultimately how twentysomethings can kick their student debt to the curb once and for all.


Beating the College Debt Trap is currently available for pre-order. Zondervan and Alex have also put together a great pre-order special: when you pre-order the book, you’ll receive a free parent-child discussion guide as well as discounts on Alex’s other books. Learn more about the pre-order special here, and consider pre-ordering a copy today.


photo credit: Owned. via photopin (license)

Race, diversity and God’s glory: A conversation with Trillia Newbell

There are some issues that make total sense for there to be a great deal of discussion and controversy around, but I’m not sure how many of us would put ethnic diversity on the list. It’s not that we don’t think diversity is important, it’s just because we live in a pluralistic society and assume that it’s a given.

Except it’s not.

A while back, I had the opportunity to sit down with Trillia Newbell and talk about her new book, United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, one of the most encouraging and thoughtful books I’ve read on the issue of racism and embracing ethnic diversity within the church. During our conversation, we discussed her reasons for writing United, the problems with the word “race,” and what reclaiming a sense of diversity really means for the church. I hope reading our conversation is as enjoyable for you as speaking with her was for me!


Why was this book so important for you to write?

I grew up in the South and experienced racism and it really didn’t occur to me that this could be something I could put on paper until my pastors asked me to read and review Dr. John Piper’s book Bloodlines. [After reviewing the book,] I wrote a blog post about being an African American female in a predominantly white congregation. The response was so incredible, and people from across the board were really affected by it. And I realized this wasn’t just something on my heart, but an issue the church really needs to be talking about.

[Thinking about] diversity in general, I grew up loving people and culture and wanting to know more about both… I grew up with that desire because my father taught me, but diversity had a different meaning for me—it was a little more political.

When I became a Christian, and I saw in the Bible how it talks about all tongues and all tribes, it became clear that this is really a biblical issue (if you want to call it an issue). It’s bigger than politics. It’s really God’s heart. He has a love for all nations. Jesus came to redeem all nations, all tribes. And then, Jesus commanded his disciples to make disciples of all nations. It’s something so important that God thought to address it.

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One of the things I noticed in the book as you referenced your own experiences with racism was a problem with the term “race” itself in the context of people. Can you unpack that for me?

I often refer to people as different ethnicities or different cultures, but not different races. And the reason is, really, there’s only one race: the human race. We’re one people, all born from one man—Adam…. You don’t see the Bible talking about “races.” It talks about ethnicities, tribes, tongues, nations—but you don’t see “races.”

What difference, practically, does it make when we think about people in terms of “race” versus a more biblical view of “ethnicity”?

If we adopt this language and this mindset, we would still have the superiority issue—which is really pride—but it would eradicate some of the sillier ones. Interracial marriage wouldn’t be an issue at all. It would simply be two people of different cultures and ethnicities becoming one.

We would also be able to get to the heart of the issue of racism more easily, which is really pride… It would take a while, but [with racism gone] you wouldn’t have racial profiling…

And because we have a tendency to indulge our sin nature and think the worst of people all the time, we’d change our racial profiling to ethnicity profiling.

We would still have some of the same struggles, yeah, because we’re sinners.

But it might be easier for us to think of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. I think it might be easier for us to understand that we really are adopted into one family and it’s a new bloodline, and we can embrace that.

How we prevent good arguments for treating equally from being co-opted either to gain the approval of clearly sinful behavior or political aspirations?

I would say biblically, anything about the personhood of a human being is not sinful in so far as the color of my skin is not sinful. I was created in the image of God, exactly as God forethought this. He foreknew me, knit me in my mother’s womb and knew I’d be a brown girl. And He said that this is good. He created me in His image. So nothing about the color of my skin is sinful.

When we look at the Bible, we’re made equal, we’re redeemed equal—we’re also sinfully equal. So I think we can strive and encourage diversity in that sense because there is nothing inherently evil in this pursuit or about the people God has created in terms of our color. We are sinners, but in terms of what he created… we can pursue it because there’s nothing in the Bible that would discourage this pursuit.

So it’s really being careful to draw our distinctions based on what the Bible says about people, rather than trying to make a hard-and-fast statement about actions.

Yes! We can act out in sin as people, as people made in His image. But because we’re talking about pursuing people of different colors, tribes and tongues, that has nothing to do with the actions of those people. Jesus commands the disciples to make disciples of all nations, but he doesn’t delineate in terms of what those people are doing.

One of the things you wrote in the book is that, “Diversity doesn’t mean ‘more of the same.’ Maybe that’s obvious” (United, p 67). I’m really not sure it is that obvious. In our country, we tend to congregate with people who are like us. We’ve got a very large Middle Eastern population that tends to not talk to anyone who isn’t Middle Eastern. In our churches, we tend to stick within our denominations. We do age-and-stage ministry—with young people only learning from each other (which as we all know is a bad idea since we were all kind of stupid at that age), and seniors are all together feeling left out together… and even churches where there does tend to be more ethnic diversity, we often find churches doing separate services in specific languages, rather than fully integrating. Why do you think we do this and how would you encourage us to be more biblically diverse?

The “why” is we’re comfortable. People planning these ministries think, “This is going to serve [these people]… this is going to be comfortable.” But the reality is, you get seniors who think, “I can’t serve in this church, I’m not of any use,” and people who will never know the people in the other services because they only go to the service in their language, and youth who are not learning and growing from older members of their congregations…

[As for encouragement,] the Bible has a great chapter on this, Titus 2! [Laughs] And it tells us how to disciple one another. Older men and women discipling younger men and women. And it seems so clear to me that the Lord would want us to learn from one another and mix it up a bit so we can learn and grow. And then in 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about the body needing all its parts. So you can’t have a bunch of eyeballs together… you need the arm, you need the leg, you need the eyeball, all working together. Paul’s talking about spiritual gifts, of course, but unless we’re integrating those gifts aren’t going to come together.

Last question: If there’s only one thing you want readers to take away from the book, what would that be?

The pursuit of diversity isn’t about diversity: it’s about love. If people can reach out to their neighbors, share the gospel, get to know other people and love other people as you love yourself, that would be amazing. What a transformation that would be in all our lives, to truly seek to love people and to know people. That’s why I stayed in that predominantly white church [mentioned previously] for so long—because I felt loved. We had our problems, but I felt loved.


 

United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity is on sale now. Trillia’s writings on issues of faith, family, and diversity have been published in the Knoxville News- Sentinel, Desiring God, True Woman, The Resurgence, The Gospel Coalition, and more. She currently is the consultant on Women’s Initiatives for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention. Newbelll is the Lead Editor of Karis, the women’s channel for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Her greatest love besides God is her family. She is married to her best friend and love, Thern. They reside with their two children near Nashville, TN.