About the Author
T. Suzanne (Suzie) Eller is the author of five books and over 600 articles and columns. She is a contributing writer to Today's Christian Woman, cbn.com, and Enrichment Journal. Suzie is a youth culture and parenting columnist, and a community mentor in The Woman of Vision program. Her books include The Mom I Want to Be, The Woman I Am Becoming: Embracing the Chase for Identity, Faith, and Destiny and Making it Real: Whose Faith is it Anyway? Suzie is a sought-after inspirational speaker who ministers internationally to groups of all sizes. She has been featured on hundreds of radio and TV programs. Suzie and her husband have three children and make their home in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. For more information, visit http://www.daretobelieve.org/
Author/Speaker Available for Interviews
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The Woman I Am Becoming
Describe the passion or burden behind writing The Woman I Am Becoming.
I've worked with teens in different ways for nearly two decades. I'm lucky, because that means I now have a lot of connections and friendships with twentysomethings and even those in their early thirties. I don't have all the answers, and that is not what this book is about, but I have had the privilege to come along side these amazing young women as they ask tough questions.
We're encouraged scripturally as older women (that's me!) to teach the younger women. For me, the definition of teaching is to talk about the issues that matter to them. First, I need to know exactly what that is, rather than assume that I know. Second, I need to be open to a dialogue, a conversation between women at different stages of life, and I love that part of this book. I also love that in real life. It's not a one-sided relationship, but I learn from them and perhaps I can share insight gained through experience, or through bumps (or crashes into brick walls) and thus we all are stronger.
I receive e-mails from all over the nation, and even from as far away as Nigeria or South Africa or West Africa and other parts of the world from young women who say, "I read your book today and it answered a question I have been praying over." That's priceless to me. Many have become Facebook friends and we continue to stay in touch.
You made sure to gather the input of several young women (twentysomethings) for the book. What was the common thread or theme in their stories?
Transition. They were making every critical decision in their lives: who to love, where to live, what to do, wondering what God expected or wanted from them at this stage. This was true, regardless of whether they were 21 and in college or 28 and a wife and mom to two. It was just different in intensity.
If you could give sort of a coming-of-age speech to women in their twenties who are just now finding their way in this world, what would be your three main points?
This age probably has the hardest time fitting in at church. The women's groups seem to be more for married women with children, and the college and career class is starting to feel too immature. What do you recommend for women who want to be involved at church, but don't feel like they fit in?
Margaret Feinberg, author of Twentysomething, says, "What makes a difference for twentysomethings who grow in their faith and one who grows stagnant or falls away? Without fail, relationships and community are most often cited as the determining factors for growth."
Community is a word that is strong among twentysomethings. They have left or are leaving the familiar world of family. Even if they are still close to family (distance or otherwise), the way their family perceives them may remain the same, but the reality is that they are changing. They are no longer the rebellious 16-year-old or the really smart cheerleader or the screw-up or the good daughter. Labels have fallen away as they are educated, make new friends, attempt to find a spiritual community, make relationship choices or face heartbreak, live financially on their own, work their way up the career ladder, have babies or wait to have babies, etc. They have moved from child to adult. Family is just as important to them, but they are looking for new sources of strength and encouragement.
The same difficulties arise in finding a church. Where do you find your niche? It's like a black hole in ministry among many churches. The twentysomething comes home and finds out that the youth group is mostly 13-year-olds and definitely not a good fit, or the singles group is comprised of mostly divorced men and women in their 40's with very different needs. Where do they fit?
So, I ask twentysomethings to redefine community as becoming a part of something larger. You contribute. You take. These people matter to you.
I encourage them to create community right where they are. For some, the biological family remains the primary community. Others find community in small groups or their community becomes four or five couples who meet in their home or at Starbucks, or four or five close friends who remain connected and close. The secret is that one community does not take away from the other. But it's still vital.
The Mom I Want To Be
This book isn't the typical lighthearted motherhood book. What sets your book apart, and how does it explore territory seldom covered in books designed for mothers?
It's definitely not a fluffy book! This is the book I didn't want to write. I've taught "Pushing Past Your Past" for the past five years at parenting conferences. At one, I was approached by the director and also by their publisher and asked to consider writing a book for women. I hesitated because it's one thing to share my childhood experiences, and what God has done in a workshop or keynote, but another to publish it and put it in the hands of women across the nation. If it helped many women, but destroyed my mother (by telling our story) it wasn't worth it.
And yet she encouraged me to write it. I invited her to join me, to share her story and to show how generations of dysfunction can continue if there is not healing, as well as practical helps and tools. I believe she added depth and wisdom, and it has ministered to many women, whether they were the victim of abuse or neglect, or the ones who are trapped in dysfunctional parenting methods and want help.
The Mom I Want to Be addresses the past, the present, and the future. It shows how to learn from the harm of your past, how to let go, how to forgive, how to trust again, and how to view the world from an adult's perspective, rather than that of the once-harmed child. It shares very practical steps on how to shape your children's memories now rather than focusing on the memories of your past, how to set boundaries for parents or people who are still dysfunctional, how to parent with resources and healthful parenting methods as opposed to familiar patterns from the past, and much more. It offers a lot of interactive study and questions and encouragement, as well as a 12-week small group study for women who want to take this to their church or friends or MOPS groups, etc.
It's still the book I didn't want to write, but I'm so glad I did.
Why did you feel the need to address these issues?
The first time I shared my "Pushing Past the Past" workshop I looked out over the crowd. They looked like women who had it all together. And yet as I spoke, I could see the defenses lowering and we connected as women with a painful past. After that first workshop, women lined up down the aisle, out the door, and around the corner, all who wanted to share a little bit of their story, or to ask questions, or to request prayer, or just to hug me and cry as they said, "you just told my story."
Did you find this book required an extra dose of raw transparency on your part?
It's so raw. But it's just as raw about God's amazing grace and transformation in my heart and for my family as it is about the hard times.
Did this affect any of your own relationships?
In good ways. My brother read this book and I'll never forget his words: "I've read other books and wondered if they understood what I went through. As I read my own sister's book, I knew that not only did you understand, but I know how whole you are. I knew that I was reading truth that could change me." That was worth the pain of writing the book--a thousand times over.
It also affected my mom's and my relationship. At this time, we were close and had been for a long time. But I learned about things that she had never told anyone--that she was molested at five, the insecurities she had when she was a suicidal mom and crying for help and no one was listening. It added a deeper level of compassion for the person who is my mom.
One of the issues you mention in the book is forgiveness. What's the hardest part of forgiveness to get right that's also the element that causes the biggest victories?
To let go. A lot of times we hold on to unforgiveness, waiting for someone to change, or someone to say they are sorry. Maybe they will one day, but maybe they won't. I want to be whole today, for my children and me. I let go because it cuts the tendrils of the past that keep me from growing. It starts the process of removing bitterness or rage or sorrow from my heart and mind.
I want to fly, and if letting go is part of that I'm willing to let go.
How can a mother let go of her past in order to give her children a better present and future?
First, go back and take a good look at what harmed you. Put it all out on the table. Learn from it. I didn't know my biological dad as a father, but I still learned from him. He was absent, so I learned the joy of being at my kid's ball games or feeling the soft touch of a baby's hand on my cheek. I was fully in the moment when my children walked down the aisle (my children are all newlyweds) and married their spouses.
My biological father chose not to be a part of my life, and I can't change that, but I'm willing to learn from his mistakes and do better with my own children.
Second, many women have faced things that are so grievous. Letting go doesn't make those injustices right or okay. It simply says, "I won't let the past continue to burden me or harm my relationships with my children or spouse." If you were neglected, abused sexually or physically or emotionally, you may find it difficult to let go. I did. But I was willing, and that was the first step. I invited God into the process. It took time. Healing is often a life-time journey. I would encourage women to seek counseling if they need help during that time, but also to open their minds to the possibility of what God can do with a willing heart.
Making it Real
How can teens own their faith rather than inherit it from their families?
At some point we all need to make a decision as we ask this question: Whose faith is it anyway? It's especially crucial for teens because they leave a support system and their faith is questioned, or they hit challenges and obstacles and dig deep for God and come up with a 1,000 sermons or their parent's belief system and it's often just not enough. Statistics say that over 80% of young adults walk away from their faith for a season. For some, that's just a statistic. To me, it's names. I could sit with you for hours and talk about the young adults who abandoned their faith for a season, and those who have never come back, and those who lost their way and are now in situations or circumstances that they never expected to be in.
Faith is so much bigger than hanging out in a church. It's knowing and loving God, and being loved and known by Him.
You talk about four "faithbusters." What are they?
Isn't it scary for a teen to doubt his faith, or to ask the tough questions?
Many parents are fearful when a teen questions their faith, but let's look at it another way: they are trying to make it personal. They need to understand why they believe, and as they do their faith becomes a life-long journey, as opposed to just going to church.
If your teen came to you and said, "I don't get calculus," you'd most likely try to help them by giving them additional resources or support or encouragement. You wouldn't react with fear or anger.
So, what do you do when a teen is trying to "make it real"? During that time, you still go to church as a family, but you understand that Christ didn't drag any of us to the foot of the cross. You let your teen know that you trust that he or she will find their way and that you are praying for direction. You offer resources. It's important that your faith remain vibrant and intimate, as you turn to God and pray for your child. The average teen hears a thousand messages about spirituality or skewed perceptions of Christianity. My daughter once said, "when I thought about it, Mom, I thought about your relationship with God and I knew it was real and that was enough for me." Your influence spiritually is so much greater than you realize. Trust God. Pray. Ask for guidance. Continue to honor God as a family, but encourage the individual journey of your child. His or her faith may not look exactly like yours, but if the foundation is Christ, then they are well on their way to an intimate relationship.
It seems your life calling has taken on so many different themes. You have a heart for student ministries, young adult women, and mothers. What's it like writing and speaking for three different people groups? How are the dynamics different, and what one thing remains the same no matter the group?
The overall theme of my ministry is "becoming." If you look at what I teach or write, you'll see that theme stamped all over them. I dare to believe that God is who He says He is, and I want to become all that I can be as I follow Him. I love to share that same theme with others, no matter their gender or age.
1. During this blog tour, any reader who responds to Twila Belk at firstname.lastname@example.org with the name of a church or organization that is interested in having Suzie in as a guest speaker, will receive all three of Suzie's books (up to 10 sets will be given away on a first come first serve basis).
2. If any of your readers contact Twila regarding a Bible study group or book club wanting to use Suzie's materials, their groups will receive conference calls from Suzie to kick off or conclude their studies.
3. All readers who post a comment regarding Suzie's books will be placed in a grand prize drawing on August 2, 2008, for a delightful gift basket.
Gift Basket GiveawayReal Issues, Real Teens: What Every Parent Needs to Know
The Mom I Want to Be: Rising Above Your Past to Give Your Kids a Great Future
Real Teens, Real Stories, Real Life
Making It Real: Whose Faith Is It Anyway?
The Woman I Am Becoming: Embrace the Chase for Identity, Faith and Destiny
and. . .
A sleek coffee cup filled with Dove Caramel chocolates
A tootsie roll bouquet
A Dove Almond Chocolate bar