The Cross & the Pen: God Allows U-Turns for Kids
- Thursday, November 06, 2003
If you have young children or grandchildren, you will want to take time out of your busy schedule and read the interview I recently had with Allison Gappa Bottke and Heather Gemmen, coauthors of three recently released children's books (God Allows U-Turns for Kids/Cook Communications). As a forward, let me tell you how much I love these two women! Allison and I met one another and then hit the ground running with our friendship. We've roomed together at various conferences, cried together over our loved ones, and lift one another up in prayer regularly. Heather Gemmen, children's editor extraordinaire, is the kind of woman you ask God for when it comes to friendships. She's loving, warm, and honest. For a really fun night, you'll want to join the three of us as we sit around talking about our ministries, our families, and our love for the Lord in general. Wanna listen in on a recent conversation?
Eva: Allison, before we talk about God Allows U-Turns for Kids, tell me a little bit about your personal U-Turn and the U-Turns project.
Allison: I'd love to! I spent the first 35-years of my life as a non-believer. I was a card-carrying feminist entrenched in the New Age movement; you know, all of that "the power of the goddess within" nonsense. I followed my horoscope, had my tarot cards read on a regular basis, and often consulted with a psychic for guidance. I was so lost! I look back on those years now and it's almost as though I was another person - I guess I was, really.
The Holy Spirit got a hold of me in the fall of 1989 and I've never been the same. I was at another dead end in my life, nothing was working, nothing was right. I was out walking and I entered a church on legs that were not my own. The sermon that night was specifically for me. The pastor, who has remained a good friend and guide to this day, talked about being lost. He talked about filling the empty places in our soul with everything except a relationship with Jesus Christ. That was so foreign a concept to me! My U-Turn started that night and in a few months I began writing my testimony and called it God Allows U-Turns, because that's what He did for me - he turned my life around. Literally.
Eva: So there are how many "adult" U-Turn books out now?
Allison: We have four volumes now available in the true short story compilation series and we are currently working on three more. Actually, we are working on literally dozens of "niche volumes" in the series, but we have three specifically lined up for the next releases: God Allows U-Turns for Parents, for Teens, and for Couples. Future volumes in ongoing development are God Allows U-Turns for Seniors, for cancer survivors, for teachers, for nurses, and on and on. Thousands of true short stories have been submitted for consideration and we are always looking for more.
Eva: What made you move from the stories of U-Turns in adult's lives to those created especially for children?
Allison: "The Choices You Make Change the Story of Your Life" is our trademark. In praying about that statement it became clear to me that those choices begin at a very young age. Sure, as kids we don't get to choose a whole lot - our parents do that for us, and rightfully so, but one area children can make their own choices is in their heart. They can choose to love or hate, they can choose peace or anguish, they can choose laughter or sadness. God has some pretty specific choices he'd like us to make in our heart. If I had been exposed to faith-based choices as a young child I wonder how different my life would have been.
Eva: Heather, tell me about your initial meeting with Allison and how to two of you came to collaborate on this precious project.
Heather: To be honest, I'm surprised that Allison and I hadn't discovered each other before this time. We are petals from the same flower (or maybe electricity from the same lightning bolt): our high level of energy, passion and creativity led to an immediate friendship. My colleague, Terry Whalin, acquired the God Allows U-turns books for kids and youth for Cook. He told me that Allison was looking for a writer and he knew that I had expertise in that area. Would I be interested in helping out? Meanwhile, Allison's agent was recommending to her that she work with me. The rest is history.
Eva: Okay...we're looking at a cute little family of "doggies." You've called them "The Barkleys," which I think is just way too cute. And you're looking at the Fruit of the Spirit...Laughter and Love, Jingles and Joy, and Picnics and Peace. How did the two of you work together on this project?
Heather: Ha! That was fun. When I first proposed to Allison that we make these characters animals, she thought I was crazy. I'm not sure if it was my power of persuasion ("But, Ali, think of all your favorite children's books. All the characters are animals!") or some gentle prodding from her husband that finally got her to agree to it. When she did, she promptly named them the Barkleys. I love it! Allison also came up with the plan of introducing the U-turns concept by teaching the Fruit of the Spirit. I, then, had the challenge of pulling this off in a fun and interactive way. Riddles in limerick seemed the perfect solution.
Eva: Hey, Heather...I happen to know that author & speaker came up with the name "The Barkleys" while she, Ali, and I were rooming together at Expo in Indianapolis, so there's even one more great mind thinking alike here! Okay...Heather, who did the illustrations for the books?
Heather: My hero: Matt Whitlock. I had worked with him on some other books and knew that he could complete this team. He is a former Disney illustrator with a wacky sense of humor. He's the one who brought the Barkley's to life.
Eva: Heather, you know Matt's my hero too! Allison, I know that all Faith Kidz (Cook's children's line) books have a special feature at the end. Can you tell me a bit more about the parental guides at the back of the books?
Allison: I have a special place in my heart for young parents. I was 16 when I gave birth to my son and I was clueless about how to instill spiritual building blocks in my son's life. These guides give instruction to parents to encourage their children to make U-Turns toward the Fruit of the Spirit, toward Love, Joy and Peace. They do this through exercises that encourage Sight, Sound and Touch lessons. Sure, some parents may know to do this automatically, but for many parents, these are building blocks for them as well.
Eva: Allison and Heather, this question is for the two of you. I have a granddaughter who lives nearby, spends the night quite often, and I read to her all the time. She loves these books! She has actually memorized Picnics and Peace! Why do you think it's so important that we read to children and what ministry do you envision with them?
Heather: Jesus often spoke in parables without offering an interpretation. In that way he spoke to those whose hearts were open to hear His message. Storybooks do the same thing: kids can take in the message of the book as much as their maturity will allow. But storybooks aren't just about lessons. They are about storytelling. What better gift is there to give a kid than a cozy lap and a great book?
Allison: Reading to children opens a door for them to experience a different way of life. Our focus is so limited as kids; we feel the world is exactly like that which we live in from day to day. It's good for kids to see that other people live differently, make different choices, even a little doggie family. This is especially important when a child lives in a troubled home, perhaps with challenging situations and issues that make it difficult to grow up with love, peace and joy. They need to see the choices available to them.
Eva: A final question for Allison and then a final question for Heather. Allison, what's new with U-Turns?
Allison: Nothing. Nothing's new. Ha! Got ya! Every day is a new experience. The God Allows U-Turns outreach ministry is growing so quickly that it's hard to keep up. We have in development a TV talk show, a women's conference, and a quarterly newsletter - all three premiering in 2004, God willing. The U-Turns Foundation is growing and we just presented the first Strength of Choice award to Gene and Carol Kent this past July at CBA in Orlando. Cook Communications is also publishing next year U-Turns interactive adventure books for youth, ages 8-12. (Thanks to Heather!) We also have a line of logo merchandise, remind me to send you a U-Turns ball cap, okay? And our newest project is a line of God Allows U-Turns greeting cards being produced by Masterpiece Studios out of Mankato, MN. Our web site is going through it's third major revision and January will see a new online look www.godallowsuturns.com.
But Eva, what I am finding out right now is that God using this time to strengthen my own walk with Him. I'm experiencing another major U-Turn in my life right now that is causing me to slow down and to rest more in Him, to stop focusing on the huge strategic plan of the ministry and instead focus more on God's true plan for my life. It's a glorious time and I wouldn't trade these refining fires for anything. God is so good!
Eva: Oh, Ali! Yes, He is!! Heather, would you say a simple prayer for our precious children...that the Fruit of the Spirit would blossom in their little lives?
Heather: Holy Father, we praise you. You are Almighty God, and yet you love us as if we are your only child. Even a mother or father cannot understand the depth of your love for us. And so we entrust our children to you. We know you will care for them even better than we can. We ask you to woo them and win them over to life of love for you. We ask you to watch them and ward them so they will always be safe. And we ask you to fill them with your Spirit so they can bear your fruit. Thank you for hearing our prayer and for answering beyond what we ask or imagine. In Christ, Amen.
Eva: Amen...and Ali...send me that cap!
Award-winning national speaker, Eva Marie Everson is the author of Shadow of Dreams, Summon the Shadows and the recently released and highly anticipated Shadows of Light. Her granddaughter (pictured left, reading Picnics & Peace) loves the U-Turns for Kids books! Eva can be contacted for comments or for speaking engagement bookings at www.EvaMarieEverson.com
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