Meet Joanna

I never know what to say when asked to write a bio…

My life is very ordinary, much like yours. God has given me opportunities to travel and speak, write and produce books and video Bible studies. But mostly, I do life in Hamilton – a small town in southwest Montana. I’m really just a hick from the sticks!

Like you, life keeps me busy. More and more each day, I realize how much I need Jesus in every area of my life. So I’ve made this my one goal – to know Him and be known by Him! I don’t do it perfectly – believe me, I’m a fellow struggler when it comes to carving out time with God. But the same grace that saves us is the same grace that changes us! And oh, sweet friend! I don’t want to miss that for anything in the world. 

 

To know Jesus – and be known by Him! There is nothing sweeter on this earth.

I was a 28-year-old pastor’s wife before I discovered Bible study tools that helped me cultivate a deeper relationship with God. It’s my passion to pass those tools on to you. For you were made for more than religion, my friend. You were created for a heart-to-heart friendship with Jesus!

I’m blessed to be married to a Jesus-hearted man whom I adore. John loves me and consistently believes the best in me even when I’m at my worst. I can’t imagine where I’d be, let alone who I’d be without his steady influence and always faithful love.

Together, we have three amazing kids. John Michael, Jessica, and Joshua. John Michael and his beautiful wife Kami gave us our first grandchildren – and twins at that! Jaxson and Quinley are so much fun. Jessica is married to a wonderful man named Loren Downs, and they have two sons, Nathaniel and Josiah. Life with grandkids is glorious!

John serves as a lead pastor which is really quite convenient – especially since God called me to be a pastor’s wife when I was sixteen. Even after four decades of full-time ministry, being a pastor’s wife is still my greatest joy and central calling. I love loving God’s people!

Statement of Faith

The Trinity

We believe the Trinity exists in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These three Persons are one God, having precisely the same nature, attributes and perfection.

God

We believe there is only one true and living God. He is our creator and the One to who all praise and glory are given. He is perfect in all ways and in all things. Through God, all things are possible.

The Lord Jesus Christ

We believe in His eternal existence as God; His incarnation and Virgin Birth, His death on the cross as the substitutionary atonement of sin; His literal bodily resurrection from the dead; His present ministry of intercession in heaven; and His Personal, future return to earth.

The Holy Spirit

We believe that the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, convicts men of sin and regenerate, baptizes, indwells, seals and sets apart believers unto a holy life; keeps and empowers believers day by day; and is the Teacher of the word of God and the guide for daily living.

The Scriptures

We believe in the absolute verbal inspiration of the word of God and that both the Old and New Testaments are perfect in the original writings and are the supreme and final authority for faith and life.

Man

We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image, but they sinned when tempted by Satan. In union with Adam, human beings are sinners by nature and by choice, alienated from God, and under His wrath. Only through God’s saving work in Jesus Christ can we be rescued, reconciled and renewed.

Salvation

We believe that salvation is by grace, a free gift of God apart from works. Salvation involves repentance, a turning from one’s own way to God’s way and seeking forgiveness of one’s own sin. Salvation is through personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. All who receive Jesus Christ are regenerated by the Holy Spirit and become the children of God. This true salvation will be manifested by a changed life. Grace is the way we are saved, the means by which we are changed, and the door that gives us eternity with Jesus.

The Future

We believe in the personal, visible bodily return of Jesus Christ to earth; the bodily resurrection of the just to the eternal abode in the glory of God’s presence, and the bodily resurrection of the unjust to judgment and everlasting punishment in the lake of fire.

Q & A with Joanna

1. How did you become a writer?

It wasn’t anything I ever planned or dreamed about. But as John and I were walking through a transitional time in our lives many years ago, things started to come out in my journaling that seemed more like articles or essays than entries. With the help of a friend, my first piece was published in our denominational magazine.

A few years later, the Lord confirmed it was indeed His call and not a fleeting interest. (For more see “My Writing Journey”) Though my submissions were rejected regularly over the following year, I realized this writing idea had to be God because up until then my life motto had been: “When the going gets tough, give up!” Or at least go do something you’re good at, like shopping!

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2. How do you balance writing and family life? How do you balance “work” and worship?

I struggle like everyone does in this area, but one of the “balance” things I try to do in every area of my life is to schedule counterbalance. Counterbalance means that if I’ve spent a lot of time doing ministry, or if I’ve been away writing, I schedule extra time with my family when I get back. My husband and I try to go on a date night now and then. And I love hanging out with Josh on the couch while we all watch a movie or TV. No writing, no research. Just me and them. (At least, that’s my goal!)

But balancing my life spiritually is vitally important as well. While I try to spend the first part of my day with the Lord, I’ve found that getting away for a half-day of prayer alone with God really supercharges my walk with God. Especially when I’ve been over-busy ministry wise.

3. Are you able to mentor me or read my manuscript for endorsement?

While I wish I could help everyone who asks, the responsibilities of family, ministry and writing doesn’t make this possible. But in an effort to help those of you who want to be published, I’ve put together a page outlining my own journey as well as a list of books and resources that guided me along the way. I hope you find it helpful. Click on “My Writing Journey.”

4. I heard there is a 14 & 17 year age span between your older kids and the youngest. What is that like?

It was a total shock when we discovered we were expecting, but Joshua has brought incredible joy to all our lives! I definitely didn’t plan on being pregnant at 40. Like I told a friend, “Who knew I’d be shopping for cribs and colleges at the same time.” But she reassured me it could be worse. “You could be shopping for diapers and Depends!”

Many have asked how Joshua is doing after I shared about his development delays in Having a Mary Spirit. He just graduated from high school and is such a delight. My sweet-spirited boy has turned into a sweet-spirited man. Though his low-muscle tone is still an issue and math doesn’t really compute, he did  well in high school with some accommodations. He loves working with kids and feels a call to ministry, so we’re excited to see what God has for him next. We’re excited to see what God has for him next.

5. I hear you speak at retreats and conferences…would you come to our church?

Speaking to women is one of my greatest joys and passions, but it isn’t my only calling. In order to be a good mom, an effective pastor’s wife and writer, John and I have chosen to limit my speaking to 8-10 engagements a year. While I love the intimacy of smaller venues, we’ve realized that larger venues (250+) are a better stewardship of those limited opportunities.

INVITE JOANNA >

If you‘d like to invite me to speak, please fill out the speaker inquiry form. While I can’t accept every invitation, please know I am honored you would consider having me as a guest. Whether I’m able to join you or not, I will be praying for God’s blessing and His best for your event.

For smaller events, you might want to check out the retreat option we built into all of the DVD Bible studies. I’ve had wonderful feedback from churches who have used the retreat guide to turn the teaching sessions into a special event. (Here’s the Having a Mary Heart Retreat Guide)

6. What are three things people don’t know about you?

Speaking to women is one of my greatest joys and passions, but it isn’t my only calling. In order to be a good m

I’ve gone skydiving–something I said I’d NEVER do. For quite a while, the Lord had been asking me to trust Him more–to choose faith over fear. When my daughter graduated from high school, we all–John, myself and the two older kids–decided to go skydiving. After spending nearly two decades giving our kids roots, it was time to give them wings!

Mmmm… let’s see, number two… I’ve been mostly sugar-free for almost twenty years. Again, it was something I never thought I could do, but I feel great. I have a lot more energy and my food cravings have really diminished. My weight still fluctuates at times, but with the Lord’s help, I’m able to bring it under control if I’ll just say no to my sweet tooth.

And the third thing that people don’t know about me is that, for most of my life, I’ve secretly dreamed of being Christie Yamaguche, the Olympic ice skater. Despite the fact I’ve never actually taken skating lessons and have the vertical leap of a turtle, I still believe that one day I’ll stand on a podium and finally meet Christie Yamaguche.

om, an effective pastor’s wife and writer, John and I have chosen to limit my speaking to 8-10 engagements a year. While I love the intimacy of smaller venues, we’ve realized that larger venues (250+) are a better stewardship of those limited opportunities.

INVITE JOANNA >

If you‘d like to invite me to speak, please fill out the speaker inquiry form. While I can’t accept every invitation, please know I am honored you would consider having me as a guest. Whether I’m able to join you or not, I will be praying for God’s blessing and His best for your event.

For smaller events, you might want to check out the retreat option we built into all of the DVD Bible studies. I’ve had wonderful feedback from churches who have used the retreat guide to turn the teaching sessions into a special event. (Here’s the Having a Mary Heart Retreat Guide)

7. What is it like being a pastor’s wife?

I love being a pastor’s wife! I grew up wishing I could be a PK–a pastor’s kid–so I married one and gave birth to three. I truly believe serving the local church is the greatest privilege anyone could ever have.

I’m often asked me how I deal with people’s expectations in the ministry. It isn’t other people’s expectations that keep me up at night–it’s my own! However, I’m learning that the only things that have any value are the things I allow God to do through me. Which brings me constantly to Jesus’ feet, asking Him to live and love, move and minister. First in me and then through me.

8. In what way are you a Mary or a Martha?

I’ve diagnosed myself as a schizophrenic Christian! I want to worship like Mary but the Martha inside keeps bossing me around. Like everyone else, I’m faced with a choice. I have to daily make room for my quiet time with the Lord–the Mary part of my life–it doesn’t just happen. But when I do, I’m amazed how better the Martha part of life goes!

On a practical level, I’m somewhat schizophrenic as well. I wish I enjoyed cleaning and cooking, but I can never seem to find my inner-Martha when I need her!

9. Tell us about your video Bible study projects.

Several years ago, the Lord dropped this thought in my heart: “There will be video Bible studies to go with your books.” Over the years, opportunities arose, but none of them really served the books, something that I felt was a priority. We were all set to create a website and some basic intro videos but then my publisher decided that it was time to produce actual video curriculum for the books – to which I said, “Yippee yahoo!”

It’s been an amazing journey! From the beginning, WaterBrook Press gave me the freedom to shape the format as well as choose a producer and curriculum consultant for the projects. In a sweet series of events, the Lord brought me Frank Gamble of One Stone Media and Kristie Kerr of Fourth Floor Ministries. It has been an absolute joy to work with people who love Jesus and love getting out His Word!

The first project, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World: The Video Bible Studywas filmed at my house in Hamilton. It was so cool to teach about Living Room Intimacy in my actual living room! My mom and sister and daughter were in the audience, which made it extra special.

Having a Mary Spirit: The Video Bible Study was filmed on a sound stage in Springfield, Missouri, my producer Frank’s home stomping grounds. He built a beautiful set and Kristie filled it with women from many different denominations. The presence of the Lord was so sweet during the three evenings of filming.

The last project, Lazarus Awakening: the Video Bible Study, was literally a dream come true! After visiting Israel with John two years previously, I couldn’t imagine filming the study any place else. WaterBrook graciously allowed our team to spend nine days there, traveling to different locations so I could teach the analogies and spiritual truths God had dropped in my heart during the initial trip. It was amazing!

I’m excited to say that my newest book, Embracing Trust: The Art of Letting Go and Holding On to a Forever-Faithful God, will also have a 10-week video study. My son, John Michael and his Omnivista Productions filmed the study in and around Glacier National Park in the northwest corner of Montana. I can’t wait to share one of the most beautiful places in the world with you!

10. Which of your Bethany books would you suggest reading first?

While they can be studied in any order, if you have a choice, I recommend studying Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World first. In my own life, I’ve discovered it’s a lot easier to hear and heed the rebuke of the Lord when I’m enjoying the intimacy of the Living Room.

Having a Mary Spirit makes an excellent follow-up study as it gives practical tools for transformation, showing us how to cooperate with the Holy Makeover the Lord desires to give each one of us.

Lazarus Awakening, on the other hand, kind of stands alone and can be inserted however you wish. If you are doing it as a group study, it’s 8-week format makes it a great study for those hard-to-fill weeks just before summer break. Because it is more gender-neutral than the other two books, it can be a good choice for mixed settings such as home groups or Sunday School.

11. What do you want your readers to take away from your books?

Number one, I hope they come away with a deeper understanding of how very much they are loved by God, no matter their personality type. Whether we’re more like Martha or Mary, or even Lazarus, we are all invited to sit at Jesus’ feet.

For those reading my new book, Embracing Trust, I pray that their faith will be strengthened in ways they’ve never experienced before. Because I believe TRUST is the key to the victorious Christian life we all long to live.

But all of my books center around one thing…cultivating a deeper, sweeter relationship with God. As we learn to really know God – not just about Him – we become the people we were always meant to be. I hope my books give readers life-long tools to help them in their pursuit of being fully devoted Christ-followers! I was a twenty-eight year old associate pastor’s wife before I discovered the methods that helped me carve out a quiet time with the Lord.

Something incredible happens when we spend time in the Word, just sitting at Jesus’ feet. His mind becomes our mind and His heart becomes our heart. It’s a divine exchange! And a Holy Makeover is the result – more of Jesus and less of me!

My Writing Journey

Grab a cup of coffee and let me tell you about my journey.

I’m often approached by people who have a desire to write, but much like myself starting out, have no idea where to begin.

I know how overwhelming that feeling can be. The writing life can be intensely lonely and navigating the publishing industry can feel like trying to find your way in a completely different world. I’m grateful for those who came alongside me and helped me on my journey.

I hope the following story and resources I’ve gathered will help as you pursue the path God has chosen for you.

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In the beginning…

I never dreamed I’d be a writer. Though I’d always loved to read, the thought of actually becoming an author was completely foreign to me.

However, as I began to journal my quiet time with the Lord, many entries seemed to come out in the form of essays – even articles. Many years ago, after submitting one of those entries – a tribute to an elderly friend – it was published in our denomination’s magazine. That was nice and would have been the end of it, except several years later a desire to write for publication began to stir in my heart.

That desire led me to attend my first Christian writer’s conference – a small, regional affair. Though the editors reviewing my submitted pieces were polite, my writing was evidently far from impressive.

I went to bed that night certain I had no business trying to get published. I reminded God that I didn’t have time for a hobby. That I needed to know this was His idea and not my own. In a special, divine way the Lord confirmed that this was, indeed, part of His plan for my life.

From the moment I accepted the call to write, I began scouring our local library for books on writing. Lisa Collier Cool’s How to Write Irresistible Query Letters and William Zinsser’s classic, On Writing Well (Collins) among others were very helpful.

I also purchased the highly recommended Christian Writer’s Market Guide and began to get a peek into what publishers were looking for. I especially looked at the magazine market, because I knew it was the easiest place to break in and get much-needed publishing credits.

At the time, I had no illusions of writing a book, I just knew God wanted me to “cast my bread upon the water” and give Him the chance to use what He had given me. But that wouldn’t – and couldn’t! – happen if I left my writing attempts sitting on my hard drive. I’d have to learn how to submit my little darlings.

So I took a night class on writing articles at our community college. The instructor taught us how to analyze a magazine and shape our writing to fit their style and format. She also drilled the importance of writing clean – eliminating weak verbs and passive tense – and challenged us to be especially assertive, confident and concise in our cover letters.

Looking back, I’m amazed I stuck with the intense learning curve writing for publication requires. Fear of failure and fear of rejection have always haunted me which makes God’s call to write quite funny when you think about it. Failure and rejection make up the bulk of the writing life.

For over a year, I sent out queries and manuscripts to magazines. For over a year, I was rejected. Time and time again. But for some strange reason the rejection didn’t seem to sway me. Perhaps it was because I was simply being obedient. God had told me to write and submit. It was His job to get me published.

During that time, I also subscribed to Writer’s Digest Magazine which gave me a monthly dose of encouragement and teaching as well as a sense of community in this strange, lonely world called writing.

God was good to bring me a companion for the journey. Tricia Goyer was pursuing a writing career as a Christian novelist. Although not yet published, she was definitely ahead of me in many ways. Tricia introduced me to Mount Hermon’s Christian Writer’s Conference. Held over Palm Sunday weekend each year, I had no idea this conference would change my life.

With my new friend’s help and the Writer’s Digest Guide to Manuscript Formats, I pulled together two proposals and submitted them early for editorial review. (Just to note, though all of the excellent resources I’ve mentioned are still available you may want to check more up-to-date resources as this was many years ago.)

I went to the conference with a bit of fear and trembling. After all, while God may have called me to write, it didn’t necessarily mean I was any good at it. But the Holy Spirit gently reminded me, once again, that my job was to be obedient. The results were entirely up to Him. Besides, with four full days of morning tracks and afternoon workshops, I was certain to go away richer in knowledge than when I’d arrived.

That week in Mount Hermon, California, turned out to be a Cinderella story for me. God granted favor on both manuscripts – one a children’s picture book and, the other, a special event handbook for churches called, Celebrate! Planning and Decorating for Special Events. By the end of the week, four houses wanted to see the decorating handbook – one of the editors was so in love with the concept he hand-carried a copy home to present to his publishing board immediately. Four other publishers were excited about the children’s book and four houses wanted to see a novel I’d brought in pieces but, hadn’t actually submitted. To top that all off, I was given a most-promising-new-writer award and was approached by an agent asking to represent me.

Wow! Heady stuff for this hick from the sticks – open doors and affirmation I’d never even dared to dream about! Excited, I went home to wait for my phone to ring frantically with offers of publishing contracts and – dare I hope? – news of bidding wars.

Though I was intrigued with the agent’s offer to represent me, I felt fairly confident and even eager to negotiate a contract on my own. After all, with twelve possibilities on my horizon, who needed an agent?

Evidently, I did. In the next six months, one by one, the twelve potential placements each bit the dust. Publishing directions had changed. Editors had left positions or similar books were already in place. Even the male editor who had been so excited by the decorating manual (go figure?), had to call me back to let me know that marketing had shot the project down. They didn’t know where to place the book in the bookstore (a legitimate concern at that time) and so, sadly, he had to decline my project.

Finally, I realized I didn’t want to do this alone. Waiting for phone calls and constantly checking my email for signs of interest was emotionally exhausting. So I contacted the agent who’d offered to represent me, and much to my relief, she was still interested. She asked me for a list of project ideas, and when I sent them to her, she pointed to a wedding gift book idea and said, “I want that one.”

Using Michael Larsen’s book as a guide, I wrote a proposal for With This Ring: Promises to Keep, including an overview, an analysis of other similar books on the market and a summary of the sections of the book. I also wrote and included the first quarter of the book so they could get a sense of the flow as well as my writing. (Two sample chapters do the same job for a non-fiction or novel proposal. A chapter-by-chapter summary is required as well.)

Six weeks after my agent submitted the proposal, WaterBrook Press offered me a contract. And so my “career” in publishing had begun.

That is my story and the journey God has led me on. It is in no way a template for yours. Every writer I’ve ever met has a unique story and your journey will be different from theirs. But may I leave you with a few final thoughts…

Tips for Writing From the Heart

Hold your gift loosely

You see, writing – like any kind of art – can turn into an obsession. The call to any kind of ministry is fancy food for the flesh. Without realizing it, “God’s dreams” can easily turn into “man’s schemes” if we don’t constantly check our motivation and heart attitude.

Be obedient

If God is calling you to write or if you simply have ideas that won’t rest until you put them on paper, write. Then rewrite until it is the best it can be. Then submit. And when you are rejected, submit again. And again. And again.

Don’t try to “make it happen.”

Just be faithful and do the work. Invest in learning the craft of writing. Read a book. Take a class. Attend a writer’s conference. Don’t look for someone to provide a shortcut for you or your book. Take the first step and then the next. Let God open doors and then walk through them.

Concentrate on your walk with God

The most important advice I ever received was this: “Your job is to deepen the message. Let God broaden the ministry.” Our effectiveness for God’s kingdom is determined largely by our character and our maturity in Christ. Trust God to know the time to unleash you and your opportunities on the world.

U

Don’t become fixated on one project

The first thing you write may not be the first thing that is published. I’m fairly certain Celebrate! will never be published – it’s not even on my hard drive anymore. It’s housed on a floppy disc that my computer can’t even read! Its destiny was not a book store. It was simply a vehicle God used to get me on my way and a tool He used to open doors for other projects.

Don’t fall in love with your words

None of us, no matter how godly we are, transcribe holy writ. We simply spill ideas and thoughts – yes, even God thoughts – on paper. Then, with a lot of hard work and discipline, we shape and hone those words until they sing. And sometimes, as sad as it is, the most melodic words end up on the cutting floor. Don’t be afraid of that.

Be patient. Publishing goes in cycles.

That means that publishers’ interests change frequently. Ironically, the publisher who first declined my children’s book was the house that eventually published my Attitude Adjusters series (now out of print.) Remember, God knows the times and the seasons He has purposed for us and our writing.

Learn from rejection

Be teachable. Ask for input from well-read friends, but don’t get all bristly when they give it. Take a step back from your manuscript for a week or two, then ask God for fresh eyes to see what is needed and get back to work. Don’t be afraid to try a new approach.

Above all, commit your way to the Lord and then trust Him with it.

Lay down your dreams and ask Him to give you a willingness to persevere, to grow and stretch and change. Allow God to get His hands on you in transformational ways. As you learn to die to self so that Christ might live in you, that abandonment will birth truth the world needs to hear.

Thank you for the privilege of walking beside you for this small part of your journey. Bless you, my dear friend. May the Lord lead you to the tools, the people and the places He has preordained for your journey. Remember, have fun! It’s His work. While you may be the hands He’s chosen to use, your only job is to cooperate and obey. He’ll do the rest.

Writing Resources:

Writer’s Digest Magazine – lots of helpful info and archived articles
Christian Writer’s Market Guide 
Great writing tips and insight from Tricia Goyer
Terry Whalin’s Right Writing — a generous, info-packed site

Christian Writer’s Conferences:

SPRING – Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference – California
MAY – Blue Ridge Mtns Christian Writer’s Conference – North Carolina
Northwest Christian Writer’s Renewal — Washington
Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference – Estes Park, Colorado
JUNE – Write to Publish Christian Writer’s Conference – Chicago
JULY – She Speaks Conference – North Carolina
AUGUST – Write His Answer Christian Writer’s Conference – Philadelphia
SEPTEMBER – American Christian Fiction Writers Conference

Click here for a more complete list of writer’s conferences.

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