Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Interview with Sue Ciullo

I am thrilled to have this unique opportunity to interview author Sue Ciullo. Her inspiring and insightful new book, Messiah to the Messed Up, has recently been released.
Sue, welcome to HeartPoint! I really appreciate your taking time for this guest blog interview. 

Thank you for having me, Ryan. It’s my delight to visit with you and your readers here at HeartPoint.

Please tell us something about your upbringing and family background.
I was raised by loving, hard-working parents in Oak Lawn, IL, a suburb of Chicago. It was a middle class community, initially populated primarily by soldiers returning from WWII to raise their families. I am the sixth of nine kids: five girls and four boys. Looking back, I guess we were “poor” for many of the years, but I never knew it. For a long while, all of us kids slept in the unfinished upper level of our home. There were no interior walls up there, no heat, electricity or air conditioning. If enough of us slept together in one bed though, there was plenty of love, laughter and body heat to keep us warm on even the coldest nights.
My mom was a goddess when it came to creating yummy meals out of leftover this-and-that. We always had un-tattered clothes to wear and there was a wonderland under our Christmas tree every year. To this day, my siblings and I are amazed at what a remarkable job my parents did raising us.
Wow, what a wonderful family legacy! Where do you currently live and what is your life like on a day to day basis?
For the past twenty-eight years my husband Steve and I have lived in Bolingbrook, IL. We raised our son and daughter here. They are now both grown and our daughter is married. Our kids live nearby though and they pop in unannounced several times in a typical week, a fact that delights both my husband and me.
We’re a family of dog lovers and currently have sixteen canine-paws running around the house. The four dogs together take on the “pack mentality” and burst into a barking frenzy at random times for no apparent reason whatsoever. But these four rescue dogs are all quite snuggly, too, and all the noise and dirt and hair are quite worth the reward of a well-placed lick of appreciation. We have a cat too, who is super-cool and holds his own against the dogs.
Our home is in a middle class neighborhood on a cul-de-sac with only nine homes. We are close friends with all of our neighbors.
I am self-employed, working full time as a management and quality consultant. I work long hours, but the work is satisfying. I consider it a privilege to have so many clients and have become close friend with many of the people working at the companies I serve. My husband works at a local pubic elementary school. He has a particular affinity for serving kids with special needs.
It's obvious that you have a rich and rewarding life with your husband, children, dogs, and friends. Please share a little bit with us about your own personal faith journey. How did you come to know the Lord and grow in your spiritual life?
While growing up, Mom told us kids that we were Christians because we believed that Jesus died for our sins. So, I guess I’m a Christian, I thought. That sounded good to me. Growing up, I attended a church where the service had little variance from week. The statuary in the church and the religious art in our family Bible piqued my interest in Jesus. As I read the scriptures, my heart burned within me.
Fifteen years ago, our family began attending a vibrant, evangelical, non-denominational church. It was then that I was sparked to read the Bible regularly, join a small group and learn more about Jesus, the one I professed to believe in. The more I learned about God and Jesus and the grace that has been extended to us, the more smitten I became. My Jesus thermostat went from lukewarm to flaming hot. I converted from “Believer-in-Jesus” to “Lover of Jesus.” The journey continues.
That's very encouraging to hear. What motivated you to become a Christian author? What was your journey like towards getting published?
I was always a good writer, but I never did any Christian writing at all before I began writing the book that has since became Messiah to the Messed Up. My husband and I had long been in a small group with people from our church. As we were nearing the end of one book study, our small group leader solicited book suggestions for the next study. I knew exactly the type of book I wanted to read: One that told those Bible stories that just oozed with Jesus’ love. The book I was looking for would shed light on the significance of the encounters that Jesus had with ordinary people “way back when” in Bible times by explaining the cultural context. The book I wanted to read would make those old stories come alive, and illustrate just how relevant those stories are yet today. I searched the local Christian bookstore and Amazon for the book that I planned to recommend to my small group but I could find no such book. And I felt God was telling me, “You write it, Sue.”
I am probably one of the slowest writers in history. To prepare for writing the book, I reread the Bible from cover to cover in ninety days. Then I spent the next nine months immersed in the study of first century Palestine history and culture. At last I could begin writing. After working long hours at my “day job,” I would spend nights and weekends at Starbucks, or the home of a vacationing friend. I found that I needed large blocks of solitude to do this type of writing. It took me two years to complete the manuscript. I went to a Christian writers conference three years in a row, making contacts and learning to improve my writing skills.
I met my agent, and yours, Diana Flegal, at one of these conferences. She spent the next couple of years pitching my manuscript to various publishers. The feedback had a consistent theme. They all praised the quality of the writing, but said that I just didn’t have a large enough platform. I then had to become adept at social media and enlarging my market. Then a small, well-respected publisher read my manuscript and offered me a contract. I was euphoric. It took a full two years from the time I signed the contract until the book launched. In total: seven long years from God whispering, “You write it, Sue,” to Amazon saying, “Here is your book link.” And it’s just a little book.
It seems your journey as an author was a rather arduous one that required much patience. Your approach of using ten biblical stories as a springboard to connect Christian faith to our contemporary life is very helpful. The personal stories you share really help to connect the dots and bring Christ's ministry to life for us as believers. What are you hoping for your readers to take away from your book?
Messiah to the Messed Up is a book of love stories. I wrote the book to shed light on the deep love that motivated each encounter that Jesus had with the people that he sought. Until we understand the cultural context of the encounters from a social historical perspective, we can’t see Jesus’ radical nature or the depth of the love that broke down each and every social barrier. Once we more fully understand what happened two thousand years ago, we can then understand that Jesus’ love is given freely even today to each and every messed up one of us.
Do you have any new writing projects in the works?
I do, yes. It’s still conceptual at this point, but the concept is coming together nicely. My next book explores the Ten Commandments. Does that sound stern and boring? I fear it does. But these decrees were not thrown at us by The Great Curmudgeon-in-the-Sky. No, these are ten gems, gifted to us by the benevolent Father who loves us deeply and desires that we live life fully. So this book too, will be love story. 
That's outstanding! I'm looking forward to reading it! Sue, again I want to thank you for taking the time to "chat." Please share any parting words of encouragement you might have for my readers.
I have learned that God is very good at giving us our marching orders. We just need to listen and be obedient to what he’s laid on our hearts. We should not compare the assignments that God gives to us, with those that he gives to others. We are each unique, as are our gifts, trials and assignments. When God gives us an assignment, he’ll give us whatever we need to carry it out. There will absolutely be obstacles. These should only serve to convince ourselves that we’re in it for the long haul. Each time we get up and dust ourselves off, God is looking on, boasting “That’s my kid!”

Twitter Link: twitter.com/SueCiullo

Goodreads Link: 

About Sue: Sue Ciullo is a self-proclaimed mess. She is a management consultant, professional speaker and passionate student of the Bible. Sue lives in an occasionally loud and sometimes messy house.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Power of Prayer

Pray without ceasing. That's what we're instructed to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Prayer is a primary spiritual discipline in the Christian’s life. It is an unparalleled blessing to be able to commune with God in prayer on a daily basis. But, we so often take our prayer-life for granted.

Why is prayer such an important part of our spiritual lives? The gospels reveal that prayer was extremely important to Jesus during his days on the earth. We read of him often withdrawing from his disciples and the crowds to spend time in prayer with his heavenly Father.

Jesus would escape into the wilderness, trek up mountains, or spend time in solitude in peaceful places like the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. We see him habitually getting away to focus on prayer after taxing periods of ministry and also prior to important events in his life. If he needed to pray as often as he did being the Son of God, how much more do we need to pray?

Prayer serves a number of important purposes for us as believers. It's a tremendous privilege and unique avenue of talking to God, just as he talks to us through his Word and through nature. Rather than talking “at” God, prayer is our way of communing “with” God.

Whenever we feel the desire to be in the Lord’s presence, we are able to do so—no matter the circumstances or time of the day or night. Prayer is like a 24/7 hotline to God, and we are never put on hold or sent through a convoluted and frustrating, automated menu to keep as at bay. And Jesus serves as our perfect mediator or go-between (1 Tim. 2:5-6) in his divine capacity of high priest (Hebrews 7-8).

So what should our prayers consist of? The easy answer is: whatever is on our hearts. God is keenly interested in the fine details of our lives—the minutiae.

Beyond that, our prayers should acknowledge God’s sovereign reign, his limitless power, his holiness, righteousness, and eternal goodness. Furthermore, our prayers need to communicate our complete dependency on him. Every good and perfect gift comes from him, the Father of lights (James 1:17).

In our prayers, we need to confess our sins, and recognize our constant need for God’s tender mercy and grace. We should ask for his forgiveness and his ongoing provision of every material need and spiritual blessing in our lives (Matthew 6:8, 11-13). Flowery prayers and ritualistic repetition are unnecessary, because God already knows what we need before we ever ask him. After all, he is all-knowing and cares greatly about us.

Our prayers need to take time to focus not only on our own physical need for food, shelter, clothing, healing from sickness, financial and career concerns, or safety, but also for spiritual matters related to the spread of God’s kingdom on earth (Matthew 6:10). Unselfishly, we need to remember others in our prayers that their souls may be saved and the lives secured.

Moreover, we are instructed in the Bible to pray for our spiritual and political leaders at all levels of authority that God will be with them and guide them in their decisions. In this way, we are to offer up prayers of intercession (1 Tim. 2:1-2). It is God’s desire that we are able to lead peaceful lives and that all people may have the opportunity to come to a clear knowledge of the truth concerning Christ and be saved (1 Tim. 2:4).

So our prayers are to consist of praise, petition, and presence. If you’re anything like me, your tendency is to ask God for far more things than you thank him for. We need to be careful to have a balanced prayer-life, wherein we express our heartfelt gratitude and adoration at least as much as we lift of supplications or requests for God’s help and divine intervention in our lives.

It has been said by someone that, “A man on his knees can stand up to anything.” Prayer is powerful indeed. Let’s pray more fervently than ever before, and trust in the Lord to answer our prayers according to his perfect will.