Return to Me Bookclub Discussion Questions

ReturntoMe_mck.inddHUGE Thank you to Joanne Wallace from the Sister Circle Book Club, S. Attleboro Assembly of God, S. Attleboro, Massachusett for submitting these fantastic questions

Characters:  Zechariah  (Zaki)

Iddo and Dinah  (Saba and Safta)

Yael and Mattaniah

Joel and Shoshanna

Book One :  Babylon

In the first section, we meet the main characters.  What is the decree that finally comes to the people of Israel?

  1. Why did only a remnant choose to make the journey?  What were their excuses?  How did this effect Iddo and Dinah, in the short term and in the long term?
  2. Would you allow your child to make such a trip?  Why was Zechariah allowed to go?  What are some early signals that God has set Zechariah apart?

Book Two: The Promised Land

What did the people discover when they reached the Promised Land?  What sort of problems did they initially face?

  1. What happens with the local Samaritans?  Think about things from their point of view – were some of their reactions normal under the circumstances?  What were some of the things that the Samaritans did to show their dislike of the return of these exiles?  How do things escalate?  What is the end result?  I.e. the offer of help from the Samaritans, the desecration of the Temple, what happens to Shoshanna, the delays in the messages sent back to Babylon, etc.
  2. Yael and her father make many trips to the Samaritan village.  Talk about what draws Yael to the village.
  3. Dinah and Yael help in the birth of Hodaya.  Talk about this situation.

Book Three: Jerusalem

This book begins ten years later.  What changes have there been?

  1. What happens to Leyla?  Talk about the romance between Yael and Rafi.  What happens?
  2. How does Zechariah prove his love for Yael despite his knowledge of her sorcery practices?

Book Four:  The Temple

It is now six years later.  The work of the temple has still not begun and the area is under a drought.  What changes have happened in Zechariah’s life in the past six years?

  1. Haggai brings a prophecy to the people.  What does this initiate?  How does Haggai encourage and help Zechariah at this time?  What is different about Zechariah’s prophecy compared to Haggai?
  2. How does the author use the story of Hodaya to show the openness of God to the Gentiles?
  3. Chapter 45 jumps another three years.  The temple is finished – how will the story continue?

Enjoying the Fruit

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe “glamorous” writing life is usually very mundane—spending long hours alone in my office staring at a computer screen. Even when I’m not in my office, I continue to fret over my plot and characters, trying to dream up fresh ideas and themes and ways to tell readers about God’s love. It’s hard work and I enjoy it, but I seldom receive feedback for my daily labor. And the long-term results are often invisible and intangible.

            OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut for the past week, God has graciously allowed me to see and savor some of the fruit of my writing. I’ve just returned home from a tour in the Netherlands to promote my new non-fiction book “Pilgrimage; My Journey to a Deeper Faith in the Land Where Jesus Walked.” I traveled to ten bookstores in cities all across Holland to share my personal story about a time of spiritual dryness in my life and how I found renewal on a pilgrimage to Israel. I met so many women who could identify with my story, and who longed for renewed closeness with God. And I was blessed to discover that my book offered them hope.

           OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My busy schedule included interviews with a newspaper, a women’s magazine, and a Christian TV program. But what blessed me the most was the warm reception I received from readers of all ages. They told of the many hours of enjoyment they’ve had reading my books; how the books have taken them to other times and places; and how they’ve learned about God and themselves from reading them. Several people had tears in their eyes as they told me how my stories changed their lives.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m sure I had a look of stunned surprise on my face as I signed books and talked with readers in each beautiful Dutch city. It never occurred to me when I began writing 30 years ago that my books would be translated into other languages and enjoyed by readers in such diverse places as Korea, Indonesia, South Africa, Germany, and the Netherlands. But God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow, after a long trans-Atlantic flight through seven time zones, I’m back at my desk, alone with my computer once again. No more lovely meals and gracious welcomes and thankful readers. I’ve returned to a snowy Chicago winter after enjoying springtime in the Netherlands with green grass and blooming daffodils and crocuses. But what an encouragement to know that my labor in the Lord has not been in vain! I’ve been reminded once again that God has given me this gift of words so I can share His love and grace with readers all around the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI know we’ll receive a reward in heaven someday for the work we’ve done here on earth, but this week I’ve already had a taste of that reward.  So, to all my new friends in the Netherlands, thank you for blessing me beyond measure.

Hezekiah’s Tunnel

Pilgrimage_compThis week’s blog is excerpted from my new non-fiction book, Pilgrimage: My Journey to a Deeper Faith In the Land Where Jesus Walked. (Bethany House Copyright 2013)



Hezekiah’s Tunnel

downloadThe icy water takes my breath away. I wade into it, stepping down, and down again, until it reaches my thighs. But the shivery water isn’t the worst part of this trek through King Hezekiah’s tunnel. There is no light in here, electric or natural, and the claustrophobic tunnel meanders underground as if excavated by drunkards. Ahead of me, a tall man stoops to keep from smacking his head on the stone ceiling. A heavyset woman looks as though she regrets this adventure as she squeezes between the slimy walls. None of us can turn back. There’s only enough room to walk single file.Gods and Kings

This water system, deep below the city of Jerusalem, is manmade. The Bible tells us that “It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channeled the water down to the west side of the City of David” (2 Chronicles 32:30). I know the story well. The first novel I ever wrote, Gods and Kings, was part a three-book series about the life of King Hezekiah, who reigned in Jerusalem seven hundred years before Christ. With no supply of fresh water in the city and the vicious Assyrian army marching toward him, Hezekiah needed to find a way to safeguard the freshwater spring, located outside the city walls. His solution was to dig an underground tunnel from the spring to a new reservoir within the walls. Pressured to complete the work before the Assyrians attacked, he ordered the workers to start digging from opposite ends and meet in the middle.

IMG_0154“Hey, is it safe to trust a tunnel that was dug 2,700 years ago?” someone asks as we slosh forward. I shake my head but no one sees me in the dark. No. I don’t trust an ancient tunnel, especially in a city that has occasional earthquakes. I can only trust God—and keep moving, shining my feeble flashlight. The chiseled floor is uneven and rough, and since we can’t see our feet below the inky water, we shuffle slowly, careful not to stumble and fall. I’m not a big fan of caves, and this manmade one with its straight walls and squared-off ceiling is dark and creepy. The weight of the mountain above my head feels crush332_507041389024_3670_ning.

“How much farther?” someone asks in a shaky voice. I don’t dare tell her that this serpentine tunnel will wind for nearly a third of a mile and take about half an hour to walk through. The college students in our group try to lighten the atmosphere with laughter and jokes. Then one of them starts to sing: “Fill it up and let it overflow . . .” It’s an upbeat version of “Amazing Grace” with an added refrain, “Fill it up and let it overflow, let it overflow with love.” Soon, everyone joins in.

Siloam11We reach the middle and stop to see the spot where the two tunnels met. Here, chiseled into the rock, was the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered, written by Hezekiah’s men to explain how they had broken through after digging from opposite ends. The inscription is in a museum in Turkey, not here. We shine our flashlights on the wall and see where it once was, and also how the chisel marks slant from opposite directions at the meeting point.

This tunnel is an engineering marvel, especially when you consider that it was dug in 700 BC. Experts still aren’t sure how anyone could dig two meandering tunnels that began a third of a mile apart and get them to meet up in the middle, deep underground. Impossible! Everyone who hears the story and sees the tunnel is impressed with King Hezekiah and his men.

But God wasn’t impressed. He sent the prophet Isaiah to rebuke the king for all of his plans, saying, “You built a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the Old Pool, but you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago’” (Isaiah 22:11). In other words, Hezekiah was relying on his own preparations instead of trusting God.

Fifteen minutes later, a pinprick of light in the distance tells us we are almost to the end. I have a new respect for that old cliché about DSCN1594seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I hear a lot of grateful sighs, including my own, when we wade out into the blinding sunlight. As we sit in the sun to warm up and let our clothes dry out, I’m still thinking of Hezekiah.

BSBA270104100The city of Jerusalem was saved from the Assyrians, but not by this tunnel. When the most powerful army on earth surrounded Hezekiah, demanding surrender, he knew he’d reached the end of his resources. Facing an impossible situation, he went up to the Temple and knelt before God, placing his hope and trust in Him: “O Lord Almighty, God of Israel,” he prayed. “You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth . . . Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from [the enemy’s] hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God” (Isaiah 37:16, 20). That night, the angel of the Lord walked among the sleeping Assyrian warriors and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand of them. At dawn, the horrified king of Assyria gathered up his few surviving soldiers and bolted for home.

Angel-destroying-AssyriansIt’s okay to make plans, but the lesson of Hezekiah’s tunnel is that when we put our trust in God, not only is He victorious but He is glorified. I think of the struggles I’ve experienced lately as life has veered out of my control, the times when I’ve panicked as the water has crept higher and higher until it seemed to reach my neck. In spite of all my feverish plans and schemes, the enemy has besieged and surrounded me, leaving me trapped with no way to escape. But as I sit in the sunlight outside Hezekiah’s tunnel, I think of God’s promise from Isaiah, the prophet in Hezekiah’s time: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (Isaiah 43:1-2).

light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnelWe can step into the deep water, the darkness, the unknown—and trust God. At the end of the tunnel, we will emerge into dazzling sunlight.

Woman Alive Magazine

Thank you to Woman Alive Magazine for featuring me in December’s issue!

Pilgrimage_compCheck it out and enter a review for a chance to win their book of the month, “Pilgrimage”

Enjoy the interview here:

On the Sofa with Lynn Austin


Return to Me

     This week I received the first copy of my newest novel, Return to Me, hot off the press. It may be my 20th pReturntoMe_mck.inddublished book but the thrill never gets old. When my first novel, Gods and Kings was published in 1995, I carried the book with me all day, wherever I went, and even laid it on my bedside table at night. I was afraid that I would wake up anddiscover it had only been a dream.

     I wrote Gods and Kings because I had a passion for scripture and for bringing the Bible to life for readers who may find it difficult to understorah_scrolltand. I wanted to portray the men and women in the Bible as people just like us with the same hopes and fears, facing the same challenges that we do in our walk of faith. Few publishers would consider a biblical fiction series at the time, and it took me several years of struggling and waiting and not giving up to see my dream come true. In the years since, thousands of readers have written to me, begging me to write another series like “The Chronicles of the King.” And now I have!  Return to Me is the first of three books in “The Restoration Chronicles,” based on Ezra and Nehemiah. I’ve rediscovered my first passion!

The cover, featuring a priest blowing the shofar, is one of my all-time favorite covers—and not just because my husband is a professional trumpet player. The shofar has such a rich history and significance in scriDSCN3742pture. A few examples: Abraham obeyed God by offering his son Isaac—and God provided a ram caught by its horn to sacrifice in Isaac’s place. A trumpet blast was heard on Mt. Sinai when God gave His Torah to Moses.  God commanded Joshua to blow trumpets at Jericho and gave Israel a resounding victory. Trumpets are blown on the Feast of Trumpets to announce the New Year and a time for repentance. And of course the last trumpet will announce our Messiah’s return.

     Earlier this month when I celebrated Rosh Hashanah with my friends and family, I learned that the sound of the shofar is a wake-up call. It’s meant to inspire awe and fear of God in those who hear it, reminding us of Judgment Day and the need to get right with Him. It’s the call of the prophets, warnApples and Honeying us to repent, and live right, and obey His Word. And Jewish tradition also says that the resurrection of the dead will be accompanied by shofars. My host on Rosh Hashanah pointed out that just as a ram’s horn grows in stages, year-by-year, so  should we continue to grow spiritually and in our relationship with God.  Many of the traditional dishes we ate contained honey, a reminder to savor God’s Word: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103). 
  Shofar    In other words, the sound of the shofar is the voice of our loving God calling us back to Him. “Return to me,” declares the Lord Almighty, “and I will return to you.”  (Zechariah 1:3) It’s the message of Rosh Hashanah and the message to the exiles in Babylon in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. And it’s the message God speaks to you and me whenever we allow busyness and worry and the cares of this world to get in the way of our relationship to Him. “Return to Me!”
 May the message of Return to Me draw you closer to God and His unfailing love.
Click Here to order “Return to Me!”

Digging my Research

Authors do a lot of crazy things while researching their novels but my all-Gods and Kingstime-favorite research experience was the month I spent as a volunteer on an archaeological dig in Israel. The first books I ever wrote were the 5-book Chronicles of the King series, based on the life of the biblical King Hezekiah. I needed to know what everyday life was like in 700 BC, but more importantly, what it was like to see the Israeli sky at dawn and at sunset, and to breathe the Middle Eastern air. I was gleaning much of my historical information from reading Biblical Archaeology Review magazine, and when I saw the listings for summer volunteer dig opportunities, I knew I had to go.


I ended up choosing the dig at Tel Batash–the biblical city of Timnah, made famous by Samson (see Judges 14:1). But Timnah was also one of the cities that King Hezekiah fortified when the Assyrians threatened to invade his land. Previous digs at Tel Batash had uncovered storage jars he used for army supplies, sealed with his signet ring. I would have loved to find one of those seals! And so off I went to dig in Israel for a month with my oldest son, Joshua, who was 14 at the time.


The dig began with a tour of Israel that included all the important archaeological sites, then we settled into our beautiful resort hotel in the hill country outside of Jerusalem.  Our wake-up call came at 4:00 am every morning (the stars were still out!) and we left for the site by 4:30 to beat the heat. I used to joke that if God wanted me to see the sunrise, He would have put it later in the day! But what a wonderful experience to watch the sun dawn every morning from the top of the tel, accompanied by a chorus of doves in the almond grove below us.


We worked until 11:00 am when the temperature grew too hot, moving bucket after bucket of dirt. “Archaeology is planned destruction,” the head archaeologist would remind us. My work site was at Timnah’s main city gate where we found the cobblestone pavement from Samson’s time. It was such a thrill to think of him walking that very street. My son wanted to find a skull—and he ended up finding an entire skeleton. He had lots of expert help unearthing it, of course. I thought the dig experience would get archaeology out of my system but it turns out, it merely whet my appetite. I’d love to do it again!

Wings of Refuge 001When I finished the Chronicles of the Kings series a few years later, I decided to use my experiences to write Wings of Refuge, a novel about a woman who goes on an archaeological dig in Israel. The story gives readers an idea of what my experience was like, but I also tell two parallel stories, one about the founding of modern Israel, the other about Christians in the First Century who lived in the ruins that my heroine is excavating.

In the meantime, I’ve written novels with other historical settings, but readers continually ask if I’ll ever write another series like the Kings. Well, the answer is YES! I’ve begun writing a 3-book series called The Restoration Chronicles, based onimages the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Once again I needed to travel to Israel to research this series, but this time I had the enormous pleasure of staying with my daughter and her husband who were living in Jerusalem. We had a great time traveling around and researching together. (And she didn’t make me wake up at 4:00 am!) The first book in the Restoration Chronicles, “Return to Me,” will be out this fall.


Going on an archaeological dig had been on my “bucket list” for a long time—what’s on yours? And by the way, the oldest volunteer was in her eighties, so you’re never too old to dig.