A devotional contributor to Open Windows, Portals of Prayer, and Guideposts, author Heather Kaufman believes each of our stories is a part of the larger, beautiful story that God is telling, and she strives to highlight the goodness of God through her own storytelling. Making her Bethany House publishing debut with Up from Dust, Kaufman reimagines the story of Martha of Bethany in the launch of her new Women of the Way Series. In each installment, Kaufman highlights a different influential woman of the Bible and the Savior who pinpointed their pain, met them in the middle of their mess, and lifted them up.

In this interview, Heather talks with us about her debut novel for Bethany House, Up from Dust.

FF: Up from Dust is the first novel in your new series, Women of the Way. Can you please tell us a little bit about this book and the connecting element between the other installments?
Up from Dust presents a fictional backstory of Martha of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Mary. The story traces all the “many things” that worried and troubled Martha’s heart and the Christ who pinpointed her pain, met her in the midst of it, and lifted her up. We watch Martha come of age as she works through her mother’s death and the heavy responsibility of raising her siblings. We journey with Martha as she experiences first love and learns to shoulder the mantle of womanhood, even while coping with a father who is stuck in his loss. When grief comes to Martha’s own heart, she is presented with a choice. Will she cling to her hurt more than to Adonai, the way her father has done? Or is there a better way forward?

Each book in the series focuses on a female follower of Christ, presenting a “before” picture so that when the book touches upon events in Scripture, we feel like we know these women and understand their choices and reactions in a fresh way. In our familiarity with certain Bible stories, we can gloss over names like Martha’s. I’ve begun to linger, to let myself wonder what their lives were like and what they might have felt when experiencing the power of Jesus Christ. These people didn’t encounter Christ in a vacuum. They were living full, complicated, nuanced lives…and then Christ came, gloriously breaking into their mundane and compelling them to respond.

FF: Can you share with us why the book is named Up from Dust? What significance does this have to the story?
Dust represents the bookends of life—both humanity’s humble origin and destination. In the Bible, dust is an image of death and the grave, as well as humanity’s own frailty. Throwing dust on the head was an image of deep mourning, and sitting in the dust was a sign of affliction. In the book, Martha experiences soul-crushing sorrow that brings her “down to the dust” (Ps 44:25). She needs a Savior who understands her and who doesn’t hold her humanity against her. She needs the mercy of God to find her and raise her up from dust (Ps 113:7). This is the trajectory of our new life in Christ! Dust is no longer our inevitable destination. Spiritual, physical, and emotional graves can no longer contain the life that is transformed by Jesus. He is the firstfruits, and He continues to come to people of dust, generously lifting them up to new life.

FF: Why focus solely on biblical women as your protagonists? What role did they play in the Bible’s greater redemption story?
If there was anyone who understood the worth of women, it was the Son of God, the Word of God who fashioned her being! When Jesus walked onto the scene, the Jewish people had been sitting beneath several centuries of teaching from the influential Rabbi Ben Sira—teaching that greatly devalued women. In Christ’s interactions with women, He affirmed their equal worth, value, and dignity over and over again. He welcomed them as His disciples, included them in His teachings, and benefited from their service. When we see Christ in His cultural context, His tremendous heart toward women comes clearly into focus as He lifts them up, restoring the dignity that was theirs from the very beginning. From Eve’s faith in the seed that would crush the serpent, to Hannah’s song that prophesized a coming King, to Mary’s Magnificat, the Bible is full of faith-filled women—spiritual mothers whose stories are worth telling again and again. Like man, woman is made in the image of her God, and she was made to reflect His glory. By focusing on female followers of Christ, I hope to highlight His extraordinary heart for women and how God has always delighted in using both men and women to further His kingdom.

FF: Your female protagonist is a recognizable one—Martha of Bethany from the New Testament. What led you to start the series off with her story and her interactions with Jesus?
I’ve always resonated with Martha but thought I had to temper my “inner Martha” with a healthy dose of “Mary.” During an Easter sermon in 2016, however, I was deeply struck with a new admiration for Martha and realized that far from diluting my inner Martha, I wanted to be more like her! More like the woman who took Jesus’ words to heart when He tenderly invited her to the “better portion.” More like the woman who confessed Christ as the resurrection and the life while her brother was in a grave. When Christ bluntly questions her, He essentially looks her in the eye during her lowest moment when she is deeply disappointed in Him and asks her to confess with her mouth what she knows to be true. He is inviting Martha to come out of her fear and uncertainty and into the stability of His identity. Instead of taking offense, Martha delivers one of the strongest confessions of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. I want to be more like this startling woman of faith! The next time we see Martha, she’s doing what she’s always done: serving. But now we don’t see a frantic Martha, and when Mary anoints Jesus, we don’t see a jealous or reproving Martha. What a beautiful, soul-lifting trajectory Martha represents! It was seeing Martha’s growth that sparked my curiosity and solidified her as the woman I wanted to write about.

FF: What do you hope to portray to readers through these books?
You are seen, known, and valued by God, and you have an important part to play in His kingdom work! God put His feet on the ground in the person of Christ and empowered ordinary people of dust to walk in His footsteps. He did it then, and He continues to empower His people to do extraordinary things today. Will we shrink back in fear or push forward in trust? Will we cling to old patterns of thought and ways of being or fully embrace the new life He offers? He is worthy of our trust and our best, and He continues to come to His children, meeting us in all our frailty and weakness with all of His sympathy, power, and strength.

FF: How does Martha’s story mirror our own stories today?
As hard as it was to write, I wanted to depict Martha learning to live in the tension between God’s goodness and the incredibly hard circumstances He allowed into her life. She doesn’t receive concrete answers about certain things that happen to her, and this was an intentional choice on my part. Certainly, Martha experiences personal growth and can trace God’s goodness and faithfulness, but she really doesn’t receive an answer to her burning question: “Why?” And I think most Christians, if they’re honest, live in this tension too. We sing songs on Sunday affirming God’s goodness and then we go back to lives that sometimes don’t feel so good. There’s that one tender spot that makes no sense. And I think we can feel this pressure to put on a happy face that looks like a trusting face. Almost like we want to “protect” God’s image by downplaying our own pain. So, we slap Romans 8:28 on our wounds and paste on a smile.

But God is not honored by our denial. God is honored when we come—like Martha—barreling down the hillside, overflowing with all our pain, pouring it out at His feet. Christ doesn’t want a “good Christian version” of us—something that looks spiritual on the outside. He wants us. And maybe He won’t give us what we think we need. We may never know why certain things happen. But He will give us Himself. Faith involves accepting the tension between our sovereign God’s goodness and our deep pain. It’s choosing to believe God despite feelings and circumstances. Until we can stand on the hillside with Martha, surrendering our understanding, our right to know why, as we cling to who He is.

FF: What other themes present themselves throughout the novel?
Family dynamics figure prominently in this book. Martha, Lazarus, and Mary both rely upon and frustrate one another, and each has their own unique experience with their father. It can be tempting to filter our family members’ actions through our own personal frustrations with them rather than slowing down to truly see those closest to us.

Female friendship is another strong theme throughout the book. Martha and Gilah’s friendship is “forged in the fires of loss and need, fertile ground that had given [their] relationship deep roots.” But as each woman’s story unfolds in different directions, the friendship unravels and is only put back together as each is humbled in her own way.

The book presents varying responses to pain and disappointment as dreams become shattered like shards of broken pottery. One response sees love as a thief, and pain as something to cling to out of self-preservation. The other response sees love as a gift, and pain as a catalyst driving us closer to God.

The question remains: Will we cling to our hurt more than to Adonai?
Worry and fear are presented as bundled up tightly in the human heart. The disruption of God’s winnowing fork is needed to fling high all the chaff and leave behind that one necessary thing—closer communion with Christ.

FF: This biblical fiction story is your first published novel in the genre. As a newcomer to the genre, how did you approach writing this kind of story?
With much fear and trembling and prayer! I’m grateful for faithful commentaries and the mounds of scholarship that exists on Jesus’ cultural setting. I began—quite simply—with the Bible. I read and reread the book of John, taking the time to consult commentaries along the way. Then I moved to a bird’s-eye view of the cultural setting, getting a feel for what everyday life was like at the time. With the broad strokes in place, I was able to begin writing and, as I wrote, fill in the many gaps in my understanding. This was where the “nitty-gritty” research came into play. I began wide and telescoped inward, all while keeping in focus a heart of worship. Any head knowledge I ever acquire about the Bible should compel me to worship. And then it’s from that place of personal love for my Savior that I write. During the process, I was keenly aware that I was touching upon sacred things. Martha is my sister in Christ, and she is alive with Him at this very moment. Even though this book is ultimately a piece of fiction, the seriousness and weightiness of the topic was never lost on me, which is why I kept running back to God in prayer!

FF: What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
My heart behind this story is for readers to fall in love with the Word and the One the Word points to—Jesus Christ. I pray that readers will throw down my book and pick up their Bibles with renewed passion. The God of the Bible is the same God today, and He loves His kids with the gut-level love of a parent. We can give ourselves over to that love even—and perhaps especially—when we don’t understand His ways. I hope Martha’s story encourages readers to reframe their wounds, to see their pain points as access points for God’s strength. There are many things that can bring us “down to the dust,” that make us keenly aware of our own need. We all have heaviness that we carry, burdens we bear in silence, and we feel our own “dustiness” deep in our bones. I pray this story helps us all believe that God is good not if or when but now, right here in the heaviness of our hurt, and that we will not be disappointed when we expect Him to be faithful.

FF: What can readers look forward to in book two of the series?
The scope of book two is sweeping, and the research took me in surprising directions! I won’t give away who the main character is, but let’s just say it’s a lady who doesn’t receive nearly as much attention as she deserves. Book one took us to the country. Book two whisks us into the city. Get ready for political intrigue, family secrets, a marriage of convenience that blossoms into more, and many grand-scale moments where the heroine must choose between safety and bold faith.

Up from Dust
Women of the Way Series #1
Heather Kaufman
Bethany House
Genres: Biblical Fiction, Historical
Release Date: January 23, 2024

ISBN-10: ‎1540903567
ISBN-13: ‎978-1540903563

Book Summary:
Martha of Bethany is a woman of dust, undone and unseen in her hurt and her loss—until everything changes in the presence of Jesus of Nazareth.

Martha of Bethany is no stranger to adversity. After her mother’s untimely death, Martha shoulders the responsibility of raising her siblings—quiet and studious Lazarus, and wild and rambunctious Mary. She finds solace in friendship and the beginnings of first love, but just as Martha begins to imagine a new future, hardship strikes again, and her dreams crumble into dust.

Ten years later, Martha’s friend pleads for the new teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, to come and heal her husband. When Martha discovers that the carpenter-rabbi is connected to her past, she’s not sure she can trust him with her future. But as he continues to perform miracles, the invitation to believe becomes harder to resist, renewing Martha’s hardened heart, even as she faces an unknown future.


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About The Author

Heather Kaufman is the author of multiple books and devotions, praised by Kirkus Reviews for writing “a charming and well-crafted tale” (Loving Isaac). She delights in highlighting the goodness of God through storytelling.