Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Leslie Vernick is a licensed clinical social worker and life coach with a private practice in Pennsylvania. She has over 25 years of experience helping individuals, couples and families heal, rebuild or grow their relationships. Leslie gently leads people to:

•Confidently speak thoughts and feelings in a constructive way.

•Encounter God’s peace and presence in the midst of suffering or difficult loss.

•Develop the discipline to turn dreams and desires into reality

Leslie is the author of six books, including, Lord I Just Want to be Happy and the popular How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong and The Emotionally Destructive Relationship. She has contributed to The Soul Care Bible, Praying Through Life’s Problems, Competent Christian Counseling, Silver and Gold, and What We’ve Learned So Far. Leslie has written articles for Discipleship Journal, Marriage Partnership, The Journal of Biblical Counseling and is a regular guest on Moody’s Mid-Day Connection as well as a columnist for the ExtraOrdinary Woman Newsletter.

Leslie loves to speak at women’s retreats, couples conferences and professional seminars both nationally and internationally. She has had the unique privilege to teach in Iraq, Russia, Romania and the Philippines. She teaches in several of the American Association of Christian Counselors video teaching series including ExtraOrdinary Women and Marriage Works.

Leslie received her masters degree in clinical social work from the University of Illinois and has received post graduate training in cognitive therapy, biblical counseling and working with victims of abuse.

Leslie lives in Eastern Pennsylvania with her husband, Howard and dog Gracie. For more information, visit her web site at

Hi, Leslie! Welcome to The Borrowed Book. When did you decide to be a writer?

I never decided. In fact I avoided writing. I didn’t feel competent and chose not to pursue my PhD because of a dissertation requirement. However, when I turned 40 years old, I felt God nudging me to write a book. It totally terrified me but I was willing and so began going to writer’s conferences and taking some classes. I still hesitate to think of myself as a writer even though I’ve written 6 books and contributed to numerous others. I know that without God’s help, I would not be able to write much at all.

At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?

I don’t know that I’m there yet. I have been unbelievably blessed by having very few rejection slips. I think the Lord knew that if I got too many of them I would not have continued to persevere. I welcome suggestions and critiques because I still am working to improve my writing craft. I always have something to learn.

Are you a disciplined writer or do you just write when you feel like it?

When I have a book or other deadline, I am very disciplined in my writing. If not, I rarely just feel like it. For me writing all still hard work and very much a disciplined act of obedience.

What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?

I like to read, exercise, walk, play with my dog and garden.

What is your favorite novel (not written by you) and what made it special?

I like Susan Howatch’s Church of England series of novels. There are 5 in the series, starting with Glittering Images. She is an excellent writer that weaves the spiritual and psychological elements into a great story. I also enjoy Amy Tan and her novels, especially The Joy Luck Club. I have an adopted daughter from Korea and so loved reading about Asian culture and relationship struggles between mothers and their daughters.

How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?

I look for how other people craft words and sentences to say something profound or beautiful and life changing. I’m inspired to continue to challenge myself to write better.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

Lord, I Just Want to be Happy is a phrase I often hear in the counseling room, not only from those who are desperate or depressed, but from all of us who wonder how to experience this abundant life that Jesus promises. I used to think that it was God’s will for us to be holy, not necessarily happy but I don’t believe that anymore. Holy people are happy people. They have found their source of joy, peace, love, and hope to be God and are living in sync with their created purpose.

Authentic happiness is not about feeling fabulous and never feeling pain. It’s about feeling pain and finding purpose. It’s about being able to transform the mundane into the miraculous and finding the diamonds embedded in the mud cakes of life. This does not come easily for most of us and we need to learn how.

Where did you get your inspiration for Lord, I Just Want to be Happy?

As a Christian counselor, I am well aware that many things are not as they should be. Sometimes living in this world is excruciatingly painful. It might be unrealistic to think we can be happy all of the time. But there are definitely some things we can learn so we can be happier people more of the time but I don’t think people know how.

Over the years I’ve been frustrated reading Christian-Living books because they often do a great job at describing the problem, or even where we should be, but don’t always help the reader get from A to B. In other words, I’m always left wondering exactly how do we become more holy? How do we trust God more? How do we experience the fruit of the spirit?

In Lord, I Just Want to be Happy, each chapter gives the reader something to think about as well as new skills to practice so that they can gain greater emotional and spiritual health.

Was there ever a time in your life when you wish someone would have shared the tips found in this book with you? Can you tell us about it?

Absolutely. I am a pessimist by nature. I usually see the cup as half empty. Because I more naturally focus on obstacles, problems and what’s wrong with life (or people), I am more depression prone and feel more negative emotions than my positive friends. I actually wrote a book on depression called Defeating Depression because of my own experience.

In Lord I Just Want to be Happy, I wrote a chapter called “Getting out of the Pit”, that teaches people specific ways how to move beyond destructive emotions. As Christians we’re told not to dwell on the negative and to forgive and let go, but rarely are we taught how to do that.

Here’s one example. The next time you’re feeling angry or sad, instead of saying to yourself, “I feel so angry.” or “hurt”, say it this way. “I’m aware that I’m feeling mad or hurt.” This small change in the say you say things can make a big difference. Now YOU have your feelings instead of your feelings having you. Creating this little bit of space gives you the chance to decide how you want to handle your negative emotions and helps you to not be overwhelmed by them.

In another chapter I teach people how to turn lemons into lemonade. Even in adversity, God has something to teach us and he has a purpose in it. If we can find it, we can experience joy in the midst of a difficult situation. Again, people know that they “should” do that but often lack the specific skills on how to do it. Recently I came across a little poem that says, “Two men looked out prison bars, one saw mud, the other stars.” The circumstances are the same for both, but in them do you choose to focus on the mud or the stars? The way we consistently look at things affects our happiness levels.

What is the main thing you hope readers remember from this book?

Happiness is first and foremost a mindset. It is something that comes from within, not from a change in life circumstances. However, happiness is not simply a choice – it is also a skill we need to learn and practice regularly in order to maximize our ability to experience it. I am finally learning how to be a happier person, and in this book I want to teach people how to do so too.

What kinds of things have you done to market this book? Have you found anything that works particularly well?

Probably the riskiest thing I tried was to use my marketing budget in a totally different way than I had in the past. Instead of hiring a PR person to get me radio time, I gave out hundreds of free copies to influencers who in turn, promised to read my book and if they liked it, promote it as a church bible study, write a review on Amazon, or recommend me as a speaker for a church event. I’m still not sure whether or not that paid off but the book has gone into a second printing and I have gotten lots of great reviews on Amazon.

Tell us what new projects you’re working on.

I have a couple of ideas brewing around but for right now, I’m enjoying a writing sabbatical (other than my blog or short articles). I still have a full counseling practice, speak often, and have written 6 books in 10 years and feel a bit exhausted. I need some time just to “be” and recharge my battery. In fact, after writing this book on happiness, I felt more convicted than ever to put into practice the very things I recommended in my book, especially about slowing down.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

I firmly believe that God calls his people to mature and live a holy life. That includes learning how to see reality correctly, how love well, and live a more intentional life. As we grasp hold of those concepts in practical ways, our inner life will be transformed, leading to greater peace, joy, hope and love than we imagined possible. The abundant life Jesus promised isn’t an easy life, it’s a meaningful one.
Leslie is giving away a copy of her book, Lord, I Just Want to be Happy. Be sure to stop by The Borrowed Book on Friday for your chance to win!


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