The story behind CALLED

Jen Bradbury
Jan 15 · 5 min read

Two and a half years ago, I transitioned out of a 10-year call that I loved.

The decision to leave was NOT an easy one. It’s one I struggled with a lot… And along the way, I did what I always do: I turned to books for guidance.

I dutifully read Henry Cloud’s Necessary Endings but aside from it, I found limited resources on transitioning from one ministry context. So, I thought, “I should write the book I want to read.”

The next day, I floated the idea of a non-fiction book centered on transitioning out of one youth ministry position to another to my long-time publisher, Marko, at The Youth Cartel.

I got a very kind rejection that basically said, “We love the idea, but we think the market is SO small that we could never sell enough to make it worth our while.”

While disappointed, I understood.

Later that week, I received another e-mail from Marko essentially saying, “We’ve been thinking about your idea… What if you wrote the book as fiction? If you put together a compelling story, we think more people might be interested in buying in.”

I was immediately intrigued.

I thought back to the little 4th grade girl who used to wake up early in the morning before school to type (yes – on a typewriter) short stories and plays. If nothing else, I saw this as a way to fulfill my lifelong dream of writing a novel.

A few days later, I said a pretty eager, “YES! I’m in, if you’re in!”

We signed the contract for a book that wasn’t due for another year and a half… The longest I’ve ever had to write a book.


A year and a half sounds like a LONG time to do something, but in reality, it’s not.

Shortly after signing the contract, I opened Evernote and began jotting down ideas for the book. Character sketches. Plot outlines. 

I also went looking for books on how to write fiction. I even read a few.

But then life happened.

I started my new job.

I got pregnant. I fought morning sickness every day, all day for my entire pregnancy.

My husband, Doug’s, beloved uncle died.

Our then 3.5-year-old, Hope, changed schools.

Doug’s mom battled cancer.

Doug changed jobs and started a company.

Every time I thought I’d find my window to write, something else happened and suddenly I was nursing a newborn and returning to work… And the book still wasn’t written. Heck, it wasn’t really even started.

At that point, I honestly wrestled with whether or not I still wanted to write it. Some days I prayed Marko would tell me he had to pull out of the contract so I wouldn’t have to be the one to do it.

After weeks of wrestling, I finally concluded that I WANTED to write the book but that it wasn’t going to happen by our original deadline. So, I took a deep breath and e-mailed Marko. I tried not to make excuses but instead, just told him where I was at.

In what can only be described as a God-moment, he responded by saying he’d been looking at the Cartel’s publishing calendar and realized something had to get rescheduled. We agreed on a new August 2020 deadline.

I continued to jot down ideas in Evernote.

I even started writing the book… More than once.

Then, in March of 2020, the pandemic began. Suddenly everyone’s world was upended, including mine.

Hope was home all day, everyday… As were we. We struggled to school her and maintain our full-time jobs.

In the midst of that, Doug’s mom died.

I was emotionally and physically exhausted.

Then, Mimi – one of the girls’ godparents – moved in. Her presence meant that Doug and I finally had a little breathing room.

Still, I fought with this book. I started it… Over and over again. But I got NO WHERE.

Once again, I debated reneging on my contract.

Finally, on one of our daily walks, Mimi basically told me, “You could do that… Or you could just write the book and stop procrastinating.”

I've known Mimi since she was a 14-year-old high school freshman and I’ve told her similar things throughout her life. To hear her say those words to me was startling. They shook me – enough to make a plan. We carved out a week for me to write. I thought if I could use that week to get a solid start, I just might be able to eek the book out in enough time to meet my deadline.

So, the week Kendall turned one, Doug and Mimi took care of the kids so I could write from our home office.

I cranked out a book unlike any of the ones I’d started writing in the previous two years. It followed none of my plot outlines… And featured none of the characters I’d been dreaming about.

It was also the most fun I’ve ever had writing anything… Which is saying something because writing has ALWAYS been life-giving to me.

Much to my surprise – at the end of the week, I had a draft. Not just part of a book, but all of a book.

I sent it to a couple friends who read it and gave me early feedback. I revised, edited, and finally hit send.

That week was excruciating. There’s nothing quite like the agony of waiting to hear back from someone about a project you’ve poured your soul into.

Even though this is not my first book, it is my first fiction book.
Even though it’s not about me, it certainly reflects me.
In so many ways, it’s the most vulnerable thing I’ve ever written.
And so I was nervous to see what Marko thought.

That week, I got a handful of texts from Marko telling me where he was at in the book and what he was thinking. I was thankful for every one of them. Finally, I got an e-mail saying he was ready to talk about it.

So, we talked… And then I rewrote. Thanks to Marko and the Cartel’s fantastic editor, Sarah, I added some dimension to a character that had been kind of flat… We added some additional spice and a late in the second-act plot twist.

Once again, when I sat down to write that plot twist, what ended up on the page was NOT what I’d planned. It surprised even me - as though these fictional characters had taken on a life of their own.


My book, Called: A Novel about Youth Ministry Transition releases today.

I’m so proud of it.

Called is a story about transitioning from one youth ministry position to another. It’s about call and fit; It’s about church and marriage and the beauty and messiness of ministry.

It’s a book for youth workers by a youth worker.

But really, it’s a book for anyone wrestling with what it means to be called, whether you’re in ministry or not.

Because here’s the beauty of fiction: You can find yourself in a good story, regardless of whether or not you’ve ever experienced something yourself.

My prayer is that this will be the case with Called – that you’ll find yourself (and God) in it, perhaps in surprising ways.

Beyond that, I hope you’ll simply enjoy it.

So… Go. Grab a copy and enjoy! 


Order your copy of Called from The Youth Cartel today!