In an article titled Why Kids Need Their Dads, writer Julie Garrison states that we need to abandon the idea that a father’s sole duty to a child is financial. She goes on to say that a father’s influence is just as important as a mother’s, perhaps more. “A father’s love for his children is the key to their development.”
That’s a strong statement to validate, and yet, right on cue, author David Wood introduces Pieces of My Heart, a seemingly perfect answer to Garrison’s plea for paternal engagement.
In Pieces of My Heart, Wood displays the lessons he has learned from his heavenly father, just by taking the time to listen. "I believe that God, the creator of the universe, is speaking to us, all the time, all around us, everywhere and in all things. The problem is that we are so busy and distracted with the things of this life that we fail to see Him or hear Him. But, never the less, He is still there, waiting for us and ever speaking to us.”
The project began as journal entries for his children, and later became inspiration for Facebook and Twitter updates. With their popularity and meaningful messages, the next logical step would be book format. Once he received the go ahead from his publisher, the rest as they say, is history. “It is my hope that these stories will draw the reader closer to the heart of God. They are meant to encourage us to respond to God's gentle call to us, if we will dare to open our eyes and ears to see and hear Him.”
MN- Congratulations! Your subtitle to Pieces of My Heart (Finding God in Our Everyday Lives) really sums up the book. I can tell you weren't brain storming a title, it was a natural progression. Looking for God in your everyday activities has become a lifestyle, hasn't it?
DW- It is funny you point that out. My first cover and set up books did not have a subtitle. A publisher friend of mine suggested I needed one to give people an idea what was inside. So I thought and thought, racking my brain, because the book was about so many different things. But then the one foundational theme floated to the surface of my thoughts, the thought that was found in each and every story…finding God everywhere. That was really what the whole book was about even though the stories go so many places. And so, “Finding God in Our Everyday Lives" was born as my subtitle.
As for the lifestyle…God has taught me to see Him from the smallest to the biggest things in this life. He has always been there, waiting for anyone who will search for Him. In Jeremiah 29:13, it says, “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all of your heart.” It is exactly that! God is right there, all around us, all the time, if we will just open our eyes and see.
MN- Apart from this being your journey and originally meant for your daughter's eyes only, was it hard to release your personal journal entries to the public eye?
DW- I first posted my whole journal on my music website. I had the website a few months earlier and had my music in place for people to listen to. But then I felt like God was asking me to share my journal there too. I resisted for several month because of the personal and vulnerable nature of it. But God continued to encourage me to share it and eventually, I did. Once it was out there, I was more at ease with it. I guess maybe that came from being obedient.
MN- Before we get into the meat of the book, your sense of humor is peppered throughout the book. Is this a writing quality or a personality trait?
DW- If you could spend just a little bit of time with me, that question would just answer itself. Ha. It is a personality trait that comes out in my writing as well as spilling all over in my life. I love to laugh and have fun and God has given me a pretty crazy brain that does not appear to think like most people. It just goes in directions that defy logic. My wife will ask me, “Where did you get that?” I usually just say, “From my brain.” Maybe it is a defect, brain damage, dropped on my head too many times as a baby, or maybe I am just insane…who knows for sure but I use it to my advantage. I think God gave us humor and laughter as a great medicine for the soul and I like to O.D. on it whenever I can.
MN- I love the format of your book. Short, concise, devotional type chapters with ah-ha moments that any reader can relate to. How do these light bulb moments happen-randomly, during your personal study time, or is it an ongoing conversation between you and God?
DW- The best answer for this is…“D…all the above.” Just like when Jesus healed people, there is no formula…however He wants. God shows me things however He feels like it. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night or in the morning with a thought in my head. Sometimes I may think of something during my prayer time with God. Many, many, times I just see something while I am going about life and a deeper meaning will form around it.
One of the last stories I wrote recently was inspired because I accidentally sat on two chairs at church instead of one…one bun on one chair, one bun on the other. This became a story that talks about being set in our ways, doing things a certain way just because that is how we have always done it. You see, it doesn’t take much to spur this crazy mind of mine. But in all of it, in all ways, it is an ongoing conversation with God using all aspects of life itself.
MN- In some places, you were pretty tough on those that talk the faith-based talk but don't walk the walk. I think more of that "calling out" is needed in order to restore what an authentic walk with Christ is. What does your relationship with Him look like?
DW- Authenticity is the key to me. First, I have to say, I have not arrived…I am not there. I am an ongoing life-long project with God as my builder. I disappoint myself, others and God more often than I would like to admit with my actions and attitudes. It is that human feature that is in me and in you. But “I” would be the first person to tell you that I messed up. I am not into pretending to be holy, that is just playing church. I don’t want to “look good,” I want to “be good” or as good as I am at this point in my walk with God.
I think God is calling us out to be real in Him, the beauty from ashes things in action.
What I think is most important is to be real and authentic, no matter what that might look like. I want people to see me as real, not a phony that says one thing and does another. If we are not authentic, we can do terrible damage to the reputation of God as Christians. And really, we are fooling no one but ourselves and especially not the One who knows us best.
I think "that" is what the world is looking for…real people growing in a real relationship with God. That is also what God is looking for. I struggle, I fall and I get back up again. But with God’s help, I am continually growing more and more like His son, Jesus. Each time my Father looks at me, I want him to see just a little less of me and a little more of Jesus. If I am continually growing, then I am moving in the right direction. That is my goal.
MN- Before penning Pieces of My Heart, you were a song writer and musician. Tell me about your group, David Wood and Restoration.
DW- Ah, the band. That was a fun chapter in my life for sure. There was actually two, "David Wood & Restoration" bands with my wife and me being the only common members.
The first one was started when I taught a young man named, Josh, to play a song I wrote called, "Lamb of God, Light of the World." Josh had heard me play it in church and really loved the song and asked me if I would teach him to play it, which I agreed to and did. We became friends and continued to get together and play our guitars. Eventually, Josh's brother Caleb started playing bass with us. Then we picked up a friend named Steve who played drums and just like that, we had our first band. We recorded the album, "Let Me Be a Gift" in 1996 and played at various local churches for great fun. Eventually, Josh, Caleb and the rest of their family moved to Alaska and the first band came to an end.
A couple years later, I reformed the band with my friend Bruce on lead guitar, Paul on bass and another Bruce on drums. This is the band I recorded my album, "Tuned a Tad Too Tight" with. We played together until late 2001, when I moved 30 miles away to Boise. They continue to play together to this day and travel all over the U.S. in a band called, "High Street."
The move to Boise just turned another page in my life. Now, I mostly play and sing with my wife who now plays bass. We love to lead worship music at different churches and I still have a home studio where I love to record music I have written and continue to write. My music site has music from both bands as well as my very first CD before my bands and newer music I have written. You can listen to all of this music for free on the site or purchase music if you like.
MN- You know, Father's Day is coming up this month and I am interested in what your experience as a Father has been so far.
DW- Wow, wow, wow! Being a dad has been a tremendous journey filled with highs and lows and in betweens mixed with lots of growing. I have made huge mistakes at times while in other places handled something way better than expected.
Being a parent is a huge job and responsibility, there is no doubt. I am not the same father I was when I first started. I have changed, grown and made adjustments with each child it seems. I always tried to do my best but my best just looked very different throughout the years as I have grown and adjusted with life in my daddy role.
I have six daughters that I would literally lay my life down for and whom I love more than they know. I am extremely blessed in life because these same six daughters, beautiful both inside and out, all love me back with a love that warms my heart and makes it all worth it. Who could ask for more? I consider that a great victory and success.
My youngest daughter is now 21 so my role is much different than it used to be. One thing is for sure though, my role will never be over as I will be their daddy till the day I leave this earth and to them, even after. And I might add, I am the greatest grandpa in the universe to my seven grand children. Just sayin'.
MN- There is a video that has gone viral in which two men have agreed to be hooked up to a machine that simulates labor. After an hour, they were pretty much wiped out. If you could experience labor for a few minutes in order to better relate to your wife, would you be game?
DW- You know, I did watch that crazy video. It did not turn out like I thought it would and in the end I was thinking…someone give them a baby…please…SOMEONE GIVE THEM A BABY! If I were there, I would have at least given them a stuffed monkey to hold when it was all over. They at least deserved that!
I must say, I have enjoyed “experiencing labor” from my viewpoint so far. But if it was something my wife thought I needed to know…then yes, I would do it. Would I scream and cry like a little girl? You know it! Plus you did say “a few minutes,” not an hour right? I would be willing to hook myself up for a two hour challenge as long as it was not actually plugged in.
Author Bio- David’s personal journal that miraculously became this book was started in 2001 with the intention of being a gift to his daughters in his later years so they would know what their dad thought about things in this life. The purpose was to give them a glimpse of him even after he was gone, to bring comfort and courage to them by leaving actual “pieces of his heart” behind in the form of his written words. But God kept pressing David to share it more widely as a blessing to anyone who wished to read it. The hope is that these stories will spark thoughts about God’s constant involvement and intervention in our lives and stir a sense of how much He cares about every detail that is important to us. David resides in Boise, Idaho, with his wife, Denice, and works as an engineer at Micron Technologies. He is the proud father of six beautiful daughters and “Papa Dave” to seven grandchildren, five boys and two girls. You can learn more about Pieces of My Heart, including ordering links, by visiting his website. He also has a site dedicated to his music. His book is also available through publisher Dave Biebel's Healthy Life Press Website.
Author Jane Kirkpatrick has successfully tackled historical, religious and contemporary fiction, snagging a coveted finalist spot for several awards and earning the prestigious Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage Hall of Fame. In her recent release, One Glorious Ambition, she writes a biographical fictional piece based on Dorothea Dix; an outspoken mental health advocate. Many reviewers site One Glorious Ambition as a one-size-fits-all kind of book as it emphasizes many aspects of modern society; stress related illnesses, the impact of a dysfunctional home, how mental illness was-and to a certain extent still is-viewed, how one who suffered so much could ease the suffering of others, and the difference that one person can make in the lives of others.
Jane took time out of her busy speaking and promotional schedule to discuss the life of Dorothea Dix and why this one woman became so important to her. Jane “believes that our lives are the stories that others read first”, and capitalizes on that passion as she shares Dorothea’s story.
MN- What intrigued you so much about Dorothea Dix 's life that you decided to write a novel about her?
JK- A good biography speaks to what and when but it doesn't permit exploration of the why or how those events affected a person. So fiction mattered to me as a way of looking at a remarkable life. At a time when women were not even educated Dorothea accomplished so much. And frankly we have need of mental health reform today so the subject was timely. I wanted to explore how she did what she did to see if she could step from her generation to our own to teach and touch us with her life. I wanted to know what kept her going when she wanted to quit.
MN- I have to admit that I was familiar with her service with nurses on the battlefield during the Civil War, but knew very little about her work with those suffering mental illness. One Glorious Ambition covers her work within this field explicitly. What do you hope to accomplish through Glorious Ambition besides merely entertaining the reader?
JK- I hope people will see first how much a single individual can accomplish and perhaps choose to move forward to make a difference with their own passions or concerns. Thinking about volunteering but someone else says "You're too old" or considering a mission trip to Central America but someone comments that "you have too many food allergies." I think of Moses who when chosen suggested that Aaron would be a better candidate to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt. As a people, we often discount our abilities and I hoped Dorothea might inspire readers to recognize their potential rather than listen to what I call the harpies who would hold us hostage.
MN- It is a known fact that Dorothea Dix was considered "sickly". Did your research ever lead to a definite conclusion that she suffered illness only when stressed or physically exhausted?
JK- I did let my work as a therapist consider Dorothea's illnesses as they appeared to me to occur at times of great stress. Even after she found her true calling, she was ill the day her bill was introduced into Congress but then rallied to help support its passage. Some would call it a protective mechanism that really wasn't managed until the Rathbones, her Quaker friends, mothered her back to health and gave her a model to serve without compromising her own health.
MN- You have extensive experience within the mental health field, so I am appealing to the professional as opposed to the author with this question. Dorothea believed in 'a family atmosphere of compassion and caring...treating people with dignity in a home like setting.' This was her glorious ambition. How practical is this treatment idea and has it been successfully accomplished?
JK- We have to remember what the conditions were when Dorothea began her work. The mentally ill were often caged and shackled in cold and barren jail cells or back rooms. Food was thrown into them that they consumed from filthy floors. They often had no heat, no contact with people who had not committed crimes; and only occasional contact with healthier people such as their jailers. Dorothea believed that these conditions exacerbated their mental illness. As a result of her work, institutions were built where people ate at tables. They worked in gardens, helped with animal care, had beds with sheets on them. Medications did not exist. And yes for a great many people this change in treatment led to improvement and we could say that these family-like institutional settings were/are practical and successful. There were still many with troubling disorders that we still struggle with such as bipolar and schizophrenia. Responding to people as though they had dignity and deserve respect will increase their level of trust and increase the likelihood that they will be able to cooperate in their treatment and thus live healthier lives and offer safety for the community. Day treatment facilities now serve many who would have been in a hospital setting. Residential homes offer family-like treatment settings today. And while we have need for many more openings for this level of care, there are many successes. Bottom line: mentally ill people are rarely helped by being imprisoned when what they need is treatment.
MN- Explain what moral treatment entails.
JK- Moral Treatment is a philosophy of intervention and care developed in Europe that Dorothea was exposed to while living with the Rathbones. It basically looked at the world that a mentally ill person lived in and worked to create an overall healing context that included nurturing landscapes, healthy interactions with healthy people, providing spiritual support and the dignity of meaningful work. It was believed that as human beings we are required morally to create settings where people are treated with that dignity and respect. Architecture, landscape, trades, pastoral access would enable the best of the human condition to be nurtured. So building design included light, airy rooms; music and art were introduced as healing components. (Something Baylor University in their research in treating traumatized children are finding essential for treatment even today. Music, dance, art and story, are deemed great healers.) Moral Treatment was a comprehensive approach to healing with people brought to large institutions for these components to be delivered.
MN- Dorothea believed that those that suffered mental illness-whether as a victim of circumstances or by way of self infliction-were entitled to dignity. She faced critics that didn't want to help those led to their own demise. We see that now, some 100 years later. Is there a way to answer critics that tend to be judgmental when it comes to helping others that fall into this category?
JK- Such a good question! One of the translations for the word sin reads "fell short" or "missed the mark" as in an arrow not making its target. Another reads "Took the wrong path." I appreciate those because they fit everyone. We all make wrong choices and some of us end up with addictions as a way of dealing with our pain; some of us end up homeless; some of us have emotional issues we carry from childhood or from being injured in service to our country. Some of us miss the mark but no one ever knows of it. But each of us are redeemable. Grace allows us to find a new path, try again to move toward the target of living well within community. As people of faith especially I think we are compelled to suspend judgment. I rely on the saying: "There but for the grace of God go I."
MN- We have road rage. We have social media rage. We have Wal-Mart rage...it's a me, me, me world. Any advice on how to capture a lifestyle of self-less sacrifice and service within our society?
JK- Paul Tillich wrote that the first act of love is listening. It's difficult to silence the noise of the road, social media, consumerism, isn't it? But listening to that inner voice is so important to have a full life. And that's what those distractions deprive us of. We often don't even know we have a hole in our soul. Once we acknowledge that void then we are compelled to hear the world's cry: feed the hungry, walk beside the ill even if we cannot heal them, befriend our neighbor. Turning off the TV, disconnecting from social media, creating family time and noticing the world around us are first steps to what Dorothea discovered: that relieving the suffering of others helps relieve our own. Perhaps we can capture a lifestyle of self-less sacrifice by convincing ourselves we'll experience a gain when we are in service- because we will. There's nothing wrong with giving as the doorway to receiving.
Author Bio- Jane grew up near Mondovi, Wisconsin, a little town not far from the Mississippi River. Her older sister Judy (now deceased) and younger brother Craig helped on the family dairy farm. Dozens of cousins lived within 50 miles providing the privilege of extended family memories. Most of the "Rutschow" clan remained in the Wisconsin-Minnesota area. Jane moved to Oregon in 1974 after completing her master's degree in social work at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She worked in the disabilities field and became the director of the mental health program in Deschutes County and the first female president of the Oregon Community Mental Health Director's Association.
Eventually, Jane "retired" to homestead and begin a new adventure in writing, working on the Warm Springs Indian reservation, growing watermelons, and attempting to grow grapes, alfalfa and cattle. The Kirkpatrick's new life included "clearing sagebrush and wrestling wind and rattlesnakes" while "homesteading" land on the John Day River in a remote part of Oregon known locally as Starvation Point. "It was our 'rural 7-Eleven' since our home sat seven miles from the mailbox and eleven miles from the pavement" notes the author. Additionally, she worked for seventeen years as a mental health and educational consultant on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Central Oregon with both Native American and non-Indian communities, a position she left in 2002. Jane has two step-children. Kathleen lives in Florida with her family and youngest granddaughter, Madison. Matt lives in Wasco and works on the ranch full time when not looking after his family including granddaughter, Mariah.
In the fall of 2010, after twenty-six years on the homestead, Jane and Jerry, her husband of 35 years, made another life change moving back to Central Oregon near Bend. "There is a season for everything," Jane notes. Their seasons on the ranch changed their lives and they leave with no regrets looking forward to new adventures in writing and life. You can keep up with author Jane Kirkpatrick through her website or blog. She is also on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Fred St. Laurent
For readers, a book club offers many benefits besides the socialization factor. According to Vital Signs Ministries, “A successful book club is one that provides intellectual stimulation, motivation and accountability – and yet which is also a lot of sheer fun.” Could there be more to the book club picture, though? Perhaps a bigger purpose that would benefit the author, as well? Independent Book Publishers Association believes so. “Want to increase the buzz about a book? Want to get people talking, blogging, and hand-selling it? Two words: book clubs, those groups of friends and neighbors who sit down together every month or so to discuss a title they’ve all agreed to read.”
Critics would argue that establishing the fact that book clubs are a win-win for both readers and authors is easier than say, forming one. However, media giant Fred St Laurent and his wife, Nora, have successfully formed an online book club community, and have proven that maintaining one is as simple as loving books, praying, and being passionate about what you do. As founder of The Book Club Network, Fred knows a thing or two about the publishing industry, especially as it relates to faith-based fiction. He was the logical go-to person when The Wordsmith Journal Magazine looked in-depth at the history and impact of the book club community.
MN- You offer so many services to both authors and readers, and we will explore exactly what you do in a minute, but first let me ask how you got involved in Christian fiction and the multiple facets of promoting it.
FSL- Long, long ago in a Galaxy far, far away… There were three steps to the birthing of this network. It begins on planet Earth.
I was a recruiter on Wall Street for 25 years. My wife Nora was working in a local Christian book store and began reading the books to better understand what she was supposed to be selling. This was not easy for her because Nora struggles with Dyslexia. What happened next changed our lives.
Nora found a Francine Rivers book, Redeeming Love. The impact the book had on her was profound. First she began to see fiction books in a new way. Second she fell in love with reading. Keep in mind that Nora read over 200 books last year, while overcoming her Dyslexic challenges.
She quickly became the “Christian fiction expert” in the store.
The next step for us developed through a friend of ours at church. Ane Mulligan is a dear friend and instigator. She loves to encourage people in their gifts and is very creative. Her suggestion to Nora was that they needed to start a book club. They started meeting in a Barnes and Noble and Nora’s boss heard about it and suggested that they meet in their store. Over the next several years the group developed to over 100 members.
I began to meet authors and had access to some great books during this time. What struck me was that many of the authors I met had a gift and a message but were lost when it came to marketing. I began to look for ways to support what Nora was doing as well as a way to impact some of the authors I was meeting. To help then get the word out about their books.
The final piece to this came together in our kitchen with one of the friends we had made in the publishing industry. We were kibitzing, after dinner, with the yet to be published, Gina Holmes and our dear friend Ane Mulligan. It was a colorful, creative conversation about the industry and we were all throwing ideas out and laughing. The coffee was good. Nora mentioned that she had ordered a book at a local library and that they had ordered five copies. I made the suggestion that if we had a network of readers with at least one in every county in the US (there are more than 3,000 counties) who would do the same thing, we could sell 15,000 copies of a book with one email.
Gina expressed the thought that there was a book in there somewhere, and they started strategizing what that would look like. I was taken away to a place where a network of readers could be a reality.
The Book Club Network was the result. For five years we have been blessed with readers and book club leaders from around the world who were looking for something like what we now provide.
MN- Your wife, Nora, works with you. Has she been active as long as you have in promoting Christian fiction?
FSL- Longer. Nora has been active for more than 10 years now. She was actually the on line Book Club Leader for the ACFW for 5 years and had to step down because of her schedule.
MN- Let's get to the heart of what you do. Tell our readers a little about The Book Club Network and what you have been able to accomplish through it.
FSL-The Book Club Network Inc. has several layers. It began with the network and if you look us up on Alexa you will see that we are an extremely active membership. The next layer was an attempt to derive some revenue to support the network. We didn’t want to charge our members and try to keep the resources free for authors and publishers. So The Book Club Network Store was born. This is our online store and it has hundreds of thousands of books, gifts, movies and church supplies. Our largest order last year was from a church in the Midwest that ordered candles for their Christmas Eve services. We do have sponsors who pay an annual fee for promotional services; Bethany House, Revell, Elk Lake Publishers and David C Cook are our core sponsors. (We do have room for one more) and for authors, publicists and other publishers, we do promotional work. Basically if an author or publicist (or even publisher) sets up in our network and does all the work, our resources are free. If we do the work for them, we charge for it.
The final piece to our organization is the Magazine which we developed last year. This is a free monthly, digital magazine that goes out to more than 50,000 readers and is very different than anything else we could find in the marketplace.
MN- I've had the pleasure of talking with several magazine editors in recent months about the effectiveness of book clubs and they all agree that it is a major key in selling books and creating interest. However, they all agree that book clubs are hard to start. Have you found this to be accurate in your experience, and do you have any tips for making the startup process a little less painful?
FSL- How to start a book club? You need someone like Nora. If you are someone who cares about the people God puts in your life and you possess a love of books and authors, you have a chance of succeeding. Book clubs are a small group ministry. They are an outreach to the community. They create a ‘safe place’ where neighbors can come and discuss the issues that books can bring to the surface. We find that folks from the community, who might not enter a church on Sunday, will come to a reading group. Nora calls it finding Hope in Reading groups and we know that Hope is a person. If you can approach book clubs prayerfully in this way, chances are it will grow beyond your expectations because we believe that God can work through this.
MN- Christian fiction is a tough genre for many reasons. The definition of what faith-based books should or should not include is relevant to the reader. Some contemporary readers don't want a lot of religious content, while many traditional readers feel it isn't faith based unless it is dripping in religious clichés. From your perspective and from being exposed to the sheer volume of fiction that you have been seen, what is the balance?
FSL- Our focus is “Family Friendly” in that our readers are looking for good stories and want to know that they are reading something that will not surprise them with an explicit scene or language. If an author feels they need to drop an “F” bomb or describe a scene in such detail that it leaves NOTHING to the imagination, they are not a fit for our audience. We are surrounded by a media that is trying to pierce through hearts hardened by a generation of violence, sex and profanity in our culture. I find that I need to tape some of the shows we watch in order to avoid viewing the commercials for zombies or vampires or worse. I think our culture is craving family friendly entertainment. We try to avoid articles that “preach or teach” us and focus on learning with the author through anecdotal, biographical articles. I hope that answers your question?
MN- Authors sometimes lament that promotion is the hardest part of bringing their work to print and making sales. What would you say to the writer who remains reserved about the whole interacting-with-their-reader philosophy?
FSL- Long ago a mentor told me that I should “pray like it all depended on God, because it does, and then get out and do it like it all depended on me, because it does.”
Readers that I have gotten to know see the author as a ‘movie star’ and there is a connection made through books that may be difficult for some authors to understand. Marketing is the largest part publishing. If an author does not learn this part of their craft they will not be an author for long.
MN- How can an author get their book listed in the store at The Book Club Network?
FSL-The best way is to contact me & I will be happy to give them a tour.
MN- Anything exciting coming up on The Book Club Network you can tease our readers with?
FSL- Yes! However Nora tells me that I am terrible at keeping secrets. So you will just have to read the magazine to find out.
Alex Haley is credited as saying "In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage - to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning.” Author Margery “Marge” Warder understands this hunger and yearning. After stumbling upon letters written by ancestors dating back to the civil war era, Marge decided to document her findings. In her book Leaves That Did Not Wither, she relays the impressive story of Emanuel and Esther; a couple who lived a simple life seeped in faith and courage in spite of the many challenges that they faced. The back story to the writing experience is just as monumental as the narrative itself, and in our interview, Marge describes the emotions as well as the foot work needed to accomplish the task.
MN- Leaves That Did Not Wither was quite an undertaking. It is part novel, part ancestry, and yet historically accurate. What inspired you to take on such a large project?
MW- First, thank you for your gracious words about Leaves That Did Not Wither. It was a labor of love for me, and I appreciate your asking me to talk about it.
As a child, I heard tidbits about Emanuel Kisbey’s service during the Civil War and probably romanticized his serving the Union’s cause. Knowing I had someone involved in the Civil War sure made history more interesting, but I didn’t have many facts. About twenty years ago, my brother was the executor for the last of Emanuel and Esther’s grandchildren and subsequently let me see and copy actual letters Esther Kisbey had kept from the 1860s. Those letters told what it was like to be part of Michigan’s Third Cavalry in 1864, and how difficult it was for a woman to try to manage a farm while caring for three young children. As I read the letters, I began falling in love with my ancestors. I knew one day that I’d do more research so I could recreate the story of these “unnoticed” English/Americans. Most of us are from families that will not make it into the history books, but that doesn’t mean their lives were unimportant. “Leaves...” became my 500-piece puzzle. Family notes, military and legal documents, census records, obituaries, and research into the nineteenth century helped me decide how to shape and color in the missing puzzle pieces. I pray the result will bless a variety of readers and be another way I can glorify the Lord.
MN- One blaringly obvious lesson that I learned from your book was that much of our modern day problems are challenges of comfort or discomfort, while much of what our ancestors dealt with were life and death challenges. Do you agree?
MW- Yes, I think that is generally true. We are seldom without access to emergency care or crisis resources. We anticipate having only a few mornings of our lives when we’ll wonder if a loved or we one, will make it through the day. We live expecting to fulfill plans for a comfortable retirement.
By contrast, in the nineteenth century, an accident, ailment, epidemic, infection, and even childbirth regularly took a person’s life. If your family wasn’t facing a crisis, a neighbor likely was. In 1850, the life expectancy in England and the USA hovered around 40 years. Now it’s nearly 80. Rather than wondering how to keep our family alive, we ponder how to update our homes or which restaurant to meet at for dinner. Esther lost three children, some siblings and a spouse, all before she was forty, but she relied upon her Christian faith to keep her looking beyond gravesites and empty plates to the promise of a better life in Eternity because she had placed her trust in Jesus Christ as Savior. I cannot help but wonder if we are seeking our “security” apart from a trusting faith in God because we focus on today and not on eternity.
MN- Taking it a step further, our ancestors were stronger for their adversities. Sometimes I believe we really don't understand true suffering. Did you see that while researching for Leaves That Did Not Wither?
MW- I definitely saw that suffering was common in the days prior to the 20th century. Mothers and babies died in childbirth, epidemics swept through communities and across countries, an infection could take a life, a broken bone might end productivity. I cried as I researched “Leaves...” Canning Town’s conditions made life almost impossible. I had tears reading notes and writing about Esther’s first week in Michigan. Thankfully, Esther’s faith grew stronger as she accepted suffering and hardships, and more likely, because of them. Emanuel, though he questions whether he was wise in signing up for duty with the Army, is still relying upon God’s will to be done, though in his letters we know he hoped to rejoin his family.
Our urgency and determination to avoid suffering indicates we want to forego a personal understanding of suffering. We want to move past it as quickly as possible. Not only do we rush to medicate against suffering, but also even “religious” voices declare we could avoid suffering if we had a little more faith or a little less sin. I love the Lord and seek to please Him as fully as I understand how to do because I’m grateful Jesus offered to restore me into a right relationship with my Heavenly Father. I in no way think I’m more devoted than hundreds, thousands of martyrs who suffered because they chose not to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. Most Biblical characters made the pages because they faced suffering, and Jesus told us to expect suffering. I wanted “Leaves...” readers to remember that when times get tough, it doesn’t mean God has deserted us. In Romans 8, we know it’s not talking about “pleasant days” when it comforts us by saying “all things work together for good to them that love God, who are the called according to God’s purpose.” God gets the final word about suffering.
MN- Let me go on record as saying that Esther wowed me! What a mentor for women even now. If able, how would she describe our society and do you think she would be encouraged or discouraged by the modern day woman?
MW- Thank you for saying Esther “wowed” you and suggesting she would be a good mentor for today’s women.
How would she describe our society? I think there’s plenty to shock Esther if she spent a week in our world, but I think she would address the 21st century women with truth and love.
By viewing our entertainment or hearing conversations, Esther would conclude we have inadequate vocabularies, lack wisdom, or are extremely disrespectful. She’d likely think we were “practicing fornication” by the fashions we popularize, and then offer to patch skimpy apparel so females would appear less seductive in public. She would think it deceitful to buy clothes that imply hard work wore them out. Disrespect for God’s Word and principles would break her heart. She’d be horrified mothers and fathers tolerate the practice of ending a pregnancy because she so desperately grieved each child she could not raise to a productive life. The willful instability of marriages and families would disappoint her, and she would be extra-sensitive toward children caught in the middle when families change. The ways we spend money and time would baffle her, and she would be quite impatient if either were spent for addictions. She disliked Emanuel’s tobacco addiction because it depleted resources and wondered about coughs. She would eat less than we do, and unhealthy calories would rarely make it onto her kitchen table. She would suggest we all need to work to eat and to work off what we eat. She would be charitable toward widows, orphans, and those unable to work, but she’d expect each to make the best of their situation with as little dependence upon others as possible.
I think she’d be impressed with medical advancements, with increased school attendance beyond eighth grade and that difficulty in reading has been researched. She’d be fascinated with good and clean transportation, and I think she’d love some of our laborsaving conveniences, but probably she’d spend the extra time differently than we do.
Esther would applaud today’s opportunities for women, but because she would want them to experience peace and fulfillment, she would warn them not to forsake their responsibilities as “home makers” who respect the leadership of their husbands and caution women to use their energy and creativity to ensure their children will become godly, industrious, respectful and productive members of society. And I have no doubt that she would continuously look for God-given opportunities to practice “neighborliness” since a neighbor was sent by the Lord at a critical time in her own life.
MN- I was moved to tears at many points but one of my favorite parts was a prayer that Emanuel said. "Father, God, Thou's all wise. I'm not. I caint even read Thy book....." These three lines sums up their acknowledgement of God as their Father, their faith in God, and humbling themselves to His will. Wow. How do you get to that point when you lack an education, wealth..everything society claims is the epitome of success?
MW- I think there are Christ followers who live much more simply and more devotedly than I do that could answer your question more completely. My husband and I are intentionally aware of Christians suffering under persecution. We learn of courageous Christians with only a page or two of the scriptures, hopefully in their own language. Some go into hiding because violence is on its way. Some have seen their pastor imprisoned or killed, or been imprisoned themselves. Some testify of God’s trustworthiness even though persecutors have maimed their bodies or left them with loved ones to bury, simply because they refuse to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. Their reliance upon God, their testimonies of God’s faithfulness and loving-kindness, as their tears are drying, make me realize I have a lot of maturing to do.
The Bible warns us not be conceited, not to think our accumulation of knowledge can begin to compare to God’s wisdom, not to try to tell God how to manage the world. God lovingly created us fully capable of accomplishing His plans for our lives, but we’ll likely fail to discover the peace in God’s plans unless we begin that journey in humility. We cannot become part of God’s family without realizing our “goodness” fails to earn our adoption. Only Jesus Christ can secure our adoption because He is God’s Holy Son who sacrificed His life in payment for our sin debt. It takes humility to begin our faith journey and to continuously yield to God’s handling of our life’s circumstances. As we do that, I believe God moves us on toward maturity in our faith, which grows our confidence in God’s goodness and love for us until we trust Him without reservation.
MN- With Father's Day coming up this month, Emanuel would be a great speaker at any venue if still alive. What would be the focus of his message to men?
MW- Even though Emanuel could not write his own name, he’d tell men to live so their names would be spoken with honor, and especially so if Christian. He’d say all who claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are to honor Him in word, thought, and deed. However, he would add that none except Christ is perfect, so each ought to get in the habit of understanding that seeking forgiveness is the primary way of restoring broken relationships. He would remind men they may need to say, “I was wrong and I’m sorry” to wives, children, other men, and to God, because the goal is to live an exemplary life with honor and integrity.
He’d tell men to risk everything to hold one’s own family together. He’d say taking on the duty of husband means protecting one’s wife to the point of laying down one’s own life for her. His eyes would twinkle when he’d tell them a wife would love them more easily when she’s confident of her husband’s devotion to her. He’d add that as the children come, the husband and father are to be their primary earthly protector.
Emanuel would remind the audience that each family member has emotional, physical, and spiritual needs and that husbands and fathers, as heads of the family, are responsible to nurture without doing for the member what the member ought to be learning to do for him or herself.
He would say the best way to pass along values is by example, and doing things together with the children builds memories for the men as well as for the children. He’d remind men that the children crave time with their fathers.
He’d tell men the most contented night sound he’s ever heard was his family’s chatter and laughter as they enjoyed being a family before bedtime. He’d encourage men to tell the children of their own childhood, including mistakes they made so the children know he remembers what it was like to be learning new things and failing sometimes in the process.
He’d tell men the Bible has to be a part of the education of each family member, and if they cannot read, to ask their wives to read, but to encourage the men get the family to talk about what was read. He’d encourage men to learn to read so they have more opportunities in life, but also so they’d understand the Bible more thoroughly. He’d tell the men that even if the wife is better educated, God designed her to have the husband as her spiritual leader, and the husband best remember he’s accountable to God for doing his best to imitate Christ to his family.
He’d remind men to have fun with their family, knowing the days will come when a family cannot remain together.
He’d say a husband and father must provide adequately for his wife and children, and to be willing to sacrifice a man’s own interest, leisure, meal, presence and even life, if necessary, to see that the family has what it needs to live without fearing where food and necessities would come from.
He’d tell men to be faithful to their wife and children and to find ways to nurture love within the family. He would remind them that one way to love their children by teaching them to learn consequences for behavior.
He would remind men to be charitable toward those with less and not to be jealous of those with more.
He would tell men that the United States is to remain a sovereign country worth dying for, and to accept civic responsibilities to see that the country remains one that God would choose to bless. He would say that each generation has to choose to stand in the gap spiritually and nationally until the next generation is ready to take over so that families have the opportunity to experience peace at all its levels.
MN- I noticed that there may be some spin offs from-and additions to-Leaves That Did Not Wither coming out in the future. Any hints to what they contain or when readers can expect to see them available?
MW- I hope to have more novels that pick up with the lives of some of those introduced in “Leaves...” I tried tackling a novel with the antagonist’s back-story and have about 90,000 words in that rough draft, and true to character, she’s calling some of the shots. I’m trying to get her on the boat but she’s still in England right now. I’ll need to do some revamping of that one before it’s ready for readers. When I told a “Leaves...” reader I was working on Gertrude’s story, she asked, “Will we like her at all?” Gertrude was a real thorn in the side in “Leaves...” but we all became who we are mostly because of choices we’ve made along the way, so she’ll have opportunities to choose how her life unfolds. I’ve also worked quite a bit on a novel about Esther’s runaway son. I am ready to do some “surgery” on that one, too. It’s actually more complete that Gertrude’s story, so we’ll have to see which one gets my attention in the coming weeks.
MN- Genealogy is a huge interest for many right now. For those that may not how to go about researching, what are some tips that helped you through the process?
MW- First, I’d encourage getting as much access as possible to family Bibles or other records. None of us current Kisbys ever found the family Bible that had the birth, marriage, death records, but thankfully some had copied those records and I received a copy of the copy from one of Esther’s grandchildren. It was a gold mine for me. Ask grandparents, aunts and uncles, older cousins, and others if they know anything about the previous generations.
Second, if you come across old letters or photos within the family, don’t toss them without considering how much information they have about the family, about daily life during that time, and how much they reveal about personalities. If you cannot use them, ask if there are family historians who would like to spend time reading or viewing them.
Third, make use of online genealogy resources. I signed up with “Ancestry” for a specific amount of time, absolutely telling them to kick me off on a certain date so I wouldn’t owe any more money. That motivated me because I knew the access would be over at a specific time and I gained a lot of information that way. I scrolled through census records, noting the family information that’s given (name, sex, age, occupation, birth country, and who else lives in that residence). I also snooped on my ancestor’s "neighbors" who were listed on the same or within a page or two.
Fourth: Don’t neglect other online resources like newspapers, military records, area obituaries, or even Googling your last name. When I couldn’t figure out where Esther and Emanuel lived at the birth of their surviving child in England, I Googled “London” + “map” + “1850s”. What a surprise when I found both New Road and New Street intersected each other on an 1858 map, which meant I was looking at their home’s location! I saw what it had nearby and consequently looked up information on a hospital, a couple foundries, etc. I’ve said it before, but Esther’s obituary was crucial for the shaping of this story.
Fifth: Find a few resources for that period or event. I found several books about Victorian England and about the Civil War, so I spent several hours doing “quick (mental) scans” in the weeks before writing. If I wrote something down, I’d note the book but not copy word-for-word because I didn’t want to be guilty of plagiarizing later. I concentrated on filling my head with information about places and dialect and social concerns and so forth so that my characters would act and think as the people might have done.
Sixth: Don’t forget your own library’s resources. Many have information about how to research your family, and some have volunteers who will walk you through the process or the library may have a speaker who can assist your searches.
Seventh: Prepare your family so they can get along without you, perhaps for an extended period. Genealogy becomes addictive! Seriously, you do have to discipline yourself when it comes to research or writing. Most of us will still have responsibilities in the “real” world so we’ll need to set priorities. My husband jokes that the year I researched and wrote, “Leaves...” I spent more time with my dead relatives than my living ones!
Author bio- Margery (Marge) Kisby Warder lives with her husband in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where they retired after nearly four decades in ministry. Their two married children are involved in Christian ministry and have provided them with some of the "best" grandchildren a person could hope to have. Margery dedicated her writing skills to the Lord and has had hundreds of articles published. "Leaves That Did Not Wither" is her first completed novel, but others are in process. After readers encouraged her to write a Bible study to go along with "Leaves...", she developed its ten-session booklet entitled "A Novel Approach to Bible Study." That and her collection of humorous essays, prose, poetry, and a short story entitled "Christmas Musings" are currently available on a data CD from the author. She is assembling her writings for consideration for a third booklet.
Margery would love to visit with you over a cup of coffee or tea, but in the meantime, she invites you to find her "Leaves That Did Not Wither" page on Facebook. She can also be reached through her website and by email
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