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Where Lilacs Still Bloom: An Interview with Jane Kirkpatrick

This spring, my heart almost broke when I walked outside to discover my neighbor had chopped her lilacs a few feet from the ground. It was but a few weeks from blooming, and although the bushes were not mine, I was always welcome to cut as many of the fragrant blossoms as I wanted. Now, they looked forlorn and desolate. Mere stumps.

I’ve long been a lover of those purple heavy-scented spring blooms. Lilacs remind me of my birthday in May. I feel a deeply personal connection with them, as they remind me of my grandmother and my mother — also lilac lovers.

A few weeks later, I was flipping through a magazine when the description of a new novel caught my eye. Or maybe it was the cover of the book, depicting a cascade of purple lilac blossoms. The brief synopsis described a story of a German immigrant and farm wife, Hulda Klager, who discovered a passion for hybridizing lilacs.

I checked to see if the book was at the library. It was. I put the audio book version on hold.

As I began listening I was transported to Woodland, Washington, where the novel follows the life of Hulda Klager from the late 1800’s into the early 20th century. I was even more captivated when I realized the story was based on a real woman, whose lilac gardens and home are open to the public. Hulda faces many challenges in hybridizing her lilacs: flood waters, the opinion of others, and even her own gnawing doubts that oppose her at times. But Hulda persists, finding comfort in her blossoms and her faith, continuing in her work. Ultimately, she comes to see her passion for lilacs as a gift from God to give others.

Having never read any of Jane Kirkpatrick’s previous work, I didn’t realize I’d picked up a novel of the Christian genre. I must confess, except for Jan Karon’s Mitford series, I’ve not read much Christian fiction for many years because I’d begun to find the spirituality trite and the writing not up to par. However, Where Lilacs Still Bloom pleasantly surprised me. Kirkpatrick weaves a realistic story where the quiet faith of Hulda is depicted sincerely and winsomely. There is no preaching in this novel, only the story of a life that gives beauty and a faith that grows and deepens through the years.

It was with great excitement that I got to chat with Jane Kirkpatrick through email. I was excited to find out more about her life as a writer and further details about how she came to write Where Lilacs Still Bloom.

Your professional background is in social work and mental health. When did you first discover a love for writing?

I’ve always loved words, just the sound of them as well as their varied meanings. Early on I wrote poems as a child and eventually moved into writing essays, features, and finally novels. I find story telling to be very much like mental health work in that words come along beside us bringing comfort and healing and that’s what gifted counselors do as well.

Are you a lilac lover and gardener?

I do love lilacs! A huge bush bloomed at the gateway to the one-room school I attended for the first grade. Yes, I’m that old! But a gardener, not so much. I am learning though and discovering I enjoy the anticipation of wondering what a bulb I planted will look like or when it will bloom. And last week I planted two tomato plants that were wonderfully healthy looking and this morning saw that they’d been clipped like a razor. My shout brought my husband to the kitchen thinking I’d cut myself! The yard is deer fenced so it must have been a rabbit!

How did you first learn about the real-life character in Where Lilacs Still Bloom, Hulda Klager?

A very loving and persistent descendant sent me a brochure about Lilac Days. She’d read some of my novels and felt this would not only be a great story for me but that I’d do her grandmother-in-law justice. I put her off for a long time thinking because I wasn’t a gardener, this wouldn’t be the story for me to tell. But then I visited the garden and everything changed after that.

Why did you choose to write a novel about Hulda Klager’s life?

It was walking where Hulda had walked and seeing the love and devotion she’d put into her garden, how it must have helped her heal during the times of great loss, and how generous she was. It was her generosity and how it came back to give her hope in her later years that really told me “this is a great story! I just hope I can tell it well.”

How difficult was it to research Hulda’s life? I did a simple Amazon search and no biographies appeared, just guidebooks and lilac horticultural books. Was finding details about her life a challenge?

Most of the details of her life came through interviewing descendants, reading old newspaper and magazine articles from the 1920s, census informatio,n and a wonderful history of the Woodland area written in the 1950s. I also had access to International Lilac articles and one traced both her history and the history of her flowers so I could see what years certain lilacs were named. That told me something of what was happening in her life then. Hulda’s home and garden are also on the National Historic Register and I had access to the information provided for that documentation. I also found a letter to the editor she’d written which was terrific to read both for the subject matter but also her passion and writing style. To fill in the blanks of her life, I used my imagination, which is what fiction allows one to do.

How many months/years did it take to research Hulda’s life?

I think I was enchanted by the garden four years ago and slowly began researching while working on other projects. It took me about six months of actual writing and then of course I’m always still researching even to the last sentence before it goes to print!

Cornelia, Shelly, Ruth, and Nelia are a “composite” cast of characters that are important to the novel, but fictional. Why did you decide to structure the novel with not just Hulda’s point of view, but other fictional characters too?

It was clear to me that Hulda touched many lives. She named many of her lilac varieties after different people, for example. I thought that would be like dedicating a book to someone — very special. Stories told about her and how important education was to her and her family begged to be told in some way and I felt that composite characters would allow me to explore people close at hand whom she helped by providing a place to live while they attended high school. The articles and family lore also said she gave away most of her starts and sometimes they mentioned how far people came to visit and that starts would leave with them. I thought it would add interest for readers to imagine how those lilacs might have found their way to Arnold Arboretum at Harvard, for example. And the composite characters allowed me to tell some of the many stories that Hulda wouldn’t tell herself, but that speak volumes of the kind of woman she was.

I was intrigued by the Baltimore connection. Having worked across the street from The Peabody Institute I was surprised to discover it was briefly featured in the novel, along with a mention of the Hampton Estate (now Hampton National Historical Site), which I didn’t know existed, despite having lived a few minutes away from it in the past! I now have Hampton down on my “to visit” list. Did you travel to Baltimore to research this novel?

Several years ago I spent a month in Maryland as part of a National Endowment for the Arts program. Most of my time was in Annapolis and Baltimore. I decided to incorporate some of my experiences that summer into a character’s life. I was unfamiliar with the Hampton Estate until I started doing research for the book, though. I found it interesting that large estates eventually became places for public access and were part of the early “green movement” in many ways. I must come back! I love Maryland.

One view of nature that causes tension between characters in the novel is that changing features in plants by hybridizing was “wrong.” Was that a commonly held view during Hulda’s lifetime?

Hybridizing for food, ala Luther Burbank, was just taking off though people had hybridized fruits, for example, for a long time. Hybridizing flowers or ornamentals in order to gain information for food hybridizing, was accepted but to just hybridize for beauty or scent or hardiness or color, well, many people thought there were more “useful” ways to spend one’s time. Hulda’s German background must have been somewhat of a challenge since Germans == like many cultures — can be focused on work. That’s why I love the verse in Mark when the woman pours expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet and He says, “She has done a lovely thing for me.” The translation using the Greek word is not the word for “good work” but rather suggests something lovely in and of itself. I think Hulda understood the value of beauty, in and of itself, especially when one gives it away.

One theme in Where Lilacs Still Blooms is the comfort flowers give in grief. Did Hulda really memorialize people through the naming of her lilacs?

She did indeed. Alice Christianson, which is a lovely pink bloom, was named for a young girl who lived with her while attending school who died of the flu probably around 1918. She named a new cultivar for her. There are cultivars named for her husband, son, daughter, friends whom she outlived.

When finishing When Lilacs Still Bloom, what’s one thing you hope your readers take away from the story of Hulda’s life?

That generosity, when given as a reflection of God’s grace, is returned ten-fold in time.

Can you tell us anything about your next writing projects?

I’m currently in the revision process of a story titled, One Glorious Ambition, which is the story of an early mental health reformer named Dorothea Dix. She was a New Englander and like Hulda quite remarkable. She had a passion for “the least of these” and spent her life working toward better conditions for the mentally ill. She was also a teacher and writer and had correspondence with over 700 people! Imagine! Many of them kept her letters!

If you could give one piece of advice to a writer who’s aspiring for publication, what would it be?

Make and keep your commitments. Keep learning while you’re sending your query letters or book proposals out, but make the commitment to write, to send, and not let the vagaries of the industry dissuade you from your passion.

What are some of your favorite books?

Oh goodness! To Die For by Sandra Byrd. The wonderful series set in Scotland by Liz Curtis Higgs. I recently read Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing about the first Native American to matriculate and graduate from Harvard. Fabulous book! Susan Meissner’s The Shape of Mercy continues to resonate with me though I read it three years ago. Books by Davis Bunn, Francine Rivers, and then I love a good mystery, too, so Michael Connelly and P.D. James are on my beside pile. Oh, you may have wanted classics … well, for another time and who’s to say these aren’t classics, right?

How do you like to unwind?

I take my dogs for a walk, watch a movie with my husband, listen to music, and of course, read a good book!

For more information on Jane Kirkpatrick and her other books, visit her website. For more information on Hulda Klager and her garden, visit the historic site’s website.

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This contest closes on Tuesday, July 10th, 2012, at 12 a.m. Our apologies to our international readers, but it’s only open to those residing in the United States.

This contest is now closed. Thanks to, we have our winners. Congrats to Amanda, Trish, and Courtney!

Danielle Ayers Jones is wife to an amazing husband and mother to three. She's a writer and photographer, combining both loves on her blog, A space where she seeks to find beauty in everyday places, joy in hardship, rest in the struggle, and encouragement in unexpected places. She's also written for Thriving Family, Clubhouse, Jr.,,, and You can follow Danielle on Instagram here and Pinterest here.


When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Where Lilacs Still Bloom: An Interview with Jane Kirkpatrick

by Danielle Ayers Jones time to read: 9 min