Beliefnet
Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Touched by an Angel. Jennifer Wilder Morgan, author of the inspirational novel Come to the Garden based on her personal encounters with the Devine, takes the stage in more than 400 theaters tomorrow night (Tuesday, May 3 at 7:00 p.m. local time) for a special one-night presentation featuring her interaction with animated characters voiced by Kathie Lee Gifford, Louis Gossett Jr. and Christian comedian Chonda Pierce as the author’s witty and wise guardian angel. Come to the Garden – On Stage!, from Fathom Events and Eakin Films, includes a post-event discussion with special guest and New York Times best-selling author of The Shack, Wm Paul Young. Tickets can be purchased here.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jennifer about the events leading up to tomorrow’s cinema event.

JWK: What inspired you to write the book Come to the Garden?

JENNIFER WILDER MORGAN:  This journey began with a curious calling on my heart to write about how God has been speaking His love and comfort to me throughout my life—a calling I initially didn’t want to accept, because to do that, I would have to share things that I had previously kept very private.

But I believe that God had been guiding the inspiration for this book from my earliest days. When I was a little girl, my daddy, a physician, would take me to visit his patients with him on Sunday afternoons after church.  I saw how his compassion and willingness to listen to and spend time with his patients brought a bright spark of hope into the sickroom.  Many years later, as I visited patients as a lay minister in a hospital here in Houston, I recognized that same spark of hope as I offered a safe, nonjudgmental atmosphere of compassion, listening and acceptance.  Patients let down their defenses and began sharing deeply personal and powerful stories with me about how they had encountered God in their lives—bringing them comfort, encouragement and hope. I realized that I was not the only one who had been having powerful encounters with God … yet I had been afraid to share them.  Seeing the hope and healing that occurs between people who share their stories encouraged me to finally overcome my fears and pay attention to this intriguing calling to share my own personal stories in the form of a book.

JWK: Come to the Garden was inspired by true events, can you tell us a little bit about that? Are there any childhood experiences that you drew inspiration from? 

JWM:  My novel is inspired by the true events of my own life … my deepest trials and struggles, Divine dreams and personal encounters with God.  The awareness that God has been speaking to me began during my childhood when I began to dream dreams that came true.  That was startling at first, but I came to understand that this was going to be a primary way that God was going to speak to me.  As I have grown older, my dreams have held profound messages that align with scripture, serving as guidance and inspiration for me along my life path.

JWK: What are some of the most profound lessons you learned that you would like to share with others?

JWM:  The Spirit of our living God lives within us … walking with us and talking with us each day.  And to hear Him, we must quiet ourselves and listen for His still, small voice, read His Word, and open ourselves to the possibility that the Creator of the universe wants to be in a deeply intimate and loving relationship with you—He cares about your life and will never leave you or forsake you.

I have learned that it is important to share with others what we have received from God—comfort, encouragement, healing, or peace.  Someone out there needs to hear your story, to receive what you have received.  That is how we can spread hope in our world.

And finally, I have learned that so many of us feel completely unqualified or unworthy of the calling that God places on our hearts.  But if we are obedient and put our faith and trust in the One who calls us, well … that is when miracles can happen.

JWK: How did this Fathom movie event — scheduled this Tuesday in over 400 theaters — come about? Who approached who?

JWM:  About two years ago after speaking about my book at my church, I was approached by Frank Eakin of Eakin Films and Publishing.  He was moved by the message of my story and had been looking for a new faith project to be involved with. He had recently completed a project in which he produced the audiobook version of 12 Years A Slave with Louis Gossett, Jr. We soon became partners in this journey, and he produced the audiobook version of Come to the Garden, which was narrated by Kathie Lee Gifford. Then, after I received a publishing contract with Simon & Schuster’s Howard Books, Frank suggested the idea to produce a live stage show to help introduce the book and me—a Texas homemaker-turned-author—to the world. As this project grew, renowned Nashville director Ken Carpenter joined us to turn this stage show into a film.  Frank’s contacts led him into discussions with Fathom Events, who liked the concept and our May 3rd Fathom Event was born!

JWK: What can theater goers expect?

JWM: Come to the Garden On Stage! is a unique storytelling cinema event which features groundbreaking projection technology—fusing live action with animation during a filmed stage show. In a stunning display of light, color and music, I recreate the wondrous garden where I finally opened my heart and mind to the possibility of experiencing encounters with the Divine. With the help of a humorous and wise guardian angel named Margaret, I take the audience on a journey to discover the reality of God’s healing presence in our world and in our lives. Heaven is closer than you think!

JWK: Will the performance be live or taped?

JWM:  This event is taped.  It was filmed during a live stage show performance that I did in February.

JWK: What has it been like working with Kathie Lee Gifford and Louis Gossett, Jr.?

JWM:  What a blessing it has been!  As we began planning this project, God faithfully opened doors, providing the assistance of these special and talented people who wanted to help me share my message by lending their voiceover performances to the show.   Louis Gossett, Jr.’s rich, baritone voice is the stirring ‘voice of God,’ and Kathie Lee Gifford lends her lovely voice to song and scripture quotations—which are from her narration of the audiobook version of my book.    These are individuals who have beautiful hearts for God and for humanity.  Through their own personal experiences, Lou and Kathie understand the truth about how God shines His healing light of grace into the midst of life’s trials and struggles, and were very gracious in their willingness to help me share this message with our broken and hurting world.

JWK: Christian Comedian Chonda Pierce is playing the voice of Margaret — an angel who, I understand, has a sense of humor. Do you believe that God likes laughter?

JWM:  Absolutely. I believe that God wants us to live abundant lives, filled with joy.  Luke 6:21 states, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”  We were made for joy, not sorrow.  Our trials and struggles would overwhelm us if we did not have laughter to soothe our hearts and spirits.  Chonda Pierce understands this all too well.  She has bravely shared her life struggles with all of us in a way that makes us laugh until we cry—tears that say “I can relate” and “thank you God for joy that can lift us up!”  Her latest Fathom Event was appropriately titled Laughing in the Dark.  I love that Chonda is the voice of my quirky and endearing Angel, Margaret!

JWK: Tyler Smith, son of three-time Grammy winner Michael W. Smith, composed the music for the event. How does it feel to have music inspired by your writing?

JWM: Wondrous. Tyler Smith is an exceptionally talented musician and composer, and I am thrilled to have had the chance to work with him.  In my initial discussion with Tyler about the musical score, I told him I envisioned music that was soul-stirring and elegant.  Boy, did he deliver!  I was moved to tears as I previewed the finished film because it was evident that Tyler’s heart was completely engaged in the project.  His music ebbs and flows beautifully with the storyline’s events and dialogue.  His music mirrors the emotions that flowed from my heart.

JWK: What do you do when you’re not writing and performing?

JWM:  I enjoy spending time with my husband and dogs.  My husband is involved in amateur auto racing, and I love to go to the racetrack to watch him drive and cheer him on.  I am also a baseball fan—I grew up in the Cleveland Indians Organization where my father served as medical director, so I love cheering on my beloved ‘Tribe,’ even from afar.  I also sing in the choir at church and like to lead Bible studies.  And yes, I love to garden!

JWM: What’s next? Another book? A movie?

JWM:  Hmmm.  Good question.  I have a lot of ideas percolating.  I would love to write another book, and am looking forward to what God has planned for me next.  I prefer to let Him lead me in my next venture … and He will!

John W. Kennedy is a writer/development consultant specializing in teleplays, screenplays and novelizations. He can be reached at john@jwkmedia.com.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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