Interview with Karla Dornacher by Christian Book Previews editor, Debra Murphy
CBP: Can you share with us your Christian testimony?
Karla: I grew up in a non-Christian home. We had a lot of family problems. My mother was a strict disciplinarian, so I grew up feeling like I could never quite measure up to who she thought I should be. My stepdad was someone who didnít know how to love children who were not his own, so he would oftentimes be verbally and emotionally abusive. I was a shy, quiet child, but in my teen years my quietness turned into rebellion, and things went from bad to worse.
My mother chose to legally disown me at the age of 17, and I became a ward of the state of Illinois. I found out later that mother had gone home that day after court and destroyed everything that I owned. So at the age of 17, I was a person who had no past, no future, and as far as I knew, no one on the face of the earth cared whether I lived or died. During the next 7 years, my mother wouldnít speak to me, and I struggled very much and looked in all the wrong places for that love that was so missing in my life.
I tried alcohol and drugs, and probably read every self-help book that was on the market. I got into Eastern religions, and even was a practicing Jehovahís Witness for three years. All this time I knew I was just looking to be loved. When I met my husband, I thought, Surely now his love for me is going to fill that emptiness in me. But it didnít. Then when I had Michelle, who is our only child, I again thought, Surely the love of this baby is going to fill the emptiness in me. But again, it just didnít.
All of that emotion was in meóI was filled with bitterness and anger toward my mother and stepdad. And it all oozed out of me to the people I loved the most. Much as I wanted to be a good mom and a good wife, I just didnít know how. Then in the fall of 1980, I was invited to a neighborhood Bible study. It was at that Bible study that I prayed to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ. I came to understand that He and He alone could fill that emptiness that is inside of us. I asked Him to forgive me of my sins and to come into my life and fill my heart. I have honestly never been the same since. That was a huge turning point for me.
CBP: What happened next? How did get into writing? You are obviously a talented artist!
Karla: Itís interesting, I drew when I was a child, wanted to be an artist when I grew up, but put away all my art supplies when I became a wife and mom. It was my choice to focus my attention and creativity being a wife and a mom: homemaking, gardening, sewing, canning, all those kind of things. So it wasnít that I wasnít creative, it was just that I channeled it into being a wife and keeper of the house. I just painted my first picture 13 years ago, as a wedding gift for my daughter. Up until then, anytime I used paint it just turned to mud (those who use watercolors know exactly what itís like). So when I painted that picture for my daughter, I thought, Iíll just try one more time, and it worked! I thought, Oh my goodness, Lord it must be You. Over the next 6 months, I painted 6 watercolor paintings that were based on and included Scripture texts. During that time, I was praying, Lord, what do I do with these? My heart really was to put Godís Word on the walls of womenís homes in an affordable way. By the time I got those finished, I knew the Lord was prompting me to offer them in a home-party format. It was just totally out of my comfort zone.
CBP: How did you know?
Karla: Well, everyone I talked to kept saying ďYou should do this.Ē And the key to that was no overhead. By trying to sell them wholesale, I would have had to go through different hands in order to get into stores, and then the price would be too high. The only alternative that coming before me was the home-party format, which at the time was very much a part of that group of women I was in. It was like, this is it.
CBP: So you didnít hear a big voice, it just kept being brought up?
Karla: Absolutely. I knew that it was God who kept bringing it before me. It was, in fact, the only way we could keep the price down and make it affordable. My heart was primarily for stay-at-home moms, and so I wanted to do everything to keep the price down. So I did. I started off by inviting a good friend who I knew would be totally honest with me if I was on the right track or not, to my home-party presentation, and the response was excellent. I began to do more parties from this. At only the second party, two of the gals came up afterwards and said, ďKarla, how are we supposed to remember what it is you are telling us from the pictures?Ē Because what I would do is take my matted and framed print and we would sit in someoneís living room, and I would talk about not only the Scripture that was in it, but the spiritual symbolism that was woven into each painting. So when they asked me that, I didnít even think they would, but I did go home and write down what I had been saying, and kept condensing it until it would fit on a half a sheet of paper that I would then copy and tape to the back of each painting. I had never written anything that even resembled a story up to that time. So again, totally the Lord. I continued to do the home parties for about three years and was very successful. I was wearing out, getting tired.
CBP: Which can be another confirmation to change directionÖ
Karla: It was. I prayed, Lord, what do you have because this is wearing me out. We had also started doing some wholesale, about the Western half of the United States, and doing larger retail shows. I lived in a small town just north of Portland, Oregon, called Battleground, Washington, eight years ago. There was the first Northwest Christian Expo held in Portland Ė the only one actually Ė and God had a huge plan for that. Not only for myself, but others I know were life-impacted by it. It was at that show that my husband and I had our booth, we had our framed prints and plaques, and this woman comes up to my booth. She notices my magnets. She got very excited because she had bought my magnets in a small town Christian bookstore in Flower Mountain, Texas. She was so excited about my magnets, so I asked her if they also carried my framed prints, and she didnít think so.
I started taking them off of the wall, showing her not only the painting but also the stories that were on the back. At a certain point in time after reading the story, she asked me if I thought that I was supposed to do a book. I thought, what a strange question for a total stranger to ask. Yet, I was glad to tell her what I had only told two other people prior to that, which was that the Lord had really laid that on my heart two years earlier. And I had taken the time to stop and do some sample pages of what the book would look like, but by the time I had done that I knew it was way over my head. I put those sample pages in a file folder, set them in a drawer, shut the drawer, and said, Lord if this is You, You are going to have to make it happen. I left them there and just did what was before me. I shared that with this woman, and told her that if God did want it to happen He would make it happen, and I trusted Him totally.
Then she asked me if Iíd ever heard of Thomas Nelson, and I said I did, that they were the Bible people. She, almost indignantly, said they were Bibles and more. She then introduced herself to me as Marsha Countryman, who is the wife of Jack Countryman, who is the ďJĒ in J. Countryman. So she went back to her booth, they were there representing their own gift line, and came back to me with a stack of beautiful gift books to show me what they did. Later that afternoon she brought Jack to our booth and introduced us. It was the cutest sight youíve ever seen: she is bubbling over with her cute Texas accent saying, ďDarliní, donít you think these are the most beautiful things youíve ever seen? Donít you just love them?Ē Well, Jack is a businessman and golfer, and I think that kind of sets the picture for you. Heís standing with his hands behind his back saying, ďYes dear, those are nice. Umm-hmm.Ē Michael and I were just cracking up. He did, out of courtesy, ask me to bring my samples in the next day. Then he took me around the corner to tell me that there were no promises here. I told him that I was old enough to understand no promises. That day when they left, neither Michael and I expected to hear from them let alone see them. Marsha did call me at one point to ask me how my schedule looked, and I thought, Oh, yeah, itís not him. Less than three weeks later, Jack called me on the phone and said, ďKarla, weíve been looking at your artwork.Ē Actually, he took it and set it on the table before the men and women in the office, and they oogled.
CBP: So who are you writing for? Women?
CBP: What kind of women?
Karla: All women. Grandmothers, married women, young women, women of all ages. I have gotten emails and letters from girls as young as 10 years old, how it has impacted their lives, how it has changed their lives. Certain personal experiences where God has spoken to them and it has changed a decision. How it has revealed the unconditional love of God, more than anything. The Word combined with the art wraps itself around them and hugs them and loves them.
CBP: Can you highlight the areas that cover in your book?
Karla: In this book, it is about embracing who God has designed us to be. I have looked at 7 or 8 different aspects as women that are just a part of who we uniquely are by Godís design. I talk about the journey we take, and how when we stop and realize that no one else has walked where we walked, no one else has experienced what we have experienced, no one else has had that particular group of people that has influenced our lives, we realize that there is no one else quite like us. When I came to understand that, I realized that because of that, no one else can fulfill that unique plan that God has designed for our life.
CBP: Youíre so beautiful with words in this book. One of them, that I have to ask you -- mother-in-love, son-in-love Ė did you make that up?
Karla: I heard that somewhere before. I canít call them my mother-in-law or my son-in-law, because itís not just a law relationship, itís a love relationship.
CBP: That really told me something about the book when I opened it up. It made me turn the next page. You write a letter at the very beginning to the reader, that they are a dear friend, and honestly I felt like anyone who would read this was a dear friend to you, that if you spoke to anyoneís heart, they would be your friend. Is that how you feel?
Karla: I honestly do. I believe that if you are a woman who picks up this book and begins to read it, that you and I could have coffee together or tea, and that we could laugh together and cry together. We could find things that we have in common and just love and encourage each other.
CBP: In Scripture it says that God knew you before you were born, and all of this is already planned out, and when you actually shared that in your book, I felt it more. Instead of just being words, I really felt it more. Did you have to come to that realization?
Karla: Absolutely. Iíve had to struggle with who am I and what am I doing here? I am a woman who has struggled terribly with comparing myself to other women and always coming up short. To come to that understanding that God did fashion my days and designed me as I am. Not that Iím totally free of that, but the truth has set me free to a large degree.
CBP: You acknowledge that women donít know where there path is going to lead, and quite honestly donít appreciate the path theyíve been on. They just think that their wandering.
Karla: I have come to realize that even though I have come from a troubled home, and had a lot of relationship problems within my family, that God can use every one of those relationship issues. Heís used the places where Iíve lived, the circumstances Iíve been through, to mold me and shape me into who I am today. I kind of laugh, because even before I knew Him I was canning and sewing and crafting, and when I began to do the book, I realized how many of those things showed up in my artwork. Not my plan, but it shows that itís a daily walk. Not only the things of our past, but things of today shape us and mold us.
CBP: You also talk about submitting to God. Was that scary for you?
Karla: Oh, without a doubt. But I came to a place where I will never forget. I cried out to the Lord, I am tired of fighting You, I surrender. I want to be the woman you designed me to be. Even if it hurts. And interesting that I added that on, but I knew instinctively in my spirit that making that move was not going to be easy. The very next morning, it was just as if the Lord started teaching me. He began to put things in front of me, and asked me to do things that were out of my comfort zone. I had to hold His hand to go into some of those situations.
CBP: You are very talented. Is everyone talented?
Karla: God has put His creativity and talent within each one of usóthey just look different coming out of us. I think we all have something that God has planted within us. I love to share with women the whole cooking thing, because we donít see cooking as women as a gift or a talent. But itís a gift a lot of women take for granted, and I find awe inspiring myselfóitís not my gift. Being able to put together a cake or a dish without thinking about it, and how God can use even a talent such as that to minister in the body of Christ or to use as an outreach to bless other people. I donít think there are any lesser gifts, I think they just look different. I think the most valuable talents are the ones not seen. That person that prays.
CBP: Speaking of gifts, this book is a lot of little gifts and ideas. The style is like gift cards, so you donít have the feeling that you have to read it from cover to cover, although it wouldnít be the longest read. It actually is something that you could take page by page, and meditate on it for that day, and let that be your mediation for the day and let it sink in.
Karla: Iíve heard women say that about my other books, that each page is like a daily devotional.
CBP: Along with being a daily devotional, not all of them allow you to write in the book. But itís very difficult to think that in this beautiful book that Iím going to take a pen. Iím sure that I might just suggest to somebody to take a big sticky note and stick it on top of that beautiful thing. The other thing I would add to that is that you may be buying it as a gift, and I felt that I needed to buy ten to have handy to give out immediately. One of the other touching subjects you have in there is about personality types. We wonder if I fit that mold, being as I should be. But youíre saying that thereís not just one shaping type of personality that we need to mold ourselves to. You said it in such a beautiful way.
Karla: The four common personality types that we are familiar with, I put them in a floral picture because we make up one bouquet. So I looked at the Popular Petunia, the Powerful Poppy, the Perfect Periwinkle, and the Peaceful Primrose. And so you would be able to delight no matter which you are. None of us is any one particular, but we identify more with one than the other.
CBP: We sometimes donít think that weíre unique, but think that Iím odd and Iím out.
Karla: Can I tell you a little story? I grew up being a child who had a hard time fitting in. I was not athletic at all, I couldnít throw a ball, I couldnít catch a ball, so I wasnít included in any athletic group. I was smart okay, but not smart enough to be included in that intellectual crowdójust never quite fit in anywhere. When I came to know the Lord, I came across a Scripture that says we are a holy nation, a peculiar people set apart for the Lord. And when I saw that word peculiar, I thought, Oh my goodness, Lord, I have a place to fit in! Of course, later I found out that it meant special, but there is a great picture that we are all still peculiar people in the sense that we are all different people.
CBP: And now you know you are special, and God is using you.
Karla: Yes (laughing).