Dianne Barker has spent her life writing. Because of that, she has amassed a large volume of work, from investigative news stories to variety columns, and from daily devotions to a diverse collection of non-fiction books.
Throughout her career, Dianne’s faith has always been an important part of her work, but humor is also in no short supply, as evidenced by the title of her latest self-help book on organization, I Don’t Chase the Garbage Truck down the Street in My Bathrobe Anymore!
A lifelong resident of Johnson City, Tennessee, Dianne married her high school sweetheart, James.
When did you first know that writing was important to you?
During high school I recognized a gift in English grammar and a desire to write for my hometown newspaper. I dreamed of rushing off to cover the raging fire and the gruesome murder. Ordinary folks likely wouldn’t find that appealing. Eager to get on with my dreams, I took summer classes, finished high school at sixteen, and applied for a job at the newspaper. Just a teenager good in English, I had nothing else to offer—and no experience. I turned seventeen that summer and began classes at the university in the fall. After a few months I stopped by the newspaper to remind the editor of my interest, but my skills still weren’t needed. On my third visit during my junior year, I landed a part-time position. After finishing my degree, I became a full-fledged news reporter, rushing off to the raging fire, the gruesome murder, and other assignments. I could never do anything else. My blood ran printer’s ink.
How does your faith play into your work?
I accepted Christ at age seven and grew up in church. After a few weeks at the newspaper, I was offered a weekly column, “The Entertainment Whirl.” Just eighteen, aggressive, and convinced I had answers to life’s big questions, I began sharing my Christian perspective. Soon the editor suggested changing the title to reflect the content. My new heading, “Of Cabbages and Kings” (from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass) gave me freedom to write about diverse topics. I wrote the column for seventeen years and in 2012 published a collection, Cabbages and Kings—Reflections on Living Abundantly in Christ, which chronicles my life and Christian walk from the start of my journalism career to the present.
Besides writing the column, I covered many religious events and crusades. I convinced the publisher to send me to Minneapolis (headquarters of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association at that time) to attend a Christian writing conference hosted by Decision magazine. The founding editor, Dr. Sherwood E. Wirt, became a friend and mentor. A year later Dr. Graham held a crusade in Knoxville, Tennessee. The newspaper sent me to cover the event, which made national headlines with the visit of President Richard Nixon. I reconnected with Dr. Wirt, and through his influence the crusade executive committee chose me to write a commemorative book about the crusade—Billy Graham in Big Orange Country. I was twenty-four.
That book led to my second, Living Proof (life of Vietnam hero Clebe McClary), which led to Twice Pardoned (life of ex-convict Harold Morris), first book for Focus on the Family Publishing and a number one Christian best-seller in 1986. I expect to publish my twelfth book later this year, Help! I’m Stuck and I Can’t Get Out—the Maximum Marriage Maintenance and Repair Kit. My entire writing life has revolved around my faith. My passion is leading others to discover the maximum life—the abundant life Jesus promised in John 10:10.
God sometimes sends us down an unexpected path in life—one that ultimately blesses us more than our original plan. Have you ever experienced such a “Divine Detour”?
I spent about fifteen years on an unexpected path. After the success of Twice Pardoned, I looked forward to a promising future writing more best-sellers. God surprised me by leading me out of the limelight of my public career as journalist, author, and speaker to a private life caring for my parents and my husband’s parents as they dealt with numerous health issues. I didn’t write any best-sellers, only a few magazine articles during that time. Little by little God eliminated every non-essential thing, shrinking my life to basics—driving our parents to doctor appointments, attending school functions involving our children, attending church, shopping for groceries and cooking (often for our three families), and doing laundry for our three families. One week I made three trips to the coin laundry due to plumbing problems at home. Total loads: thirty-two. That was the week before my beloved mother went to heaven—three weeks before my dad observed his 100th birthday. Caring for him consumed my life for the next two years.
After his death I expected to resume my writing, but we noticed James’ mother seemed forgetful and confused. We knew nothing about Alzheimer’s disease until it struck our family. This petite silver-haired lady no longer recognized her only child, forgot our son and daughter were her grandchildren, and feared the “stranger” in her home, her husband of fifty years. We lost her long before her death. In five years we’d buried three parents. For the next seven years, James did everything necessary for his dad to stay in his own home—helping with baths, cleaning the house, and maintaining the yard work. I continued the laundry and cooking, paid bills, took him to medical appointments, kept up with prescriptions, and handled insurance hassles.
I call this period my shrunken life, but a better term is a life hidden with Christ. My circumstances sent me to His feet seeking strength for each day. Those were precious years of growing in faith, getting to know my Savior’s heart, and learning to rest in His everlasting arms. I kept a journal and filed copious notes about life experiences that have become the core of my current writing projects. What I learned and experienced on my divine detour is priceless.
The title came from an incident one summer day. I’d left my journalism career to be a stay-at-home mom, and without deadlines my life had little structure—for years. A familiar rumbling interrupted my lazy morning as I sipped coffee while reading yesterday’s newspaper. The garbage truck! This was not a new thing. Wednesday had long been garbage pickup in our community. Forgetting to take the trash can to the street also was not a new thing. Slipping into my son’s old loafers, I clomped through the dewy grass, waving wildly and yelling, “Wait! Wait!” I made a decision that day—I won’t chase the garbage truck down the street in my bathrobe anymore. I craved organization and begged the Lord to intervene. He honored my desperate prayer, teaching me how to organize for the maximum life and urging me to share my success with other women. I started the book by surveying seventy-five friends in seventeen states from Pennsylvania to Hawaii. From their responses I identified four degrees of organization:
Category 1: Born that way and sailing smoothly.
Category 2: Learned to stay afloat in the riptide.
Category 3: Struggling to keep my head above water.
Category 4: Help! I’m drowning! Throw me a rope!
The Lord brought me from category four to category two—the best I can be, since I wasn’t born organized. My book throws a rope to the desperate who are drowning in disorganization. It gives practical strategies to organize space, time, and family chaos while encouraging personal renovation—purging interior garbage (negative thinking, inferiority, low esteem), and submitting fully to Christ, gateway to balance and abundant living. Along with my personal experience, each chapter gives tips from my organized friends. It’s a fun book. Numerous readers have said, “The reason I haven’t finished the book is I keep stopping to organize!” I wrote the book as if the reader and I were walking through her house, stopping to organize room by room. I love that readers are actually doing that!
God often uses our work to teach us something. What did you learn (about life, faith, and/or even yourself) in the process of writing this book?
1. Even category ones (born that way and sailing smoothly) have to work at staying organized. Pack rats like me have to work harder. Recognizing other factors that contribute to disorganization encouraged me: too much good stuff, too little storage space, over-commitment/overwhelming circumstances, and personality. Understanding this, I stopped beating myself for my failures and focused on solving the problem.
2. No concern is insignificant to the Lord. Did I really pray about organization? Absolutely! I didn’t want to reach the end of life, regretting all the important things I never got around to doing. To leave a worthy legacy, I had to become disciplined and organized. “God is not a God of disorder but of peace . . . everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way . . .” (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40 NIV). Developing discipline is a legitimate spiritual goal.
3. Pursue your God-given passion, no matter how long and difficult the path. Writing the book consumed about four months . . . spread over four years. I’m sure other writers struggle with negative thinking. “What can I say that hasn’t been said?” I placed a note in front of my computer screen: “It’s good . . . and God is in it.”
A few fun questions…
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
Wish you hadn’t asked. I just ate a chocolate cupcake! I’m afraid chocolate is a snare to my soul. Knowing chocolate is in the house lures me to abandon all reason and commitment to healthful eating choices. I try to resist by paraphrasing Proverbs 23:31-32 this way: “Do not gaze on the chocolate when it is rich and creamy. In the end it makes you fat and steals your self-esteem.” Sometimes that works . . . sometimes not. Now where did I put those Snicker bars?
This website features musicians as well as writers. Do you have musical, as well as literary, talent?
I began taking piano lessons in second grade and singing at my piano recitals. The principal of my elementary school often asked me to sing (acapella) for the students during lunch break. And my mother had me sing and play for everyone who visited our home. I’ve been singing in the church choir since my teenage years. I’m part of a women’s trio, and I served as assistant church organist for several years. My musical gifts are not outstanding, but my two children have amazing talent. My daughter began singing in church at age eight and took piano lessons for nine years. She spent several years as a music evangelist and attended the Amsterdam 2000 evangelism conference. My son began violin lessons in second grade, continuing through high school. He has an amazing ear and can play any song he hears. He taught himself to play guitar and piano. I can’t wait for his two-year-old son to play his dad’s first small violin.
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
I’d be a dreamy love song, such as, “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.” That song became my marriage dream of loving and being loved. That hasn’t changed after forty-eight years of marriage to my high-school sweetheart, James.
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
I’m the little girl trying to walk in high heels. I’ve been “on stage” since my first piano recital in second grade, and from young adulthood I’ve appeared confident as a journalist, author, and speaker for women’s events. But I struggled with feelings of inferiority most of my life until learning to apply God’s truth: I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14 NIV), designed by God himself and placed on this earth for a purpose. When I fall into the trap of comparing myself with others, I feel like the little girl playing dress-up with her mother’s shoes and stumbling. I’ve learned, “the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared” (Proverbs 3:26 NIV).
About those high heels: I grew up on a small farm, the baby girl with three older brothers. One day when I was about four, I was playing with mother’s high heels when my brother Ronnie came in from working in the barn. He asked to see one of the shoes then handed it back. When I put it on, I felt something furry inside—a baby mouse! He laughed and to this day declares he doesn’t remember the incident.
I’m a dog lover. Please tell us about your pets, if any, or your favorite pet as a child.
When I was growing up, we always had dogs and cats—including many strays that found our house to be a good stopping place. When my children were small, my husband pulled a kitty out of a groundhog hole on his parents’ farm. She was part of our family for seventeen years. By the time she died, our children had grown up and left the nest. We decided no more pets.
One sunny day while James made repairs on his truck, a gray tabby appeared. She rolled on the sidewalk, doing charming antics. A tag on her collar gave her name, Maui, and phone number. James called and her family a block away came for her . . . three times over several days. After we also took her home three times, they said she could stay wherever she pleased. She settled at our house, and we soon realized her cute antics were manipulation to get accepted. Temperamental, she’s stingy with affection (allows petting on her terms) but doesn’t like being alone. We learned her former family had taken her in when their neighbors—who brought the cat from Hawaii—planned to take her to the pound. Why would anyone go to the trouble and expense to bring a grumpy cat all the way from Hawaii? I concluded she was a sweet kitty that suffered “separation anxiety syndrome” on the long flight to Tennessee, causing a personality change. (Parenting taught me to go the second mile, giving grace to a strong-willed child.) We’re still working on her people skills. Meanwhile, Maui brings us as much pleasure as she chooses.
Thank you, Dianne! It’s a pleasure to have you as a guest at DivineDetour.
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For more information about Dianne, visit her website.
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