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A few weeks ago I was contacted by J. L. Van Leuven and asked if I’d be interested in reviewing her new (and first) novel called “Delivered”. The novel is set in New Testament times and is a fictional account of the midwife who assisted Mary during the birth of Jesus Christ. On her blog J.L Van Leuven writes this about her book,

” I was taking a bath one evening when a story came into my mind. It was not just any ordinary story. It was a story of the midwife who delivered Jesus Christ. The story came into my mind with complete detail from the beginning to the end. It was all I could think about for days and days. I decided that I needed to write it out… There actually came a point when I was working on the book late at night after I had gotten off of work… I went to save the manuscript when I accidentally saved a blank document on top of my manuscript thus deleting the 171pages I had written so far. I sat looking at the screen feeling sick to my stomach. I wanted to quit right then and there. I do not have time for this I thought. I cannot possibly rewrite all of this. I felt a sense of peace come to me and I knew that it would be okay. I reluctantly began writing the manuscript again the very next day. It only took two more months to rewrite the deleted portion of the book and finish it completely…. I knew in the end that it was not of my own doing and that I could not take all the credit. This was a book of inspiration. I was guided through out the entire process which allowed it to come into being. I love this story and the characters that have come forth from it. I hope to tell the world this story. It is one that has never been told before. “

I was intrigued by her comments about her book and after reading was curious to know even more. So I emailed her and asked her to share more of her experiences writing this book. Here is what I asked:

I really loved your main character, Ada, and I am wondering if she was patterned off anyone you know or where the idea for her character came. 

 To answer the first question truthfully I must be open and honest.  I wrote Ada as I was guided to write her. I honestly never thought she would come out like she did. I knew the book would be a spiritual journey for the reader but never imagined to what extent until I had completed writing it. It was as though I put on a cloak allowing me to see the world as she would. I felt as though I could see and perceive things as she did and then I wrote the book from her perspective feeling every emotion as though I were her.  I knew her name would be Ada even from the first thought of her. I knew she was a very significant person with a very special story. After writing her story I was strengthened in ways known by my spirit only. It is hard to put into words the changes that can occur in ones soul. Somehow words do not do it justice.

On your blog you mention that the idea for this book came to you while you were taking a bath and that you saw the whole story from start to finish. I am curious to know more about that experience. Which parts of the book did you start out with and how did your writing process evolve? 

The story  of Ada came into my mind one evening in the first part of January. I was listening to the Hallelujah by the Cloverton group.  I actually had listened to this song before and loved it but never had a thought about Ada until this evening. As I listened to the words in the song. I pictured Ada as a young girl growing up in Bethlehem. I could see her life in my mind. I saw her fall in love. I saw what happened to her love and the pregnancy take place. I saw her lose her child in the way that I described in the book. At the end I knew that midwifery and birth would slowly start to heal her wounds in a way that is hard to explain to people outside of the birthing world. I also knew that she would carry a wound so deep and so painful that the only way for it to be healed was through Jesus Christ. Although not as an adult but even from infancy his greatness would heal her and she would understand her destiny and purpose in this life. She would see just who he was and it would cause her to remember who she was. It was through the actual birth she would be healed in the most complete and remarkable way. Which will happen to us all at some point but at times in our lives it is hard to comprehend the glory and magnitude of it all. That is the basic story that came into my mind. As I started to write I developed the plot and surrounding story from researching the Jewish archives and the history of Herod the great. It was amazing to me that the obstetric history of Miriamne II fit in so perfectly with my story. It fit so precisely that the event of Miriamne I was in fact the same year as the birth of Christ. It was amazing to me that the more I researched the more the story came to me and the pieces pulled together making for one amazing story. The story that came to me in the beginning was just of Ada and did not include everything else.

I was intrigued by your depiction of Mary and the experiences of her early life. You depicted her in a way I’d never thought of before and I enjoyed your perspective. Where did your ideas about Mary come from and what are your personal feelings about her? 

 Mary, wow what can I say about her. I have loved every story I have ever read about her in my entire life. I have always wondered about her. I have had several conversations with my mother about her. We have researched her. I have read several books depicting her in many different ways. I pulled from all of the knowledge I had of her and created her story again in the way that I was guided to write it. I knew that Mary would know who she was from a young age just as her son Jesus Christ did. I knew that God would have a close relationship with her and that angels would most likely surround her and minister to her from a young age. I had heard a story long ago about her purity. I remembered the story saying that her feet never touched the earth because of the promise her mother had made. The more I thought about this the more it made sense to me that the reason she was so pure is because they had gone to great lengths to keep her so. The idea of her becoming a temple maiden at a very young age and staying within the walls of the temple most of her life made sense to me. These are the reasons that she stayed so pure. She was protected and guided to be a part of the greatest work this world and the worlds beyond would ever know. Again I believe she was very aware of who she was and what role she was to play. She stood through it all with grace and strength from above even until the very end. As a mother myself I cannot even begin to imagine what strength and courage she had. My words fail me when I try to describe what I truly feel about her.

How does your faith influence your writing? What challenges and blessings did you experience as you wrote this book? 

 The book itself was a huge leap of faith for me. I have never been a writer and lack confidence in my writing. The impression for Ada’s story was so strong in my mind that I could not ignore it. So with reservations about my ability I began to write. I loved the story so much after I had finished it. When lost the 171pages I felt sick. I just stared at the blank screen unsure of how I should react. My first thought was that I do not have time for this. I am a full time mom, wife, and nurse. I prayed to know what I should do. A calming spirit came over me and I knew that I still needed to write the story. So with strength beyond myself I sat down the very next day and began to write the story again. I found two flaws in the accuracy of the original story and corrected my mistakes. I moved forward with faith in God’s guidance. I completed writing the story in just 3 months.  I looked back in wonder and amazement that I was able to do that. Even with all that said I still was very nervous to let the story go into the world to be judged of others. When you write something so personal it feels as though you have made yourself very vulnerable on a deep level. I was reassured by a scripture I read one morning in 2Nehpi 33:4. It talks about the spirit making my weakness strong through means of the spirit of God. I was comforted by this so much that it gave me the courage to continue and publish the book. I hope that this book will help cause others to believe, endure, and know that at the end of all the sacrifice lies eternal life.
Thank you Jessica for answering my questions! And here are my thoughts about it. I’ll give three likes and three critiques.
Critiques

1. The first part of the book was a little slow and cumbersome for me. Mostly because I felt that it wasn’t very historically accurate. The lives and intereactions between characters seemed much too modern to be in New Testament times. For example, even though I thought the courtship of Ada and Asher was sweet (and romantic) it felt more like the type of experience that modern day 16-year-old would have if her parents arranged her marriage and not what a girl in the New Testament would have experienced.  It was nice that you felt like you could relate to the main character but it also diminished from the historical feeling of the book. There were also customs or practices that she mentioned in the book that weren’t very historically accurate and sometimes that was distracting to me. But in all fairness, she did a pretty good job and it didn’t detract from the main plot line or message  of the story.

2. The book is self published and there are some noticeable mistakes in the text and in the layout. The most noticeable ones were the time lapses that sometimes came to dramatically without any transition. There are a few places where the paragraph will end and then all of a sudden the next paragraph is three months or three years later. That was a bit confusing and it would have been better if she could have started them at the beginning of a chapter or put a marker in to signal a time change. The book feels self published (which isn’t a bad thing– TGOGL is self published too!) but it would be good to know that before you buy it so you know what to expect.

3. I think my last critique is probably a more personal one, but it bothered me that some of the birth stories in the book seemed written from a medical mindset of birth. For example, the midwife is always very involved in the births always checking for cervical dilation, coaching the woman when and how to push,  catching the baby herself instead of having the mother do it (except in the case of Mary), even using a birth stool so that women are in a more convenient positions for her to deliver the baby rather than for the main purpose of helping the mother. There were times when I felt you could have transplanted the same experience right into the modern day hospital (with a great midwife) and it would have been just about the same… which in all honesty may have been the case. We don’t really know how births went in New Testament times and it is probable that some of them were as “hands on” as this midwife was, but I tend to think that birth was probably more of mother-led experience back then instead of the more practitioner-led experience it is today. Mary’s birth was really the only one where the midwife really was just a witness, a support person to help if needed, but not one to direct or manage the birth. It felt the most like the type of  homebirths I have attended and wished that there would have been more of those type of experiences in the book.

Likes

1. I really loved the characters. The main character, Ada, is wonderful, likeable, intriguing and interesting. I also love it that the love of her life is named Asher (my son’s name) and that she is surrounded by a diverse group of interesting characters. Ada goes through some heart wrenching experiences in her life but even with all that sorrow the book is not depressing or sad. She focuses on how her faith supports her and carries her through to perform the mission she was called to do. I also love it how you see how the Lord prepared her for her mission from the time she was young, even though Jesus’s birth didn’t happen until she was much older.

2. I liked how the author portrayed the midwives as skilled and capable. In the book Ada and her mother (the local midwives) are seen as holy women who pray and wash before every birth and who develop their skills and practices. They use a wide variety of herbs, spices and oils and have tricks to help mothers in all sorts of situations. They handle everything from breeches, hemorrhages and premature babies and do it with skill. I like this because I think too often when we imagine birth in times past we just assume that women didn’t get any sort of quality treatment or care. I don’t think that was the case. I think that like the author illustrated in her book that there have always been women (and sometimes men) who developed great skill in assisting women in childbirth.  It was nice to see her portray midwifery in that positive light.

3. I loved the idea and message that this book sent… that God is aware of each of us and that he prepares us for our missions in life in ways that we don’t always understand. I also loved the idea of imagining what Mary’s birth experience would have been like. I wouldn’t have ever imagined it like it happened in the book, but I enjoyed the author’s perspective and ideas. The truth is that we don’t really know what happened and so anything is possible. I loved imagining.

The Bottom Line

I enjoyed this book, and at one point it was even hard for me to put it down to go to bed. I enjoyed the characters, the plot of the book, and the spiritual message. I had to remind myself sometimes to not get hung up on historical details because this is a NOVEL and the author can use her imagination and depict things any way she wanted. In the end I think she did a really wonderful job and very much enjoyed her perspective. It is an interesting, engaging and thought provoking story and is one that I think would make a perfect gift for anyone interested in midwifery and birth.

I also think it is one that anyone who has ever wondered what it would have been like to be at the birth of Jesus Christ would love… because she gives you just a glimpse of what– maybe– happened.

And I loved that.

You can buy “Delivered” by J. L. Van Leuven through Amazon.

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