By DIANE SCHLINDWEIN
Thanks to her strong faith, as well as the encouragement of her spiritual director, her parents, and her friends, Maggie Deckard had a book of poetry published when she was just 22 years old.
Deckard’s book, Becoming, contains a collection of 31 poems that are close to her heart and bare her soul. They include words that she hopes will “serve as a safe place for women to go to, a place of consolation.” “If my book can do that in some way — then it is a privilege,” she says.
Deckard first starting writing poetry in high school (at Sacred Heart-Griffin in Springfield), but says it was in college (at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville) that writing poems became very therapeutic and drew her closer to Jesus. “Whenever I did not know how to process what was going on in the ups and downs of college, I turned to writing as an outlet,” she says.
Each poem in her book is a part of her “heart and story,” she says. “The topics I chose to put in the book were all real things that I went through and processed during college, some of them very tough and vulnerable, so if my book helps anyone else feel less alone, then to me it is worth it.”
Deckard’s book is obviously faith-driven. “The whole process of creating this book felt very guided by Jesus and the Holy Spirit, so that helped overcome some of the fear around sharing hard things,” she says. Some titles included in the book are Misplaced, Secret Tears, I’d Never Tell You, and One Hail Mary.
Each poem title is accompanied by a reference to a Scripture quote. “The poems came before the Scripture quotes,” Deckard says. “I actually didn’t have the idea until over halfway through the editing process of the book. I knew I wanted Him (Jesus) to have the final word of the book, so Scripture felt like the best way to do that.”
Before her book was published, Deckard said sometimes it was easy to share poems with friends, yet sometimes it was difficult. “Many of the poems in my book, I shared with a few friends here and there, especially if I thought they could relate,” she says. “Every time I shared a poem, my friends’ responses were always so positive, and they always encouraged me to write more. I eventually just had this strong desire and conviction that my poems needed to go beyond my computer screen. There were definitely times when I would get nervous if I thought too much about what other people would think of certain poems, especially the deeper ones, but the desire to share them always outweighed the fear.”
It was in her freshman year at SIUE that Deckard began taking part in Newman Center activities and began growing in her Catholic faith. She says it was there she came across Father Rob Johnson (pastor of Mother of Perpetual Help in Maryville), who eventually helped to get her book published. “I first met Father Rob my first week of college at SIUE. I met him at the Newman Center during a community night,” she says. “I got to know him my first semester of college through different Newman events and then later that year he became my spiritual director. He helped me grow in my faith immensely, and he helped me to actually know Jesus as a person, as a friend.
“After he became my spiritual director, I began sharing different poems with him over my time in college, because writing poetry was a form of prayer for me,” she says. “And then during my senior year, he told me if I wrote a poetry book geared toward college students, that he would help me get it published. And here we are. His support helped give me the courage to share my writing with the world.” Today, Father Johnson, who wrote the forward to her book, is her pastor, too.
Deckard’s friend, Kayla Bridick, was the illustrator for Becoming. “We met at college through the Newman Center,” she says. “The illustrations were really fun to brainstorm and see come to life. Kayla really wanted to make the illustrations, images that were not specifically described in the book, yet had significance to the story. The illustrations were actually all based on actual items or objects in my house, or from Mother of Perpetual Help Church.”
Another person who assisted Deckard was her friend and editor, Megan Ulrich. “She has written and self-published two of her own poetry books, Hell, Bring the Kids Too, and Return Unto Me,” she says. “She helped guide me through the self-publishing process which I have come to learn is very tedious. It was a labor of love to say the least.”
Originally from Springfield, after her graduation from SIUE, where Deckard earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, she accepted a dual teaching position at St. John Neumann Catholic School in Maryville. “I am a PreK teacher for 4-year-olds on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and then I am the art teacher for kindergarten through fourth grade on Tuesday and Thursday,” she says. “I never thought I’d be an art teacher, but they had a need for an art teacher and I needed a full-time job when I took the part-time PreK job, so I took it. It has actually been so fun to get to be creative with the kids. What can I say, Jesus always knows better than me!”
In addition to teaching, Deckard says now that she has published one book, she is working on a new collection of poetry. She hopes to publish that book and since children are so important to her, “Eventually, I think it would be cool to write a children’s book.”
As far as her faith goes, Deckard has an important message for young people. “I want to tell people to simply show up. There have been times when I did not want to go to Mass at all, but I showed up anyway and that made all the difference,” she says. “Even though I did not realize it in the moment, Jesus used those times for good. He grew my heart in those times. Show up, that’s all. Jesus will do the rest.”
Note: Becoming, by Maggie Deckard is available on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com. There is a hardcover or an eBook option.