Local author Lisa Worthey Smith pens third faith-based book
Local author Lisa Worthey Smith’s life has not been without unexpected suffering. Health issues redirected her career and slowed her life’s pace, but she said she keeps looking to God for answers.
Smith said God led her from a career in insurance to a life of assurance, showing her He always has a plan. Now she does not dwell on the hardships but instead writes stories to inspire readers to overcomine tribulations.
“I thought I had a perfectly good plan, but it wasn’t God’s plan, so it wasn’t the best plan,” Smith said. “Now I just have a very profound sense of being where God wants me to be.”
From insurance to assurance
Smith is a Limestone County native and a graduate of Decatur High School. She and her husband raised their family in Hartselle.
With a degree in business administration, she had worked for years as a human resource manager at Mutual Savings Life Insurance Co. in Decatur but started to have some health issues. While she enjoyed the work she was doing, she said God let her know “in a very clear way” that it was not where He wanted her to be.
She resigned the position and started working at Bethel Baptist School, where her son attended at the time.
“I found a little hummingbird during that time and became a hummingbird rehabilitator so I could take care of him,” Smith said. “I named him Oscar. I would tell his stories in Sunday School so I could relate them to whatever topic we were studying.
“Because he was injured,” Smith explained, “there was a lot of suffering and hope and joy in those stories. People said ‘You really need to put that in a book,’ so I did, and it was well received.”
“Oscar the Extraordinary Hummingbird: And Other Tales from Life in My Father’s World” was published in 2015.
After publishing her first book, Smith said she began to network and joined Word Weavers International. She attended conferences and then became president of Word Weavers North Alabama.
Various groups invited Smith to speak, and she also regularly spoke at her church, where she came across the idea for her second book, “The Wisdom Tree,” released in 2017.
“One of the topics was on growth one time at my home church, East Highland Baptist in Hartselle. So I spoke on growth using an olive tree that might have grown up in the Garden of Gethsemane at the time of Jesus and interacted with Him,” she said. “(The olive tree) has a master of the garden, who is God. He had a little unseen worm friend, who is very wise and fed him scripture and nourished him from his roots, which would be The Holy Spirit.
“Then, Jesus comes on the scene about the time (the tree) is grown. (Jesus) spent a lot of time in the Garden of Gethsemane.”
Two prayers answered
Smith said after writing the first two books, one a Biblical nonfiction and one a Biblical fiction, she was not sure where to go from there.
“I really didn’t know what I wanted to write next, and I wasn’t sure that God wanted me to continue writing. I enjoyed it; people liked my books; but I didn’t have a sense of direction,” Smith said. “So I started praying that if God wanted me to write, to please send me some direction.”
At the same time, Smith’s brother-in-law, Randy, gave a copy of “The Wisdom Tree” to a coworker, Thu, who is now Smith’s sister-in-law. Thu, who had come to the United States from Vietnam, shared the book with her sister named Thanh Du’o’ng Boyer.
“When Thanh read it, she contacted me right away and said, ‘I want to talk to you,’ because she had an incredible story to tell,” Smith said. “She came over and told me some of her amazing story of growing up in Vietnam, then communism coming, and losing everything they had.”
Boyer was about 8 years old during the fall of Saigon. She is the oldest of six children and belonged to a family of wealthy entrepreneurs living in South Vietnam.
“After the fall of Saigon, their family lost everything. With the stroke of a pen, they lost everything,” Smith said. “The banks nationalized everything, so they had no currency – none of any value, anyhow. They didn’t own their businesses anymore.
“The government told them what to do, how much to sell, where to be and what to say. Anybody that didn’t obey went to a reeducation camp.”
Not too long before contacting Smith, Boyer had undergone brain surgery to remove a tumor. After surgery she could not watch television, listen to the radio or do much at all, so she spent time with God, Smith said.
“God really told her she needed to write this book – that it wasn’t about her, that it was about Him and what story she had to tell about Him. She said ‘God, if you want me to write a book, you need to send me an author.’ So, meanwhile, Thu give Thanh this book, ‘The Wisdom Tree,’ and she started reading it, and she felt like God had told her ‘This is your author,’” Smith said. “She called and came over. She told me her story. She told me about her prayer, and I told her about my prayer … God answered two prayers at once, and we got started on the book.
“The Ground Kisser”
Smith and Boyer met on and off for 18 months recalling Boyer’s painful childhood memories and, together, writing the book that would become titled “The Ground Kisser.”
Boyer told Smith about the atmosphere in 1975, right before the communist North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces captured the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon. She shared stories about communists putting up loudspeakers in South Vietnamese cities to project propaganda music, phrases and songs telling how wonderful it would be if they surrendered.
“They said ‘We’ll make everything equal, and you won’t have these rich people anymore. Everybody will be the same,’ – and that’s exactly what they did. Everybody was the same, but instead of the poor becoming rich, everybody was now poor and under government control,” Smith said.
Many South Vietnamese, Smith said, would flee to the South China Sea, hoping to escape to Australia or Indonesia. However, registration and bribery for passage on a ship or boat was costly, and Boyer’s parents never set out to leave because they didn’t think it was possible.
“One night, one of her aunts came to her house and told them they had already made arrangements for a boat that was leaving for Australia, on a certain day, and how another couple that was going to go with them had already registered but had to back out,” Smith said.
Boyer’s parents had enough small gold ingots to pay for two passengers, but there were many risks to consider, including pirates, disease and the perils of traveling the sea on a small boat.
“(Her parents) weighed all the options,” Smith said. “When pirates would catch little girls, they would take them and sell them into the sex trade in Thailand, and the older girls they would just rape and kill. The men they would kill and steal from.
“So they had a terrible decision to make, and they had to make it before sunrise because that’s when they had to leave to get on the boat.”
Boyer’s parents took the gold ingots – money that would have fed the family for months – and sent the two oldest children, Thanh and her sister Loan. Thanh was 12 years old at the time. The girls, along with their aunt and uncle and about 400 more people set sail on the South China Sea, on a small river boat headed for Australia.
Pirates attacked, stealing everything they had except for a few gold bracelets Boyer’s mother sent with them. Boyer managed to hide the bracelets in her mouth.
“They didn’t bother killing them because God sent a storm, a big storm,” Smith said. “The pirates were afraid they were going to get caught in the storm, so they towed them out to sea, disabled their motor, disabled their radio, took down their sails, threw out their water and most of the food, and just left them for the storm.”
They rode out the storm, adrift at sea for a few days, until they drifted into Indonesian waters. The Indonesians already had so many refugees they would not take them in on the mainland. The group ended up on an uninhabited island called Kuku Island.
Boyer, her sister and her aunt and uncle, along with all those who survived drifting at sea, lived on the “satellite island” – making do trading with mainlanders and receiving some canned food from international agencies.
She spent 14 months on Kuku Island until she and her family were sponsored by a family in Athens, who brought them to the United States.
Fast forward to years later, Boyer loves to serve her community and military to show thanks and appreciation, especially to Vietnam veterans. Her service and patriotism earned her the state’s Daughters of the American Revolution Americaniam Award and several invitations to speak about her story.
Boyer’s husband, John, called into the Barry Farber radio show to tell about how patriotic and thankful his wife was. Farber dubbed Thanh a “ground kisser,” and the name stuck.
“That made an impression on them. They thought that fit, and they wanted to use that as the title for the book,” Smith said.
The book tells how Boyer met her husband and how they traveled back to visit Vietnam. Smith said she and Boyer wanted to convey “the differences between socialism, communism and the United States” in the book.
“There’s a lot of that comparison in there that we hope young people today will catch on to because it’s not what they promised – at least, it’s not what they envision that they promise,” Smith said. “They do make everybody equal, but it will be equal in a way they won’t like, and the government will have absolute power and tell you absolutely everything you can say and do.”
Smith and Boyer go to speaking events together sometimes to tell Thanh’s “inspiring story of sacrifice, courage and perseverance in the face of incredible odds.”
Smith said she knows the story is compelling, and she hopes it will provide hope and guidance to those who need it.
“We talk about when life seems to be turned upside down, when suffering or things that are unexpected come into your life, to look to God and focus on His plan rather than your own,” she said.
“The Ground Kisser,” as well as Smith’s other books, are available for purchase on Amazon.com and thegroundkisser.com. Find out more about Smith and her upcoming projects at her website, lisawortheysmith.com.