Leslie Montgomery is the author of many books, but her favorite book is still the Bible, and she reads and studies it frequently. (Photo by Gaye Bunderson)
By Gaye Bunderson
Leslie Montgomery carries a well-worn Bible wherever she goes. By most standards, the Bible would be considered too ragged and tattered from overuse, something more fit to be tossed into the trash than carried around like a close friend. But by spiritual standards, it could be considered profoundly beautiful. Why? Because the Word saved Leslie’s life, and she absolutely fell in love with it and its Author.
The English and Greek handwriting in the margins and the bright yellow highlighting on every page are merely a visual display of her commitment to be a devoted student of God’s Word and a humble servant of the One who became flesh and dwelt among us.
Included in this story about the successes in Leslie’s life as a songwriter and author are segments, in her own words, of the story of her early life. But first, a caveat: parts of Leslie’s early life are difficult to read.
The Beginning – Part 1
I was born in Lakewood, Calif. My parents moved to Mountain Home when I was 3, and I was raised here. My dad was an abusive rageaholic and alcoholic. I was the middle child and the only girl. While my brothers were quiet about the abuse in our home, I was confrontive. I put myself in the middle, and I felt I had to protect my mom.
Our dad would put us kids in the center of a room between him and my mom. He’d demand, “Choose who you love more: me or your mother.” We were scared to answer and would huddle together crying. On another note, when drunk and raging, my father would sometimes carry around a gun and threaten to kill us. When he wasn’t looking or had passed out, my mother would take the gun, dismantle it, and hide the pieces throughout the house.
She came from a rough background – one that deprived her of any shred of self-esteem and made her afraid to stand up for herself. She only had a 10th grade education and had three kids to raise, so she put up with my dad.
When I was about 11, my family lived in Pine, where my dad worked as a maintenance man for the Forest Service. There, I met a woman named Marta Tiege, who asked me to be a part of her wedding ceremony to Walt Tiege. She took me under her wing. During the ceremony, my dad got sloppy drunk, was hitting on other women, and pulling the fire alarm. I hid from him. That night I helplessly watched my dad rape my mother in horror. I tried to kill myself for the first time. I OD’d on aspirin and got very sick. After that, I just became an angry person. I was angry at everyone – we were being hurt and no one was stopping it.
A man named Art
That was not to be Leslie’s last suicide attempt. She would end up in more than one hospital after overdosing. She struggled with flashbacks from abuse, and from depression and anxiety. She coped by drinking. She married an older man when she was a teenager and had two children she didn’t feel competent enough to raise. “I didn’t know how to care for them,” she said.
Her marriage fell apart. Her husband dumped her, married another woman, and announced he was keeping the kids. She bought over-the-counter sleeping pills and tried to put an end to it all. After she took the pills and laid down, she said she heard a voice asking, “Do you really want to die?” And she thought, “I don’t really want to die, but I don’t know how to live.” She was 19 years old.
After her last suicide attempt, Leslie’s said, “My mother broke through my front door and found me on the floor next to my bed. After the hospital stabilized me I asked her, ‘Mom, how did you know I was trying to kill myself?’” Her mom replied, “Leslie, you called me.” But, Leslie claims, “I didn’t have a phone.”
When Leslie got out of the hospital, she went directly to jail for writing bad checks. By then, her dad had divorced her mom. He was subsequently married and divorced a couple of times and died roughly five years ago at the age of 68.
Her mother moved to Ontario, where she worked as a waitress and became friends with a retired Army colonel named Art Montgomery. Art worked for West Point, and his job was to drive the West Coast and interview potential cadets and mentor them for the military academy.
“He would stop and visit with my mom and they became friends and he’d call her and they’d chat. She told him about me and he became interested in mentoring me like he mentored the West Point cadets,” said Leslie. “He wrote me a letter, and he was the voice of reason and encouragement.”
Leslie was 21 by then. Art invited her to come stay in his 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom home in Los Angeles; but first, Leslie and her mom drove to L.A. to make sure it wasn’t in any way an indecent invitation. They met Art at a restaurant to verify it was all on the up-and-up.
“He was so kind to me,” said Leslie.
Her mom asked him, “What do you want her to call you: Art or Mr. Montgomery?” And Art replied, “I was hoping she’d call me Dad.”
Said Leslie: “Mom knew I was going to be okay. I lived with him for two years, and he made a big deal out of everything I did. He was like a dad to me and would always refer to me as ‘my daughter’.”
To this day, she still refers to him as Dad. Early on, she’d changed her name to Leslie Montgomery and still uses that name as an author.
With Art’s encouragement, she went into counseling and, little by little, negative things were replaced by positive things. Art even encouraged her through her mistakes, by saying things like, “Don’t beat yourself up; you made a mistake, learn from it.”
“I always loved to write, and Art encouraged me. He believed the best in people,” she said.
With Art’s encouragement, Leslie went off to Nashville to pursue a songwriting career. The woman who was once in jail for writing bad checks became a proflific writer of song lyrics instead. She had also earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in pastoral counseling over the years.
“I was making good money writing songs and counseling,” she said. “I was successful in everything the world says is a successful life. But I felt a very gaping hole.”
The Beginning – Part 2
My father and grandfather both sexually abused me. No one helped me, not even the police I ran away when I was 12. I went to my friend Melanie’s house across town. I told her I’d run away, and her father overheard and called the police. My mother had called them so they were already looking for me. When they showed up, they said, “So, you’re Red’s kid.” My dad had red hair. He had worked as a cop, and “Red” was his nickname.
They took me to the police station and put me in one of those rooms with a two-way mirror with my dad. He smelled of whiskey and toothpaste. He tried to play it off and told them I’d had a fight with my mom and run out the door. I sat there crying with my arms crossed. I knew if I said anything I’d get into trouble.
One of the police officers finally said to my dad, “Maybe she’ll feel more comfortable talking if it’s just the two of you,” and they left; but being alone with my dad was the last thing I wanted. As soon as the door clicked shut my dad reached over the table and grabbed me by the collar and pulled me up over the table and into his face. He said, “I hate you! The only reason I’m here is because your mother is at home crying her eyes out! If it were up to me I’d have you in foster care so fast your head would spin!” Sobbing, I sputtered, “I just want you to love me.” And he answered, “You can forget it after a stunt like this!” And he shoved me back into my chair.
I didn’t know it then, but the police were watching everything that happened. They called my mom and asked her to write a police report about what happened at home, but she refused because she was afraid of my dad.
Filling the gaping hole
“I used to run three miles a day while living in Nashville,” said Leslie.
She was familiar with Psalm 23 because her dad got “radically saved – for about 6 months, before returning to his old life.” But the family briefly went to church together, and that’s where she came to memorize Psalm 23.
As she was jogging one day, she thought of the psalm and especially the line “He restoreth my soul.” She said she had tried everything to get herself right, including experimenting with New Age philosophies that left her feeling empty. But the thought that God could restore her soul, she came to feel, was what she really needed.
On November 2, 1993, she got it. “I’ve tried everything, but I haven’t tried You,” she told the Lord.
But how could she come to feel safe with a Heavenly Father after all she’d been through with her earthly father? The answer: Art Montgomery. Her own father had despised her, and she ended up not trusting anybody at all, so even trusting God would have been difficult if not for Art.
“I wouldn’t have believed in unconditional love until Art,” she said. “Love has such a power – no condemnation, no judgment.”
Art came to know everything about Leslie – the shameful and the unattractive – but still cared for her deeply, as his own child. Her own dad hated women, but Art honored and respected them. He erased all the negative messages she had received her whole childhood.
“Through God using Art in my life, He made me believe in Him. I could talk to Art about anything, and now I could talk to God about anything. Art saw me, heard me, and he cared about me, and that’s what God does. God is my Father and I can trust Him.”
By then, she was 26, and she jumped wholeheartedly into the Word of God. Her current well-thumbed and written-in Bible is actually her third, and the two previous Bibles looked the same way.
She said that a trusted person once told her: “God wants me to tell you this. … ‘Whatever you give Me, I will give back to you’.” She gave him everything, including her kids and her career. People told her she was crazy to give up her songwriting career; but, she said, if she had kept that career, it could have become an idol and led her to become self-sufficient. “I gave it all up. But the gaping hole was filled.”
Ministries & writing
She worked in prison ministry for a while as a chaplain with Corrections Corporation of America and also worked at a YWCA Triangle House, working with girls.
Then, in 1999, she began submitting articles to various different ministries under the umbrella of Focus on the Family. “They literally published everything I sent them,” she said. “I was counseling full-time then and was a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. One day the Lord put it on my heart to write a research article on online addiction and send it to the AACC president, which I did, and I received a call from him asking if I would ghostwrite for him. I ended up ghostwriting for him for the next two and a half years. At the end of that time, I wrote three books for him and became AACC’s Director of Publications.
“The three books I wrote were very successful, so I thought, if I can write successful books for someone else, I should be able to write successful books of my own, right? So I approached a publisher and they agreed.”
- She got her first book deal with LifeWay in 2005, writing a book titled, Were It Not for Grace.
- Soon after, she signed with the David C. Cook Publishing Co. and wrote the book, Engaging the Enemy: A Christian Woman’s Guide to Spiritual Warfare.
- Then she signed a four-book deal with Crossway, where she pitched the idea for a book titled, The Faith of Condoleezza Rice.
“I didn’t know Condoleezza Rice (former Secretary of State during the George W. Bush administration). I just had an idea for the book. In my first book, Were It Not for Grace, I talk about how she overcame the death of her parents through her faith. But in The Faith of Condoleezza Rice, she opened the door for me to interview her family and friends. … You have to request that and God has to give you favor with these folks. It’s totally a God-thing. You can’t do it on your own. Those doors don’t open to just anyone or everyone. God opens those doors as He sees fit. The Bible says He sways the hearts of kings. He tells me what to write and I listen and follow His lead and I trust that He will open the doors He tells me to walk through.
“I’ve worked with a lot of famous people in my life, so I’m not easily impressed with status or money. What I’m most impressed with is the sincerity and authenticity of any person I meet, as well as the care and empathy they have toward others. I get asked to write about the faith of a lot of different leaders in the world and have turned down many opportunities because of these reasons.”
Just to mention a few of those ‘famous people’ Leslie met, they include Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire during her Nashville days; former vice president Mike Pence for a book titled, The Faith of Mike Pence; and Billy Graham and Chuck Colson when she joined them in 2005 to share her testimony during one of Mr. Graham’s famed crusades.
Art passed away in November of 2017. Leslie is now 55, added a loving spouse to her life, as well as two more children and six grandchildren. She speaks fondly of all her children and grandchildren and is grateful she stopped the cycle of violence in her family line. “My dad had been abused, and his dad had also been abused. But I broke the cycle. And that’s God in me – I didn’t do it myself.
“I think my overall message to people is that if God can do it for me, He can do it for anyone, no matter what they’ve been through and whether or not it’s as extreme as my life. God is faithful.”
This article is short by necessity and has, for reasons of limited space, omitted much more of what Leslie has done, and continues to do, in her life, including speaking nationally and internationally, producing podcast and video programs, blogging and much more, under the umbrella of Yeshu’a Ministries. Go to authorlesliemontgomery.com for more information. For anyone wanting to learn how to connect with God as Leslie has, go to https://authorlesliemontgomery.com/find-peace-with-god.