Jolina Petersheim is the bestselling author of The Alliance, The Midwife, and The Outcast, which Library Journal called “outstanding . . . fresh and inspirational” in a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. She and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but they now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their two young daughters. This month, Jolina’s new book, How the Light Gets In, will be released, so we wanted to sit down with the author and hear more about her writing process and how she hopes this story will speak to its readers.
What inspired you to write How the Light Gets In?
When my firstborn daughter, now six, was a year old, we took a walk in Wisconsin on a cold fall day. Afterward, I envisioned a young mother coming there with almost nothing and how she would survive. Two years later, my husband’s uncle shared a newspaper article with me about a Wisconsin cranberry farmer who used old-fashioned equipment; that was when I knew the twist for the modern retelling of Ruth.
How do you expect the novel to resonate with your audience? What are you most excited for your readers to experience through reading this story?
How the Light Gets In will resonate with readers who find themselves struggling to maintain a healthy marital relationship in the wake of transition. And what life is exempt from transition? Ruth and Chandler’s journey, of choosing love even when the person they have chosen to marry has changed, will encourage readers to choose love as well.
My utmost dream for this story is to strengthen marriages by offering an intimate look at both sides of that union. Also, being in the throes of young motherhood with three girls under six, I am passionate about encouraging women to pursue their creative gifts, so they can continue pouring back into their spirits, and from this refilling, they can continue to pour out.
What role does faith play in this story?
At the story’s opening, Ruth and Chandler have spent the past five years so focused on making a temporal difference in the world, their eternal perspectives have become opaque. After Ruth receives news of Chandler’s death, her world is turned upside down, and she understands how desperately she needs faith—the faith she’s neglected—to help her and her daughters survive such loss. Ruth’s heart finds healing while working the cranberry harvest with Elam, her husband’s cousin, who has a simple, steadfast faith that encourages her own.
What lessons or truths do you hope people take away from How the Light Gets In?
I want readers to see that Jesus is the only one who can offer lasting fulfillment and peace. Marital frustration often stems from the fact that husbands and wives expect their spouses to fulfill that longing. But when you both begin to pursue Jesus and understand your identity in him, it releases your spouse from that unattainable expectation, and you can both pull together toward wholeness and joy.
You say this story is both cautionary and redemptive. Can you explain that a bit, without giving too much away?
How the Light Gets In is a cautionary tale because it tells the story of two people who have lost sight of each other in the day-to-day demands of parenthood and obligation. I want readers to see how they might be falling into a similar pattern—for instance, reaching for their smart phones at the end of the day rather than reconnecting with their husband or wife—and inspire them to incorporate simple ways to reconnect hearts. This story is a redemptive one as well because Ruth and Chandler are given a second chance to love each other better. As long as we have breath, I believe we can learn to love each other better. This story challenged me even as I wrote it. At this point in the publishing process, How the Light Gets In challenges me still.
As an author, what did you particularly enjoy about writing this story?
I wrote How the Light Gets In during a particularly challenging season in our marriage—we had just moved home to Tennessee from Wisconsin, leaving our farm and my husband’s homesteading dreams—and the process of understanding Ruth’s and Chandler’s martial journey helped me have a deeper appreciation for ours. Life isn’t always as linear as we would like, and we have to learn to love each other in the midst of transition, extending grace and empathy when one partner might be feeling that transition at a deeper level, because our time will come, and we will want them to extend grace to us as well.
How do you hope Ruth’s story will encourage readers?
I hope Ruth’s story will encourage readers to make their marriages a priority, even during the challenging young parenting years when it’s so hard to have the time and energy to reconnect. Ironically, it’s 6:30 in the morning, and I’m writing this on a plane bound for Colorado for our tenth-anniversary trip. It’s been a challenging season while we’re building our house, raising our daughters, and working to eliminate some health issues, and therefore it’s even more necessary for us to get away and find each other again as husband and wife, not just mom and dad.
What is it about Ruth’s story that women will relate to?
I am passionate about women taking time to pursue creative outlets that pour back into their souls. Our society places a lot of demands on women that can often leave us physically, emotionally, and spiritually parched. I would love if women would read Ruth’s story, of taking time to pursue her artistry even while juggling young motherhood, and find the courage to pursue their artistry as well. Since we are all created in the Artist’s image, is it any wonder that our hearts come most alive while we’re creating? Discover what you love—painting, singing, knitting, writing, baking—and pursue it. You have a gift.
How do you hope this book brings healing and refreshment to marriages?
I hope How the Light Gets In brings healing and refreshment to marriages by helping them see they are worthy of love, just as they are. Insecurity can erect defenses in marriage, but once we’re aware that Jesus loves us where we are, it pushes us toward that love; and that understanding of love helps us love each other perfectly, the way it was meant to be since the beginning of time.
What is one thing you learned about yourself through writing this book?
Ruth, at the beginning of the story, has these defenses in place to protect her heart. Only once she steps into her identity as a beloved daughter of God can she find healing and wholeness. I didn’t know I had erected defenses around my own heart as well until this novel brought them to light. I am so grateful for the ability to understand my own heart by processing life and love through my characters.
For more, you can check out Jolina blog here.
“Compellingly woven by Jolina Petersheim’s capable pen, How the Light Gets In follows a trail of grief toward healing, leading to an impossible choice—what is best when every path will hurt someone?” —Lisa Wingate, New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours
From the highly acclaimed author of The Outcast and The Alliance comes an engrossing novel about marriage and motherhood, loss and moving on.
When Ruth Neufeld’s husband and father-in-law are killed working for a relief organization overseas, she travels to Wisconsin with her young daughters and mother-in-law Mabel to bury her husband. She hopes the Mennonite community will be a quiet place to grieve and piece together next steps.
Ruth and her family are welcomed by Elam, her husband’s cousin, who invites them to stay at his cranberry farm through the harvest. Sifting through fields of berries and memories of a marriage that was broken long before her husband died, Ruth finds solace in the beauty of the land and healing through hard work and budding friendship. She also encounters the possibility of new love with Elam, whose gentle encouragement awakens hopes and dreams she thought she’d lost forever.
But an unexpected twist threatens to unseat the happy ending Ruth is about to write for herself. On the precipice of a fresh start and a new marriage, Ruth must make an impossible decision: which path to choose if her husband isn’t dead after all.