Jolina Petersheim grew up as a caretaker’s daughter at a Christian camp. Her love of writing came from her father, who was raised Mennonite, and was nurtured by her mother, who was Brethren. Jolina’s Plain childhood—and her love of reading, inspired by Anne of Green Gables—set the stage for Jolina’s unique literary gift.
Her nonfiction writing has been featured in Reader’s Digest, Writer’s Digest, and Today’s Christian Woman, and she is the bestselling author of several books. Her new novel, How the Light Gets In, a modern retelling of Ruth set in a cranberry bog in Wisconsin, released earlier this month.
Jolina 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 three young daughters.
In what way(s) has your “detour” to Tennessee been “divine”?
In August 2017, one year after we moved home to Tennessee from Wisconsin, we learned that my husband’s benign brain tumor had grown back. We’d known that was a possibility from his first scan a few months after surgery in 2015. But that official confirmation—one typed piece of paper from Mayo Clinic in Minnesota—rocked our world. I can’t imagine how much more difficult it would have been had we received that news while still in Wisconsin. I would have wanted to move home immediately, and here we already werehome—surrounded by parents and siblings who would carry us through.
Interestingly, my husband just had his second brain surgery on January 4, 2019 (we chose to defer surgery for as long as possible). It went beautifully, and we found that walking back through a very painful door was a final step to our healing and wholeness. I pray that our experience will encourage others walking through painful doors. Hope exists on the other side; hope exists even when you’re walking.
Your new book How the Light Gets In (Tyndale, March 2019) is about one woman’s emotional strength and resilience. From where did you pull to explore human emotion in such depth? How did this story challenge you?
I wrote all five of my novels from some level of personal experience, but How the Light Gets In is my most personal work to date. When we moved back home to Tennessee from Wisconsin, my husband and I entered the hardest season of our marriage. He’d always dreamed of homesteading in the Driftless Region, which is known for its fertile land and unglaciered hills, and for nearly two years, he remodeled our 1920s farmhouse, built raised garden beds, raised and butchered chickens, and planted three hundred pine trees.
But we had two young girls at the time, the winters were harsh, and I was incredibly lonely. I asked to come home, and he brought me back, but the tension afterward was palpable. I wrote the first draft of How the Light Gets In in the six months after we returned home. I used nap time in the afternoon to mine the depths of our marriage and to understand my own heart.
I am overjoyed to say that we found breakthrough once we each began more ardently pursuing a more intimate relationship with Jesus, which freed my husband from being responsible for my happiness and freed me from placing that unrealistic expectation on him. This individual pursuit drew us closer together than anything. My dream for Ruth’s story is that it will encourage marriages going through transition. Your love story is not over. It is just beginning.
What is one thing you learned about yourself in 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.
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.
Thank you, Jolina! It’s nice to have you back at Divine Detour.
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