A Memorial Hymn

Yours was not the shot heard round the world, but
to God,
that it was

Oh, to God, that every shot fired selfward
be reversed

Oh, to God, shall he destroy our final
-- death
soon enough

Oh, to God, we cry. For what more can be
by hearts
left beating


Hooray for new books!

I don't read a whole lot of fantasy novels, but ever since I met Helena Sorensen in person last year at Hutchmoot, I've been anxious to read her books. Last week she announced the release of the second book in  a trilogy she's written about a world called Shiloh. I read the first two books last year, and I'm anxious to get started on number three.

Shiloh released in August of 2014 and it tells the story of a friendship between Amos and Simeon, two young boys who live in "a world of darkness, a world of fire and stone and wood and earth, of arrows and horses and clans and legends." That world reminds me of someplace like Scotland or Ireland, toward the end of the middle ages, but with a few major differences. The world Helena has created is cloaked in an actual, physical darkness, and the Shadow realm of this world contains many dangerous enemies. Helena's beautiful prose pulls you into this world, where the sun, if there is a sun at all, has never been seen. It's a gripping story, filled with action, tenderness, faith and love.

The second book, Seeker, tells the story of the Sun Clan, a tribe that lived many years before Amos and Simeon. Seeker is about what happened to that tribe to make it disappear, as well as the heroic adventures of various members of the tribe, whose stories became the legends which inspired Amos' family to hope. Hope is a most mysterious human habit. There's no predictor for who will turn out to be a hopeful person, yet sometimes people in the worst circumstances turn out to be the ones with the most powerful hope. Seeker showed me character after character who refused to give up hope, no matter how dark the circumstances got, and it I found it completely inspiring.

The third book in the trilogy is set to release later this year. If you'd like to learn more about Helena or her books, you should visit her author page here.



We moved every few years when I was growing up, so home always felt like a place I had just left and could never go back to.

Now that I’ve lived in the same house for more than eight years, home feels more like a tangible object. Perhaps it is a small drum I can hold in the palm my hand. The bleached animal hide is stretched taught against its sturdy wooden frame, and the sound it makes when I thump it is exactly the right pitch.

In the mornings my drum beats slowly, quiet and steady, while the children crawl out of bed and clamor to the kitchen for breakfast. The oldest one wants cereal, the middle one likes eggs, and there’s oatmeal for the baby. “Just coffee for me this morning,” says my husband, smiling as I refill his cup.

By the time everyone is dressed and fed and the sink is full of their dirty dishes, the drum is beating quickly and loudly. We hurry to the cars and drive away in opposite directions, like spokes on a wheel.

When I pull back into the empty drive I know the house will be quiet, an extended rest time until the next busy measure. And the stillness and the quietness are all mine. Finally, there is room to sort out my thoughts, to lay them out on the kitchen table for examination. Each one is a sheet of paper or an item on my list. I read them all carefully, in order to decide which ones to keep and which ones to put in the recycling bin.

This is the space I need, the time I crave, where the sun shines in through the window and the kitten on the couch is sleeping. All the words begin to sound like what they mean and I chew them up slowly and drink multiple cups of tea.

Before I know it, the ticking clock is thumping that little piece of leather, telling me that it’s time to gather everyone back together again, for another nightly dance. By the time we sit down at the table for dinner, the drumbeats are irregular and frenetic but if I sing along with the beat I can usually find a tune.

The best drummers understand that there’s a balance between quiet and sound; and the crucial element we all know is time. Time together and time apart. On a regular basis, you must both thump the drumhead, and then let its echo resound.

For me, home is no longer a certain set of walls, nor a certain group of people. Home is no longer a place at all. Instead, home is the pulse that drives the melody of my life forward, and around and around and around.


Déjà vu

Well, here I am again. I’m scared. I don’t want to try. It’s easier to pretend that I don’t care all that much and just go take a nap. I often think my story is boring and who would want to read it, but then when I read it, I appreciate the writing and I find something compelling. I’m not sure if anyone else would feel that way though.

Maybe this contest I want to enter is just a way to have someone see these ideas and where I’m headed and say “yes, that’s worth pursuing. Keep at it!” I can’t seem to convince myself of that much lately. I’ve given up sharing my stuff online since I get so little feedback or I only get it from my mom. I want other people to say it’s good and I want to be told I’m good enough, that I know what I’m doing and that I belong to a group.

Help me, God, to come to you for validation. This is a task you’ve laid on my heart to finish. Let that be enough! Please, for now. I just want to finish. I don’t want to have yet another project that I got all excited about at the get go, but couldn’t finish. I do know the rest of the stories that I want to share. It’s just the pulling them out, so so slowly. And there are always a million and one other things to do and the thought that I’ll be interrupted by someone coming here. Or having to go to work and church every other day. I want free, unfettered time. I don’t want any obligations other than this book and my family. I know my job is not hard and I’m paid well and there are enjoyable, good people that I work with. It just feels like every time I stop, it’s that much harder to get going writing again. I guess I need to quit skipping days and just make myself write every day. I need to do it whether or not it’s morning and no one else is around. Need to make that connection to follow through with forming all the half thoughts that start in my brain everyday. I need to get them on paper and get in the habit of pulling things out. I can do a better job of stringing it all together with practice. Right?

It matters, Janna. Even if it feels like it doesn’t and no one will ever read or give you any credit for doing this work. You have this story inside you and you are supposed to get it out and onto paper. That’s all that you know and it is enough. Do it! Get to work!! It’s worth it even if it sucks. the only way to get better is to keep on trying.

The way I understand, and this has nothing to do with the last three paragraphs, is that my faith in you will play itself out in my life as caring for the marginalized and the downtrodden, just like Jesus did. And what if the way he gave me to care for them is to share my stories? I’m not a nurse, I don’t know how to bind up physical wounds but I can share medicine of another kind, right? But maybe I’m also supposed to take in and love and care for others as well, using my skills as a mother. Ugh! I’m not sure of anything. It seems like I can’t do both because writing requires so much time and space and I’m always fighting to find that for myself. If I take on caring for others in more routine physical ways, will there be time for this? And what’s motivating me for each? God help me see what desires are coming from you and what is coming from my flesh and selfish desire to promote myself and become something significant, to prove myself to the world.

God, I feel torn. Help me to know what is coming from you and what is coming from me and to be obedient to you. To hear the truth and know what is true. To see even when my fears are masquerading themselves as excuses that will take me away from my true calling. Or perhaps the unique way that you can work things out for me to pursue both caregiving and writing. If they are both in fact commands that are coming from you for my life.

I’m just supposed to be with you, right? And you’ll put the right desires in my heart? Well, I’ve been there. You’ve been in my heart as long as I can remember and this desire is not a new one. Why would I want to write if that didn’t come from you? I don’t want to do it because I’m avoiding you and trying to get my needs met elsewhere. This doesn’t feel like when I’m trying to escape and looking for validation from what someone else thinks of me. There’s a pure desire in my heart to simply create. To sit down and sort through it all and form it so that it points back to you . But of course there’s pride and fear and vanity mingled in there and they so easily distract me.

I wrote those last seven paragraphs in February of 2014. I have several documents which say many of the same things; they're all saved in a file on my computer called "getting started." I've been reading them all again this afternoon and it's amazing to me that I can still feel the exact same way almost a year later. I've written thousands more words since then, but I still get scared. This confirms for me that sitting down here at my desk is a complete act of faith. My book is something I can't see yet, but I still believe in it. However, my belief feels very small today, and the only thing that can make it more visible is if I keep on typing. Would you join me in praying for more discipline, less fear and more faith? I'd appreciate it greatly. How can I pray for you?


Did you forget your name?

Tonight I've been tweaking a poem I first wrote a few years ago, after reading the second of these books. The protagonist is a female pirate named Fin Button, who reminds me a little bit of Anne Shirley. I don't have flaming red hair like either of those characters, but I identify with them in many other ways, so I borrowed a few facets of their fictional lives to write a poem about myself.

It can be difficult to hold on to this vision of myself as a writer, a risk taker, and a woman dearly loved by a king. Writing it down and making it rhyme sometimes helps. Perhaps it will do the same for you.

Lovers at Sea
Beloved Beauty
pursuing her bliss --
a tale that is sure
to make sore

Trolling blue depths
for the truest of myths,
her sailor come home
from the war

Yes, he’s right there beside her
spinning yarn into gold
Now he’s steering in tighter,
love’s mercies to hold

They’re tending the wounds
of souls torn asunder
While trash is turned treasure,
worth much more than plunder

The Anne girl loves better;
him there by her side
No union was ever so sweet

Songs never ending
for his blushing bride --
the loveliest star of the fleet


soul flesh

i have a purple pillow
a square covered with fleece
i tied the knots around it
to hold when i’m asleep

tied to this orb of dirt by
beats of blood; breaths of air
it’s nice to hold a softness
and let my spirit stare


Moon / Shadow / Moon

The moon wanes in degrees, changing from light to dark in less than two weeks, visible to invisible in only thirteen days. One night you look up and the moon is a golden, yellow plate, so close you could eat off of it. The next night it looks the virtually the same, even though things have already begun to change. When you stare up at a full moon, it’s hard to imagine it getting any smaller or that it might someday disappear from sight completely, and yet it happens again and again, month after month.

Once, when I was very small, I went to bed early, all by myself; but I couldn’t get to sleep. It was around eight o’clock, but still light outside. The windows were cracked, and a warm summer breeze fluttered through the sheer, fluffy curtains. I don’t know what house we were living in, but the entire room seemed yellow in the fading sunlight, from the paint on the walls to the fabric I was curled beneath. Suddenly, I felt very scared and alone, so I began praying for God to help me not to be afraid. Then I asked him to hold my hand until I fell asleep. I pulled my hand out from under the covers and laid it on the pillow beside my face. I opened up my palm and waited. Just as I began to doze, I felt a light, gentle pressure in the middle of my hand. I squeezed it back and drifted off to sleep.

On another night, when I was twenty-eight, I went out for a walk because I couldn’t stand to be home alone while my husband and our two small children were gone. It was a couple of months after my second miscarriage and John had taken the kids out for dinner in order to give me a break, but the quiet house was too quiet so I put on my tennis shoes and headed out the door. We lived in a townhouse community, and as I got closer to the empty playground in the middle of the neighborhood, I decided to sprint to the slide. I ran as fast as I could but I only made it a hundred yards before I started crying. Crying made it harder to run and even harder to breathe, but I didn’t stop until I climbed the slide stairs and lay flat on my back. I stared up at the grey and white sky as the last of the tears trickled down to my sweaty hairline.

“Where are you, now?” I yelled out to the muggy air. I opened my eyes as wide as they would go, searching everywhere for a bit of warm color. I listened as hard as I could, begging for whispered assurance to blow across my skin. Then I raised my empty hands to the sky, praying to sense God’s presence, but there was no hand reaching back for me. There was simply nothing. So, nothingness took over for several weeks, until the light came back again.

I couldn’t see the moon that night, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. Like my faith, like God himself sometimes, it was merely hiding behind a shadow.

When I find myself in a dark place, I tend to think I’m the only one who’s ever felt this way. So I isolate myself and don’t ever talk about what I’m going through, which only makes me feel more alone and more afraid. However, when I open up and share with people I trust, I feel less alone and less afraid.

This morning I picked up a book of poetry by Madeleine L’Engle but instead of turning to a poem, I read the foreword by Walt Wangerin. As he describes her sonnets at the end of the book, he says this:

“The very process of writing one’s grief into the starkly ordered form of a sonnet, and then of a sonnet sequence, is to seek meaning in confusion, to seek light in darkness – and the search itself illumines.”

That sounds a lot like creation to me. It makes me think that when we reach into the chaos of our lives and attempt to make a new thing, we are reflecting the image of God – bringing light into formerly dark places. When I first wrote about these memories, the metaphor of the moon helped me make sense of two very diverse experiences. I thought to myself: sometimes the light is hidden by shadow; there’s no shame in not being able to see.

I felt relief, and it was good.

Then I let someone else read what I’d written. First, I shared the piece with my husband, and then with Jonathan Rogers as an assignment for his online class. They both seemed to understand it and they both told me they really liked it. A few days later, I realized that the vision of my memories had changed. Now, when I looked back into my childhood bedroom and at the night on the playground, I saw John and Jonathan in the memories with me. They both stood at the edges smiling at me, their eyes brimming with compassion and sympathy. Suddenly, I felt more than relief. A wound turned into a scar. And that was very good.

This is the wonder and blessing of living in creative community. The twofold act of capturing and sharing has become a hand reaching back for me on that dark playground nine years ago. It helps me believe that the moon was, is, and will always be out there somewhere. Whether or not I can actually see it.