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.
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.
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?
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
pursuing her bliss --
a tale that is sure
to make sore
Trolling blue depths
for the truest of myths,
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
of souls torn asunder
While trash is turned treasure,
worth much more than plunder
him there by her side
No union was ever so sweet
Songs never ending
for his blushing bride --
the loveliest star of the fleet
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.