How the Light Gets In

How the Light Gets In

by Jolina Petersheim
How the Light Gets In

How the Light Gets In

by Jolina Petersheim


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“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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496402233
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 03/05/2019
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 667,825
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Jolina Petersheim is the highly acclaimed author of The Divide, 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. That book also became an ECPA, CBA, and Amazon bestseller and was featured in Huffington Post’s Fall Picks, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and the Tennessean. CBA Retailers + Resources called her second book, The Midwife, “an excellent read [that] will be hard to put down,” and Booklist selected The Alliance as one of their Top 10 Inspirational Fiction Titles for 2016. The Alliance was also a finalist for the 2017 Christy Award in the Visionary category. The sequel to The Alliance, The Divide, won the 2018 INSPY Award for Speculative Fiction. Jolina’s non-fiction writing has been featured in Reader’s Digest, Writer’s Digest, Today’s Christian Woman, and Proverbs 31 Ministries. 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 three young daughters. Jolina's fifth novel, How the Light Gets In, a modern retelling of Ruth set in a cranberry bog in Wisconsin, releases March 2019.

Read an Excerpt


The caskets were closed, of course. No flowers adorned them. No flowers were even in the church, but cool morning light fell through the windows, warming the hardwood floor and pews. The Physicians International staff member who had called to break the news to Ruth had promised there'd been no suffering. From this, Ruth inferred there'd not been much of her husband's body left to collect.

Later news articles confirmed the bombing the hospital had endured. Women and children had died; her husband and father-in-law were among the staff members killed. Ruth spent days afterward googling the bombing until her mother deemed she was obsessing over something that couldn't be changed. It infuriated Ruth at the time, but now she saw the wisdom of her mother's decision to turn off the Wi-Fi for ten hours each day, though the doling out of "wisdom" could have been accomplished with more tact.

Presently, seven weeks later, two-year-old Vivienne had no clue her father's cremated remains were scattered in a plain pine box at the front of the church. She had no clue he had even died. But her six-year-old sister, Sofie, was old enough to understand. When Ruth sat on the packed sand beside her and told her the news, Sofie hadn't cried, or even acted like she'd heard, but took a small piece of driftwood and threw it into the ocean, which the dog, Zeus, had run into the surf to fetch. However, since then, Sofie hadn't laughed, played, or spoken in more than toneless monosyllables, and those were all to basic questions — "Are you hungry? Thirsty? Do you need a nap?" — that Ruth had asked and to which Sofie had begrudgingly replied.

Because of this, Ruth wasn't about to let Sofie just sit there, stripping her cuticles off with her teeth while her brown eyes studied everything, as if trying to understand why her father's death so closely resembled her Irish grandpa's: everyone wearing black in a strange church where few congregants cried but most looked like they wanted to. Ruth, trying to distract her, dug into the tote she'd packed with the pretzels, cookies, and snack mixes they'd accumulated during yesterday's endless flights. She'd also packed Pull-Ups and wipes, a coloring book and crayons, and a change of clothes in case the upheaval of the past few days (not to mention weeks and months) caused toddler Vi to forget she was potty-trained.

Ruth could never have anticipated needing a diaper bag at her husband's funeral, and yet there were many things about her thirty years she could never have anticipated.

Ruth opened the zipper compartment and pulled out her iPhone. Switching it to silent, she pressed the YouTube app so Sofie could watch Paw Patrol. But then she remembered: her phone was not picking up a signal. Cell phone service was spotty in this Mennonite community in Wisconsin. There was barely running water. Late last night, after the girls finally settled enough to sleep, Ruth had stood under the farmhouse's lime-encrusted showerhead, eager for another cathartic cry — the shower was the only place she felt safe enough to let herself feel — and discovered that the water came out as a lukewarm drizzle. It could never muffle her sobs, so she held them in until her chest hurt.

Ruth pressed the photos app and passed the phone to Sofie, allowing her to scroll through the pictures until the funeral wrapped up. Mabel glanced over as her granddaughter's tiny index finger expertly slid over the pictures and tapped the play button to watch the short video clips interspersed throughout. Ruth wasn't sure if her mother-ln-l aw approved, but Ruth didn't really care if she did. Ruth did not want to bury her husband in Wisconsin. Therefore, she already resented the land and the extended family, who were so plentiful she didn't feel her single voice carried any weight. She wanted Chandler buried in Ireland, where she and her girls could visit him each day. And yet, was her parents' old stone house truly her home?

The surprisingly young bishop read from the Psalms: "Der Herr ist meine Stärke und mein Schild; aufihn hofft mein Herz, und mir ist geholfen."

The funeral service was being conducted in both German and English. Ruth suspected that the latter translation was mainly for her benefit, since she was among the few non-Mennonites in attendance. But there was no need. The only way Ruth was going to survive the next few hours — and days, for that matter — was by blocking it all out. Otherwise, her shield of self-preservation would crack, and she doubted she could get herself back together if it did.

Ruth glanced down at her Fitbit and saw two hours had passed since she'd come into the church with her children. Her tights itched, and her eyelids felt heavy, which filled her with guilt.

How could she be fighting sleep at her husband's funeral? But she knew this fight stemmed from acute exhaustion, and from the fact there'd been few times over the past six months she'd allowed herself to sit still, because stillness meant something wasn't getting done, and focusing on getting something done kept her from having too much time to think.

And then, piercing the droning quiet, Ruth heard her dead husband's voice: an audible apparition. "Hey there, girly girls," he said. "I hope you're being good for your mama. It's a hot day —" Ruth was so stunned, she was unable to correlate that Chandler's voice was not in her head but coming from her phone. Mouth dry, she glanced at her daughter's lap. The screen framed Chandler's familiar face. Ruth reached for it, and Sofie looked up — eyes flashing — and wrenched the phone back. All the while, the simple, now otherworldly, message continued to play: "I'm looking forward to seeing you again. It won't be long now."

Ruth finally got the phone away and Sofie screamed, "No!"

The sound reverberated off the church's whitewashed walls, echoing just as the a cappella hymn "The City of Light" had earlier as she and her daughters filed past the caskets.

Ruth's cheeks burned with humiliation and grief.

In the center of her lap, just as it had been in her daughter's, was Chandler's face: his dark beard, his dark skin, his dark eyes, so that he blended in with both the Colombian and Afghani cultures. His coloring was clearly passed down through Mabel, who looked more Native American than Mennonite, most of whom, Ruth knew, were German or Swiss.

I miss you, Ruth thought, and the realization surprised her as much as hearing her dead husband's voice coming from her phone.

How could she miss a man who'd been parted from her for so long? For, yes, absence did make the heart grow fonder, but then, after a while, that shield of self-preservation grew thicker, and the heart forsook fondness for survival and all-consuming love for getting by. Ruth felt that she hadn't truly missed her dead husband in four of their five years of marriage. And sometimes, when she'd missed Chandler the most, he'd been sitting in the same room.

* * *


June 7, 2012

Dear Chandler,

I received your letter today and immediately wanted to hop on a plane and adopt Sofie myself, but my parents are adamant that I am neither mature enough nor financially stable enough to consider it. Have you ever moved back in with your parents after living on your own (or at least in a dorm) for many years? It is not easy, and since I am their only child, — granted, like Abraham and Sarah, when they least expected it — I find they are even more protective of me.

I have rebelled against this protection all my life, which is partly why, after college, I was so drawn to Children's Haven. Bogota's crime rate alone about made my parents drop dead from fright. They jointly declared, "Ruth! Don't be so obtuse. You'll be kidnapped within a fortnight.!" (And, yes, my English professor parents still use words like obtuse and fortnight.)

But then, to my surprise, I found that Colombia was beautiful: the mountains' temperate coolness; the clean lines of uniformed children — the ribbons in the girls' hair, the stark-white kneesocks beneath their pleated skirts — as they crossed the sunlit courtyard to the classrooms; the sense of well-being I felt as I understood I was making a difference in orphans' lives.

I will never forget the day the staff took a trip to Guatavita, and how I suddenly had the impulse to purchase the red silk shawl I'd seen at one of the vendors' booths. The rest of you were loading up in the bus, but I turned and quickly cut back through the crowd with pesos jangling in the knit bag banging against my hip, and little did I know that you took off after me.

What a sight we must've made, as you wove through the chaos, looking so much like them, while I, obviously, did not. I was purchasing the shawl from the woman with the wrinkled, apple-doll face when I looked up and saw you, standing there with your hands on your knees as you tried to catch your breath. I do apologize for taking off like that, but it was worth it, at least on my end. I have loved that red silk shawl ever since.

Fondly yours, Ruth

* * *

Elam awoke before the sun and walked out of his house into the fields. The smell of peat from the cranberry bog rose around him. He thought about all the leaves that had fallen off the ring of silver birches and sifted down through the bog's layers of sand. The sedimentary nature reminded him of the funeral last week, and that he only had half his life left to leave his mark before he too fell like a leaf to the ground. But Elam wasn't melancholy today. In fact, he was far from it. He loved the beginning of harvest season, when his usually predictable — and, if truth be told, rather mundane — existence transformed into an adrenaline-fueled race against the clock.

The fog rolled in across the land like an opaque carpet. This subtle transition was Elam's favorite part of morning, when everything was quiet and there was nothing for him to say or do. Elam walked along the edge of the bog, checking on the ripe red fruit hidden like treasure beneath the plants. He knelt and cupped a few in his hand. Moisture from the dew beaded on his maimed finger. Cranberries, such tiny things, had taken up the better part of his thirty-nine years.

He would need to wait at least another month if he were dry harvesting it all like he had last year — walking the picker through the fields and laboriously gathering the pounds of fruit to sell to local grocery stores and markets. But Drift-less Valley Farm's new contract with Ocean Spray allowed for wet harvesting. The cranberries didn't have to be perfect because they were going to be turned into juice, jelly, and sauce. In two days, Elam would pump water from the lakes and channels into the fields until the water rose a foot. His father had crafted the bogs to absorb the flood without being ruined, but each harvest Elam marveled that the delicate plants survived.

Elam and Tim were supposed to meet at the pumphouse at eight. Elam glanced at the flat band of horizon and gauged he had an hour until it was truly light. Elam walked back across the field, his prematurely silver hair brushing his shirt collar. A light shone through the kitchen windows. He moved toward it, his empty coffee mug dangling from his hand. He went up the front steps and saw Ruth sitting at the table, staring out at the predawn dark.

Elam paused, his right boot on the porch step's third riser, unsure if he should just stay outside until either Mabel awoke or it was time to meet Tim. But the kerosene light magnified the weary slant of Ruth's shoulders, as the shadows magnified the shadows beneath her eyes.

Just as Elam couldn't stay silent, even though he hated what it took for him to speak, he also could not stand outside while a family member appeared so forlorn.

Elam's heart pounded and mouth went dry as he entered his own house. He felt so out of place, having someone else invading his privacy, and yet he told himself Ruth must feel even worse. She didn't look up. He stood at the entrance, gripping the coffee cup, and suddenly looked down at the floor, remembering how Ruth had cleaned it on her hands and knees after supper last night. Setting the mug on the buffet table, he knelt to untie his boots.

The sound of the ceramic striking the tin covering the cabinet — where Elam's dead mother, Marta, had once rolled out her pies — seemed to rouse Ruth.

"Good morning," she said. Her voice sounded hoarse.

Elam nodded. "Good morning."

He peeled off his boots, picked up his mug, and padded in socked feet across the kitchen. Marta was probably turning in her grave to see Ruth's huge white dog snoring beneath her table. But Ruth's six-year-old, Sofie, wouldn't enter the house unless the dog entered too and, for hours, had kept her arm wrapped around the dog's shaggy mane and glared at Elam beneath her bangs, as if challenging him to take away her living, breathing security blanket.

So he obviously had not suggested the dog should stay in the barn.

Refilling his coffee, Elam glanced at the stove and saw a plate of fried potatoes and eggs. The brown eggshells were cracked and piled beside the cast-iron skillet. The tin salt and pepper shakers were still out; some of the granules had spilled across the butcher-block countertop.

Ruth said, "Sorry. I was in the middle of cleaning up, but ... I got a call."

"No problem," Elam said gently. "I ... I'm glad you're making yourself at home."

"There's enough for you, too, if you want it."

Elam paused. "What about your girls?"

She smiled slightly. "They don't like eggs."

He looked back at her. There was nothing on the table except for her phone. Ruth's head leaned forward, her wavy hair parted over her shoulders, so he could easily see the round nodules of her spine. She was too thin. "Have you eaten?" he asked.

Ruth shook her head. "You go ahead."

It didn't seem right, though, for Elam to sit across from such a sad person while eating the food she had prepared. He took two plates out of the cupboard and set them on the counter. He used the flipper to scoop the eggs and potatoes and set a portion on each plate. He carried the plates over to the table, and as he did, he debated on where to sit. To sit across from Ruth seemed too intimate. To sit at the far end of the table seemed too withdrawn. Most people wouldn't think twice about where to sit, but most people were not Elam Albrecht, who overthought everything when it came to social interaction. After a moment, he chose to sit on the opposite side of the table, but one chair over so Ruth wouldn't have to look at him with those disconcerting eyes. His foot brushed the dog. Moving his chair back, he slid one of the plates over to her.

Ruth looked up at him, as if surprised. "Thanks," she said.

He didn't say anything, just briefly bowed his head for grace and began shoveling in the food. He'd forgotten his coffee on the countertop but wasn't about to retrieve it because he didn't want to repeat the awkward squeezing of his large-boned body between the table and the wall. He'd never sat on this side of the table and so had never noticed there was not much space.

The dog snored. The faucet dripped. Elam's heart pounded. He'd sat at this table his entire life but had no idea what to do with his hands. He gripped the fork. "You ... you ..."

Ruth glanced over, and then away in deference when she noticed Elam's face growing red as he waited for the words to come. It wasn't a stutter that affected him. Sometimes Elam thought it'd be easier if it were. That way, the person listening would know more words were on the way and could patiently wait while he got them out. But his words seemed to get hung up somewhere between his brain and his mouth. When he was a boy, Miss Romaine — the middle-aged librarian who became his clandestine piano teacher — had said his voice box was merely locked, and music would be the key to get the words out. But Elam hadn't been out to the cabin for a long time, and he'd nearly forgotten how to speak through those smooth, black-and-white keys.

"You had a call?" There. He'd said it. Effortless.

But Ruth's mouth tightened, and he feared he'd overstepped his bounds. A few seconds passed. She shook her head and said, "Yes. I had a call. My mother called." She stared down at the plate of untouched food and exhaled heavily. "She has a buyer for Greystones."

Elam finished chewing. He poised his fork over another bite. When Ruth did not continue, he swallowed and asked, "What's Greystones?"

"My parents named their house after the city where I grew up, Greystones, because it's made of gray stone. Real creative, right?" She stabbed her fork in the egg. "My mom didn't even tell me she was putting it up for sale. I should've known, though," she said. "She was boxing up my father's things soon after he died."

"Where will your mother ...?"

"Live? I'm not sure. She'll probably buy a small house in town. I know it makes sense. She's seventy-five, and Greystones takes work. But I always thought I could go home again."


Excerpted from "How the Light Gets In"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Jolina Petersheim.
Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Bren Mcclain

Ruth Neufeld is a heroine I’ll never forget.

Patti Callahan Henry

Infused with hope . . . [this] story asks the big questions: what makes us whole, and how do we find our worth? A novel both penetrating and surprising—don’t miss it!

Kristy Woodson Harvey

Insightful. . . . Poignant. . . . How the Light Gets In will work its way into readers’ minds and stay there long after the last page. Petersheim . . . once again proves herself to be a standout voice in Christian fiction.

Lauren K. Denton

Petersheim’s gentle retelling of the story of Ruth will both stir and settle the hearts of her readers.

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