Jessica is offering 1 copy of her non-fiction title DO YOU TRUST ME? to 1 randomly chosen commenter. The winner will be announced here on Friday, July 3rd between 5-6 PM EST. To be entered in the Giveaway, please leave your contact information within your comment.
My Very Unexpected Writing Journey
By Jessica Leigh Johnson
Over the last few years I’ve read a lot of authors’ blogs and quite a few bios, and one thing I’ve noticed is that my writing journey started out much like so many others. I hope that’s a sign that I’m on the right track with this writing dream of mine.
As an only child from northeast Ohio, I must’ve had a lot of time on my hands, and I spent most of it writing stories in blank books with lined pages. I would fill them from cover to cover. I continued to write throughout high school and college.
In 1999 I graduated from Crown College with a degree in Christian Education, got married that summer, and eventually moved to northern Minnesota (a very long way from Ohio). Once I had kids, my writing stopped. There just wasn’t time. For almost seven years, the only thing I wrote was my annual family Christmas letter. Then in November 2005, as a mother of three young children, I began to feel distant from the Lord and useless for his kingdom. I longed for a ministry role within my church (other than nursery duty), and my pastor asked me, “What do you like to do?”
I didn’t have to think long. “I like to write,” I said, and he gave me the job of writing the front-page article in our monthly church newsletter. I received so many positive comments from the people in my church about my articles—several of them telling me I should write a book. My passion for writing had been rekindled after a very long hiatus, and it felt wonderful to be using my talents for the Lord.
In late March 2006, my youngest son, Ethan, who was nine months old, got a terrible virus. For some reason, he just couldn’t seem to shake it. He ended up at the University of Minnesota, three hours from our house, where he was eventually diagnosed with a primary immune deficiency disease (PIDD). A week after Ethan entered the hospital, his two-year-old brother, Andy, came down with the exact same symptoms and was also brought to the U of M hospital so we could be together. There he was diagnosed with the same condition, PIDD. Because of a lack of B-cells, my boys couldn’t produce antibodies to fight an otherwise common cold virus. Andy developed pneumonia and was put on a ventilator. Ethan became gravely ill, and had to start chemotherapy.
On April 2nd, my latest newsletter article, which I’d written on the computers in the lobby outside the boys’ room and sent via email, appeared in the church mailboxes back home. Easter was a week away, and I wrote about how hard it must have been for God the Father to watch his only Son suffer and die on the cross, even though it had to happen in order to save the lost. I figured it was a pretty timely topic since I knew full well how it felt to watch my own sons suffer.
The next day, April 3rd, less than two weeks after being admitted to the hospital, Ethan passed away. We feared for Andy, as his illness seemed to be following the same course as Ethan’s, but thankfully, he recovered (although he would now have to receive weekly infusions of immune globulin for the rest of his life in order to stay healthy).
When we returned home, without Ethan, my newsletter articles took on a whole new purpose. I was dealing with the loss of my son on paper, and sharing every detail with my church family. The lessons God taught me about what it really meant to trust Him—even if it meant He wouldn’t answer my prayers the way I expected—I would pass on to my congregation. Eventually, the next two years’ worth of articles became my first book, Do You Trust Me?, which I published so I could share my story with a broader audience. I began speaking to MOPS groups and women’s retreats, and started a ministry to other mothers who have lost children.
Now I’ve turned my writing focus to fiction. I’ve told my husband I don’t want my real life to inspire any further books! I’d prefer to make up the stories and use the lessons God taught me through the loss of Ethan to encourage my readers to trust the Lord, even in the most difficult circumstances.
My road to becoming an author definitely doesn’t look the way I would have chosen, but I hope that my stories will resonate with readers on an emotional level that I couldn’t have known or understood had I not experienced what the Lord has allowed in my life.
A Few Questions For Jessica:
I love your description of life up in northern Minnesota. Have you ever dreamed of throwing in the infamous towel and moving south?
Coming from Northeast Ohio, I’ve found life in northern MN to be fascinating. It’s a lifestyle that’s highly focused on recreation and the outdoors. People up here love hunting, fishing, and spending time at their lake cabins. They’ll put up with just about anything, including sub-zero winter temps and pesky insects like mosquitoes and ticks, as long as they can do the outdoor activities they enjoy. Many elderly people “winter” down south in Florida, but I have no intention of leaving this wonderful place any time soon. I find renewal just going outside and spending time in my perennial gardens.
What advice can you offer those who are primary care givers to prevent emotional burnout?
Being a primary caregiver to three chronically ill children can be time-consuming and emotionally draining. I give my boys weekly infusions and twice-daily chest physiotherapy, along with multiple prescription medications. It’s hard not to whine and ask, “When will someone see to my needs for a change?” But I think it’s a good, concrete reminder that this life is not about “me” and I am to be a servant. Someday I will be old and my kids just might get a chance to see to my needs on a daily basis. I’m not in a hurry for that to happen, though, so for now, I try to be thankful for my present circumstances.
Fiction-wise, and for fun, what kind of meal would you describe the stories you enjoy writing? Is there a type of genre that you’ve been thinking about trying out for size?
I enjoy writing Contemporary romance. I have several novel-length fiction stories in the works, each with a heavy romantic element, and a sweet short story coming out this summer in an anthology. If my stories were a meal, they’d be a salad with ranch dressing. The salad is the healthy, fiber-filled helping of Biblical truths and hard life lessons that I like to include in each story. But because that can be a lot to swallow, especially in the form of fiction, which is supposed to be entertaining, I add a good portion of ranch dressing, or humor, to each story. It’s fatty and not really necessary, but it sure helps the salad go down. My non-fiction book “Do You Trust Me?” dealt with a heavy topic: the loss of a child. I made sure to sprinkle in a little humor, even if it may seem inappropriate to some, simply to balance out the weighty subject matter.
If finances were not a consideration, where would you visit? Would it be a family trip or a girls-only getaway?
I’ve been to several countries in Europe and I just love it there. But one thing I’ve never experienced is a tropoical island vacation. I would love to go to St. Thomas or the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, or anywhere else with turquois water and white sand beaches. I would have to go with girlfriends, though, because my husband has assured me he has no interest in a vacation like that!
Is there 1 book, either fiction or non-fiction (not including the Bible), that you would enjoy reading again?
I have never read a book twice. There are so many books on my to-read list, I can’t imagine taking the time to read one I’ve already read! But if I had to, it would be one with life principles worth remembering--the kind of book you read with a highlighter in hand so you don’t forget all of the excellent points made by the author. “Crazy Love,” by Francis Chan is one example. I love that book.
Jessica's Ah-hahs To Tweet:
Meet Jessica Leigh Johnson @JessLJohnson815: A mom who didn’t give up when awful happened. (Tweet This)
Everyone’s Story: author Jessica Leigh Johnson @JessLJohnson815 tells her unexpected writing journey. (Tweet This)
Jessica Leigh Johnson @JessLJohnson815 #BookGiveaway of DO YOU TRUST ME? (Tweet This)
Jessica Leigh Johnson grew up in Northeast Ohio and lived there for eighteen years before moving to northern Minnesota. She is so fascinated with the unique "up north" lifestyle, that she includes a little bit of Minnesota charm in each of her sweet contemporary romances. She has written one non-fiction book, entitled Do You Trust Me? about her faith struggles following the death of her infant son, Ethan, in 2006. Her first short story, The House on Mirror Lake, was recently published in the anthology Sweet Summer Love. Jessica received her BS in Christian Education from Crown College in 1999, and now resides "up north" in Minnesota with her husband and four children.