(for Judy)

I may not be firstborn,
nor am I male. Yet
I’m a member of your
Levitical tribe. 

Ordained before
you, a minister
just like my father.

And in his image, I speak
light into darkness. 

In vestments of letters, I serve
adorned with rhythm and rhyme.
Offering the sacrifice of poetry
to parishioners great and small.

I’ve yet to see bushes
aflame, but by God, was I born
with a tongue of fire; 

for when they close up my mouth,
smoke pours from my ears.


My father is a gifted storyteller and an engaging speaker, and for many years of his life, he was a dynamic Baptist preacher. As a young girl, before I understood the ways of our conservative Southern world, I could see myself following in his footsteps someday. We have a lot in common and our personalities are very similar; however, the culture I grew up in prepared me only to be a wife and mother, so I assimilated.

My friend Judy was raised Catholic and in a more progressive family atmosphere, but by the time she joined us at Bridge Church, she’d faced her own fair share of resistance to women in leadership in various faith environments. So, when our pastor Anthony asked her to be the person who prayed in front of everyone during a special Sunday service, she was excited but somewhat hesitant. Judy and Anthony discussed how things would go for several minutes until finally she asked him, “Can I be unleashed?”

That’s my favorite story of Judy, a six-foot-three woman of faith who taught me more in the last few years of her life than any sermon I’ve heard from a man. Sadly, ovarian cancer stole her away from us nearly three years ago, but I’ll never forget the way she raised her hands and danced before the Lord in church throughout those final months. Even when she wore a scarf or knit cap to cover her bare head and moved more slowly due to the intensity of her treatments, you could still see a spark of divine love in her eyes. The remains of a fire now burning in eternity.

Janna Barber is a teller of stories, a writer of poems, and a lifelong member of the tribe of humanity. The grown-up daughter of a Baptist preacher and his Southern Belle wife, she’s now married to a pastor and living with two of their three kids in Knoxville, Tennessee. She is the author of Hidden in Shadow: Tales of Grief, Lamentation and Faith, as well as Invisible Hope: Poetry for Ragamuffins. You can connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.