by Ana Stjelja
Jason Kirk Bartley and Nila Bartley are a Christian poet couple from Ohio. Jason has a Master’s degree in Ministry from Ohio Christian University. Nila volunteers at her church and serves Jesus with her writing. She considers her writing ability to be a talent from the Lord. She derives joy from this and hopes people are blessed by her writing. Her work has appeared in various publications, including the Poet Magazine’s Friends and Friendship anthology, several issues of Veteran’s Voices, Highland Park Poetry, Poetry for Mental Health, Mindful, Joy Digital Mag, and Agape Review.
Both Nila and Jason are paranoid schizophrenics. They have both written for the Poetry for Mental Health and Mindful. Through their poetry, they yearn to raise awareness and understanding of what it is like to have a mental illness.
In a warm interview with Ana Stjelja, Jason and Nila reflect on their faith, poetry, personal struggles, and being in a Christ-centered marriage.
When and how did you meet?
Jason: I used to read my poetry for a class that Nila and I were both in at the local VA hospital. We would only say, “hi” to each other. There wasn’t much interaction between us. We were not instantly attracted to each other with “love at first sight”. When Nila started attending my church, we became just friends, then better friends, the attraction continued to grow, until I asked her out in December 2019December 2019. We started dating in January 2020 during the pandemic. We both fell deeply in love with each other. We both had been praying about it and God gave us each other. That’s how we began. We were married on November 7th, 2020.
Nila: We both went to the local VA hospital for our medical care. We met there. There was a special class Jason and I attended. When we first met, we were not even attracted to each other.
Several years later, I started attending the same church as Jason. We started talking and became friends. I volunteered to clean the church. Jason was in charge of the volunteer cleaning team. We would take breaks during the cleaning and talk, so that we became better friends. The attraction became even stronger and Jason asked me out in December 2019. We started dating on January 2020. We fell in love and were married on November 7, 2020.
What made you realize you were made for each other?
Jason: I had prayed for a wife for 10 years. At 40, I started to give up. I was no “spring chicken” anymore at 45 years old. I just knew after careful prayer that God had sent me this beautiful woman. I loved her with all of my heart. She was and still is my other half, my soulmate. No one could ever blow me away the way Nila did. I just kept praying, because I knew how serious a marriage commitment is and vows are before God. I wanted to make sure that God had sent her, so I prayed about it. Afterwards, I had a peace in my heart. Unbeknownst to me, she was praying the same prayers. She is very special to me. I can never come up with the right words to explain our love for one another. I can say this: I am so very blessed that God has brought us together. I wouldn’t trade her for anything or anyone. It was easy for me to say, “I do”, for the rest of my life, because Nila completes me and continues to do so. We just know that God sent the other at just the right time, when we needed it most. It helps to be friends first and get to know each other. We grow more and more in love with each other each day. God does this. Love is of God.
Nila: I was praying one night and the Holy Spirit helped me realize that I was in love with Jason. I had also been praying, “Lord if Jason is not the one that you have sent for me, please don’t let me fall in love with him.” We found out later in our engagement that we were both praying this same prayer. Jason was so awesome. I could not believe it. He exceeded my dreams of what my husband would be like. One of the reasons I fell in love with Jason is because of his love for God and others. The love walk. He gets it. Some Christians will never get it. I believe some day Jason will be teaching the love walk to other Christians. The love of God permeates everything that Jason does. He treats everyone with respect and dignity. My husband wants everyone that comes across his path to feel like they matter. Jason is the most amazing man I have ever met. How could I not fall in love with him? He is a blessing in my life every day.
Tell us about your individual writing journeys. When did you discover your talent for writing? How did it all start?
Jason: When I was a little boy, I used to love to use my creativity. Sometimes I put it to paper. I loved to write. I won several young authors’ contests. I wrote for my college newspaper and my military paper. Several teachers at Clark State and the University of Cincinnati noticed my ability. They said it looked as if it came natural to me.
At 31, I started writing poetry at my brother’s suggestion. My uncle let me include the poetry in his church flier. He is a Pastor. I would write a poem every month for his church flier. I guess practice made me better.
I was published in WOWMotivation.com. This was my first poem ever published, “God My Light”. The first magazine that published me was WOW Magazine with “God Grant Me Direction” in their section “Solomon’s Cafe” a part devoted to poetry. I just loved to use my God-given gift to honor Jesus. I still write poetry for God. One of the benefits is publication and reaching out to others. I won a national VA contest with “The Woodcarver” in 2020. I won a gold medal and the chance to represent my VA at the National Veteran’s Creative Arts Festival. It ended up being at home instead of Jacksonville, Florida because of COVID-19. I attended some workshops at my home VA.
Nila: I attended the local branch at Ohio University. I had to take a freshman course in English. We had to compose five papers during the course. Sometimes the teacher would give us a subject that we had to write on for a specified time. Almost everything I wrote in that class, I received an A. The teacher told me I had writing talent. She encouraged me to write for the winter contest at the college. I did, and I won. The head of the English department at the time also said that I had writing talent. Also, that same year, I won first place with a poem at the local VA medical facility creative arts contest. The year was 2010. I was already 46 years old.
I really did not write again until 2018. I started writing Christian poems. Some of which I would read at my church on Wednesday night services. Then I stopped writing for a year. It was in the spring of 2021. God told me He wanted me to start writing again. My husband encouraged me.
I was published for the first time in June 2021.
Tell us about your journey with Christ. How has He transformed your life?
Jason: When I was a child, I got caught stealing and got myself fired from my very first job as a bagger at a grocery store. As a young adult, I was very deep in sin with alcohol and cursing. I was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic at the age of 26 yrs old. I lived with my mother in Ohio. Dad had just passed away on New Year’s eve of 1997. He was a pretty famous local DJ and singer. He worked for many radio stations.
I moved in with my mother to be closer to her relatives. My uncles were already saved and active in church. One was a Pastor. They prayed with and got my mother going to church. She was saved and started praying for me. I ended up practically being dragged to a “ Heaven’s Gates and Hell’s flames” production that I really did not want to go to. I was saved that night. But I would follow my brother to a “cult” church. They tried to control everything about us. They preached against all other churches, claiming to be the true church of the Bible. Only they were supposed to have the manifold wisdom of God, only they could see the truth and which, of course, is not true. My brother and I were young in Christ. We couldn’t attend other churches according to them because they would confuse us. You could not attend the church if you wore shorts, were a homosexual, or in a double-marriage. We had to date within the denomination. We tried to break away a couple times, and they followed us around, claiming that we had committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which was not true either. Finally, they split after I prayed, “Lord, let me find the true church of God”. I did find it.
After we broke away, I started to visit true churches in the body of Christ. None would I call home though, until I went to a fish fry at one where I felt the Holy Spirit rather strongly. He spoke to me. This is my church home today. I rededicated myself to Christ. I have not looked back. I became an extremely active Christian for the true body of Jesus Christ. I give my home church and God a lot of credit . When I first started attending there, I was a mess spiritually. I had to relearn everything, so I did. Now I know in whom I believe and He is able to keep me through anything. I serve Jesus with my all. I go door to door evangelizing, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. I volunteer and help out when able. I know where I came from and where I am going. It’s not about the building or the church, but Jesus Christ, who is in us. I received a Master’s in Ministry from Ohio Christian University in 2017. I use my gift of writing at church and to serve Jesus. Thank you, Jesus, for not giving up on me.
Nila: Completely. I am a completely different person when I was saved. I had no sense of self. I had no sense of well-being. I was afraid all the time. My life was devoid of purpose or meaning. I was empty. No identity. 2 Corinthians 5:17 is true. I am a new creation in Christ.
December 27, 2009, I gave my heart to the Lord. Now I live a life full of contentment, fulfillment, and peace, serving Him. I have an identity. I am unique. I am loved. I am important. I am blessed and favored. This and much more is who I am in Christ. My identity is who God made me to be in Christ. He says who I am, not my friends, not my family, not the world. I have no further to look than the Bible to tell me who I am. Jesus has set me free from a life devoid of meaning. He has set me free from fear. He set me free from the total emptiness that was in me. I am in Christ and because of that, I have the victory.
The Lord, Jesus Christ, is my center, my core, and my heart. The Holy Spirit leads, guides, and gives me the ability to do whatever He commands. I do not do anything on my own, or in my own strength. The Lord helps me with everything. I am merely the instrument the Lord has chosen to work through. I have a place in the body of Christ. I am part of God’s greater plan. I am part of God’s kingdom. I am His Child. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.
How does your faith influence your poetry?
Jason: I always want to exalt Jesus Christ. My faith writes the poetry. There are several sites that frown on using Jesus’s name. Sometimes I am not so obvious, depending on who I am writing for. I still don’t water the message down. I sometimes write on other themes, but Jesus is my all. He is the reason I am here. Without Jesus, I would not have the gift of writing. I use it for Him.
Nila: It is everything. Christ is the reason why I write. My whole existence is to serve God and people, and I do so through my writing. There is not one aspect of my character that Jesus does not abide in. Therefore He is in every “t” I cross and every “i” I dot. His influence is in every stroke of my pen and every keystroke as I type. My Savior and Lord permeates my entire being.
What are the predominant motifs or imageries in your poems?
Jason: My evangelistic side often flows through my poetry. I love to encourage others, reach out to others, lift others up. I try to write about interesting themes that are clean and godly. I’ve written about being young again, experiences I have had as a child. I mostly write about my Savior, or themes the whole family can read, even the little ones. I’ve written poems geared towards children, too. They’re our next generation.
Nila: That the Lord loves us beyond measure. Even if I write a poem that does not mention God, my motivation is to have the love God has shown me flows from me to others through my writing.
Which is the Bible verse closest to your heart?
Jason: I love the whole Bible, but Romans 8: 35-39. Nothing shall be able to separate us from the love which is found in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:28 reminds me that come what may, God is in control. What the devil means for evil, God will work it out for the good. Only the Lord can accomplish that feat.
1 Corinthians 15:57 simply states we have the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. The war has already been won.
Who are your favorite poets? How did they influence your writing?
Jason: Maya Angelou was one. In “Still I Rise”, she talks about her ancestry and defeating the odds. I can relate a little bit, being a paranoid schizophrenic. I’ve been written off a time or two. The other is Robert Frost. In his poem, “The Road Not Taken,” he talks about a less traveled path that he took. That’s definitely me. They have influenced me somewhat, but not a whole lot.
Nila: I really don’t have any favorite poets. The Bible and God’s love influence what I write.
How does it feel being a writer couple?
Jason: I am so thankful and grateful that God has us with the same abilities and gifts. This is not a coincidence. We’re even both paranoid schizophrenics. I would not trade her for anyone or anything. We critique each other and are a willing ear for each other’s poetry or writings. God knew what He was doing when He brought us together. We both have the gift of encouragement. We both love each other and we know it’s for real and we know it’s from God. We’re the soulmate that the other only dreamed about, until God made it a reality. We thank God every day for the gift of each other and the gift of writing.
Nila: I absolutely love it. I have someone, my husband, to share the joy of writing with. We read each other’s work. We share in each other’s victories and also in the disappointments, if the other’s piece does not get published. We write every day: Monday through Friday. I am truly blessed to share one of the great passions of my life with the love of my life.
Tell us what you love most about each other, both as a Christian and as a writer?
Jason: I love Nila’s knowledge of the Word and her heart for Jesus. She’s very intelligent, especially with teaching the Bible. I love everything about her. We’re so different in some ways, yet we complement each other. We’re so alike in other ways. She has an extensive vocabulary. I have a Master’s degree and I catch myself asking her what words mean. She’s very skilled at everything she does. She has a great attention to detail. She’s definitely a keeper in my book. I love her with all of my heart.
Nila: What I love most about my husband, Jason, is the love of God permeates everything he does. It is in his countenance, the way he treats everyone with compassion and respect, and of course, it spills over into his writing. My Jason wants to show the whole world how much Christ loves them.
In your poems, both of you highlight the importance of steadfast faith and love for God. In today’s testing times where materialism and self-centeredness are on the rise, how do you think people should come closer to God?
Jason: This starts with not just being a hearer of the Word of God, but a doer. We are as close to God as we want to be. He doesn’t love anyone any more than anyone else. It takes commitment and a “want to”. I don’t just serve God half-heartedly. He wants our whole heart. The Bible proclaims in 1st Peter, “Be ye holy for I am holy.” That’s what we need to do. Draw near to God with commitment and He will draw near to you. Put away the idols and allow God to transform your life. He wants our hearts.
Nila: A Christian can do that by practicing His presence every day in his or her life. Anyone who is a Christian needs to spend time with the Lord every day. The importance of personal prayer time which is how we commune with God daily.
Anyone who has a personal relationship with Jesus needs to spend time in the Word each day. Revelation 19 says Jesus is the Word. John 1 says Jesus is the Word made flesh. Jesus is the Word and the Word Is Jesus. They are one and the same. The Bible says so.
The Holy Spirit also taught me that when you spend time in the Bible, it is a form of worship. Another aspect of studying the Word is that is how you get acquainted with God’s character. It is how you begin to understand who He really is and how much He loves all of us.
In closing on the subject, notice throughout I kept saying, “daily and every day”. With what we are all exposed to as Christians on social media, the internet, and television, spending time with God daily is a must. In one instance, when I was very tired, I told the Holy Spirit I was not going to get into the Word, but just go to bed. The Holy Spirit told me, “The enemy will take advantage of that.”
How important is a Christ-centered marriage?
Jason: Jesus is very important to our or any other marriage. God is the glue that holds us together. God gives us wisdom and love for each other that we cannot duplicate ourselves. It takes the forgiveness and love of Christ. The enemy would like nothing more than to tear us apart and confuse us as to our purpose together. God prevails every time. It takes not giving up on the other and put everything in the hands of God. Pray without ceasing. [Have a prayer in your heart]
Nila: It is the only sure foundation our marriage stands on. Because I make Jesus my focus and my source, everything flows from Him. The reason I write, the reason I help others, the reason I volunteer at my church, and the reason I honor my husband is for the Lord. Marriage is a sacred covenant set down by God. The Bible states a woman is to honor her husband. Because It is a command from God, when a woman honors her husband, she honors God as well.
Because my love for Christ is the reason I do anything, it makes me a better friend, a better wife, better Christian, and a better version of myself in all of my relationships. The love He has filled me with flows from me to others. He is not just the foundation of my marriage, but my life.
What’s your writing process like? Do you critique each other’s poems and offer feedback?
Jason: Everything begins with prayer. My writing process starts with a thought or subject which God gives me. From there, I usually just start writing and it flows through my pen. Sometimes it does not come as easy. My poems will become more trial and error. On these days, I will cross out certain parts and I will pray that God give me the correct words. I will add different phrases or change some of the words. I will use other metaphors or similes that God gives me. The finished product is usually a beautiful, powerful poem that blesses everyone including me. We do critique each other and offer feedback. Sometimes, she says, “I leave the audience in suspense wanting more,” or sometimes, she will tell me, “I need a different ending.” We’re each other’s biggest fans, but often we are blatantly honest with each other.
Nila: God will give me a title usually. Jason and I write longhand on notebook paper first, before we type anything. For me, there are times when a poem comes easily. It practically writes itself. Then other times I may have to write it over 3-4 times before I am satisfied with a piece. The Holy Spirit helps me with everything I write. Jason will complete a poem a lot faster than I will. The writing process takes longer with me. He does almost everything faster than me. I am a more detailed-oriented person than he is though. We do look at each other’s work and offer advice. Where I have weakness, he has strengths and vice versa. In the end, we balance each other out. I think that was a part of God’s awesome plan.
Do you have a dedicated space for writing? Or do you write in different places?
Jason: We have a new desk now that we still need to break in. Usually we both write at the dining room table together and sometimes apart. I’ll sometimes write in my bedroom on the bed. Also, sometimes we write at different times at the dining room table. We’ll finish a poem and then read it to the other and see what the other thinks of it.
Nila: I always write at the dining room table. We recently obtained a desk for our nook in our apartment. Both of us will use the desk as well.
How important is catharsis as a potential result of a written poem?
Jason: With God’s help, I’m always trying to uplift the reader and bless them with my gifts of encouragement and writing. A poem can heal and be therapeutic for both the writer and the reader. God tries to bless and help everyone. I pray my poetry blesses and strengthens every reader. I hope that it encourages and uplifts.
Nila: I don’t write for catharsis for myself, but a potential cathartic result for others. I write to serve others. For instance, I wrote 2 poems about how I was raped at thirteen. The purpose of those poems was not to release any of my emotions. God had already healed me of the wounds from that day. The Lord told me to write those poems to help others who have been raped. One of the two poems has been published in Spring 2022 issue of “Veteran’s Voices”. It was called, “Champion”. It is about how wounded I was in the aftermath of the rape and how, by pardoning my attacker, I became a champion. The Lord helped me through it all. I have also written a poem called, “An Abundant Life” which also appeared in “Veteran’s Voices” in the Summer 2022 issue. This poem is about how God’s Word helps me to live an abundant life. I am a paranoid schizophrenic. As the result of my illness, I hear a voice. Alot of people who are schizophrenic hear voices. These voices are not your own thoughts. These are just part of the disease.
Because of this, my mind is the battlefield I face every day. My poem states how God’s Word conquers the voice from schizophrenia every time. There are times the voice in my head will talk about depraved things, which I state in the poem. The reason I am not depressed or in despair over this is God’s Word. As I wrote in my poem, I do more than just cope. I live an abundant life.
What are the tenets of Christianity that inspire you the most?
Jason: That our Supreme Almighty creator loves us so much, that He would leave Heaven to come to earth in human form to save His creation that is rebelling and sinning against Him. Ultimately, He lays His life down for His people only to rise again victorious. He foreknew all of this. He was the captain of our salvation through His sufferings. He was tempted at every point, yet without sin. We’re no greater than our Master. In this life, we will suffer while following Jesus, but His reward is beyond what we can comprehend. “But as it is written: eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9, KJV).
Nila: There are two tenets of Christianity that are a force that inspire me to action. The fact that God loves each of us beyond measure. We have to look no further than the cross for proof of that. His love extends over time and space. As I have said in one of my poems, “His Love Endures,” published on this website, the Lord knew what grief, heartache, and sorrow man would cause Him through sin. And the Lord created us, anyway.
The great commission is the other one. I just want to take the love Christ has shown me and have it flow from me to others. The more I do that, the more I am serving both God and man. In turn, the more people I will take with me to heaven. Jesus gave the Great Commission to us all.
What are your future plans with regards to writing? Can readers expect a poetry chapbook from either or both of you in the years to come?
Jason: I plan to continue publishing my poetry and short stories as God leads. Nila and I have been talking about doing a chapbook together. I plan to continue to take what God gives me and use my gifts for His kingdom. I’ll see where He leads.
Nila: Yes, Jason and I believe God gave us our writing ability to further God’s kingdom. We believe the Lord will present an opportunity in the future for us to be published in our own book. Until then, we will follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
What’s your advice for aspiring Christian poets?
Jason: You need “thick skin” in writing when it comes to publishing. You will be rejected a time or two. Always know what type of poetry your publishing company will publish before you send it. Many will not and do not publish Christian poetry.
It’s a byword nowadays. Use your God-given gift for Jesus, whether it is writing or just telling someone about His love. Never stop growing. Reach for the sky. Most of all, pray that God directs your gift. Allow yourself to be His vessel of honor.
Nila: They should follow their passion and God’s leading. If they really have a true writing gift, those two things will converge at some point. Those two things will converge together into a path and purpose God has for each individual writer. It’s a plan that He planned out for each one to play out in the Body of Christ. Also, they should not forget to have fun along the way.