The Gospel in Vogue Magazine [Dear Addie Column #5]

vogue gospel

Today’s “Dear Addie” Column at Off the Page is about God and guilt. And fashion magazines.

The question, paraphrased, goes something like this.

“I guess I’ve always had a distorted view of God. I grew up in a loving home; however, sometimes my parents used God to keep us in line…

I guess I always was afraid of Him. My desire is to love Him and want to spend time with Him, but when I try and do so, I feel cold…

I also feel guilty watching certain TV shows and listening to secular music. I feel the most guilt about buying and collecting fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. I’ve read that these things are too worldly and Christian’s have no business being concerned about them.”

And though your struggle may not have to do with Vogue in general, I know that Kathleen is not the only one who feels a gap between perception and desire, who has baggage about words like “worldly.”

So my answer includes a reading of Vogue. But of course, it’s not just about that. It’s about the lines we put around our faith that make God small. It’s about the unexpected places where God finds us and we find God. It’s about starting where you are, not where you think you should be.

Hop over and read it here!

Throw the Seed

Throw the Seed 1

It’s April in Minnesota, and everything is cold and wet and growing.

There is a head cold moving through our family, and I am going on Week #3 of headaches and congestion and Nyquil and asleep by nine. This is mostly why I haven’t been writing much on the blog this month. (Even as I type this, it feels like half of the words are getting lodged in the stuffing that seems to be filling the inside of my head.)

The cold is just one of the things that have made this years’ transition from winter to spring seem difficult and unpredictable. Our brand new baby magnolia bloomed beautiful for about a second – and then four consecutive days of cold rain stripped it bare. The white petals are pressed brown now into the driveway, next to the beached worms wriggling desperately toward the soil.

I’d forgotten how hard spring can be.

And of course, as it so often seems with me, my internal landscape seems to be synched up with the seasons turning around me.

My book came out a little over a month ago. The initial stress and angst and fear have passed along with the March snowstorms, but I’m still very aware that release is a process.

To move a book into the world, you have to stay present with it for while. You have to attend to it. It’s less like releasing a balloon into the sky, more, I imagine, like planting a garden.

Not that I know all that much about gardening.

The most I’ve ever managed is the plunging of already-started herbs into our big green planter. I am no gardener, and what I know about seeds and earth and the ways that they combine to create beauty and goodness and nourishment is miniscule.

I finished the most beautiful book this month by my friend Christie Purifoy: Roots & Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons. In the book Christie cultivates and tends to her new home, planting seeds at the right times, believing that they will grow.

Before I read her book, I had only the vaguest idea that you planted different things at different times of the year. I know about as much about tending to growing seeds as I do about tending to a book. My book.

For all the Book Marketing 101 articles I read online, I still feel like I’m missing that essential knowing. The proverbial “green thumb.” Whatever marketing gene people have that makes it feel natural to reach into different places and plant your words, your work, your ideas there…I don’t have that. I don’t know what time of year you’re supposed to send out your press release. For all of my efforts, I still suck at Twitter.

*

Is it weird to write a blog post about my struggle with book marketing?

Does it seem like a pathetic ploy? Like a whining, simpering plea for you to buy my book?

I don’t mean for it to. But I also don’t know how to approach the page except for from exactly where I am.

And where I am is the cold, tempestuous spring of my second book release.

Certainly you don’t have to be a writer with a newly released book to feel this: the long, exhausting work of faithfulness. Live a great story, all the big bloggers are saying, and it sounds glamorous enough until you realize that so much of this is this plodding, frustrating, invisible fidelity to your dream, to your calling.

There is nothing sexy about it. In the movie of your life it would be left on the cutting room floor, or set to a Death Cab song and made into an inspiring montage.

No one wants to watch this part: The writer spends five hours alternatively looking out the window and writing sentences on her computer for an essay that will hopefully, maybe, help a few more people find her book. Halfway through, she has to take a two-hour break to write web copy for a collection agency. Because the dream, for all of it’s come-true-ness, does not actually pay any kinds of bills.

And what I’m trying to say is that even though I’m not a gardener, I understand that so much of bringing something beautiful up from the earth is dirt and weeds and sore knees and prickling, half-asleep toes.

There is a part that you must do – a piece for which you are responsible for. But so little of the growing is actually up to you, in the end.

Throw the Seed 2

In the fall, as my book transitioned from my hands to the hands of the marketing department, I read Luke 13:18-19 in my reading from Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours prayer book. In the prayer book, she uses the NJB version of the Bible. It’s a version I’ve never heard of, but which translates the following verse as such:

“Jesus went on to say, ‘What is the Kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it with? It is like a mustard seed which a man took and threw into his garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air sheltered in its branches.”

I was stopped by the verb used in this version. Threw. I’ve never seen it written like that before, and I haven’t seen it since.

He threw the mustard seed, the Scripture says.

He didn’t obsess over where to put it. He didn’t plant it perfectly. There is a chance that he didn’t even know what time of year it was supposed to go in the ground (although I’m taking liberty here; he was a farmer. He probably did. But I don’t, and this verse seems to say to me, that’s okay, that’s okay, that’s okay.)

I feel a sense of release, of relief, as I read that verse over again. If there has been a theme verse for this release (which there isn’t, because that’s totally a thing of my evangelical past), it’s this one.

Throw the seed.

Throw it toward the soil.

Throw it, and be done with it.

SOME of this depends on you – it’s true. You have to take the action. You have to lift your arm, let go, release the seed into the air. But so much of it has nothing to do with you. The soil, the sun, the rain.

The God who makes things grow – who has always been about making things grow.

After all, there is so much already there – in the tiny heart of a little seed. An entire world.

And it is not me who draws the goodness forth and turns it into shelter for the weary.

It’s God. It has always, only, been God.

Throw the Seed 3

The deck is rain-soaked today, and the sky is gray, and I’m feeling caught in the tempestuous, transitional part of obedience.

And I don’t know what that looks like for you, but I know that I’m not the only one here, in the unglamorous, exhausting middle.

You started the ministry. You left that job. You committed to that man, that woman. You had a baby. You went to the doctor. You left your abuser.

You expected it to be fireworks and celebration, and it was, for a second. And then it was a lot of uncertainty.

And what I’m telling myself in this cold, rainy April is what I want to say to us all:

Pick up one seed. Throw it toward the spacious place.

This is all you have to do. Every day, one seed. One moment in which you are attending to the dream, the hope, the new thing.

Throw the seed, and let it go.

After all, so little of this is up to you.

The Book I Didn’t Write (or In Praise of Negative Space)

negative space

For six months and tens of thousands of words, I thought that my second book would be about faith home.

I thought it would be about soil and suburbs and the small, important work of settling into your own life. I imagined I’d write out the slow process of building around you some healthier, sturdier kind of faith, and in doing so, I would figure it out myself.

I read a memoir, once, by a woman who healed from her divorce by recreating and redesigning her home. Around the House and in the Garden, it was called. And I found it beautiful and powerful – the ways that those overstuffed chairs and rugs and bookshelves became outward manifestations of deep internal growth and change.

I guess it stuck with me, because this is what I was thinking about when I slogged out a proposal for that second book.

I had just released When We Were on Fire – a memoir deconstructing the faith of my adolescence. It felt like I’d spent the last several years pounding madly at crumbling drywall, taking the whole thing down. There I stood, covered in the dust of it, surrounded by the rubble, aching to build something new.

I started to write about home.

I wrote about our house search, which began in the tiny community of Taylor’s Falls, Minnesota and then looped crazily through Minneapolis and its Northern suburbs. I wrote about our odd, glassy-eyed realtor and about all the lives I imagined I’d have in all of those homes we walked through.

I wrote thousands of words about the home we finally found – this 1980s suburban home with the pond opening up behind it like a hidden gift. I checked out books from the library on place and home, on the history of the suburbs, on the psychology of home design.

I went so far as to go down to the Anoka County Historical Society to look at old maps of our neighborhood, our suburb back when it was gravel roads and a Christmas tree farm. I learned the name of the soil: loamy fine sand. I’d never heard the word loamy before then, but I liked the way it felt in my mouth.

I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, and I tried to ignore the fact that it wasn’t working. That nothing about this book was working.

The most beautiful part of memoir writing, for me, has always been the way that peering back into the ordinary moments of your life reveals hidden treasures and themes, and that as you write it, you begin to see how the seemingly disparate parts of your life were always connected.

I wanted my work of suburban homemaking to connect to something true and lovely about faith. And I think it probably does. But no matter how hard I tried, how many pages I wrote that winter, I couldn’t find the connecting point.

During a meeting with my writing group later that spring, I burst into tears, confessing that it wasn’t working, that none of it was working. I had only a few months until my first book deadline, and I had pages and pages that would never, it felt, add up to a book – at least not the one I had hoped to write.

And the consensus that night, spoken gently and ringing devastatingly true to my ear was this: Maybe this is not your work right now.

This might be a crazy idea, one of the women said. But have you thought about writing about your road trip? It seems like there was something urgent and important about that.

*

I’m heading to the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids tomorrow morning, and so I’ve been thinking this week a lot about writing and process and the mysterious work of creativity.

I’ve been thinking about all of those months that I spent writing something that didn’t end up being the thing. All those words filed on my computer in a folder called “Book 2 – Take 1.” Is there a purpose in this idling work? In creative output that doesn’t seem to land anywhere in particular?

It’s a question about my work, but it’s also a question about my life and about its meaning. What I want to know is this: Is all this work wasted?

Does this matter too?

*

In art, there is a concept called negative space the empty space around and between the subjects of a piece of art. Negative space is important in that it helps to define the boundaries of what is actually there. It brings balance.

I’ve started to think about that first take on the book as a kind of weighted, negative space in my book and in my life. I started to write about faith home and instead found myself running away. I tried to rebuild my deconstructed faith, but as I did, my foot punched through a rotted floorboard that had to do with feeling God…one that I didn’t know was still there.

What started as an attempt to rebuild turned into a journey toward making peace with the empty space that remains when your old ways of believing fall flat.

And this matters.

It matters how we get to the place where we end up. The roads we started to take and then didn’t – these add to the story, and I believe that because God is a God of abundance, of excess, of plenty, not one of these rabbit rails are wasted.

Maybe someday I’ll write a book about faith home. Maybe not. But for now, it is there and not there. It’s the negative space, the invisible stitching at the back of the garment.

You can’t see it, but it was a gift. It is not wasted. It holds so much together.

What I’m Into: Book-Release-Month Edition

what i'm into march 2016

The release of my second memoir, Night Driving, came at the tattered end of a long, tough winter. It’s a rough time to release a book — particularly when you’re a person who tends to get the shit kicked out of you by winter to begin with.

The book went out into the world on March 15th, and I did my best to attend to it and to my own heart…but the honest truth is that I spent much of March treading the inky waters of my Depression, trying to keep breathing until a new medication kicked in.

I was on the Internet, doing the things you have to do to release a book, but I tried to spend as little time there as possible, wary of the gaping hole in me that was ravenous for praise and affirmation.

Instead, the things that sustained me were small and simple: walks to the park with my kids at my childhood home; the redundant grace of folding sheets and towels at the refugee donation center where I volunteer once a week; fresh bread with olive oil; yellow tulips on the kitchen counter; your collected stories of darkness and your faith in the midst of it.

On the Saturday after the book came out, we celebrated the release at the Fallout Arts Initiative. I bought new shoes and got my hair cut. The Church Ladies brought cheese platters that overfilled the long tables, and I accidentally bought about three times as much wine as we needed, and so many people whom I love and who love me showed up to celebrate. The night felt like an excessive kind of grace.

andrew and addie zierman at book party

I wrote my first book over several years, mostly in the quiet, cultivating space of grad school. And then I wrote Night Driving on a deadline with a publisher waiting for it and all sorts of expectations and hopes having to do with sales and numbers and platform. To say that it was a different process is an enormous understatement, and it was much harder for me to let this one go out into the world than the last.

But that night, I stood on a platform at that arts center, and I don’t know if the drugs finally kicked in that day, or if I was just buoyed by the love and support surrounding me, but it felt like for the first time all month, all winter, I was standing on solid ground. Breathing deep. Letting the book go.

What I’m Reading:

books i read march 2016

During Book Release Month, I tabled all of my regularly scheduled reading and dove deep into fast-read fiction. I’ve been meaning to read Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series for a while now, and I took down the first three books this month (Still Life, A Fatal Grace, and The Cruelest Month). Her writing is wise and compelling, and her plots are fantastic. I’ve never read much in the Mystery genre, but I’m a new fan.

I also read Liane Moriarty’s The Last Anniversary, which I found interesting and fun. One of her plot lines — the story of a woman with postnatal depression — was written so perfectly spot-on that it took my breath away.

What I’m Listening To:

I kept All Sons & Daughter’s “Christ Be All Around Me,” and Audrey Assad’s “I Shall Not Want” on repeat in my van all month. Both songs are versions of old prayers and were a kind of anchor for my tempestuous soul during the book release.

I’m a big fan of Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlists, and this month they helped me find The Sweeplings, Harbor & Home, The Strumbellas and Aunt Martha.

What I’m Watching:

Must-See shows include: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin, and Younger — which just had its season finale. I’m losing my steam on Nashville and will likely let it go before the season’s out. We finished The Bachelor, whose finale (as usual) was exponentially less dramatic than the previews made it out to be. Oh Ben.

I like to have a Netflix show that I can have on while I do tedious tasks like folding laundry and dicing veggies. I accidentally-on-purpose started Gossip Girl last month, just to see. Who knew there were six seasons?!? I’m alarmed that I’m not through yet, but now I’ve committed and will see it through the the bitter (shallow) end.

(Incidentally, on the season of Gossip Girl that I am currently watching, one of the main characters writes a searing tell-all novel about the upper-East-siders, and it becomes an instant bestseller with astonishing NYT reviews and movie deals galore. Apparently, I’m doing this publishing thing all wrong.)

Other Things I’ve Been Into

1. The slow end of winter; the glimpses of spring.

addie zierman - beginning of spring

2. A trip to Chicago for the kids’ spring break…

spring park day

3. …and a few moments of the Wisconsin Dells trip we took on the way home. Like this one where my kids were losing their minds on the roller coaster.

roller coaster love

4. Holy week. I struggled to connect emotionally to the stories and observances of Holy Week this year. But I’m thankful for the way that the local church remembers for me. Like Tanya Marlow said so beautifully in the syncroblog a few weeks ago, sometimes when you’re in the darkness, you just have to grab the rope and follow it until you find your way out. I’m thankful for the people, places, liturgies and communities that have formed that rope for me this month.

palm sunday

Blogging and Book Stuff:

Thanks so much to everyone who ordered and pre-ordered Night Driving, and especially those of you who took the time to synchroblog, comment, tweet, post, review, or email me about it. Your support means so much to me. Thank you.

If you haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet, you can do so at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, or IndieBound…or bookstores around you. (At the time of this writing, it’s only $8.81 at Amazon.) For the auditory learners among us, it’s also available on Audible or on CD.

Much of this months blogging was centered around the book release. The syncroblog posts — both blogger and nonblogger — were phenomenal, and I hope you’ll read at least the roundup here.

My monthly “Dear Addie” column at Off the Page had to do with when to leave…and when to stay…at a church. It’s a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, and I hope that you’ll pop over and read it if you haven’t had a chance.

I also shared about my journey with wine and moderation at Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics and about spiritual darkness and motherhood at Lisa-Jo Baker’s place.

I’ll be putting out my second quarterly newsletter in a few weeks, so if you’re not signed up to receive those, do so now in the sidebar. And my blog is iPhone friendly now! Hooray!

After I wrote this psalm of confession for a dark morning at the Mudroom Blog, I decided that I wanted to integrate more psalm/prayer writing into my life. It’s a good practice for me. I started yesterday posting a “Prayer for a New Week” on Instagram. I hope to do this every Monday. These prayers will be short, and they won’t be on the blog, but you’ll be able to see them on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, so make sure you follow me in at least one of those spaces!

Here’s yesterday’s, to give you the idea:

psalm for a new weekPrayer for a New Week (April 4, 2016)

Lord God, your great love rivers through every difficult, mundane, happy, ordinary moment of my life.

Draw my eyes from my lists and my plans, and toward the beauty of your redeeming work this week.

Give me the grace to join you there.

Amen.

*

I’m linking up as always with my good friend Leigh Kramer for the monthly “What I’m Into” link-up.

What about you? What have you been into this month?