What I’m Into: September 2015


September has been so nice. The weather has been beautiful here in Minnesota, the change has been gentle, and THE KIDS ARE IN SCHOOL.

Dane started first grade on September 8th, and Liam started preschool on the 15th, and for the first time in months, I have regular solid windows of time. I think I do better with routine. I think my kids do too.

I’m thankful for the ways we’ve been able to settle into normal schedules and the fact that it’s allowed me to find ways to be present again in this space. Hooray for all that.

School Starting

What I’m Reading:

Books I Read - September 2015

American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang – I heard the author speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids a couple of years ago and he was brilliant. But I completely forgot to check out the book until Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into post a month or two reminded me (see why these are so great?) Loved it.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice from Love and Life from Dear Sugar, Cheryl Strayed – This was a beautiful book — a compilation of advice columns from when Cheryl Strayed spent time as “Dear Sugar” on The Rumpus. In the preface, Steve Almond describes Cheryl’s columns as a practice of radical empathy, and that phrase has been rattling around in my mind ever since. While I didn’t always agree with Sugar’s advice, there’s no doubt about the brilliant way that she entered into people’s deepest questions. Almond writes of Sugar:

“People come to her in real pain and she ministers to them by telling stories about her own life, the particular ways in which she’s felt thwarted and lost, and how she for found again.”

And also this: “She understands that attention is the first and final act of love, and that the ultimate dwindling resource in the human arrangement isn’t cheap oil or potable water, or even common sense, but mercy.”


One More Wish, Robin Jones Gunn – If you’ve been following along with the blog this month, you know that this one called a minor middle-of-the-night meltdown, followed by an angsty post, followed by a radio dialogue with Robin Jones Gunn herself. It was a whole thing. Am I glad I read it? Yes. Did I wish it had been a much different story? Absolutely.

Gilead, Marilyn Robinson – It was interesting to read this faith-themed novel that won the Pulitzer Prize right after the last Christy Miller book. I didn’t plan it that way — I’d started Gilead earlier in the summer, but it’s a slow, thoughtful book that you have to sort of wade through, and I wasn’t up for that kind of reading in May. So I tried again this past month, and I couldn’t put it down.

Robinson’s book is written from the perspective of an elderly pastor who is about to die, writing letters to his young son. Like RJG’s, it’s pretty “clean,” morally speaking — it lacks the four-letter words and drinking of my memoir, for example. But what sets it apart from the “Christian” genre is the way it is so honest and attentive to the small, enormous battles that wage within us. And there’s not one sugar-coated platitude in the whole thing.

Also, it has lines like this: “I thought he should be aware that grace is not so poor a thing that it cannot present itself in any number of ways.”

All the Bright Places, Jennifer Niven: This young adult book has been popping up in all my go-to book recommendation places for a while. I thought it was great. Equal parts light and dark, and a nuanced, complicated exploration of mental illness. Lovely.

(Although, I’m noticing a trend in YA lit where the leading guy has a quirky thing for classic writers like Virginia Woolf and Emily Dickinson. I kind of don’t buy it….where were all these classic-literature-loving-boys when was in high school? Still, I admit, it’s a nice thought.)

Currently on my nightstand:

What I’m Watching

Fall TV is back! (Cue angels singing.)

Must see shows: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder —basically put me down for anything directed by Shonda. Also Nashville, and when The Vampire Diaries starts up next week, I’ll watch that too. (In my defense, I almost never watch these in real-time…only during laundry folding or meal-prep, so it’s not as bad as it sounds.)

Andrew got me back on The Walking Dead wagon. We’re midway through Season 3 but had to take a break because I kept having zombie dreams.

What I’m Listening To

Random stuff from Spotify and Pandora. Also, I’m kind of a fangirl when it comes to music from the show Nashville. Particularly anything that Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio sing.

My favorite find of the month, however, is “How Emptiness Sings” b Christa Wells. If you’re going to spend one single dollar on iTunes this month, spend it on this one. (Here’s the video of her doing it live. That last verse is the story of my life.)

Favorite Pinterest recipe this month:

These baked apple fritters. (Don’t be thrown off by the fact that it’s on the Gold Metal Flour blog. I promise. These apple fritters are anything but propaganda.)

Photo from the Gold Metal Flour Blog

Other Things I’ve Been Into:

1. Liam’s turtles. When he’s famous, we’ll call this his Turtle Phase.

Liam's Turtles

2. Getting the cast off! Don’t get me wrong, I was all about the bright green waterproof cast. But it’s nice to see my kid’s arm again.

getting dane's cast off

3. A short trip to Duluth to finish book edits. That’s right. Book #2 is done. I made the final copyedits, sent it in to my people, and then went and sat on a rock by Lake Superior in a daze. I pretty much won’t see my manuscript again until it arrives in a big cardboard box on my front step.

I have a lot of anxiety and self-doubt about this book — how it will be received, if it will measure up to my first, if it will sell — and now comes the next hardest part…after writing the thing. Releasing it. Having faith that it will go where it needs to go and be what it needs to be. I’ll do a reveal of the whole thing in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned!


4. Writing/coloring dates at The Bean with Liam. Liam is only in preschool two days a week, so on the other days, I sometimes take him with me to my favorite writing spot, The Bean. He colors, I write. It mostly works out…unless he starts getting silly. Which, admittedly, he often does.

bean dates with liam

Book and Blog:

If you didn’t get a chance to hop over and read my first Off the Page post about rebuilding your faith, I hope you will. It’s one of my faves that I wrote this month. I also wrote about depression and the seasons and a little bit about Syria.

I’m still not over the whole Christy Miller-Robin Jones Gunn kerfuffle. If you missed it, I wrote this post, which a lot of people read. And then I had to talk to Robin Jones Gunn (Christy Miller author, literary idol of my 13-year-old self) on the radio. And then I wrote this post. There was a lot of sobbing in between all of these things.

I mentioned the book progress above. I know I’ve been vague, but I promise a reveal soon. I’m still trying to figure out how to talk about this book without crying.

As usual, I’m linking up with my dear friend Leigh Kramer for the What I’m Into linkup.

What have you been into this month?

The Invisible, Necessary Work of Faith Renovation (at Off the Page)


I’ve had the opportunity to start doing some writing for a new ministry called Off the Page. They’re under the umbrella of Our Daily Bread Ministries, whose piles of little pocket-sized devotionals I used to pilfer from the church Welcome desk as a kids, for no other reason than that I was a hoarder.

I love that Our Daily Bread has started recognized that many of us have for honesty about the mess, the doubt, the fear, and the disillusionment. Off the Page values dialogue and questioning. They’re doing what I so wanted Robin Jones Gunn to do in the new Christy Miller book — admitting that life is not the Christian romance novel for a lot of us. And giving us hope in the midst of it anyway. (You can learn more about Off the Page’s vision and purpose here.)

I have some cool things coming up next month with Off the Page, but for now, I have a short piece up on faith and renovation and all invisible, broken things. Here’s the start of it. (Or you can just start reading the whole thing over there.)

This summer, I accidentally-on-purpose started watching Love It or List It on HGTV. I know. I know.

The premise of the show is this: a couple or family lives in a house that was once good enough but has now become A Problem. One person usually wants OUT. Like, yesterday. The other person, blinded by the many-layered fairy dust of nostalgia and potential, wants to stay.

In swoops HGTV’s celebrity anti-team, Hilary and David. David is a real-estate agent who will try to entice the couple into abandoning their home for a new, superior model. On the other side of the coin, Designer Hilary oversees the redesign and renovation of the current home, trying to fix its problems, realize its potential, and convince the couple to “Love It” rather than “List It.”

Like I said, I know. It’s a little silly. Pretty formulaic. At its best, it’s like eating potato chips straight out of a bag. At its worst, it’s basically house porn, and every time I watch it, I end up releasing martyred sighs over my ’80s-style cabinets and light fixtures and banisters. If only had a $60,000 reno budget and a team of designers! I wonder if we should knock down that wall . . .

But I don’t want to talk about my house-porn issues here. What I do want to talk about is the part of the show when Designer Hilary inevitably encounters A Major Problem.

Here’s how it goes. Hilary has a plan. She has walked through the house and imagined a new, beautiful version. She has this superpower where she can move walls with her eyes, envision the thing without all the mess and the bad furniture and the old appliances. She can see it. And you know if she doesn’t hit any major snags, she might just make this old place sing again.

But of course, she hits a snag. She always hits a snag.

They rip out a wall in the basement and find, instead of quality insulation, Styrofoam. They open up a kitchen wall and find the electrical wiring was done by some hack and the whole place is two seconds away from exploding. Water has been seeping into the basement walls, and now there is mold. Some carpenter ants are living in the living room walls, and the floor in the kitchen needs a new subfloor of plywood before Hilary can add that beautiful, hardwood flooring.

And of course, all that means money, money, money. It means the house can’t be reimagined, reconfigured, redone the way she dreamed. It means hard, costly, invisible changes . . . just to make the thing safe, structurally sound, inhabitable.

I hate that part. Like, I really, really hate that part. I take it personally in a disproportionate way—as if it’s me, not this random couple on TV, who is losing out on the updated kitchen because Hilary has to deal with the carpenter ants.

And usually when I get all unbalanced over a television show, it’s not about the show. It’s about something else. (Continue reading here.)

Let’s Write all the Stories (Reflections on an Unexpected Radio Dialogue with Robin Jones Gunn)

robin jones gunn dialogue

So, funny story.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this post about my old fictional, Christian-romance-novel BFF, Christy Miller.

You can read the whole thing here, but the short synopsis is this: in junior high and high school, I read the Christy Miller romance series like it was my job. These idealistic Christian teens informed so much of my thoughts about life and faith in both positive and negative ways.

This summer, I finally got around to reading the two new series about Christy and the gang that author Robin Jones Gunn has written since Christy and Todd (spoiler alert!) said “I Do” in the last book I read 14 years ago.

In the new series, The Katie Weldon Series and Christy and Todd: The Married Years, Christy in the gang are still in their very early twenties…and their faith is still exactly the same.

Everyone still believes what they believed in high school. Everyone has managed to hold onto their sexual purity until marriage. Their “God Lovers” group still gathers for worship and Bible study, and even the far-away friends manage to exchange spiritual encouragement via Skype.

When I finished reading these books, I felt overwhelmed by the distance between this former fictional role-model and myself. In 14 years, so much of what I believed and understood about God and life and friendship and love had changed…but Christy Miller’s faith, life and relationships had all stayed exactly the same. Not in the physical sense of course. Christy and Todd moved in the books and so did their friends. There were new jobs, new challenges, etc, etc. But the geographies of their inner-lives were as pristine and unchanged as the Newport beach coastline where Todd still likes to surf.

And that was what was so hard for me. That’s what left me crying on the couch — the chasm between Christy’s simple faith and my complicated one feeling so humongous. It was the distance the rose-tinted soap-bubble of the evangelical world and the real, broken, messy one that I live in now, and it felt impassable to me.

So I wrote a post. And a lot of people read it. And I got invited to chat on Moody Radio about it and said Sure. Why not.

And then they told me that, by the way, the author of the Christy Miller series (and my junior high literary idol), Robin Jones Gunn, would also be on the air to “dialogue with me about my blog post.”

<Cue panic.>

We won’t talk about the pathetic “please don’t hate me” email I sent to Robin Jones Gunn on Thursday or the fact that I kept waking up in the night, sweaty and panicked about what I was going to say. In one moment, I wanted to cooly explain to the RJG and the Moody audience at large why Christy Miller is a farce; in the next moment, I wanted to beg RJG to love me.

Let’s just say that I’m not good at confrontation. Let’s just say I was a wreck.

But I did the radio show, and it ended up being interesting and leaving me with a whole new slew of thoughts about faith, fiction, and how to help each other on this journey. Here are a few reflections:

(You can listen to the full dialogue between Robin Jones Gunn, Chris Fabry and me here.)

1. Storytelling is a ministry, and like any ministry, it’s not one-size-fits all.

One of the interesting thing about the radio dialogue was how genuinely surprised Robin Jones Gunn seemed at my sort of intense reaction to Christy Miller. She’s fiction, she kept saying. Christy Miller is fiction.

And of course I know that. But she was so much more than fiction to me. During a time in my life when I was trying to figure out what it meant to live my faith, she was like an older sister, showing me how. In a youth group culture where students like me, were thrust into leadership roles without a lot of discipleship of their own, Christy Miller was the mentor that I didn’t really have anywhere else.

I believe that any time we partner with God to serve others, it’s a ministry, and I believe that was RJG’s heart when she wrote these books. It wan’t just fiction. It was a ministry to me.

And then, one day, I outgrew it.

This is not to say that I don’t think that there’s not room for improvement in the genre of “Christian fiction” — particular that which is being written for young adults.

While I’m not against escapism in healthy doses (If you read my What I’m Into posts, you know that I have an embarrassing addiction to Hallmark movies and sub-par TV shows.), I still have major reservations about fiction in which God and faith become a kind of escapism. I think that coming face to face with God should always lead us deeper into reality, not out of it, and so I worry about stories where God always comes through in the ways you hope he will. Particularly for a young or new Christian, I think it sets up false expectations about God and faith and can be really dangerous down the road.

And yet, it would be presumptuous of me to assume that because RJG’s books often do this, they are to be written off entirely. One only needs to glance at the hundreds of grateful blog commenters on her website and her exorbinant books sales (Over 5 million!) to know that her work resonates with people.

Perhaps, for some readers, the reality-fiction gap isn’t an issue. Perhaps they are able to simply accept that chasm and are able to learn and grow and to be encouraged by these books. I’m not one of those people. I used to be. But I’m not anymore.

It doesn’t mean it’s bad (though, as I said above, I think there’s room for improvement). It just means that it no longer fits me. Some ministries bolster you up for a time. At thirteen, the junior high youth group at my home church saved my life. At sixteen, it was the wild, on-fire youth church/coffee shop combo where we went for raucous Saturday night worship sessions and intense Christian ska concerts. (Heyyy Insyderz…).

At 18 it was The Sacred Romance, that instant Christian bestseller by John Eldredge, that ministered most to me and helped me to grow.

At 21, I lived in China, and the depression was creeping in, and it was the ministry of Alias nights with our fellow English teachers, where we passed around American snacks and felt less alone.

At 24, my world was falling apart and I felt alienated from church, and it was the Pizza Pub and their margaritas, the ministry of the Wisconsin Dells where I met my two best friends to cry and rage and hash out our faith.

I’m 32 now, and Christy Miller no longer ministers to me like she used to. Reading Christy and Todd: The Married Years and The Katie Weldon Series was like trying to go back to junior high ten years later. It doesn’t fit me. It would be like expecting that watching Alias on a tile floor with sleeves of Oreos now would have the same, healing effect that it did back then. It wouldn’t. It couldn’t. There are different ministries for different times.

We grow and change and evolve and move on. We’re always supposed to move on.

2. Change (including change of beliefs) is a type of loss, and it’s normal and important to grieve that.

Right now, my life is hard…but rich. I don’t feel God in that fiery, sure way that I used to. But I am growing deep, deep, deeper into the soil of my world. I am spreading my roots. I am growing strong in the quiet soil of grace.

I don’t want to go back to the performance-based faith of my youth, the one where I was always trying to prove that I was a Jesus Freak, alienating myself from my peers, scrambling for God’s love.

And yet, reading those books conjured in me a hopeless kind of nostalgia. How simple it was then! How easy it was to love God, to believe everything would turn out okay! I remember meeting with my accountability partner on Tuesdays at Panera to talk about what we were learning “in the Word.” I remember the feel of that first love, how I’d fill entire journals with prayers in a month, how I’d raise my hands in uninhibited praise at that youth church where we went.

I still have Jesus. I still have my faith. But I’ve lost the trappings of the evangelical world — and much of its acceptance. I, who was once an evangelical poster child, was recently accused of leading Millennials astray with my suggestions of books to read when you’re struggling to read the Bible. For real.

I ran into my pastor the other day, and we talked a bit about this. “Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to before there were questions?” he said.


My faith is changing. It’s supposed to change. But sometimes, grief gets all intertwined in the acceptance. And that’s what the Christian romance novel post was — a kind of eulogy, a dirge, the painful song of letting go — again — of the way I used to think life and faith would look.

3. It’s up to us to write the books we need to read.

One of the things that Robin Jones Gunn said in our dialogue that stuck with me was how fairly new “Christian fiction” is — how 50 years ago, there was nothing like this. And now there’s tons. She said that hers was just one perspective, and that I should write mine. That she was part of the first generation of authors doing this kind of writing, and that she was passing the torch.

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about “Christian Romance” or “Christian Inspiration” as a genre in general — most of them cynical, all of them complicated. (Anytime “Christian” is used as an adjective, red flags go up for me. I wrote a little about that here.)

But this thing that RJG said about Christian fiction encouraged and inspired me anyway.

Because more and more publishers are springing up who are making space for authors to explore the gray areas of faith and life. My publisher, Convergent, let me use four-letter words in my faith memoir because they felt essential to the story to me. It’s possible that in another 50 years, the genre could look totally different. That it could include series with both grace and grit. With doubt and anger and 30-somethings screaming at God while holding a glass of cabernet.

Isaiah 43:18-19 says:

“Forget the former things;

do not dwell on the past.

See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness

and streams in the wasteland.”

There are a lot of us who are here — in our own kind of wastelands, desperate for a new thing. We want to see God here, in this desolate place where we’re at. We need someone to help us to believe that not everything here is barren.

And of course, it’s not. There are streams. The new things God is doing are springing up around us, and we are invited into that work.

So if the books you want to read are not out there yet, it’s because you haven’t written them yet. If the community that you long for doesn’t exist yet in your church or your neighborhood, it’s up to you to invite a few close friends over for cabernet or beer or tea or whatever and start the conversation.

It’s up to each of us to have the courage to go first — to choose vulnerability and truth and love.

So let’s write all the stories! Write them from the wasteland, from the seaside, from the mountain, from the alfalfa fields, from wherever you find yourself now.

Write. Sing. Act. Study. Teach. Lead. Nurture. Coach. Participate. Whatever it is you do, do it from the truest part of your soul.

Here, at the intersection of faith and doubt, belief and unbelief, heaven and earth…this is where the streams appear. They are cutting through the wasteland. They are making all things new.

The Naming of Seasons

photo credit: IMG_3445 via photopin (license)

photo credit: IMG_3445 via photopin (license)

It’s fall now, officially, even though the trees are still mostly green and the afternoons have been muggy and I haven’t been able to put the shorts away yet or wear my cute new hat.

I can feel it coming though. The cottonwood leaves are curling, yellowing just a bit at the edges, dropping here and there onto the ground. There is a maple tree over on 147th with leaves that are so luminous and red and orange that you could almost forget that they’re in the process of dying.

Hoards of ducks settle into the pond every evening now. Our next-door neighbor puts corn out for them, and they waddle up from the water to eat it. They are insatiable in their hunger, growing fatter, getting ready.

Autumn, according to the Internet, is a fairly new word. It didn’t appear in English until the late 14th century, and it wasn’t until the 17th century that we started saying fall.

There was, of course, the recognition of harvest time – all that gathering, all that celebration and bounty – but not for the rest of it. Not for that slow, stunning silencing of the world. There was no English word for that season when the turtles burrow deep into the bottom of the pond, and when the fat-cheeked chipmunks eat sunflower seeds straight out of my sons’ hands.

There was no word for the sharp, cold beauty of all this loss. For that slow descent back into darkness. For the piles of brown leaves that we jump and play in until they disappear into dust.



It’s been a hard week for me for a thousand tiny little reasons – none of which are actually very good.

Things that Healthy Summer Addie would be able to brush off and let go are annihilating Autumn Addie. I am crying into my lobster bake at Stella’s, telling my husband that no one even likes me! I am reading too much into emails, losing my ability to focus and motivate, spending a lot of time curled into the fetal position on the couch, watching Grey’s.

And it’s not great. It’s not particularly fun for anyone involved (including my long-suffering husband, cracking lobster tails across the table, assuring me that They do, sweetie. I promise they like you).

But also – it’s okay. Because I know what this is. It’s just the depression talking again.


One of the best gifts that I’ve ever gotten was a name for this thing in me that keeps rearing up in my life no matter how I try to wrestle it back. 

The doctor diagnosed me eight years ago – clinical depression – and I spent a long time trying to make that label untrue. I took the drugs and I went to therapy and I got the light box and I bought special essential oils that are supposed to help with that sort of thing.

I still do all of those things, but I’m beginning to understand that though it doesn’t have to define me, this word matters. I need this name. It gives this darkness that I feel so acutely a set of boundaries. It recognizes all that complex emptiness and distills it down to one word. It frees me to live through it and to live past it. It gives me a framework to understand what is happening to me and to move forward.

It allows me to say to myself as I lie in bed at night, numb and empty and fearful and sad: This is not the truest thing. This is only the depression. Go back to sleep.


The etymology of the word autumn is vague, best as I can tell, but one scholar suggested that it could be understood as the “drying-up season,” and the Old Irish word for it means, literally, “under winter.”

In the suburbs, people are emptying out their pools and pulling in their grills and buying Campbell’s Tomato Soup in bulk. Last 80-degree day, we say to one another as we glance at the Weather app on our phones. Fall’s really coming.

And when we say fall, when we say autumn, we’re talking about the whole thing: the ducks and the chipmunks and the pumpkin carving and the harvest celebrations. We’re talking about dark mornings and cold feet and apple pies. About the beauty of transition…and also the cold, harsh jolt of it. All of it is true, all of it simmered down like cider to one, bare, single word. Autumn.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s fall now, officially. Pull your hat down over your ears and breathe deep. Let the beauty and the pain blow over you like the cold breeze.

Say the word. Autumn. Name it for what it is – one short season in the sprawling arc of time.

Drink your pumpkin spice latte. Be grateful and empty, gathered and dried-out. And then, let it go.