What I’m Into: August 2015

what i'm into august 2015

I can’t believe summer is over.

And also I can.

For the last three weeks, everyone on the planet has been posting their Back to School photos on Facebook…except for those of us in Minnesota who don’t start school until after Labor Day.

In a lot of ways, this is good. We’re lucky. We get this extra grace week of sun and water and warmth and freedom.

And in other ways, this is hell, because the kids have reached their Ultimate Limit with each other, and I have reached my Ultimate Limit with their fighting, and we’re all just screaming at each other to JUST BE KIND! JUST BE KIND!

This is where we’re at. It’s the end of August/beginning of September, and we’re in that fuzzy space between where summer ends and the school year begins, and sometimes transitions are the hardest when they just. drag. on.

The edges of August are dissolving, now, into September, and trust me — I know better than to wish these precious days away.

So we’re having cupcakes for breakfast at the local sweet shop and wandering together around the pet store looking at lizards. We are doing last trips to the beach and the park and snuggling in front of Peppa Pig and “Gubble Guppies” (as Liam calls them) and eating too much frozen pizza. We are enjoying the last bits of summer the best that we can.

What I’m Reading:

Books I Read August 2015 - 1Books I Read August 2015 - 2

The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage, Rob and Kristen Bell: I liked Rob and Kristen’s take on marriage. This book focuses on the sort of interactive space between you and your spouse — which Rob and Kristen call the zimzum. This is a Hebrew concept in which God withdraws to create space something other than himself to exist — us. They argue that the same is true in marriage:

“You meet this person, your all in love, and you zimzum — creating space for them to thrive while they’re doing the same for you. This zimzuming unleashes energy and creates space that didn’t exist before, generating the flow that is the lifeblood of marriage.”

The book is divided into the four characteristics of zimzum: responsive, dynamic, exclusive and sacred. Rob is a gifted speaker, and he tends to write like he speaks. Which means that his books are a little thin on actual content and full of line breaks and space. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I do wish there’d been a bit more practical application offered here in addition to some of the larger marriage concepts. Still, a good read and a book that has influenced the way that I’ve been doing marriage this past month.

Forever with You and Home Over Our Hearts (Christy & Todd: The Married Years), Robin Jones Gunn: I continued my Robin Jones Gunn catchup spree, and the married version of Christy and Todd remain as sugary sweet as ever. Though they are now all grown up, Christy and Todd continue to to stay bubble-wrapped in Christian culture and Christian friendships.

I’ve been struggling to come up with some kind of response to this type of fiction, trying to find the line where “edification” and “encouragement” ends and a kind of Christian pornography begins — not in a sense of setting unrealistic sexual expectations, but in creating unrealistic, glossed over expectation of what Christian faith is — what it should and could look like, what it should be doing for you.

Is it helpful or hurtful, in the end, to paint a portrait of the Christian life that is so picturesque and perfect that few — if any of us — can actually live up to it? Is it a person-by-person thing, or are there general things that we should avoid in the writing of “Christian” fiction? Do the things that make me feel inferior and infuriated in these books help others to find solid ground? And if so, can I write these books off entirely? Two months of mulling that over, and I still don’t have an answer. Let me know if you have one. I’d love to hear it.

Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz: This was my one purchase from The Strand bookstore in New York City. It was one of the staff picks in the young adult section, and, to be fair, I was a little blinded by the serious literary bling on the cover. And the cover. I mean, let’s be honest. I mostly chose this book because of the awesome image of the red pickup truck in the stormy night. Sigh. The writing was beautiful and sparse and worthy of all those awards. Strong LGBTQ themes, so if that’s hard for you, skip this one. In my opinion, it was a generous and gentle treatment of a difficult narrative.

The Financial Lives of Poets, Jess Walter: I got this because I loved Jess Walter’s book, Beautiful Ruins, so much, and because it has an awesome title. Brief synopsis: a down-and-out middle-age Dad deep in debt and about to lose both his house and his marriage meets some teenage drug dealers one night while buying milk at a gas station. Bad money-making ideas ensue. I didn’t like it quite as much as Beautiful Ruins, but the writing was great and Walter has a lot of profound things to say about the American obsession with MONEY and STUFF and UPWARD MOBILITY. Both funny and smart — the kind of book that stays with you.

The Girl With all the Gifts, M. R. Carey: I won’t give any spoilers, but lets just say that this particular girl’s gifts were not what I expected. It’s not a book I necessarily would have chosen if I’d had a better idea of the plot, but it was a fun, fast read for the end of summer.

Which Brings Me to You: A Novel in Confessions, Steve Almond and Julianna Baggott: I picked this one for totally narcissistic reasons: Steve Almond was the judge of a lit magazine contests that I was trying to get an entry together for, and I wanted to get a feel for his style. He co-wrote this particular book with Julianna Baggott, and it was good — both are really gifted writers, writing professors, and it shows. The basic premise: two strangers meet and almost hook-up at a wedding, but then decide to take a step back and get to know each other by writing and mailing their confessions, one at a time, back and forth. I like the idea of this, I do. What I didn’t love was that the “confessions” were sort of limited to their past love relationships — which led to some pretty salacious (and, in my opinion, unnecessary) sexual reminiscences. The letter-writing aspect of it made each character feel a little self-absorbed and navel-gazey, but there were also a lot of funny moments and beautiful insights and great writing. So, you know, a decent read. 😉

TruestJackie Lea Sommers: When Silas Hart and his mysterious sister move to the tiny Minnesota town of Green Lake, they change everything for Westlin Beck — the pastor’s daughter, who is on her own kind of search. Published by HarperCollins Publishers (and not by any of their “Christian” imprints or subsidiaries), this was the most deeply and poignantly Christian YA book I’ve ever read. The sweet and confused teenage characters drink, swear, and make all kinds of mistakes…but they are on a very real and honest spiritual quest — proving that a squeaky-clean code of morality and an encounter with God are not necessarily as tied together as evangelical Christianity has made them out to be.

A beautiful debut from a great new author. Buy it.

What I’ve Been Listening To:

Still…whatever Spotify tells me to. I’m such a musical poser.

What I’ve Been Watching:

Bachelor in Paradise. Which is TERRIBLE. If you ever want to know how terrible people are, just watch reality TV. It’s gross! It’s appalling! I can’t stop watching it!!!! Master Chef is a little less terrible. But only because of the delicious food.

I finally started watching The Walking Dead again with Andrew. We’re on Season 2, and I just watched a Very Terrible Episode. I’m gonna need a minute to recover.

My laundry/workout/doing-the-dishes show is still Grey’s Anatomy. I’ve watched it before, but it’s just one of those easy-to-watch shows. In spite of all the guts and blood. (When you’re also watching The Walking Dead, the Grey’s Anatomy blood and guts seem pretty tame.)

Other Things I’m Into:

1. Waterproof casts. Why has it taken us so long to invent these. THEY ARE AMAZING. Yeah, my kid has a broken arm…but we can go swimming! He can take baths! Life is good!!!

waterproof casts

2. 12 years with this guy. Thanks to the aforementioned broken arm, we spent our anniversary watching Spy Kids and administering pain meds and adjusting Dane’s pillows. ROMANCE.

anniversary

3. Butterflies! The kids found a ton of caterpillars in the milkweed down by our pond this year. We put them all into our aquarium and watched them turn to chrysalises…and then to butterflies. I think in the end, we had 18 or 19 that turned. It was epic.

butterflies

4. Lemonade stands. Please. For the love. If you ever see little kids on the side of the road trying to sell luke-warm Crystal Light out of plastic cups…stop the car. Get out. Pay the twenty-five cents. There is no surer way to make someone happy. And that someone’s mommy.

lemonade stand

5. A short trip to Duluth with Dad for a business trip. It was in the 50’s and we were freezing. But I loved every second.

boys in duluth

6. A trip to the Wisconsin Dells to hang out with my Mom. We stayed in a cabin and managed to avoid most of the kitsch…with the exception of a miniature golf course/petting zoo where the goats jump out of the cage and onto the golf green…and a farm called “Little Bumpkins” with pedal tractors and a play town. Highlight? Collecting acorns in the woods. As it should be.

acorn collecting

Book and Blog:

NIV Bible for WomenNot much posting this month (womp, womp), but I did manage this post after Dane broke his arm. I blame my continued lack of blogging on the fact school hasn’t started and we’re still on summer routine. I’m sincerely hoping that September will be a different story.

Relevant Magazine did pick up this post I wrote back in July on books to read when you’re not feeling up to reading the Bible, so that was fun.

Also, five of my short piers appear in the new NIV Bible for Women from Zondervan…along with other amazing writers like Rachel Held Evans, Micha Boyett, Sarah Bessey, Margaret Feinberg, etc. etc. etc. SO MANY GREAT WOMEN WRITERS. I just got my copies in the mail today. I told Andrew, “Next time we’re in a fight, I’m just going to say, “Well, honey, I’m in the Bible.” (You can buy a copy here.)

Linking up as usual with Leigh Kramer (who is also featured in the NIV Bible for Women, FYI)

What about you? What have you been into this month? Any awesome music/books/shows I should know about?

All Our Crooked, Half-Healed Places

xray

Have you ever thought about what protects our hearts?
Just a cage of rib bones and other various parts.
~ Ingrid Michaelson, “Breakable”

My oldest son, Dane, fell off the monkey bars last weekend, and his wrist crumpled like a paper bag: our first broken bone.

After it happened, Dane and I sat at the picnic table while Andrew went home to get the car, and we held it very still, this broken wing. Dane’s face was streaked with tears and dirt and disbelief. I broke my arm?! I BROKE it?!!!!

On the car ride over, Dane was sobbing and Liam was pointing out McDonalds franchises, and it was a little morbid, the way I couldn’t stop hearing Ingrid Michealson singing that “we are so fragile, and our cracking bones make noise, and we are just breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys.”

Shattered. Fractured. Splintered. Broken. These are words that I have often used to talk about my faith, my journey toward God, my whole fragmented story, turning out so differently than I thought it would. When I say these words, I picture shards — cracked and broken glass or porcelain thrown against a hard wall of doubt and disillusionment.

But in the emergency room, his arm was broken broken — nothing metaphorical about it. 

The X-ray machine whirred like a hovering helicopter over our bodies, which were draped with heavy, lead-filled aprons. A giant male nurse tried twice before getting the IV into Dane’s arm. We have to sedate him so that we can reset the bone. Otherwise it will heal with a big bump like this, the doctor said, because the truth is, the bone was already trying to heal itself. Already the blood was clotting, the arm swelling as invisible cells begin to remove the dead and damaged tissue.

Left to their own devices, the fibroblasts will begin to produce fibers of collagen and chondroblasts will produce cartilage to bridge the gap. The body is made to heal. And if we want it to heal correctly, it has to first be realigned. Nothing to worry about, the white-coated doctor said to us gently. Her hair was braided around her head like a halo. If it were my own boys, this is what I would do, she said.

So we let her dose sleep medication into his IV, watched as his eyes close, his head lolled sideways. We let ourselves be ushered into a waiting room with an old TV and a Pixar DVD because they had to set the arm.  Because bones don’t stay broken. Because we are made resilient, made to get through this, made to carry on.

broken bones

It’s been over a week since the monkey-bar-incident. Dane is (finally) in his hard cast. Did you know that they make them waterproof now? WATERPROOF. Genius.

Now he’s flipping over the couch and wrestling his dad and slapping his brother and not needing any more ibuprofen. And there are dozens of scientific words for the cell magic happening along the jagged part of his broken bone, but the simplest way to say it is that the body is healing itself.

And the whole thing has me thinking a lot about breaks and fractures. About the things that I have survived. The things that all of us have.

I scroll through my photos of the accident, and I see Dane’s crumpled arm, and I think about all the places in me that “healed over” without ever being reset correctly. Church wounds and relationship wounds — broken pieces of me never realigned with Truth. Perhaps this is where the cynicism comes from. The suspicion. The bitterness. Perhaps it comes from that crooked kind of half-healing that left me better…but also worse.

It’s sort of a little half-epiphany for me, staring at those X-rays on the fridge (we have several; Dane kept asking the X-ray technician for print-outs of his “skelebones.”)

I look at the Before pictures — the jagged bone ridging up into a kind of peak under his wrist.  And then I look at the After photos. The bones are still broken, and they’re not perfectly lined up, but they’re close enough that when the body fills in the gaps, it will be strong and straight, just like it was before.

This is why it’s no good to tell each other to just “get over it” to just “forgive and forget” to just “let it go and move on.” Because even though the body can heal, sometimes we need professionals to help snap things back where they belong first.

And it occurs to me that this is why this whole grown-up faith thing is so hard sometimes. It’s more painful than simply reimagining and redefining faith — those gentle words I like to use. Sometimes, wholeness requires a re-breaking and re-setting of those places that healed crooked inside of me.

It requires me to admit that though I can do some of it alone, I can’t do all of it. I need help. I need people who are trained to see inside, to assess the break, and put things back together as closely as possible. I need to be splinted up, kept still, given time to heal up correctly.

*

Here’s the other thing I learned about broken bones. They hurt like hell for several days. And then all of the sudden, they don’t hurt at all.

That’s what the doctor told us would happen…and that’s what happened. For a long four or five days, Dane was moaning on the couch, waking in the night, sobbing in my bed at three in the morning. For a while it was awful. And then it wasn’t. Because, in the end, pain is no match for the healing.

And my son…he is strong and brave and broken and healing.

His cast is bright green and WATERPROOF and hard as nails. It is keeping him safe, keeping him healing, even as he bursts through the door into the wide, scary, beautiful world.

An Ordinary Feast

“Today, the banquet table is laid out for me in my soul. And it looks like meetings, deadlines, and a few household chores on the outside, but on the inside I know that my Father is very fond of me, that he has plans I know nothing about, and this is the day he has made.”
~ Emily P. Freeman, Simply Tuesday

simply tuesday

It’s the third-to-last Tuesday of the summer, and Dane has a broken arm and a splint cast that won’t get changed out for its hard, waterproof replacement until Wednesday.

It’s supposed to rain today. A scattered thunderstorms kind of Tuesday, which means Bubble Guppies and living room fighting and Perler beads all over the kitchen floor and little-to-no progress on the freelancing work I need to do or the essays I want to write.

We are at the bottom-dregs of our summer, and we’re all feeling it — short with each other and irrationally cranky and just a titch whiny. I am jonesing for Alone Time, feeling like a drug addict in withdrawal — restless and irritable with palpitations and poor concentration.

And on this third-to-last-Thursday of the summer, it doesn’t feel like a feast day. It feels like a boxed-Mac-and-Cheese kind of day. A sneaking-Oreos-for-breakfast kind of day. A threadbare, not-quite-enough kind of day.

The feast I want looks like more than all this. It looks like bigger dreams, more brilliant plans. Finished work. Recognition and affirmation and accolades and awards. “Important” conversations with “important” people over fancy wine and cheeses. The feast I think I need is set beneath a crystal chandelier of my own sparkling, impossible ideas about perfection.

But it’s Tuesday, and as usual, I’m failing to meet my own expectations. It’s Tuesday, and it’s just me here, just sitting at the kitchen table in sweatpants, just trying to get a few more words down on paper before the kids holler for more pancakes, before someone screams, before we have to get out of the house or die of all the fighting.

Here is one of my greatest challenges: finding the feast beneath the failure.

How many Tuesdays have I lived starving because I can’t see the banquet that is laid out on the crayon-and-Perler-bead-covered kitchen table? A feast that I did not make, but that is here anyway for the taking?

But here it is: the day is rich with thunderstorms and raindrops, the white-gray sky, the string cheese in the fridge, the kisses from my boys. A sentence here, a sentence there…which will eventually be drawn into a paragraph, knit together by a theme, turned into something that I don’t yet know. The halting sounds of keyboard strokes punctuated by the work of parenting — this is not the sound of failure but of obedience. And the laughter of my kids and the buzz of the dryer — these are the sounds of God’s faithfulness.

It’s a feast, a banquet, a thing of beauty, and place of plenty.

It’s simply Tuesday, and I don’t have to do a single thing to earn it. There is a banner over the whole rainy day, and the banner says love. The banner says enough. And my Father is very fond of me.

*

Emily Freeman’s book Simply Tuesday is out today! Though I have a habit of being critical of Christian-living kinds of books, Emily’s gentle, kind voice in this book ministered to me in very real ways this summer. I hope you’ll check it out!

What I’m Into: The June/July 2015 Edition

What I'm Into June-July 2015

Well, it’s a week into August, and I’m just now getting to this post. That’s pretty much how I’ve felt all summer…just a little out of step with time. Our schedule has been odd and irregular, in and out of town, late nights and late mornings…which is exactly as summer should be. It just makes it hard to be a regular person keeping regular schedules, meeting regular deadlines (which I’ve had), and keeping up a regular blog (which I haven’t.)

I don’t know how to tell you about my summer so far. It’s been warm and sunny and decadent and wonderful. It’s been beach days and back-deck reading and frogs and turtles and dirty, happy kids. But also, it’s been long, hard final edits on my book, looming deadlines, and an unexpected resurgence of depression. Without the time apart at school as a buffer, the kids’ fighting has ramped up to new levels, and for some reason, my usual summer getaway to Duluth never happened, which makes me sad.

I guess i’m not tell you this as much as I’m telling myself. Because Winter Minnesota Addie tends to forget that summer has it’s hard things too. I’m one of those people that tends to think if we can just get a little warmer, everything will be better. And in some ways it is. And in some ways it isn’t. Life, man. Such a mixed bag.

What I’ve Been Reading

Books I Read 2015

Beautiful Ruins, Jess WaltersI loved this book. It’s a love story — sort of — that spans over fifty years and all kinds of locations, including a small island on the Italian coast, the movie set of Cleopatra, and modern-day Hollywood. it’s a perfect summer read — but also smart, complicated and well written. One of my faves of the year.

Summer House with Swimming Pool, Herman Koch: I don’t know why I read this. I didn’t actually really like The Dinner. I think I just wanted a fast, interesting read. I forgot how completely unlikeable every single one of Herman Koch’s characters are, and how boring it gets when you have no one to root for. Not a fan. Two strikes and you’re out, Hermie.

The Rosie Project, Graeme SimsionThis book was every bit as sweet and fun as I thought it would be. A quick, easy read with fun and quirky characters.

The Hypnotist’s Love Story, Liane MoriartyNot my favorite of Moriarty books, but it did a nice job exploring some interesting themes of love and loss. Props to Moriarty for creating a relatable female stalker character.

Normally This Would Be Cause for Concern: Danielle Fischel: Bad. Bad, bad, bad, bad. Normally I try not to wholly write off other writers work, but you guys, this was not good. I picked this up because I have this undying love for 90’s sitcoms, and I was hoping for some behind the scenes Boy Meets World goodness. Not so. Instead, we get to hear about Danielle’s dog’s bowel movements, that time she accidentally pee-ed on herself in a port-a-potty, and her job wrapping gifts at a department store. Snooze.

Behind the Bell, Dustin Diamond: Staying in the vein of books-by-90s-child-stars, I read Screech from Saved by the Bell’s tell-all-memoir…out of simple, voyeristic curiosity. While this book was much better written than Topanga’s — props to his ghost writer — it was a real downer. I knew that Dustin had ended up kind of a mess, but his bitterness runs so deep it’s just depressing. I get it — three years younger than all of his co-workers and always feeling like he didn’t fit — that’s a bummer. But instead of working through that and approaching his past from a place of vulnerability, he just became a total ass. Alongside his relentless abuse of his co-stars, the book is full of raunch, with numerous references to what he calls “the monster in his pants” and his 2000 sexual conquests. Still, it made me think a lot about about the ways that we react to rejection. Interesting — in a terrible sort of way.

I also read all four books of Robin Jones Gunn’s Katie Weldon series. (For the uninitiated, Robin Jones Gunn is a Christian romance novelist whose Christy Miller series was deeply influential to many of us evangelical girls back in the 90’s. Katie Weldon was Christy Miller’s best friend, and RJG recently released a new series featuring Katie.)

I stayed away from these books for a long time but decided to go ahead and read them this summer. I blame Leigh Kramer and this post for this. I have all sorts of THOUGHTS about these books, Christian romance novels in general, and the ways that we tidy up life…but I’ll probably get into next week.

And I read Emily Freeman’s beautiful forthcoming book Simply Tuesday, which I mentioned here and here and will tell you about a little more next week on her release day!

What I’ve Been Listening To

I just discovered the Spotify makes you playlists every week based on what you listen to. I can’t believe that this is the world we live in. The Internet just brings you new music and people have like, watches that send them text messages and where does it end? How long til hover boards?!

So yes, mostly I’ve been listening to what Spotify and Pandora throw my way. In need of some Jesusy music, I downloaded Benjamin Brainard’s Church Songs free from Noisetrade, and I’ve really liked that. Also in the way of Jesusy music, my friend Rachel introduced me to The Rend Collective, which is more upbeat than I usually listen too (what can I say…I have sort of maudlin taste), but is perfect for dinner-cooking with the family.

Also this month, Andrew and I got to see our friends’ band, The Mumblin Owls, debut show. Their music is so much fun…as is being out in the city at night without kids. I’d almost forgotten. You can download their EP here, and it’s worth the $4!

mumblin owls

What I’ve Been Watching

Andrew and I are big Master Chef fans, so we’ve been enjoying that. I also tricked him into watching Bachelor in Paradise with me when it started last week. (The drama! the tears! The backstabbing! ALL THE FEELINGS!) My treadmill show is old-school Grey’s Anatomy…back before they got rid of all the good characters. Sigh.

My favorite movie of the summer was Inside Out. I took the kids when we were in Chicago for the week, and though they enjoyed it, I was the one sobbing in my movie seat over the complicated relationship between Joy and Sadness. Great movie.

Other Things I’ve Been Into

1. Bedroom makeovers! The boys decided that they were ready to room together…full-time. So I kicked off the summer by turning Dane’s room into a joint Bro-Space.

They’ve been together for two months and still seem to be liking it…fingers crossed.

Boys Room

The room consolidation means that I’ve been able to turn Liam’s room into my own little office — the first I’ve ever had. Pictures to come when I unveil the final product!

3. All the summer things! Rodeos! Parades! Fireworks! Beach day! Day camps and farm trips and the drive-in movies! Baby kittens and caterpillars turning to butterflies! There is not a cliched summer activity that we have not done this year and that I have not loved.

Summer Fun

4. Friends’ babies. Kim and Alissa, my two close friends whom you might remember from my first book, had their first babies back in February — two days apart. Which is bananas. Kim came home from London in July, and the girls came up for a visit with their little ones.

Girls' Weekend

It was surreal to see my boys hold their babies…and medicine for my soul to laugh with my closest, oldest friends.

IMG_6953

5. A trip to New York City. I got to tag along a couple of weeks ago on Andrew’s business trip to New York City. It was my first time to the Big Apple, and it was magic.

We checked out Central Park and scored last minute tickets to a show at the People’s Improv Theatre called “Hold On To Your Butts.”. You guys: two dudes and one sound-effects girl re-enacting the entire first Jurassic Park Movie. I have not laughed that hard in a long time. Fantastic.

Hold on to Your Butt

While Andrew did his meetings, I walked all over the city. I had a great meeting with my publisher at Penguin Random House, spent several hours wandering around The Strand Bookstore, checked out Chelsea Market and Highline Park and had long, late lunches alone with books. It was blissful.

New York

We won’t talk about the severe thigh chaffing that resulted from walking dozens of miles in a sundress in 90-degree city heat. Lesson learned. Bike shorts next time.

Blog and Book

Book #2 went to production yesterday. I don’t totally know what that means except that I have to be done tinkering and restructuring and trying to say it better. I have so many mixed feelings about this, and letting this new book go out to production feels like a terrifying act of faith. I don’t know if it’s done. I don’t know if it’s good. I don’t know if I’m ready to reveal these parts of me to the world. But there it goes. And all I can do is let go.

I promise I’m not trying to be cryptic about BOOK #2. I know it’s a little weird that I’ve talked so much about the consuming process of writing it without telling you anything about the actual content of it. I promise to do that soon. I’m just not quite ready yet.

I’ve been pathetic on the blog, I know. But I did write a post about Elisabeth Elliot that people seemed to like, talked about Depression, and gave some book recommendations for when you’re struggling to read the Bible. I also guest posted over at Cara Meredith’s place about my favorite writing spot, The Bean, and forgot to tell you. You can hop over there and read it if you’re interested.

Linking up, as always, with the lovely Leigh Kramer.

What about you, dear readers? What have you been into this summer?