Join me at #ReadSavannah this September!

Addie Ziemran in Savannah September 19, 2016

The last time I was in Savannah, this was happening.

I’m so excited to be attending the #SavannahReads event this September.

I’ve never been to this fantastic event, but I know it’ll be great because it’s put on by the amazing group over at SheReads *in partnership with the Southern Independent Booksellers Association). Plus it includes a lineup of fantastic authors, including a keynote by Liane Moriarty (whose books I absolutely love.)

As I think about my next phase of writing and blogging, I’m so excited to be with bookish people talking about bookish things.

It’s all happening Sunday, September 19th at the Hilton Savannah Desoto Hotel. I won’t be speaking, but I’d love to connect with you if you’ll be there too! You can learn more here!

The Small, Ordinary Ways We are Changing the World

The Small Ordinary Ways We are Changing the World: You don't have to be a missionary or an "ordinary radical." You just have to find your unrecognized ministry...and use it.

I’ll be honest: I never quite know quite what to do with the people who call themselves ordinary radicals, who move purposefully into the fringes, the “bad” neighborhoods, the overwhelming need.

They are desperately inspiring to me – these people who practice “downward mobility” in such extreme, life-defining ways. I read the books and the email updates and the blog posts and feel my heart well with such hope and heartache that I almost can’t breathe for all the beauty of it.

And yet, at the very same time, they snag some old insecurity, some old wound in me that never quite closed. The wound has to with that 90s Jesus Freak culture where loving God meant changing the world. It has to do with those Teen Mania Acquire the Fire rallies, where what I actually acquired was not so much fire as a sense that the only way to be a real Christian was to be a missionary. Preferably somewhere dangerous. Preferably without running water in some sort of a hut.

I spent a lot of my formative years believing that my faith had to look large to be real. And I spent much of the last decade trying to make peace with the smallness of my suburban life.

Enter D.L. Mayfield.

She arrived in the Twin Cities four years ago in a rumbly old car with her husband and her little girl. They moved into town, ordinary radicals coming to live among the refugees…and I drove in from the suburbs to North Minneapolis in my minivan to welcome them.

It was early days in my own “blogging” world, and this meeting of Internet friends was still strange and lovely in very new ways. We ate tacos, I think, and bonded over Aldi brands and potty training.

But then, she told me about the break-ins in her neighborhood, the fact that she’d been advised against going running alone. She told me about their meager budget and the stroller that she still hadn’t been able to find in her price range at the local thrift store.

Suddenly, it felt to me as though a chasm had opened up between us at that kitchen table. She lived in a world that I didn’t inhabit, that I couldn’t really understand. I kept eating Aldi tortilla chips and listened. I worried about my van parked below – did I lock it? – and then I felt petty for worrying about my van.

Siting there, with this gentle, kind Internet stranger-friend, the old high-school inadequacy trickled back in for no reason I could understand. I found myself ashamed to talk about my own life in the quiet suburbs, where I often leave my car unlocked, where the yards are big and green, where we have so much more than we need.

I felt ashamed of myself, not overly-obsessed with my own upward mobility, but certainly not pursuing downward mobility in the generous way that this woman was.

A series of car alarms went off somewhere beneath us, and she didn’t seem to notice, but I did. And when I left her apartment that day, the relief I felt to be going back home to the burbs seared like guilt.

Addie Zierman and D.L. Mayfield

Four years later, Danielle and her family have moved back to the Portland area where they continue to live among the refugee community. Four years later, I still have very complicated feelings about my life choices, about my measly contribution to what Shane Claiborne called “the irresistible revolution.” I still live in the suburbs, and while I have worked with the refugee center in the city, it was only in the back room, sorting donations.

I’m conflicted for two reasons: (1) The idea of living purposefully among the poor sounds closer to true Gospel of Jesus than this isolated suburban life that I lead. But (2), I am an introvert with a desperate need for quiet. I don’t think that my heart was made to live in constant relationship, in the chaos of the city. I remember how living in China made me wither into a shadow of myself all those years ago; I’m afraid that moving into the city would have the same affect.

Four years later, and I still haven’t really figured out how to live in the tension of these two truths.

Four years later, and I still felt a pinch of guilt and shame when Danielle’s first book, Assimilate or Go Home, arrived in my mailbox this past spring.

But in the end, this book did not turn out to be a guilt trip at all, nor was it an alter call to live in the city.

Instead, it was about making peace with our own inability to change the world.

Imagine. An ordinary radical and an ordinary suburban mom battling the exact same fears. The ones that whisper, I am not enough. I am not doing enough. I am failing at this thing called Christianity.

As I read this book, I was moved by its honesty, it’s love and sadness, it’s self-reflection and recognition and grace. And the very best part, for me, was the call at the end not to a major life change, but to the small ordinary ministries for which we are already well-suited, well-gifted.

She writes:

“Some of the most unrecognized ministries are my favorite kind.

“Like the ministry of playing video games with awkward adolescent boys. The ministry of bringing takeout food to people whose baby is very sick in the hospital. The ministry of picking up empty chip wrappers at the park. The ministry of sending postcards. […]

“The older I get, the more I realize that the ministries I once thought so trivial, I now think are the most radical. I have spent the past few years being stripped of anything that would make me feel lovely to God, and I came out a different person. As it turns out, I never did magically turn into one of my missionary heroes. Instead, I’m just somebody who likes to bake cakes.”

*

As D.L. Mayfield’s book comes out into the world today, I have been thinking about my own small ministries.

There are things that I’m no good at. I wither in the city and fry out on too many people. I don’t have the ministry of texting or phone calls or social media. (I am one of those people who is always forgetting to text back.) I am no good at protesting or engaging in difficult discussions online. I am terrible at getting birthday gifts in the mail on time.

But I have the ministry of smiling at strangers on public transportation. I don’t know what it is – put me in an airport or a bus station or a crowded car on the L, and I can’t stop seeing the beauty of God in every face. I break all the unspoken rules of public transportation. I look people directly in the eye. I smile. I can’t stop smiling.

I have the ministry of writing…but more than that, of telling the actual truth of my life. I have ministry of hosting play dates and the ministry of letting people see my house when it’s really messy. The ministry of folding sheets and boxing dishes in the back room of the refugee center. The ministry of opening Go-Gurt wrappers when I have lunch with the kids at school.

I am learning — still, always learning — that there is no one right way to be a Christian, no calling that fits us all.

D.L. Mayfield lives among the refugee community of Portland; I live among the lonely and busy suburban moms. Both of us are learning that we’re not really supposed to be changing anyone, just making the cake. Just folding the sheets. Just opening the Go-Gurt. Just showing up.

*

Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. MayfieldHarperOne has provided two copies of Assimilate or Go Home for me to give to our readers! To join the giveaway, simply leave a comment below. Tell me – what are your small, unrecognized ministries? What quirky, beautiful things do you do that are adding up, by some kind of grace , to changing the world?

Update: The contest is now closed. Congratulations to Todd Foley and Lindsey Stefan, who were chosen by the random.org generator!

Even if you don’t win the drawing, I hope you’ll pick up this book.  It’s a great one. You can learn more about it here.

What I’m Into: Summer 2016 Edition

Addie Zierman: What I'm Into Summer 2016

I don’t know if I’ve had a summer that feels like such a definitive break between Before and After since the summer that I graduated high school. A summer where you know everything is about to change, and all you can do is hold onto the sweetness and prepare, best you can, for the leap.

In the fall, my littlest goes off to kindergarten all day long.

This, alone, is enough to make me weepy and nostalgic and send me reaching for the baby pictures. I am officially out of the preschool years, which for a stay at home mom, are absolutely consuming and defining.

And I am also at the end of my book contract.

In the past several years, I have raised two babies, and in the cracks of time that I managed to find between feeding and diapering and potty training and time-outs and snuggles and Dinosaur Train, I released two books. I don’t really know how that happened. I vaguely remember deliriously early mornings writing at the kitchen table, but other than that, the whole thing is a blur.

Now my babies will be getting on the bus, together, and my books are out in the world. My publishing contract is done. I am about to fall face-forward into the first silence I have had in years, and the thought both excites and terrifies me.

I have spent most mornings this summer sitting on my deck with my cup of coffee while the heat makes steam form on the top of the pond and the neighborhood albino squirrel makes his rounds. I have been thinking about what’s next. There is no book deadline. There is no toddler to keep from flinging himself down the living room staircase. There is only me and the blank page and whatever I decide to do with it.

In her book Slow Writing, Louise DeSalvo writes, “When our lives change, when the world changes, we must reinvent ourselves as writers.”

So if I haven’t been blogging much lately it is because I am watching my boys float away – by themselves – in the paddleboat. I am holding a blank notebook, waiting to figure out what the next words will be.

Reading

I love summer reading. My idea of a perfect summer day involves a flotation device of some sort and a book. Here’s some of what I’ve been reading these past couple of months.

Books 1

The Art of Slow Writing, Louise DeSalvo: Coming off a book writing and release schedule that felt entirely rushed to my sensibility, this book was a grounding read for me. Filled with examples from the writing lives of famous authors and from her own life, this book reminded me of the excruciating beauty of the process of writing and gave me a way back in after being in the no-man’s-land of marketing your writing for the last couple of months. (Not my favorite place, by the way.) A beautiful read that I will go back to again.

Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary, D. L. Mayfield: I was honored to read and endorse this book back in May. When Danielle and her family moved to Minneapolis, I got to witness first-hand some of the passion and pain that comes from choosing a life of downward mobility. The way she wrote about her experiences in this book was tender and honest and filled with grace for both herself and for all of us as we seek to engage with a broken world. It comes out in a couple of weeks, but do yourself a favor and preorder it now.

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart: I’d heard great things about this book and was not disappointed. It kept me guessing the whole time, and the ending absolutely shocked me.

The Lake House, Kate Morton: Kate Morton does the cross-generational mystery so well, and this book was no exception. I love the rough-edged main character, who reminded me of Jordan Cavinaugh from Crossing Jordan – stubborn, unwieldy, and impossible not to root for. I thought the ending of this one was a little tidy, but it was still a good read.

The Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes: If you’ve read any of my What I’m Into posts before, you know I am a dedicated fan of Shonda’s Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. I love the way she writes characters – complex and funny and distinct and relatable. So while her insights on living the “yes” life in this book were fun to read, what I most enjoyed about this was getting a small glimpse into her creative process. I particularly loved the insights she shared around her own relationship with the character of Cristina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy. Shonda, not surprisingly, can put a book together, and I’d love to read something from her that is centered more on her creative work.

Books 2

The Status of All Things, Lisa Steinke and Liz Fenton: I was a little underwhelmed by this book, but it could be because I was listening to it on audio in the car while my kids were trying to kill each other in the background. When a woman is jilted at her rehearsal dinner, she gets a magical second chance: an opportunity to change her life with Facebook status updates that come true when she writes them. While I wasn’t crazy about the main character (again, maybe the fault of my kids), I did think there was some interesting thoughts her about the fruitless quest to look perfect – or at least good — in the social media world.

Why We Broke Up, Daniel Handler: I loved this YA book that tells the story of Min and Ed’s breakup item by item in the inevitable “box” of stuff you return after a relationship ends. The voice is so distinct, the characters so well drawn, and, to top it off, this book includes the best description of a day in public high school that I have ever read.

Still Writing, Dani Shapiro: I learned about this book when I heard Dani Shaprio speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing back in April. I bought it on the spot but didn’t have a chance to read it until I spent two blissful nights alone in Duluth a few weeks ago. Written in small chunks, it reads like a memoir of the writing life and offers lots of insight, encouragement, and guidance. It’s going into my Writer’s Toolbox with all my other writing faves.

Before the Fall, Noah Hawley: This book was un-put-downable, just like I’d heard, and I wasn’t surprised to see that the author has won awards including the Emmy, Golden glove, PEN, Critic’s Choice and Peabody. His writing is both suspenseful and insightfully human. But don’t read it on a plane.

Here and Now, Henri Nouwen: I’m in another one of those stages where I’m struggling to read the Bible. This happens to me from time to time, and I have some favorite go-to-books for times like this. This summer, I’ve been reading this book by Henri Nouwen, though, which is interspersed with Scripture and filled with gracious and stunning insights about living in the love of God. It has been a beacon for me this summer.

boys at library

Watching

Andrew and I got hooked on HBO’s miniseries The Night Of and have been faithfully following the story of a boy named Nasir “Naz” Khan, who is charged with a gruesome murder he knows he didn’t commit. The complex cultural and political undertones are fascinating, as is the glimpse into the complicated relationship in the prison system. The John Stone character (John Turturro) is my absolute favorite.

We’re also watching Chef’s Table on Netflix which is a series of beautiful and compelling mini-documentaries on some of the most talented chefs in the world. It’s making me think a lot about art and the way we approach the act of creation.

I made it three episodes into The Bachelorette and then gave up. Sorry Jo Jo. I think I might be (finally) outgrowing this thing…

Listening To

After hearing about it everywhere, I finally bought the Hamilton soundtrack and listened to it in full on the trip home from my writing retreat in Duluth. There may have been some car dancing. Now I desperately want to see the show.

Summering

We have done the parades and the fireworks and the lemonade stands and the splash pad. We’ve been to the beach more times than I can count. We attended a Survivor-themed family reunion during which we all wore bandanas and looked for hidden immunity idols. I watched my children catch lightning bugs at my grandparents’ house in Nebraska and then lay next to them in the guest room bed, watching the lights blink lazily through an old mayonnaise bottle.

lightning bugs

We watched Kung Fu Panda 3 at the last drive-in theatre in town, eating hot dogs and snuggling in the back of the minivan on a blown-up air mattress. We lit sparklers on the 4th of July. My oldest son learned to drive the paddleboat by himself, cruising lazily around our backyard pond, coming back, eventually pink-faced with a net full of painted turtles.

This summer, I cleaned the house top-to-bottom, organized the storage room, and found the old Pochocco notebook that Alissa and I exchanged notes in during the 7th grade. It had this photo of JTT in the front – our first love.

pochacco notebook

I had an epically unsuccessful garage sale where it rained for two days and the most interested visitor was the brazen chipmunk that kept skittering around the garage, pillaging the boys’ collection of old corncobs. I brought bags and bags of stuff to Goodwill and then bought a lot of other stuff from my favorite local vintique shop, The Round Barn.

garage sale

The boys caught dozens of caterpillar, which have been collected in a cracked aquarium on our living room table. We have watched them work themselves into chrysalis – shaking furiously while still clinging to their perch, shedding old skin, folding into themselves. And then we have watched them break out, crumpled wings unfolding into beauty.

caterpillars

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing perfect about it. Behind the hazy Instagram-filter of all this summering, there has been more brother-fighting than I could possibly explain. My youngest is practicing rebellion the form of excessive hand-washing that results, daily, piles and piles of barely-used towels discarded in the hallway. We have done almost none of the pages in our summer workbooks, and the kids are gradually losing every bit of education that they absorbed over the last year of school. I keep stepping on Perler beads, and it really hurts.

But all in all, we have been summering in all of the best ways this year, and I am grateful.

Blog/Writing

I have written basically nothing except for my “Dear Addie” posts at Off the Page, which I continue to turn in exceptionally late.

In the wake of the difficult police and #blacklivesmatter events in June, I wrote this piece about my social media silence on the matter – which is different, to me, than actual silence. In Nouwen’s Here and Now, he writes: “The more I think about the human suffering in our world and my desire to offer a healing response, the more I realize how crucial it is not to allow myself to become paralyzed by feelings of impotence and guilt. More important than ever is to be very faithful to my vocation, to do well the few things that I am called to do…”

So as I sit with my blank notebook thinking about the future, I’m thinking about this too. Where does my vocation intersect with God’s love for justice and mercy, for love and compassion?

I don’t know yet, but I want you to know that I am thinking about it and working it out. I am reading and I am aware and I am allowing these things to sit heavy inside me and be transformed by God’s spirit, into compassion.

So anyway, be patient with me. I will be back in a few weeks, my boys on the bus to school, my world utterly changed. I will begin this work of reinventing myself as a writer. I am terrified and excited and I hope you will bear with me along the way.

Linking up as always with my lovely friend Leigh for What I’m Into.

I miss dialoguing with you in the comments section and hearing what you’re up to! Tell me, friends, what have you been into this summer?

What’s the Point of Church? [Dear Addie Column #8]

What's the Point of Church?

I’m over at Off the Page today with my 8th “Dear Addie” column. Today’s question is one that I have wrestled with throughout the years, a question that formed the undercurrent of some of those lonely, restless years that I spent searching:

Maybe it’s the skeptic in me, but why does community have to be found in churches as we know them? Can’t they, or shouldn’t they, be found in any group of believers? What makes Sunday morning church attendance different? I also wonder if focusing on getting people into churches as we know them really does the message of the Bible justice. Where in the Bible does it say to go to church on Sunday mornings? I know we’re supposed to be disciples of Jesus, we’re supposed to walk humbly, seek justice, and love mercy, but what are the actual directives placed on gatherings of Christians?

Here’s my take on it now.