When It’s Like Baptism

The first time I wrote my book, it was piecemeal, class by class, prompt by prompt, as I worked through my Master’s in Creative Writing.

I didn’t go into the MFA program intending to sort out my evangelical past, but things happened and then more things happened, and then it all seemed tied up together. Tug one little thread, and it all comes unraveled.

There I was, studying memoir, while my life fell to pieces around me. I was writing to figure it out, writing to get through it, writing because I couldn’t remember how to pray.

So I wrote about the old on fire days and the old Teen Mania days. I wrote about sadness and about drinking and about my best friends. I found structures that allowed me to confess my doubt and anger. I found a way to be entirely honest in a way I couldn’t seem to manage in real life.

And here’s what I love about God: when I couldn’t bring myself to read his words, he came to me in mine.

During those years, the Bible felt too charged, the church too rife with baggage. I’d sit for hours with my journal at a coffee shop, trying to pray in the way that I used to. But I felt so alone.

And so when I say that memoir, for me, is a work of wholeness, it’s because writing is part of how God healed me. I didn’t see it at first. It didn’t feel like God’s presence in the way I had come to expect it – but when I held that finished manuscript, I could see it had been held. There were fingerprints all over it.

*

This past two weeks has been like swimming underwater.

I recently signed with an amazing new agent, Rachelle Gardner. The paperwork came in the mail on a gray Thursday afternoon, and I read it outside, while Dane and Liam chased the ducks. I signed the next morning at our kitchen table, and the whole thing was bathed in sunlight like a new beginning.

Since then, I have been editing. I’ve been sifting through my past, cutting and restructuring, deleting and re-adding. I’ve been turning the whole thing over, examining it as art. As story. As memoir.

It’s long, detailed, tedious work, and for two-and-half-weeks, I lived sort of half-here, half-somewhere-else. When it’s time to stop working, it takes me a while to emerge into the moment, into the bright of the November air.

Just a couple of months ago, I sat at the Story conference in Chicago, and Anne Lamott said, “I have an hour talk on everything I know about writing, and I have an hour talk on everything I know about faith, and they’re basically the same talk.”

And in this month of intense editing, here is what I know to be true about both faith and art: truth takes time. It takes time to understand, and it takes time to untangle from long sentences and convoluted structure.

Maybe it takes some time away. A few months or a few years. Maybe you can’t understand why you keep getting stuck when you want to move forward. But then, after long enough, you look back and you can actually see. You see that God was there all along, even when you thought he wasn’t. You can see that this story is about so much more than you.

*

I sent in my latest draft on Thursday afternoon, just as the sun was disappearing outside of the Caribou Coffee into that early Minnesota night. I called my mom who was watching the boys, and they all did a happy dance and hollered into the phone. Then I picked them up and we went to McDonalds to celebrate…the one with the tubes and the slides and all the germs.

I don’t know what’s next for the book. (We never know what’s next, do we? Not really.) But in that moment with the kids playing in that sticky, fluorescent PlayPlace, it felt like I had come up out of the water.

And who knows if it’s faith or writing or both, but you edit like mad, and you submerge yourself in the dark mystery of it. You relive it and rehash it and turn it in 15,000 words shorter, and it’s all a kind of baptism. You come out a little clean, a little healed, a little bit more whole.

  • http://www.tanyamarlow.com Tanya Marlow

    I’m getting tingles…
    Maybe that’s because of the exciting news and the feeling that this is it, the start of it happening for you, and the waiting was not meaningless delay after all, but gestation, and the editing was part of the growing, getting the space to make something even better and more beautiful.
    Maybe it’s because of your writing, which floors me every time I read it, whatever the subject.
    And maybe it’s because I see myself in your words – the healing and the wholeness that comes through writing it all out, that grace of God in letting us use words when His word seems impenetrable.
    Much, much love to you. Celebrating with you, MaccyD’s stylee :-)

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Tanya. Raising a fountain-style Diet Coke to you!

  • http://hisnlovingembrace.wordpress.com Mia

    Hi dear Addie
    Oh, how I relate to writing being our Pappa God’s way of healing where to many sheep-like wolves have ravaged and destroyed. I have also experienced the burn-out and hurt of the flames of the on-fire-for-God fire and am slowly but surely being healed by writing. I agree wholeheartedly with Tanya, your words are opening doors of places I have been hiding in for much to long! Thank you, for opening your doors, allowing us to find comfort in your brokenness.
    Much love to you and I cann’t wait for your book to be released.
    Mia

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Mia.

  • http://kimvanbrunt.com/honestly-adoption-the-blog Kim Van Brunt

    “You see that God was there all along.” Yes, I understand this. It’s like in the dark, we write and write when nothing makes sense, we drop hints and crumbs for ourselves to find later, we hope someday it will lead us home. And then we find it wasn’t up to us to find our own way, that there was a thread, a tether there. We recall and are amazed.

    (And congratulations, again. Let’s celebrate, again.)

    • Addie Zierman

      Yes, it feels very mysterious to me, this spiritual act of writing. Love how you said it here. (And yes, let’s definitely do that!)

  • http://www.walkingintheslowlane.blogspot.com Holly

    Addie,
    Thank you for offering us a glimpse, all this time, into what you’ve been weaving in the dark secret places. You’ve welcomed us, actually, and we are all the better for it. I am thrilled to hear of how things are moving forward for you. And I am thankful to have been along for some of the ride. Your words–they are powerful.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Holly. Love that image of “weaving in the dark secret places.” Thanks for your consistent encouragement and your own beautiful words which help me find mind. So glad I know you!

  • http://chicagomama-brenna.blogspot.com/ Brenna D (@chicagomama)

    My thoughts have been rattling around in my head for weeks now, and none of it makes sense, and Chicago feels like such a desert place. And I told a friend that I don’t understand how not one little bit of it seems to have worked out the way it was supposed to and I don’t know what to do with it.

    And then I read, “Maybe it takes some time away. A few months or a few years. Maybe you can’t understand why you keep getting stuck when you want to move forward. But then, after long enough, you look back and you can actually see. You see that God was there all along, even when you thought he wasn’t. You can see that this story is about so much more than you.” And I think those are the best sentences I have read in years. And I’ll write them down in my journal, and probably quote them in some unimportant to the world, but important to me, post. I’ll shed some tears and manage a feeble prayer. And hopefully in the not too distant future I’ll look back and feel the same way.

    Thanks, Addie.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Brenna. I’m so glad that this line resonated with where you’re at (love when that happens). Thanks so much for mentioning it on your own beautiful blog. Those desert places are so hard; praying that you might find some rest soon. Love you friend.

  • http://shufordhill.wordpress.com Bernard Shuford

    Yay! SO Awesome!

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks Bernard!

  • http://sayable.net Lore Ferguson

    YEAHHHHHHH!!!!!

    Love this!

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks lady! :)

  • http://www.leighkramer.com HopefulLeigh

    You shared this beautifully, friend. Thrilled for you and excited to see what happens next. I can’t wait to hold your book in my hands. It’s going to happen, one way or another.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Leigh. I’ve so appreciated your encouragement and friendship in this journey.

  • http://www.alise-write.com Alise

    Congratulations, Addie! What amazing news!

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Alise.

  • http://www.eloranicole.com eloranicole

    DEEP breath. Coming here is always good for my soul, friend. How I wish we could go back to those Chicago moments and sip coffee for a spell. SO excited for this new chapter…

    • Addie Zierman

      Agreed! It was way too short of a trip…so many people I would have loved to have nice long conversations with and you are definitely on of them. One of these days… (Thanks so much for the kind words.)

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Way to go Addie! I’m so happy for you.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks Ed. Funny that I wrote it the same week that your “publishing sucks” post came out at Rachelle’s blog. Truth! I realize that this is just another stop on a long, long journey…but hopefully one in the right direction.

  • Mark Allman

    Addie,
    Congratulations!! I hope it rolls out soon. I’d like to reserve a copy. :)

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Mark.

  • http://shawnsmucker.com Shawn Smucker

    Such incredible news, Addie. I can’t wait to see where it all leads.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks Shawn!

  • http://www.gettingdownwithjesus.com Jennifer@GDWJ

    I’m about 3,000 words shy of a completed manuscript for my nonfiction/memoir-ish book. Yes, a baptism — sometimes water, sometimes fire.

    So, Addie, how do you know when it’s done? How do you let it go? I’m struggling with that a bit.

    Oh. And congratulations on Rachelle. She’s amazing.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks Jennifer! Oh man — “how do you know when it’s done?” I think you don’t. I think you work on it until you can’t look at it for another dang moment, and then you just kind of give up. In my experience, it’s been less of a running-across-a-finish-line feeling, and more of a sort of subdued feeling that it’s just time.

      (It helps knowing that there are other people on the journey who will catch things and point you toward places that need work. Agents. Editors. Etc. One of the reason that I’ve continued to pursue traditional publishing in spite of all the roadblocks is this team-based process.)

  • http://turquoisegates.com Genevieve Thul

    I always wanted to be a writer, the why I do not know. My mother (and first editor) told me I was horrible, and I got mixed reviews all through college. I became a nurse instead and I collected stories in my soul about little children who went to be with Jesus on quiet winter nights in Minneapolis. Other peoples tragedies and miracles. Mostly because I had tired at looking at my own, for the pain of them. I’ve never wanted to write a book, except one about those children maybe, just like I never set out to write a blog. But I do know of this knowing yourself of which you speak, how in the writing somehow God meets us in OUR words, as if in words there is something magic. Language is the gift, after all, He gave only to us, made in His image and breathed up from the dust with breathe from His own lungs. I wonder about that. Is that why it is our connecting place? Why the Word is flesh? That they are not separate? Are we so separate from our own?

    I’ll be among the first in line to buy. And oh. my. goodness. If I had only known Ann Lamott was at Story. Hmm, I may have to add that to my very short list of “must do” things for this coming year. Is it really worth it?

    • Addie Zierman

      So fun to hear your writing journey (though fail moment on your mom’s part for telling you that you were horrible; it’s clearly not true.) So thankful that you’re spinning your story in your little part of the web; I’ve been blessed by reading it.

      And yes, Story was a fun conference! You should definitely consider going next time!

  • https://charityjilldenmark.wordpress.com Charity Erickson

    Atta girl! I’m so excited to read your stuff. Also, I now want a Caribou Berry White Mocha like WHOA.

    • Addie Zierman

      Ha! You’ll find it depressing to know that all I ever order at Caribou is light roast. I’m so cheap.

  • http://hoxeyville.blogspot.com/ Eric

    Yeah and congratulations.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks Eric

  • Amy

    I am writing my memoir too now, although I wonder who the heck will want to read it? But I am doing it anyways and who knows? Knowing that there are other messed up Christians like me out there just trying to live life and I don’t feel so alone in my struggle. I so look forward to your book, I am so happy for you and happy that it is happening, there is a market out there for unperfect chritians like us!

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Amy. Good luck in your own writing – don’t worry about the market yet. Just write to write. That’s the best part anyway…

  • http://vincenzofrancesco.wordpress.com/ Vincenzo

    Writing is so therapeutic and necessary. According to Mari Ruti real time hardly allows for this honest, truthful level of exchange. She says, “Our carapace is necessary because it keeps out a lot of pain; it ensures we’re not overwhelmed by what is wounding in the world. But it can also make us feel fake. It can make us feel numb and strangely out of touch with ourselves. As a result, there are few things that feel headier than being able to cast it off. There are few things that feel better than being able to reconnect with aspects of our being that have been forcefully suppressed. There is, in short, something enormously vitalizing about being able to trust that someone will not recoil when we disclose the face beneath the mask.”

    Congratulations on your new book. It delights my heart to know you are realizing your dreams and helping others understand healing from a genuine perspective.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thank you for the kind words and the beautiful quote Vincenzo. Love that.

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  • http://www.gabbingwithgrace.com grace at {Gabbing with Grace}

    beautifully said! I’m working on the final draft of a memoir right now as well. Actually, I just finished a post on my blog about how I want to have it ready to query agents beginning in 2013…so I am so in the thick of everything your talking about! …and yeah, I’d have to say, I agree. There’s so much healing, and understanding, and complexities that have come out of the writing process itself. It’s beautiful and ugly at the same time. Blessings to you on your journey & congrats on your agent!!!

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Grace. And good luck on your own publishing journey. It can be overwhelming, but hang in there!

  • http://www.TanyaDennisBooks.com Tanya Dennis

    I love this line:

    “… when I couldn’t bring myself to read his words, he came to me in mine.”

    I’ve experienced that SO many times! And not just in my own words, mysteriously disguised as my own voice, but also in the words of my children. He is so much bigger and better than we grant Him. Nothing can limit Him or His ability to touch those whom He loves. And He loves us. How amazing is that? Grace never grows old.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Tanya. So beautifully said. :)

  • http://theoldadam.com/ theoldadam

    I guess to the extent that it is like a ‘drowning’…a dying…and then popping up to (being raised to) a new life…then it iS like Baptism!

    Good luck and best wishes on the book.

    • Addie Zierman

      Ha! Love it.

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