Tag Archives: faith

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

negative space

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

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

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

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

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

I started to write about home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

Does this matter too?

*

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

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

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

And this matters.

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

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

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

Psalm of Confession for a Dark Morning [at The Mudroom]

night-690041_1280

Today, I’m so honored to be sharing over at The Mudroom, which is a great site run by some of my favorite writers on the Internet. This month, their themes have to do with offering, sacrifice, and repentance, and in keeping with those themes, I’ve written a sort of confession psalm for the dark morning.

Psalm-writing has become one of my practices when faced with big, impossible things. A friend’s chemo. The death of another friend’s son. And to me, dark mornings so often feel big and impossible.

I hope this one speaks to you in these last weeks of Lent, in these last weeks of winter darkness, as we wait for the Light.

Here’s how it begins:

Holy God: Creator of stars and seasons, sun and moon, of the high tides that sweep the shore, of the low tides that leave gaps and pools, rocks and sea glass, and all matter of empty spaces—to you I pray.

It’s another dark winter morning, and I confess that I find it hard to see beyond the brittle branches of the wintering trees and the inky dark of the half-frozen pond. Beyond the dark of my own half-frozen heart.

Forgive my eyes, so prone to see the void that I miss your Spirit hovering over the darkness—over the rippled ice of the pond, over my shadowed heart—creating something new.

Click here now to read the rest.

Making Room for Others on the Spiral Labyrinth of Faith [Dear Addie Column 3]

Photo from Off the Page
Photo from Off the Page

I’m over at Off the Page today with the third installment of our Dear Addie column.

Today’s question was so interesting to me: it’s about two brothers and a baby dedication…but not really. Really it’s about how we navigate our relationships with others when we find that our faith is changing — and their isn’t.

(These questions, you guys. They’re no joke.)

Click over now and join us in this discussion!

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.

Imagine.

*

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.

^
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