When You Doubt Your Faith


In the hallway, on the day of a wedding, I confessed to a friend that I couldn’t feel my belief in God anymore. This friend of mine, I’ll call her J, had long brown hair, a wide smile with effortless white teeth and a bohemian calm about her. J had recently finished her counseling degree in the Northwest.

“Can I ask you for some free advice?” I asked. We sat on rickety metal chairs against a dirty white wall, waiting for the wedding preparations to begin. J’s long brown hair brushed down her face in ringlets. I’d watched her careful, sure hands wield a curling iron to those strands hours earlier.

“Absolutely,” J said.

“I don’t know what to do,” I told her. “Something must be wrong with me, because I don’t feel my faith anymore. My faith used to be a solid thing, but now I struggle to believe. I feel like I should know better. It’s as if I’m in a liminal space –between faith and doubt—always shifting back and forth between the two. But I’m not getting any closer. Sometimes I wonder if I’m moving farther and farther away.”

I’ll never forget J’s face when I said this. She was nodding. She wasn’t offering help. She was listening like she had heard this question before—like other people had once said the same thing to her. Like I’d said: I’m not a fan of Chinese food, instead of that I didn’t know what faith meant.

“You know what?” J said, her voice calm and sure. “Every day I go into work as a counselor and I hear stories of abuse. I hear stories of girls whose fathers abused them, girls who are nowhere near getting better. I hear story after story and I have to hold story after story within my own story. I can’t even hold it all. I have to go home and do some yoga, or put on some makeup just to survive the stories of hurt. I have to go on. It’s painful. I don’t know how to reconcile it all.”

She paused. Her lips came together in a line. “I’m only twenty-seven and I don’t know everything; but what if you never ‘feel’ your faith again? What if it never becomes real to you again? What will you do?” She looked at me like she was presenting a challenge, turning the question over for me to answer.

I looked at J and thought; I don’t think I can live in that space. I’m not sure where to go if I can’t feel my faith.

But what I said was, “Do you think it would still be okay? Do you think I’m okay if I don’t ever “feel” faith again?”

And then J did something that I hope to do for someone else in the future, and that other people have done for me since; she gave me permission. She looked straight at me, brown eyes flaring, and said: “Yes. You are okay. You are okay if you don’t “feel” faith ever again.”

It was a brief moment, but it was a balm; she offered acceptance and compassion; it was a hand in the space between us, holding my own. She was giving me permission to be human, to be small, to be fallible; to fall through the cracks if I needed to, and in doing so, I felt a little stronger, a little more sure of my faith. It was if the permission to not feel faith gave me a flicker of something that felt like faith itself.

You are okay.

You are okay if you don’t feel your faith. You are okay if it feels like you dropped your faith somewhere between 12th and 34th street. You are okay if you’re scrambling, looking for it in drainpipes and alleyways. If you’re sure you could find it if you just looked hard enough. If you tried harder. If you were a better person.

You are okay if you’ve dropped to your hands and knees, if you’ve peered through manholes, with no sign of it; with no hint of that feeling of being known and loved. You are okay if you’ve cried on the streets, hoping for some stranger to run up to you and tell you they’ve found your dropped faith. “Here it is,” they’ll say, and you’ll clutch it to your chest in awe and gratitude.

You are okay if you no longer feel like you are being taken care of like a child. If you can’t find a hand to hold when you cross the street of religion. You are okay if you’ve felt abandoned and you can’t find anyone to blame but yourself. You are okay if the questions in Bible Study: How are you living out Christ’s call to forgiveness, how are you witnessing like Paul to the gospel? feel terrifying to you, if these questions scare you and make you want to hide somewhere safe, somewhere not church.

You are okay… if test questions keep getting harder and harder, and you’ve forgotten how to work out the equations. If all that you feel is behind and the clock is ticking, but you can’t conjure the answers out of something you don’t have.

You are okay.

It was exactly what I needed to hear. It is exactly what we all need to hear, that our feelings about faith, our wonderings and wanderings, are real.That they aren’t who we are, but they are a part of our real, lived experience.

This is how we are living in this Exodus narrative, in this space of exile, and you are okay; you are not alone.

Image source on Flickr: Beshef

The Day I Fell in Love with Having Two

photo 2

When I had my first baby, I was obsessed. I focused in on tiny toes; I sung lullabyes as she fell asleep. It was full-throttle, punch-the-sky-in-jubilee romance.

With one baby, after a while you learn to waltz across the floor of life, arm-in-arm, with a kind of practiced, elegant air. After a while, bond solidified, you feel like you can conquer the world. Just the two of you.

With that first one, infant hands curled against breast each morning when you cradled her.  You felt you might be fused at the heart:  the rope connecting you to your baby was taut and strong. You spent hours and hours falling into each other’s eyes like a mother-child version of Lady and the Tramp. You took hundreds of photos. In each of these, you were cheek-to-cheek, eyes laughing, mouths agape.

Their face and yours. Their nose and your nose. Their sweet lips and yours.

There is something almost surreal and magical about life with one.

Zoe was my first baby. Her birth brought me over the great abyss; I was transported to the other side, to grassy plains of a parallel universe, a new calling.  The secret of motherhood, the quiet, time-defying nature of baby-love, was mine and hers alone. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I wanted that to change.

This week, a pregnant friend asked me, “Will I love the second as much as the first?” My heart paused. I remembered the gift of one. The intimacy of one. I thought about it. I had asked the same question in the weeks before my second’s birth.

How can I love anybody as much as I love you? I would think as Zoe twirled in her pink tights, her rosebud lips pursed in a kiss.

How can love ever reach this deep again?

I paused on the phone.  I felt that flutter; the feeling that always arrives when I talk about two.

There was a moment in the hospital where it all came together. A wide, full, sparkling-like-ginger-ale moment. It was after Kaiden was in my arms. I kissed his blue-ish cheeks. I touched his tiny nose and my heart beat a hundred times a minute.

I wondered at his perfectness, at his uniqueness. At him being a him.

It was the second when I realized that love was exponential.

I had thought love could be contained. I had thought I could hold it. Instead, it was an explosive force that caught me completely off guard. Love was a truckload of butterflies released over the vistas of motherhood, curling over the plains in dashes of color.

You can’t contain all of this love, I realized. A mother’s heart is made to expand over and over and over.

A mother’s heart downpours this kind of love with every family addition.

Sometimes I find the two of them curled in Kaiden’s pack-and-play, her toddler arms around his little shoulders. In these moments, love is multiplied.

Sometimes he crosses the street and grasps for my hand and Zoe’s hand at the same time and it is the three of us, all in a line, love multiplied.

He shuffles after her, copying her every move.

She offers a bottle to him and tells him, “Time for a Ba Ba, Kaaaaiiden!” in her sing-song director voice.

Love is exponential and inexhaustible, reams of butterflies circling across the atmosphere in iridescent colors, spread against the blue sky of my heart as thick as peanut butter.

Now, my mother-heart aches to see double little persons; double curled legs and slack jaws and wet lips. Two bodies fill the ventrioles of heart and womb, stop-gapping them with love.

A mother’s womb expands like a stretched balloon and takes over other areas where different organs used to own land and space. And it feels lovely—it feels like gathering cocker spaniel puppies, and kissing each one as they tumble over you, snuffling. It feels like hope. It feels like family.

My heart is full, my bed is full, my life is full.

In the kitchen, I watch my children catch cloth butterflies with nets. The butterflies  dip and tumble like confetti thrown up in the air. The plates are piled up, the laundry undone; I think: This is what I signed up for. This wild dance of two. I signed up for this dance.

A Few Years Later

Almost four years ago, I was pregnant with my first child, walking down an elementary hallway streaked with dirt, leading a classroom of 32 children like a mama duck: babies waddling behind, all in a row. Within a dreary classroom, I helped rip off coats and jackets. I touched tiny hands frozen from the bitter Chicago wind; we were shredded through with wind, right into the crevices between our knuckles and into our ear canals, whistling as it went. We huddled in wet bunches, clutching our musty-puppy-smell coats with matted fur.

These kids, these baby children who tussled and sang, danced and ran— they were my kids. I fell in love with each one of them—their happy-sad smiles, their hands tucked into pockets, their exuberance and passion. And we spent that year growing up together. All of us, we grew up.

Each day, I struggled with the projector and listened to stories about daddies that weren’t coming home and wiped tears from 7-year old eyes that glistened with confusion and revelation. I had never experienced anything this hard, this wrenching—teaching in the inner city scooped everything out of me, all of my insides—like the sweet melon inside of a cantalope wrung out.

I cried in the shower about everything—about everything that felt like too much, felt like hardness. Hardness seemed to be the name of the world. On Sundays, I choked back the bitter nugget in my throat that meant it was time to do it all over again; it was the difficulty of managing a classroom with 32 children; it was tucking myself into my husband’s arms, exhausted at 7pm as estrogen and oxytocin coursed through my body; it was the pneumonia, the hands protectively placed over the new baby growing underneath layers of cells, the stress and anxiety pounding in my chest.

It was crying on the phone to my parents and feeling like I should be able to handle this, hold this, look at it without fear and internal hemorraging. It never seemed to diminish, only grow slightly more subdued—still a mass, a tumor that felt as real as a physical nub. Even on the last day, I felt a holy, sacred relief at something finishing, something being over, even as my children ran out of the classroom into the summer sun—ran away from me in delight and celebration, never to return.

But we—my classroom that year— spent our winter days before summer playing games inside and sniffling, and we spent our approaching summer days grateful, even as we knew that time was passing. That it wouldn’t last forever, this love of ours, this togetherness. We tried to be grateful for the time we had, grateful for the sun that kissed the nape of our necks, for the warming of the concrete steps, for the new mud in the center of the grassy ditch.

We tried to pretend that one year doesn’t slip by; that forever wasn’t just around the corner of the playground. We tried to pretend that a single year isn’t as sweet and glassy as a cold icecream on a hot day, dripping drops of time onto the concrete.

In that little classroom, I grew up. I grew up in revolutions, in moments, in epiphanies, in real time, as we all do. The wind and sleet and ice came outside in the winter, and I bought my oatmeal at Starbucks, swirling in sweet brown sugar like a nebula of crystal stars melting, and I smiled at the janitor, and I wore my slick gray pants with a school-emblazoned jacket and I wrote lesson plan after lesson plan on Saturdays during that first year of marriage.

And I found how far I could be pushed. I discovered a voice—my own— as I smiled and directed and instructed in in front of 32 brown eyes, and when I took a step back from her, I realized she was becoming and becoming and becoming until I barely recognized her and I wasn’t sure if I was happy, or if I was truly, really, deeply sad.

I told my children on the carpet that much of life was like this, I told them that it was possible, even crucial to live life in the interstitial space of “happy-sad.”

Mrs. Meade, they would say on the carpet as we read a sad book, “Are you happy-sad” right now? Are you happy and sad?

“Yes.” I would say. “Yes, I am.”

I drank caramel macchiatos, looking out the window at the dark streaks of soot on the industrial complex next door and the hispanic restaurant down the street with the best beans and rice I’ve ever tasted. I pushed children towards parents at 3pm each day; swept up the detritus of a days’ work at 3:30pm, sitting down intermittently, my back aching.

I sharpened pencils down to their nubby bits, picked up the colored paper wrappers torn off of crayons. I tore through streets: 43rd Street, 52nd Street, 112th Street, into the parts of Chicago where laundry hung outside, flapping boxers in the wind, and porches sagged under the weight of poverty. I grabbed children’s hands and hugged them close to my breast even though I wasn’t supposed to, even though my breast had no previous memory of children—because I was afraid it wouldn’t last, this liminal space of their growing up, that this couldn’t last.

I sang and I danced across flecked concrete; I bought pillows at Target and scoured yard sales in the wealthy burbs for books that I could present to my kids. I read all of their favorite books, and they became my own favorites: Olivia and No, David, and Mo Willems and whenever I read them now to my own babies, I think about the children that came before them and I wonder if they still think of me; I wonder if the books changed them, if I changed them like they diminished and destroyed and created me.

I tried to give them wings, and in the process, I found my own.

I ate the hot tamales my students brought me shyly, their eyes begging me to love them, to see them. I sat down on that dirty floor, skirt swishing, and read books out loud, eagerly, hoping that they would understand that books held their whole world; that books could propel them and comfort them and keep them warm in the years to come. I tried to see the world through their eyes and it often broke my heart, and I was afraid for them. More afraid than I had ever been before, for anyone.

I learned that the giving changed me, and that I could never give enough. I learned to stop crying in order to lift your chin and pick someone else up with your open, available hands. I learned the message behind The Giving Tree, a message so foreign, that I had never understood or believed before. I learned so many things that had previously passed me by.

I can’t tell you what it means to grow up, except this. I can tell you that it involves being shaken out of complacency, being shaken until you feel dizzy and upside-down and scared; it means that the smallest, most insignificant parts of you realign in a way you didn’t ask for. It means that your cells recycle every seven years, with just a tiny bit of DNA sticking behind to remind the cell who you are—that you are only 1% of who you once were–that who you once were is just a ghost of a person.

I can tell you that who you are will change and rearrange and break and be pieced back together again. That is how it works. We aren’t allowed stagnation; we don’t get to sit on our individual river banks in silence, wind tufting hair, the backs of our knees pressing grass. We cannot pretend that time isn’t coming for us, or that it heals everything.

We cannot stay here; I’ll tell you again, we cannot stay, it is time to leave now, the sun is setting beneath the river, and the wind is growing cold now. It is time to be people we have never been, people we do not recognize, even now, as we sit here in a classroom, sweeping pencil shavings into the garbage can for the very last time.

How To End the Yoga Pants War


I don’t know about you, but I have been hearing about yoga pants on my feed lately. About once a year, someone decides to resurrect the yoga pants debacle—as in, someone decides that yoga pants are decidedly the worst thing that ever happened to mankind, and hence, the worst thing to happen to women. This person gets a lot of fanfare, as women the world over feel inclined both to readjust their chastity belts, and also, to remind other women that men are visual;  a lesson we’ve been regurgitating since we were about twelve.

On the other side of this debate there are the liberal, axe-grinding, cussing, yoga-pants wielding women. These are the women that decide that taking away our yoga pants will eventually take us all down. Asking women to stop wearing yoga pants is asking women to give up their basic American freedoms. The usual blog wars end up like a pillow fight gone bad: streaked mascara, sobbing, you-don’t-understand-what-matters-to-women battles with both sides sputtering in self-righteous indignation.

Somewhere in the middle, I stand, wearing yoga pants and skinny jeans and leggings and jeggings. I have experienced too much of the evangelical push for certainty and rules to side with the yoga pants eschewing conservatives; however, I’ve also experienced enough of my own flaunting that I know that once-upon-a-time I had a desperate desire for attention and my body felt like a weapon.

In my teen years, I was living what Donald Miller in his book Scary Close would call a “bad story.” In other words, I wasn’t living a good story, one in which I was confident and loved and didn’t have to wear a strappy tank top and inch-long shorts to feel that way.

So I have sympathy for both sides. I have sympathy for the butt-hugging short-shorts girl with her badly done black eyeliner. I have sympathy for the mother trying to help her son navigate a world of visual cotton-candy stimuli. I have sympathy for husbands, wives, boys, and girls. Honestly, I really believe we’re all just doing our best with the cards we’ve been dealt.

Somewhere in the middle of these yoga pants turf wars, I ended up at Chic-fil-A ordering my standard Asian Salad with a Diet coke while eyeing my two rogue toddlers dancing up and down the aisles.  Somewhere in the middle of ordering I turned around and noticed there were six men in construction outfits behind me.

Six huge, burly, dusty, men with orange-day-glo vests and five o’clock shadows. 

They were standing all in a line behind me, in a thick row.

Now maybe this doesn’t happen to you, but I am acutely aware of groups of men. I feel uncomfortable surrounded by these swathes of masculinity that appear suddenly in McDonalds and Chic-Fil-A entryways like a bloc of warriors from the great outdoors.

And suddenly, I was acutely, abruptly aware of my stick-on skin-tight leather pants that I’d received from my sister this Christmas.

Now granted, I was also wearing a long-ish shirt (the staple long shirt) that covered at least ½ of my derriere. But all I could think was that I was an affront to all men everywhere by wearing these leggings-like pants. Afterall, isn’t that what the yoga pants article was supposed to make me aware of? All I could think about was my butt, which, as you can imagine, made it hard to order my chicken salad.

I suddenly realized I was probably victimizing a few poor men. I didn’t know whether to feel very very guilty, or not. Upon entering Chic-Fil-A I had somehow entered the middle of the yoga pants war zone, and I was the perpetrator: a young mom of toddlers in her Uggs and leather pants.

I was having a hard time concentrating.

Me: Uhhh, a chicken salad. 6-piece chicken nugget kids meal. Zoe, what are you doing?! (I turn around, bend over and grab my three year old, hugging my legs together as modestly as possible)

Cashier:  What kind of dressing with that?

Me: Dressing? Oh, uh. (Holding Zoe’s hand, reaching for Kaiden’s.) Uhhh, Asian, anything? Oh, and juice and fruit, oh, and an extra juice.

(I turn around and see the six construction men. I try to discretely pull my shirt down farther over my pants.)

Cashier: Anything else?

Me: Me? Umm, no? Oh, wait. A Diet coke. (My kids are running away…)

I look around. The construction men look like they are staring at my back. Am I crazy? I must be crazy.

Oh my gosh, are they really staring at my butt?  I am indignant.  Exxxcuse me.

Is this happening? Have I slipped this far into yoga pants hell?

How dare they stare at my butt?

I fawn over my kids to show my maternal allegiance. I am maternal, gosh dang it. I am suddenly feeling very guilty about my pants choice.

Darn those women-shaming articles. I think. I adjust Zoe’s jacket and wait for the two juices to appear on the counter. Now I can’t even wear tight pants without feeling guilty about how much space I am taking up and how mean I am being to men.

I slide the credit card, grab my Diet coke, and make a beeline for a table. I am like a cat with her tail between her legs.

Then, after I’ve settled the kids with juice and nuggets, a thought suddenly occurs to me. Could it be? I surreptitiously glance around to make sure no one is watching, and I gently slide my hand over my butt. Where there should be smooth leather pants, I feel a fragment of something pretty large on my butt.

No. No. No. It can’t be.

I pull up the object. It is a giant pink jewel.

No one was looking at my butt because they wanted to. They were drawn to the jewel stuck to my butt by my ever-creative toddler, the origin of which was Zoe’s bracelet making kit.  It had traveled far and wide to stick on my lower butt cheek.

It was black leather, ya’ll. A shining pink jewel on black, tight leather.

And suddenly I feel very very lame. Like superrrrr lame.

I laughed, out loud.

It all made sense: those poor construction workers weren’t staring at me because of my tight pants, they were staring at my derriere because it was bejeweled with a single piece of pink bling.

I had blinged out my pants. It was like a shining neon sign was stuck to me. And apparently, all six of those men were trying very hard to ignore one another and me, the poor stressed out mom they felt sorry for with the accidental, embarrassingly bejeweled butt.

All of this is to say that my butt was not all that important to this story. At least, not as important as I thought it was. My butt is not all that important to other people’s lives. People are not all going around ogling butts all of the time. They have other things to do.

I’m over the idea that yoga pants are disastrous for everyone’s health. I’ve decided to live somewhere in the middle, making peace like Dido waving a white flag of surrender in the yoga pants wars. Because it’s ridiculous for me to believe that my derriere is of such utmost importance that I am obsessing over whether or not men are obsessing over my derriere.

Besides, I have a lot of other things to think about: i.e. trying to force my toddler to eat a vegetable, picking up the pieces of dropped chicken nuggets around my table, and making sure my son doesn’t bang his head on the glass in the play area. Looking around to see if other guys are looking at me is not on my agenda. I am a busy woman. It’s a problematic fixation to be thinking, hey, I am so hot, I can’t wear yoga pants (because, as my dear friends pointed out, the woman who has decried yoga pants is clearly VERY hot and is ironically wearing skin-tight jeans in her online blog picture).

And on the other side of this whole debacle, to the girls who might take this as a license to wear a strapless halter in December I’d like to say this:

If you have skin-tight pants with bling bling on your behind, you have to accept that six construction workers are going to be wondering what the heck is on your butt.

It’s really that simple.  Good luck.

What I’m Into: Faux Fur, Boyhood, and Not Winter


It’s time for the monthly round up. I hope everyone is hunkering down in this mid-winter stretch. Around here we have been busy, busy, busy. A month of very light reading and lots of activity, including a few parties (birthday party! Baby shower! Superbowl!).


I just started Liane Moriarty’s book What Alice Forgot. I love the beginning chapter. She really pulls you into the story (teaser: lady forgets a decade of her life).

I sobbed through NPR’s Storycorps book about Moms. I am such a sucker for the TRUE story. If you want to read a heart-wrenching book from a diverse group of humanity with stories that are as sweet as they are universal, this is the book. I picked it up at a Goodwill (I love Storycorps and was bummed when I missed them—Storycorps came last year to North Carolina!) This would make a great mothers day gift.

Blogs with Great Design

Design for Mankind. I really like its attention to detail, gorgeous design, and delectable writing. I am also really enjoying this newsletter-type site called Clementine Daily. They have high-quality, yummy pictures. My favorite is their in-depth interview section with new artists and writers. See this interview with my girl Shauna here.

And of course, there are always my favorite go-to blogs if you haven’t been over here in a while: Hollywood Housewife (for fun, laidback conversations and easy reading), Kate Baer (quirky, great writing, two toddlers), and Semiproper (ridiculously hilarious and uber-smart writing). Not to mention Addie Zierman, Sarah Bessey and Shauna Niequist.


I have been working a lot. The other day, one of my clients found this blog; I thought, uh-oh, I can’t talk about work (I don’t). Somehow they put two-and-two together and ended up over here (let’s be real, it’s not hard to find someone’s blog when their blog name is the moniker other people are searching for).

So, now what do I do? I’m not sure yet. I am two different people: Briana Meade the creative writer, and Briana Meade that-other-person-who-is-supposed-to-actually-help-people-with-things. I’ve been putting in quite a few hours a week in my professional role, but I’d really like to be over here in my cozy little blog more often, curling the covers around my legs.

But such is life. All work and no play makes January’s What-I’m-Into a dull post.

As my three-year old would say with a nasal intonation: Sooorrry.

THE Book

I think most of you know by now that I’ve sent off my manuscript to my agent. Lemetellyou, this was not an easy thing. I spent about a week moaning and groaning and flailing myself around the house like a flopping fish on a line. Then I promptly had to get over myself, after exhausting the attentions of my husband and children. Since then, I’ve decided not to think about the whole thing.

Though I have pangs of fear (that kind of fear that just sits on your face for a second, pauses, and then peaces.)


Have you seen Boyhood? Go see Boyhood at your local Redbox.


It’s cold in January. While that might not seem like scandalizing new information, I am a little bit tired of it. So I bought some things to make it all easier because everyone knows that the solution to the midwinter blues is to buy all the things at the post-Christmas mid-January sale. Right?

Hence, this fancy gold-detailed coat from Banana Republic that I’m wearing daily with everything.


I look a little bit like I’m standing at attention in the U.S. Army. It looks good in real life, I swear.

And this super fun faux fur vest-thing that makes me feel like I am a bear that has just come out of my hibernation spot. What’s up guys? Where’s the winter berries? Smack. Smack. Smack. Can I get some hot chocolate up-in-here?


Heavy on the whip, please. (That’s my go-to line at Starbucks in case you need some help customizing your drink).

 If you’ve made it to the bottom of this rambling, then you are probably not my husband, who recently admitted that my last post bored the pants off of his lovely masculine self. My last post, admittedly, was about feeling like a woman and contained a sentimental, angsty Britney Spears line. I’ll let that go, babe.

My daughter (aka bear cub) also has a fur vest. Apparently we’re “into” fur vests this year.


Until next time,


In Which We See Ourselves As the Women We Have Become


I’m joining Cara Strickland at her synchroblog! Find her here.

Three years ago, if you’d asked me to tell you about my friends, I would have told you this: “I’m not that great of a friend.” And partially, it would have been true. I’m an introvert—much better off hiding in a corner of my house, baking chocolate chip cookies in my kitchen, or reading another memoir—or so I thought.

I often retreat from relationships into my inner world. I’m not a fan of being in the bright, glaring, non-secrecy of life; it scares the bejeezus out of me at times. Sometimes I put other relationships before my friends, and often I don’t go out of my way to solidify a friendship.

But looking back on the last three years, I’ve discovered something surprising. It has been the most profound shock of these last few years. I can hardly believe it. Women have been one of the greatest sources of joy to me. Women have possessed a huge role in my growing up. They have been the place where I belong, within a circle of XX chromosomes. That’s where I feel strong.

I have long been one of those women who says she doesn’t get along with other women. Now I’m starting to think that maybe this isn’t even a thing at all. Maybe the reason some of us say this is (almost proudly) is because we are not particularly enthused about how the world defines being a woman. I know I’ve felt this way. Secretly, I’ve scoffed at womanly things. In college, I’ve trudged out in the snow  to the railroad tracks in order to be more like one of the guys. I’ve tossed pretty things out the window (while secretly wishing to be decked out like a Christmas tree in bling). I’ve marched through an eating disorder in high school all the way to the other side of healing. But I still wasn’t happy with being a girl.

I’ve refused to participate in any roles that feel too constricted and too gender appropriate (aka. when someone asks me to do something too service-oriented). I’ve refused to back down in arguments.

I’ve even taken to wondering with Chris about whether I am more like a guy.

“I like guy THINGS.” I tell Chris.

Chris is always amused by these conversations, but refuses to take me seriously. “But you are a girl,” He’d say, smiling at me from the other side of the bed.

“But I’m not really.” I would say.

“But you are.” Chris would state simply. “You are.”


And I am. I am a girl, and not just a girl, but a woman.

 One of my friends read the manuscript of the book I’ve been writing, and she gently responded with a critique that blew me away. I’m paraphrasing, but she basically told me that I needed to come to grips with the fact that I was a woman by the end of the book.

You aren’t a girl anymore, are you? You need to think about how you use the word “girl” throughout the book to describe yourself, she said.

I almost cried, in a good way. I felt as if I had attended a counseling session on my issues with femininity. I don’t know why the title of woman is so hard for me to own. I still feel like I’m flubbing through life: a bowling ball in need of bumpers to keep it on track. I don’t feel like I’ve graduated to the adult lanes in the bowling alley at all. I’m not sure I even trust myself with this “womanhood” thing.


All of you twenty-somethings probably remember the Britney Spears song: “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.” Britney Spears was my home-girl.  I used to croon these lyrics surreptitiously in my bedroom. I’d think about how the line between girl and woman was so confusing, so hard. Adolescence was a loss of innocence to me, rather than an anticipation of burgeoning strength and confidence.

But when I read my friend’s words: you really have to think through your use of the word girl as opposed to woman, something broke inside of me slightly. It felt strange, like trying on a cocktail dress that I didn’t feel like I could pull off. But it also felt wonderful, like I had been preparing for this all of my life.

You are a woman, I said to myself. And it felt good.

My belief in my own womanhood has also been cemented these few years through my friendships. I’ve grown up, and so have all of the other “girls” I once knew. My friends, new and old, are the quirkiest adults: the strongest and most dissimilar females I know. They are a bunch of beads in a tray—all different colors, shapes, and sizes of woman.

I remember in elementary school when everyone wanted to be on the boys’ team in P.E. Everyone knew that the boys were stronger and faster, and I always felt like being a girl was kind of like an automatic second-best. Oh, well, you get to be a girl.

 But this woman thing, I tell you, it is a heavy-duty thing, like WD-40 strength. I feel like I’m returning to some deep inner strength that I had as a toddler member of the XX chromosome society—that inner knowledge that the way I have been created is good. That being a woman means being something good, maybe even great. I’ve tossed off the stereotypes, and I’ve seen my friends refuse to subscribe to them too.

None of my friends fit into some stereotypical woman mold; and this has been pure grace, like dipping into a cold lake for my soul. Some of them are like me—they spend most of the time in their brain, thinking big-picture thoughts—some  have a handle on the details, like the operations manager of a large company. Many of them fit into certain feminine traditional roles, and many, many of them do not.

My favorite thing that my friends have taught me is this: Don’t forget to see yourself from the outside. When you are caught up in your smallness, analyzing your faults, it’s easy to ascribe to a very limited perspective. It’s easy to see yourself only as a girl, instead of as the woman you have become. It’s easy to stick to what you know, and who you once were.

But when you think about how your friends see you, they see you as the woman you really are. They value you for the decade(s) of experience you’ve gained, for the mistakes you’ve made, for the years built into the person you are now. They’ve fought alongside of you for that hazelnut of wisdom, and they want to see you own it. I promise.

So now I tell myself: see yourself as a woman who has now grown lean and tall, like a tree. See yourself also like a river, complex and always-changing, filtering through the muddy banks. A glassy, moving thing. A wonderful, sturdy person who owns her title of (albeit limited) age and wisdom. That’s who you are.


What Success As A Writer Looks Like

redefine success as a writer, writing, how to be a writer, how to write

Success as a writer can mean a million things. It can mean generating an income. It can mean feeling personally fulfilled. It can mean online publication at a well-known venue like the Huffington Post or Scary Mommy. Successful comes in many wild fluorescent colors.

I don’t often write posts about how to do things, but I’ve realized that I’ve learned a lot about blogging and writing and I love talking about it. Along with that, I think there are numerous misconceptions about what writing and/or blogging entails. So, because I am a genius after a single year of typing like a maniac (ha!), and I CLEARLY know all the things, I here-by present to you the first of six lessons learned.

For all you non-writers, indulge me.

Lesson Number One: Everyone has a different concept of the word “successful.” Your version of “success” is going to change how you approach writing. But it is your vision of success that will inevitably guide how you think about your work. For example, If you shoot too high (I’m going to be on the Washington Post my first year!) you’ll end up easily discouraged when things don’t go your way. If you choose not to challenge yourself (I’ll never achieve what so-and-so has achieved!), you’ll stop learning and growing. There is a good middle between these two, I think.

What does a healthy middle look like? For me, it involves putting on my blinders and approaching writing like I would approach anything I want to become good at.

If you want to run a marathon for the first time, what do you do? You train for it in small increments. You huff and you puff. You try to beat your own personal time. You celebrate small wins! You build a team of people who support you and love you. They will be the ones handing you a red gatorade at the finish line and hugging your sweaty shoulders. They are your tribe.

You also put in the time.

But there is the rough part of training for a marathon too. You learn what it looks like to run out of steam in the middle and be angry and sweaty and want to quit. You learn that it isn’t super fun to run in the sleet in a t-shirt and shorts. You have to deal with huffing and puffing in front of a crowd of people. And, yes, they saw your stretchy shorts slip down and your belly fat jiggle. You keep going anyway. You are often humbled. You often fall short.

Here is what you don’t do when training for a marathon. You don’t compare yourself to gold medal winners. Why the heck would you start measuring yourself against national record-setters? That’s like throwing a three-year old in the water and yelling at them when they don’t swim. It’s just plain mean.

Instead, you build endurance. You try to beat your own personal records. You do it because you enjoy the rewards of being healthy. You learn to love yourself while running—the way the breeze feels against your cheek, the way you can’t stop smiling after a run, the cold air in your nostrils.

The way your Lululemon stretchy pants make you feel like hot stuff.

Writing is like running a marathon. It is sometimes embarrassing and often hard.  I read blog posts I wrote a year ago and cringe at the amount of personal detail and navel-gazing (YIKES!). Then I remember that I’m a three-year old swimmer. I’m a newbie marathon runner. I’ve submitted horrible, terrible articles to publications and rightfully been rejected. I’ve made new friends and found my tribe. When I’ve wanted to quit, it has been a small audience reminding me that it’s worth it.

This is the gosh darn truth: You only have to beat your personal record. You only have to get to the end of this run.

Whatever it is you are doing: building a new company, honing a new skill, whatever it is, you’re the only one who can define success, and you are the only one who defines failure. The important thing is to realize that success take little bitty steps. That failure is inevitable. That growing is the most important thing. I’ve been seriously blogging for about one year now, and I can remember all the growing pains that made blogging seem like something I could never do.

Maybe you feel this way too about something in your life.

Start small.

Enjoy the small wins.

Celebrate with your tribe.

Beat your own record.

Begin again.

Favorite Spiritual Memoirs

In case you need some new books to read in 2015, I thought I would share with you my favorite spiritual memoirs. These are the books I often come back to for inspiration in my own writing. I’m using the term “memoir” loosely in this instance, but my favorite books are those that contain stories and/or essays and an authentic voice.

1. Sheldon Vanauken’s “A Severe Mercy”

I don’t know why this book is underrated as far as spiritual memoirs go. I think most people haven’t heard of it. It was written in the 60’s or 70’s. This book is a profound, loving glimpse into a single beautiful marriage. My father read it when he was a Junior at Wheaton College, and I read it as a sophomore at Wheaton, soon after I had met my soon-to-be husband.  I will say the prose is meaty and sometimes a little long-winded, but the descriptions are so beautiful and moving that you’ll be wrapped up in the journey. Christianity Today describes this book as, “A book for anyone who has truly loved another person.” (Christianity Today)

2. Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz”

Chris and I re-read Blue Like Jazz in college. This book continues to impact the way I look at spirituality and faith. Donald Miller is a wonderful writer, period. He has a way of connecting the dots together in our regular lives and allowing God to be as big and mysterious as He wants.

3. Shauna Niequist’s “Cold Tangerines”

I’ve heard so many people say that their favorite Niequist book is Bread & Wine, but I think I’m partial to Shauna’s first book. My friend Rachel gave this book to me in college with the sweetest note about our friendship. I read it for the first time on my honeymoon with Chris, and I cried and fell in love with the book and Chris, all at the same time. I can’t leave Shauna off this list, and this sweet, young, yearning book is a beautiful addition to the realm of spiritual memoir.

4. Anne Lamott’s “Thoughts on Faith”

I’m realizing that every single book that has meant something to me comes with a story of place: the place where I read that book originally. I’ve talked about this before, but the first time I read Lammott was in my Jewish friend’s house in Needham, MA. I remember thinking that I had no idea there were people writing about faith like this. I remember wondering why it had taken me so long to understand that my tiny, insular world of Christian writing was so small. That there were other, wild and wonderful people out there trying to figure out spirituality. Lammott was so key in this journey. I will forever be grateful for that night, under the covers, straining to hear her words.

5. Rachel Held Evan’s “Faith Unraveled” (Previously Evolving in Monkey Town)

Rachel and I have our theological differences. I finally read her first book and couldn’t stop thinking about it. She bravely articulates some of the questions that we often pat under the rug and tell people to stop asking. In this well-written book, she refuses to accept easy answers. Her personality is something like a pit-bull pulling out the tassels of our quaint theological rugs. I believe this is a very important book for our generation, and for that reason, I put in on the list.

6. Lauren Winner’s “Girl Meets God”

I went through a Lauren Winner “phase” where I was obsessed with Googling her name and reading everything she had ever written. This was sometime in college. Winner is an intelligent, theologically-well read and erudite woman (she was only 26 when she wrote this book). Girl Meets God talks about her conversion from Judaism to Christianity.

What I’m Into: Podcasts, Amy Poehler, and Lip Cream

Yesterday at lunch, my friend Christie said she was waiting for my “What I’m Into” post for this month! So this post is dedicated to Christie. I  would not be here without blog readers. You are the reason I keep writing, so thank you, all of you. And here is the thing: I love to know what you are into, so feel free to pop down to the bottom and tell me what I am missing!

Podcasts: Because…They are Just Awesome Lately.

When You Can’t Stop Thinking About Serial…

Read more about Serial. The podcast, Serial, has ended, with complex emotions for all involved. Several outlets have critiqued Serial for being entertainment— that a serious topic like murder (plus the repercussions on those involved) shouldn’t have been framed and consumed as entertainment. I feel mixed about this.

I also felt mixed about Adnan, the alleged perpetrator. I read this interview with Jay, who presents his pretty convincing story for the first time, implicating Adnan yet again.

If you are Having A Bad Day and Feeling Like a Bad Mother-slash-Worker-slash-Person…

Listen to Startup, an awesome Podcast because it makes you feel, overall, better about life. Basically, it is about a guy starting a business (longtime this American Life producer Alex Blumberg) and he lays it ALL out there. Like, all of it: the wet, dirty, underwear of business creation and all. You get the feeling he is in his boxers while he is making it. Kind of weird, but really, that’s what I imagine. Okay, not IMAGINE. Anyhow…moving on.

I credit Startup with cementing my sneaky assumption that nobody knows what they are doing, like ever in life. People are all faking it ’til they make it: artists, writers, even established radio producers.

Phew. Thank goodness we’re all in the same unmoored boat. *wipes sweat off brow*

I often listen to Startup around 5pm, when the kids are screaming and I really need a glass of chardonnay,  while I fold the 423 towels on my couch because my family uses a single towel once and then throws it in the laundry basket…fun.

When You Need to be Inspired about Creating Art…

Listen to THIS short interview. It was super inspiring. Artist Ann Rea talks about her careening, wild career towards becoming a full time artist. From anxiety and depression (and domestic abuse) to building something out of the wreckage. Beautiful and heart-wrenching story with lots of takeaways like:

If there is something you really want to do, do it now. -Ann Rea, Artist & CEO of Ann Rea, Inc.


Books: Because I Heart Them.

When You Want To Snuggle Up and Read Something Addicting…

Read Tana French. My friend Lily reads Tana French crime novels, and OBVIOUSLY I couldn’t just let her read them all and not try them out.

So this is what happened: I began reading Broken Harbor, which is about this eerily vacant housing complex where a family is brutally murdered. When I picked it up, we were on a car trip to Asheville. So inevitably, I read a sentence out loud. And then another sentence. And another. And then my husband was hooked. Now I have to read this 352-page book out loud to him and I’m not allowed to read it by myself.

Lesson for all of you lovebirds: read quietly, or you will be hijacked, and subsequently forced to suck on menthol cough drops due to dry mouth from your verbal gymnastics.

When You Need A Pep-Talk from A Close Friend…

Read Amy Poehler’s “Yes, Please.”

I was # 123 at the library for this book. I waited weeks for it, ya’ll. When I got it I told my family: “Okay, you won’t be seeing me for the next 8.5 hours. Goodbye.”

It was lovely. Also, listen to Poehler’s interview on NPR, because she is even more amazing when she is reading from the book and hanging out, in my humble opinion.  Sigh. I love Amy.

“In the book I write about growing up…and I think as a woman…you fight against that voice and you have to find a way to live with it because it will not go away, you can kind of relegate it to the back shelf…it comes out at strange times…to remind me that you’re ugly, or you’re not as pretty as this person.”

“You have to kind of learn to treat it like an annoying relative…that doesn’t make a lot of sense but you have to see at Christmas. ”


When You Just Want to Feel Pretty…

Put on this lip cream from Target.

image credit: herchannel.com

img credit: herchannel.com

I don’t talk often about lipstick and fashion (not because these things aren’t awesome, but because I leave them to the X-perts (aka my sister Mikella Vandyke).

My sister just so happens to also be my personal shopper.

I am so not kidding. I give her all the MONIES and she basically shops for me for free. I have the inside scoop on all the trendz.

(The problem is that I forget how to wear the TRENDZ..and then I have to call my sister and say: What was I supposed to do with the 10-foot long checkered scarf again and why do I need a headband?!)

But I digress. What was I saying? Oh yeah. The Trendz. This super duper cute girl, Jenny Wade, introduced me to this matte lipstick at Target that I absolutely love.

It’s called NYX Soft Matte Lip and it is to-die-for. Like the strength of this thing: we are talking nuclear bomb for your face.

It stays on and the color is like, “I’m-here-enjoying-my-life!!” in a very nice way. I hope that makes sense.

Here is a picture of me in my glorious NYX, which is running dry. The only problem with it is that your lips get pretty parched with it on, which I don’t mind, but might be a problem for some of you during the winter unless your lips are super-supple. It’s also not as obvious on my face because this was after a little while wearing it:  photo-1

Super-supple. Fun word conjunction there.

That is all for this December/January edition!

Welcome to Your Twenties: It was the Best of Times and the Worst of Times


2015 is here, and maybe you have no resolutions. Maybe you have 522 resolutions and you are the type of person who will legitimately work all of them out. Maybe you are like me: a little confused at every New Year that pops it’s head in. You want to push it’s Sesame Street monster face back behind the stage and yell, nooooo, I’m not readyyy for you. (Caveat: do you remember being ten years old? Do you remember how every new year felt like the earth turned in on itself and fireworks exploded with sparkles and glitter?!)

Maybe, like me, you will write “2014” on every check for, like, the next 6 months at least. Maybe you are having a hard time retiring that crayoned-on calendar on which you scribbled ideas for a novel. Maybe you sorted through your clothes and tossed a bunch of shirts that meant something to you, oh, 3 years ago, and you kinda want to lie on your bed and cry about it. Maybe you are saying “good riddance to 2014.” Maybe you are closing a very important year and you miss it already.

Maybe the worst part of your twenties is you are starting to have a lot of doors close, and you are like Alice in Wonderland walking through these doors realizing that the “you” in college was never you at all. You are the person you are right now, the girl who has walked through door-after-door-after-door into strange room after strange room. The room you are in, right now, is the room you’ll be working with the rest of your life. There is nothing so bad about that, but for some reason there is uncertainty over who you are and what you are made of. This will be the defining feature of this room. Did I walk through the right doors? Am I the person I thought I was? How did I get into this room?

Maybe, like me, you just sorted through your kid’s clothes; you realized that your daughter is no longer in the Toddler sizes, but has graduated to Big Kid sizes, and your son went from a baby to a toddler in the zip of a single year. Maybe that seems scary to you. I know, me too. I feel it too.

I feel this earth spinning, this world precariously trying to get it’s bearings, like a gymnast after jumping into that tight squat stands shakily up straight. I feel the rumblings in Syria, the fact that the Ipad is as ubiquitous as books-on-tape used to be in the 80’s, the fact that the Ebola virus never gets tired, and I see that we are moving fast, fast, fast into the mid-century.

Breakneck speed, into the New Year.

Your twenties are composed of such crazy stuff. There have been a billion moments in the past few years where I’ve thought: I can’t get through this, and a million other moments where I have said: I’m living the best years of my life.

What I’m learning is that there are seasons—and your late twenties are a particularly formative season of life. You still feel new to the world, yet you notice that you are growing older and those shallow areas under your eyes are getting darker.

The other thing I’ve noticed is my abs—they ain’t what they used to be, my friends. Also the New Year: I missed it completely. I was asleep, with a cold.

You no longer have excuses in your twenties for what you haven’t accomplished. A revelation: Taylor Swift’s album is titled 1989 because that was the year she was born; she is solidly in the middle of her career. I just figured that out, wheeling through Target the other day. My husband was like, “I know, babe,” and I was like, “Ahhhhhh. Where have I been?”

In your late twenties you don’t grow taller and thinner and longer. It is more like a settling into the skin you already have, and the stretching of it, like a putty person.

And then there has been the motherhood aspect: I’ve watched my sister nurture her little infant. I’ve remembered the late night feedings, the blurry days. I remember it all. That season has blinked by. Moments disappearing like a freight train rumbling and winking through the night. Not that I want them back. I’m grateful. I’m no longer a zombie with the memory and bandwidth of a newt.
But still, there is that slippery nostalgia that you can’t quite catch in your hands and possess.

I’m left here at 2015, in my mid-twenties, with a mixed taste in my mouth—kind of like swigging orange juice right before I take a sip of coffee. To be honest, I’ve suddenly become hyper-aware that I’m turning twenty-seven this February, which means I am three years from 30. Our 5-year college reunion is this fall.

Where has the time gone? It’s a scary, a wee bit disconcerting; I feel like a kid at an aquarium who has lost his parents, staring at all these fish glub-glubbing in the dark, their shiny eyes glaring at me. It’s a totally new world under the sea when you are quickly becoming an adult–no longer a “young” adult. The pufferfish is stalking me, swimming left and right in a war-dance, daring me to say I have this figured out.

Kate Baer talks about how each time she tries to write about something she ends up saying the same thing: this parenting thing is so hard, over and over again. I have the same complex, except I am on this mantra: This life thing is ridiculous. This life thing is ridiculous. I’ll just shorten it to Ridic’. Yeah, that’ll work.

The truth is, your twenties, I’ve come to believe, are the best of times and the worst of times.

The older people like to scare the crap out of us by saying this is our defining decade. As if we aren’t already terrified that we’ve never measured up to expectations. As if we don’t know that we better – batter up! –and hit that home run.

As if we don’t already know that life is whipping by and we are living it with mixed results.
You know those slippery slides you make in the summer out of soap and water and a tarp? That is our twenties. One big slip n’ slide, where you bang your knees on a root or two, but where there is a kind of nonstop movement, a growing up, a growing older as you rush down across the slick surface. We haven’t slowed down yet and it is the ride of our lives.

This year is coming fast and hard, but maybe that’s okay. Maybe we’re meant to see our twenties in this light; maybe for every other generation, their twenties whizzed by just this fast, and this is exactly how it is supposed to be: this continued angst, this wondering, this wandering, this sitting in the middle of it all and declaring, “It was the best of times and the worst of times.” It was good and bad, wonderful and scary. It was a million doors and room after room, and we did our best to choose the right ones.
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