“I Laughed,” “I Cried,” “I Couldn’t Put It Down”: Reactions to My Book

Book signing
Book Signing for Ending the Pain, June 26 at the Adventist Book Center in Keene, TX

A writer and stay-at-home mom of two very young children, I’m in a growing period of life that is hard, and hard to examine with much distance or perspective right now…hence the dearth of blog posts lately. However, reactions to my book, Ending the Pain—which chronicles another hard growing period—are trickling in, and I am proud to share these with you!

Here is a sampling of the comments, messages, and book reviews I am getting via Facebook and Amazon.com most days of the week now.

I just want to say how much I love your book. I am recommending it to everyone I know; I wish it was required reading for all living humans. I cried. It is a life-changing book for me. Thank you, thank you! –Jodie

I just finished reading your book and I literally couldn’t put it down. I laughed and cried through the whole thing and feel like I know you already. Thank you for opening yourself up and letting God use you to bless others. I can honestly say, your message of depression and forgiveness touched me deeply. I have recently dealt with both of these issues myself and your words brought me healing. Thank you. –April

Your book was absolutely Amazing. What a tremendous story and pathway to healing. I just don’t have words, Lindsey. It was beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story. –Connie

I finished your book today; I couldn’t put it down! Lots of tears and Identifying with your pain. Thank you. –Grace

I finished Ending the Pain in two days; recommend this book to everyone. Thank you, Lindsey, for writing this. -Janice

Hey! I have stayed up way too late reading your book the last few nights. 😉 (Too bad I can’t tonight, both kids woke up lots last night). I just wanted to say that you are a very talented writer, which is weird to say because it’s so hard to read this about at good friend. –Jess

Ending The Pain is a very well written book. I enjoyed the story of Lindsey’s life. I think many people will relate to her story and enjoy reading this book. It is worth it. God’s Word has power and Lindsey’s life bears witness to that! -Leah

Riveting! I couldn’t put it down. I could identify with Lindsey’s pain. I’m very glad that she found God through Straight2theHeart. I have had considerable healing myself. Jesus really did come to “heal the brokenhearted and set the captive free.” -Amazon Review

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I couldn’t put it down. I would really recommend it! -Amazon Review

Thank you to all who have taken time to reach out to me or review my book. Whether you are a friend, family member, or (previously) a stranger, your words have invigorated me, validated my story, and encouraged me to work (however slowly) on a second book. Please, keep the feedback coming!

Four Good Memoirs for Moms (or Anyone Who Has a Mom)

One thing I seem to always make time for, even with new babies, is reading memoirs. For moms who are postpartum, or who get little adult interaction, reading true tales from other moms doesn’t just offer recreation; it provides a lifeline. Here are four memoirs by moms that I’ve recently read and recommend, not just for moms, but for anyone who has a mom:

White WallsWhite Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess in Between. I read this pretty thick memoir in the last months of my recent pregnancy. Not only did I relate to the writer’s story of reluctant motherhood in her adult life, but I also resonated with her parallel tale of growing up with a mother’s mental illness (in this case, hoarding). If you are at all interested in the psychology of hoarding, or the complex scars it leaves on kids, give this a read.

glitter and glueGlitter and Glue. I read this one in the week after I brought Seth home from the hospital, during my one and only week of breastfeeding. An easy, breezy read about the author’s summer as a nanny, this book had me crying at the last page–when she finally tied together her story of nannying in a home where the mom had died with what her own mother meant to her, so many years later. (You have to read the whole book to get the poignancy of the ending.)


the year my son and I...The Year my Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood, and Self-Discovery.
I am currently charging through this one as quickly as my sons’ sleep schedules will allow, and having an emotional time comparing my three-month-old Seth to sweet little Thomas, who was born with Down Syndrome. This book is a record of the author’s first year navigating the exhaustion, disbelief, and other conflicting emotions that her disabled baby brings her. Beginning with a heart-stopping scene of premature labor, this one grabbed me right out of the gate and hasn’t let go since. Read this to understand the challenges of having a disabled child, and to feel grateful for what you have.

Ending the Pain Book CoverEnding the Pain: A True Story of Overcoming Depression. Yes, my book. While my tale ends before I officially become a mother (I am pregnant with Sam by the end), mother-daughter relationships play a big part in my story. My parents always had a troubled marriage, and when I am fourteen, it finally blows up with an affair and illegitimate child (my half-brother) whom we hide in our home until he is eight months old and my mom leaves. After that, my relationships with both my mom and my dad become complicated, and I carry my new resentment for happy families into my new marriage and new, happy (husband’s) family. Read my story to learn not only how I healed from suicidal depression, but also how I learned to make peace with my parents (and parents-in-law).

When you have limited time to read, make sure you choose well. Happy reading!

It’s Here! Announcing Ending the Pain, My Memoir!

IMG_3373What a month! After three years of blogging and writing about God’s intervention in my messy life, the uncut version of my story is out there for the world to read. And I’m at home, four weeks postpartum, wearing sweatpants and trying to keep up with dishes. Somehow, I thought this moment would feel more climactic. But hey, I’m four weeks postpartum and not depressed, even after a history of life-threatening depression (the topic of my book), so I’ll go ahead and say life is great!

If there’s one malady I’m suffering from, it’s postpartum brain failure, or what I’m calling “Mommy brain.” I’m not sure what the technical term is, I just know my mind is scattered these days–I’m forgetful, absentminded, and spacey–and I don’t like how that feels. I think I read in some pregnancy book that this is normal; and I suppose it’s probably worse because I’m currently preoccupied with not only my new son, but also with the release of my new book. So it’s not a tragic condition, just annoying. As long as I can keep my kids, my husband, and myself cared for in this season, I suppose we’re good.

Needless to say, I don’t have much time, energy, or brain capacity to promote my book. And at first this distressed me. (Because doesn’t everything written about book publishing stress “promotion, promotion, promotion”?). But then I decided maybe the timing of this book release was for the best. If I had more available brain matter right now, I think I’d be stressing over book promotion a lot. And I’d be tempted to forget one of the main lessons I wrote about in my memoir: learning that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness.

So here I am, bedecked in stretchy pants, hands full of babies, sink full of dishes…just stealing a moment away from momming to tell you my book has been published, and I’m leaving the rest up to God (and you, dear reader!).

And with that book announcement made (a week late, nonetheless), I’m getting back to my two tiny tots–they will never be this little again–to try to embrace a life that continues to be messy…but now, messy in a wonderful sort of way.

*You can purchase my book at adventistbookcenter.com or Amazon.com.

How I Relate to MR. MOM

Mr. Mom

You’ve heard it’s the true-to-life comedy that’s the funniest. It’s so true. I’ve been watching Mr. Mom for the past two nights (it’s gonna take three to get it all watched–what mom has time for movies?), and I can’t stop thinking about a couple scenes in this 1983 movie that hit so close to home.

It’s a movie about a man (Michael Keaton) who swaps jobs with his wife to become the homemaker and primary caregiver of their three children. It’s funny because it shines a light on all the difficult and mundane things moms do daily via the eyes of a man who now has to do them.

There is a series of scenes where Keaton gets depressed, beaten down by the daily routine, and we see him go from clean shaven and svelte to scraggly bearded with some junk in the trunk; his house goes from tidy to turned-upside-down; and his attention goes from his kids and wife to trashy soap operas. “My mind is mush,” he complains to the wife. That’s the result of no adult conversation and watching the same TV shows as your kids. Yep. Feels like this is where I’ve lived recently, minus the soap operas. Instead, I just nap when Sam lets me. (I love the moment when Keaton’s kid tells him his grilled cheese is cold and Keaton simply slaps the sandwich on the ironing board, steams it with the iron for a sec, and hands it back to the kid so he can get back to his show.)

Anyway, it comes to the point where his wife gives him a good talking-to for letting it all go–the house, the kids, himself. Look at yourself! She exclaims, pointing at his newly flabby belly. And the house is a wreck (paraphrase). Basically, she says, get it together, because I did it for eight years, and I understand it’s hard, but I got through it because I had some pride in what I did; I understood that what I did was important. Again, close to home. I recently had a “talking to” by my spouse; more in a moment.

There is another scene where Keaton daydreams he has an affair with the over-sexed neighbor, and his wife walks in with a gun and points it straight at him. “What did it, Jack, hmm?” she asks. “Was it the daily repetition? The boredom? The loneliness?” Now, I’m not close to an affair (never!), but I understand the list: repetition, boredom, loneliness. Add pregnancy to it and a melancholy disposition, and you’ve got some potential problems.

And so I got a talking-to from my beloved husband two nights ago. The house was a wreck and he couldn’t find what he needed, and he couldn’t avoid tripping over some things while looking (we’re still trying to get unpacked/organized is my excuse). I probably looked like a wreck, too. And I don’t think I’d made supper that night. I don’t remember. But I told him to talk to me; tell me what was wrong; if he had a problem with me, I wanted to know.

So he did. He told me some things that really stung. Including, “It seems like you don’t do anything at the house all day.” And, “Somehow, other moms with more kids get more done than you seem to; you need to learn to multitask more.”

Ouch.

In my hubby’s defense, he never volunteers these kinds of criticisms unless provoked. And I provoked him. He was trying to clam up so as not to hurt my feelings, but I made him talk. I had also used Sam’s Sunday nap time to get out of the house and do some rare shopping instead of staying in my daily “work” environment to organize. (In the future, we’ve agreed he can stay silent in the angry moment as long as he agrees to talk to me when he’s cooled down. This honors both his need to stonewall, and my need to communicate.)

Anyway. Those comments, after which I stayed up late to clean house and shower, followed me into the next day and beyond. Is there really something wrong with me beyond the typical Mom burnout? I wondered. Am I defective because I can’t get anything done besides keeping my kid alive and doing the dishes and maybe cooking a meal or three?

I asked Buc that next night, “Is it possible you’re thinking of moms with older [not-so-needy] kids; or moms who have relatives nearby to help, or moms who let their kids watch a lot more TV than I do?”

He conceded that that might be some of it. But the main problem, he said, as he’s often said, is my “perfectionism.” I don’t want to let our kid go without mommy enough. I pick him up [the kid] too much. I give in too much.

Hmmm. I am still pondering this and praying over it. Even though Buc’s words were said in anger, there is usually some truth to angry words. I wish I got more done these days. I wish my house were cleaner, my meals more consistent, my hygiene sparkling. I suppose there are ways to accomplish this.

I also know what Buc doesn’t: I know the inside of my mind, and the physical limits of my body. I feel like I have mental mountains to climb that other people, other personalities, perhaps don’t. I seem happy and serene to most outsiders, but it takes me lots of prayer and meditation sometimes to get to that point. And a man doesn’t know the work of making a baby.

Maybe these are just excuses. Maybe there is some truth to them as well. Either way, I’m glad for my “talking-to,” so I can work at improving, and I’m glad for Mr. Mom so I can laugh at my challenges. One day I will laugh a whole lot more, and even now, I see humor in my day. I’m putting on makeup for my husband when he gets home–and I also made his favorite meal during nap time (no nap for me today…progress!)–but I’m not going to apologize for my stretchy pants, no sir. This is a mom’s life, and I’m learning to embrace it, along with all the humor wrapped up in the job.

Daring to Love: The Ultimate “Self-Help” Project

love dare
by Author Alex Kendrick

This week I wrote on my Facebook page that I’m addicted to self-help books. But that’s softening the problem. Really, I’m just addicted to myself (that’s the human condition, you know). But this week, and for the next month, I’m working to change that through reading and performing The Love Dare, which you might remember from the movie Fireproof.

I’m one week into “The Love Dare,” or the forty-day challenge of doing something specific for my spouse every day; and already I feel that it’s is changing me. From my words to my actions to my thoughts, I am being challenged to be kind to my husband, give him the benefit of the doubt, and extend grace. Oh, and to be the first to initiate these loving traits, even if and when he doesn’t deserve them. It sounds kind of hard. But it hasn’t been, not really.

I’m a nerdy sort of a girl who likes to learn things from books, who likes step-by-step instructions. The Bible gives me the core principles on love (God is love, love keeps no record of wrongs, I should forgive seventy times seven times, etc.), and it also give me the perfect example in the life of Jesus (because Jesus is God in the flesh)…but The Love Dare, with its day-by-day steps, has given me a format that my personality loves.

As a Melancholy wife, I’ve always felt I needed to keep some kind of record of Buc’s wrongs; it was my job to correct him and perfect him (sound familiar, women?). In fact, trying not to nag Buc has been my biggest challenge during our ten years of marriage. Want to know what the first dare was? (Did author Alex Kendrick have me in mind when he wrote this?)

“Speak only positive words to your spouse,” and “if you can’t be positive, don’t say anything at all.”

Even if I had stopped there, I think I would still feel a change at home.

It’s actually a relief to be told that, for today, and for the next thirty-nine days, my task is not to say anything negative to Buc. (I even have a place to check off each dare, and a page and a half to journal about my thoughts each day!) As I’ve continued to implement my daily dares, it’s been a relief to know that my words will not cause any arguments for the day; it’s a relief to have decided beforehand that any negative thoughts I will “take captive” to Christ–I will not say them to Buc.

I can’t say I’ve done a perfect job in my first week of dares, but I can say my home is more peaceful; many petty arguments have been eliminated; and my new thoughtfulness is often being returned. All in all, The Love Dare is positively impacting my home environment, and it’s probably doing as much to refine my character as any self-help book I’ve read. Who knew that putting others above yourself (in a healthy, Christlike way–not in a martyr-like, self-effacing way–of course) was actually a form of self-help, too?

And now, dear [Lindsey], I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. (2 John 1:5)

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.. (1 John 4:7)
God knew, that’s who. I’m so glad to serve such a wise God, and I look forward to learning more about his character as I practice loving my husband better.

The Work in Progress Blog Tour—Take a Peek!

Here’s something a little fun and different. Fellow blogger and author Luanne Castle nominated me to participate in the Work in Progress Blog Tour, so today I have an excuse to give you a preview of my memoir.

The rules of the blog tour are:

  1. Link back to the nominating writer
  2. Post the first few lines of the first three chapters of the work in progress (I included my prologue, as well)
  3. Nominate a few other writers to do the same

Luanne began her blog, writersite.org, a few months before I began blogging in January 2013, and we have been following each other’s blogs for about that long. Not only does she blog, but she has a PhD and an MFA and has taught writing for fifteen years. Most recently, she published her first book, Doll God, which is a book of poetry. Luanne has been a delightful blogging colleague, and I look forward to one day reading her current work in progress, a memoir called Scrap.

My Work in Progress: All Things New: My Journey to Rebirth, Recovery, and a Relevant Faith

As for my own memoir, or work in progress, I have been resting from it since last August, when I queried a publisher who immediately asked to see the entire manuscript. In January, that publisher emailed to tell me they were still evaluating the work, and that “no news is good news in this case.” So I am hopefully awaiting more news!

Synopsis

From a young age, I decided that for faith to make sense, it had to make a difference in my life—a good difference. But when my childhood home gave way to an affair and other family secrets, our Christian beliefs had little to offer me. I fled to college desperate to shed my sad, secretive self. Unfortunately, at college my sadness only intensified; my thoughts turned suicidal. A college dropout, failed suicide attempt, and forty days in a mental hospital were my devastating launch pads into adulthood. They were also the beginnings of a decade-long search for a relevant God. Beginning with a blind date in Texas with a “nice Adventist boy,” a new family, and a secondary teaching job, and culminating with a life-changing prayer ministry, I finally found a Savior who suffered in every way I did, and then I shared him with other women who desperately needed a relevant faith, too.

Prologue

I can never tell, I thought from the back pew of a Texas church. What would they think of me if they knew what I was really like? A few months ago, I was the mysterious Minnesota girl who had showed up on Buc’s arm one Sabbath. Next, I became “Buc’s wife” and “Pastor Gendke’s daughter-in-law.” Buc and I had married in the quiet of my in-laws’ living room, with his father, the retired pastor of my new church, officiating. But we had not invited anyone. I had no wedding shower. There were no formal introductions.

Chapter 1

Playing the Game

1991

Bass notes, synthesizers, and Amy Grant’s alto voice drifted through the sheet that covered my doorway. I winced, pulled my blankets over my head, and rolled over. It was starting again. This was how every Saturday morning started. Just like light after complete blackness hurts the eyes, the drums from the cassette tape hurt my ears, drove me deeper beneath the four-deep pile of covers that substituted for central heating. Dad’s Sabbath music.

I smelled coffee, turkey bacon, and waffles. Dad’s cooking.

Suddenly I remembered: Mom was gone.

 Chapter 2

Home Life

1994

Mom’s bare feet made a sucking sound as she peeled them, one after the other, off the blood-red linoleum, muffin pan in hand. That morning she wore her gray cargo pants and Dad’s blue flannel coat as she served breakfast. We thought the paint would be dry this morning, but it hadn’t dried over night.

Chapter 3

Bombshell

1998

I had big dreams the year my life crumbled. Days before I turned fourteen, my family moved into a newer, nicer house just outside of town. I thought life could only get better from here.

I Nominate…

C.C. Yager–a fellow blogger and author who recently published a novel, Perceval’s Secret, the first installment in a developing series. Cinda has been a great online writing “colleague,” faithfully following and commenting on my blog and posting quality articles on the craft, process, and business of writing.

Trish Ryan–a favorite memoirist whom I hired as my book consultant and who helped me through two drafts of my project. I first discovered Trish and her memoir, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, in my local library. Hers was one of the first quality Christian memoirs I had read, and her book and her feedback proved invaluable to me as I revised my manuscript.

Addie Zierman–another memoirist who has challenged Christians to overcome the many cliches we cling to. An MFA graduate and fellow Minnesotan, Addie has just finished her first draft of her  second memoir, which follows up her debut When We Were on FireI read her memoir to get another example of a Christian memoir, and I have continued to read her blog for her beautiful prose, bare honesty, and unique perspective.

Good luck to these writers, and all of you, who have a work in progress! 

Better Reads for New Moms…Because “How-to” Books Don’t Always Cut It

In this post I review the precious few “New Mommy Memoirs” I have found, with some comments on the dearth of such books.

If you’re a new mom, love to read, and need some support, you’re in luck…sort of…depending on what you’re looking for. If it’s advice or quick snapshots of daily life you seek, “How-to” tomes and mommy blogs abound. If, on the other hand, you just want a girlfriend with whom to commiserate and cuddle up with (perhaps your baby has failed to respond to the wisdom of Ezzo, Ferber, Pantley, or Sears), the pickings are slim. Nonetheless, here’s what I’ve found–the good with the mediocre–because sometimes “how-to” books just don’t cut it.

Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, Brooke Shields

down came the rainThis high-profile account of post-partum depression probably got published more for its author’s celebrity than her writing prowess, still, it’s a fascinating read to a first-time mom, or a first-time pregnant lady. (I read it about halfway through my pregnancy and was hooked.) If you want to know some of the emotional risks that motherhood brings, or if you are struggling with post-partum depression, this is a good read for you. Most memorable for me was Shields’s description of visualizing her baby flying through the air, hitting the wall, and sliding to the floor–yikes! I had some hard days with Sam, but thankfully never anything as drastic as Shields describes. I appreciate her honest admission of how she fantasized not only about her baby’s death, but her own. I hope you never deal with this serious malady, but if you do, read this book. And after you finish this depressing read…

Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay (and Other Things I Had to Learn as a New Mom), Stephanie Wilder-Taylor

sippy cupsSome humor for you! I stumbled upon this humorous collection of essays at a used book sale while three months pregnant, read it within the month, and recently reread certain chapters when my sleep deprivation was making me cry. If you, too, need to come up for a laugh from the never-ending demands of your baby, this book is a good choice. But Christian readers, beware. Like almost every secular comedian I know of, Taylor relies on some profanity and crassness to make her jokes. I wish I knew of a funny, clean, book on motherhood to recommend, but since I don’t, and you might really need comic relief, I offer this one. An interesting side note: Taylor makes numerous references to drinking in this 2006 book, and in the past year, I saw her featured on the Today Show for admitting she actually had a drinking problem. Sad, but good comedy always has an element of reality, doesn’t it? (Her second book on motherhood, which I will probably read at some point, is called Naptime Is the New Happy Hour.)

Signs of Life, Natalie Taylor

signs of lifeMaybe I shouldn’t include this book on a list of motherhood memoirs, because the top story here is a young widow grieving her dead husband…but the sub story is a young widow adjusting to new motherhood…so here you go. I actually picked this one up in 2011, before I planned on becoming a mother, to read about a young English teacher (which I was at the time) dealing with the freak accident death of her husband (which is one of my bigger fears in life). Then, I enjoyed Taylor’s strong writing voice and her many literary references (she derives comfort from literature like Christians derive comfort from the Bible)…but more recently, when I reread this book, I picked up on the common struggles of new motherhood. My favorite image from the book: she mentions a glob of jelly on her kitchen floor that she just can’t find time or energy to wipe up (no doubt due to both the exhaustion of grief and the exhaustion of new motherhood.) So true! If you are a mom who appreciates literature reflecting real life, you will appreciate Natalie Taylor’s take.

Double Time: How I Survived–and Mostly Thrived–the First Three Years of Mothering Twins, Jane Roper

double timeThis is the most forgettable memoir in the list, but if you are a new mother, and especially a mother of twins, you might still enjoy it. Unlike Shields’s life-threatening depression, Wilder-Taylor’s comic slant, or Taylor’s added challenge of being a single mother, Roper doesn’t bring anything new to the table, except for having to do double duty on feeding, diapering, and everything else mom-related. Roper is a writer a by trade, and no doubt thought she could get a book out of her twins, which is fine, because we all have a story to tell (and hey, I probably would’ve done the same). On a side note, Roper throws in her story of depression, which is purely clinical and responds well to medication, so not that interesting, but I appreciate this alternate, less serious description of the disease. My fun takeaway from the book: “twin-yang,” or the phenomenon of one twin acting great while the other one is a terror. My next-door neighbor with twin babies confirmed that this is a real condition:)

The Second Nine Months: One Woman Tells the Real Truth about Becoming a Mom. Finally. Vicki Glembocki

second nine months 2My favorite, by far! This is the book that new moms will relate to the most (I think). This is for the mom who is not suffering true post-partum depression, but who wonders, in those early months, if she made a mistake by having a baby. I wish I would’ve discovered this book back then, and not nine months into motherhood, but since Glembocki ends her story at her baby’s tenth month, I was right there with her on the back-end of her story, as her “devil baby,” Blair, becomes more human and lovable, and as Glembocki finally settles into her new role and finds rhythm in her new life.

I knew I had found the right book from one of her first scenes: she is strolling her new, three-week-young, screaming baby down the street, exploding at her husband over the phone that she needs help–please come home! She is trying to accomplish one thing that day–dry clean a comforter–just ONE THING, dang it, because nothing gets done anymore; but the baby is screaming and she is alone and has no help and no idea how to comfort her baby. I related to so many moments in this book, and I’m sure many other new moms will, too. I give this book my highest recommendation and urge you to buy it for yourself or a new mom in your life.

In Conclusion

Unfortunately, the “New Mommy Memoir” looks to be a largely untapped market, probably because new moms don’t have time, energy, or ambition to write more than a blog post here and there…and by the time they do, they’ve forgotten the “bad old days.” That’s why all of the books above, though they may not be “great” literary works, are important.

Though some are not very memorable, and a couple are not particularly well written, they might be invaluable to a new mom who doesn’t need more advice, but who just needs a girlfriend who’s gone before her. The best part about finding this girlfriend in a book? She’s available anytime, anywhere, no matter if you’re stuck in the house or your baby is stuck to your breast.

Yes, I’ve decided that anytime a writer-mom contributes to this genre, she gives a gift to other new moms. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ve found a new writing project to work on.

(Note: please don’t look for my “New Mommy Memoir” until Sam is in college. Just kidding. Maybe high school:)

A Memoir for Disillusioned Christians: Addie Zierman’s When We Were on Fire

when we were on fireSometimes when you have grown up in a certain discourse community, or a group of people who share a common “language,” you learn to spout off sayings without even thinking about them. In the Christian world, some of these sayings include “born again,” “saved,” “lost.” You forget that outsiders don’t really know what these things mean. You yourself become desensitized to their real meaning. You can lose your faith when you realize that fellow church goers aren’t interested in probing for deeper meaning, or for deep relationships. Such was the case with Addie Zierman, who has recorded her experiences for curious readers.

Summary

Addie’s memoir, When We Were on Fire, shares the experience of someone who was steeped in evangelical culture from birth, thought she was on fire for God…and then fizzled out, realizing that what she’d always believed in was a lot of clichés that didn’t personally ring true.

Addie goes through a period of disillusionment, in which she starts to see that many of the Christians she knows don’t really care to get to know her and her problems; they want to gloss over the messiness of life with quick fixes, like “You will never be lonely with Jesus.”

“Yeah, but that thing about never being lonely? Sometimes I am,” Addie tells her Bible study group, and the leader responds, “Thanks for the feedback, Addie, we’re not really going there today. Now, let’s move on to question five” (a paraphrase).

Never being “heard” in Christian circles leads Addie to her rebellious-slash-depressed period, in which she tries to drown her sorrows in alcohol and an “almost” affair.

A turning point, if there is one, comes when Addie finds out she is pregnant. She decides she doesn’t want to be bitter for her son’s sake; plus, it feels like time to get over the past.

It’s sad to me that she’s still sort of cynical at the end; although the place she leaves the book might be just right for making her point that faith isn’t simple. A testimony can’t be broken into before and after, black and white, dark and light (and this is a point I’ve made on my blog, too).

Analysis

I really appreciate Zierman’s honest look at how her faith hurt her. Particularly well done were her scenes dealing with her ex boyfriends, paragons of virtue she aspired to imitate. She makes the point that a heart can be broken even if one “saves herself for marriage”; this happened to her by her boyfriend Chris, who, in trying to be a model missionary, exploited Addie’s innocence and broke her heart.

I also was affected by the theme of Christian clichés throughout the book—or Addie’s point that certain “evangelical-words-turned-weapons” “have grown so heavy; they groan, now, under the weight of all their baggage.” Some of her examples:

Like when you say, Sorry, I’m dating Jesus right now in order to terminate the possibility of a relationship with all its messiness, all of its complexity, all of its potential for breaking your heart.

You say, I’m saving myself for marriage, as if the heart can only be broken by the act of sex…

You tell the Church People you are lonely, and they say, Let God be your friend or they say, What a friend we have in Jesus! And what you hear is that you don’t have the right to be lonely, that if your faith was stronger than this, bigger than this, you would be happy.

And then, the main point of her book (to me):

And it occurs to you that the real work of faith has nothing to do with saying the right words. It has to do with redefining them, chipping away at the calcified outer crust until you find the simple truth at the heart of it all. Jesus.

I read through this book ravenously, because it spoke to some of the same issues I am lately unearthing by writing to my roots. I feel Addie’s rage at being fed cliché after cliché without equally experiencing practical demonstrations of Christ’s love. The thing is, as she writes in her author’s interview, people like her ex, Chris, are so steeped in the language, the clichés of Christianity, that they don’t even realize that, in following a God-appointed “mission,” they are hurting others directly in their path—doing “what Jesus would never do.”

It’s not entirely fair to blame other Christians. As Addie admitted, and as I will admit, we are guilty of also being the “Super Christian, bowling over others’ feelings with [our] passion. [We] have been unkind and careless more times than [we] care to admit. [We’ve] missed the loneliness of others simply because [we weren’t] really looking.” Yes. I know I’ve done that. And I repent of it, and after reading someone else’s experience of being on the other end, I pray God helps me to stop it!

Dislikes 

The F-bomb (along with lots of alcohol) starts showing up in the latter parts, when Addie enters her “rebellious” stage (warning, for you sensitive souls). Though it hurt my sensibilities, too, I did have to chuckle when she wrote, post-rebellion: “Though I’m trying to watch my language, sometimes fuck is just the right word” (paraphrased again). I see in Addie aspects of myself that I’m not proud of, but that are nonetheless there. She’s right; sometimes it is (the right word). Though I don’t condone swearing, I have to admit I do it sometimes; moreover, I think Addie’s done an important work  in being real on the page so we imperfect Christians can finally relate.

I would have liked to see Addie delve deeper into why she fell so low. As my book consultant wrote in her review of this same work, it seems Addie didn’t quite reach as deeply as she could have to describe what plummeted her into depression. It seemed to come too quickly, without enough explanation. Maybe the excellent foregoing chapters of her childhood/adolescence were the explanation, though. I can testify that a long build-up of factors can suddenly mushroom into catastrophe; after a lot of disappointment in life, you don’t need a cataclysmic rainstorm to wash you out—maybe just a little sprinkle.

Recommendation

I highly recommend this book if you have issues with your faith or want to understand evangelical culture better. For me, the book has been inspiring on multiple levels: I feel both validated as a disillusioned Christian, and energized to write about my similar, yet different, experience. My memoir (currently in revision stages) ends in a better place than hers: that is, I don’t leave my church, and I discover a real answer for the clichés, which is The Hidden Half of the Gospel, or the message of my first co-written book, expected to come out in January. Maybe when the book comes out, I’ll send Addie a copy. I feel we could be good friends.

Book Review: The Glass Castle

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Here’s a little memoir writing inspiration for you today, or just a great read (if you’re looking for either): Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle. After skipping past it several times in Half Price Books, I had to finally read it when both a comrade in my writers’ group and my editor suggested it.

Here are three reasons why you should read it:

1)    The story. The story of two genius, yet crazy parents and how their eccentricities drag their four kids down, it’s wacky enough to the point of being unbelievable; but I’m taking Walls at her word that this is what she remembers of her childhood. Imagine an engineer dad and an artist mom who are too freethinking to be shackled to regular jobs, who do the “skedaddle” whenever they get in trouble with the law. Imagine parents who would rather have their family live in shacks, ditches, or inside their van than have air conditioning and heating and plumbing and food—all in the name of chasing their dreams. It’s particularly fascinating watching young Jeannette and her siblings come of age amidst the chaos of their parents’ childishness (mental illness? I still can’t decide what would possess parents to act like this) and note the strength they muster because, well, they must. A fascinating psychological portrait of a dysfunctional family, as well as an amusing, and at times, heartbreaking, read.

2)    The writing. Vivid, fast-moving, and clear, Walls sucks the reader in on the first page and doesn’t let go until the end. As my editor put it, note the detachment with which Walls describes the “wacky and terrible things her parents did to her.” Walls writes details that a child would notice with the diction of a well-trained writer—and she doesn’t get overly analytical. Instead, she lets the reader point to her family in horror and amusement and disbelief and disgust. As my editor also said, children aren’t able to process what certain things mean; all they know is, “Here’s what happened.” Reading about the horrors of living in such a dysfunctional family from the perspective of a speaker who can only report, not analyze, is fascinating. Just fascinating.

3)    The reassurance that your own family isn’t that bad. After reading about Walls’s family, I felt a lot better about my own. If you can’t say the same, I am truly sorry for you, but at least you have the makings of a great memoir in your head!

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The book’s title comes from Jeannette’s dad’s grand plan to build the family a “glass castle” in which to live someday. This image becomes increasingly ironic and heartbreaking as the book progresses and the family slides deeper into a squalor from which, the children slowly realize (and readers much sooner understand), they will never emerge.

The one criticism I would levy at the book is this: I feel there is no way an adult could remember in such clear detail (as Walls seems to) what happened in childhood. Though I ate up every scene with each painstakingly stinky or ugly detail, I found myself disbelieving that she could really remember what she said at three years of age, or what her home looked like at four, or the fight her parents had when she was five, etc.

I voiced this to my editor, saying, “I could never write about my childhood so vividly,” to which she replied, “It’s amazing what children with dysfunctional backgrounds can remember.” I’ll have to research that, but for the sake of a great story, I was willing to suspend my disbelief and grant that Walls reported to the best of her ability (without needlessly embellishing) a story that was real and true, as far as she could remember. In the end I have to grant that, for a memoir writer, memories, however we filter them, are truth. So hats off to Jeannette Walls for letting us in on the horrors of her memory. Today I go back to my own memories feeling strengthened to report.

Prozac Nation—Review by a Former Pill Popper

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Photo Credit: Wikipedia

In her memoir on depression, Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel paints an annoying picture of herself as a depressive, which includes being desperate and clingy, prone to panic attacks, dependent on boyfriends for her identity, ungrateful for all the good in her life, and selfish.

Reading this book, even I, a sympathetic co-sufferer, became frustrated. When is she going turn a corner? Why is she telling me this? I wondered. And, How can she presume to be the authority on this when her past was not as heartbreaking as mine?

In her afterword, Wurtzel responds to impatient readers like me, saying, basically, “If you got angry at me, good. I wanted you to feel that way.”

The Book’s Bummers

As Wurtzel explains, she wanted to convey what it was actually like to be around a depressive and, more ambitiously, wanted to give the reader the feeling of being trapped in a mental prison similar those in which depressives finds themselves.

Indeed, most of her book grovels in the quagmire of her own circumstances—her parents’ divorce, her father’s abandonment, her failed relationships, her struggle to get adequate medical attention—and this is what gets so  annoying . But at key points she surfaces from her self-obsessed soliloquy to take stock of what her situation reveals about her whole generation—and this is what resonates with me.

The Book’s Brilliance

What Wurtzel does particularly brilliantly is characterize the displacement that she and her whole generation faced as a result of the cultural revolution in the sixties. Her parents divorce is, of course, no very remarkable thing these days, but her brilliance is zooming in on this seemingly “small” detail.

She expresses outrage on behalf of a whole generation whose parents have led them to dismiss marriage like so many other traditions that used to give people roots—she expresses anger at the fact that nothing is held sacred anymore—and that individual whim reigns supreme. She characterizes how such a world–where individuality and mobility, not family ties or roots, are seen as virtues—leaves its children feeling hopeless and depressed. She doesn’t go as far as diagnosing the cause of the explosive use of Prozac in the 90s, and the booming popularity of depressed-obsessed punk rock bands like Kurt Cobain’s, but the suggestion is heavily weighted toward the disintegration of the American family.

Where We Agree—The Family’s Demise Spells Depression

Like Wurtzel, I firmly believe that by our disregard for the family unit we have self-imposed many of our problems. In our quest for self-gratification, we have damned and doomed the next generations. I think this is what the Bible refers to when it speaks of parents’ sins becoming a curse to the third and fourth generations. It’s not that God unfairly punishes children for what their parents did. It’s that children can’t help but be cursed when parents choose to be self- rather than God-centered.

How My Take on Depression Differs

I’m glad Wurtzel wrote this book, because now I  don’t have to. Years ago, a book about my life would have closely resembled hers, as far as the inspiration meter. Low.

Of course, inspiring readers wasn’t the purpose of the book. It wasn’t to make the reader feel warm and fuzzy, but to portray what depression feels like.

Although I used to envision writing such a book, once I had my conversion I no longer felt comfortable writing such a book. But now, having read Wurtzel’s contribution, I see that such literature has its place, even on a Christian’s bookshelf. Jesus didn’t look away from human suffering, and we shouldn’t either. My problem before was I felt I was wallowing. But now I see that the wallowing effect came from my audience and purpose for writing. My audience? Anyone who would listen, preferably those who had failed me earlier in life. My purpose? To get the sympathy now that I never felt I got when at my lowest points.

In all seriousness, maybe I could write a depressing book like Wurtzel’s these days without wallowing, but that’s only because I would no longer be focused on getting sympathy for my past wounds, but offering empathy to fellow sufferers. Yes, these kinds of books have their place. But since by God’s amazing grace I’ve emerged from that black hole, I’m glad that I don’t have to fill that market niche. And now, I can focus on the upward swing, not the downward slope.