books books books

Just finished …

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach | The subtitle on this novel is “The summer I went from a joke to a jock.”  Felton Reinstein has gotten tall and fast, and suddenly his high school football team wants to recruit him to play.  In the same summer, his best friend leaves to spend the summer in South America, a beautiful young pianist moves into town, and Felton’s mother ceases acting like a mother.  This is his story, and I rather enjoyed it, even though it felt more geared toward boys.  That said, I loved Herbach’s great VOICE in this story, and it was a lot deeper and more serious than I thought it was going to be (the back cover copy made it sound like it was all going to be about becoming a jock, but really it was more about his family issues and going through big changes).  Bravo!  And Herbach is from Minnesota– he teaches at MSU-Mankato!

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos | James Whitman is not related to Walt Whitman, but he is obsessed with him.  He’s also depressed, thinks a lot about suicide, and is trying to piece together why his older sister Jorie was expelled from their high school and kicked out of their family home.  A very impressive debut by Evan Roskos!  Yawp!!

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell | After devouring Eleanor and Park last month, I was desperate to get my hands on anything else written by Rowell.  She has another new book in the works, but her only other publication is Attachments, an adult novel, which was a nice change of pace for me!  This book is set during the Y2K scare, when the internet was still a new commodity.  Lincoln’s job is to monitor the interoffice emails to make sure that people are following company policies.  But Beth and Jennifer’s emails are so hilarious that he doesn’t send out a warning … and instead, he keeps reading their emails, simultaneously falling in love with Beth through her emails.  This book was incredibly well-written and very funny.  I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it.  I was trying not to be too jealous of Rowell’s spot-on humor and description, as well as her incredible characterization.  It was definitely different to read a book where the main characters actually don’t interact throughout most of it; in fact, you don’t even know what Beth looks like for a lot of the book!  But quite fascinating.  Highly recommend.  And I will definitely be buying Rowell’s Fangirl, coming out September 2013.

The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle | Brilliant and beautiful. Every. Single. Time.  (More on this tomorrow!)

Plus a bunch of Narnia (as always!) and Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows.

Currently reading …

Quitter by Jon Acuff

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Bonus …

Found out Billy Collins is publishing Aimless Love: New and Collected Poems in October 2013!  So excited!


Best of the Web: Jackie’s Latest Picks

I wanted to pay props to some absolutely incredible blogs and videos I’ve read and seen recently.  I hope you’ll take the time to check out the ones that most interest you!  And, as always, I encourage you to post your thoughts below.

For the Doubters by Michael Gungor | When Gungor frontman found himself in utter metaphysical darkness, this “at least/even if” philosophy allowed him to continue putting one foot in front of the other in relation to faith.

My Panic Attacks, My Mental Illness, and the Church’s Dirty Little Secret by Carlos Whittaker | “My faith and my seretonin levels have nothing to do with each other.”

What Christians Need to Know about Mental Health by Ann Voskamp | “There are some who take communion and anti-depressants and there are those  who think both are a crutch.  Come in close — I’d rather walk tall with a crutch than crawl around insisting like a proud and bloody fool that I didn’t need one.”

A Modern-Day Easter Story by Matt Rath of Samaritan’s Purse | The story of a young man who forgave the man who murdered his family members in the Rwandan genocide; I am blessed to know Alex personally from my summer camp.

North Korea: Explained, a vlog by Hank Green of Vlogbrothers | This short 4-minute vlog will get you up to speed with what’s going on with North Korea (at least, what we know about!).

My Story, Part 5a: The Things that Carried Me by Anna at Living the Story | I feel like Anna’s soul speaks the same language as mine.  This is just a short post in her “My Story” series, and I loved it.

What Happens in a Stare by shrinksarentcheap | This is just one of her incredible poems, which are quite savage in a way that I love.  This is a poem about sexuality, so don’t read it if you think you’ll be offended.

Brené Brown at TEDxHouston and Brené Brown: Listening to shame | Some fascinating and incredible talks about vulnerability, shame, and wholeheartedness.  They are each 20 minutes long, but so worth the time investment!


God Has Me

This song is gripping my heart lately.  OCD whispered ugly lies to me for YEARS, but this was the truth.

“You Have Me”

Out on the farthest edge
there in the silence
you were there

My faith was torn to shreds
heart in the balance
but you were therealways faithful
always good
you have still have my
you still have my heart

I thought I had seen the end
everything broken
but you were there

I’ve wandered heaven’s gates
I’ve made my bed in hell
You were there still

You have me
You have my heart completely

Drops of Jupiter, Revisited

drops of jupiter revisitedI’ve been to nine planets in twelve years, and it’s starting to show.  Long gone are the days of summer-acting, rain-walking, spring-listening, and June-talking.  The tiny drops of Jupiter in my hair and on my skin have lost their sheen.  Constellation stories are old, memorized.  The flashing waves of the sun, my old playground, hurt these tired eyes.

I remember when Venus was a show-stopper, when Saturn’s rings were my cosmic carousel.  In my moods, I hid in Neptune’s dark spot.  On cool nights, I’d put the top down and cruise the Milky Way, that galactic highway.

But tonight, I am resting in a crook of the moon, and from here, I can see evening lights stretching across the northern hemisphere.  I almost miss that particular gravity of home, can almost picture the lilacs that grew on the farm, a medley of purples for those two weeks that passed like a moment. 

May…  Minnesota…

The breeze would trip from spring into summer as it rushed across the newly-plowed fields and all the lakes and through the flames of the bonfire that lit the surrounding faces with an intense orange glow.

It’s so cold in space.


an exciting update!

I have some exciting news!

I was just admitted to grad school, and though I won’t be starting until January 2014, I am so eager to pursue my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.  It is a low-residency program, which means that I will still live in Minnesota, stay working at Northwestern, and do much of my program online and through correspondence, but once each semester I will travel out to Montpelier for an intense 10-day residency full of lectures, workshops, and meeting with an advisor.

You might remember that, at the start of the year, I was saying how my life is different than I’d imagined it would be at 31, and that I’d always expected to have an advanced degree by now.  The thought wouldn’t leave me, so I started to investigate graduate programs around the country.  I was drawn to VCFA for its low-residency format and how it is project-based and because it is one of only a few schools that has an MFA specific to YA writing.  Also, this is the school where Jandy Nelson, author of the incredible The Sky is Everywhere, attended!  The idea kept taking root, and when my friend Hannah asked me, “Would you go if it was free?” and I answered, “Yes!” without a moment’s hesitation, my true desires were revealed to me.

So I applied right after I got home from the writing workshop in California, sending them the newly revised first 25 pages of my manuscript, along with a critical essay, and a personal essay, and I’ve been pretty quiet about it on my blog because I didn’t want to have to reveal to the world wide web that I’d been rejected if that’s what happened.

But it didn’t!

I’m so thrilled.  I chose to defer to the January semester because of my roommate Desiree’s wedding this summer and so that I would have until the end of the year to polish and finish the novel I am writing now (which you all see snippets of here and there and everywhere).  I wanted to start grad school with a blank slate so that I wouldn’t be pining away for an unfinished project the whole time.

So, there’s my news!  I’m doing cartwheels of joy!


God’s Sovereignty, OCD, the Cross, and His Purposes

Just wanted to sort out some thoughts and spark conversation on my blog today.

A little while ago, I asked the question on my blog Did God give me OCD? and came to conclusion that yes, he did, to draw me to himself and so that I could use it to glorify him and help others.  A blog reader challenged me on that conclusion, and I thought her questions were valid.  She wrote:

Let me challenge this: Is God good or bad? Does God do bad things? I do not believe that God gives people sickness, disorders, etc. It is contrary to God’s character to do those things. I DO believe that God will use bad circumstances/disease/etc in order to bring Him glory and all the things you said. BUT the whole reason that Jesus died for us is to enter into relationship with the Father. There had to be a sacrifice to tear the veil and stand in the gap between the God of the Old Testament and the New Covenant. When we look at the OT, we have to look at it through the lens of the Cross…would the Cross change how a situation would look? Judgement in the New Testament is always correctional because final judgement doesn’t happen on this earth anymore (it did in the OT). When we look at sickness, we see that Jesus performed miracles to show God’s love. He never caused anyone sickness. I do not believe that God gave you OCD, but I 100% agree that God is good and uses your OCD to drive you to Him, so that you could glorify Him with it, and to help others who are suffering.

This comment has got me thinking deeply about this.  Right now, it’s still a pretty jarbled (that’s a mix of jumbled and garbled) blend of the doctrine of suffering (suffering in itself is not virtuous, but it does seem purposeful [Romans 8:28-29]), God’s sovereignty (is God in control of everything?  Even disease/disorder?  Sin and evil aren’t of his making, but if he gave humans the choice to opt for them, doesn’t that mean he is still master over it all?), and hindsight (now that OCD is not master of me, it’s easier to see the larger picture of OCD as a tool God used in my life).

I think that my position (for now) still stands with the belief that God did give me OCD for his glory and purposes.

cross4To answer the commenter’s questions, I respond with my own questions: from one perspective, the CROSS was a “bad thing.”  In the moment, who would have guessed it would come to be known as GOOD Friday?  And we know it was planned. Redemption through the cross was the plan for forever.  “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10).  Think of this from a human perspective.  If we watched a father allow his son to be tortured, we would probably say that dad was doing a “bad thing.”

But, of course, we don’t see the cross from that angle anymore.  We know what happened on Sunday morning after Christ’s death.  And we now know that the cross is the most beautiful thing, the event that allows us freedom and life.  We look on the “bad thing” as a glorious thing.

So, could it be that way with OCD?  (I don’t think I’m ready to call it a “glorious thing” yet!)  But if suffering is predetermined (“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” [1 Peter 4:19]), who predetermined it?  It’s hard for me to separate God from control over all things (I’m still sorting through some of this, including the fall of man).

What do you think?  Let’s dialogue.

Helping Those With Recovery Avoidance

Love these thoughts from my blogging friend Janet!!


two people talkingAs I’ve said before, one of the most heartbreaking aspects of OCD is the frequent occurrence of recovery avoidance. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a potentially devastating disorder, but it is treatable. Yet so many sufferers are so terrified of treatment, and perhaps of even getting better, that they cannot bring themselves to even attempt Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy.

So what can we do when someone we love has OCD but is not “ready” for treatment? The above article gives suggestions which include expressing our concerns to our loved ones, not enabling them, and continuing to live our own lives in a positive manner. So many families of those with recovery avoidance follow these recommendations as best they can. Sometimes there are positive results, and other times, the OCD sufferer continues to deteriorate before their very eyes.

It’s hard, especially for parents who are used to making everything “all…

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My Love/Hate Relationship with Feedback

“If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready.’”
David Mitchell, Black Swan Green

Yup.  That’s about it.

No, but seriously, I have such a love/hate relationship with feedback and writing criticism.

On the one hand, I hate it.  Showing people a chapter you’ve written is like saying, “Look, here’s my baby.  Tell me if you think it’s ugly.”  And they do.  You slave over your words, you climb up a mountain with them, and when you finally reach the top, someone pushes you over and you tumble back down.  It’s really, really hard to get writing feedback, especially when you truly care about a project.  When I was in my writing program in college, I couldn’t look at feedback on my poetry and stories immediately after our work was graded.  I would get my work back, and– while looking away from the top of the page where the grade was– would fold it in half and tuck it, unseen, into my backpack.  In my room, I would move it to a desk drawer where it would sit– still unseen– until it was time to work on the next draft; usually by that time, the sting would have gone out of it a little bit.

During my senior capstone, I had to learn how to handle criticism.  I met every single week with my advisor, who could cover the whole front and back sides of a sheet of paper in red ink full of suggestions, deletions, squiggle underlines (bad), straight underlines (good), and the word PUSH.  There would be more red ink from her than black ink from what I’d originally written.  In addition, every week, I sat down with a group of seven other writers, and we critiqued each other’s work aloud in a local Caribou.  At the beginning of that semester, I would pray before I had to meet with my advisor; I was so nervous for her critiques and so scared I might cry in front of her.

By the end of that semester, though, I had learned how to handle criticism– and better yet: I had learned how to take the criticism, revisit my writing, and make it better.  When I graduated, I had a senior portfolio I was proud of.

So on the other hand, I love criticism.  I love that my friends who love reading and writing, words and metaphors, can see the potential in my drafts and that they are willing to put the time and energy into reading them and making suggestions.  I love that they can pick out the obvious flaws that I somehow just cannot see.  They tell me when my characters aren’t being true to themselves; they find big-picture concepts that are a little off and help me correct them.  I have realized that the mere fact that someone is willing to offer feedback shows that they are investing in me and my writing, shows that they believe it has a future, one they want to buy into.

I’m so blessed.  I have the most incredible writing group.  Anna, Rachel L, Jaidyn, Rachel R, Carra, and Addie.  We meet once a month to share life, stories, poems, and commiserations.  They are all completely brilliant and care deeply for me and my novel, and I am so, so grateful for their help on this journey.  Along with my writing group, I also have wonderful beta-readers in Elyse, Stacey, and Mary.  My faithful blog readers Brienna and Melody too!  My mom and sister are rockstar readers as well.

In addition, I have been getting help from Ben Barnhart, this incredible editor in Minneapolis, and of course, I went to the Big Sur Writing Workshop too for an intense look at my first two chapters.  I have come a long, long way from those early days of feedback– now I seek it out.  It’s still not easy; make no mistake.  It’s hard.  But it’s good.  

In fact, for me, it’s the only way I can take my writing to the next level.

How about you?  How do you feel about feedback and constructive criticism?

group reading