Warm Thoughts about the End of the World

I’m re-reading through the New Testament and today I read from Matthew 24– wars, rumors of wars, nation against nation, famine, earthquakes– and it’s kind of felt familiar for a while, hasn’t it? And yet these are the beginning of birth pains.

What struck me was verse 12: “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”

Please, God, don’t let my love grow cold.

I am so grateful to be surrounded by the best friends in the world, friends whose love is scorching in the best way, friends on fire for love and justice and mercy and grace and faithfulness, no matter the cost.

Thank you, friends. Thank you for keeping me from letting my love grow cold.


Jackie’s Team

Back in January, I met for life and writing advice with my college writing instructor, the brilliant and beautiful Judy Hougen. Although I didn’t blog about it at the time, one of the things she encouraged me to do was to pull together a team of people who would support and encourage me during the crazy rollercoaster publishing journey.

I did that.

teamI have a hidden group on Facebook with carefully selected members, and they are absolutely my team.  These people (who span five states and two countries) hear my prayer requests, calm my extreme panic, celebrate my victories, help me process decisions, dialogue with me when I get stumped while writing. They do it all.

I can’t tell you how much my team means to me and to my sanity. Yes, of course, I had/have each of them individually, but to cull them all together into one secret platform where I can vent and complain and cry and fear and rejoice has been unbelievable. They have allowed me to be completely unmasked and vulnerable with them so that I can maintain my composure in front of the rest of the world.

This post goes out to the members of my team. Thank you, all of you, for everything.


Image credit: Dawn (Willis) Manser


Dear Diary (November 2013)

ddnovI kicked off November in style by attending a Billy Collins poetry reading at the Pantages Theatre.  My darling friend Elyse and I went to hear our beloved poet share his dry wit and perfect imagery and fascinating thoughts.  I asked the man beside me, “Have you seen Billy Collins before?”

“Oh, no,” he said.  “My wife and I are from Oregon, and we timed our visit to our son and daughter-in-law with Billy Collins’s visit here so we could see him.  Have you?”

“This will be my third time,” I admitted.  I didn’t mention that one of those times I actually met him and had him sign my copy of Questions about Angels.  It reminded me once again just how grateful I am to live in the literary community of Minneapolis!

Some of my favorite friends and I went to an improv comedy show for my lovely friend Ashley’s birthday.  The show was funny, but the best part was spending the entire evening with such amazing women.

I was invited to be part of a panel about sadness, anxiety, and depression at a local church.  It was good to be able to share about OCD, ERP, and the stigma against mental illness that is so prevalent in the church (the church in general, not that church specifically, ha!).

My college writing instructor and author Judith Hougen has partnered with Ann Sorenson, a local filmmaker/instructor, and Luke Aleckson, an artist/instructor to pioneer the Emerging Artists Collective, a group of young Christian artists who will gather for sharing and discussions about issues related to faith and the artistic life.  We had our pilot gathering this month, and it. was. wonderful.  I really loved it, and I’ll be sharing about this in more depth soon on my blog.

And then, of course, the book deal.  I am absolutely thrilled that Harper Collins made me a two-book offer!  It’s still a bit surreal; I need to pinch myself.  My dreams are coming true.  I have been writing since I was in 2nd grade, though I don’t think I put my goal to “publish a book” in writing until high school.  Joy.  Elation.  Disbelief.  Wonder.  All of these have been taking up residency in my chest.

November 2013 has been delicious.

Christian Culture’s (Sad) Response to Mental Illness

It’s in the Title: Mental Illness is an Illness

Salads and sandwiches and a shared mental illness, all of it on the tiny table between us.

“There is help for OCD,” I told her.  “The most effective treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy.  Between that and my medication, I got my life back.  I know you can too.”  (The evangelical zeal I have for this particular therapy reminds me of the way I love Jesus: both took me from darkness into light, both make me want to throw parades in their honor.)

“Oh, I don’t know,” said my friend, poking at her salad with a fork, sounding hesitant.  “I think before I take any extreme methods, I want to just pray about it more.  I know that God can bring me through this.”

I wanted to say, But you have been praying about this for years!  I also believe God can bring you through this—and I am telling you how.

There is a pervasive and unhealthy attitude in the Christian culture toward mental illness.  Many believe that one should be able to “pray away” a disorder.  Some think that mental illness is, quite simply, spiritual warfare; some think it’s the result of unresolved sin issues.  One of my friends has said before that a real Christian can’t be clinically depressed.  I saw a Facebook status once that read, “Depression is a choice.”

These sentiments light a fire in me, especially for the way that they marginalize a group of people that are often already more susceptible to guilt.  I know that in my OCD hey-day, I felt continual guilt and severe shame; for someone to intimate to me that these feelings were the appropriate ones would only mean that my Christian brothers and sisters were siding with my disorder—and against me.

Mental illnesses are just that: illnesses. 

friendsGod and Satan can work through them just the same way as they could through, say, cancer or diabetes.  All issues are spiritual issues, simply because we are spiritual beings, but it is not helpful to label a chemical issue with a giant term like spiritual warfare.  To say that a Christian cannot be depressed is like saying a real Christian can’t get the flu.  To say that depression is a choice is like saying strep throat is a choice.

If you break a bone, do you get it set in a cast?  If you learn you’re diabetic, do you take insulin?  If cancer steps into your body, do you pursue chemotherapy?

The answer is usually yes.  Yes—and pray.  (Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for prayer!  And for medical innovation!)

That is why I am unashamed of my OCD, my depression.  Instead, I am proud of my God for seeing me through a therapy as difficult as CBT and for being my strength through five years of side effects in the search for the right medication.

Unfortunately, my friend left the sandwich shop that evening feeling obligated to “pray away” a spiritual flaw instead of feeling empowered to fight illness, in spite of my best efforts.  My voice is being drowned out by the multitude of louder voices of the Christian culture, a culture that should be supporting this demographic, not alienating it.

“Coming Out” as Obsessive-Compulsive

whisper7Recently on Facebook someone asked, “What about your experience talking to people about your symptoms before you were diagnosed– what was that like? Did you get rejection from people? Sarcasm from people? How was your diagnosis received?” and it made me think back over the years.  This is my OCD “coming out” story.

Growing up, I knew that I thought about things far more deeply than most of my friends– and that’s not a slam on their intelligence or depth.  I just extrapolated one million miles further than everyone else my age, and I worried about things that no one else seemed to be worried about.  This was the case for a lot of childhood and high school and even college.  “You think too much!” was a common thing for friends to say to me.

After college, things spiraled out of control, and before I knew it, OCD had backed me into a corner of paranoia.  I had had this “realization” that I couldn’t truly know what people were thinking; my obsessive-compulsive logic prompted me then to believe that my so-called “friends” actually probably didn’t like me … maybe even hated me … in fact, maybe they weren’t even human, but they were demons, and their whole goal of “befriending” me was to trick me into hell.

I was a mess.  And whom could I turn to?  I half-believed I was surrounded by demons.

I took a risk and talked to Judy, my college mentor, who insisted I see a therapist.  The therapist insisted on meds, and the psychiatrist I met with finally used the words “obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

To be honest, I was a little shocked.  OCD?  Not me!  Obsessive-compulsives were those neat-freaks who had to touch doorknobs forty times and stuff like that.  I didn’t do anything like that– or so I thought– and my bedroom was a pit.

And yet, it was freeing to have a name attached to it.  Naming steals back power.

I told my closest friends and family.  I’m not sure, but if I had to guess, I’d say that they were relieved– relieved that whatever-it-was had a name and that I was meeting with a psychiatrist and a therapist and turning things around.  My dad was not particularly happy about it, though; he comes from a background where you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and he used to have a hard time understanding how I could be so depressed.  I did, after all, have a wonderful life.  I just also had OCD and that cancelled a lot of things out.

I didn’t go public with my diagnosis until a couple years later– the summer before I turned 25– and boy, did I choose to go PUBLIC.  I decided to share that I had OCD while I was sharing my testimony with a group of summer campers and counselors.  I had struggled with this in preparation for it.  I was going to be standing up front asking the campers to be real and vulnerable with me that week– and I just knew I couldn’t do that with integrity if I wasn’t willing to share my own story with them.  So I decided to go for it.  I was terrified, but I practiced and practiced until I pretty much had my talk memorized, and I thought I was ready to go.

I wasn’t ready to go.  I did it anyway though.  I was shaking as I stood in front of the camp, reading my once-memorized talk, and when it was over, I walked from the front of the room all the way straight out the door and wept.  I knew that there was no going back after I let them know.  I think what I was most scared about was having others treat me differently.  I thought that maybe they would baby me or talk down to me or tiptoe around me (since now I was camp’s resident crazy person).  I thought they would smile placatingly and treat me as if I were going to shatter.

Instead, what happened is this: almost immediately afterward, a longtime camp friend of mine, who was also a counselor that week, asked if we could chat.  We went down to the dock, and there he told me that he also struggled with OCD.  In fact, he had checked the door at his parents’ house so many times that he broke the handle.  He had never told anyone about his struggles at that point– I was the very first person he’d admitted this to– and I know I was given that honor because I spoke up first.

It gave me courage.  A tiny bit, at least.

That fall, as I recruited at Midwest high schools, I asked for opportunities to speak to the student body, and what I shared with them was about my OCD, about being real with one another, about how freedom begets freedom.  And the reactions were almost always positive.  Students would come up to me afterward and share with me about their struggles– me, a stranger!– because I’d shared first.

So I started sharing closer to home too.  When I’d meet up with someone for coffee, I’d drop the letters OCD into our conversation.  When I’d be on a roadtrip with someone, I’d say the words.

And people started to share back– about their struggles, their problems, and sometimes their own battles with mental illness.

The more I shared, the more others shared.  It was like I was finally living in my true self, and it was drawing that out of others.  It became almost a game to me– I couldn’t wait to tell people that I had OCD!  Who knows what they might need to get off their chest, and I would be opening up a path for them to do so.

It is easier to say, “Me too,” and that’s an advantage I want to give to others.  That’s why I blog about OCD and HOCD and questions I have about God.  That’s why I share about my own self-doubt and the rollercoaster of my life.

Because I want to give people every opportunity to say, “Me too.”

I feel blessed.  I and my OCD have been well-received by most people.  The hardest issue I have to face is the ignorance so many people have about OCD.  But I can gently (or forcefully– ha!) educate them that OCD is more than being clean and organized, that OCD is an illness like any other.

I’m incredibly grateful for my marvelous support system.  I’m indebted to God for my life and my rescue(s).  I count it a privilege to share what once were my secrets, and if that sharing allows even one person to say, “Me too,” then I am blessed.

Writing: Counting the Cost

A few months ago, I attended a local writing conference for authors in the children’s and YA genres.  One of the classes I attended was centered around the road to publication, and I was actually quite pleased to see just how much I already knew about this (long) journey, of which I’m still so far from the finish line.

The thing that stuck with me the most from the class was the way that the instructor would pause after each step (which essentially amounted to rejection after rejection after rejection!) and say, “And now you need to decide: am I really in this for the long haul?  Am I going to stick with this?”  At one of the later stages of rejection, she said, “You have to accept the fact that you might never get published.  Do you still want to keep going?”

From time to time, friends and acquaintances will tell me that they’d like to write a book.  And since I’m a writer, they’d like to hear what advice I might have.

So here it is:

If you want to write a book because you want to write, then do it.

If you want to write a book because you want to be published, then probably don’t.  

Know this: writing a book is hard– especially writing a good book.  A lot of people pursue not only an undergraduate education in how to write but also a master’s degree.  Are you willing to spend several years (and this might also cost you some relationships, as you’ll need to spend a lot of time on your craft … time that will take you away from friends and family), tons of time researching (even if you’re not writing, for example, an historical novel, you will still need to do research for your book– and you’ll need to put in lots of time researching agents as well), and massive amounts of your energy (and your wallet might even take a hit– classes, workshops, and editing assistance all cost money) on a book that might never get published?

It’s a lot to consider.

Writing is a joy– one of the truest joys I’ve known in my life– and that is why my answer to the above question is YES.  

What’s yours?



Here are some related posts I’ve enjoyed on other sites:
7 Reasons Writing a Book Makes You a Badass by Brian Klems
Telling Your Personal Story by Rachelle Gardner

Great Decisions of My Life

baptism1. January 1996, I gave my life to Jesus Christ.  I was fourteen years old, and my heart was singing as I leaned back into the waters of baptism.

2. August 2000, I began my education at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota.  This school molded me as a student of words and the Word and introduced me to some amazing, lifelong friends.  I had no idea that after graduation, I would end up working on the campus, and now I have spent almost 13 years at this amazing institution!

3. August 2001, I chose to be a volunteer camp counselor at Pine Haven Christian Assembly, the camp I grew up attending as a camper.  I was one person going into this week and another coming out of it; it sparked a desire in me to work with youth.  I met some of my very best friends at this camp, most of them this first week.

4. Summer 2003, I decided to apply for a position in the Northwestern admissions office.  A decade later, I still revel in that great decision every morning when I wake up excited to go to work.

5. August 2005, I started sponsoring a child through Compassion International, igniting a strong advocacy in me for helping release children from poverty.  Antonio June, Jona, and Bea bless my life.

6. March 2009, I began Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy to treat my OCD.

Hoping to make more great decisions … or be led to them … or to stumble into them!  What are the best decisions of your life?

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

the power of one poem

My best friend Erica is four years younger than me, so I was already done with college before she even started it– and when the time came, she headed off to school in Chicago, leaving me behind in the Twin Cities to carve my way without her.  Our friendship had never been tested by distance before– who were we to know if it could withstand all those miles?

About a month into the school year, I drove out to Chicago to spend the weekend with her, and one night, we ended up sitting alone in a lounge, share our hearts and secrets and fears, our prayer requests, our tears.  And that’s when I knew our friendship was a lasting one.

I wrote a poem about it, about three years after college graduation.  It was actually a big deal because– surprise, surprise– I actually didn’t write for the first three years after I got my writing degree.  My creativity was sapped, my OCD was out of control, and I hadn’t experienced enough of life yet to really have much to say.

So this poem was important.  Not only did it get my creative juices flowing again, but when I stumbled upon a girl from my writing program in a stairwell one day, I mentioned to her that I had been working on this poem and asked if she’d take a look.  Anna and I started to meet together to talk about writing and soon decided to invite others to join us.  That is the start of my writing group, which is still going strong in our seventh year.

All that to say, the following is not the best work I have ever produced– but it is one of the most important poems I have written because of all that transpired after.  Seven years later, I am working hard on my second manuscript, maintain a daily blog, and Can. Not. Stop. Writing.


for eir

This September day is costumed in summer’s silly charm,
and wonder itself walks the streets of Chicago, a gentleman
bidding good day to friends drunk on the festive flavor of reunion.

Distance, an unfamiliar bully, tests their untried alliance but
is curbed by a charming exchange in a dormitory lounge; Chicago lights
and dirty street sounds don’t breach the quiet dark of this room
to bother best friends who sit and weep together
for the near or distant future. 

With juvenile delight, they grasp hands (and their friendship)
and hold tight.  A wild disclosure of laughter, tears, and stories,
all exposed to the eavesdropping couch that’s received them
and to the mural on the far wall featuring an old hymn’s lyrics:
“Come, Ye Sinners,” and they do.  Come.
To the throne of their able King, whose steady hands,
cupped and strong, award solid and abundant support.

Rallied in aggressive prayer, the girls are shored for survival
while joy rises and falls: offering and receipt.
Their celebrated plans could not conceive this conversation

and the beautiful crux: forever exists for them,
but it seems more important that
now they are here.

eir and me!

eir and me!

four of the early writing group members ... all four are still in it!

four of the early writing group members … all four are still in it!


Uncertainty is the Key


One of my friends has had her obsessions flare up again (she is worried that her brother will die on his spring break trip), and she emailed me for prayer and advice.  I asked her, “Do you want tough love?”

Her response:  “Yes, okay, just hold on a second I have to prepare myself.”
A minute later: “I am ready.  Go.”

I wrote back:

I’m not going to reassure you about this because LIFE IS FULL OF UNCERTAINTY, and we have to learn to live with it.  I’m not saying this to be mean, but the truth of the matter is that he could slip on the Minnesota ice outside and hurt himself that way just as easily as a trip to California.  We DON’T KNOW.  We CAN’T know.  All we can do is make decisions based on the evidence available.  The evidence available suggests he will be fine.  Whether you worry about him or not won’t change anything except for how YOU cope with his spring break.

The best thing that you can do for yourself to keep from spiraling is to repeat to yourself, “I can’t know if he’ll be okay.  He might be.  He might NOT be.  Either way, he knows God, and I have to just live my life with uncertainty.”

want to reassure you.  But that would be just silly—who am I (who is any mere human) to reassure you of something like this?  Our lives ARE like a vapor!  We have no way of knowing.

The evidence available suggests that most healthy young people live till their 70s, so that’s what I’m going to plan for.


My friend thanked me for the tough love; I think I’m allowed to dole it out because she knows about how cognitive-behavioral therapy changed my life.  CBT is really just a giant act of tough love, isn’t it?  We’re put through torture so that we can barrel through the hell of daily life with OCD.  I know I am so glad to have gone through it myself, and that is why I am not willing to reassure someone of something we can’t know.

Life is full of uncertainty, and each obsessive-compulsive wants to eliminate it– which is just not possible.  Still, we go to great lengths to attempt this impossible feat.  Really, our rescue is in learning to embrace the uncertainty.

If it boggles your mind a little, that’s okay.  It still does mine too, and I’m a success story!

For those of you with OCD, is it hard for you to receive tough love from people?  For those of you who love an OC, is it hard for you to dole it out?