Reflection and Roundup: My Writing in 2017


2017 has been a landmark year for me as a writer, in some ways obvious and others not at all. I’ve written for more publications than ever before, and while that’s been a satisfying accomplishment to be sure, there have been two other developments in my writing life that mean immeasurably more to me as both a person and a writer.

The first is that I learned to appreciate editorial feedback. The first time I received substantive edits on my work, I started sweating, slammed my computer shut, and considered never writing again. 24 hours later, I relooked at the feedback and slowly began to realize that if someone cared enough to critique my work, that meant they saw something in it that was worth saying.

Good editors aren’t destroying what I’ve created, they’re helping me mine it for treasure. My affection for editorial input has risen to an almost comical point now. I crave feedback, which leads to the second development.

I used to think of writing as inherently lonely, or at least as a task primarily undertaken alone. But due to friendships with fellow writers, editors, and readers, I now think of writing as one of the most profoundly communal dimensions of my life. A few pieces I wrote this year were conceptualized by other people, including my favorite piece of 2017, and there’s been nary a piece I’ve sent to an editor without asking at least two other people to read it and offer feedback first.

I’ve formed friendships over the past year that have offered me safety, challenge, comfort, and encouragement both as a person and a writer. While I have every intention of continuing to pursue new writing and publishing opportunities, there is no byline or book deal in the world that could offer me the joy those friendships born of vulnerability in both writing and relationship have offered to me.


These are my favorite nine pieces I wrote this year.

When Mark Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, and Derek Webb seemed to reappear at once in my Twitter feed, I contemplated the allure of Christian celebrity and the precarious nature of Provocative Platforms. [Fathom Mag]

Upon the conclusion of the Gilmore Guys podcast, I penned a tribute to the way they offered Hope in my Earbuds. It is, in one sense, a piece about a niche bit of pop culture, but in a much greater sense, it’s about hospitality and family. [Christ and Pop Culture]

Life often seems to pay no mind to how hot the water is getting, how greatly the pressure is bearing down. I wrote about this broken world’s way of Extracting the Essence in an essay to my husband. [Mothers Always Write]

Through the lens of the poem Good Bones by Maggie Smith, I explored the idea of Parenting as Narrating, and what it means to tell the story of life to our children. [Fathom Mag]

My marriage is the result of two teenagers choosing one another when we barely knew what that meant, when we were novices at the practice of Shedding Summer Skin together. I pondered our story, the power of music and memory, and the band Death Cab for Cutie in a reflective essay. [Christ and Pop Culture]

After writing only prose since my days of angsty high school poetry, I tried my hand at a poem about motherhood called I Smile at the Bruises. [Fathom Mag]

A Thursday night of Shondaland viewing led to a conversation with several friends, and ultimately an article, about a question I find myself asking often: Are Women Really Welcome in the World? [Christ and Pop Culture]

It’s of deepest importance to me that my practice of writing be deeply intertwined with tangibly doing justice and loving mercy in my day to day life. That intertwine found its way into a piece on How to Be Faithful and Focused in the Face of the World’s Pain. [iBelieve]

I asked what it is about Louisa May Alcott’s March sisters that keeps us coming back to them, and how the church might embody a similarly compelling posture, in Little Women and the Imaginative Power of Family Identity. [Christ and Pop Culture]

I’ll think back on 2017 with deep fondness as a writer for decades. It was the year I turned over a new leaf in writing toward my voice, became a podcast co-host, wrote a study guide for a book, and traded in tightly clenched fears for hands more free to love in word and deed. It was a year of continuing to be pressed thin, of undoing and redoing, of preparing me for the mantra I’ve chosen for 2018: “an ear to the ground–and wait” (Charles Bruce).

Toward greater love, deeper listening, and what I pray will be beneficial writing, I go.

Little Women and the Imaginative Power of Family Identity

While lists of literature’s favorite women vary widely, they nearly always mention one beloved heroine: Josephine March of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. “Jo” and her three sisters, Meg, Beth, and Amy, have charmed hearts and minds for nearly 150 years through numerous adaptations, and PBS is preparing yet another rendition with a 2018 television series.

What is it about Little Women that keeps us returning to it? While the individual trajectories of the sisters, and especially Jo’s, are enthralling in their own right, something more profound and weighty anchors the story and comforts its readers: the sisters’ shared childhood and distinct family identity.

Little Women opens on Christmas Eve, just hours before a day that will be marked by a scarcity of gifts and a quartet of daughters missing their father who is serving as a Union Army chaplain. The girls are dejected as the story begins, lamenting that a day they want to celebrate will be tainted by lack and loneliness. They attempt to bring about some brightness by planning small gifts for their beloved mother, Marmee, but remain sad and disappointed at the thought of Christmas.

Keep reading at Christ and Pop Culture.

*Image Credit:

Social Media Fundraising

Fathom Mag interviewed me about using social media to fundraise, and how, regardless of season, God makes a way for His people to do that which He has called us to do.

First off, tell us what you actually do?

I use social media to fundraise for people in need. Typically, those groups of people include foster, adoptive, kinship, single parent, and at-risk for CPS intervention families. As I’ve become aware of other situations, I’ve also fundraised for hurricane relief efforts, refugees, and bone marrow transplant patients.

How did you start?

In 2015, friends of mine who were involved in our church’s foster and adoption support group opened a foster pantry filled with items that would be made freely available to foster families.  They were well stocked on clothes, toys, etc., but needed larger items like car seats, strollers, and high chairs.

On a whim, I logged onto Amazon, saw that a car seat was available for a great deal, and posted it on my Facebook profile with information about the foster pantry opening in case anyone wanted to participate in stocking it. I offered my PayPal and Venmo links and wrote that any amount was appreciated, and that once I received enough money to purchase the car seat, I would. The seat was covered almost immediately, and people went crazy over the fundraiser.

Keep reading at Fathom Mag.

Are Women Really Welcome in the World?

In 2017, it can be easy to believe that there isn’t much left that we haven’t seen. We’ve launched astronauts into space. We’ve mapped the human genome. We’ve harnessed technology in such a way that it has become an integral part of our everyday lives.

While we all theoretically know that there are heights yet to reach, the world seems accessed and accessible in ways like never before. Many of the stories we tell are thinly veiled retellings of stories already told—creative, but not even attempting to be original. Everything seems attainable, yet we find ourselves regularly returning to that which we have already attained.

Perhaps this normative recurrence of the same old tropes is why an experience a few weeks ago stood out to me so clearly, an experience in which I saw something that I had never seen before. While sitting on the couch in my own familiar living room, a new story played out. What I witnessed wasn’t a scientific advancement, nor a political achievement. In fact, it wasn’t even real. It was a fictional depiction of something possible in the real world, but yet to be seen. And it captivated me.

Keep reading at Christ and Pop Culture.

Provocative Platforms

On Mark Driscoll, Derek Webb, Tullian Tchividjian, and my quest for missing pieces.

I was sixteen years old when a new album came on the scene, quickly labeled “edgy,” if not offensive, in the world of 2003 Contemporary Christian Music. The lyrics were provocative, at least for the time, and my teenage heart was enthralled by them.

I am a whore
I do confess
I put you on just like a wedding dress
And I run down the aisle
—Derek Webb

I listened to the album over and over again, enticed by the call to what felt like a deeper faith, a rawness and authenticity that seemed to be missing in so much of the evangelical culture around me. The music was artistically good, but not overly polished. The lyrics were reverent (enough), but not stripped of human honesty.

I knew my salvation was secure, but I wondered if perhaps the hollowness I’d sometimes felt in the conservative evangelicalism of my childhood could be filled by the fresh air this singing provocateur was breathing. Maybe this was the missing piece.

Keep Reading at Fathom Mag.

‘Sit with Me’: Currents of Grief in “Wind River”

“This isn’t the land of waiting for backup. This is the land of you’re on your own.”

Harsh as those words are, the reality they depict is even harsher. Wind River tells the gritty story of a murder case on an Indian Reservation where a young woman’s body is found in the snow by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife game hunter, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner). Signs of rape and assault that are evident from the beginning are soon confirmed, and FBI Officer Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) and Lambert pair up to investigate.

The audience eventually learns that Lambert’s daughter also died in the cold a few years earlier. The undetermined, suspicious circumstances of her murder leave Lambert tormented and hungry to exact punishment. A few scenes in the film play out like near-fulfillments of revenge fantasies for Lambert, tantalizing him with the aroma of justice, offering a taste, then disappearing. Lambert pursues vengeance on behalf of the newly deceased young woman, Natalie, and her family, indulging the bloodlust that has been percolating beneath his calm exterior as he has mourned his own daughter. The retribution does not satisfy.

Wind River is bleak, even gruesome at moments. The desolation that echoes throughout the snow-covered reservation and the agony of the characters’ stories resound loudly enough for Vox writer Alissa Wilkinson to suggest that the film “risks becoming a caricature of pain.” While I do not overtly disagree with Wilkinson’s critique (I certainly found a few scenes in the film to teeter on, if not fall over, the edge of gratuitous brutality), my overall impression of the film is, perhaps, rooted in different soil.

Keep reading at Christ and Pop Culture.

*Image Credit: IMDB

New Podcast Episode: Peacemaking Fails then Successes

The Shalom Sistas crew has a new group episode for you, friends! Tune in to listen to Jerusalem, Cara, Osheta, and me share our stories of peacemaking fails that turned into successes.

My story involves a total flop of an attempt to participate in Harvey relief. Osheta and I talk about my struggle to realize that, of course, my inability to help doesn’t mean I am a failure or “not enough,” even though that is what I’m tempted to feel. I also share one of my favorite quotes from Osheta’s book on “enough”ness.

In addition to my story about not feeling like enough, Jerusalem, Osheta and Cara talk about additional themes from Osheta’s book–the truths that we are beloved, invited, and determined to see the beauty. We laugh a lot at our own shenanigans and we hope you will too!

Shedding Summer Skin

On one of the few days left lingering between my high school graduation and freshman year of college, Death Cab for Cutie released their fifth studio album, Plans, and I’d like to think the album’s drop was timed just for me. When I hear the hit singles that first tickled my eardrums in August of 2005—”Soul Meets Body,” “Crooked Teeth,” “I Will Follow You into the Dark”—framing the album with the nostalgia, wistfulness, and ache that Death Cab conjures up in the hearts of listeners like no other, I’m transported back to that end of summer and taken on a journey into the months and years that followed.

If you graduated from high school just before Plans released like I did, or if you have a single memory associated with their music, my hunch is that you have the same connection. Death Cab’s songs are the kind that burrow deep inside you. At the time, you thought you were just listening, the music washing over you, and then years later you hear “Someday You Will Be Loved” in a coffee shop and look around to find yourself inside a memory you’d thought was long gone.

The songs hadn’t merely washed over you at all; they had taken root inside, been there with you all this time.

There is no richer example of this for me than “Summer Skin,” song number three on Plans, its drumbeat strong, reminiscent of time marching forward, Ben Gibbard’s voice and the lyrics just inches from uncertainty. This combination evokes the tension that memories seem to so often be made of—is this the same feeling I had in that moment? Do I remember this the way it actually happened? Is the accuracy of the memory what’s important, or is the meaning in the story the memory tells?

Keep reading at Christ and Pop Culture.

*Image Credit: Cameron Morgan

Should I Feel God’s Presence in My Life?  

If you grew up evangelical, it’s likely you experienced the phenomenon known as the “camp high.” This experience would occur when your youth group or church made its way to a retreat center, or perhaps your parents sent you off to a summer camp. A few days into the week, when you were tired, hadn’t stopped sweating in 96 hours, and were certain that the friends by your side would be your best buds forever, the evening program would happen. A campfire, perhaps, or a stirring message from a stage, and before you knew it, every emotion you’d ever known was rising up within you, a symphony of feelings that you were sure could only mean one thing—this is what it feels like to be near God.

I have many memories associated with this kind of experience, most of them occurring at camps or retreats or on mission trips, moments sweet and safe and removed from the every day normalcy of life. Sometimes I would access those emotions in a smaller dose on Wednesday nights at youth group, or during a Sunday morning service, a certain song or message conjuring up a fiery commitment to God and His ways. How could I want anything else?, I would think. Surely, if He can make me feel this way, He must be the One to follow.

While experiences like this were peppered throughout my teenage years, when college and young adulthood arrived, they seemed to slip away quietly. I wondered, worried even, if I was doing something wrong when I could no longer access the emotional highs I had once known and associated with God’s goodness and presence. As I made my first decisions of adulthood—a degree plan, marriage, my first job, two summers on the mission field—I wondered where God was. I was quite sure factually, logically, rationally, that He was pleased with the road I was walking. But emotionally, I wrestled. Why couldn’t I feel Him? And what did it mean that I couldn’t?

Keep reading at iBelieve.

Supporting Foster and Adoptive Families

Three years ago, my husband and I earned our foster care license. Due to a series of life circumstances beyond our control, we were only able to use our license to offer respite care (weekend long stints of caring for foster children) twice, and babysit a few other times. My heart was broken by our inability to maintain our license, even as I knew God was guiding us to release it. A question emerged in a present, painful way in my heart and mind: is there a legitimate option for us to engage the local foster care and adoption community if we cannot do so through actually fostering or adopting? Do people mean it when they say that there is, or is the option binary—foster/adopt or don’t?

As God is so faithful to do, “He brought me out into a broad place” (Psalm 18:19), revealing to me that not only were there ways to be actively involved in the lives of foster and adoptive families and children, but that they were plentiful. I became convinced that I was invited to join Him in His work of “placing the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6), which I have written about here.

I’ve recently spoken with several women who, like I did, have questions about engaging the foster care and adoption community. I’m delighted to share their questions, along with answers and insight from foster and adoptive families and an adult adoptee, with you today. As you read, I encourage you to pick one step to take and consider letting a friend or two know about it. Ask if they’d be willing to have you share with them what you learned and discuss possibilities for acting on it.

Keep reading at The Influence Network