where else would I go?

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I feel like it is my duty to show you this picture.

I’ve been a journaler since I could write legibly, and I have the elementary pre-teen angst journals to prove it. They’re mostly filled with elaborate stories about boys I liked and American Girl dolls I wanted, but in between all the elementary crazy, there’s a question or two tucked in those pages about the meaning of life and spiritual curiosity. We grew up going to church on occasion, and we always showed up for the big holidays, Christmas and Easter. We dressed in our best, sang carols, and read the story of baby Jesus coming into the world as a yearly tradition.

Ever since I was a little kid, I loved learning about this big, infinite God who created everything there ever was. In my little eyes—I could never get enough of him. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to know God. I’ve been curious about what God had to do with the human existence, if anything at all. As a fourth grader, I can remember being up late at night wondering if life had meaning, if any of this was real, and if the way I saw the color red was the same way someone else saw the color red. I was a spunky, philosophical little thing, asking adults questions like, “Do you think God exists?” as icebreakers to conversation.

During my middle school years, a family friend invited some of us to attend church with them one weekend. I’d never heard of a “Christian” church before, and coming from a very mainline Protestant background–those evangelical-types always seemed a little funny to me. It was everything I didn’t recognize or understand; people were dressed in jeans and approaching God like a familiar friend instead of a frightening man in the sky. I envied the way they spoke of God, as if they are referring to someone they’d just been with that morning, and I wanted to know if I could have access to a God like that.

When the worship leader got up to lead us in music, everyone all around me started singing right out loud, which was startling at first. A few raised their hands, some sang while sitting, and a small crowd quietly hummed to themselves. Because I loved music, I sang along with them, and wondered if the God they were all singing to could hear me, too.

I don’t remember anything about the sermon that day, but I do recall picking up a Bible for myself that morning and reading it with my own eyes. The first thing I read was in Romans 10:11-13, “For the scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” I couldn’t stop reading. I took a Bible home with me that morning and poured over its pages for the next several weeks.

I met Jesus that year.

I was in seventh grade, and seventh grade is a particularly cruel time in anyone’s life—much less a girl’s. Seventh grade was a hard year for me for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because in lots of ways, I felt like I was losing my sense of home. Although my parents tried their best to maintain stability through the divorce (and I can never thank them enough for that), there was an inevitable piece that always felt broken and torn, no matter how much we wanted to put it back together. I had two addresses instead of one, different closets, different school busses—all kinds of different, really, and I had the zits to prove it.

But there on that Sunday morning, Jesus became my home. And every time I come to write, I come back to that truth—that there in my awkward years of wearing leopard-print pants with clogs (true story), Jesus met me. It was a naïve and simple faith, but it was Jesus all the same.

I’ve grown since then. My understanding of who Jesus is has continued to change and evolve, my perspective of God is bigger and richer, and in many ways harder and more complex. I don’t believe there’s a simple answer to everything anymore and there are days I actually long for the simple faith of my youth. But even still–even in the midst of my existential wandering, questions, and doubts, every time I come back to the Word, he is there, reminding me. Jesus is my home.

As I prepare my heart for Advent this year, I’m reminded of the picture at the end of John 6 when Jesus is talking to his disciples. At that point, many of his followers had decided he was no longer worth following, and Jesus says to them, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” And Peter replies, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I relate so much to Peter in this exchange–as I continue to grow and pursue God, I’ve watched people walk away from Jesus or just quietly drift into a faithless sleep. And I’ve drifted, too, of course–I’ve been in and out of a vibrant faith, sometimes even crawling my way back to trusting and believing God. But Peter’s words to Jesus touch me. When the uncertainty or pain of life feels like it might swallow me whole, I am just like Peter, saying, “Where else would I go, Lord? You are my home.”

During this Advent season, it has not escaped me that regardless of our circumstances, or no matter how far away God feels sometimes, he is not like our feelings. He is so much more, so much bigger. We can have as much of God as we want, and he withholds no good thing from us. 

My husband and son, reading Unwrapping The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp
My husband and son, reading Unwrapping The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

my word for the week: mundane

This week, I’m joining my friend Charity from my writing group, Plume, in her space. Charity is one of the most encouraging people I know. A mutual friend describes her as “the kindest person anyone knows,” and I’ve found it to be more than true. So when she offered the opportunity to write a post in her guest series “In Your Own Words,” I was thrilled. I’m honored to be there today. Here’s an excerpt:

Before those years of chaos, I associated mundane with dull. I thought that an adventurous life meant seeking the next thing, running and chasing for more. I didn’t know that the thing that would give us more, what we needed so badly, was to make space for the mundane. I’m learning that when my soul starts itching for more, it’s not more that I usually need. I’m finding that my itch for more is usually an alarm that I need to wake up and see what’s actually right in front of me. Our marriage didn’t need more money, more activities, or more stuff; we needed space to live in the mundane together. I didn’t realize that God wanted to speak to me in the mundane rhythms of my day if only I would make time to listen.

You can read the rest here.

a deep sigh of relief

We took a little four-day vacation this week, and I finally put my money where my mouth is: I turned off email, deleted social media from my phone, and reduced the noise and clutter. I filled the silent spaces with nothing but thoughts, prayer, books, and laughter. I let myself be bored and remembered that the world doesn’t always need me.

Verdict: it was good.

Isn’t that a humbling thought? The world can go on without us. Happy fall to you, friend, wherever you find yourself today. I sincerely pray the same for you–a deep sigh of relief in a manic and rushing world.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. –Matthew 10:29-31 (ESV)

why I’m quiet about my messed up story

This past week, my close friend and mentor Kelli wrote an article for Today’s Christian Woman entitled “Your Messed Up Story.” When she originally asked a few us of to consider being interviewed for it, I was in a particularly busy season of life and at first denied the request. Not because I didn’t want to, but I just didn’t have time. But the more I thought about it, I couldn’t put her article out of my mind—mostly because of a promise I made in recovery years ago: I wasn’t going to be defined by my mess, but if there ever came an appropriate time to talk about it and give God glory through it, I would.

Bulimia nervosa is defined as an eating disorder characterized by binge eating and purging, or consuming a large amount of food in a short amount of time followed by an attempt to get rid of it. I started binging and purging when I was 17, during my senior year of high school. I had started gaining weight due to a back injury from cheerleading, and with a serious shift in metabolism, and I started feeling really out of control. There were a lot of other spiraling circumstances during that time of my life; my body was just one of them. But for whatever reason, I was hyper-focused on my body, and pretty soon I was in over my head. During my freshman year of college, I backed off a bit—making promises to myself that was “my last time.” But you can’t really talk yourself out of a disorder, so by the time summer came, I was back into the routine, and binging and purging had become a “normal” part of my life.

The irony of all of this (besides the obvious) was that I was a biblical studies & ministry major at college, and a ministry intern at a non-profit (and later a church). I feared if I told anyone I would be seen differently and “unfit for ministry,” although I know now that I could have been honest–back then, I was living in a state of anxiety and paranoia. Perhaps what’s most frightening about the whole thing was my ability to hide and pretend. When people asked about my rapid weight loss, I had answers ready. “I’ve been working out,” (total lie) “I’ve been watching what I eat” (kind of the opposite, actually), etc. Perhaps my ability to lie was the scariest part of it all—I was in a giant web and felt like anyone close to me would have walked away had I been honest. How could anyone trust me after I had been so deceptive? I was ministering to teenage girls while I was suffering from an eating disorder, and who would ever hire (or listen to) someone like that?

To sum it up: throughout the next year I was broken in a thousand ways—sharing my struggle with close friends and my then boyfriend (now husband), confessing to my parents, and going through a year of counseling. Oh, and did I mention? I was a resident assistant for our dorm on our Christian campus that year, too, so while I was counseling others and leading them in weekly Bible study, I was going through my own personal hell. Looking back, it would have been more honest to give myself a leadership break, but I didn’t because I felt a compulsion to not let everyone know what a real and serious mess I was.

It’s been seven years since then, and I’m fully recovered. One would think that after the hard work of recovery, I would have no problem sharing my story and giving God the credit for all the ways I’ve been healed—emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But when Kelli’s article released on Thursday, my first reaction was panic. I said to my husband, “Oh… crap.” When he asked what was wrong, I responded, “Oh, well—nothing. Kelli interviewed me for this article and I was really honest and now I kind of regret it.” After reading it, Kyle said, “Wait, why do you regret it? It’s the truth.” “I know,” I said, “But now people will actually know I’m kind of a hot mess.”

“But isn’t that the point?”

Husbands, I tell you.

I don’t talk much about my eating disorder and recovery because—here’s the embarrassing truth—I don’t like how it makes me sound. It makes me feel like a crazy person, or that I’ll be perceived as one, even though I never have perceived anyone else with an eating disorder as crazy. So I’m quiet about it because it’s not really a conversation starter, and I mostly just want to manage the way I’m perceived by telling you all the lovely things about me, first. Which is actually just gross. But I think that’s how all of us are when it comes to our sin, mess, and baggage. We don’t bring it out into the light not just because we’re ashamed of it, or because we don’t believe God can use it, but because—frankly—we’re worried about people’s perceptions. What will people think if they know __________? It sounds so elementary, right? How can we be adults and still be trying to manage people’s perceptions?

What I found on the other side of confession was that no one—not a single person—was as hard on me as I was on myself. And I was met with grace. So much grace. As Kelli so eloquently wrote, “Sharing not just our ‘before and after’ stories but also our ‘in the middle of it’ realities points others not toward ourselves but instead toward the Cross—toward the redemption and grace that saved us and keeps on saving us.” Yes, it would be easier if God took a big magic wand and waved it over this part of my story. He hasn’t. But he continues to save me every day, in the bathroom, at a restaurant, in my kitchen, and in the mirror … directing me back towards someone so much bigger: Jesus. So I should be over perception management and striving for perfection because that’s kind of the entire point: Jesus is perfect and I can never be. So there you have it: I’m kind of a big hot mess and saved by the only One who has ever been perfect—and I continue to be rescued from the darkness that lives inside of all of us.

what i’m reading | june, july, & august

Let’s start with the obvious: it’s been a bit quiet around here, and I won’t break the cardinal rule of blogging about not blogging, but I will offer my sincerest apologies. I intended on telling you about what I was reading, listening to, and thinking about, but somehow my life caught the better of me and blogging fell ever further down my list, somewhat regrettably.

Did I tell you that my husband was traveling this summer? Well, now you know, which can explain my absence (a little). He’s in grad school right now (in a program specifically designed for teachers), which means he was gone a lot this summer and we all missed him tons. Our dog was seriously in the dumps, which only confirmed my suspicions of her true feelings about me. And I probably shouldn’t mention that I got completely addicted to Cherry Coke Zero all thanks to Sonic’s happy hour. (Self control, you say? Nah.)

But in the midst of the summer chaos, I did find a few nights to tuck away and read some really good stuff, so I’d love to share some of my favorites with you:

At the very top of the list, I devoured Jojo Moyes’ novel Me Before You. I was a bit unraveled by the last page, and cried off and on for a few days after I finished it. It’s somewhat controversial, but it is so, so good. I’ve already put my name in on the waiting list for the rest of her books at our local library, and I fully anticipate going on a Jojo Moyes binge here in the coming months.

Next up: Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Kyle and I love The Mindy Project and The Office, so I could hear her voice in her book. She definitely has a “Tina Fey’s little sister” vibe going on, which hey–who wouldn’t love that?

I think I already told you this, but I really loved Myquillin Smith’s The Nesting Place. I’ve listened to her a bit on The Art of Simple podcast, and I adore her. She feels like an older sister who doesn’t revel in being “the oldest,” but one who just simply wants to share the things she’s learned along the way. She inspired me to think about my home in such different ways, and it’s definitely one I’ll come back to.

And lastly, I’ve been reading Jen Hatmaker’s Interrupted. I’ve got an expanded book review coming soon, but I didn’t want to lie and review it before I finished it. I’ve been a fan since I found her on the Twitter, live-tweeting her hilarious heart out during the London Olympics. I resonate with her on so many levels, like discussions about marriage, church, culture, and motherhood. But mostly? It’s her sense of humor; she just gets me. Or do I just get her? Either way, I love her, and if I meet her in person one day I will be so totally weird and probably say something completely embarrassing. But I don’t care because she’s my comedy spirit animal. And I will tell her that.

I could go on, but the babe is waking. So here’s what’s currently on my nightstand:

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P.S. Did you notice? I changed my URL to annemwilson.com, because I’m having a complete blog identity crisis. My Twitter and Instagram handles are @annemwilson, so I figured I’d drop the cutesy name and just be consistent, since I’m clearly confused. I don’t know, just pat me on the back. Thanks for your patience, friends. 

creating a village life (in 2014)

I’ve been thinking about this article all week. It popped up in my Twitter feed on Tuesday afternoon, and I have to tell you that I wondered if Bunmi broke into my home and stole my journal when I read this part:

I miss that village of mothers that I’ve never had. The one we traded for homes that, despite being a stone’s throw, feel miles apart from each other. The one we traded for locked front doors, blinking devices and afternoons alone on the floor playing one-on-one with our little ones.

Afternoons alone playing one-on-one? Check.

Locked front door and blinking devices? Check.

Feeling miles apart from people who live a stone’s throw? Check check.

I know the danger here of romanticizing a time I don’t really know, mistaking longing for nostalgia (or an unhealthy dose of both). But I must admit that I’ve felt all of this lately. I don’t think it’s geographically centered, or that it has to do with my neighborhood or city or where I live. I think it has to do with me, when I’m painfully honest. I think it has to do with all of us who grew up finding community online and forgot to put down our phones/computers/iPads/whatevers to find community in the real faces we pass by every day.

Case in point: my neighbor followed me on Twitter a few months ago (hi, Jessica!) and I had a strange reaction. My first thought was, “Now my neighbor knows so much about me!”

Y’all.

Do I even need to tell you that my own thoughts stopped me in my tracks? Since when was it possible for people who live thousands of miles away to know more about me than ones who live within ten feet?

I don’t have very many answers, but I’m seeking. I agree with Donald Miller when he says that when a consumer longs for community, he or she goes looking for a place to plug in or “sign up,” but when a creator longs for community, he or she invites neighbors over for dinner, puts up a screen in his backyard, or starts something new. Although I’d like to think I’m more on the creator side of life, in this area–lately–I think I’ve fallen more on the consumer side.

What an odd little world we’ve created for ourselves. We’re more connected and lonelier than ever. I want to, as my friend Mandy Smith said, work every day to weave this longing for “the village” back into this strange world we’ve made.

I’d love to learn from you, friends. If you’re experiencing (or creating) this village existence in 2014, how have you managed to do it when (most) of your local friends live at least 20 minutes away? What steps have you taken to create real, face-to-face community in this digital world we’ve created?

algebra and homemaking

When I was in high school, I had a long, dramatic relationship with Algebra 2. There’s too much to even relay all that goes into this spiteful correspondence, but let’s just say–my junior year (the second round of Algebra 2), it got ugly and I spent most Saturday mornings in Steak’n’Shake with a tutor, crying my way through homework. Like most high school students, I wanted to spend time doing what was familiar and easy, so I put Algebra 2 homework last–until I was nearly failing–and my parents were all, “You actually have to do this homework or you are going to work at Taco Bell for the rest of your life,” and I was all, “Well, I like Mexican food, so that’s fine.” (Dramatic story short: I eventually passed. Ish.)

More than a decade later, I have to tell you–I met domestic life with the same resistance. I laughed out loud the other day when a friend casually said that she envied my homemaking skills, because can I just tell you? I spent the first year of marriage “bragging” that I didn’t know how to cook, and I was weirdly proud of it. (Read: really prideful and just gross.) Like a teenager refusing to learn how to do a math problem, I pretended like I didn’t need domestic skills (which is just stupid)–and even worse, that I was too good for it. In my insecure quest to make it known that I was above all that, I made a fool of myself.

Homemaking and mothering have felt a bit like Algebra 2 for me. Get up in front of a room in teach? Sure. Jump in a meeting and brainstorm a new concept, or work on a project and bring it to life? Take me to your leader. But plan out meals, play a support role, and keep everything afloat in the operations of our home? Yikes. If we had tons of cash-flow, I would immediately hire a full-time cleaning person. DO NOT LOOK AT THE BASEBOARDS IN MY HOUSE. You’ll never return. It’s astounding to me how unnatural this process has been, and quite frankly I’ve felt like the new kid in class over the past year.

But just like that pesky math homework, I’m learning something holy. Somewhere in the impossible process of algebra, a breakthrough usually came sometime around 10pm. With my dad leaning over, trying to help me through the frustration, suddenly something would click and I was able to fumble my way through problems. And I didn’t know it then, but I know it now: sometimes it’s good for us when things don’t come easy, and we have a lot to learn from leaning into things that at first feel foreign or difficult.

Maybe my identity is bigger than being someone who naturally leads and awkwardly follows. Maybe I’m in a season of following because I’m a really arrogant piece of work sometimes–and for a while there, my heart was in no shape to lead. I’m starting over, here. I’m in a season of life where in almost every area, I’m painting in the background. God has something new for me in this season, and I have lots to learn from the women who have gone before me.

I’ll start with learning how to clean my baseboards.