Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark {a review & giveaway}

Me and the book

How do you know God is real?

Because you’ve felt him.

Until you don’t anymore.

Addie Zierman’s second book, Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark, officially came into the world one week ago Tuesday. It arrived on my doorstep that night, and as I absorbed myself into it, I found myself within its pages. Like her first book, When We Were On Fire, it took me to familiar places, hard places, true places.

Like Addie’s debut, Night Driving is a memoir. This one chronicles a spontaneous road trip she took two winters ago with her two young boys, to escape the darkness of her even-colder-than-usual Minnesota home for Florida light … to escape the darkness and emptiness inside her to maybe, just maybe, find a Light she could take back with her.

The book flits between past and present, and I was carried along on interstates and into strangers’ homes. I was carried to beaches of yesteryear where fire lit the sky, lit the heart, and to beaches where the rain thundered down, where nothing was as simple as it used to be. Night Driving is achingly beautiful; Night Driving is achingly real.

It seems fitting to be writing about this book in the cold of a Colorado blizzard, in the darkness of Holy Week, in the sparseness of my own soul.

The morning after I finished the book, I found myself flipping back, a few chapters at first and then all the way to the beginning, filling three pages deep with quote after quote. I was going to share a few of my favorites, interspersed with reflections on why these particular words are meaningful to me … but then I realized that you don’t need my words right now, that what you need are Addie’s words, full stop. And so, here they are:

“In the dark kitchen, I feel as if my eyes are finally beginning to adjust. And I’d forgotten that this is how sight works. We move from someplace very bright to someplace very dark, and for several minutes it’s very hard to see. But then the pupil expands and the rod cells engage, and the whole eye is flooded with rhodopsin, and we can finally absorb photos, perceive light. I’d forgotten that we are made like this. We are equipped to see not only in the light … but also in the darkness. It just takes time to switch between the two.

And maybe this has all been nothing more than part of the natural process of things. I spent the formative years of my life, my faith, looking straight into the Light. It only makes sense that it would take my eyes a while to heal from that burning and to adjust to a world that so often is dark. But now I’m sitting at the kitchen table, blinking in the darkness, and God’s presence doesn’t feel at all like fog lights or romance or smoke or fire. It is as steady and commonplace as the wooden farm table between us, at the floor my feet brush against, the slant of the oven light barely illuminating the table. It’s almost pitch-black. I’ve never seen so clearly.”

Night Driving, pages 195-196

“I feel like I’ve spent the last several years twisting and turning the puzzle pieces of my faith, trying to get them to plug up that ‘God-shaped hole’ that is still throbbing like an abscess in my heart. But it never seems to go away – no matter how long I sit there, Bible in my lap, staring out the patio door of my kitchen, waiting. … ‘All sins are attempts to fill voids,’ Simone Weil said, and at some crucial point that I can’t actually remember, I figured out that burning down your own life felt strikingly similar to being on fire. That if I couldn’t shoot the gap via that bridge which is the empty cross, at least I could pour wine down into it. Such an easy shortcut. Such a simply fix to get tipsy on cheap cabernet and smile at some guy on some street and feel myself float to the top of that gaping, empty space in me – at least for a little while.”

Night Driving, pages 126-127

“It’s like this: Once upon a time, I learned that God came like light. I spent a long time, head against the window, peering into the darkness, praying for God to come like a spotlight, like a fire, like some wild laser show in the pitch-black sky. I learned to fear the darkness, and when it came, I struck myself against everything around me trying to make sparks.”

Night Driving, page 208

“I hadn’t understood, then, that love doesn’t always look like romance and faith doesn’t look like fire and light doesn’t always look like the sun – and that this matters.”

Night Driving, page 209

You can find out more Addie and her book at addiezierman.com, and you can find Night Driving on Amazon (or wherever you buy books).

Also, a GIVEAWAY! I have a copy of Night Driving that I’d like to give to one of you. If this book sounds like it’s for you, simply post a comment on this blog post, and you will be entered in the giveaway. On Easter Monday, I will randomly select one winner (so make sure you include your email address in your comment, so I can contact you if you win).

UPDATE: The giveaway has ended. Thank you to everyone who participated!

When You Miss the Darkness

dark church
Photo by n3wjack on Flickr’s creative commons

Is it strange that I miss the darkness that sucker-punched my soul?

This was four years ago. I was living overseas, six months split between two continents, saturated in Christian community that was young and fiery and expectant. I was young and fearful and depressed, but this was my chance. This could be my cure.

One day, we left our drafty English manor with its roast dinners and familiar faces and small groups for the Midlands, for Coventry, for Evangelism Week.

During the day, we threw ourselves into creative evangelism and indirect evangelism and woo-woo evangelism. At night, friends and strangers slept beside me on the carpeted church sanctuary floor, but I couldn’t sleep.

Do I really believe what I’m trying to get everyone else to believe?

The door was opened, and oh what blew in! I lay on my half of the air mattress and tried to keep my breathing steady and my body silent. For the first time ever, I was seriously considering walking away from Christianity. And my soul gaped and gasped and trembled as it realized what all that would mean. This wasn’t a drill.

At the time, I would’ve given anything to close that door.

Now, I want to open it again.

The darkness was wild and terrifying and bleak, but it also blew away illusions and assumptions and meaningless hypotheticals, at least for a time. I learned how to be honest with myself and others, how to be awake to my own soul. What I learned in the dark, I carried with me into the light. The darkness was fierce, but so was the light, and I wonder if they needed each other.

Today, I’m so tired. The darkness is not a sucker punch to my gut anymore, but rather weights on my chest that keep getting heavier and making it harder to breath.

Every so often, something breaks through the fog. Every so often, a Lenten hymn or a line in the Creed will catch in my throat, catch on something inside me, and I won’t feel quite so tired that evening. But all too soon, I’m drifting off again, and it’s getting harder and harder for anything to rouse me.

The loop starts again, that cynical loop, whenever anyone bumps the “Play” button. But by now I’m bored by the sound of my own voice. I’m dragging, dragging, dragging, and experience tells me that nothing will happen unless I can somehow make it happen. Someone asks me if it’s faith or fear that keeps me here, and I don’t know, it’s all tangled together. I’m too tired to try anymore.

This is not the darkness that blows open doors and knocks me flat, for good or ill. Rather, this is the darkness of closed doors and stale air. Maybe one day I will find good in this too, but I can’t help but think that the door needs to open again, whatever may lie behind it now, even if it scares me. Even if I die a sort of death in the process.

Who knows what the morning will bring, or the evening.

 

This post is a part of Addie Zierman’s synchroblog to celebrate the release of her new book, Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark. Read other entries here.

11 Things I Learned in November

After a hiatus last month due to 31 Days in the Word, I’m back with a hodgepodge assortment of what I’ve learned this month. For the fourth time, I’m linking up with Emily Freeman and other bloggers to give you a recap of November’s fun and memorable discoveries. Enjoy!

1. We finished our fall Share-a-thon at KVIP radio a few weeks ago, and I learned (again) that I’m exceptionally and increasingly comfortable on live radio, almost unnaturally so for my level of introversion. Of course, a lot of it has to do with it being this radio station and these co-workers/co-hosts and those listeners, but it still boggles my mind sometimes.

2. For my birthday dinner at Olive Garden, I tried wine for the first time. I’m not a fan. At least, not of the particular white wine I sampled.

3. Speaking of alcohol, intoxication in this country is defined as having a blood alcohol content level that is at or greater than 0.08%. When I went in to retake a portion of the written test as part of renewing my driver’s license, I realized I had no idea what the legal limit was. Luckily, I’m a good guesser (on that and a couple other questions), or else my trip to the DMV might not have been so quick.

4. I am a Jesus Feminist: “I have always accepted the basic complementarian understanding of gender roles without giving it much thought: Women are to submit to their husbands, and preaching is for men. … Now, I’m starting to question it. I’m finding strict complementarians and those who take Paul’s words on submission to their literal extremes. I’m learning to walk in the freedom and love of Christ. And for the first time, I’m asking questions. Why can’t a woman preach? I wonder. For the first time, it’s bothering me.”

It was a big step to write about something so controversial (or potentially controversial) here, but I desire authenticity, and for me authenticity means allowing myself to wrestle and ask hard questions outside of the safety of my own head and home. And I’m glad I did.

5. Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the best film adaptation I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a great movie in its own right as well. I look forward to seeing it again.

6. November 3rd was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. I learned which countries have the most extreme persecution. China isn’t as high on the list as I expected it to be. Also, I found out about Iranian-American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is currently imprisoned in Iran for his faith. Read his story and sign the petition here.

7. Not every American makes pumpkin pie from a can. I’d always assumed that was the norm, since it’s what we’ve always done — in fact, if it hadn’t been for a pumpkin carving activity in high school, I might’ve never, in all my 25 years, interacted with the insides of that gargantuan vegetable (or fruit?). Granted, I don’t know what percentage of Americans opt for the can over pureeing the pumpkin themselves, but I can no longer hold my can with the same pride and joy that I did before.

8. It’s worthwhile to enter book giveaways. Though I am biased, seeing as how I’ve won four much-desired books in the last month or so.

Lizzie and her books
I’ve won four out of five of these books in giveaways. (from left to right: When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman, Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman, and The In-Between and Wrecked by Jeff Goins)

9. I love Advent. Last December was my first year of truly observing this pre-Christmas season of waiting and expectancy, and now I’ve taken things to the next level by bringing the celebration to my radio show. Of course, one of the consequences of doing so — particularly this Christmas — is that I’m already halfway through Advent on my program while in the real world Advent hasn’t even started yet. But I don’t mind this head start. In fact, I’m interested in the Christian year even beyond Advent, so I purchased the book Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross.

10. I’ve never owned a dog (and never really cared to own one), but after taking care of a couple’s border collie/Australian shepherd for three weeks while they were on vacation, I realized there’s more to dogs than loud barking, slobbery licks, and poop. Dogs are very affectionate, and I loved being welcomed home from work by my canine companion, Ozzie.

11. I’m not a Whovian (yet?), but after watching “The Day of the Doctor” (the 50th-anniversary special for the beloved British TV show, Doctor Who) I understood why people love it so much, why this is a big deal. I was also confused a lot of the time, but that’s to be expected for someone like me who’s only seen a dozen Doctor Who episodes in total.

Day 26: A Saturday for Looking Back

This day 26 of 31 Days in the Word — a Saturday update.

I’ve been away from home all week on my housesitting adventure, and I can’t say it’s been any more restful than usual. It brings its own set of challenges and responsibilities, really.

Like making sure the dog gets enough exercise. Like making sure I have enough food. Like trying to ward off loneliness.

Last night, I was reading blogs and feeling restful and blessed. Blessed that there are so many other words, so many other stories, so many other lives to connect with.

One of those blogs was a guest blog over at Addie Zierman’s website: One Small Change: One LESS Thing (written by Heather Caliri):

The world keeps telling me there’s no way to contribute unless I’m frantic with effort. That there are so many issues to worry about; so many worthy causes. The truth is, I want to do something, dammit.

Until I sit with a new friend at coffee—the coffee I almost told her I was too busy for—and hear her say how she has spent years feeling that no one had time to be friends.

It sounds so familiar.

Two weeks ago, I wrote this: “My mind and my life are full of many things, but I can’t seem to settle on any one of them long enough to rest in the exploration. There are too many things worth doing. I must do all of them, and I must do them all well (or so I tell myself).”

One week ago, I wrote this: “I think back to this time a year ago, and I miss the time I had to take walks and spend time with people without feeling that push of the schedule, that nudge to end the Skype call or the coffee date not because the conversation had come to a natural end, but because I worried that I wouldn’t get everything else on my list done and still get enough sleep. Relationships are a luxury now.”

I don’t want relationships to be a luxury. I don’t want my schedule to be so full and so rushed that I don’t have enough time to rest, to think, to be still.

I want to be still.

But how does one be still and do less in a busy world?

Day 16: Was I Ever on Fire?

When We Were On Fire synchroblogMy hands are covering my face. Or they were before I removed them to type these words.

I don’t know where to begin this story of my life in a first-generation Christian family. There is too much, and there is too little. How can I bring it all together into a coherent whole?

Honestly, I don’t like thinking about my childhood. The bad memories overshadow the good ones. Memories of hiding and oh-so-much-guilt and shattered innocence and the ugly mess of my own angry words stick around as the good ones grow dim.

But those aren’t the stories I want to tell you, not now.

This is the story of how I played the perfect little Christian girl, and how, ultimately, that didn’t work.

I memorized the Bible verses, I did all the Sunday school and Awana assignments, I was the “smart, quiet one.” At home, I shouted, I refused, I glared with my fiery firstborn eyes. At church, I was good.

“Your knowledge of the Word always showed in your sharing in class,” my 6th grade Sunday school teacher wrote in the front inside cover of What the Bible is All About (the King James Version, of course) — a prize for my diligent performance.

I “prayed the prayer” at age 3 or 4, but I don’t remember it. I was baptized young and became a church member young. It was what you did. Baptism was supposed to precede communion, I knew, so I always looked down my nose at the unsubmerged kids who helped themselves to the holy bread squares.

I wrote letters to my unsaved grandparents full of Bible verses and the plan of salvation and matter-of-fact statements that they should become Christians and go to church.

My mom had grown up smack-dab in the middle of pain and brokenness, and her modus operandi in parenting was “shelter them!”

So my sister and I wore our matching jean jumpers to our non-denominational-but-basically-Baptist church, around which our social lives were centered. We were homeschooled. We sang, “Stop! And let me tell you, what the Lord has done for me!” until we were sick of it, we listened to Adventures in Odyssey on the radio most afternoons but never got sick of it, and we were not allowed to watch Pokémon or read Harry Potter or listen to ‘N Sync. But that was okay because we believed our parents when they said those things were bad.

In high school, I left my isolated homeschooling life in the woods and transitioned to a Christian school.

Again, I distinguished myself as the “smart, quiet one”; again I tried to please everyone; again I wore a mask.

It was worse this time, though. When I was younger, I sometimes slipped up and sulked at camp or insisted on my own way during a piano lesson. But in high school, I got better and better at adding mildness to my list of accomplishments. I was the “nice, smart, quiet girl.”

Life rolled along, and I rolled with it. I was living a fully inherited faith with a fully intact mask.

When the full weight of this hit me my freshman year of college, I felt like a failure. I had never “made my faith my own.” My testimony wasn’t victorious. I couldn’t think of any real spiritual turning points.

Insecurity had always been my faithful companion, but college was the worst. I never despised or compared or isolated myself as much as I did then. I was sure that if people knew the “real me,” they would reject me. I couldn’t open up, I couldn’t take off the mask, and I was depressed. I wasn’t the person I wanted to be, and I was starting to believe I never would be.

And today?

I have hope again. I took off my mask, and nobody ran away. I asked hard questions, and I didn’t shock anyone. But even if I had shocked or they had run, that wouldn’t have changed my identity as a person of worth. I’m finally learning who I am, and I finally like myself. But God … he seems so much more confusing and uncertain than he used to, and so does, well, everything.

I want to be on fire, I want to “taste and see,” but I won’t fake it again. I won’t be the perfect little Christian girl again.

The journey continues. I am here, and I am me, and right now, that is enough.

This is day 16 of 31 Days in the Word … and this is also a synchroblog to celebrate the release of Addie Zierman’s memoir, When We Were On Fire. Click here and scroll down to read the stories of others’ faith journeys.