The Road Back to You {book review & my story}

The Road Back To You - book cover
Find out more information (and listen to Ian and Suzanne’s podcast) at

Seventeen out of twenty.

Of course, the numbers didn’t necessarily mean anything. Maybe there were extenuating circumstances, like the high mountain air, or stress, or lack of stress.

Except there weren’t, and I knew it.

“I do not want to be a 1,” I wrote in my journal. “It feels akin to saying I’m not creative.” I kept writing until more than two pages were filled with my frantic, angry thoughts on this otherwise quiet night.

Before I completely lose you, here’s what’s going on: I’m talking about the Enneagram, an ancient personality typing system based around identifying one’s basic need and basic fear. The core motivation for each of the nine types shapes how that type navigates the world. Each number has healthy and unhealthy iterations, and each number comes with fully realized steps toward growth.

Some types are more withdrawn, while others tilt outward; some are dialed in to their feelings, while others are more detached; some are prone to anxiety, others to anger, others to shame. But before I am run away by Enneagram minutiae, by triads and wings and arrows and the like, let me turn your attention to the book that inspired the above late-night reflections:

Brand-new to the world as of this week, the book is called The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey of Self-Discovery. Authors Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile both teach and speak on the Enneagram, and Stabile is a master teacher of the Enneagram.

My hopes were high when I caught wind of this book, and it didn’t disappoint. This relatively slim volume is a great introduction to the Enneagram. Filled with real-life examples, a down-to-earth, conversational tone, and an easy-to-follow structure, it brings each of the nine types to life in a fresh way.

The knowledge and experience that grounds The Road Back to You is translated into stories of people we know: husbands and wives, sons and daughters, friends and co-workers … the person in the mirror. It’s also rich in application: Each chapter starts with a list of “What it’s like to be a __”, and ends with “Ten Paths to Transformation.”

This was by no means the first book I’d read on the Enneagram, but it is the first I will recommend to those new to the subject.

Over the last year and a half, I’ve logged multiple books, articles, podcasts, and even seminars on the Enneagram. And in all this time, I haven’t locked onto “my” type. I’d heard that discovering your type feels more like a sinking realization than an elated epiphany, but I felt torn between my warring logical and creative sides, unable to discern which was stronger, or came first, or was most likely to exert its will at dusk and at dawn.

What made it harder was that I despised that part of myself that turned everything into a plan or a list, that became a human fact-checker and detail-monitor as I slouched over computers or, in olden days, sheaves of paper. I couldn’t stop, deep down didn’t want to stop, even as I felt dullness and exhaustion creep over me, even as I wondered why I wasn’t spending time on what mattered most to me. Surely here was death, not life.

Here is my sinking realization, here is the box I need to transcend and redeem. Here is where it gets worse before it gets better.

(Not to demonize Ones, who can also be big champions of justice, and bring needed precision to their fields, among other things).

Now, I’m not completely convinced that I’m a One, but either way this turn of events has illuminated traits that I wished away while trying to convince myself that I was only a dreamer, a romantic, a creative. I am both. I have a shadow side, and ignoring it won’t make it go away.

I enjoyed reading The Road Back to You, both for its insights and for the way it brought the Enneagram a little closer to home. There’s something here for both the casual reader and the Enneagram aficionado. Here’s to the next stage of the journey!


(For a quick look at all the Enneagram types, this article at is helpful).



I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.


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The Lizzie Manifesto

Pandora is filling my borrowed room with lovely sounds akin to Pachelbel’s Canon, and I am restarting my blog with hope that it will continue even when the feelings aren’t there. Because writing is one of the things that, in the past, has helped me recover who I am, and I have confidence that it can do it again.

embraced by words
by Robbert van der Steeg, from flickr’s creative commons.

My church began its annual missions focus this week, with a sermon on the Great Commission from a woman only two years older than me. I walked in numb and flat, as I have for a while now, but I left with a few flickers of inspiration that stayed with me into my car and into the quiet. Not to knock on my neighbor’s door or deliver hope to strangers, as you might expect, but to knock on the doors of my own heart and find out what’s inside … to deliver hope to my own cracked and broken pieces.

I want to listen to myself and accept the reality of where I’m at right now. This roller coaster is nothing to feel afraid of, ashamed of, or less-than because of. It’s here, and I’m on it, and it’s okay. Normal, even. I will settle in and appreciate this view and that exhilaration, and when my stomach drops and the g-forces throw my tears back at me and I can barely see through the squinting, it won’t be a nasty surprise but an accepted — if not welcome — part of the ride. We’re all on different roller coasters at different times, and even the most extreme and, conversely, the most slow-moving ones don’t last forever. This too shall pass, but in the meantime …

… Who am I? What makes me come alive? What do I need?

I asked myself these and other questions from the wicker chair in the sweltering shade, while the dogs looked on.

This is what I want:

  • A safe community that brings life
  • Energy and motivation to write, explore, breathe, and enjoy the simple things of life
  • To find purpose, passion, hope, and truth and carry them with me in my being and doing
  • A strong foundation spiritually, emotionally, relationally
  • New opportunities and experiences for the stretching, invigorating, experimenting, and the living of life to the fullest
  • To truly see the people and the world in which I live — to laugh and cry and feel and taste — rather than going through the motions
  • To always be honest and true to myself
  • To find life and refreshment in discipline
  • To be good, but not safe
  • To have the courage to move when the place I’m in no longer brings life, but also to recognize that my cocktail of purpose, passion, hope, and truth can be found anywhere.
  • To love well
  • To value quality over quantity
  • To press on with or without the feelings
  • To be released from feeling like I have to be there for everyone all the time
  • To be okay with journey and process without outcome or destination
  • To have a heart and mind always open to learning
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Packing Light (a book review)

Packing Light coverAfter reading her book, I feel like I know Ally Vesterfelt.

Even though I know she has a blog (and that I’ve been following said blog for months now) I was sad when the book-story ended, and I wanted to know more of what happened in her life between the end of book-story and now.

But this blog is for you as much as it’s for me, so I need to start at the beginning and say that this is a book review, of sorts, of Allison Vesterfelt’s first book, Packing Light, that came out 10 days ago. In a nutshell, the book tells the story of her 50-state road trip (yes, even to Alaska and Hawaii), and what she learned along the way.

At its core, Packing Light is a book about the things in life you need to leave behind. The rest of the title says it all: Thoughts on living life with less baggage. And she isn’t just talking about physical possessions, though that is a part of it, but the emotional baggage as well, the attitudes and relationships and all the assorted “stuff” we cling to that holds us back from being the people God created us to be. The person God created her to be.

I’d been looking forward to this book for months, and it didn’t disappoint. I loved going on this journey with Ally, almost forgetting it wasn’t a novel as I wondered what would happen next with this character or that conflict. But I never forgot it was a true story, not really. Not when I “know” Ally through her blog, and now know her better still through this book.

It’s easy to get drawn into her stories from the road — of the memorable moments, the people she met, the places she visited — but the heart of the book is the heart of Ally. Without mincing words, without painting the best possible picture of herself, she lets us see herself in all her fears, insecurities, and heartaches. She’s vulnerable. And so when she explains what she learned through a particular experience, you know these aren’t platitudes and “all the right answers,” but rather the hard-won gems of one who has sought and wrestled and shed many tears.

So many times I found myself nodding in agreement, marveling at her way of putting words together with such clarity and eloquence. I’m not well read in the travel memoir genre, but this one was deep, exploring topics such as whether or not to be a “Christian writer,” the people we leave behind, the rules that can misdirect us, learning to live the life we’ve always dreamed of, letting go of fear, and so much more.

Packing Light is fun and friendly, personal and thought provoking. It may be a quick read, but it has a lot to say. I highly recommend it.


Ally Vesterfelt

In addition to writing, Ally is also the managing editor of Prodigal Magazine. Check out Ally’s website at, and read more about her book at

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Dear Alli

my sister and I
Alli (left) and I celebrating her last birthday

Dear Alli,

After living in the same house for most of our lives, I know a lot about you.

I know you have a good memory and that you love to laugh. I know that story and character are important to you. I know you are a loyal and sensitive person. I know you are artsy and crafty and all kinds of out-of-the-box creative. And I know that you hide behind a mask so much less than you used to.

But there’s still a lot I’m learning, and I think there’s a lot you’re learning too, about who you are.

I want to spend more time with you. Not tell you what to do, not tsk, tsk at your decisions, not judge or compare or criticize. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes, I get all Older Sister Knows Best and that strains things. I’m broken in so many ways, and sometimes my brokenness has spilled over and knocked you down. I’m so sorry for all the ways I’ve hurt you over the years, and for the ways I still frustrate. I know we will never be carbon copies of each other, with the exact same interests and temperaments and goals. We are different. We are similar. We are sisters.

As you celebrate your 23rd birthday on Friday and then, two days later, move your bedroom 30 miles west of here and start anew at college, these are the words of encouragement I want to leave with you:

  • You’re not set in stone. Don’t look at your age or your experiences and feel worried that you haven’t arrived or that all the pieces that should be in place aren’t. There is no should be. We all have different personalities, dreams, journeys. And life is always in flux. As long as you live, you will be moving and shifting and growing. Sometimes that’s a relief, and sometimes you’ll wonder, Am I there yet?! But the truth is, you’ll never be there, where it completely levels out for the rest of your life and it’s all flat and sloping downward and easy. Not in this life. As someone wise once said, “Don’t despise the journey.”
  • The world isn’t as scary as it looks. I know that protective bubble you keep with you is meant to keep out the bad, but it also keeps out some of the good. You don’t have to force yourself out into the world just for the sake of doing so, or to keep up appearances. I understand; I’m an introvert too. There are more of us out there than it seems. Be yourself. Take life one day at a time. But when there’s something you want to do, or a person you think could become a good friend, or a new something that intrigues, but is just outside of your comfort zone, don’t drown it out or run from it. Consider the idea longer than you normally would. Pray about it. Those are the first action steps you can take, and they count.
  • Don’t view yourself as a failure. Remember when I said that you’re only stuck when you lose hope that you can get out? I know it sounds like one of those pithy statements that’s easier said than done — and maybe it is — but it reminds me of the power of hope, even in dark days. Let hope win, even when it’s speaking to you  in a still, small Voice. Listen to that Voice, and not the one that’s pulling you down. Remember that you’re not alone, even when the loud, wrong voice says you are. The wrong voice can’t win when you listen to the right Voice of hope and truth, because that Voice is based on what is solid and true and God.

There’s more I could say, but I think I’ll let Emily Freeman say it for me. She’s one of my favorite bloggers, and a couple weeks ago she wrote a sending prayer for college freshmen. I know you’re not a freshman, but you’re off to a new place with a new major and new people. Her words are gentle, and I think they’ll encourage you. (They encouraged me, and I’m not even in school.)

Happy birthday, Kid! Here’s to more years getting to know God, ourselves, and each other better. We’re pretty close now, but I know we’re on the path to growing even closer. I love you.



my sister and I on the lake

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Confessions of an Insecure Reader

I’m insecure about my art.

I’m insecure about my opinions of others’ art.

I have to know exactly what I think and why. I must be able to intelligently and articulately defend my beliefs and opinions. That is the measure of me — if not my worth, then my mind.

I’d like to think that I have a sensible head on my shoulders, good tastes, and sound judgment of good vs. bad writing (as one example). I want to be smart, a critical thinker.

Joining the popular social network site for readers, Goodreads, reminded me of this. As I “compared my bookshelves” with those of my friends, I felt pangs of inferiority when I saw some of the discrepancies in our rankings of the same books. Here are examples of some of the thoughts that ran through my mind: Do I really think that book deserved 5 stars? So-and-so gave it a 3, and, knowing her, she probably had good reasons for doing so. I just click indiscriminately based on half-remembered impressions and loyalties, hardly a proper analysis at all! I can’t even tell you why I gave it 5 stars. What does this say about my tastes? etc., etc.

photo by azrasta on creative commons (flickr)

To a lesser extent, I’m similarly self-critical about my opinions of TV shows, movies, and music (don’t get me started on politics or theology!). But books … I should know books. I’m an avid lover of words, I’ve always loved writing, I’ve taken classes. I should know a great book when I see it, and a good book, and a so-so book. And if I end up liking a book that’s widely viewed as only so-so, well, that’s okay, as long as I have good, intelligent reasons for doing so.

This, this, this, it’s all insecurities. The first step is recognizing them, they say. Well, I’ve seen them for a good, long time, analyzed them to death time and time again, called them by name. Many and varied are they that plague and and unnaturally shape my thoughts and interactions. They hold me back, poisoning and entrapping, hiding for a time and then resurfacing and throwing me back into a familiar confusion and a delving again into the whys.

Whittle down this particular insecurity to its root, and I believe it’s this: I’m afraid that I’m not smart.

Please let me be smart. 

That’s when I realize it must be time to return to the fountain of grace.

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Confessions of a Blogger

I want this blog to be perfect.

I want the words to be strong, poignant, inspiring. I want the various writings to complement each other, to fit into the same genre, to speak the same language. I want the furnishings to be aesthetically pleasing, color-coordinated, well organized.

Sometimes I look back at my archives, at blogs describing internships and camp experiences for a narrow audience of friends and family, and I wonder if I should start over. Start a new blog that is more streamlined, cohesive, attractive.

Maybe this would bring more readers, I think, the Attention-Seeker vying with the Perfectionist in me.

That’s not a good reason.

If I tried to make this blog perfect, if my focus was on having the best-manicured plot of online real estate, it would turn into something artificial and unrelatable. I would write less, and even the writings that did manage to get past my critical internal editor would be crippled by the pressure to fit into a certain mold.

It’s true that the reason why I blog has changed over the years. The place where I would update friends and family on an internship of mine four years ago has become the place where I write what is on my heart, what I am learning, what I am living.

This blog has days-in-the-life and devotionals, recountings and reflections, lists and lamentations. And you know what? That’s okay. This is my life, these are my “bends in the road.” Some people will be able to relate to my journey, while others will not.

It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t always fit within the same well-defined theme, but isn’t that how all journeys – and lives – are?

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Living the Joy

_DSC0150Today is a day of joy.

But it’s not Christmas yet.

No, it isn’t. Neither is it any sort of long-awaited day circled on my calendar. There are days I’m looking forward to in the weeks and months and years to come, some of which are attached to definite dates, while others are still fluttering in dreamland.

But I’m not there yet, and I don’t want to live my life in a constant state of assuming that the greatest joys in life are in some future, far-off place. As I get to know people more, as I get to know God more, our relationships won’t be the same. They will get better. In that sense, the best is yet to come. But I don’t want to just bide my time until the conditions are perfect, because the conditions will never be perfect. Not in this life.

I don’t want to lose sight of this journey, this beauty, in a rush to get to a destination. Because the only destination that bears the resounding finality of crossing the finish line in a race is death, and even that is debatable. All the other “destinations,” all the events, the milestones, the turning points, expand the original journey, they don’t complete it.

And yet there is beauty in expectation. There is beauty in waiting. There is beauty in Advent.

In this waiting time, this “now and not yet,” I can find real joy in that just-as-real “now” even as I wait for what is “not yet.”

I don’t think I will ever stop reminding myself how important it is to seek God not as a means to an end, but as an end in Himself. Not as a means to having a more fulfilling Christmas, or being a better person, or finding out my purpose. The noblest of ulterior motives is still an ulterior motive, and it doesn’t compare with the pure joy of knowing and loving just to know and love.

It’s not just about five days from now, or 55 days from now, or five years from now. It’s today.

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