Friends and jackwagons

***This post originally appeared on the Facebook page for this blog on April 11, 2016***

Late last week I had lunch with my editor-friend and my therapist-friend, both of whom I had the great fortune of working with for a little while.

My editor-friend and I have known each other since college, and I’ve always appreciated that we talk so easily about books and music and theology. It’s only in recent years that we’ve dropped into those deeper places of knowing each other and sharing real stories, and I’m only now starting to appreciate the wisdom and insight and peace that also comes with being her friend.

My therapist-friend is new, though. A gem of a guy I met because we worked in the same place and both studied counseling and never ran out of things to say at the lunch table. Turns out, a couple of lunches is all it really takes to make a new friend.

And at lunch late last week, these friends sat across from me as they listened for the millionth time about how I’m doing since I lost my job, about what I’m thinking I’m going to do next, about my increasingly complicated feelings about Church and Church People.

My therapist-friend interjected at one point, “Can I make an observation?” For always this will be a question I answer yes to when my therapist-friend asks it because I’m a dummy who needs the insights of people who are smarter than me and because I know whatever follows will likely be something that God needs me to think about.

“You’re an idealist. But, with idealism can come a lot of darkness or angst when the ideals aren’t being met. What do you do…”

“To stave off the darkness?”


And I found myself saying, “I text my friends. I tell the people I trust most in the world that the darkness is there and I need them to pray. And then maybe I start praying too. I don’t let myself sit alone in it anymore.”

And so the conversations between me and God these days go something like:

Me: Okay, Lord. This church thing is pretty jacked up right now, and it’s not right. I’m a church kid and I want to love the church, but God, the people are making it so dang difficult.

Him: I know. Miranda’s going to ask you to have lunch next week with her and Jeff. Go.

Me: Okay, cool. I like them. I can do that. But, Lord, what about the other people? The ones who make you look bad. What are we going to do about them?

Him: You’re going to be asked to dog sit for a co-worker you really like. Do that too.

Me: Alright, sweet. I can definitely use the cash. But, I feel like you’re not listening to me. What are we going to do about the sucky church people?

Him: You should see if Dennis is free for coffee.

Me: FINE! I’ll text him right now! But, c’mon, dude! Hear me! Things are screwed up, and I keep getting screwed over by people in your dumb church, and I’m starting to get really pissed about it. We need to figure out what to do!

Him: Isn’t that writer’s festival coming up? They’re going to talk about some stuff like diversity and storytelling and friendship and grace, right? Pay attention there.

Me: Dude, I KNOW! Sarah Bessey and Nadia Bolz-Weber are my heroes, so we already know I’m taking a legal pad’s worth of notes. And stop trying to distract me, I’m mad here!

Him: Hey, your phone just buzzed. Those two people in that group text that you’re in are two of your best people, right? That friendship isn’t an accident. Go enjoy them.

Me: Okay. Deal. But, we’re not done. We still need to talk about your church people.

Him: Yeah. Maybe we just did?

It’s almost as if God’s trying to remind me that for every church people that makes Jesus look bad, there’s a Miranda or Jeff showing up to listen and ask the right question. It’s almost as if I’m supposed to remember that God’s a bit of an idealist too, hoping that the people who love him will show up and take care of other people.

And this is what I love about the Christian story – even when God’s ideal isn’t met, even when people are being jackwagons who make Jesus look bad, the darkness still doesn’t win.

Because there are more friends in the Church than there are jackwagons.

On getting fired

I write sometimes on the Facebook page for this blog, and for whatever reason that was the space where I decided to put words to my complicated feelings about losing my job a couple of months ago.

So, this is the beginning of that story in 2 Facebook posts:

#1 – March 21, 2016

So, okay.

It’s been more than a month since I’ve put any kind of words on the internet that weren’t reduced to a 140 character tweet. Because there’s safety in 140 characters. I can share snippets, the good stuff. The funny things my friends have said. Or the photo of my nephew in the fort of couch cushions, or my niece in her Minnie Mouse dress.

You can’t deal with the hard stuff in 140 characters. The hard stuff deserves more than that.

So, okay. Here it is:

A little over a month ago, I was called into my HR office early on a Wednesday morning and I was let go from my position as a social media specialist. I guess technically I was “downsized,” but when you’re reorganized right out of your job, technically is hogwash. The reality is that I was fired.

When one of my friend’s mom’s heard what happened her reaction echoed my own: “What?! Amber doesn’t get fired!”

Amber doesn’t get fired. And yet she was. On a Wednesday morning in the middle of February. And Amber is still dealing the emotional aftermath of all of that.

Although, really, before you ask, I’m doing okay. Really and truly. My head is mostly above water, and I’m getting out of bed every morning. I’m eating regularly, and I’m sleeping about as well as I was when I had a job. So, you know, lots of victories there.

And also, I’m not worried that it’s not going to be okay.

I came to Grand Rapids as an act of faith. I came because my prayers and the prayers of my best people led us all to the same point of clarity – it was time for me to get up and follow God to a new place. I still believe that.

In the first couple of weeks I was in my job, one of my co-workers who has since become the pastor of my soul and a friend in the realest ways, said, “You know, I think you’re in Grand Rapids for a reason, but I don’t think it’s for this job.”

Of course, two weeks into a job I really loved, I didn’t want to hear that. Six months since then, I’m thinking it was more than a little prophetic.

So, okay.

I don’t know what comes next. I’m in some kind of vocational middle. Again.

And it’s just whatever, man. Because I absolutely will not let this be a reason for me to distrust God’s good hand. I absolutely will not let this be a reason for me to give up on church or ministry or the way that God has called us to take care of each other.

I will not let this be a reason to give up on the vision of creating a community online and in the world for people who are in the middle – the middle of a faith crisis, the middle of vocational change, the middle of a struggling marriage, the middle of a lot of questions, the middle of confusion, the middle of doubt.

Most of life is a middle.

And those of us in the middle, we’re a tribe. Each and every one of us.

So, okay. Let’s help each other through it. Let’s offer patience and encouragement to the middle. Let’s text and call and pray for each other.

Because if I have learned only one thing in the last month, it’s this: when you have a tribe and Jesus, you have everything.

#2 – March 22, 2016

The responses to my post yesterday have been so kind, and I’m as always am, so grateful for you people. You people who keep hanging with me in the messy middles, who keep thinking the words I have to share are good ones, who keep telling me to just keep writing.

I was talking to the BFF yesterday for a hot minute and I asked her a couple of the questions I have about this middle place. I asked her if writing from the middle was okay really, because I don’t know what I think about a lot things right now. I said, “I’m committed to writing from the place of the here-and-now of what God and I are working through, but I don’t have clarity. I have questions and prayer and my people. That’s all I’ve got.”

To which the BFF said only, “What’s wrong with that?”

Of course, the answer is that there’s nothing wrong with that. Faith is, I think, a fluid thing. It adapts and changes as our experiences with church, ministries, each other, and the world adds layers of complexity to our understanding of God. It would be silly then to think that anyone is ever going to have all the answers, and it seems to me that it would silly to pretend that any writer worth respecting is writing NOT from the middle of their own faith life.

But I say that knowing full well that there are things of which we can be certain.

I can be certain that God is good and loving. I can be certain that he is faithful, and that means he’s caretaking me through this messy middle. I can be certain even in the darkest moments there is going to be someone or something that inspires hope in my ugly, cynical heart. I can be certain that gratitude and grace are the wagons I want to hitch myself to even as the bottom falls out.

And I can be certain, thanks to you people who keep showing up in the messy middles, that there are more cheerleaders and encouragers and peacemakers in the world than there are not.

A letter for Noah on his fourth birthday

Happy birthday, buddy!

I’m so sad that I can’t be there today to give you a squeeze, and watch you open presents, and eat cake – no doubt with green frosting. It is missing these family moments that make me the most sad about living across the country.

All things considered though, pal, your mom and I have done a really good job of keeping up with each other. We text almost every day, so I know when you have a cold or when you’ve said something cute or when you’re driving her crazy. But, she’s really good about listening to you and FaceTiming me when you say you miss me. And I will forever love that her inclinations will run that way, toward face time, toward seeing her people.


So, I can’t be there today, but I’m confident that you already know that I’m celebrating you from my tiny cube in my cold Michigan town. I’m going to bet you already know that you have been on my mind all day. I’m going to guess you already know that I’m praying for you today from a heart that is just wild about who you are, that is just so glad you are on this planet.

Noah's birth day

I feel a bit like a broken record, saying the same thing year after year, but it remains true year after year. You have changed me, buddy, in the best possible ways.

Before you were here, the last place I would have wanted to be was a four year old’s birthday party. But today, I want nothing more than to jam pizza in my face while you use my pant leg as a napkin.

Before you were here, I was not the one to wrestle on the floor, or kiss boo-boos, or change diapers, or give baths, or read books before bedtime.

But somehow, I have become a person who does these things. Better, I have become a person who does the things with great joy.

Every time I wrestle on the floor with you, or kiss a boo-boo, or change a diaper, or give you a bath or read a book, I think maybe I get to experience just a little bit of the delight we bring God. Because nothing is better than being in the same space with you, and I think maybe that’s they way he feels about us. I wonder if his heart fills the same way mine does when you crawl into my lap with a book, or when you snuggle up under my chin watching Octonauts, or when you throw your arms around my neck in a big hug. I wonder if he is thrilled to take care of us in all the little ways we need caring. I’d guess so because really, it’s just about love.


Thanks for that, pal. For teaching me a little bit more about how God loves. I wouldn’t have understood that before you were here.

You have taught me to slow down, to hold my tongue, to be kind, to laugh with abandon. You have taught me that messes can be cleaned, that nothing is more important to someone than your presence, and that you can never hear “I love you” too many times.

You have taught me that when you’re really excited that someone is around, it’s okay to show it. And that when you’re really sad that someone is leaving, it’s okay to show that too.

You have taught me that when you really love someone, there really is nothing you won’t do for them.

Even the most not-kid person will become a kid person when it’s really love.

And we know, you and me, that we couldn’t be happier about that.

Noah_happy babysitting

As always, with all my love,

Aunt A

What I’m Into – November 2015

So, I haven’t blogged about much of anything in the last few months because over the summer I got a new job and moved halfway across the country to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Life in the Midwest if very different than life on the East Coast, and I’m still – after 5 months in my new position – figuring out to balance work and writing and dating and friending. (Yes, I did just make that a verb.) I don’t know that I’m doing all things well, as I haven’t written in months and months, but I really like my job and I’m really loving the life I’m building in this new place.


Out-of-Sorts-CoverSarah Bessey’s Out of Sorts – As is often the case, my favorite writers books tend to meet me right in the moment that I need them. Moving to GR and meeting new people and sharing my story of how I ended up here has had me confessing some ugly truths that I think about church, and I needed someone’s permission to be messy about it still. I needed someone to remind me:

“Lean into your questions and your doubts until you find that God is out here in the wilderness too.”

 “Sometimes we have to cut away the old for new to grow. We are resurrection people, darling.”

 “I’m not afraid for you: you are held. You are loved and you are free. I am hopeful for you.”

 Notes from a Blue Bike coverTsh Oxenreider’s Notes From a Blue Bike – My BFF read this over the summer and loved it, which inspired a lot of good conversations about education and food and consumerism, which is why I decided to read it too. I didn’t love it as much as she did, and I think it’s simply because I’m not in the same space to receive it – as a wife, as a mom, and all that. But that said, I did like it and Tsh did make me think about things I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Frank Miller’s Dark Knight III I know, I know. #nerdalert. But, I truly can’t help it. Frank Miller’s Batman is my favorite and I have been jonesing to get my hands on Book 1 of his new series – which is exactly how my buddy Matt convinced me to go to the comic book shop at midnight on Black Friday. #nerdswag.

Books that are next on the docket: Amber Haines’ Wild in the Hollow, Kathleen Norris’ Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Chip Heath & Dan Heath’s Switch: How to Change Thing When Change is Hard.

I remain in desperate need of a good novel and am not above begging for your suggestions.


Joy and I don’t have cable or Internet hooked up in our apartment yet, so we’ve been binge-watching Gilmore Girls on DVD.   Which also explains why our dining room is still full of boxes needing to be unpacked.

Also, because he really likes me, Nick has been watching Parks and Recreation, so many of our date nights have been literally Netflix and chill. (Welcome to dating in your thirties when you have jobs and classes and are exhausted by 8 PM.)


When I was mooching off living with Miranda the last three months, I subjected her to The Voice, Castle, and… Grey’s Anatomy. Which I’m guessing means she’s pretty excited that I’m not commandeering her remote anymore.


Ben Rector’s new album, Brand New.

Andrew McMahon, In the Wilderness…over and over again.

The Magnolia Record Club playlist on Spotify, compiled by the Club’s founder Drew Holcomb. (Super sweet folk indie music. I’m in love.)

I’m not a super fan of Christmas, but this year seems like one worth celebrating – 2015 has been a good year to me. So, if you have suggestions of solid Christmas music (think Sara Groves instead of Michael Buble), I’m open to those too.


Joy and I moved into our new apartment last weekend. It only took us three months to find it, so yay!

I travelled home for Thanksgiving, and basically spent the week playing with my nephews and niece-in-love. It was perfection.


It’s hard to believe that it’s less than a month until I’m home again. It would be ridiculous of me to pretend that I’m not thrilled about this. Because it’s not the easiest thing to feel like your heart is in two places, which I know sounds crazy because most people spend their lifetime trying to find just one place to belong. But, I spend a lot of time feeling split – wanting to be here, wanting to be there. I miss my home people when I’m in GR, and I miss my GR people when I’m home. I don’t always know how to deal with the tension, so I binge watch Gilmore Girls, and text my friends and my parents, and I go to bed thinking that there really are worse problems to have than having people who love you from different pockets of the world.

What I'm Into


I’m linking up again with Leigh Kramer and her  What I’m Into  series, even though the last one I did was over a year ago because I’ve forgotten how to blog.


On being a social media specialist

I’ve been in Grand Rapids about a month now. It’s a little surreal being back in the same stomping grounds I trudged as a college kid a decade ago. People keep telling me that GR has undergone a “renaissance” over the years, that there are lots of cool breweries, restaurants, museums, and farmers markets; that it’s not the same place it was before.

Thank goodness, I say, because I’m not the same person I was before.

This time I’m in GR for a job – full-time, complete with benefits, and a retirement plan, and insurance. Next time someone asks me what brought me to GR, I might just say, “I’m here for the retirement plan.” This is, I think, a very grown-up reason to move.

But, I want to be clear about something – I’m not here just for a job. I’m not here just for the retirement plan. (Although, holy benefit, Batman!) I’m here for this job at this place with these people.

About a month ago, I moved to GR to be a social media specialist with Our Daily Bread. This means that I’m helping create and manage the online presence for Off the Page and a couple of our other blogs. If it’s tweeted, posted, or shared via social media, that’s me. I’m the human behind the avatar.

And I want to be really clear about this – my job is actually the coolest. I have no idea how I get to be the one to do it, but I think it has a lot to do with God’s grace. Like, a lot. Like, everything.

Because here’s the thing: that I have this job makes no sense. Technically, this position falls within the broader area of marketing, and I have no marketing experience or know-how. I’ve never taken a marketing or communications class in my life, unless you count Speech my freshman year of college, which I don’t because I’m embarrassed by the things that I said in front of people. Eighteen year old me was wrong a lot.

Anything I’ve learned about social media I’ve learned as a blogger trying to build a platform, as a youth leader trying to stay connected to her students, as a person hoping to find other people who are wrestling through some of the same things. My managers and supervisors and co-workers are quick to affirm that the marketing stuff is all teachable, and they want the greater voice that I’m bringing to the conversations that we’re having about Millennials leaving church, and disengaging with God (if they are), and how we can best meet them where they are.

And, let’s be honest, we all know those conversations are my jam. (My apologies to anyone who has stepped into my cube for a “quick chat” and ended up staying for at least a half hour.) The work that I’ve done as a counselor and a youth minister made them my jam, as did the reading and the praying I did right alongside them, and I have a lot of thoughts. And I wouldn’t trade that for all the marketing classes in all the world.

And there are no words for how grateful I am to be in a place that affirms the right things and teaches what can be taught. There’s a lot of Jesus in that, I think.

I’m learning, I think, that the strength of social media is its power to connect people to each other – people who wouldn’t otherwise be connected. It’s what I’ve loved about it for years as a blogger and wannabe writer, and it’s what I experienced as a youth leader with my students, and I’m working hard on figuring out how to do that for Off the Page too.

Because the people behind that blog – our writers and video makers and content producers, and our advisory team, and our content editor – they are all awesome. They’re people who love Jesus deeply, and are intentional to put in a little grace in the world any way that they can. They’re people you should know. And if social media is a means by which we can make that happen, I hope we (I) figure out how to do that well.

(Otherwise, I might get fired and lose my retirement plan. And I moved to GR for the retirement plan.)

Looking for Something Different


I was mean to a friend in Bible study. We were studying Romans and she was making a misinformed point about the Abrahamic covenant, and I let her know in no uncertain terms that she was wrong. I quoted verses from Genesis and some of the Prophets, and I threw out definitions of Hebrew and Greek words for good measure, just to hammer home the point that I was right and she was wrong. And I lost the argument at the exact moment my friend shut up and curled herself into the corner of her couch, like a dog who couldn’t take being smacked with the newspaper anymore.

My best friend, who is also in Bible study and who sat nearby as I reduced our friend to a smaller version of herself, was quick to hold me accountable that night. She made me get into her car and talk long after the rest of our Bible study members had gone home. She told me in no uncertain terms that I was a jerk and she was baffled that I couldn’t see how I was hurting our friend. She said she was disappointed in me because I had acted so unkindly. She told me we had worked really hard to create a sisterhood in that Bible study, and that it was supposed to be a safe place where we could ask questions and be wrong every once in awhile. She said she loved me for my study of the Bible and the Greek and Hebrew, but she said that if I didn’t learn to do a better job of teaching what I was learning, I was going to undo all that we had built together. And then she reached over and laid her hand on my shoulder and said she loved me, and then she prayed that I would soften and be less of a jerk moving forward so that the Jesus in me and in what I was learning could really shine.

Whenever anyone wants to talk about accountability, this is the story I want to tell. I want to talk about my friend lovingly telling me that I wasn’t being my best self because I wasn’t looking like Jesus…


There’s a couple hundred more words to this post that you’re going to have to go to Off the Page to read the rest.

I’m writing a new series there this month – to be posted every Monday, though I’ll likely forget to link to here every Monday. Case in point – I’m linking the first piece now, and it’s Friday. Oops!

This is a series I particularly love because my publishing team said, “Hey, we think you should be our person to write about accountability. We know it’s a big topic with a lot of controversial turns it could take, so uh…good luck.”  And after much prayer and stillness, I think I have. Plus, it was fun. 

As I always am, I’m grateful for all of you who take the time to read what I write, whether here or for Off the Page.  You are good friends! 

Sense of my story

A few days ago, my BFF sent me a long text message early in the morning. She’d been reading a book by a blogger we both love and needed to tell me about it:

She writes about their crazy life early in their marriage and her husband’s search for a job after getting his PhD, and she says, “and one afternoon in a sandwich shop tacked onto Walmart, we cried over a phone call that offered him a job that made sense of our story…” It made me think of you. Do you feel like this job makes sense of your story? It seems that way to me.

The job she was talking about was the one I started just about a month ago – one that brings all of my heart’s passions together, one that means I get to write and edit and Tweet for money, but that also means I’ll be moving away in a couple of weeks.

I told her that this job feels like a gift, like God has been working me over the last ten years into the person that could do this job. I told her that I thought God has been stoking in me a passion to make Jesus look good especially over the last three years, so that I can write about those things and live those things without confusion or angst. I told her that I feel like I’m walking into this job clear because I can see it’s where God wants me to be, probably because I can see now how it’s probably always been a part of His plan for me, even when it felt like I was fumbling along toward nothing. I told her that I think it’s really cool that it came at a time I had been praying that if what God wanted for me was to live in my hometown and be aunt to the coolest kids and write the words He put on my heart and keep working toward being a good friend and daughter, then that was enough for me. And I told her that I felt with this job God was like, “Cool. Now you’re someone I can use.”

Then I told her that was my really long-winded way of saying yes, I think this job makes sense of my story.


Today, I had meeting with a new co-worker to talk about a new project we’re both really excited about. We went back and forth for awhile when he interrupted and said, “We’re all so excited you’re coming on board. You have clubs in your bag that we need, as a counselor, as a thirty-something, as a woman.”

I stopped him and I thanked him for saying that because for too many years those things that this place is so excited about have been working against me in the church, and it’s nice to hear them lauded as strengths.

Then his voice got firm, “Let me be really clear on this. We know you are more than – more than a counselor, more than young and single. We know you are the sum of those parts. And the sum of who you are is someone we need. You’re filling gaps we need you to fill.”

And then I thought – no doubt, this job makes sense of my story.


When I was texting with the BFF a few days ago about the book she was reading and the job that I’m starting, I told her that it makes going a little bit easier knowing that she sees too that I have to go because this job “makes sense of my story.” To which she said, Oh, I totally do! From the very beginning. And it’s hard, and sad, but SO exciting and SO happy and SO RIGHT.

Because this job really does make sense of my story. All the years I spent studying counseling, and working in youth ministry, and honing my skills as a writer – the sum of it all comes together in this job. All the time I spent developing my friendships and doing the scary things that go with living into a community year after year has paid off in people seeing God’s movement too. I wouldn’t trade the last ten years of living in my hometown and being an aunt to the coolest kids and writing the words God has put on my heart and becoming a better friend and daughter. Because for ten years, these things have been enough. These things have made up the sum of a really good life. But, being here has grown me into the person who needs to go.

And as she has so many time before, the BFF has it right – my leaving is sad and hard, but my going is exciting and happy and right.