atlas girl


This post is part of the Atlas Girl Blog Tour which I am delighted to be a part of along with hundreds of inspiring bloggers. To learn more and join us, click here.


Years of anorexia.  Disillusionment with the church.  A grandmother’s suicide.  A two-year break-up.  A mother with brain cancer.  A heartbreaking miscarriage.

Emily Wierenga‘s story is not an easy one.

It’s not easy, and yet she tells it with such grace and gratitude in her new memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look, published by Baker Books.

271487_Wierenga_WB2Emily is an artist, and her gifts shine through as she paints pictures with words in this travel memoir that spans countries and continents.

Frustrated by the rigidity of religion, the lack of attention by her pastor father, a tense relationship with her mother, Emily turned to one thing she thought she could control — her own food consumption.  She decided to starve herself, and for four years, she succeeded.

Little did she know the ramifications her decisions would have on her early adulthood, her marriage, her relationships.

Then her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and life was turned upside down.  Nothing was the same.  Emily writes of how she moved home to care for her mother, whose right frontal lobe had to be removed in order to combat the cancer.

And she makes me remember.

She makes me remember what it was like for the roles to be reversed, when mother can no longer care for child, but daughter lifts the woman who birthed her onto the toilet, tucks her into bed, lifts the mug to dry, thirsty lips.

And through it all, Emily sees God.  She sees her God in each crease of her mother’s broken smile, each brush of the cheek, each muted sunrise, even on “the fuzzy days.”  And she writes,

“I don’t have the answers.  I don’t know how this story will end. All I know is that there is a very real God whom my mother adores, and if she, in all her pain and suffering, can still radiate worship, how much more should I?  He sees the little sparrow fall.  He sees my mum dancing to the rhythms of his grace, and he sees me in all my anger trying to love him in spite of it all.  So I will continue to trust, even if it means letting her go” (p. 228).

I remember the pain and the strain of that tug-of-war, and then the surrender.  The surrender and the acknowledgement that the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.

Emily, too, comes to this realization and depicts it so strikingly as she writes of her own pregnancy, a time when the Lord chose to give life:

“I am starting to understand the concept of second birth — the one God desires of us.


To be born again; to become like infants in God’s womb, entirely dependent, utterly quiet, never alone.  Wordless communication, unspeakable love, cushioned against the world’s blows.


Grace within the belly of our Maker” (pp. 240-241).


It’s words like these that leave me coming back for more.  I came to respect and admire Emily‘s gentle spirit and soft heart that radiates in her writing even before I read her first novel, A Promise in Pieces.  Hers is a voice that inspires me to greater writing, and her words linger in my mind long after my eyes have left the page.

The generosity of Emily’s heart is evident in her efforts to start The Lulu Tree, an organization dedicated to “preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers” in Uganda.

All proceeds from Atlas Girl go toward The Lulu Tree.


I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Baker Books, in exchange for my honest review.

remember when – a memoir for my daughter


It’s Memoir Monday, and this week I’m changing things up a bit. 

Instead of writing about a memoir of my own, today I’m writing to my daughter in hopes that one day she will look back and this memoir will be hers:

Remember that time when you were eight years old and you taught me how to crochet?  And remember how you used money that you made from selling your crocheted work to buy knitting needles and we checked out every book in the library that had anything to do with knitting?

And then remember how I looked on Craig’s List and found a used sewing machine for twenty-five bucks, and we drove to pick it up, and the lady asked if I wanted to try it out in her kitchen?  And then how I tripped over my own ignorance and had to sputter out, “I, well, I, um … I don’t really know how to use it, yet…”?

And remember how we laughed about it later when the sweet old lady was out of ear shot, probably shaking her head in disbelief at these optimistic novices who didn’t know how to thread a needle?

Remember how we went to Hobby Lobby and JoAnn’s Fabric and hummed and hawed about prices and scraps and clearance fabric, piecing together swaths of our favorite colors and counting out quarters and not having a clue what we were going to do with it?

Remember how we stayed up late that first night, clicking pause on YouTube like a billion times, watching video after video on how to wind a bobbin, how to load a bobbin and how to thread a sewing machine?  And remember how I got frustrated and gave up and sent you to bed without even sewing a single thing that first night when we had both been so excited?

And then we called in backup, and the neighbor came and kickstarted your first, pink project and then I dropped you off at another friend’s house to finish it off, because it takes a village (and YouTube) to raise a child.

And then we got it.

We figured it out.

And we cut, and we planned and we plotted,

and we sewed.



We made something, together.

It was so satisfying.



And it taught me about God.

How He created, and it was good.

How He delights in His creation.

And as I looked down at you, with your petite four-foot-two frame, I thought about how God made you inside of me, how you came from within me, and now you’re creating.

You’re not creating out of nothing like He did when He spoke and it was, but you’re creating out of what has been given to you,

and it’s so satisfying.

So satisfying to be made in His image, and to be given the ability to create, to enjoy, and to delight.

Just like He delights in us.

Even though our stitches aren’t straight and our seams are skew, He looks at those of us who are in Christ, and He delights.

Not only does He “take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

So remember.

Remember that He made you, and when He looks at you, He delights in what He has made.


A thousand times more than we delight in what we make.

Ten thousand times more.


For more Memoir Monday posts, click here.

that time i ran out of baby wipes in a fancy restaurant

It was eight years ago, back when I only had one kid, and I was still learning this whole motherhood gig with every turn, every change of the so-called routine, every new trick learned by my growing daughter.

It was December, and I had traveled alone with my four-month-old girl across an ocean from South Africa to Michigan, to stand up in my sister’s wedding and introduce the newest member of our family to my relatives.

On our short visit, I had an opportunity to catch up with some friends from high school for breakfast.  The venue chosen was several steps up from McDonald’s, to say the least.  About seven or eight of us circled around an elegant table, chattering over our mini-reunion.  Only one other friend had a baby at that time, and her daughter was older than mine, sitting nicely in a high chair at the end of the table.

About halfway through breakfast, I had that sinking feeling that my sweet cherub had already disposed of her latest milk meal and left me a nice deposit in her pants.  Excusing myself from the table and the conversation, I carried her to the bathroom, already aware from the smell and feeling of her behind that our visit to the restroom might be a less than pleasant experience.

That level of enjoyment plummeted further when I entered the ladies’ room and discovered that it was not the type of establishment that catered for mothers with small children.

No changing table.


I surveyed my options, which were basically:

– the sink; or

– the floor.

Opting for a little more space, I entered a stall and laid my poor, unsuspecting girlie onto the cold tiles.

Ew.  I know.

Attempting to get this over and done with as quickly as possible, I unsnapped her onesie, and whipped open her Pampers, only to realize that this was no ordinary dirty diaper.

This was an all-out blow-out, the kind that went all the way up her back.

Yep.  Mothers, you know the ones.

There I was, in this fancy-schmancy restaurant, wiping sludge off my daughter’s back while she laid on a cold tile floor.

And then I ran out of wipes.


Could it get any worse?

Spoiler alert: The answer is yes.  Yes, it could.  And it did.

I scooped up as much as I could, including the diaper, opened the stall door and went for the paper towel dispenser, my only viable option at that point.

Walking back to the stall, I was greeted by the answer to my question of whether it could get any worse.

Not just a puddle, but a lake of pee, streamed out from the stall, covering the expensive tiles, seeping into the grout.

At that point, I just burst out laughing.  What else could I do?

The rest of the story is a blur.  I don’t actually remember what happened after that, except that my breakfast was ice cold and my friends had all paid their bills by the time we made it out of the bathroom.

And I remember that I definitely made sure I had *more* than enough wipes in my bag every time I went *anywhere* after that.

I always packed enough wipes, but inevitably I would be short on diapers, or burp clothes, or extra clothes.

Looking back, this story broadcasts the fact that I am completely incompetent on my own.  My own stash of baby wipes runs out far sooner than I can clean up my own mess.

Not only as a mother, but in life in general, I fall short.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

I need divine help.  Help that is far greater than a supply of paper towels hanging over a restaurant sink.

Help that comes and not only wipes away the mess but disposes of it “as far as the east is from the west.”

“Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to the cross I cling.”

To God be the glory, great things He has done.

Lisa-Jo Baker has a new book page on her blog for her book, Surprised by Motherhood.  She has invited mothers to link up what has surprised them most about motherhood.  To link up, click here.

This post is part of a series called Memoir Monday.  For more posts in this series, like the day I almost died, click here.

Photo credit: Bev Sykes

art and legacy

It’s Monday again, and I’ve committed to posting a memoir each Monday as part of a series I started a couple of weeks ago.

But today ..

Today, I’m flat and depleted and emptied, not of memoirs, but because of memoirs.

I haven’t run out of them, I’ve just been run down by them.

By the weight of them, and the fact that, by nature, they’re history.

Past tense.

And sometimes that hurts.

Yesterday, in preparation for a garage sale, my sister and I sat on the carpeted floor of her basement and went through more Rubbermaid totes of belongings that used to be our mom’s.

For the umpteenth time, our fingers flipped pages of albums, removed photographs from frames, sorted, tossed, kept.  The totes and pictures that I’m convinced have learned how to reproduce and multiply themselves.  I told my sister that we’ll have to advertise at the garage sale, “Buy one album, get seven free.”  I was only half joking.

The pictures and albums that I’m so grateful for, so attached to, yet that evoke such bittersweet heartache and wistful half-smiles.

And in the midst of the piles of framed and loose photos were piles of artwork, including this watercolor done by my mom ..

Mom's art framed

.. and this colored pencil drawing I did in high school …


.. And I paused and thanked God for the gift of art, and for the love of art and beauty passed on to me by my maternal grandma, my mom, my aunt, my uncle.  I thought about the legacy left behind, with so many photos and works of art capturing moments of beauty, of time spent crafting memories, paintings, landscapes on the canvas of life and impressionable hearts.

And I asked myself,

What am I doing to craft memories for my own children? 

How am I instilling a love of art, of beauty, of story in their soft and tender hearts? 

What memoirs will they sift through in their own minds when I’m gone? 

What will the watercolor washes of my life speak to them when the paint is dry and the brushes are laid to rest?

Most importantly, how are my actions, words, soul-pourings, daily surrenders showing them the God of the Bible who is the ultimate creative, the greatest artist, the One who gifts us with memory and story and life and imagination to enjoy in the first place?

It doesn’t have to include a paintbrush or even a pencil.

The art that we make and the memories that we shape as we press Band-Aids to scraped knees, serve meals to hungry tummies, practice spelling words and multiplication facts, tuck blankets around tired bodies .. may they all point to the One who created it all, for His glory.

This post is part of a series called Memoir Monday.  For more memoirs, click here.

a memoir – the day i almost died

Whitewater rafting 1

It’s the closest I’ve ever come to dying.

The setting:  The Kern River of Southern California, Class III/IV whitewater rapids.

I was a teenager in high school, out from Michigan with my younger sister, my dad and his girlfriend, to visit my elder sister and her fiance during spring break.

A typical teenager, I acted all adventurous and daring, but might have held my breath a little during the ‘safety speech.’  And on the river … well … I basically held on for dear life, as we weaved through protruding boulders, the nose of the raft diving down in despair, then lurching up in redemption and me, constantly praying I would stay in the boat.

God chose not to answer that prayer.  Correction: He did answer that prayer, the answer was just “No.”

It happened after I succumbed to a dumb group decision.  There were six of us in the raft, plus a guide, and my younger sister was the only one in the lot with any common sense.  The only one brave enough to get out.

It went something like this:

Guide: “So, who wants to go back and surf that hole?”

My dad: “Who wants to what?”

Guide: “Surf the hole.  Basically, we turn the raft around, paddle like crazy upstream until we hit that hole in the rapids, where it’s swirling downwards into a tight spiral, and if we hit it just right, we’ll sort of float on top of it for a while, without moving anywhere.”

General, wavering nods and shrugged shoulders indicated an almost unanimous consensus.  “No, thanks.  I don’t want to,” my younger sister stated boldly.

“Okay, that’s cool,” said the guide, nonchalantly.  “We’ll just drop you off on the shore over there, and pick you up afterwards.”

We paddled over to a little inlet, my sister jumped out, and the remaining five of us headed for the hole, guide perched on the high tail of the raft.

My dad had been sitting opposite me, and the next thing I remember was seeing his full, six-foot frame lunging over me, hurling me backwards off the raft’s edge into the raging river.

Like an ice cube dropped into a glass of Coke, I was plunged downward before my lifejacket raised me up toward the surface.  But instead of finding oxygen, my head bumped against something hard at the top.

The raft.

I was directly under the raft.

All the safety precautions announced at the beginning of the trip went rushing downstream with the current.

I swam to the left.


I swam to the right.

More raft.

I felt all around in every direction, and couldn’t find an escape route.

With seconds ticking by, no hope could be seen in the blurry nightmare.

Well, this is it, I resigned.  I’ve always wondered how I was going to die, and now I have my answer.

Oddly enough, I felt a strange calmness.  A peace, as if it would be okay if I did die in that moment.  A surety that there was nothing left undone, that I wouldn’t have any outstanding debts or unfulfilled regrets if that were to be my end, this side of the curtain.

With open eyes searching the cloudy aquamarine water, I suddenly felt as if I had taken a deep breath, as if my lungs had been re-filled.  I calculated the bubbles I could afford to exhale, not wanting my fresh reserve to be depleted.

Looking back, it felt like an underwater James Bond scene, with Adele crooning in the background, “This is the end … Hold your breath and count to ten ….”

After contemplating death while fully submerged, my wits came about me, and I realized I had to stop floundering, pick a single direction, and just swim.  I gripped the bottom of the raft, hurled myself to the left, and

found air.

“There you are!!” was the first exclamation in my ear before the guide grabbed the shoulders of my life jacket and flung me into the bottom of the raft.

I lay there, heaving, gasping, convulsing.

Glad to be alive.

My younger sister, the only wise land-stander, was on the shore sobbing, convinced that she would have to tell Mom that I had drowned in the Kern River.

Even the guide was surprised to see me.  He later confessed that he was thisclose to jumping into the rapids to look for me — and apparently guides never do that.

In hindsight, the peace I felt when I was sure I was going to die remains inexplicable.  It had to have been supernatural.  It welled up within me from a wholly different source other than my self, filled my suffocating lungs with new wind, and carried me to the surface.

God could have let me get swept away that day, but

“The Lord is gracious and righteous;
Our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the simplehearted;
When I was in great need, he saved me.

Be at rest once more, O my soul,
For the Lord has been good to you.”

~ Psalm 116:5-7, NIV

Linking up today with a lovely group of (in)Courage writers who are sharing their memoirs over here.

Photo credits: David Berkowitz and Gabriel Amadeus (photos edited)