Life right now is all about watching the giant magnolia tree over our chicken run slowly unfold its blossoms.
Life right now is also a forecast of cold and (though I refuse to accept it) snow that might put an end to these pink petals over the weekend. In other words, life right now is beautiful and hard.
Life right now is discovering that a few of the rafters in our roof were resting on air, the original chestnut beam having rotted away long ago. But life right now is also our new friend, Dr. B. (“Doctor of Old Houses”), who promptly left his scaffolding, drove over to his own old house, and picked up a replacement chestnut beam he had handy.
Right now, I am reading books by the bow-window in my bedroom and watering seedlings that sit beneath grow lights in the basement.
I am loving Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. While at work on the novel that would become the Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See (yes, he’s that Anthony Doerr), Doerr was the recipient of an award to live and write for a year in Rome. He found out about the award the day his twin sons were born.
Writers begin as observers, and Doerr models this beautifully. This is a memoir of Rome, of parenthood (and insomnia), and the writer’s craft. It is also a book that gives me hope. As readers, we know that during the period Doerr writes about he is engaged in a creative effort that will succeed beyond anything he can imagine. And yet, Doerr struggles with insecurity, doubt, writer’s block, culture shock, and the exhaustion of parenting infant twins.
For all of us, life can feel impossibly difficult, but this book reminds me that no matter how each individual day feels, our days are adding up to something beautiful and meaningful.
I also recently finished Addie Zierman’s new memoir Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark. On the surface, this is a memoir about one mom’s rather desperate road trip escape from Minnesota’s winter toward the beckoning sunshine of Florida’s beaches.
Zierman brings her two young sons along for what turns out to be more of a search for the light of God’s presence than southern sunshine. The faith of her young adulthood was fiery and intense, but that kind of faith flickered and dimmed long ago. Zierman hits the road in search of a God who often seems hidden and silent. Whether or not you relate to Zierman’s phase of life or the trajectory of her spiritual journey, I recommend this book. Zierman is a gifted writer, and this memoir is incredibly well crafted. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down.
I recently shared my writing in a few new places around the web.
First, I wrote On Tears (And Other Blessings) for my friend and fellow writer, Sara Hagerty. I have given Sara’s first book Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet to more than a few friends (and sisters).
Second, I shared some family stories in a piece on love and grief for my friend, Mary Bonner. The day I sent this reflection via email turned out to be the day Mary’s mother’s health suddenly declined. She didn’t read my words until she’d returned from her mother’s funeral almost two weeks later. By then, the words I wrote were for her, but perhaps they are for you, as well.
The first Roots and Sky online book club continues! Laura Brown is leading a thoughtful discussion, and you can even find recordings (two so far) of me reading chapters from the book. Here are week one (thresholds), week two (testimony), and week three (winter).
“Without habit, the beauty of the world would overwhelm us. We’d pass out every time we saw – actually saw – a flower. Imagine if we only got to see a cumulonimbus cloud or Cassiopeia or a snowfall once a century: there’d be pandemonium in the streets.” – Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome
My youngest child is three years old, and every day she paints.
She paints lions and footprints. She paints me, and she paints rivers, roads, and bugs. For a while, she painted without giving much attention to the finished product. She would paint until holes appeared in the paper and then move on to the next. I would make a great show of laying the art out to dry, but she hardly noticed. Her focus was always already on the next creation.
Recently, that has changed. When I gather up her morning’s work, she cries out, “Don’t throw them away! I want to keep them!” Sometimes, she hunts for a magnet and tries to hang them on the refrigerator herself.
She recognizes these lions and bugs as the work of her hands, and she no longer lets them go so easily.
We all make things. I write stories, and my daughter paints bugs. My husband builds window seats and picket fences out of wood, and my son makes castles with lego bricks.
Making some things feels like wearing our heart on our sleeve or serving it up on a platter. This is true of memoirs. Sometimes this feels true even of our first attempt at sourdough bread when there are new guests at our table.
We are not all artists or writers, but most of us, perhaps all of us, create. We long to know that what we have made is good. Not perfect or ground-breaking, necessarily, but good.
Perhaps it shouldn’t matter what others think of our creations. Sometimes, we succeed in being philosophical. Some people just do not like the taste of sourdough bread, after all. But I do think there is a desire in each of us to hear the words well done.
Hearing those words is far less important than simply doing the work. It may even be that the creating matters more than even the thing we make. Which means that those words, well done, are something special.
They are a gift we give one another.
Here are five gifts given to me.
I hope they make you just that much more eager to read the work of my hands when it releases February 2. I hope, too, that you will seek out these creators. Each one has written a book (or more than one!) that means something special to me.
Each one should be confident that what they have done is very well done, indeed.
“When it comes to finding God in ordinary places, no one does it better than Christie Purifoy.
Her words in Roots and Sky met me when I was unable to connect with any other books.
Somehow her personal journey to find home turned into a spiritually informative pilgrimage for
my own soul. This book is hope for the weary and wandering, and Christie Purifoy’s smart,
grounding voice is a new favorite.”
—Emily P. Freeman, author of Simply Tuesday
“I have been terrified of hope. Because if hope disappoints, does that mean God is also a
disappointment? Christie reminds us that hope, like dreams, is made of stronger stuff. She invites
us into a year of her life lived in real time in an old Pennsylvania farmhouse, chock-full of hope
and decay, promise and weeds, work and wonder.”
—Lisa-Jo Baker, author of Surprised by Motherhood and community manager for
“In Roots and Sky, Christie Purifoy paints an elegant expression of the church calendar—Advent,
Lent, and Ordinary Time—with great depth of thought, expression, and insight. Planted in the
rich soil of everyday liturgy, Roots and Sky is an astonishing, rhythmic work of unmatched
artistry. There is no doubt: this book is a must-read for the lover of the quiet, contemplative, and
—Seth Haines, author of Coming Clean
“This is not a book. This is a sanctuary. I met God here, in the hushed and unrushed space that
Christie Purifoy has so exquisitely created for us. With a lyrical pen, Christie lights the candles,
prepares the altar, and helps us see the sacredness of our everyday moments. Step inside and
—Jennifer Dukes Lee, author of Love Idol
“Roots and Sky is the best kind of read: it reached me, passively and deeply, as I got lost in the
pages. Christie ushered me into my own heart, through the back door, as she invited me across
the foyer and into the rooms and out onto the sprawling green lawn of her one hundred-year-old
farmhouse. God met me at Maplehurst, too.”
—Sara Hagerty, author of Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God in
Here at Maplehurst, 2015 ended with a solid month of rain, fog, and strangely warm weather. 2016 has dawned with sunshine and blue skies. On this, the first day of a new year, it is easy for me to believe what has always been true: God’s compassions never fail. They are new every morning.
“New” is the drumbeat of creation. It is the song of heaven.
This is always our reality, though there are seasons when the beautiful new is hidden by fog.
I am especially grateful to feel the pulse of the new after all the gray days of December. I am grateful to be sharing a few new things with you on this first day of a new year.
There is, as you may have noticed, a new website design. Thank you to Dan King of Fistbump Media for the new look and, even more importantly, a new blog subscription system. If you already subscribe to my blog posts, you should continue to receive them, but in a more timely, more readable format.
If you have never subscribed, you can enter your name and email address in the popup, or simply scroll to the bottom and find a signup form there. I promise never to share your email address, and I don’t blog frequently enough to flood your inbox. I like to call my approach “slow blogging.” Or, sometimes, “quality over quantity.” Though I appreciate your politeness in not mentioning those writers who do manage to offer both.
There is also a new book. In just a few weeks, on February 2, Revell will publish Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons. You can read more about the book on my book page (see the links at the top of my website). And, if you haven’t already, I hope you will pre-order a copy for yourself and perhaps a few to give as gifts.
I am glad to give a gift to each of you for supporting this book before it releases. Once you’ve pre-ordered, simply send me a brief note (yes, it’s the honor system!) at this email address: rootsandskybook[at]gmail.com. I will send you a link to a high resolution file of the following image, free for you to print. It is suitable for framing. It is also suitable for thumb-tacking to your bulletin board. Really, whatever.
I hope you like it. I hope it makes you hungry for spring. Spring is always sweeter when we’ve longed for it.
The quotation is straight out of Roots and Sky, and the image was captured last spring by my friend Chelsea of Chelsea Hudson Photography. She also took the photograph for my book cover and is responsible for the new author photos you will see sprinkled throughout this website. If you live anywhere near Washington D.C. or Baltimore I highly recommend Chelsea’s work.
Happy New Year, friends.
I hope, whether your eyes see fog or sunshine, you can feel the newness of heaven pulsing through your veins.
Alaska is far away.
Maybe you think you know this, but however far away you imagine Alaska to be, double that. Because Alaska is really, really far away.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend a week with other writers on a remote Alaskan island. I wish that each of you could have the chance to be dazzled by the Alaskan sun and scoured by the Alaskan wind. I wish that you could taste King salmon only just pulled from the water.
If a two-day journey isn’t an option for you, what about a book instead?
(the following includes affiliate links)
Here is a memoir of that same remote island. It is also one of the best memoirs I have ever read.
Surviving the Island of Grace: Life on the Wild Edge of America by Leslie Leyland Fields is the story of a young woman from New Hampshire struggling to make a home and a marriage on a primitive and remote island in the Gulf of Alaska.
This is a memoir of marriage, motherhood, spirituality, and poetry. It is also a memoir of wilderness and the dangerous and exhausting work of commercial salmon fishing.
Even if you can’t imagine enjoying a book about fishing (much less actual fishing!) I highly recommend this book. The writing is stellar, the story captivating, and the whole thing is edged with lyricism.
This is the most particular and most universal of stories. Now, I too, am asking the question at the heart of this book: how do we bear the terrible, beautiful grace that sustains our lives?
This was where we unraveled the rest of our lives, it seemed, even as we sewed up the holes in the nets. There was something about this space, about standing out there on the beach under the open sky – the clouds or sun, mountains on every horizon, though it was ocean all the way to the edge. The walls were gone, how could there be a larger space to stand in, and yet, it became a sort of confessional. – Leslie Leyland Fields
I picked up another Alaska memoir in the bookstore at the Anchorage airport: Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs: A True Story of Bad Breaks and Small Miracles by Heather Lende. This one reads more like a collection of personal essays than a cohesive memoir. The tone is cozy and, at times, a little too cute, but Lende’s work as an obituary writer for her small-town paper lends the book some serious depth.
Lende organizes her chapters around the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, but she incorporates other traditions as well, such as Buddhism or Native American spirituality.
I kept this one tucked in the seatback pocket on the long flight from Anchorage to Seattle. At one point, my seatmate asked if she could read it, and I passed it over. She laughed out loud for the rest of the flight.
It’s a good book.
I wonder if to be human is to know that we can’t ever banish pain and ugliness from the world, only learn from it and create something beautiful and good out of it – like the newest totem pole in Sitka, the one called ‘You Are Going to Get Well.’ If you ever see it, you will believe that’s possible. – Heather Lende
One of the guest writers at the Alaska workshop was the novelist Bret Lott. You can’t go wrong picking up any of his fiction (I adore the strange, hilarious, heartbreaking first story in his collection The Difference Between Women and Men: Stories), and his novel Jewel was once an Oprah Book Club pick.
I especially recommend his latest, a collection of essays called Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian.
For writers, his essay “On Precision” is outstanding. For everyone, the final long essay on the death of his father is beautifully crafted. I aspire to write personal essays like this one.
As a writer you must always be striving for that which you cannot yet achieve and for that which you cannot yet know. – Bret Lott
I have two bonus recommendations for you today. The first is Girl Meets Change: Truths to Carry You through Life’s Transitions by Kristen Strong, a pretty and practical book for any woman who struggles with life’s transitions.
The second is the most recent book from Emily P. Freeman: Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World. I don’t think anyone writes Christian formation quite like Emily. Her writing is accessible but also lovely, straightforward but rich and wise.
In my eagerness to read it, I mistakenly ordered two copies. Leave a comment here, and I will enter your name in a drawing to win one of those copies. A winner will be notified by email.
Tell me, friends. Read any good books lately?
In Alaska, there are many ways to die.
You can die in the air: bush plane, float plane, an airliner in wind and fog. You can die in the sea: barge, skiff, a ferry plunging in the trough. (If you are a sea lion, you can die in the jaws of an orca halfway between your rock and the waves. I have a picture of blood and frenzied sea lions if you are the sort who needs proof.)
You can also die with your feet planted firmly on the ground: bear, cliff, swiftly-shifting weather.
You have come to the edge of the world. The sun is lower. The shadows are longer. Death lurks out in the open here.
When you become a mother, you count all the ways there are to die: babies sleep but do not wake, daughters fall on the stairs, sons are diagnosed and named incurable.
Later, the ways are counted for you, but they are not the deaths you have already met in your imagination.
One day, you do not recognize how much your boy struggles to breathe, but the pediatrician does. She calls an ambulance from the exam room.
Another day, you forget your child’s epi-pen. Thank God, that stranger in the corner of the shop had one in her purse. You learn, to your sorrow, that death is folded within each moment.
Silent. Hidden. Utterly inseparable from love.
In Alaska, there are so many ways to live.
You live in the air: bush planes and float planes fly low. You soar like an eagle, skim mountaintops, explore islands empty except of bears.
You live on the water: the taste of salt spray on your lips, a diving fin whale almost at your fingertips, sea otters like floating teddy bears.
You live on the land: black-tailed deer who are not afraid of you, tide pools filled with sun stars and blood stars and the deep breathing of anemones.
You have come to the edge of the world. The sun is lower. It is a dazzle in your eyes all day long.
Of what consequence is death when the air is like glittering glass?
If you are a writer, you are often alone. You retreat from family and friends seeking the quiet you need to write.
But one day you step on an airliner. One day you step on a bush plane. One day you wade through the water and heave yourself into a skiff. One day you taste salt spray all the way to Harvester, an island like a boulder tossed across the sea.
You journey to the edge of the world, and you discover you are not alone. The world is as full with stories and with storytellers as it is full with the glory of God.
The stories you find on Harvester Island are intimate with death.
There is the story of the old man and the young boy. They vanished on the water, leaving behind only a dog in a skiff and so many broken hearts.
There is the story of the unhappy wife standing on the edge of the island rock with a small suitcase in her fist. She has arrived at the end of her road. She is alive, but she has already died.
There are so many ways to die, but in Alaska, you learn what is true in every place on earth: there is only one way to live.
The only way to live is to die.
The only way to live is to arrive at the end of yourself and then to keep going (you can do this via bush plane, you can do this via motherhood or marriage or any great attempt at love).
Love is what remains, at the end of yourself, at the end of every beautiful story, at the end of every terrible one, too.
Love is our home. It is the place where death is only a fading legend. A tale we will tell again and again until, like glass smoothed and polished by the waves, it loses every sharp edge.
One day, we will let that old story go; we will drop it there, on the black gravel of the beach. For we have traveled 10,000 years, and we are ready for new stories.
Written in the airport in Anchorage, Alaska. With love for all the writers who traveled to that boulder in the sea. I am glad to have met you, there on that line between rock and water, life and death, stranger and friend.
It’s Saturday morning. High time for another installment in my occasional book recommendation series. But there is one very important book I haven’t yet told you much about.
Since that first announcement, you have been so supportive. So excited for me. So eager to read this book I have told you almost nothing about. I am grateful.
I want to tell you more.
Let’s begin with the details, as if this were one of those announcements I once mailed after the birth of my four babies. Those easy statistics that tell you so much and so little.
Title: Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons
Release date: February 2, 2016
Available for pre-order here:
Amazon Barnes & Noble ChristianBook.com
Pre-ordering is convenient for you but critical for the success of new books. Pre-orders tell the booksellers there is interest, and they will stock more copies before the release date. More copies on shelves and in-warehouse translates to more sales in those critical early days.
Thank you for every one of your pre-orders!
What is Roots and Sky about?
This book is about our first year in an old farmhouse called Maplehurst. It begins when we came home to a house, but it describes a journey home.
This is a journey through autumn, winter, spring, and summer toward the home first made for us. The home that is in the process of being remade for us.
This dear, beautiful earth.
This dirt. These trees. Those flowers. And faces. And loves. And stars.
Jesus echoed the Psalms when he said that the meek shall inherit the earth. Roots and Sky is about seeking and receiving that inheritance.
It is for anyone who longs for home but worries we can never come home on this side of heaven.
Roots and Sky is about all the ways heaven comes to us.
In this place.