Dispatch from the wilderness

Written by hootenannie on March 11th, 2018

Still here. Still alive. Still spending every day with this best bud.

I’m in a writing course right now, and it’s been so good for me. While you won’t see any of what I’m working on on this blog (at least for now), the practice and discipline of writing every day has reminded me of how much I love it, and how much happier I am when I’m playing with words.

Anyway, just saying hi. More someday.

So Close

Written by hootenannie on February 12th, 2018

I’ve been writing some new songs. I don’t know what will come of them, but they’re forming up, taking shape, becoming.

I wrote this one awhile back. I’ve held it close because it was written from a very raw place; even listening back to it now, it stings. But it’s the truest story I’ve ever told, and tonight I want to share it.

I’m someone who has always found it very easy to be honest about my pain. Thank you for giving me the space to do so. As it returns, I promise to be honest about my joy, too.

[Track has been taken down for now. Maybe you’ll hear it again someday.]

The Minneapolis Miracle

Written by hootenannie on January 15th, 2018

By now you’ve all seen it, right? Last night’s last ditch pass from Vikings quarterback Case Keenum to wide receiver Stefon Diggs, resulting in a game-winning touchdown in the last 10 seconds of the game.

Watch it here:

And again here:

And this one, for good measure:

They’re calling it historic, legendary, the Minneapolis Miracle. Things like this just don’t happen… until they do. And when they do, we all — sports fans or not — lose our minds. We scream. We jump up and down. Kids light up and grown men cry. We can’t believe it — but look around. Everyone else saw it, too! We confirm the good news to each other with grins and hugs and tears and cheers, and wake up the next morning shocked and hoarse and happy.

I’m not a very good sports fan. I love the Denver Broncos, but they had a disappointing year and I lost steam toward the end of this season. I like to go to baseball games, but mostly for the hot dogs and people watching. I couldn’t tell you anything about basketball except running and shooting and sometimes dunking (?). There’s no good reason I, Annie Parsons, should be thinking about sports today, except that it taps into something that I major in:

FEELINGS. (You knew it was coming.)

My favorite genre of film is the DISM: the Disney Inspirational Sports Movie (trademark: me). If you want to see me cry, turn on The Rookie or Miracle. If you want to see me bawl, it’s Remember the Titans. I even loved the one about cross country, for crying out loud (McFarland, USA). These stories are about the underdogs, the impossible dream, the ragtag group of far-shots that band together to do something bigger than any one of them could have done alone.

The very best part of every one of these movies is the montage. You know what I’m talking about — the two-minute compilation of short scenes spliced together in order to save time while still showing progress. There’s usually an up-tempo song playing in the background, advancing the story but sparing the viewer any quotidian details — because daily tasks, even the ones that ultimately lead to victory, tend to be unsexy.

Remind me of this tonight when I put in my nightguard.

Anyway, I think this is why I loved Michael Phelps’ commercial for Under Armour. It aired during the 2016 Olympics in the midst of him winning all of those gold medals, serving as a reminder that his glory was only a result of all of the hours of unseen work.

Listening to interviews with the Vikings after last night’s game, they confirmed that this was a play that they’ve run over and over in practice. They put in the work, not knowing when or where they might need it — but when that moment came, they were ready for it. To borrow from the Phelps commercial, it’s what they did in the dark that put them in the light — and whether or not we’re professional athletes (I’m basically positive that no one reading this is — no offense, dear reader), I’m pretty sure this is inspiration we could all apply to our lives in some way or another.

Twenty four hours later, my social media feeds are still all purple. I’m thrilled for my many longsuffering Minnesotan friends, and am pulling for the Vikings to be in the Super Bowl at home — something no team has ever accomplished — in just a few weeks.

Until then, you can find me here, hanging out on YouTube, still crying.

Christianity is not the American Dream

Written by hootenannie on January 7th, 2018

I grew up as a pastor’s daughter, an identity that I largely shook when I left home at 18, but which played an undeniable role in my formation. In getting to know other pastor’s kids (PKs) over the years, I’ve found some common threads in our experiences; for example, the pressure of visibility, unfair expectations from certain members of the church community, the learned ability to be whoever we needed to be for the given person in front of us, and stealing the leftover communion bread to wolf down in the fellowship hall (privilege negates sacrilege).

Some PKs seem to resent their upbringing, but for the most part, I enjoyed mine. While nowhere in the bible, my marching orders seemed clear: follow the rules and Jesus will love you — or was it Jesus loves you, so you’d better follow the rules? Either way, for this natural rule follower, it all seemed reasonable enough.

Church felt safe to me because I was good at it. I felt at home in Sunday School and church musicals and youth group and worship teams, and always knew I had a big group of people who loved me and were rooting for me. I had the answers to the questions, and prayed fervently over life’s most dire concerns: algebra tests and my future husband. After leaving my hometown to study music at a Christian college, I went to work full-time at a large Presbyterian church. For the first 25 years of my life, I coasted on what was largely an inherited faith — one that served me well as long as I stuck with like-minded people, followed the rules, and did everything right.

In other words, it was only a matter of time.

The past ten years have been a process of disintegration as I began to discover that the “faith” of my upbringing was largely circumstantial and hardly personal. Not only could I not keep up with “the rules,” I realized that I didn’t want to — because as it turned out, no amount of rule following prevented babies from dying or parents from divorcing or bodies from breaking or hearts from shattering. For all I had given God — that is, my deeds, my schedule, my proclamations — how dare he not come through on his end of the bargain? The bargain being, you know, keeping me and everyone I love safe and happy and comfortable. THAT’S THE DEAL, God.

As it turns out, that’s not the deal.

More and more, I’m coming to believe that this is the deal, the only deal: God wants us just as we are, not as we should be, and that we are called to be like Jesus. And if you know anything about the life of Jesus, this means taking our battered and broken down selves and scrapping our reputation in favor of loving the unlovable, welcoming the outsiders and outcasts, sacrificing on behalf of others, forgiving without condition, and suffering. There will be suffering.

In western culture, Christianity has long been sold as a happy, therapeutic path to self-actualization: love God, be a good person, and he’ll give you a great life. But Christianity is not the American Dream. At the risk of being a total killjoy, the true nature of Christianity is costly: join Jesus, give your life away, and die.

Surely this definition would dissuade many from faith. But if churches were more honest about the true path of following Jesus, I wonder if Christians would have a healthier, more realistic view of what it is that we’re actually buying into. I wonder if we wouldn’t feel so entitled to a cute, happy life, and indignant when we don’t get it. I wonder if we’d be more willing to give ourselves away, seeing as how we’re following a man who willingly walked to a brutal death on a cross.

The thought scares me, because who actually wants to live a life marked by selflessness? Here, I’ll go first: I DON’T. I generally prefer a quid pro quo sort of God, one who will reward my faithfulness with recognition and bounty; it’s only fair. And as we’ve already established, I’m amazing at “the rules” — so this kind of arrangement would work out pretty well for me.

But Jesus takes “the rules” and throws them out the window, because he values relationship over transaction. As such, the Christian life is full of paradoxes:

What if death isn’t what we assume? What if death is the pathway to life — and not just the “die and go to heaven” sort of eternal life, but kingdom come life here and now? What if dying up front sets us free to really live? What if being stripped of all falsehood leaves our truest selves exposed? What if the end is the beginning?

If you’re lucky enough to be in a season of life that feels abundant and beautiful, that is a gift and you absolutely should soak it up. But if you, like me, are a Christian who is looking around at all that is passing away and sometimes thinking, “Wait, I didn’t sign up for this,” be encouraged — because maybe we actually did.

Longing for home

Written by hootenannie on November 16th, 2017

It’s been four months since I left Minneapolis, four months since I sent my things to storage and walked out of my house for the last time.

I have a hard time talking about losing my house — and yes, that is the language that makes most sense to me: losing my house. Because while it was my decision to sell it (and I made that decision wholeheartedly at the time), just three weeks before closing, my life and my circumstances changed. In the end, I was forced to leave that house not on my own terms. Suddenly, in the context of the new shape of my life, it was being taken from me in a way I couldn’t stop.

I lost my house.

I hesitate to use this analogy, because I want to be sensitive to those who have experienced this nightmare in a literal sense. But I hope you’ll give me grace when I say that packing my house was a sort of emotional stillbirth: informed that the life I was expecting had no heartbeat, I still had to labor, only to arrive on the other side with… nothing. Stacked on top of the relational loss that I was simultaneously experiencing, it’s one of the most profoundly sad things I’ve ever been through.

So here I am, four months later, still processing, still without a home. Thanks to the kindness and hospitality of family and friends, I’m not exactly “homeless”; I’ve never been without a bed, and I know I never will be. But it’s exhausting to live out of suitcases and duffel bags and the backend of a car. It’s hard to be organized when you don’t have your own space. It’s inconvenient to bounce from place to place with a dog in tow. It’s frustrating to realize that so many things you wish you had are buried deep in a storage unit somewhere in the suburbs of Minneapolis.

I have given myself these months to sort through my options, ask big questions, and make some decisions. I still don’t know where those decisions will ultimately lead me. But I see no harm in telling you that when it comes to re-rooting, Nashville, Minneapolis, and Kansas City are the cities on the table.

Right now, I am free in every way. I’m single. I have no financial ties or dependents. I have a job I can do from anywhere. The world is wide open to me, which sounds like a dream — but to be honest, this sort of openness feels less like freedom and more like a burden. If you’ve never been in a similar situation, take it from me: when anything is possible, the abundance of options can be paralyzing.

So while some people are encouraging me to continue to float from place to place, to extend this untethered season for as long as I can (probably because they’ve never been in this position, which makes it easy to romanticize), I’ve decided that it’s time to decide. I believe we’re wired for commitment, and that commitment — to a place, a person, or a vocation — equals freedom. Responsibility, routine, and ritual root us in a healthy way, and I’ve found this rootedness difficult to maintain without the consistency of home.

I also believe that we’re created to long for home, and that while this longing is ultimately a symptom of our homesickness for heaven, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t create a nest here and now. So I hope to have some news to share about where my next home will be soon. I think I know where I’m leaning, but who knows, man? I have a lot of options.

A new season

Written by hootenannie on October 3rd, 2017

I’m in the Pacific Northwest where the leaves are the color of sweet potatoes, the color of pumpkins. After a long, brutal summer, it’s as if all of nature is conspiring to remind me that it’s time for a new season.

Madeline L’Engle says, “Until I can mourn the loss of a dream, I cannot be comforted enough to have vision for a fresh one,” and she’s right. When life drops out from beneath your feet, there is no getting back to business as usual. The past several months have been saturated with emptiness, and for a while there, I was passing my days like a ghost. People have asked, “So what do you think you’ll do next?” but there has been no way to answer. Mourning the loss of a dream can be all consuming — and for one who historically has been relatively strong, I’ll be honest: the experience came as a shock.

But like C.S. Lewis says, “Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.”

As I lay my options on the table, I realize that I am lucky to have so many. I am rich in opportunities, possibilities, and most of all, relationships; if I’ve learned anything through what happened, it’s that my people are fierce, loyal, and will show up and show out on my behalf. While I still don’t have a clear vision for my future, I am starting to remember what it feels like to be me — which is to say that I am loved. What more could I ask for, really?

When dashed against the rocks and cast adrift from all that once seemed so solid, it’s tempting to want to cling to pieces of the life I had before. I’m like Jack from Lost, yelling after Kate, “We have to go back!” but there is no going back. There is no resuscitation of what once was. The only hope for a way forward is resurrection — and unfortunately, the obvious prerequisite for resurrection is… death.

I recently read Jonathan Martin’s How to Survive a Shipwreck, and perhaps not-so-ironically, it was a life raft for my stunned and battered heart. This passage jumped off the page and grabbed me:

“Coming to the end of anything — the end of an era, the end of a relationship, the end of ourselves — is so horribly frightening when you are on the front side of resurrection… But I would encourage you, softly and gently, to consider carefully anything in your life that is half-dead — existing on a ventilator. And to at least be open to the possibility that it could be time to unplug the ventilator. Not as an act of cowardice or an act of resignation, but as an act of bold, courageous faith — putting all your weight down on the hope of resurrection. What looks like resignation may be the ultimate act of faith, the supreme expression of trust. And what you are keeping on life support may be exactly the thing that is keeping you from the wonder and terror of new life.”

I have been opting for resuscitation over resurrection, but there is no life for me there anymore. A new season is waiting — and I’m feeling just audacious enough to believe it.

The blaze of autumn leaves will soon be dead on the ground. But in their falling, space is being made for new life. It’s the most achingly beautiful thing I can think of.

No grit, no pearl

Written by hootenannie on September 6th, 2017

Several years ago, I took to writing the word “grit” on my wrist. Any time I was faced with a challenge, emotional or physical, I would take a Sharpie and give myself a visible reminder to hang tough.

Because that’s what grit is: courage in the face of anything. Strength of character. Steely-eyed endurance. Firmness of mind. An indomitable spirit. Pluck. I like these descriptions; they’re traits I’d like to embody, words of fortitude, resilience, and backbone. “Grit” was on my wrist when I climbed a host of Colorado mountains by myself, when I went into difficult meetings at work, and when I ran my first marathon earlier this year. Associating myself with the concept of grit, no matter how contrived, makes me feel strong and capable and — if I’m honest — like a badass. I like this version of grit.

But there’s a more literal, concrete definition: grit can simply refer to rough, loose particles of stone or sand. The other day, I was walking Foxy on a dirt trail in flip-flops, and felt the sharpness of dust and gravel slide in against my feet. Grit can be abrasive. Grit can be painful.

Anyone who has gone through major loss knows that there are moments in which survival feels impossible. Sharp sadness invades uninvited and rubs so raw it feels as if your heart cannot go on beating, that the open wound of gritty grief might actually kill you. This has been true for me in the aftermath of my recent unraveling. On the worst days, my heart has felt so exposed, so sore, that I have been tempted to react desperately and defensively. I’m ready to build a shield to protect myself from ever hurting this way again.

But then I remember, that is not how the pearl gets made.

Like our hearts, oysters are soft and tender, relying on their hard shells to keep them safe. But occasionally, a grain of sand will sneak in, and this coarse foreign object — this grit — can cause pain, rock against flesh. One might think that the oyster would react protectively, forming a leathery callous to protect itself, but it doesn’t. The oyster remains soft, yielding to the suffering, and slowly, over time, begins to wrap the grain of sand in translucent layers of beauty.

The pearl is the oyster’s response to the pain.

I wish it didn’t hurt so badly. I wish the pain could be erased. But as my friend Becky recently said to me, “God isn’t an eraser, he’s a redeemer.” There is no changing what has happened, no denial of what’s been done — but there is hope for redemption, for something beautiful and new. God brings beauty from ashes and pearls from dirt.

So I will keep my heart soft, giving myself over to the pain in the trust that it will be transformed. I will keep my back strong, summoning the courage and resolve to keep going. And I will keep my wrist inked — now permanently — with grit.

Grief, forgiveness, and love

Written by hootenannie on August 28th, 2017

A few months ago, my life was completely upended when a man I deeply loved betrayed my trust and broke my heart. While the details matter to me, all I’ll say is this: I was planning to move to Nashville so we could be together, but it didn’t happen. The relationship was serious enough to warrant me selling my house and putting a down payment on another — but when a man tells you there’s someone else, you do not follow through with a move across the country to be with him.

I have hesitated to write about this, because in doing so, I can only share my own experience. This person is living a now separate narrative, and despite the pain that his choices have put me through, I am not out to demonize or villainize anyone involved. He meant more to me than that. I’m just sad.

I want to be honest about what I’ve gone through, what I’m still going through. I am not writing from a place of resolution or remedy; the heartache is still very much in process for me because I lost so much. I lost a man who had become my best person. I lost a relationship I had been led to believe was “it.” I lost a dream of a future that had made so much sense — even felt confirmed and ordained by God, to be honest. I lost not one, but two houses. I lost any sense of direction or home. I lost the ability to trust. I lost 15 lbs and a whole lot of money. I lost everything we had been building toward. Cruelest of all, in some moments, I lost all hope.


How do you hold the conflicting emotions of heartbreak, anger, and the remnants of love all at the same time? It’s an unbearable tension. But here is what I’m learning.

To experience grief in all of its awful fullness is human and healthy. To sidestep it, whether through alcohol, travel, social media, shopping, sex, or tattoos, is to cauterize our humanity. It’s best to lean straight into the pain; if we don’t, it will seep like oil through a bed of dead leaves, poisoning life from the ground up. Numbed-out grief leads to anger, anger leads to depression, depression leads to a critical spirit and a lack of peace.

But grief? We are promised that grief leads to comfort. Beauty. Dancing. I want to be a person who looks my pain in the eye, regardless of what it costs me, and then rest in knowing that there is still goodness ahead — eventually.

Forgiveness is not primarily for the one you are forgiving. It’s for you. Choosing to forgive sets you free from the bondage of what was done to you, the pain that was inflicted upon you. It doesn’t change it, it certainly doesn’t excuse any of it — but it loosens your chains and allows you to move forward, inch by inch, breath by breath, day by day. When you release the grip on your right to harm the other person, you get your hands back. You get your life back. Slowly.

It doesn’t happen all at once. I’m finding it’s something I have to do over and over in the hopes that one day my heart will match the choice. It stings like a death; a grave is involved, the burying of a perfectly good hatchet.

Nothing about it feels fair. Nothing about it feels justified. But isn’t that the point?

You cannot love without risk. There is no such thing. The pain I’m in comes from the love I felt, because I was brave enough to show up as my fullest, truest self and enter a relationship that mattered. And when you truly love someone, you don’t get to be in control. To force, to clutch, to cling, to do whatever it takes to get your way — that is not a picture of love. That is a picture of fear. Fear is a liar, and the opposite of love.

This may have ended in disaster for me, but I will never regret opening my heart to hope and allowing myself to be known by another. It’s the bravest thing I’ve ever done, and a testament to strength, not weakness.


I am not “recovered.” This experience has altered my insides in ways I struggle to articulate. I was left heartbroken and homeless, and some days I’m still so sad, when I walk around I swear you can hear my heart rattle in my chest. Time truly is the only healer for something so brutal, and unfortunately, there’s no way to fast-forward. But I’ve made it through these first few months; here I raise my Ebenezer.

You may be wondering where I am. I obviously had to move out of my Minneapolis house in July, gutted and reeling, suddenly with nowhere to go. But thanks to my amazing friends and family, I’ve found places to go. Foxy is with me, of course. We’re being taken care of.

I have missed sharing my life in a virtual way. It didn’t feel right for me to carry on posting like nothing had happened, because racking up likes and comments is a false balm. The pain of this betrayal has been potent, and it’s been important for me to honor it by bearing the full weight of what I’ve lost. But I’m still here.

The path I took to get here has washed out behind me. The way forward isn’t yet clear. But I’m gathering the broken pieces in hopes of building something new. It’s not the future that I wanted, but it’s the future that I’m going to get. And somehow, I want to live it well.

You’ll be hearing from me again soon, grief and forgiveness and love intermingled, moving forward and holding on to hope for dear life.

Huge thanks to my amazing sister-in-law Ashley Parsons for capturing this image. You’ve helped remind me that I’m strong in a season when I’ve felt anything but.

On the move… again

Written by hootenannie on June 23rd, 2017

This little dream house… I can’t believe it, but I’ll be handing the keys over to someone else in July. My two years in Minneapolis have been abundantly sweet, rich, and healing — and now it’s time to go.

I will miss the amazing friends I’ve made, my perfect fence, and the cheese curds. I will grieve the loss of my trails every single day (although the projected Southwest light rail was going to ruin them eventually anyway, ugh). I CANNOT BELIEVE I’ll miss the chance to rent this house through Airbnb for Super Bowl LII. But I will always, always be grateful that I had the chance to live here. Minneapolis was never on my radar until I started flying here for work in 2012, and I fell in love with it. Everyone should be so lucky to get a chance to live here — not just despite the winter, but even because of it. It makes you tough, it’s pretty darn beautiful, and even if you hate it, the summer makes up for it all.

As for where I’m headed, well… see you soon, Nashville!

Grace, grit, and the Whole30

Written by hootenannie on June 12th, 2017

In my most cliché move yet, I’m now on the Whole30.

If you aren’t familiar, the Whole30 is a 30-day elimination diet that cuts out everything that makes me who I am: sugar, dairy, grains, and alcohol (also legumes and soy, although those mean less to me). It’s popular with girls on Instagram and your boss’s wife.

The Whole30 is reserved for the wealthy, since my first week’s grocery run ran me nearly five times my normal food budget. Granted, I have been known to subsist on Wheat Thins, popcorn, and cheese, which means that I typically budget $30/week for food (don’t judge, I hate myself enough for this already), but still. Look at me — I’m so rich, I can cut out entire food groups!

See you never, ice cream.

Here is what one can eat while on the Whole30: vegetables, meat, seafood, fruit, eggs, and healthy fats. The only processed food allowed is, say, a sweet potato that’s been shredded through the food processor. If it’s convenient or comes in a package, chances are very good that it’s very bad. Thou shalt make thine own condiments. And don’t even glance at that perfectly chilled glass of summer rosé — eyes up here, buddy.

Does it sound awful? It sort of does to me, which is why it’s taken me so long to try it. But I finally decided it was time. Here’s why.

Twelve days before I ran the Fargo Marathon, I landed myself in the ER.

During my training, I had basically become a human garbage dumpster, eating anything and everything in sight. It wasn’t really a problem from a caloric standpoint since I was burning it off, but it led to me feeling free to do things like order the pizza AND the tacos AND the potstickers — a United-Junk-Food-Nations. Nutrition mattered not; I was a human Hoover.

Until one night in May when I was hit with the worst crippling abdominal pain of my entire life. The pain was so severe that the adrenaline was causing my limbs to convulse; I honestly thought I was having a seizure. My next-door neighbor rushed me to the hospital, where I was given fluids for dehydration and a lecture for being bottomed out on nutrients.

Dumb? Avoidable? Probably. I would start a GoFundMe for the yet-to-be-received bill, except knowing me I would just ask for payment in wine. Which brings me to my next point.

Here are the occasions in which I have been known to justify a glass of wine:

  • When I’m happy (hooray!)
  • When I’m sad (wallow wallow)
  • When I’m with friends (celebrate fun times!)
  • When I’m alone (I call this “vice-olation”)
  • When I have a great meal (wouldn’t be complete without it)
  • When I have a lame meal (you know what would make this sad popcorn taste better…?)
  • When I cook at all (Cabernet while I chop)
  • When I’m bored (a nice way to pass an evening)
  • When I’m stressed (gotta relax and unwiiiind)
  • When I go on a trip (special occasion)
  • When I get back from a trip (good to be home!)
  • When life just feels like a little too much (take that edge off, then sleep like crap and wake up thirsty)

Now, don’t fret — this has not been happening on a daily basis. But I was just starting to find that it was happening more often than it should. I have allowed alcohol to play a stronger role than it needs to in my life, and the collective effect has been me waking up with low-level shame. Gross.

Alcohol has often been the path of least resistance for me, but it doesn’t need to be. I don’t need to numb out, because life has already shown me that I can do hard things. Which leads me to…

In my 20s, I was a real hard-ass, especially when it came to myself. I set huge goals and accomplished them. I got the jobs I applied for, and even ones that I didn’t. I restricted calories to be skinny. I boldly moved across the country multiple times. I manipulated to make myself look good on the Internet. I did impressive things so I could impress people and therefore be an impressive person.

But in my 30s, there was a shift. I got tired and my heart broke in two and I couldn’t keep up so I just decided to give myself grace.

I slowed down. I stopped striving. I bought clothes a size bigger. I sought contentment with the way things are instead of struggling toward the way I wished they would be. I stopped caring so much about what other people think, and decided instead to just be happy.

This all sounds great — and a lot of it is — but there’s been a shadow side.

All of those big goals I used to have? I started letting them slide. I would commit to something and then, in the name of grace, drop out. I would dream up something major, then abandon it before even starting because “You should go easy on yourself, Annie.” I let myself off the hook, over and over again — and before I knew it, it had been years since I’d accomplished much of anything.

And for a girl who at a very core level loves to knock it out of the park, that started to feel like a bummer.

So I ran a marathon. And now I’m doing the Whole30. Because grace and grit are not mutually exclusive, and I’m due for some good old-fashioned Annie-in-her-20s EMOTIONAL VICTORY.


Don’t worry, I will not ceaselessly post my meals to Instagram. But if I see you and you’re eating Cheetos, you’re dead to me.