I have a friend who I call my “complaining friend”. She’s allowed to text me the worst of the worst, and I am allowed to do the same to her. No holds barred. No filters. Just raw spewing of the challenges and absurdities that have made up 2020.
Here’s where I’m at, though, with three days left of the year:
I’m not sure spewing is completely healthy.
Perhaps I need something different.
When I was a teenager, my mom would tell me that I needed an “attitude adjustment.”
I wish I could say that 2020 fulfilled every hope and dream I wrote down at its beginning. I wish I could say that every prayer was answered in the affirmative. I wish I could say that I achieved every goal.
I can’t say that.
What I can say is that I am tired of saying all this year was bad.
There were some treasured moments.
Like spending more time at home, building Lego’s with my son, riding bikes around the neighborhood, skipping the commute at work, and appreciating the closeness of my parents.
In the book of Luke, there is a section where Luke writes about Mary pondering all the recent events in her life.
She has birthed a Son. Angels sang. Shepherds visited. The glory of God shone all around her.
Yet, she does not hurry into her future, anxiously addressing the demands of her newborn, the dilemma of where her family will live, or the worry of how to provide for her fledgling family. Instead, she treasures the wonder of what God has already bestowed upon her.
Right there, in a dirty stable, while wrapping her newborn in strips of cloth, I see Mary cultivating gratitude.
So, with Christmas over, and the new year approaching, I don’t want to miss a chance for reverence and reflection.
2020 has been hard and sad. It’s been tumultuous and challenging and weighty. Much of it has been about as enjoyable as a visit to the dentist.
But it’s also been good and full and joyous. There were many treasures hidden in the rocks.
Before 2021 begins with its own trials and tribulations, I’m finding a place to think about my blessings, remember the good times of the year, and express gratitude for each experience.
My attitude needs adjusted. I’m taking a cue from Mary.
The day was bright and sunny and clear-skied. The temperature was a balmy 68 or 70 degrees, my brain can’t recall exactly. What I do remember on that early fall day was treating myself to a Starbuck’s Frappuccino in the morning and then attempting to achieve my usual 3-miles of running in the afternoon. What could happen, right?
Let’s just say I didn’t make it.
My stomach did not quite cooperate with my brain’s full intentions.
Was it the sugar or the dairy or the caffeine?
Was it too soon to run after such an attack on my digestive system?
I have not had a Frappuccino since that day.
But I am still a runner.
The running experts will tell you what to do to achieve the optimal run. They will provide gear information, training logs, and food recommendations. They will tell you what to wear, how to wear it, and when to wear it.
That is not what I am here to do. I am no expert. I can more just relay to you what not to do before a run, during a run, or after a run, simply from personal experience. Like this:
Don’t drink a Frappuccino from Starbuck’s.
Don’t eat chile rellenos as your pre-run snack.
Don’t run with a frozen pizza in your backpack in the middle of 90-degree summer heat.
Don’t look at your phone frequently when running solo on woodland trials.
Don’t run on a sprained ankle.
Yes, I have done all of those things. Oops.
I’ve also forgotten to carry enough water, suffered severe sunburn, slipped on icy sidewalks, been chased by neighborhood dogs, had chaffing in places where I didn’t know I had skin, and realized that fruit snacks do melt in a running belt when kept there long enough and during hot temperatures.
Being a runner is not about achieving perfection; it is about the effort. I wonder what else I have missed out on in the past in my quest for perfectionism. I wonder if I have been so afraid of failing that I have stopped short of trying. That is what connects me so much to being a runner. The sport doesn’t require perfection from me. It is simply asking me to lace up my shoes and get outside.
Being human means making mistakes, messing up, chasing failure. AND it means to keep trying when it is hard. It means to endure through the tough times. It means to find the good in the middle of the bad.
I’m going to fall down. I’m going to say the wrong thing. I’m going to offend someone. I’m going to hurt feelings. I’m going to blunder. The odds are in my favor that this will indeed happen.
So, what do I do? Stop living life? Halt connections? Cease friendships?
I don’t want to live life like this.
That’s why I’m choosing another way:
The way of not growing weary. The way of perseverance. The way of not letting the cares of life choke out my will. The way of pursuing peace in the middle of conflict. The way of laying down my rights and choosing love.
The point is to keep trying.
I wouldn’t still be running if I had let a chile relleno ruin my efforts. I wouldn’t still be running if I had let a fall on a lonely trail keep me in fear of running alone.
The point is: I keep running, and that makes me a runner.
If I let all my blunders stop me from living life as a follower of Jesus, well, it would just get boring from here. Not much of a story. Nothing intriguing here at all.
But if I keep trying to be more generous…after forgetting to give again and again…
Trying to listen to alternative viewpoints…after I’ve spouted off my narrow opinion…
Trying to help the poor and the outcast…after I’ve just complained again about financial troubles…
Trying to engage with my neighborhood and community…even after once again closing my garage door at night and closing off connection…
Trying to speak out against the injustices I see in this world…after time and again of walking in the other side of the street, ignoring the pain I’ve seen…
Trying to raise my child in love and harmony…even after I snapped in irritation to him again…
Trying to see beyond what divides people from each other and work for unity….even as once more I want to seek the security and comfort of the status quo…
Then, I know that whatever the outcome is, there will be a story here. Something to share. Something to inspire. Something to lean into.
It is the struggle that makes it worthwhile. The trying equals the achieving. The joy comes from the trial.
When Peter, later called the Apostle Peter, started following Jesus, he was a loud-mouthed sailor. Throughout the time he was with Christ, he made mistake after mistake. He called Jesus wrong. He almost drowned trying to walk on water. He tried to stop Jesus’ arrest in the garden and cut off the ear of one of the crowd there to arrest Christ. He denied knowing Jesus.
Yet, where do we find Peter after Jesus’ resurrection? After the mountain of errors, culminating in the great denial of the Savior? He’s preaching to thousands the Good News of the Gospel.
This tenacity is unprecedented. He would have made an impressive ultra-marathon runner. He just never stops trying.
“Stay light-footed, and keep moving,” said the poet Rumi.
The continual practice of moving through each experience in life as all part of the journey of following Jesus’ steps into abundant life is what continually compels me. The idea that the fullness of life is found in the loving of others as I love myself excites me. Recognition of His power in the everyday movements of humanity fills me with joy. When the sun rises each morning, I can awake with hope that this day will be filled with love and peace because of grace. I will keep trying my best to live in love amidst the stumbles, the falls, and outright sins.
Because if I don’t try, I’ll wake up one day and find that I haven’t lived at all.
And that is no way to treat the very gift of life.
Even with my mistakes and failures and faults, I’m moving forward.
Because of love. Because of grace. Because, Christ in me, the hope of glory.
If Peter, the-rascal-turned-preacher, could continue to spread good in the world, so can I.
It’s totally worth the effort. I’m staying relentless in hope.
Let’s keep trying, shall we?
And friends, please know, whatever mistakes you do make, I’ll save you making this one:
It is 10:45 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. My son is bouncing on his tiny trampoline behind me as I work at my desk. He is chanting, “I will develop myself in a positive manner…” Breaths come in puffs between the words, making him sound like a chuffing train.
I – puff – will – puff – develop – puff.
I smile. He has been working on the “Word of the Belt” memorization requirement for his Martial Arts class. We work on the saying each morning before remote school begins.
Slow, steady, repetition of words.
It is one of the things I am teaching him.
I am also teaching him good manners, how to write his name, how feeling multiple emotions simultaneously is okay, and how to roll out tortilla dough. Sometimes, I teach him about movies or music or books. Other times, I teach him curse words. (hey, it’s tough times we are in ….#quarantine.)
One of my greatest joys as a parent is the passing on off knowledge. Giving the torch to the next person. Showing my kid how “things are done”. Sharing my tough experiences with him to help make his experiences a little better. Additionally, as a follower of Jesus, my faith compels me to share with my little man how to live life as Jesus would. We share with others. We live compassionately. We are kind. We show love to each other and everyone we encounter.
My church of origin would have called this type of parenting, “Bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (quote from the Saint Paul). More than once I was admonished in my youth that, upon having children, I should “raise ‘em right”. They told me that children are one’s legacy. They said that one should teach them what is important in life.
So, when I became a mom, I realized that I was supposed to impart wisdom. I was required to leave an indelible imprint of information, knowledge, and morality on my son. I was supposed to be the information center for his brain, his heart, and his body.
Could the pressure be any heavier?
In 2014, a newborn baby was placed into my arms—red, wriggly, and wrinkled. I thought my heart would burst with sheer love in that moment. I realized more than ever my complete lack of competence. The nurses didn’t even send me home with a ‘how-to’ manual.
Apparently, I was intended to figure out this parenting gig on my own.
Over these 6 years, I have stumbled over my words, uncovered my flaws and been distressed at my weak points. My Achilles heels began to ache all the time. Was I parenting enough? Was I making sure my son knew the things that would make him stronger, healthier, more resilient? Of course, I have not been alone in my parenting journey. For this, I remain overwhelmed with gratitude. I have a partner who parents untiringly next to me. I have friends and family and a church. I have a community that surrounds me with encouragement and information.
All of this understanding floods me as I listen to the squeak of the trampoline’s springs and the recitation of the “Word of the Belt”.
It is in this moment I realize that the scale was tipped too heavily in my direction.
I am not only teaching my son.
I am also being taught…
This 42-inch, 38-pound bundle of humanity is teaching me so much about life and God and faith and love and hope that I can safely quote the Apostle John who wrote “I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25) if I wrote down everything my boy is teaching me. As the grown-up in the relationship, I automatically assumed that I am the one who is meant to be the master while he is the student.
There was much arrogance in that assumption.
When Jesus had His earthly ministry, He welcomed children to His side. He told His disciples that unless they became like “little children”, they would not see the Kingdom of Heaven. In the culture of Jesus’ time, children had no rights or voice in society, yet He admonished His followers to emulate them.
If the Creator of the Universe is pointing to children and saying, “Learn from them”, then I would be remiss if I did not listen to His direction.
So, lately, I’ve been leaning into to hear what my son has to say and sitting closer to him to watch how he views the world.
He’s showing me how to laugh at silly things.
He is teaching me to love with complete abandon.
He is helping me say, “I’m sorry”, more often and with less shame.
He is asking me questions about faith and God and proving to me that it is okay to doubt.
He is teaching me that sometimes life is messy and beauty lies right there in the brokenness.
He is teaching me that sometimes failure happens, and it is okay to try again and again, refusing to curl up in a corner and give up.
He is demonstrating to me ways to express emotions that I had never previously allowed myself.
He is proving to me that God shows up in the ordinary, every-day-moments of life. If I rush recklessly through my day, I just might miss the Divine.
The Psalmist states that the fruit of the womb is the reward of God. He wrote that if you have a “quiver full” of children, you are blessed. The older I get, the more I see that the children in my life – my son and any other child I’m lucky enough to be around – are sheer gifts from Heaven, proving that God is good and wants to give us an abundant life.
I do not necessarily need to impart lasting wisdom to my son in order for him to be successful and happy and whole.
I simply need to let go and love him.
Whatever tidbits of knowledge and experience I can relay to him will pale in comparison, I think, to what I have gained from him. Thus far, this small human has shown me more grace and beauty and love than I could ever have envisioned seeing from one who only has 6 years of life under his belt.
I have no idea if I’m raising him “right”.
I only know I’m sharing with him all that I can from my heart to his.
And he is teaching me right back with all the gusto and bravado and uninhibited zest for life that God created him to display.
I can’t wait for his next lesson which I’m sure will start right after he bounces off the trampoline.
I hear the oil bubbling in the giant black pot. Its acrid smell blending with the pungent smell odor of cinnamon and nutmeg. My silver-haired granny is wearing a red and green checkered apron, and her hands, devoid of the gold jewelry usually adorning them, are buried in sticky dough. “The key” she tells me with a wink, “is to not make too big of balls.”
She turns to the angry oil and drops in a dough ball. The sticky dough sinks into the bottom, then rises again to the surface, triumphant in its airiness. She ladles it out once it’s golden brown and bathes it in the waiting mixture of cinnamon and sugar. I taste it slowly, letting its creamy insides mesh with the crispy skin of oil and sugar. Outside, the tenacious last leaves of fall were swatted by wet snow.
The first snowfall of the winter season always meant Granny’s fresh donuts. As a kid, I couldn’t wait to be at her house, absorbing all the smells, embracing the wonder. When my family moved overseas to Germany, the donut recipe followed. My brother, David, scribbled down the ingredients on an index card. We made batches and batches, trying to perfect Granny’s rhythm. I’m not sure we ever replicated it to perfection.
There is something magical about a good tradition. It is connection to family. Remembrance of roots. A chance for grateful for good things.
So, as a mom now with a family of my own, I continue to watch the weather patterns in the early fall.. When predictions come for flurries in September or October, I gather up ingredients, ready. As soon as the whiteness covers the ground, the oil is heated up for frying. Over the years, my family and I have made other donut recipes, including chocolate donut holes and baked apple cinnamon donuts.
But Granny’s recipe was the first one.
This year, my young son woke up the morning after the first snow of the season, saw its puffy whiteness on the ground, looked at me and said, “Mommy, I want a donut.”
It does not feel like a significant event, really. Along with my usual joy of celebrating my life on this planet, I found myself in contented state of mind. Last year, when I turned 35, I experienced a bit of a mid-thirties crisis and quickly decided to return to school to obtain my bachelor’s degree before age 40. I also decided to plan several trips for our family, to finally get my husband and I enrolled in classes to become foster parents, and to write a book.
Big plans and dreams are “kinda my thing”.
I certainly have grand plans for the coming year. Yet, if 2020 has taught me anything, it is to hold those plans loosely, for one never knows what will happen from day to day.
So, this year, to mark my birthday, I am writing this post to recommend to the few people who may read this post a few things that I enjoy. A few books to read. A few practices to undertake. A few thoughts to ponder.
Let’s pretend I am rich and famous. I am a celebrity – an Oprah! So the world has to listen to what I have to say.
After all, it is my birthday.
These are in no particular order as they all mean something to me.
Here is what I recommend:
Sitting still more often.
Reading the Bible, particularly the Psalms.
Listening to your partner
Dancing, dancing, dancing!
Playing music loudly and singing along.
Learning a new language, even just a word or two.
Making a friend.
Writing poetry. Even if it isn’t good poetry. Who cares?
Leaving the dishes in the sink & playing with your kids.
Reading as many books as you can. Never be anywhere without a book.
Enjoying ice cream…or cake…or pie…. Really enjoy it.
Spending time in the sun.
Planting a garden. Dirt is fun.
Drawing, or sketching, or painting, or coloring. Just put something on paper. I’m learning how to sketch, thanks to YouTube.
Learning a new skill. I recently learned how to convert .WAV files to MP3 files.
Taking a class. I recommend classes from Sophia Learning. They offer wonderful material.
Memorizing something. I am memorizing a Wordsworth poem, but it does not have to be poetry. Just memorize some lines, or a song, or….something.
Performing acts of kindness to those around you — those in your household, your workplace, and your neighborhood.
Telling your partner, “Thank you.” Don’t take him or her for granted.
Apologizing to your children. A perfect parent does not exist. Saying sorry to my son is something I do almost every day.
Putting words on paper. Perhaps this recommendation is because I am a writer, but words on paper do the soul good. So I recommend creating a gratitude list, or a journal entry, or even just writing about something or someone you love.
Taking long, slow walks in nature.
Seeing a therapist. I have written on this in the past, but I will say it again. There is no shame in needing help. Talking to someone helps.
Saying “please” and “thank you”. Courtesy need not be lost if we practice it.
Watching movies under a blanket outside. I have done this with friends in the summer. It is wonderful.
Sleeping under a weighted blanket. Call me privileged, but this was the best gift I have received in 2020. Delicious sleep under this blanket.
Calling someone you love who lives far away and catching up.
Setting boundaries with relationships and respecting them.
Listening to Podcasts. Specifically, the Robcast, TedTalks Daily, and Forever 35. But of course, my new podcast with my dad, The Preacher & Her Dad, is pretty fun too….
Listening to an online church service. Red Rocks Church and FlatIrons Church both have amazing pastors and worship songs.
Meditating each day, even if just for a few minutes. This is a new practice for me but it keeps my mind calm and my emotions regulated.
Moving your body daily. I run, I walk, I stretch, I go to the gym. It really does not matter what you do, as long as you move.
Taking breaks from social media and the internet. I love the internet; I’m on the internet. But it is a busy place to spend all of one’s time, so vacationing from it is highly recommended.
Giving away something to someone else. Just because.
Indulging in anything pumpkin flavored this season. I especially love pumpkin spice lattes (cliche, I know) and pumpkin pie Pop-Tarts.
Hugging the ones close to you. Tightly.
That’s it. 36 recommendations.
From my heart to yours on the eve of my 36th birthday.
The preacher said the phrase again. Cold fear shot down my spine from my temple to my toes.
“Beyond a shadow of a doubt”, he droned. “You must know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Heaven is yours, that Jesus is your Savior, that you have repented and turned from your sin to God.”
Here’s the thing: I knew Jesus was my Savior. It was the doubt part that troubled me. Well, the doubt and the sin. I certainly hadn’t committed any Christian-deemed sins in my young life. No drugs, no alcohol, no promiscuity (didn’t even know what that really was), no premarital sex, no cursing. As my grandma loved to say, “I don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t run with those that do.”
So what exactly did I need to be saved from? I wasn’t sure but I knew I desperately wanted in. I wanted Jesus. I didn’t think my “conversion story” was much of a story, so I longed for a better one. Here’s what happened to me one afternoon in my memory. It was a Sunday. My mom was settling me in for a nap. I asked about Jesus. We prayed together. Something happened in my soul that my young mind couldn’t describe yet with words. I knew a peace and a satisfaction at that moment. Some might say it was the Holy Spirit.
This little memory has caused me much turmoil, even though it is an event that has been confirmed by my mother. She even wrote a little piece in the front flap of her Bible, “October 9, 1989, Kathleen prayed to accept Jesus as her Savior.”
I can’t tell you the relief that flooded me when my mom gave me that scrap of paper during my late teenage years.
As if salvation and Divine encounters can be summed up in one prayer and one moment.
Because I was consistently worried if “I had done it right”, and because I was terrified I hadn’t truly “repented”, during my childhood years I would repeatedly pray the sinner’s prayer, desperate for confirmation of Jesus’ grace and a peace in my spirit.
I would then wonder, “Was it that time?” or “Was it the time before?” Which prayer was the most real?
These questions were not the only ones that ran around my mind. Other doubts plagued me, but I kept them to myself. There was no room for questions in my denomination of Independent Fundamental Baptists. The firm voices around me admonished me to hold faith in the doctrines they taught. They quashed my questions. Misunderstood my heart. Diverted the doubts as misguided. Don’t question the stance that only one Bible translation (The King James Version 1611) is accurate. Don’t ask, “Why are women not supposed to wear pants or work outside the home?” Don’t dare speak out when the pastor from the pulpit demeans women who work outside the home.
Do not dare wonder if God loves everybody, then why does He hate gay people? Don’t even think about the fact that the majority of the leaders in the church are men, and when a woman speaks, she is mocked secretly behind closed doors.
Don’t speak about your terror in experiencing a spanking with a wooden paddle across your legs by your Christian schoolteacher. Don’t even give voice to the waiver of doubt about pledging allegiance to your church and to your pastor. Learn the words verbatim and recite them with the rest of your Christian school classmates. “I pledge allegiance to my church and to my pastor who preaches the Word of God. I will faithfully support my church with my tithes and offerings.” Don’t even allow yourself to entertain the thought of, “Is this actually the way that Jesus taught us?”
Most of all, don’t question the salvation experience itself. You must have said the Sinner’s Prayer, shown actual repentant tears, and turned your whole body away from any worldly inclination. Otherwise, you likely were not saved from hell.
As all of these questions tormented my young heart, it is no wonder I experienced nightmares, cold sweats, and severe anxiety. There was no security to be found….unless I built my life around the doctrines drilled into me by the church. My mom even had this little book she would open up after dinner each night with our family. “The Little Book of Catechisms” was the name of it. The book systematically listed out questions, like “who made me” and “who was Jesus?” There in black and white were the solid answers for my questioning soul. I loved it. Even more so than my older brothers. I devoured the information, memorizing each answer so I would just know.
My experience of Divine peace in the moment with my mom fell away as I developed the muscles of knowledge and answers.
It worked for me for a long time.
I was a loyal daughter of the church. I willed myself beyond feelings and rested inside my church’s beliefs. I became sold out for Jesus. The Jesus of the Independent Fundamental Bible-believing Baptist Church. I learned the rules and the ropes – bought into all of them heart and soul as I buried all my doubts and insecurities.
I was fine. Richard Rohr, in his book “Falling Upward”, coined the term “the Loyal Soldier”. That was me. I was the good girl, the believer, the one with a testimony. I remember a visiting preacher telling me once that he wished he had my story. His was full of drinking and smoking and girls and fistfights, but mine, well, I was a missionary’s daughter with nothing on my record. Pristine and shiny. “I’d give anything for your story,” he told me.
I remember one Sunday afternoon as I studied my Bible at the dining room table, my notebooks open before me, my older brother passed by and saw me. His face lifted in a half smile. “You really are a good kid, aren’t you?” As I reflect back on this memory now, I noticed his voice held almost a hint of sadness.
Yes, I was a good kid. The Preacher’s Daughter. The Missionary Kid. The Baptist Nun. These beliefs kept me safe. These doctrines held me fast. Baptist Jesus was there for me in the readings and the memorizations and rules.
This way held true for me.
Until it didn’t.
I think Jesus was excited when I took the first step away from rigidity.
(Real Jesus, not my church’s version of Jesus, let me be clear.)
When I leaped from the missionary life into a completely different career as a young adult, suddenly the secure answers I held no longer solved the deepest longings of my soul or answered the hard questions I was facing.
Would the older gentleman with the white hair and friendly blue eyes burn in hell forever because he died without saying a certain prayer? I could no longer believe this.
Was the nice guy who worked in the back of the restaurant depraved and evil because he was later arrested for drug possession? I couldn’t believe that.
How was I supposed to console the grief of a co-worker who was a refugee in the United States and was worried constantly about his family still in peril? I didn’t have answers anymore, so I just listened to him.
What kind of person would I be to tell the gay person I met that God disapproved of their lifestyle and they would burn in hell unless they changed? I would be a non-loving person, full of judgment instead of grace and truth.
Was the Catholic family I met really “unchristian”, even as they shared their meals with me, let me sleep on their couch, and spend all the major holidays with them? No, they were more Christlike than others I had known.
Was God enraged at me when I had to work on a Sunday because my manager scheduled me to work? No, He loves unconditionally.
Were the new friends I made out of tune with God because the girls wore slacks, the guys sometimes drank beer, and they all watched R- rated movies? No, they were more in tune with Him because they were teaching me to see the Divine in everything.
Could I read the works of Fredrich Nietzsche and still love the Bible? Oh my word, yes, young one, yes.
I started to hold the doctrines I’d been taught up to the light and examine them one by one. As questions arose, I studied and prayed and opened my heart to a new understanding of the love and grace and compassion of Jesus.
This process has been years in the making and is still ongoing. Jesus never despised questions. So often in Scripture, He answered a question with another question! When approached by religious leaders or lawyers or even the common man with questions during His time as a Rabbi, His most heard response was, “What does the Scripture say? How do you read it?” He hardly confirmed quick and solid answers; rather, he readily encouraged the journey of wrestling with the tough questions.
When I came to Him, holding up all these questions in my heart, I think He smiled and said, “Finally! Now we are getting somewhere with your faith!”
The life I held “before” was full of answers. You name the question, we provided the answer, no problem. If you stick by abiding to these answers, you would be okay. “How do I get to Heaven? Say a prayer. What is sin? Smoking, drinking, gossiping, and watching dirty movies. What does God want? Give your tithes.”
Why have my experiences outside my Baptist upbringing sparked a resolve in me?
Because until I was okay with questions, I wasn’t truly okay.
Every day I spend in searching for the work of Divine Love, I’m learning to become more and more okay with vagueness, with holding things loosely, and with mystery. I’m finding it is more important to ask questions than to know the answers. It’s more valuable to listen than talk.
It means more to step lightly with a person than to pounce on top of them with giant boots.
If my encounter with Jesus had been limited to a “one and done” transaction, how empty my life would be. I believe I met Him that afternoon so long ago with my mom guiding me. I also believe I have met Him many times since then. In the questions. In the darkness. In humanity. In every step I’ve taken away from my list of rules and into the wide field of His grace. He keeps step with me and my doubts.
Life is a dance. One that is full of darkness and light. One that contains Divine experiences with no words, and one that explodes with expressions that need words.
A friend said to me, one night after a discussion about all the questions, “Are we really supposed to have all the answers? I don’t think we ever will.”
I nodded sagely, wordless. Not because I was done with questions, but because sometimes silence is the best answer.
Will I ever stop questioning?
No, no, I don’t think I will.
This much I know:
Beyond a shadow of any doubt, I’m keeping the questions.
That’s where life is found.
And, as it happens, that is where Jesus is too.
*This piece is intended to be a part of my memoir that I am currently writing and someday will finish.
In the small village in Germany, where my family and I lived when I was fourteen, our neighbors, Herr and Frau Stoof, invited us over one afternoon for coffee and sweets. Frau Stoof also brewed a passion-fruit tea, just for me. She let me enjoy the whole pot – a beautiful carafe of German porcelain.
I drank cup after cup of the sweetened tea. Delicious.
I also think that Frau Stoof gave me tea because she knew I was the baby of the family. I was the young one, who wasn’t quite adult enough to handle the strains of good German brew. I wasn’t quite who I needed to be at her table; perhaps she was waiting for maturity in me to blossom.
When I was fifteen, my family moved up the road, to a two-story house, nestled in the center of the village, surrounded by three other house. Our new neighbors, Friedl and Gretl (sisters), invited me one afternoon to play cards with them and drink coffee. My brother, David, and I went together.
Friedl didn’t offer me a carafe of tea. She brewed thick, black coffee. The kind that runs down your throat, directly into your veins, like saline from an I.V., and spikes your hair at the ends.
I loved it.
Maybe it was because she didn’t question a 15-year-old drinking the stuff. She just poured me cup after cup without hesitation.
Suddenly, I was grown-up.
After a while, it became less about the coffee as a beverage, and more about what coffee represented in my life. This dark brew, which I always over-stuffed with sugar and cream, provided an opening for me to be myself, to be real, to be…vulnerable.
I referred to them in my journals simply as “the ladies.” They weren’t concerned about my weight, my acne, or my lack of maturity. They wanted me to deal their cards to them, eat their sweets, and listen to their stories of the time after World War II when life for Germans was rough and painful.
They gave me advice, like, “Women today change men like they change shirts, don’t do that!”, and “Getting old is cruel. Don’t do it!”, and “If you’re going to move on from hard times, you have to forget and forgive.”
They asked me questions about who I was, what I wanted to do, and what interested me. They were curious about my background and education. They wanted to know all my hopes and dreams and secrets.
I relished those times, huddled in their kitchens. The world shrank to the size of a rough-hewn table, covered with a hand-stitched, embroidered cloth. The clock ticked slowly. The steam from the coffee floated over our pastries and playing cards.
These women loved me unconditionally. They held no private agenda in our times together. There was no topic off-limits. No discussion halted. No remarks unheeded. They expected nothing from me, except the truest version of me.
I can’t help but think these coffee times helped shape my ideals and values. When I think of preparing my home for a future child through foster care—perhaps even a teenager—I think the ladies would approve. After all, they certainly didn’t mind an awkward, socially-shy girl hanging around their houses.
They welcomed me with open arms.
Whether it’s over a cup tea or a mug of coffee or perhaps a pint of beer, I hope we can all learn to nurture a sense of belonging for the people around us. I hope we can learn to stop judging and start listening. I hope that we can right the wrongs and create brighter futures. There is much work to do. I see the needs in my community, my family, my nation, and my world. It is exhausting at times, and it is overwhelming at others. Some days, I’m not entirely sure what the next step is.
But then, I put on some coffee, think about “the ladies” with their hopeful eyes, their inquiring minds, and their strong opinions, and I make a list of things to do next.
One step at a time, I am determined to be a part of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth. One person at a time, I will do my best to make them feel loved and valued and appreciated. I have “the ladies” to thank for these sentiments. I regret not a single caffeinated afternoon with them.
At the root of all their other pieces of advice and nuggets of truth they shared was this shining gem:
So, to my “ladies”, I say a deep and heartfelt…
I hope I can make others feel as just as accepted as you made me feel.
I love you. You’ve taken me places I would never have gone. You’ve given solace when I was alone. You kept me from other versions of self-harm. Your offer of ice cream and peanut butter was better than cutting my arm open. You kept me safe. So, thank you.
Thanks for being around. Thanks for staying the same when nothing felt stable. Thanks for not judging me but just accepting I was in front of you again, looking for solace, comfort, peace, approval, when I couldn’t find it anywhere else.
You did more than your job. You’ve been working around the clock all these years. You’ve been pulling more weight than you needed to. I really appreciate that. Thanks for your efforts and your time. Thanks for your company. Thanks for the hits of pleasure. Thanks for the ride salty and sweet and of fat and umami. Thanks for the out of body and mind experiences—these were quite the trips, right? The approved drug of choice for a good Christian girl. Once again, you rose beyond the call of duty.
So, here’s my release to you, dear Food. You no longer have to work so hard for me. I’m better now and improving every day. Please take a vacation. Go see other friends. GO back to your intended job. Overtime hours aren’t good for you or me.
I’m not firing you, nor am I kicking you out of my life completely. I love you, you know? But I’m letting you go back to your proper place. The place of nourishment, of joy, and of community. I don’t need you in the dark anymore, because I have friends in my life. I don’t need you to take me out of my body anymore because my body is good and strong and beautiful, just as she is. I don’t need you to numb my emotions anymore (thank you for this all these years) because feelings are okay for me to have. They are welcome in my life.
I have room for the largeness of myself. I just needed to reclaim it. I have space to love and to be loved. I have the right to this space. I deserve kindness and joy and light. Yes, I also want to have the wine and the chocolate and the cheesecake and the pizza. But I will also feel sad and lonely. I will also allow anger its place. I will feel hurt and speak up when I am. I will allow myself the effervescence of joy and the bubbliness of laughter.
To all of it.
Someone once said that God could have created us to live without you, Food, but the fact is that He did not. So, here’s what I am asking of you. Please nourish my body. Give her vitamins and minerals that she requires. Give her tasty experiences at mealtimes which satisfy her hunger. Show up at family gatherings and holidays and birthdays. Put your best foot forward. I’ll cheer you on. Me, in this body with all her flaws and imperfections. Me, fully myself.
Thank you so much for all your efforts on my behalf. I’ve got it from here. I’m not alone. Take a break from your extra duties. I’ll see you around.