Kaffeeklatsch

What I Want to Talk About Over Coffee

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March 14, 2020
Coloradowriter84

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Social Distancing

In this time of social distancing, let us remember we are not solitary eagles. We are designed for community. We are wired for connection.
Yes, we should take precautions and live with wisdom. Yes, we should wash our hands  extra times. Yes, we must take care around each other.
But we must remember: we are not alone. We are in this together. The sickness that is taking over our precious world is not the determining factor in who we are nor need it dictate who we become.
Maybe, as we go through this together, we might learn how to be kinder, softer, and less judgemental to other humans. This sickness is no respecter of persons but we ought to be.
Friends, be creative in connecting with each other via technology. Call someone. Text someone. Skype. Facetime. Disinfect yourself, then see a friend face to face.
We are not the lone bird. We are a flock. We should all soar through this stormy sky side by side.
Grace and peace and love, dear friends.

February 28, 2020
Coloradowriter84

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Resurrection Is Coming



It’s still dark outside. No morning hues have yet streaked the sky. I hold a cup of strong, black coffee. I sit in the recliner next to the fireplace. I open up my latest book, “Wondrous Encounters” by Richard Rohr. I read. I think. I pray. I listen.
The puppy curls on my lap.
This is my new pattern as of this week. It takes about 10 minutes. For me, the readings and reflections have signaled the start of the season of Lent.
That, and the lack of Starbuck’s since Wednesday.


I am not Catholic, or of any faith that typically observes the Lent season. But if my brothers and sisters in faith will allow me a measure of grace, I have adopted this season. I started four years ago. I give up Starbuck’s because I love it and because in the cold winter months, I drink entirely too much of their warm lattes and steaming Blonde roast. I like to stop on my way to work for a cup. The baristas are cheery. The lobby is cozy. And the view of the mountains is a calming backdrop to the chaos of most of my mornings.
This year, instead of simply giving up something, I am adding something else in. I am not merely sinking into a deprivation mode of not having my favorite caffeinated beverages. I am looking to focus my heart and my mind on a bigger picture. A grander purpose. A new thing that is about to spring forth (Isaiah 43:19).
I like seasons. Spring, winter, fall, summer–each serving their purpose in moving the Earth forward in its growth and beauty. But season’s, for me, are not only about weather patterns. They are also about sacred times and patterns of life which need observing.
The season of pregnancy.
The season of education.
The season of illness.
The season of Christmas.
The season of potty training.
The season of lack of sleep.
The season of service.
The season of rest.

Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 3, “To everything, there is a season,” echo in my head as I write these words. I’m full of joy that God created seasons—both on the Earth and in human traditions.
The Lent season signals for me impending changes. It reminds me to reflect on Christ with me in suffering and sorrow and Christ with me in the resurrection and hope for the future. By giving up something I love, if my mind then drifts to that particular pleasure, I redirect it to the true pleasure of my soul: Christ in me, the hope of glory.


To help in the redirection, I have added in the quiet time. While I have long read scriptures in the morning and held prayers times, this year, I have no other goal or agenda except to enjoy it. I want to sit at Christ’s feet and do nothing. I want to be Mary who chose the good part that wasn’t taken away from her (Luke 10:42). Sure, after the 10 minutes of time, the rush of the day will start. My son will debate with me over breakfast choices. The puppy will likely eat a tampon from the trash can. My mouth might utter a few uncouth words. I may send a cryptic, annoying text to my husband who will be frustrated by the mystery of it. Traffic will likely annoy me. Work task and school assignments will assail the quiet I’ve tried to achieve.
And all of this is part of it. The ebb and flow. The give and take. In thinking of Jesus and the events surrounding His last days, he enjoyed a supper, a song, and a serene garden…then there was a beating, a Cross, and a death.


Only then, after the calm and the chaos, came resurrection.


For me, I feel the point of the season is preparedness and remembrance. When Jesus sat at the Last Supper with His disciples, He raised a cup and broke bread. He urged them to remember. He reminded them of Who He was and what He was going to do. New life was coming.


Lent is a season to realign my heart with the heart of my Father. It is a time to pause. I’m remembering the old things and preparing for the new ones.
I am remembering how God rescued me from poor decisions….
How He showed up in my times of darkness…
How He paid bills I couldn’t pay…
How He was there, weeping with me, when I grieved loss and loss and loss…
How He heard my cries of loneliness and gave me friends and family…
How He snatched me from an unhealthy job and planted me in a place of work that is fulfilling…
How He heals my mind over and over as it races with anxiety or clouds over with depression.


These remembrances fill my heart and soul at 5 a.m. as I sip my black coffee and my puppy snuggles on my lap.
After the remembrances, I move into preparing. This year, I am preparing for the changes in my family as we open our home to foster a child (or two.) I’m preparing the mounds and mounds of paperwork involved in this process. I’m preparing for college classwork as I look ahead to graduation in 2021. I’m preparing for my next writing project. I’m preparing for some traveling to Texas in April and May. I’m preparing for my son to move into 1st grade in the fall. I’m preparing for more hectic schedules, an onslaught of family events and achievements, and the whirlwind that constantly swirls a full life. I’m preparing for God to do something wondrous in my heart that I haven’t even thought about or planned for.

Remembrance and preparations. Both are important. I can’t stay forever in remembrance only. I run the risk of becoming a stagnant saint. Nor can I rush recklessly ahead in preparing for the future and forget the richness of the past. This season calls me to incorporate a balance of both. It is not an “either/or” outcome. It is “both/and”. This season is for me to be at the feet of Jesus before I rise to walk with Him in fresh paths of grace and mercy.
I am inhaling His oxygen before an exhaling God into the souls around me. If my soul is not tended to, then I will be a useless vessel for His Spirit.
Lent may mean something else to another person of faith. Perhaps I haven’t captured its essence here. (After all, I am frantically scribbling these notes on my phone before my next appointment.) Lent may hold little significance to others who only see it for its legalism or restrictions. But, for me, during the next 6 weeks, Lent is calling me to my Father. I’m practicing the peace, the calm, and the presence of God. I am leaning into this season, thankful for all He has done. I’m wondering what He will do in the future. What new thing will He do? What lesson will He teach me? How will His love change me again? I’m drinking it all in. I’m enjoying His presence. I’m clinging to His promises when I don’t understand everything that is happening. I’m maintaining a firm hope and clenching grasp to joy.

Resurrection will come.

Meanwhile, I’m remembering and preparing…
At 5 a.m.
With a cup of coffee in my hand.
And a small puppy at my feet.

January 12, 2020
Coloradowriter84

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Keeping the Lights On

Two strands of white Christmas lights are still hung inside my house. A strand above the fireplace. A strand above the dining room window. Last week, I took down our Christmas tree while Thomas boxed away the inflatable Santa Clauz who rides an armadillo. Seven boxes of Christmas paraphernalia were stashed away above our garage in anticipation of the next season.

Except these two strings of lights.  

I simply won’t part with them.

The Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day of the year, occurs on or around December 21st each year. After this event, daylight slowly, slowly, slowly, begins to lengthen its effect over this side of the equator. In addition to more daylight, January in Colorado tends to be sunnier and warmer than other winter months, as though the mountains are giving us a brief glimpse of spring to come. But even with these two elements on my side, traditionally, depression rears its head against me during the month of January.

There are varied reasons, I believe, for the onset of the disease. I’m usually 5 to 6 pounds heavier from the over-indulgence of the holiday season. I’ve lost my rhythm of the gym because of the busy holiday schedule. I’m reviewing credit card statements, thinking, “What was that charge? I don’t remember spending so much on Amazon?” No special events fill the calendar. Family and friends have returned to their regular routines of life.  And to top it off, the lights and decorations that adorned many homes and business around my area are mostly gone. The high of the holiday season typically swings into a low mental state combined with an uneasy feeling that something isn’t quite right.

Because, after the distractions of the busy season, I then remember the son who lost his mother at the holidays. I see the young children who didn’t have a gift-filled season; I note the mother who lost her baby. I reflect on the couple who now must figure out how next holiday season will be split between their newly separated houses. I hear of the dad who lost his job before Christmas and still hasn’t found a replacement. I listen to the explosive political environment and the rumors of war; I read about the refugees in my city who are experiencing homelessness and prejudice because of their skin color and ethnic background. I empathize with the friend who is also suffering from anxiety and depression. I recall the stories of the kids in the foster care system who are desperate for someone to care about them even if it is hard.

In January, it seems like the darkness wants to take over.

That’s what hits me hard. Right in the gut.

And yet….

Without the darkness of our unique experiences in life, what place would the light even have? The light needs the darkness, and the darkness is lifeless without the light. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, the Spirit of God moved upon the waters before the light even came. God was working in the darkness just as much as He would later work with the light. The light doesn’t negate the pain. It doesn’t gloss over the experience. It doesn’t make me pretend that all is well when it is not. What the light does is call me to truth. It says, “I see you – all of you. I love you. Come closer.”

Directly before Jesus spoke His well-known words, “I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”, he rescued a woman caught in adultery from being stoned to death by an angry mob. Talk about a dark moment in her life. She walked away from the crowd, unscathed but going back to face the outrage of her family, the gossip of her neighbors, and the loneliness of a scarred life. In the wake of her retreating footsteps, Jesus called out these hope-soaked words.  

These words are the inspiration for keeping up the Christmas lights. The lights are small flickers of hope against the darkness that can shroud everyday life. They are beacons to expose the darkness for its true nature and gentle reminders that all is not lost when all I see is hardship and pain and all I feel is hopelessness and loss. They remind me that, I too, am called by Jesus to be a light to the world more than once a year. “Your lives light up the world. Let others see your light from a distance…don’t hide your light! Let it shine brightly before others.” Matthew 5:14, 16 (TPT) I’m called to love, to rescue, to do as much good as possible. I’m called to combat poverty, racism, homelessness, abuse, climate change, and inequality as much as I am able. I am called to listen to the voiceless, stand up for the victim, and huddle close to the down-and-out.

Above all, I am called to frame the darkness with light. I’m called to cry from the rooftops, “All is not lost. You are not forgotten. You are not forsaken. All is forgiven. Love covers it all! Come close, you are welcome here!” (Okay, maybe I won’t stand on the top of my slanted roof and yell this to the neighbors because no one needs that kind of nut on their block. Still, you get my meaning.)

Beyond all the rush of the holiday season, the onslaught of depression during a cold winter, and the overwhelm of troubles in this world, there is hope. That hope is the Light of Life, the Prince of Peace, and Immanuel—God with us. God with us in triumph. God with us in trial. God with us in financial troubles, in prison, and in divorce. God with us in health and in sickness. God with us in loneliness and sorrow. God with us in joy and in laughter. God, the same One who moved on those dark waters so long ago in Genesis and boomed out, “Let there be Light!”, is with us even now.

No matter what comes our way.

When I was little, I remember listening to the radio on long car rides home from churches where my dad had been the guest speaker. The hum of the car’s motor would make me feel drowsy as darkness fell across Indiana farmland. I would long for my cozy, warm bed and soft pillow. Then, I would hear Motel Six’s commercial chime out to the backseat where I sat, squished between my two older brothers. “Motel Six: We’ll leave the light on for you.” In the oddest of ways, I would feel comforted. Somewhere, out there in the wide, scary world, a light was on. Usually, after this, I’d fall asleep.

Now, as mid-January already approaches, and 2020 marches on, at my house, we are combating the darkness with prayer and love and grace. We are also including a tangible reminder of our calling.

Two strands of white lights.

Shining out hope and comfort.

Yep, we are leaving the lights on.

All. Year. Long.

January 1, 2020
Coloradowriter84

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Learning How to Fall

Disco lights flashed on the ice rink. Skaters of all ages and sizes floated, zoomed, or shuffled past my son and me. The two of us held hands as we attempted to glide gracefully along the ice. Our glow bracelets, compliments of the Ice Centre, encircled our wrists, making us feel both cheery and brave. Together, half slipping, half sliding, we made it halfway around the rink’s perimeter.

Then my son fell.

And so did I.

The wind left my lungs with a decided “oof.” Rafael started crying. I rolled on the ice, comforting him, “It’s okay, buddy. You’re ok. I’m ok.”

We clumsily got to our feet, attempted to reclaim our balance, and moved forward along the ice.

We fell again. The domino effect hitting me the hardest. I landed on my left hip once again. Rafa asked me, “Mama, are you okay?” Gathering all the mama-strength within me, I gritted out, “Yes, baby, I’m fine.”

We left the ice shortly thereafter. Glow bracelets in hand. Smiles on our faces. A deep throbbing ache in my hip.

I ignored the fact that it hurt. Chalked it up to living life.

Two months later, my body stopped working properly on runs, then at the gym, then during my lunchtime walks. It was time to take action. I went to physical therapy. After four months of physical therapy, my hip still wasn’t improving, so the doctor scheduled a cortisone shot.

As the long needle pierced my skin, and I felt the pain race through my entire left side, I decided ice skating might not be for me.

I wonder, at times, if I had paid attention to the throbbing ache sooner, if my hip would have healed sooner. I wonder if I had allowed myself to be okay with the fact that I fell, would I have taken better care of my body? I wonder if I’m falling in other ways now, but not letting myself recognize the fact that I have fallen, that it hurt, and that I need to heal from those falls?

I wonder if I am preventing love from doing its most sacred work in me because I am too busy or too proud to let it?

We all know what it means to fall. We watch the skaters in the Olympics as they triumphantly churn out perfectly practiced routines, only to miss their step, and wipe out on the ice. We chorus, “oh!”, together, and then we shout at them, “Get up, get up!”

We want them to keep going, to move on, to power through.

And that is exactly right. Moving on and keeping on going is vital.

But what I want to notice is that fact that sometimes we fall. Sometimes we mess up. We make mistakes. We trip up on the path.

I want to acknowledge that this happens while we are living life.
It’s called….being human.

It’s only when we accept the fact of the screw up that we can make it right.

It’s only when we acknowledge the fall that we can start to heal.

In my formative years, messing up was never taken lightly. I was not raised among those who shared Brittany Spears cavalier attitude (“Oops, I did it again”) to mistakes. As a pastor’s daughter, my actions were watched and evaluated at every turn. Heaven forbid, I misstep. Mistakes mixed in with the concept of sin. I was terrified of sinning and separating myself from a holy God that I couldn’t give myself grace when I was simply being a flawed human. Author and Franciscan monk Richard Rohr says, “No one walks a straight line of grace. It is a dance.”


A dance with lots of falls.


Too often, though, we keep dancing without an acknowledgment that something happened. Someone hurt us. Or we hurt someone. Words or actions were exchanged. But healing cannot occur until our place of injury is acknowledged

After Jesus died on the Cross and rose again, He met His disciples on a sandy beach. He fed them breakfast. He exchanged words with Peter in particular, questioning him repeatedly. “Do you love me?” was the refrain. I am sure Peter was embarrassed, or even frustrated, by the Savior’s questions. Peter knew he had denied Christ. He knew he had failed the Lord. And now, Jesus was battering him about the depth of his love.

But underneath that echoing phrase, “Do you Love Me?”, was an unfailing, undying love for Peter. In my mind this is why Jesus kept asking the question. Peter may have expected a reprimand. Instead he got love again and again. Jesus was gently and firmly calling Peter back to Himself, back to his true calling, back to the arms of love.

That is what Love does. It calls us back. It covers our failures and wrongdoings. It propels us forward. We may have a limp or a few scars but we are whole in its embrace. Maybe we won’t reconcile a relationship or forget old hurts, but we will acknowledge what happened. We will feel the hurt, the anger, the betrayal, the fear.

In the Old Testament, as Moses, the great leader of Israel, was about to die, he said, “The Eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27).

We will rise. The Everlasting Arms will pull us back up — bruised egos, wounded spirits, sprained hearts, and all. We will dance again.

In 2020, I will let love’s strong arms support me….

While I do my work as a paralegal and writer….

While my husband and I pursue foster care….

While I figure out family and friend relationships……

While I parent my son….

While I live as generously as possible…

While I try to be a faithful follower of Jesus.

Falls will happen. Mistakes will occur. I will make blunder after blunder. I will recognize them, acknowledge them, and see them for what they are.
Because, I know, the height and width and breadth of divine love will catch me.

Without fail.


Every time.


Happy New Year, friends.

December 8, 2019
Coloradowriter84

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Chosen.

“You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family.” Harper Lee’s words from her iconic novel, To Kill A Mocking Bird, have resounded through history. This sentiment shows up in poems and movies and even everyday life as we consider the people who are closest to us and how we have been seemingly thrown together to navigate this world. Family. We are born, raised, and shaped by this group, whether large or small. Their markings follow us, no matter where we end up.
I used to agree with Harper’s sentiment of being unable to choose family. I thought my place in my family was simply a result of being born, getting a birth certificate, and having a name attached to my scrawny and wrinkly body. I didn’t do much and bam: I am a part of the Bracher family.
Not by choice.
Or maybe….
I am considering another point of view.
On December 7, 2019, I gathered with my immediate and extended family to lay to rest my amazing grandmother, Bettye Bracher. There we stood, hands held, eyes wet., honoring a lady who had touched our lives collectively and individually in the most profound of ways. She loved us all. We were her pride and joy. We were her laughter and light. Somehow, from the youngest of great-grandchildren to the oldest child, we each knew our special place from her point of view. We were all her favorites and we all knew it.
So we gathered together. We traveled long or from close by. We hugged and cried. We laughed and recounted memories. Because we are a family, despite time and distance and age. We have changed but we are the same. We have aged but we remain united. This is the power of belonging to a family.

No matter where you go in life, you are still connected. You are still a piece. You still belong.
Your name says so.
You are called. You are important. You. Are. Chosen.
Before the siblings and cousins and grandchildren and great-grandchildren existed for my particular family, there was one man and one woman. They were neighbors. They were friends. Then, one fine day, they picked each other and said, “Let’s do this life together.” So, they got married.
Raymond and Bettye Bracher chose each other. Then, they went on to choose Diane, Dennis, Sarah, John, Fred, Max, Lynn, Scott, Tarah, Jennifer, Jason, Amy…..

Are you following yet?

Family isn’t by chance. Family isn’t random. Family isn’t a lottery.


Family is chosen.
In love. By love. For love.


This is the missing piece to our messy world. We are on our Smartphones, checking Instagram and Facebook for hearts and likes. We are working long hours for a place in a career that we hope will fill that hole we seek. We rush around making plans and going to dinners and watching movies and reaching for the next entertainment to distract us. But the whole time someone is waiting on the other end of the phone, the other side of the street, the other side of a table, for us to reach across and engage and talk and love. We need to express to each other that we are not forsaken or alone.
Family is close by.
It doesn’t matter if you share the same last name or not.
My grandpa never met a stranger. He would always talk to people on park benches restaurants, and airplanes. My grandma always warmly welcomed anyone she encountered. Their influence in their community was evident since at both their funerals people lined up out the door to pay their respects.
People recognize the open arms of a family. People long for home. People need love.
My grandparents knew this. So, they chose love over and over and over again. They didn’t have to. They had their share of trials and hardships and toils, but they decided that love would be the theme of their life. Love would reign supreme.
Sure, some of the family traits we inherit may not be what we would have chosen for ourselves (thank you Bracher genes for my large hips ) but connection and love is the point.
My husband and I are currently in the process of becoming foster parents with the hopes of adopting. We are looking forward to giving some kids a chance to choose us as a family. We can’t wait to tell them how loved they are, how wanted they are, and how they belong with us. We chose our first baby, Rafael, and we also chose them.
And then, I want to take them back to Indiana where Raymond and Bettye Bracher built a strong family on farmland owned by the Bracher family for over 150 years. We will stand on the furtile soil and retell stories of love and laughter. We will tell them that Bettye would have said they were her favorite. We will say that she loved them. We will say she chose them.
Because I think she did. I think you can choose your family, just like you choose your friends.
Today, in honor of Bettye, I am choosing my own family: my husband, Thomas and my son, Rafael. I am choosing my parents, Dennis and Lynn, and my siblings Michael and Andrea and David and Jamie, and their children Nina and Ivan and Ashlynn. I am choosing my niece Aly.

I am choosing them, out of the rest of the world, to know my love and my protection and my undying loyality.
And above all else, I want them each to know:
They are my favorite.

P.S. I love you, Mammaw.

November 30, 2019
Coloradowriter84

1 comment

Such a White Girl

My mom loved casseroles. They were cheap, versatile, and fed all of five members of my family.
She could throw random ingredients together and we would feast – poor-man, gourmet style.
These concoctions were really not my mom’s creations, nor was it her fault that she fell prey to the gooey, fatty, salty, decadence of the casserole. Nearly every cookbook in the 1970’s and 1980’s extoled the power of these dishes.
My favorite was Tuna Noodle Casserole. It consisted of Kraft Mac ‘N Cheese, canned tuna,canned cream soup – all topped with shredded cheese and crushed Ritz crackers. A heart attack on a plate.
My tender taste buds had zero experience in spice, nuance, or texture. I just wanted creamy, cheesy, and familiar.
When my now-husband Thomas and I started dating, I brought him over a tuna noodle casserole one night. “What is this?” he asked.
I was flabbergasted. The man didn’t know what this was? Didn’t everybody who was anybody consume this dish? As my old Baptist grandmother used to lament, “Surely the coming of the Lord is nigh” (indicating the end of the world), because my new man had zero clue what I was talking about.
“Yeah, at our house growing up, we usually had beans and rice and fresh tortillas,” he said.
“Well, this white girl grew up on tuna,” I quipped, and then I kissed my Mexican-American man.
It’s funny to me how a casserole made me feel so freaking white. It also started made me think about the other really, really, really, really white girl things in my life.

Like….

Thinking Tobasco sauce is hot.

Expecting to fit in, no matter where I travel.

Picturing Jesus as a white man.

Taking a solid education for granted.

Feeling unafraid of cop cars.

Getting a decent job most of the time.

Honestly, my family didn’t notice race or skin color when I was growing up. Being the daughter of a pastor of a U.S. Military church on a base in Germany helped. I played with Korean girls,
Black girls, Southern girls, and Mid-Western girls. I didn’t care what they looked like; I just wanted friends.
My youth was a rainbow of innocence, hugs, and girlish love for anyone in my circle.
Regrettably, however, there was an underlying thread of unacceptance that ran through certain members of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Organization my family found ourselves a part of. They didn’t overtly say they weren’t accepting of others who weren’t like us; they just didn’t go out of their way to include anyone of a different race, ethnic background, or group into their day-to-day lives.

Maybe they didn’t intend it to be exclusionary. But it certainly was.

When I was 7, I recall my parents having a conversation about a man and woman in our church in Germany who had just gotten married. He was white. She was black. “They are going to have a tough time of it,” my Dad whispered to my Mom. His voice sounded heavy and tight, like he was weary of climbing a mountain.

I didn’t understand what he meant.
If they loved each other, why couldn’t they be together? What was so wrong with that?I supported them loving each other.
Later in my teenage years, I remember listening to an episode of a show I used to love, called “Adventures in Odyssey”, produced by Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The show produced a 3-part episode once on the Underground Railroad. I listened to it obsessively. At one point, a Southern lady whispers to a Black man, as she helps him escape, “I hate what my people are doing to your people.”

Through my soul, the truth resonated. I hated it, too. It’s just I thought that all of those problems were in the past and solved with the Civil War.

How is that for white-girl bias?

Am I not called by Christ to love every person, no matter race or ethnicity?
Yes.
Am I not called to speak out against this systemic racism that plagues, not only my country, but most of the religious organizations that I cherish?
Yes.

I speak out against it. I condemn it. I thrust all my white-girl privilege into the corner of those who deserve to be heard, respected, and treated equally.

There is a great crescendo in Saint
Paul’s letter to the Galatians in the Bible, where he writes, “There is neither Greek nor Jew, slave
nor free, but we are all one in Christ.”
That is where the life is — in the wide, expansive, open field of Christ’s universe where all are embraced, regardless of skin color or religious background or cultural differences.

When I surround myself with others who have varied pasts, it’s me who is the lucky one.

I’m not doing them a favor.

They don’t need me.

I need them.

I want to be at a table with people from all backgrounds, walks of life, accents on their tongues, and experiences they can share. Their experiences teach me. Their actions humble me. Their bravery astounds me.

That’s the cool kids’ table.

I’ll bring the tuna casserole.

August 30, 2019
Coloradowriter84

1 comment

Tired of Not Talking about It

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I crept into my bathroom, late one summer evening. My bathroom’s pale-yellow glow reminded me of a run-down hotel room. One with hidden cockroaches, bed bugs, and various stains on over-used mattresses. Just enough light for me, as I didn’t want to be seen. Or noticed. Or heard.

I was 25 years-old, had a job, a cool roommate, and a large group of fantastic friends. Everything was fine.

I opened the bottom drawer of the vanity and pulled out the black MK bag. Surely something sharp would be in there. I would “just” need a tiny slit, a small opening. Enough to release the pain that darkened my mind and crushed my chest. I held a sharp nail file in my hand, then shoved it back in the bag, and bolted from the dimly lit room. I catapulted into my twin bed, as I kicked my bedroom door closed. Tears ran down my cheeks. I pulled my quilt over my head, desperate to make myself small.

A few months later, I sat on a worn sofa in a therapist’s office. I wore a dark hoodie and dark jeans. I pressed my body into the cushions, trying very hard to fade into it. She asked me why I was there.

“I don’t really know actually. Counseling is for married people who are thinking about divorcing.”

When I was a young girl, I sat in a church service where the pastor recommended, if you felt sad, that you bake a cake for another person as an instant boost. He also said that reading the Bible more would cure any blues or depression. While I will never negate the power of Scripture, nor the uplifting effects of doing good deeds for others, this is a misguided view of how to treat mental health issues.

That is where I had relegated the notion of getting help: only if I was married and having problems loving my husband would it be okay for me to go to counseling.

No wonder I couldn’t admit I was suffocating.

I felt like an impostor, sinking into this therapist’s couch, questioning my choice to come, feeling a weight so heavy in my chest that it hurt to breathe. The shame surrounding depressed people, anxious people, and sad people keeps them walled away from help. It takes courage to ask for help. It takes bravery to step out from the crowd, to be different, and say, “I’m suffering.”

I was trying to be brave, but it felt like I was rolling a giant boulder up a hill. This is no heroine’s journey. I was simply lost, and sad, and worthless.

I was experiencing this while being known at work, at church, and among friends and family as the “smiling one” and “so sweet.”

Depression is non-discriminate.

Six months into my therapy sessions, I wrote this in my journal:

In my head it’s figured out and logical. It isn’t selfish. It’s thinking of them. If I left, faded away, was forgotten, my parents would have their sons. My brothers wouldn’t have a sister they don’t understand. My grandparents wouldn’t have to worry about the “worldly granddaughter”. Courtney could find another roommate. Amber would have one less needy friend. Thomas would find another girlfriend—a prettier, skinnier, funnier, smarter one. Target certainly would go on. The world of retail would not blink an eye at the absence of one more Guest Service Team Leader. The church might say, “Oh she was nice.” Everyone would go on with their lives. I wonder if they would notice I was gone. I wonder if they would speculate why I’d left. I wonder if anyone would cry.

I only shared pieces of this with my therapist because I didn’t want her to have to feel I was in danger. She would have been obligated to do something, of course. I portrayed myself to be as functional as I possibly could. I glossed over the deepest, darkest parts of what was inside me. I was afraid she would have me hospitalized, otherwise. Maybe she should have.

Oddly enough, for me, this practice of “faking it until I made it” significantly helped my brain improve. My frontal lobe grew to accept certain truths. My symptoms of depression receded as I worked with my counselor. My doctor prescribed me medication.

I no longer thought about hurting myself. I no longer struggled to leave my house. I could face the world again with strength and dignity. I could run and write and think clearly again.

I am lucky.

So many others are not.

However, do not mistake improvement for a cure.

Depression still lurks inside me.

Inside this smiling face right here. The smile for which I am still known.

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Depression showed up after my baby was born. It reared its head when I lost my job in 2014. It tormented me when I gained weight, then lost weight, then gained weight. It came knocking when I switched careers, when the bank account ran low, and when my friend died.

There is no rhyme or reason to it. I wish I had a road map with a giant sign that reads, “Warning! Dark days ahead!” But it doesn’t work that way. The brain is far more complicated than this.

And I am so dog-gone tired of not talking about it.

In the Independent Baptist culture in my childhood, we would often sit at dinner tables, dressed in dark suits and fancy dresses, talking grandly of our plans to save the world. Whether the meal was served on real china or paper plates, it came with a side of superiority. We knew we were saved. We knew we were Heaven-bound. We knew we had the answers.

Such a pity for everyone else.

They did not. They were out. They were other.

The problem was, we forgot who we were on the inside. James, in his short book in the New Testament, says, “We all struggle in many ways.”

From my perspective, there is the perpetual belief among Christians that just because we follow Christ that we are better. That healing is automatic. That we are safe from tortures of the mind more than any other human.

There is a danger in thinking that because grace has saved us, that we are rescued from all other struggles, pain, and suffering. This encompasses our mental wellness. Physical pain is still socially acceptable malady among believers. Even if only my head hurts, I still garner sympathy. “Oh, I hope you feel better! Oh, I hope you are on the mend!”

I am done pretending I am okay all the time because I have so many good things and people in my life. I’m being honest about my inner life, so that others will follow my lead.
Because honest conversations bring healing.

We need to stop assuming just because someone looks healthy and happy on their Instagram that they are fine. We should start having real conversations with people. Face-to-face. No phones. No texts. Words to words. Our calling – my calling – as Christ followers is to go into uncharted territory with a “yes and! You are not alone! You are loved and you are going to be okay!”

I am writing this today because I have had people in my life who said, “Yes and” to me. They did not treat me as diseased. They did not judge me. Instead, they looked at me, full on, and said, “We love you.”

My husband who comforted me again and again in the wee hours of the night, saying, “You are more.”

The roommate who pulled me from the couch (in the most loving way) to take me to dinner or to a movie or to a family game night.

The friend who helped me fill out paperwork for a counseling center and attended the first session with me when I was so nervous that it seemed I had forgotten how to hold a pen.

The therapist who worked with me.

The medication that helped stabilize me.

I’m still here because of caring people, the actions of good friends, and helpful medication. This support system worked for me. Perhaps I haven’t opened up about it enough. Perhaps I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself.

Now, though, it’s time to express my gratitude.

I was never alone.

Neither are you.

It’s time to stop the ostracizing of those of mental health issues. It’s time to stop thinking that people who seem “normal” and “functional” are just fine. We need more grace extended towards those who suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental distress. We need to normalize asking for help. We need to extend out branches of hope to our family, our friends, and our neighborhoods, because we don’t know which child, teenager, or adult may be crying alone, under some covers, thinking their life doesn’t matter.

It’s time to recognize that everyone, at some point in their life, needs a little help. It’s time to wash away any shame associated with asking. It’s time to get out of our comfort zones and be there for those around us, in whatever way we can.

I recently had this experience with two close friends around my kitchen table. We held mugs of tea and opened our hearts to each other. Shared our stories. Communed. Nothing was held back in this conversation, which was bathed in love and respect. We rolled all the dark stuff out into the light. There were tears. Then laughter. Then hugs.

Only acceptance and grace reigned in my kitchen that day.

My goal is to repeat this experience as often as possible.

Because….

 

Until from the pulpits in churches, pastors say that they suffer from anxiety and depression too, and that medicine and therapy are God’s gifts….

Until inside our health care system, we offer valid coverage for mental health and wellness….

Until we start sharing that therapy is good, that medication helps, that exercise and nutrition are vital to the brain….

Until we stop assuming most of us are okay because of glistening social media pictures…

Until we start checking on our friends, our family, and our neighbors with watchful, caring, compassionate eyes…..

Until we stop pretending we have all the answers and shut up and listen….

Until we remove the stigma associated with asking for help with our mental health….

Until we put these actions into practice every day and commit to taking small steps toward tighter communities and stronger support systems,

We won’t see any change.

And change is desperately needed.

I’m not saying we will all be cured….or that everything will magically be better…or that depression, anxiety, and the myriad of other mental health illnesses won’t rear their ugly heads….

But at least, for the love of God and all His children…. we will be talking about it.

 

For resource to help with mental health issues, please visit:

Support Groups

 

 

July 29, 2019
Coloradowriter84

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Ordinary

Painting

City of Nuremberg, painted by Laura Shreck

When I was 16, my family and I lived in a small village in southern Germany. In the large house next to ours, surrounded by a huge garden of various flowers and vegetables, lived an older gentleman named Johann. As we chatted one day, across the fence that separated our yards, he told me that as a young man, he had worked as a city planner in Nuremberg, Germany.

A city planner for the Third Reich.

His job was to review the blueprints for the massive buildings that Hitler planned to build. He then was a part of the crew who laid the foundations. He silently worked while horrors raged in the war. Chaos reigned around him, yet he simply continued to lay each brick over the other with a thick layer of cement mortar in between them.
He sought continuity. He wanted stability. He craved normalcy. So, he practiced putting his head down, ignoring the horror, and pretending everything was okay.
I’m not sure it worked.
He had seen things. His voice stayed quiet and reflective, as he told me his story. Nazi parades, high-powered speeches by the Fuehrer, frenzied crowds pressed in the area to listen to the propaganda. Soldiers lined the streets, rigidly practicing war drills. Neighbors fought against neighbors – no one trusted anyone else. Fear invaded every movement.
He later married, had two kids, retired from city work, and planted his large garden. A life of routine and predictability.
After our one conversation, he never spoke of his work for the Third Reich ever again.
Nor did I ask.
If he could go back to his younger self, would he make different choices? Would he stand up to the injustice of his time? Would he secretly find the Resistance and partner with them? Would he find a way to shed some light on a dark time?

What would have happened to him if he had? Would he have ended up gunned down as a traitor? Would he have suffered in a concentration camp too, as had so many others had who had resisted? Would he have survived the brutalities of a War that tore apart countries, families, and soldiers?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, nor am I sure that Johann did either.
It makes me think of Moses.
Most people know the story of the man who led his people to freedom. The one who called down multiple plagues upon the land of Egypt—everything from blood to frogs to insects. A terrifying, hair-raising tale of destruction and hope, faith, and defiance. Moses was center stage for the whole episode.
But he didn’t want it. Before the plagues and the power and the purpose, was a man who had run away from it all. He hung out in the desert, shepherding sheep that belong to his father-in-law. He was married, had two kids, and a mini-donkey. He was set. When the Divine approached him, he presented more arguments as to why he wasn’t interested in doing the job than thinking about becoming the hero of the story. Reluctance and resistance crowded around him.
There is a thread in these stories that is common. Johann, Moses – they wanted to be ordinary. I want to be angry at them for their passive resistance to greatness. I want to rail at them for not caring about humanity’s biggest issues, for not wanting to make a difference, for ignoring all the signs of evil.

I get it.

I, too, crave the ordinary. I desire the familiar comforts of a beautiful home, a healthy family, steady income, and fulfilling work. It’s so easy to shut out noise around me – the evils that haunt me – the challenges that face my world, my country, my neighborhood. I can get up every day, go to my straight-forward, no-nonsense office job to complete long lists of tasks, climb into my 4-wheel drive Jeep, pick up my kid from preschool, pop a pizza in for dinner, and end the night on a cozy couch while the TV entertains me.
I understand why Johann wanted it. I get why Moses resisted leaving it.
And yet…
Scattered throughout the routine of my days are small opportunities. I could put my head down, focused on my next layer of bricks to build my life. Or, I could notice the burning bush in my backyard and approach it.
The moms fighting for safer gun laws need my signature.
My elderly neighbor needs me to shovel his sidewalk after a heavy snow.
My local library needs me to deliver books to home-bound patrons.
The homeless shelter needs the extra winter coats that are hanging in my closet.
The Syrian refugee women who have started their own businesses in a refugee camp, making soap and selling it online request me to make a purchase.
My local farmer is asking me to buy his fruits and vegetables to support his business.
These are not overtly extraordinary actions. They may not lead to an entire people being freed, as in the case of Moses. Yet, they poke me out of my comfort zone. A movement to see what the blazing bush represents, knowing that my small action may be a catalyst in the life of someone else. Mother Theresa said, “When we ultimately go home to God, we are going to be judged on what we were to each other. It’s not how much we give but how much we put in the doing, that’s compassion in action.”

What we see as insignificant might mean the world to someone else.

That is our calling. That is our purpose.

After our conversation, Johann gave me fresh tomatoes and zucchini. “For your dinner table, he said.
My family enjoyed delicious, freshly harvested food that evening. I think we were kinder, more respectful to each other, because of this simple gesture. As I watched Johann meander around his giant garden, my gratitude extended to him because his life inspired mine.

That inspiration, to me, was extraordinary. 

July 1, 2019
Coloradowriter84

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The Knight on the White Horse

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The first time I heard Taylor Swift’s, “Love Story”, I wept softly while sitting in my car.

Had she been spying on my dreams?
How did she know?

“It’s a love story, baby, just say, yessssssss…..”

Taylor Swift is neither psychic nor omnipresent. She just had the power to put words and music to the experience that I so desperately craved.

I wanted a man to ride in, sweep my off my feet, and carry me away to his castle. When I worked at Target, I would sometimes watch the front doors, thinking about what it would be like if he would just walk in, whisper sweet nothings in my ear, and tell me I didn’t have to clean up poop off the bathroom floor or barfed-up peaches and cottage cheese off the floor of Aisle 7.

I wanted someone perfect. Someone gallant. Someone…imaginary. If I could just have that perfect guy, the one who would answer all my needs and be my other half, I would feel complete. I would become the princess. That would be my ‘happily ever after’.

Credits roll. End scene.

From the moment I learned how to walk, I was playing with girly things. I had a doll collection. I dressed up in frilly dresses. My dad and brother built me a miniature wooden stove, and I played at making dinner in my “kitchen.”

As I grew older, I wrote in my journal about what I was looking for in a man. I created a long list of expectations for him, already picturing his tall, dark, handsome self in my mind.

Then…

I closed my journal and remained a perpetual lady-in-waiting – an almost nun– thinking that God would certainly provide me a man in my life by His great power and miraculous intervention. To aid my God in this (because He clearly needed my assistance), I tried a few ways to get some men to notice me.

I tried to make myself known to my brothers’ friends.
I joined E-harmony for a hot second and a half, then deleted my account because I lost the nerve.
I flirted with the guys in my church’s small group.
I learned how to keep a house, perfectly, honing my skills in cleaning, cooking, sewing, and hanging around babies. I ran the children’s department for my dad’s church and all the kids loved me. I was confident of my abilities to be a mother.

All my efforts failed, though. My miracle man wasn’t appearing on the horizon, bronzed from the sun, sweaty from a gym workout, smiling just for me. (All my visions came from my absorption Lori Wick novels.)

At some point, in my mid-twenties, I read a line in a book by Michelle McKinney Hammond, “You should learn how to talk about more than just Jesus.”
That line rocked my world.

I was the preacher’s kid. The pastor’s daughter. A leader among my group. Jesus was central to who I was and what I did.

But maybe learning about other stuff was important, too? Maybe there were other options to sitting around on my tush, thinking that some magical man was going to materialize from the sky? Maybe just experiencing life that was passing me by might be worth my time?

I started doing other things that were outside the realm of my church or my homemaking skill-honing. (I mean, I could already make a mean chocolate cake, by this point)
I sold cosmetics, worked as a freelance writer, ran races. I went to therapy, joined a gym, and traveled. I joined up with a group of other 20-something’s who were trying to figure out the world. We skied, hiked, camped, and stayed up late at coffee shops. The world expanded beyond the walls of my room, my solitude, and my church.

That’s when the true change started to happen for me. I was so busy having fun and working on myself that I lost weight, laughed more, and said “yes” to more invitations.

And then, a guy noticed me….
In 2009, I received a dinner invitation with a friend of mine whose name was Thomas. We were both concerned about ruining the friendship we had built in the 2 years since we had met. But we thought it was worth the risk, so we took the plunge into the world of dating. As we learned about each other, grew in our faith together, and fostered a deep love (I married him, by the way), we discovered that we both had to speak our minds honestly, carry our weight in the relationship, and never give up on the other person.

Almost 10 years later, I realize more and more every day that the load is not solely on him to make life better for me. Nor is the burden on me to make him my center and axis.

It is a push and pull, a tug and shove, a gentle back and forth seesaw.

The search for the White Knight hasn’t disappeared from our ideals since my single days. Romantic comedies, novels, and TV shows still garner millions of dollars. The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are still on network Television. Our desire is for the women in our lives to have the happy ending, yet we preach to them that it’s about a man coming in, sweeping them off their feet, and eliminating all their worries and woes.

This is a great disservice. To our girls and our boys. We are placing tremendous amount of pressure on men to provide and strive and fulfill roles that are impossible to fulfill, while simultaneously robbing girls of their God-given abilities and opportunities to fully become who they were meant to be. Not to mention, we are filling them with these stories that the girl will always by rescued by the guy, and that the guy will always get the girl.

And sometimes, life doesn’t go how the fairy tales depict it.

It isn’t supposed to.

That is part of what makes life so beautiful.

I believe women should be equal to men. I also believe men should be equal to women. The idea of men and women having specific, gender-related roles in a relationship is ridiculous. To me, this means that I am supposed to act or think or respond a certain way. Or that Thomas is supposed to be or do or say certain things. This rigidity pigeon-holes both me and my husband into set expectations in our marriage. It doesn’t allow for creativity, individual strengths, or mutual support.
It’s time for the women to step up and take hold of our voices and our contributions. It’s time for us to stop making the guys work so damn hard to read our minds, know our thoughts, and earn our approval. We need to respect them enough to have tough conversations, to shoulder our portion of the load, and to keep on learning new things. It’s time for us to let the guys off the hook a bit. And in turn, it’s time for the guys to open up a little more to us about their weaknesses. Each side needs to step out in vulnerability and shed the armor of old conventions.
As Brene Brown says, “True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” (from her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead)

It doesn’t matter to me if the image is of the girl riding on the horse with the guy, arms wrapped around him in sheer a’more. Or if the image is of the high and mighty dude, riding in princely style, with the demure princess behind him on her own, smaller steed.

Both images need to be destroyed and the lame stories that accompany them.
We should be riding side by side.

When my husband is tired, I do the dishes. When I am exhausted, he handles bedtime routine with our son. When I forget that tomorrow is trash day, he takes it out. When he doesn’t think about the bills to be paid, I pay them. When a room in the house needs fresh coat of paint, I break out my coveralls. When the light bulbs burn out, he screws in new ones. When I don’t know the answer to a question, he helps me research it.

We pull and tug. We give and take. It is a dance of many varied moves and styles.

We never stop learning and growing.

There is no marker of achievement.

There is no end game. We just constantly level up.

In the movie, Pretty Woman, when Richard Gere asks Julia Roberts character, “What happens when the Prince rescues his Cinderella?”, her response is, “She rescues him right back.”
That is my true experience.
In my world, we save each other.

We are partners, full and equal, unique and individual. It is in that strength that we thrive in our relationship. We are constantly learning, growing, evolving. Our life hasn’t stagnated. We do things together, and we do things separately, because we know that we are fostered our own individuality as we continue this awesome life journey together.
So, no matter where you might find yourself….
Go on dates and have some freaking fun, for Heaven’s sake. Or don’t go on dates, if you don’t want to. But put yourself out there into the world. Rush headlong into the wild and crazy and expanding-universe world that you live in.
Learn a new skill. (I’m currently trying to learn Spanish. Confession: It isn’t going well….)
Talk about Jesus. He is worth having a conversation about. Then talk about all the other wonders of this Christ-soaked Universe, like family and travel and art and movies and music…..and on and on….
Be honest in your relationships. Don’t fake it with another person, in love or in friendship. It just ain’t worth it.
Be fascinated by who you are becoming. The joy is in the process. I’ve not even begun to realize who I am completely, nor who my partner is fully. There is still so much to explore and marvel at. There are so many experiences to have, places to see, and people to connect with. No longer am I sitting around, waiting for the miracle to come my direction. I am actively participating in the miracle I want to occur.

And throughout all your wild discoveries, know that you are loved…whether you are sequestered away in a high tower, or roaming the barren wilderness with your bow and arrow on your back, or you are commuting to a desk job, or driving a mini van full of squirming kids, you are insanely loved and valued and accepted for who you are and who you are becoming. You don’t need another person to tell you this truth. House it in your heart all on your own.

This is what I want the girl in my old journals to understand.

This is what I want my son…and all my future sons and daughters to grasp.

This is what keeps me inspired every day in my marriage to my husband.

This is the secret that Lori Wick never divulged.

It’s never too late, for the white horse.

Because, sometimes, the knight in the story…the rescuer….

Is me.

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May 31, 2019
Coloradowriter84

1 comment

That Genesis Feeling

Garden plot

Last weekend, I planted beans and corn, among pumpkins and sunflowers, in a plot at the side of our house. It’s an 8-foot by 4-foot plot, an odd shape for a garden. Long rows for the corn and beans. Short patches for pumpkins and sunflowers. The weather cooperated just long enough on Sunday afternoon for me to dig up the dark earth, drop the tiny seeds in their rows, and cover them over with a mixture of the same dark earth and fresh potting soil. I followed a handy diagram I found online.

Viola! Let the magic begin!

When I am near dirt, I love its smell. Warm, dark, moist…earthy. Dirt smells of life itself. The brown soil underneath my sweaty knees is about to produce food for my family. Worms and bugs crawl around in it, and I let them be. They are welcome in my patch. My uneven rows and clumpy top soil wouldn’t put me in the “Birds & Blooms” magazine, but the garden is mine. To tend and care for. To love and nourish. In its parameters, I feel like I have finally arrived at a place where I am meant to be.

My heritage, on my dad’s side, is in the soil. My grandpa, Raymond, farmed land in Indiana for years. His farm had been in his family line for over 100 years, and he maintained it well. Sky-high stalks of corn, flourishing rows of soybeans, waving sheaves of wheat – those are the images I have in my head when I think of my grandpa’s acres of land. When I would visit in the summer, I would sit in awe of the land around me, as it produced a bounty, drawn out from simple seeds.

That awe is the feeling I still get when I am close to the dirt.

I call it the “Genesis feeling.”

In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, the story is told of a garden. A lush, beautiful, green place, full of trees and flowers and fruits and vegetables. Earth’s Creator, in the story, tells the first man and first woman to take care of the garden. That was their sole responsibility. In the tradition I was raised in, we tended to focus on the part where they disobeyed the command and were banned from the garden. I think, by now, most of Western society knows about the bite of the apple taken by Eve…and the chaos that ensued afterwards. But I want to focus on the part before the bite. Before the snake. Before the trouble began.

The first man and first woman were gardeners. They cared for the soil and for the animals. They lived close to the earth. This closeness coincided with their harmony with their Divine Creator. They flourished in a quiet, unashamed way, until their connection was broken.

When I smell the earth, I think of that connection. I think it is a holy experience to be near soil, as the soil brings forth creation again and again every season, just like God intended it to do.

Flowers

For over 6 years, I worked in downtown Denver. I was surrounded by soaring buildings and congested traffic. I commuted on a crowded bus, followed by a quick jaunt through narrow streets to my office building. Everything was paved in concrete, stone, or asphalt. In January of this year, I read an article in the Denver Post, about Denverites craving “green spaces”, and how the city of Denver is planning initiatives for more parks, rooftop gardens, and community gardens to be inside the city limits.

Apparently, I am not alone in my quest for the Genesis feeling.

As humans, we want to be rooted and connected. A lack of connection shorts out our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. We end up wandering around our lives, craving a ‘missing piece’ that perhaps we can’t quite name. We want to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. (This is why my brother Michael enjoys his Costco membership. “It’s good to be a part of something bigger than yourself,” he says, always with a grin.) But if the ground that we are walking on isn’t solid and healthy, we are going to sink ourselves. We will weaken, not unlike over-planted and over-harvested soil.

When I first moved to Denver in 2007, I was a stranger in a strange land. I had spent several years as a missionary kid in Germany and then a few months with my grandma in Indiana on the farm. I was 23, broke, friendless…and just a little bit of an oddball. I carried a journal around with me everywhere, writing incessantly in it, afraid to miss some detail of this new life I was trying to forge.

Still, Denver welcomed me with open arms. I found a job, joined a church group, made new friends, got married, had a baby, got promoted, earned my degree, wrote some books. The last 12 years have made me wealthy in love and experiences and happiness. I’ve been putting “down roots” in the best city I have ever lived in. I’ve been striving and working and achieving. I’ve made plans, executed plans, and failed at plans. I’ve won and lost. Fought and surrendered. Fallen down, gotten back up. Cried and laughed. Loved and been heartbroken. Grieved and rejoiced. All the things in this list should equal an abundant life with rich soil.

Except, somewhere along the line of the last four years, I’ve lost my path.

I’ve created all concrete and asphalt with very little green spaces.

If I zone into the part, “Got promoted”, from the last paragraph, I can pinpoint the beginnings of toxicity. From the first moment I received a higher title at my last job, I began a race to the supposed success I thought I craved. I found out that I was good at climbing a corporate ladder, fulfilling company objectives, and leading a team. The desire to make more money, get an office of my own, and maybe a summer home in the mountains churned in me. I didn’t even realize I was obsessed. I put in late nights and early mornings. I missed family dinners and Saturday morning breakfasts. There are few pictures of me from last year, simply because I wasn’t around much to have pictures taken.

I focused in my attention to be a good executive leader, even a great one, if I could.

And….I failed.

This could be the moment where I tell about what I learned from the failure, or how I picked up the pieces and created something new. I could reflect that maybe I was in the wrong position or in a wrong company. I could hypothesize on the “if this, then that” or “he said, she said” scenarios. Except I don’t have those answers right now. I can’t fully articulate yet what I have learned, or where I went wrong, or how far I let myself go down into the trap of success and financial gain.

I’m sure I will be able to relay those lessons at some point.

All I know is that I am discouraged, sapped, and a little lost.

For those reasons, I am dropping seeds in the soil this year.

It’s reminding me that, sometimes, you have to go back to the beginning to find out what the next step is. Sometimes, you need to rip up concrete and dig up the dirt. Sometimes, you have to check the quality of your soil before you can reap another harvest. Sometimes, you have to give the soil a rest between plantings. Sometimes, you have to return to who you are in your heart before you can take any more action.

Genesis 1 begins with nothing. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (ESV) Before the garden, there was darkness. In the darkness, was the Spirit. It is this moment that fascinates me. The quiet before the burst. An empty page before written words. A blank canvas before the painting. That’s where I want to be—in the void, open and receptive, anticipating the new things about to spring forth. I’ve emptied myself, in mind and soul, and in my actual day to day schedule, to make room for fresh creations.

Even before I was promoted, I had constant goals on my list. For years, I have been working the soil of my life, determined to reap the best harvest I could possibly gain. The result has only depleted my resources, in body, mind, and spirit. I can’t keep running at a brisk clip on a never-ending treadmill cycle. This strange cocktail of over-achieving and strenuous goal-setting stripped me of other vital nutrients to my “soil”, including time to write, time with my son, time to travel with my husband, and time spent outside in nature, to name a few.

I haven’t completely thrown aside the things I want to accomplish. There is a tiny list tucked inside my journal (yes, I still keep one, although I have managed to not carry it around everywhere anymore) of fitness, writing, and family intentions. I look at it about once a week. But there is no deadline, no pressure, no knife to my throat, no financial gain to any of it.

What I am focused on it this:

I am taking long walks, teaching my son to read, and experimenting in the kitchen with recipes made from veggies, nuts, and a weird substance called “nutritional yeast.” I’m reading lots of books and taking time to think about them. I’m watching movies in a dark theater with my husband. I’m hanging out with my friends. I’m inquiring to adoption agencies and learning more about the foster care system.

I’m practicing gratitude.

I’m pondering who I am, what I want to do, and where I want to go. I’m re-gaining my footing on the path that I know I’m supposed to be on. When I was contemplating this year, a passage from the book of Isaiah came to my mind, “You will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way! Follow it!”

I’m listening for that voice in the stillness.

I’m breathing in, breathing out.

I’m waiting in the void.

Did you know that soil can heal itself? If given the proper environment, nutrients, and attention, striped soil can be replenished fully to its richest, darkest, and densest vitality. Toxins removed. Nutrients restored.

It’s a slow process, though, nurturing striped soil back to health.

Even slower to nurture a worn-out soul.

I’m okay with slowness.

Maybe if the first woman and the first man hadn’t been in a rush to try the next thing,

the whole earth would still be a garden.

Plenty of green spaces instead of gray concrete.

If, during this process of nurturing and waiting, you’re looking for me,

look through the big dining room window at my house.

You see me pulling weeds, watering, coaxing growth, or protecting roots.

I might be on my knees,

inhaling the smell of dirt,

content for this moment….

In a garden,

where the Genesis feeling is.

Mountains