Pastrgrrl Press

I’ve been keeping journals since I was in second grade – back when my handwriting was barely legible. For me, a great day consists of a cup of coffee, a good pen, and blank pages. Thus, it’s only natural that over time I felt the desire to create some beautiful journals to share with others who also enjoy the joy and therapeutic properties of writing. “A Month of Hymns: A Journal for Prayer and Reflection” uses hymn lyrics as prompts for each day. Read the classic lyrics, reflect on your own life and the leading of the spirit, and write. There’s room to draw as well on the 8X10 pages. Order today at:

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=pastrgrrl+press&crid=1U55EFAKOW8N&sprefix=pastrgrrl%2Caps%2C240&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_9

Keep up with new projects on Facebook:  Pastrgrrl Press

In the Bleak Midwinter

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

So far, what have I done that has made this Advent season different than any other?  Let’s see, I have been slowly feeding my “piggy bank” for ELCA World Hunger.  I found a five-dollar bill in the cemetery the other day and put it in the piggy bank instead of using it to buy myself a latte – so that felt like a step in the right direction.  However, we entirely forgot to light our home advent wreath this past Sunday. Plus, even though I vowed to myself to keep things simple and worry-free this year, I’m already stressing out a little bit about upcoming Christmas services at church and cooking for extended family on Christmas Day. So far, Advent is looking a lot like every other church season – a season of stops and starts, a time of victories and failures.  It turns out that I prepare about as well for the birth of Jesus as I prepare for anything – kind of last minute and haphazard – and please don’t look in my closet or under the beds because who knows the clutter and disarray you will find.

It is an imperfect Advent, an imperfect life.  I can’t take comfort in that because I wish I could always fully complete all the grand plans and sacred endeavors I begin.  If I could, I would have written five books by now (all bestsellers).  And yet, I do take comfort in this:  there is some One greater at work in my life than me.  There is a greater plan that has been devised than any I could dream.  In some mystical and miraculous way, God has chosen me and you to participate in this plan, God’s plan.  We won’t often understand how or why life unfolds as it does, and yet there are times we catch glimpses of the beauty and blessedness of it all.  Maybe that will happen for you sometime this Advent season, maybe it won’t.  Maybe Christmas morning will dawn with a fresh peace and renewed strength in your heart, or maybe you’ll wake up with the stomach flu and stay in bed all day.  Either way, all is well, because this story we live is about more than you and me, what we do or don’t do, rather, it is about God’s story. We are part of it – and it is an immense gift.  Our greatest task appears to be that we simply must open our eyes and see it.

Most afternoons these days I spend a little time sitting with a parishioner who is now on Hospice care.  His remaining time on earth appears short.  There is nothing fun about these days for him as his body and mind slowly fade.  I don’t even know if he hears me when I read the scripture to him anymore – but I still read it and I pray out loud for him.  It seems so stark and strange to walk past the festive lights and trees that are adorning the Sunset home these days and often the sound of cheerful carols coming from the chapel, to go into his quiet room where death is drawing near.  Yet it strikes me that it is precisely in these moments of stark contrasts that we often sense the Spirit’s presence more closely than ever.  Actually, I’ve come to realize that sitting in that room next to Joe and listening to him breathe with the sounds of the world going on outside has become what will set this Advent apart for me as blessed.  It wasn’t the ritual I planned or expected, but in it, I have felt God’s presence.  I’m so thankful for that.

Has God surprised you lately?

Jeremiah 29:11

11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him… give my heart.

 

Tripping Billies

Reflections on Shuffle Play (an exercise in which I write a reflection based on that morning’s run)

I wish I kept count of all the times that people talked about calories, points, diet, or weight over the course of our Thanksgiving festivities.

It was the first Thanksgiving of my life I was feeling comfortable in my skin and content. I had neither starved beforehand to prepare for the onslaught of calories nor was I intending to exercise more than usual the next day. I wasn’t afraid of the challenge of all the enticing food, just happy to be sharing a good meal with people I loved. For the first time, I could really focus on all I am thankful for: my children, my husband, the beautiful weather, living near enough to family to see them on the holidays, good health, the list goes on and on.

And because my vision was clearer this year and I wasn’t so distracted by my war with my weight and the scale, I was able to observe what a toll the weight-loss war takes on people. I observed how easily people talk about diet and weight, how often people called themselves “bad” for this indulgence or that. I observed it with compassion, because this is a journey all of us are on and it wasn’t long ago at all I was joining in on the poisonous self-talk. Furthermore, the ghosts of my life-long battle with food still loom large – even though I was feeling comfortable with the food in the room and my ability to trust how much my body wanted to eat, I still scanned each picture that was taken yesterday to see if I looked, “fat”. I may not be able to help doing that as long as I live. All of these habits are hard to break.

I think dieting is fine if it really makes a person feel better, however, I found after enough time and energy devoted to it that the benefits did not outnumber the costs. There were still small joys in it: being told I looked good, fitting into smaller sizes, etc., but I found it made my world feel very small. I began to resent the mental energy it took, the time it took. It made me feel boring.

When I was stuck in diet mode, there was always this sense of “just you wait and see.” If I felt bad about myself or incomplete, I thought, “just wait until they all see me after this next diet. I’ll look so good and everything will be so great.” When I stripped that away, I had to be okay with offering myself just as I am to the world. I had to be ready to be happy now, to be content now, to exist in present tense rather than future tense.

I found I like present tense.

However, there are still so many triggers that exist and I have to be careful when they appear. When I hear someone talk about so and so who just lost forty pounds, when I overhear someone mention a new diet they are starting, when I see a “before and after” picture, when I am having a day when I am not feeling so beautiful – any of these things can trigger the feelings that it’s time to change myself. I’m obviously not good enough as I am, time to shift, morph, become, alter.

But instead of giving any energy to those triggering feelings, these days I remind myself to counter all those feelings with the thought of, “maybe you are just fine the way you are.” It’s a small but oh-so significant shift in thought. When I focus all my attention on who I am rather than who I might become if I just change this or that, then I realize that the time is NOW to do all the things I love and care about. Do the writing NOW. Share the writing NOW. Take your kids out for a fun day NOW. Go out with a friend for coffee NOW. Live your life NOW.

So today, I had pecan pie for breakfast because it is delicious. Then, I ran for 30 minutes because it makes me feel amazing and accomplished as I start my day. These days I only use my fitbit as a timer for my runs, otherwise it sits on the little shelf of my treadmill. This Black Friday there is no trace of regret for the cheesecake I ate yesterday, no plan for starting over with a new healthy eating plan on Monday, there’s just me, happy. Now that is something to be thankful for.

 

Tripping Billies

By The Dave Matthews Band

we were above
you standing underneath us
we were not yet lovers
dragons were smoked
bumblebees were stinging us
I was soon to be crazy

eat, drink and be merry
for tomorrow we die
’cause we’re tripping Billies

we’re wearing nothing
nothing but out shadows
shadows falling down on the beach sand
remembering once,
out on the beaches we wore
pineapple grass bracelets

so why would you care
to get out of this place
you and me and all our friends
such a happy human race
’cause we’re tripping Billies

we are all sitting
legs crossed round a fire
my yellow flame she dances
tequila drinking oh our
minds will wonder
to wondrous places

so why would you care
to get out of this place
you and me and all our friends
such a happy human race

eat, drink and be merry
for tomorrow we die

 

Losing My Religion

Reflections on Shuffle-Play (the thing where I write a reflection inspired by a song from that day’s run)

Dieting is so much like a religion. Think about it:

It’s common in religions to have lists of actions that are permissible to do and not permissible to do. Diets are entirely made up of those kinds of rules.

Religion often uses the language of “clean” or “unclean” – dieting has begun to take on this language as well with the rage of “clean eating.”

Religion speaks of sinners and saints. We often refer to a decadent dessert as being “sinful” or call ourselves “bad” or “good” depending on how well we have followed our dietary rules on any particular day.

In fact, dieting has become a religion, at least in American culture. A religion that many people strive after and fill countless hours pursuing and perfecting.

I freely admit that long before I ever memorized the Small Catechism I knew the calorie values of most foods.  I pored over exercises in magazines that might give me the legs I wanted. I devoured book after book that filled my head full of information about this eating plan or that one.

And I found community within the dieting culture, too. It’s like a language that most women have all learned how to speak: “Oh, I shouldn’t be eating this.” “No, I’ll have a diet coke.” “I lost five pounds!” “Can you believe how she let herself go?” “Ugh, I feel fat today.” On and on we speak the dieting language – adding some new terms now and then: Whole 30, Cauliflower Rice, Pilates, FitBit, etc. – but it really is all some new lingo for the same old thing: monitor, restrict, try to shrink, rebound, binge, repeat.

I’ll admit as well that I’ve let the lines between dieting and religion get blurry – especially during the season of Lent. So many years I have decided to fast during Lent and have told myself it was for spiritual purposes, yet knowing that I was very excited about the idea of what the Lenten fast might do for my figure.

Some people find comfort in strict religion, just as some find comfort in a strict diet. In fact, when you consider some of the most popular religions, the ones which teach a prosperity gospel (just do this and this and this and God is going to bless you so hard!), they bear a striking resemblance to the most popular diet plans (just eat this and do this and you will look so good!). People like the prosperity gospel preachers because they give an easy recipe for how to live your “best life now!” But eventually reality sets in and people realize that life is full of ups and downs and no amount of faith or good works or good attitude is going to save you from the hard times. Rather, what is life-giving is faith in the One who is with us when times are good or bad, the One who loves us when we are good and when we are not so good.

I guess in the same way, I’ve realized that every diet plan is just another version of the prosperity gospel – full of empty promises, oftentimes repackaged or re-worded, but all just the same. I’ve put my faith in countless diet gurus and exercise moguls: Denise Austin, Bob Harper and everyone from the Biggest Loser, the P90X guy, the group leader at Weight Watchers – I wanted to trust in them and their advice. I built big dreams on their promises, but at the end of years and years of my efforts to fit myself into their tiny molds, I realized my salvation was not in trying so hard to follow someone else’s path. My salvation when it comes to me and my body is just to accept myself the way I am and listen to my body.  It is saying “no more” to dieting.

People get very nervous about the idea of getting off the diet treadmill, because as with any deeply ingrained belief system, it is painful to realize that something you once put a lot of faith in is smoke and mirrors. By the time I was ready to let go of dieting, it just felt like sweet relief, but I can tell that there are many others who aren’t yet ready to call it quits. “It’s all about health,” they say. “I want to live as long as I can so I have to lose weight and be healthy.” That’s all well and good, but I question how much life is really in the life of a dieting person. When I was in the thick of a diet, I was constantly thinking about food, anticipating the next meal or regretting the last meal. I couldn’t really enjoy going out on a date with my husband because the food was full of a land-mine of calories. I couldn’t eat with my children because they would never eat the bland, awful things I allowed myself to eat. My days were marked with checks and numbers on my calendar, calculating my efforts for the day. I was either rigidly eating just a few different “safe” foods each day, or I was in the depths of an all-out binge and absolutely hating myself, planning to get back “on track” the next day.

I grew so sick of tomorrow.

I grew so sick of tomorrow that I realized the only way out of it was to dedicate myself to today.

To be happy today.

To be good enough today.

To allow myself to eat today.

To believe that just as I am, I get to savor everything life has to offer – and I don’t have to wait until I lose those twenty pounds or until my pants are looser. I can have it all today: happiness, joy, movement, love, freedom, food, peace – all of it. NOW!

See, God gave us our appetites and our bodies. I’ve never been rigid when it comes to religion – because I know God is all about grace. So no wonder it has felt so alien all these years to be so rigid about my body. I was supposed to be loving it and treating it gently, not constantly trying to bend it to my will and shape it into something else.

If you are still on the dieting treadmill, it’s okay. I just want to tell you how good it feels to be off of it. I weigh no more now than I did when I was dieting, I just like myself a lot more now. Once I stopped dieting, the binging stopped and that has been life-saving. That isn’t to say that there aren’t still days when I want to eat my feelings, and sometimes I do, but I work especially hard then to be kind to myself. I don’t punish myself with exercise for hours, I don’t starve myself the next day to try to make up for any excess the day before. Instead, I eat and I move and I do things that make me happy. I treat myself grace-fully.

I feel healthier than I have in a long time and I eat better. I eat real food. I eat all kinds of food! I love my appetite and I love eating with my husband, my kids, my friends. I look forward to holidays finally after dreading them most of my adult life.

The religion of weight-loss proved to be a false god for me. The times I was thinnest I was so unhealthy – starving and smoking my way into smaller and smaller sizes. My life had no life. I was too hungry and self-absorbed to think about much else. If there is anything I have done that has been detrimental to my health, it has been the constant cycle of going up and down the diet rollercoaster. It’s been detrimental to my physical health and my mental health. So much anguish and energy and time I frittered away at the altar of diet culture.

I have a Facebook friend who is currently on some weight-loss regime and every few days she is going to her weigh-in place and then she posts online how much weight she has lost. She is so excited to see the scale go down. I have such compassion for her because I have been there so many times. I’ve felt that exhilaration, I’ve felt the envy of the people around me as I shrank, and I’ve been drunk on the feeling of power it brought. And who knows, maybe she will be one of the 5% who is able to keep off the weight with militant attention and self-control, measured portions and a couple meal-replacement shakes a day for the rest of her life. God bless her. It’s not for me. I took that road a thousand times and it never led anywhere good. This road, though? This road of being comfortable in my current skin, content in my current life, joyful in eating what sounds good to me, and the scale stashed securely in a back closet? It’s a journey I hope to continue for a long-ass time.

Losing My Religion

by REM

Life is bigger
It’s bigger
And you, you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

Every whisper
Of every waking hour
I’m choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

Consider this
The hint of the century
Consider this
The slip that brought me
To my knees failed
What if all these fantasies
Come flailing around
Now I’ve said too much

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
That was just a dream

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream, try, cry, why, try
That was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream
Dream

 

 

Fancy

Reflections on Shuffle-Play (where I write a reflection each day inspired by a song from that morning’s run)

I was doing some cleaning and organizing at church and kept coming across items that had been tucked away in closets and corners.  Churches can end up having a strange assortment of odd stuff for a few reasons: first, people are often hesitant to get rid of anything at church because what if someone’s family member donated that item three decades ago? They might get upset if we just get rid of it, so let’s store it until there are no longer any living family members left.

Second, churches often end up with a bunch of weird stuff because when people no longer want things at their houses, they often decide maybe the church could use their weird stuff. A couple days ago, someone brought me a huge bag of books to donate to our church library. Now our library has a pretty good variety of books and it is a “little free library” – people can take a book and return it or take a book and keep it. I encourage people to donate books, however, I do monitor what gets donated. When I went to look in the bag, it was filled with books by a particularly offensive television evangelist. I would NEVER allow these books to be displayed in our church as the kind of theology they spout is dangerous! While it’s difficult for me to imagine destroying any books, I’m not convinced it is best that I even make the effort to bring them to the thrift store. I may simply make the effort to bring them to the dumpster.

Old typewriters, ancient mixers, boxes full of cloth and yarn from the house of a life-long smoker, old Christmas trees with branches missing, pieces of candles, you name it, I’ve seen it donated to the church because, as the usually well-meaning giver says, “maybe you can use it for something.” The worst was when I was at a church with a food shelf. It was frankly jaw-dropping to see people drop off boxes of food, near or well past its’ expiration date. It wasn’t hard to tell that they had been cleaning out cupboards and gave the church what no one in their house would eat for the last year. “Maybe the church can use it for something.”

It’s safe to say that if you don’t want it and it is worn out enough that you either can’t use it or get money out of it, the church can’t use it either. If it is a valuable item, please take the time to sell it yourself and then give the church the money instead. The church doesn’t have time or energy or people-power to be a dumping place for unwanted items. We’re thankful when people want to give, but I’m still learning how to say “no, thank you” when cumbersome, unneeded donations come our way.

It’s a skill to learn how to say “no, thank you” because I was always taught to just be grateful for any gift or request and to accept it with a smile. As time has gone by, however, I’ve come to learn that this all-encompassing kind of gratitude, this never-ending cycle of unquestioning acceptance, is exhausting. So, in time I have learned to say “thank you” but still stand firm. “Thank you, but no, I can’t preside at that wedding because I have a vacation already planned for that time.”  “Thank you, but no, the church doesn’t really need your mother’s collection of 50 nativity scenes.” “Thank you, but no, the couch that is too ugly and threadbare for your house is not something we are just dying to have in our youth room.”

If you want to give something to your church, please consider first exactly why you are getting rid of it. If it is tattered, expired, desperately out-of-date, it’s not likely to be of much use to us either.  If you genuinely want to give something to your church, ask your council president or pastor what is needed or donate funds to be used as needed.

In the same way that you want your home to have a pleasant appearance, churches want that, too. So, the time will come when we have to get rid of the books in the library with titles such as, “The Godly, Obedient Woman”, or the “1946 Directory of Lutheran Churches in America.”  We’ll need to get some new art on the walls, brighten up the dark brown paneling in the conference room that was added in 1970, and maybe even throw out some stuff to make room for the new.

As part of my reorganizing, I have been clearing out some space in my office at church. All the furniture I had was in there before I arrived and I’ve finally gotten to the point where I am tired of looking at so much in there I did not choose. So, I moved the little red couch and the oblong coffee table out and soon I’m going shopping for something new, something I like.  I’ve never done that before. In my 18 years as a pastor I have just made do with the castoffs of prior pastors and well-meaning parishioners. It honestly never bothered me – I’m not terribly fussy. However, maybe there comes a point when even the simplest pastor just wants to have some furniture that doesn’t look like it belongs on a frat house porch. I guess that day has come for me.

Fancy

by Iggy Azalea

First things first, I’m the realest (realest)
Drop this and let the whole world feel it (let them feel it)
And I’m still in the Murda Bizness
I can hold you down, like I’m givin’ lessons in physics (Right)
You should want a bad bitch like this (Huh?)
Drop it low and pick it up just like this (Yeah)
Cup of Ace, cup of Goose, cup of Cris
High heels, somethin’ worth a half a ticket on my wrist (On my wrist)
Takin’ all the liquor straight, never chase that (Never)
Rooftop like we bringin’ ’88 back (What?)
Bring the hooks in, where the bass at?
Champagne spillin’, you should taste that

I’m so fancy
You already know
I’m in the fast lane
From L.A. to Tokyo
I’m so fancy
Can’t you taste this gold?
Remember my name, ’bout to blow

I said baby, I do this, I thought that, you knew this
Can’t stand no haters and honest, the truth is
And my flow retarded, they speak it, depart it
Swagger on super, I can’t shop at no department
Better get my money on time, if they not money, decline
And swear I meant that there so much that they give that line a rewind
So get my money on time, if they not money, decline
I just can’t worry ’bout no haters, gotta stay on my grind
Now tell me, who that, who that? That do that, do that?
Put that paper over all, I thought you knew that, knew that
I be that I-G-G-Y, put my name in bold
I been working, I’m up in here with some change to throw

I’m so fancy
You already know
I’m in the fast lane
From L.A. to Tokyo
I’m so fancy
Can’t you taste this gold?
Remember my name, ’bout to blow

Trash the hotel
Let’s get drunk on the mini bar
Make the phone call
Feels so good getting what I want
Yeah, keep on turning it up
Chandelier swinging, we don’t give a ****
Film star, yeah I’m deluxe
Classic, expensive, you don’t get to touch (Ow!)

Still stunting, how you love that
Got the whole world asking how I does that
Hot girl, hands off, don’t touch that
Look at that I bet you wishing you could clutch that
It’s just the way you like it, huh?
You’re so good, he’s just wishing he could bite it, huh? (say what what?)
Never turn down money
Slaying these hoes, gold trigger on the gun like

I’m so fancy
You already know
I’m in the fast lane
From L.A. to Tokyo
I’m so fancy
Can’t you taste this gold?
Remember my name, ’bout to blow

Who that, who that, I-G-G-Y
That do that, do that, I-G-G-Y
Who that, who that, I-G-G-Y
(Blow…)

 

When You Were Young

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

The blog I wrote yesterday, “She’s a Beauty”, came on like a fever. I had to write it. I woke up with the thoughts needing to be come out. Like labor pains, it couldn’t be avoided or delayed, I just had to sit down and write.

Then, unlike most of my blog posts, I shared it on social media and it received a fair amount of responses. People understood what I was trying to say and many of them had their own stories to contribute – whether in the comments or by private message. I knew many would resonate with what I was saying about the endless battle so many of us face with loving/hating our bodies, but I wasn’t prepared to see even some of my friends whom I think are so thin and couldn’t possibly have body issues also resonating with what I wrote. It just further underscores my point: we are all so messed up about food and body image!

It felt good because earlier that morning I had been battling with the idea of starting another diet, but instead of giving any energy to that idea, I battled it: I wrote about it, declared my opposition to it, and then went and ate what I wanted to eat yesterday without another thought about it. No obsessing, no measuring, no tracking. I decided to have a great day yesterday at the weight I am at. I did everything and put off nothing until I lost a few pounds.

While I was running this morning, I had a vision of all the scales, fitbits, calorie-tracking apps, weight-loss books, diet pills, shakes, everything the diet industry tries to sell us being sucked down a giant vacuous hole. I imagined what the world would be like if there were no more Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Jennie Craig…if all of it just disappeared along with all before and after pictures, Tab soda, and rice cakes. The world would miss none of it, and in fact, would feel so much more free.

And then in that same vision, I imagined if I got back every bit of time I ever invested in thinking about weight loss: all the time I spent planning the next diet, counting calories, weighing whether or not to eat something, weighing actual food items, entering calorie counts in a little notebook or an app, looking at my fitbit, reading weight loss books, reading weight loss stories in magazines or on the internet, feeling bad about myself for how much I currently weighed, and all the time I was forced to listen to cruel people make remarks about my weight when I was in elementary school and junior high. What if I could have back the time I wasted trying to find clothes that actually fit me when I wanted to shop in the stores the other girls shopped in back in the 1980’s? Imagine if I could get a refund on the time I spent trying to burn off the calories – all those miles around the track, all those hours on the stairmaster, every minute I spent at the gym out of self-hatred instead of self-love? I figure the first 30-40 minutes of most of my workouts exist because working out makes me feel good,  and if it goes much beyond that it is usually to punish myself for past transgressions or make up for future ones. What if I could have all that time back?

And the money! The money I spent buying food I hated, another exercise DVD, another book, another pedometer, another plan – what if I could have all of it back?

I would likely be ten years younger and ten thousand dollars richer.

And that is a modest estimation.

My first diet: For many years, since very early elementary, I had been bullied because of my weight. I was lucky I also had good friends, but it’s hard to describe how incessantly I faced name-calling and harassment because of my size. There were certain ‘mean kids’ I tried my hardest to avoid, but they were everywhere. The worst part was that this was before schools started cracking down on bullying and so most of the time the bullies were not punished and I just accepted it was all my fault. I slinked around the edges of the hallways and classrooms trying not to be noticed too much – because if I was noticed, I was so often ridiculed. When the meanest, most consistent bully of all ended up sitting behind me in eighth grade Algebra class, each day was torture. I think I ended up hating math mostly because of him. Every day he hissed insults at me and made me the butt of his jokes to his friends sitting near us.

In retrospect, how I wish I had simply asked the teacher if I could be moved to a new seat – but like I said, I blamed myself. Wasn’t it my fault for being too big, taking up too much space, existing? If I could just magically shrink and be able to wear those cute little jeans and sweaters my classmates wore, everything would be fine.

My mom knew how miserable I was. I talked about wanting to diet and she gave me a list she had gotten from the doctor of the calorie amounts of about 500 different foods. The doctor intended it for my dad since my father had gained a lot of weight in recent years, but I took that list and made it my bible. That whole summer, I ate no more than 1200 calories a day (usually far less) and exercised like it was my job. Mom bought me a little red track suit I wore as I starved and sweated. I lost weight. I laid in bed at night dreaming up elaborate fantasies of the reactions of my friends when they saw me again.

And it was as glorious as I knew it would be. People could hardly recognize me with my new figure that was still slowly shrinking and mom bought me some new clothes, too. It seemed everyone in the entire school needed to comment on my weight loss and suddenly the mean kids were mute around me. They weren’t outwardly friendly to me, but at least they weren’t being vicious mean anymore.

It was like a match to dry grass then, the way I took to dieting. To finally feel acceptable, pretty, even admired – there was nothing as intoxicating as that. I kicked the weight-loss efforts into beast mode. I was having a small nutrition shake for breakfast, a mustard sandwich (because mustard has no calories) for lunch, and maybe a few saltines and chicken noodle soup for supper.   I savored each bite, trying to make my meager meals last as long as I possibly could. I had an exercise routine I followed religiously after school for two hours: jumping rope, ‘toning’ exercises, situps, repeat, repeat, repeat.

It was all very satisfying for a while. I could ignore the hunger pains because the scale was heading in the ‘right’ direction and at the end of all my hard work I was going to look just like the models in the magazines and never have to worry about food or insults or fat ever again. It’s amazing what a person can do with the promise of something like that shining like a beacon out in front of you.

Except it was a false promise.

I did shrink and I got down to the size of my friends, but life wasn’t magically perfect. I was still shy and kind of a dork, just a thinner one. And then, on top of that, I was still SO HUNGRY! I was hungry to my core. I was so hungry that I felt on-edge, jittery, and weak all at the same time. I tried mightily to hold on to the starving, the small amount of calories I was ingesting each day, but eventually biology won out over self-control, and the binging began. Diet #1 over. A lifelong rollercoaster of weight-loss, weight-gain, and mental turmoil only just begun.

That is what is so maddening about it all when I look back over my journey with dieting – the promise was false.

While all along my body had been running perfectly, trying to tell me what it needed and to settle at a weight pleasing to it, I battled it in return. I believed what media and friends and ‘health experts’ and everyone else told me and promised me rather than just listening to what my body needed.  How else was my body supposed to respond to my starving it, except to binge?

I won’t get all the time, energy, and money back that I lost to the diet industry. It’s gone forever. And while I have always said I have very few regrets in this life, I am coming to understand that this loss is something I regret. I grieve for the girl I was who lost herself in the morass of diet culture.

But I am thankful for the woman I am who is finding my way out.

 

When You Were Young

By the Killers

You sit there in your heartache
Waiting on some beautiful boy to
To save your from your old ways
You play forgiveness
Watch it now, here he comes

He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
But he talks like a gentlemen
Like you imagined when you were young

Can we climb this mountain
I don’t know
Higher now than ever before
I know we can make it if we take it slow
Let’s take it easy
Easy now, watch it go

We’re burning down the highway skyline
On the back of a hurricane that started turning
When you were young
When you were young

And sometimes you close your eyes
And see the place where you used to live
When you were young

They say the devil’s water, it ain’t so sweet
You don’t have to drink right now
But you can dip your feet
Every once in a little while

You sit there in your heartache
Waiting on some beautiful boy to
To save you from your old ways
You play forgiveness
Watch it now, here he comes

He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
But he talks like a gentlemen
Like you imagined when you were young
(Talks like a gentlemen, like you imagined)
When you were young

I said he doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
But more than you’ll ever know

 

 

 

 

She’s a Beauty

Reflections on Shuffle-Play (a daily exercise to write a reflection based on a song from my morning run)

What antagonizes me is all the mental energy I have given it over the years. Even though I have worked hard to battle it, still, whenever anything is wrong or upsetting in life, my first reaction is to return to it – my crutch, my solution, my goal that I hate.

I’m referring to the rollercoaster that is dieting.

This is how the storyline goes:

On an otherwise unremarkable every-day, I decide that something in my life is uncontrollable or vexing and I feel the frustration in my body. Even if I had previously been totally satisfied and comfortable in my skin, a sudden loneliness or frustration or anxiety occurs and my knee-jerk reaction is to blame my stomach that is unacceptably rotund or my infuriatingly sturdy legs.

One way or another, I decide it is time to take control of the situation and monitor my caloric intake. Diet. I have called it other things: finding balance, cutting out the junk, being healthy, taking care of myself, eating clean – but ultimately it is all the same thing: dieting.

And I am really quite good at it. Why the heck wouldn’t I be? Anything a person has done most of their life since they were 15 they would be good at.

I know how to watch every morsel I eat.

I know what food has more calories and what food has less.

I know where the hidden calories are and how to avoid them.

I know how to ‘lighten up’ dishes and use smaller plates.

I know how to add in lots of greens and other veggies! Yes! (Because you’ll definitely lose all your taste for junk food forever if you just eat more greens!)

I know how to stay out of difficult situations or prepare for them by bringing along food.

I know how to remain satisfied so I don’t get too hungry and go off ‘the plan’.

And I know that within a few weeks, people will begin to notice, my efforts will begin to pay off, and the compliments will start to come – and they will feel like the sweetest, most savory reward. “Have you lost weight?”  “You look great!” And I smile a self-satisfied smile to myself.

By this time I might be starting to get rid of some of my old ‘fat’ clothes and spending a little more time in front of the mirror, admiring my shrinking shape. I’ll shake my head and think to myself, “I can’t believe I had let myself gain so much weight again.” Tsk Tsk. Never again. And I will feel such pure satisfaction and pleasure at my resolve, my courage, my tenacity, my ability to take up less space in this world now. Even though I banished the scale to the dark recesses of the closet a few years ago, I won’t be able to resist dragging it out to watch the numbers confirm what I already know. I’m slimming down. I’m trimming down. More acceptable, attractive, and positively tiny by the day.

And then I will start to weigh myself every day. Because why not? Isn’t this super fun? Isn’t this just the best time ever? To be obsessed with each morsel I am putting in my mouth, fixated on what fits me again, enchanted by my cheekbones reappearing, but never fully satisfied because there’s always more weight to lose. “Just keep working at it, Ruth. Just a few more pounds. Be patient.” And I settle in for the painfully slow, death dirge which is any weight loss that comes after the first 10-15 pounds.

But knowing it will never be enough. Never. Losing weight is the really un-fun game that never ever ends.

But back to how things go:  Then, I get hungry. Or shaky. Or tired. Or bored. Boredom is a big one: I can lose weight easily when I stick to a tiny menu of ‘safe’ things – but, like most living creatures, I adore food and flavor and after a while, usually about six weeks, I would rather pluck out my eyeballs than stick to the same claustrophobic eating plan day after day, week after week. I decide to give myself a break, and the break feels so good that I slowly slip away from worshipping at the altar of all my ‘healthy habits’. Even as I cower under the guilt of succumbing to my appetite yet again, I savor being able to enjoy pizza with my kids, cream in my coffee, a piece of the birthday cake at the party without worrying all the dang time about calories, fat content, the size of my rear-end…

Until I decide it is time to take control of the situation and monitor my caloric intake…

Put this cycle on repeat, to more or less degrees of freneticism, and you have the last 32 years of my life.

On good days, I can say I have put dieting behind me, that I am past all that crap and I no longer waste time on it – and that can be true for months and months at a time. I won’t weigh myself, I eat intuitively what sounds good to me, I exercise daily but just because I love it, I’ll soften all the incessant ‘rules’ about food and just live. I like being in that mental place. It is a relief, because then I’m able to focus my energy on things that actually matter: my family, my writing, work, travel, living and enjoying life!

But that seed of insecurity still lives in me and sometimes it still grows strong. I crave the affirmation, the self-satisfied weird pleasure that comes from giving in and just dieting a bit – shrinking into the ideals of the world around me.

In 2012, I finally received my doctoral degree after nearly six years of hard work (not to mention I did it while raising my small children, and while going through the sickness and death of my parents). While everyone around me knew this was a big accomplishment for me, any accolades or congratulations I received were sparse and lukewarm at best.

That same year, I lost a significant amount of weight…and you would think I found the cure for cancer with how people were in awe of me for that, constantly stopping me at church and on the street to compliment me.

I knew how lopsided it was – to be congratulated for counting calories, to be congratulated for not putting stuff in my mouth, for taking up less space in the world. I knew it was messed up that this seemed like my really big accomplishment that year – to others, and to me, too.

But this is the price we pay for the world we live in. This is what I get for growing up in this culture, a child of the 80’s, subjected my whole life to commercials featuring thin, thinner, thinnest. Heavier people being portrayed in media as punchlines, sexless, expendable, or just plain invisible.

Most of the time now I fight this ridiculous culture, I damn the word ‘diet’ to hell, and just eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full, and exercise for no other reason than it makes me feel good and I love it. But just yesterday I found myself lingering over the image of a new diet book on Amazon, wondering if I maybe ought to try it.

But I won’t! I won’t, because dear Lord, I don’t want to look back over my life someday and realize I spent most of this gorgeous existence on the hamster wheel of dieting. It would be different if the outcome was ever something new, but it is always the same – for me and for 95% of people who go on a diet: Yes, weight is almost always lost with dieting, but eventually the weight always comes back, and oftentimes more than what was lost in the first place.

I want my children to remember me as a person who was passionate about all sorts of interesting things, that I loved and lived extravagantly – not with my head buried in a little book where I tediously wrote down my calories and exercises for the day, not bound to a cycle of consistent, certain, repetitive frustration. Let me give my energy toward celebrating this strong body, this healthy body that has never had to be on medication for anything even though according to the body mass index charts I have been considered “obese” most of my adult life, this body that has borne two healthy children, this body that has climbed mountains and run marathons, and holds my brain which is full of good, kind thoughts.

It’s so hard to shake the seduction of dieting. She’ll always call out to me, promising all sorts of false glory, but I am so infinitely tired of her. She’s already stolen way too much of my time, energy, thought process, and money. Not a second, a smidge, a dime more.  Join me, for your sake and for the sake of the generations who follow us and say a huge, emphatic NO to the diet industry. Tell them to take their diet books, plans, monitors, pills, bands, meditation CD’s, exercise DVD’s etc. and shove them all. Join me in ceasing the effort to take up less space in the world.  You are never “bad” for eating the delicious cake. You are lovely – no matter if your pants are snug or loose today. You are so freaking beautiful, just as you are, in the body that God gave you.

She’s a Beauty

By The Tubes

Step right up and don’t be shy
Because you will not believe your eyes
She’s right here, behind the glass
You know you’re gonna like her ’cause she’s got class

You can look inside another world
You get to talk to a pretty girl
She’s everything you dream about

(But don’t fall in love) She’s a beauty
(She’s one in a million girls) She’s a beauty
(Why would I lie?) Why would I lie?

You can say anything you like
But you can’t touch the merchandise
She’ll give you every penny’s worth
But it will cost you a dollar first

You can step outside your little world
(Step outside your world)
You can talk to a pretty girl
She’s everything you dream about

(But don’t fall in love) She’s a beauty
(She’s one in a million girls) One in a million girls
(Why would I lie?) Why would I lie?
(But don’t fall in love) If you do, you’ll find out she don’t love you
(She’s one in a million girls) One in a million girls
(Why would I lie?) Now why would I lie? Uh

(Step outside your world)

(But don’t fall in love) She’s a beauty
(She’s one in a million girls) One in a million girls
(Why would I lie?) Now why would I lie?
(But don’t fall in love) If you do, you’ll find out she don’t love you
(She’s one in a million girls) One in a million girls
(Why would I lie?) Why would I lie?

(But don’t fall in love)
(She’s one in a million girls)
(Why would I lie?)

 

 

 

 

 

North Dakota

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Secret in the Church Tower #3

Johanne

Johanne sat in Bakken Kirke that hot July morning.  She did not remember it ever being so hot in Norway as it was here in America. All the windows were open but there was no breeze drifting over the Dakota prairie. She looked out the window next to the rough oak bench on which she sat. It had been so dry that summer the grass was hardly green but more a light brown color. They needed to keep praying for rain.  God had been so faithful to bring them safely to this new land and they had to believe the journey and all the tormenting goodbyes they said to their family and friends would be worthwhile.  The crops would grow.  Their life there would be good.  It just had mostly been very, very hard so far.

At least her family had all made it there alive.  Some other families had suffered great losses on the journey.  The Jenson’s youngest daughter had come down with a terrible fever as they traveled by wagon through Illinois.  Her name was Inge and she had only been three years old with white blonde hair.  She had been a joy to everyone in their village of Heskestad. Johanne remembered Inge’s baptism day at their little church back in Norway.  On the day they buried her in a field in Illinois, Johanne had wept to think of how happy Inge’s baptism day had been and now they had wrapped that dear little girl in her mother’s shawl and they were burying her lifeless body.

Other families had lost elderly members who were weakened from the hardships of travel and illness, and a few other young women had died in childbirth like the pastor’s wife.  Although their church in the Dakota territory was only a few years old, there were already quite a few graves in the small cemetery.  In fact, the cemetery was established before they even started building the church.  Mr. Haugen’s wife died just the first week they arrived in Dakota and he buried her on the beautiful hill on the land they homesteaded. He then met with the other men in the community and offered to give the entire hill so that a church could be built there.  And Bakken Kirke was established.

Bakken Kirke was a simple building, although they did build it with a strong frame and a tall steeple. Johanne loved how the placement of the church on the hill made it stand out over the entire countryside and when the bell tolled it could be heard for miles. The bell was tolled on Sunday mornings as the pastor walked from the small parsonage over to the church and beckoned all within its’ hearing to come to worship.  The bell was also rung as they departed the church after worship.  On New Year’s Eve they gathered there and rang the bell at midnight just as they had done in the old country and as the church was one of the only community gathering places in the area, the bell was rung if there needed to be a meeting of the men in the area to make decisions or share information.

Johanne and her family went to church every Sunday morning but as she glanced at her father and the sweat running down the side of his face as he listened to the preacher, she guessed that he, too, longed for the service to be over today so they could get out of that hot church building.  She noticed his hair was much more gray now than it had been just a few years ago.  He was starting to look a lot like her grandfather, who was still back in Norway.  She would likely never see either of them again during her time on earth.

The pastor’s sermon ended and the congregation sang, “O, Bli Hos Meg.  It was a quiet, somber hymn, but this Sunday held a bit of sadness as today was Pastor Knudsvig’s last Sunday with them.  His wife had died earlier that spring and he had decided rather than trying to raise their six children alone or find a new wife in America, he would return to Norway where his sisters could help him and he would help with the family farm, which was necessary as his older brother who had been overseeing the farm since their father’s death, had just had an accident leaving him unable to discharge his daily duties on the farm.  Pastor Knudsvig had been a faithful, gentle pastor and Johanne was not sure he was suited to the life of a farmer and to work in the fields but she did know by now that one had to do what was necessary.  She looked at his children, all sitting in the front row.  The eldest was merely eight years old.  The youngest was the baby, sleeping now in the eight year-old’s arms.  Their mother had died giving birth to the baby.  Deaths during childbirth happened frequently, so frequently that there was an entire section of the small cemetery where babies were buried.  When the mother died in childbirth, usually the baby didn’t survive either, but Pastor Knudsvig’s infant was hearty and strong. He had been given the name Jens, everyone assumed in loving tribute to his mother, whose name had been Jenny.

Jenny was soft-spoken with an easy, sparkling laugh, and although it was unspoken, Johanne felt that what people liked best about Pastor Knudsvig was that he was married to Jenny. She had a way of putting everyone at ease and her lightness of spirit cheered anyone who was around her. Johanne thought about how awful it must be for her children to be without her. Johanne glanced over at her own mother sitting a few seats away.  She could not imagine being without her mother.  Although she and her mother were very different, her mother’s loving presence and steadfast strength in their family was what had made these last years of leaving Norway and beginning a new life in the Dakota territory tolerable. Her heart ached for the pastor and his children to have to make the journey back to Norway when the children had all been born here and this was the only home they had ever known. And for Pastor Knudsvig to give up his calling to ministry for his family, well, that was surely the greatest sacrifice of all.

North Dakota

by Lyle Lovett

The boys from North Dakota
They drink whiskey for their fun
And the cowboys down in Texas
They polish up their guns
And they look across the border
To learn the ways of love

If you love me, say I love you
If you love me, say I do
If you love me, say I love you
If you love me, say I do
And you can say I love you
And you can say I do

So I drank myself some whisky
And I dreamed I was a cowboy
And I rode across the border

If you love me, say I love you
If you love me, take my hand
If you love me, say I love you
If you love me, take my hand
And you can say I love you
And you can have my hand

I remember in the mornings
Waking up
With your arms around my head
You told me you can sleep forever
And I’ll still hold you then

Now the weather’s getting colder
It’s even cold down here
And the words that you have told me
Hang frozen in the air
And sometimes I look right through them
As if they were not there

And the boys from North Dakota
They drink whisky for their fun
And the cowboys down in Texas
They polish up their guns
And they look across the border
To learn the ways of love

Here Comes the Rain Again

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

(Secret in the Church Tower #2)

Outside it was still raining and there was a clap of thunder intermittently.  She wondered what to do.  She had no attachment to this church at all.  She would be gone by now if it weren’t for this rainstorm and a sudden decision to explore the belfry.  Part of her felt as though the letter belonged in the box where it had rested, in the quiet place it had been hidden all these years.  She could just put it back and leave.

But first she wanted to try to figure out some of what it said.  She had studied Norwegian just a little bit.  Perhaps if she got into some better light and out of the grimy belfry, she would have a chance of deciphering what the letter was about.

She stood and lifted the trap door, carefully stepping onto the tiny, wooden stairs and went back down the steps with the letter and box tucked in the crook of her arm. She felt like a thief, or at least as though she were disturbing the peace, the long-held secrets of that church.

She sat down on a pew near one of the large stained glass windows in the balcony and opened the letter again.  It began, “Kjaere Johanne.” She assumed this must mean “dear Johanne”.  As she looked at the words on the page, she realized that between the tiny, faded letters, and the language she just barely understood, she was not going to get anywhere with understanding the content.  There was only a stray word here and there she understood. However, toward the very end of the letter, she caught sight of a phrase she did know, “Jeg elsker deg.” Jeg elsker deg means, “I love you” – this was a love letter!

She laughed out loud with glee.  She had just found a very old love letter!  Tucked away in a church belfry!

She knew right then she would take it with her.  She felt it had somehow been meant for her to find this letter and she needed to know the message intended for dear Johanne. Maybe once she knew what the letter said she could even find family members of this Johanne and give the letter to them! What a great surprise this would be for the family and even for the church community here!  In the meantime, she would be the caretaker of this precious piece of history.

She tucked the letter back into its’ envelope and placed it in the box.  She stood, grabbed her camera and her cell phone (which remarkably appeared to be unharmed) and headed to the staircase leading down from the balcony to the main level.  At the main door she paused to look at the front of the church one more time.  Johanne’s church.

On the way back home, she couldn’t stop thinking about the letter in the box on the seat next to her.  All she needed was a little time and her Google translate program on her computer and she would know the secrets the letter held.

She had expected the rain to subside by now.  It seemed that usually the rainstorms didn’t last for terribly long but this one was continuing and even intensifying.

In addition, it appeared that she was a little lost.  Her phone may have been damaged in its’ fall down the stairs after all because its’ GPS was no longer working.  She had started driving east and hoping that she was going in sort of the right direction or spot something familiar but right now she was a little worried.  Nothing looked familiar, or maybe everything looked familiar.  It was just the same view out her windows of more rain, more corn fields, more endless North Dakota sky with clouds that were now black as mud.

She grabbed the Marlboro Lights out of her glove box along with the lighter.  Stormy weather was yet another perfect time to smoke.

As she inhaled deeply she thought how she had always hated severe storms. When she was a child, she would lie awake for hours at night and pray for the thunder and lightning to stop, pray that she wouldn’t hear the rumble of a tornado coming at them through the darkness.  The wind began to shove violently at her car. She felt a catch of fear in her chest.  She realized just how vulnerable she was.  She was not exactly sure where she was, she was in her tiny car in a remote area. She hadn’t told a soul where she was going. If something happened to her, how long would it be before anyone found her?

Here Comes the Rain Again

by the Eurythmics

Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion
I want to walk in the open wind
I want to talk like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you

So baby talk to me
Like lovers do
Walk with me
Like lovers do
Talk to me
Like lovers do

Here comes the rain again
Raining in my head like a tragedy
Tearing me apart like a new emotion
Oooooh
I want to breathe in the open wind
I want to kiss like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you

So baby talk to me
Like lovers do

Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion
(Here it comes again, here it comes again)
I want to walk in the open wind
I want to talk like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you

Message in a Bottle

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

She didn’t see the sign on the road that pointed toward Bakken Lutheran Church but she did notice out of the corner of her eye a tall steeple off in the distance.  She looked down at her phone and sure enough, it pointed out that she needed to turn in that direction.

She slowed down and did a U-turn to go back to the road she had just passed and headed toward the church in the distance.  She marveled at how the spot where the church was built was perfect and so unusual.  She could imagine how the first homesteaders to that area saw this rather tall, wooded hill in the midst of a sea of North Dakota prairie land would have thought this would be the perfect spot for a church.  Partly because of how beautiful it was, but also because such a spot would not have been good farm land anyway.

She approached the hill and turned onto the long, thin driveway, about a quarter mile in length, and came to a stop at the edge of the clearing a short distance from the church.  She didn’t want to park right next to it because she didn’t want her car to be in the pictures she took.

She hurried out of her car and noted it was cooler here than it had been back in Fargo.  Sure enough, some clouds were gathering in from the west.  A storm might be coming. She grabbed her sweater and her camera and started taking pictures.

The church was lovelier in person than it had been in the few pictures she had found on the internet.  Although most of the country churches in this area were white and wooden, this one was red brick with striking white trim.  The trees surrounding it were adorned in brilliant yellow and red leaves.  The church faced the east and behind it rested the cemetery.

From the top of that hill, you could see miles in every direction.  She reveled in the complete silence as she took more pictures.  She walked to the church door to see if she could go inside.  She didn’t expect the door to be open.  She had found that most of the time these country churches were kept locked now.  So she was pleasantly surprised to find the door was unlocked!

She stepped inside and felt as though she had walked back in time.  No contemporary instruments or screens here.  There was a traditional white altar and pulpit, a lectern, baptismal font, dark wooden pews, and stained glass windows depicting various Biblical stories.  The walls were painted an unusual pale aqua, the carpet was red.  Although some of the paint was chipping on the banisters on each side leading up to the balcony, the building seemed to be well-kept.

Taking pictures along the way, she moved toward the front of the sanctuary. She felt very at home here.  She always felt this way in churches.  Didn’t matter where they were, there was something deeply comforting about their smell, their familiar objects, their quiet and reverence.

As she moved toward the altar, she noticed there was gold lettering on the front, underneath the painting of Jesus as a shepherd tending a flock. In Norwegian, it was written, “Jeg er den gode hyrde.” “I am the good shepherd.”  This altar was likely made in the late 1800’s when this land was first being homesteaded and settled by the early Norwegian settlers to North Dakota.  Although the Norwegian immigrants had learned English quickly and believed it was best to leave their old language in the old country, there were still traces of these roots everywhere in these old churches.  The oldest gravestones in the cemetery were all inscribed in Norwegian as were the early records of the church.  She had read that the half-moon shape of the altar rails in these old Norwegian Lutheran churches was also a Scandinavian tradition. It was believed that the gathered body of Christ met for communion at the visible half-circle altar rail, but the circle was completed beyond time and space by those who had died in the faith, the communion of the saints.

There was a deep rumbling outside.  It had slowly been getting a little darker outside since she came in.  Sure enough, she heard the sound of rain on the roof now.  She walked back down the aisle and peered out the door.  Quite a little storm was barreling through.  The wind was swaying the trees and the rain was pouring from the sky.

It would be best to wait out the storm here.  After all, that is why these country churches always used to be kept open all the time.  If someone was traveling by and a bad storm came up, they could seek shelter in any church.  This tradition had slowly become almost nonexistent as too many of these churches experienced vandalism or theft. However, she was so glad when she came across the rare church still left open so anyone could come in at any time and pray or take pictures or seek shelter.

There were two stairways, one on either side of the center aisle, leading upstairs to the balcony.  The stairs were small and this made sense because at the time this church was built, people were smaller in general. The average foot size would have been a couple sizes smaller than today.

The balcony had a main level that slanted slightly downward.  There were large steps that led up to another small landing where the rope hung down from the church bell and another set of tiny wooden steps leading up to a trap door, the access to the belfry.  The view of the church from up there was stunning.  She thought it must be a beautiful sight when and if they had candlelit services.  She imagined what it must have looked like long ago when the ladies in long dresses and the men in suits came in for church on a Sunday morning.

She was tempted to ring the church bell.  She laughed remembering how her kids had always wanted to ring the bell at their church in Texas. She let them do it now and then.  No one would mind hearing the church bell toll a few times.  It wasn’t like it used to be generations ago when hearing the church bell toll in the middle of the week meant something had happened in the community and it was time to gather at the church for a meeting.

Church bells often used to be inscribed with a Bible verse or some other phrase before it was hung.  The bell at her church in Texas had no inscription.  She wondered if this one did.   She peered up at the trap door leading to the belfry.

She could check it out.

There was no reason she couldn’t.  There was no lock on the trap door.  Her shoes were sturdy enough to get up those tiny stairs.

What if someone came in and caught her climbing around the belfry?

She doubted many people came by this church even on a clear, sunny day, much less a day when it was pouring down rain.  In fact, she wouldn’t be surprised if it had been many years since anyone had been in that belfry.

She set down her camera.  She couldn’t climb the steep stairway and open the trap door carrying her main camera.  If she wanted to take pictures up there she had her cell phone in her pocket.

She ascended the large red steps to the landing and then put a foot on the first wooden step leading up to the belfry.  It seemed solid enough.  She took one step, then two, and slowly climbed up all the steps until she reached the trap door.  She was very high up now.  Looking down, even the floor of the balcony looked far away.  She pushed on the trap door.  It was heavy.  She pushed a little harder and slowly she was able to open it.  She pushed it all the way open until it rested on the wall directly behind the trap door and then she peered into the belfry.

There were small windows on each side of the square space which was about 10’ X 10’. She took a few more steps and as she glanced out the window to the east, she could see her car sitting off in the distance where she had left it.  The bell rested on a wooden framework.  There was a wheel on the side of the bell and a rope attached to the wheel which was draped through a hole in the floor.  Above her she could see the rafters of the towering steeple.

Spiderwebs and dead bugs were abundant in the space.  Flashes of lightning lit up the belfry but even without the lightning she could see clearly once her eyes adjusted.  She could see that there was no inscription on the side of the bell where she was, but her curiosity prodded her to climb all the way into the belfry and look at the other side.  It was just a few more steps.

She gingerly ascended the last two steps into the belfry and was careful to stand on the wooden beams as she made her way around the bell.  There was some writing on the other side of the bell, but it was only the name of the manufacturer and the city in which it was made.  She was disappointed.

She grabbed her cell phone out of her pocket and took a few pictures of the bell.  It would be a cool story to tell her friends, or maybe a sermon illustration.

She was just about to head back down the stairs when the beam she was standing on let out a loud creak. The noise startled her and she quickly moved to another beam but as she did so, she lost her footing. She fell hard toward the west wall, hitting it with her left shoulder.  Her left knee crashed into the beam beneath her and her cell phone flew out of her hand and out the trap door, clattering down the stairs.  As she fell, she had been trying to grab hold of the west wall but only succeeded in grasping the top of the trap door, which then fell closed with a thunderous thud.

She wasn’t sure which was worse, the pain in her knee and shoulder, the bugs and dust flying everywhere and into her nose and mouth, or the sudden feeling of claustrophobia at being closed in up in the belfry.  She slowly stood up and didn’t feel as though anything was broken – except maybe her cell phone lying at the bottom of the stairs.

She was just about to lift up the trap door when she noticed one of the boards in the wall had come loose.  Behind the board, she could make out the shape of something tucked just behind the board.  Her curiosity piqued, she tugged at the board to see if she could get a better view.

It appeared to be a small, wooden box.  She had to pull the board completely off the wall and set it to the side in order to reach in the wall and pull out the box.  It had no lock or hinges.  It was just a very simple box with a lid. It appeared to be quite old.

This was something interesting! She paused for a moment.  Who knows what she would find in that box!  Maybe it was empty – but maybe it would be a small treasure.  Her mind raced with possibilities.  Perhaps it was some artifact from the early days of this church?  Maybe it was some prayers that had been stored away as part of a blessing on the church building? It could even be a simple time capsule that some youth group had hidden up here with the intention to retrieve it in a decade or two. She thought of how some of the churches she had served would hide away a banner with the word “Alleluia” on it during the season of Lent.  She smiled to think perhaps someone had hidden the Alleluia a little too well one year and never retrieved it again. She savored the feeling of anticipation.

Finally, she took a breath and slowly pulled off the lid.  Inside was a single envelope, yellowed with age. On the front of the envelope it was written the name, “Johanne.”

What could this be?  She was so excited to open the letter her hands trembled.  She set the wooden box down and turned the letter over.  It had never been opened. The letter was still sealed with a wax insignia on the back.  In the wax, there was pressed the letter O.

What had she found? It had surely been here for a very long time. This church and steeple had been built in the late 1800’s.  How long had this letter rested here in this steeple and why?

She wished the letter were not sealed!  She knew she had to open it, she simply could not do otherwise, but she still felt a little guilty opening this letter that clearly had been written to Johanne, and not to her.

Nevertheless, she tugged gently at the wax seal and the letter popped open.  The paper was quite thin and fragile but she was able to pull out the letter out and unfold it.

It was definitely a letter to Johanne, but that was about all she could tell. This letter was not written in English, but in Norwegian!  She must be right that this letter had been there for decades upon decades!

Why was this letter here, and what was the story behind it?

Message in a Bottle

by Sting

Just a castaway
An island lost at sea
Another lonely day
With no one here but me
More loneliness
Than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despair

I’ll send an SOS to the world [2x]
I hope that someone gets my [3x]
Message in a bottle [2x]

A year has passed since I wrote my note
But I should have known this right from the start
Only hope can keep me together
Love can mend your life
But love can break your heart

I’ll send an SOS to the world [2x]
I hope that someone gets my [3x]
Message in a bottle [4x]

Walked out this morning
Don’t believe what I saw
A hundred billion bottles
Washed up on the shore
Seems I’m not alone at being alone
A hundred billion castaways
Looking for a home

I’ll send an SOS to the world [2x]
I hope that someone gets my [3x]
Message in a bottle [4x]

Sending out an SOS [16x]