Chocolate

Reflections on Shuffle-Play (the thing where she writes a reflection based on a song from that morning’s run)

Sweet days.

This life has had a few seasons that were so sweet. Days when I couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning because there was so much joy seeping into the hours.

The first summers I worked at camp: Late 80’s glory. Those lakeshore days flew by in a haze of suntan lotion, The Cure, laughter, and green-apple scented shampoo.

Springtime in West Africa: it was 1994 and I was young enough to have everything in front of me, but old enough to be sure I was going nowhere. Surrounded by the coolest people I knew, everything I owned in my backpack, life was a gorgeous, tortured cornucopia.

The summer of 2001: I was in New York at my first church and planning my wedding to my favorite person. Every meal was the best meal, every song that came on the radio was my favorite song, every day was sunny. Good fortune seemed to smile every single place I looked.

The spring of 2014: I was living in Texas and preparing to go on a reality show in Norway. After living through the deaths of my parents, and the deaths of my husband’s parents, and severely questioning my call to ministry, I won a free adventure in Norway. I told my church I was going (and thank God they gave me their blessing because there was no way I was going to miss out on this adventure) and spent my free hours studying Norwegian, running, drinking tequila with lime on ice in the Texas sun, and learning every skill I could think of to help me in the reality show competitions (how to shoot a gun, how to swim, archery,  – none of these skills proved to be helpful, however, at least for the show). While I didn’t get very far in the show, preparing to go was an absolute blast. It was such a joy to think about something so lighthearted after years of dealing with death and sadness.

The beautiful thing? There were those sweet days and so, so, so, so many more. And I am grateful.

Chocolate

by the 1975

Hey now call it a split ’cause you know that you will
Oh you bite your friends like chocolate
You say, we’ll go where nobody knows, with guns hidden under our petticoat
No we’re never gunna’ quit it, no we’re never gunna’ quit it no
Now we run run away from the boys in the blue, and my car smells like chocolate
Hey now think about what to do, think about what to say, think about how to think
Pause it play, pause it play, pause it
Oh we’ll go where nobody knows, with guns hidden under our petticoats
No we’re never gunna’ quit it, no we’re never gunna’ quit it no
Yeah we’re dressed in black from head to toe, we’ve got guns hidden under our petticoats
No we’re never gunna’ quit it. no we’re never gunna’ quit it no
Now you’re never gunna’ quit it, now you’re never gunna’ quit it, now you’re never gunna’ quit it
If you don’t start smoking it, that’s what she said
She said we’re dressed in black, from head to toe, with guns hidden under our petticoats
No we’re never gunna’ quit it, no we’re never gunna’ quit it no
Hey now we’re building up speed as we’re approaching the hill
Oh my hair smells like chocolate
Hey now you say you’re gunna’ quit it but you’re never gunna’ quit it
Gotta get it, gotta get it, gotta get it, gotta get it, go!
And play it cool
Oh and you said we’ll go where nobody knows, with guns hidden under our petticoats
No we’re never gunna’ quit it, no we’re never gunna’ quit it no
Yeah we’re dressed in black, from head to toe, we’ve got guns hidden under our petticoats
We’re never gunna’ quit it, no we’re never gunna’ quit it no
Well I think we better go, seriously better go
Said the feds are here you know
Seriously better go, oh oh, well I think we better go
Said the feds are here you know
Said Rebecca better know
Seriously better go
We’ll go where nobody knows, with guns hidden under our petticoats
No we’re never gunna’ quit it, no we’re never gunna’ quit it no
Yeah we’re dressed in black, head to toe, guns hidden under our petticoats
No we’re never gunna’ quit it. no we’re never gunna’ quit it no
No no no
Well I think we better go, seriously better go
Said the feds are here you know
Seriously better go, oh oh, well I think we better go
Said the feds are here you know
Said Rebecca better know
Seriously better go

 

 

Sunday Morning

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

I didn’t lead worship today. I get a few Sundays off each year and while it is nice to have a Sunday now and then to not extend the mental energy toward preparing a sermon and not be “on” for a Sunday morning, it is equally nice to have the opportunity to worship somewhere else. This morning, I chose to worship at a larger church in a town nearby. I chose this particular church because I like the pastors and because I knew I would be relatively anonymous there. It isn’t a church that typically does a lot with my own so I can slip and out without being noticed by many of the parishioners.

It is important to worship other places because it helps wake up my mind to what other churches are doing. When I spend each Sunday in my own church and focusing on the way we do things, I forget that there is a whole other world outside full of different ways of thinking and doing. I usually come away from other worship services feeling both inspired to try some new things, yet also finding that there are also things I prefer about my own church. Today was no different.

I liked the bright and airy sanctuary, the touches of tradition along with the touches of modern. They recently went through a renovation, so while the outside looks very traditional and a bit cold, the inside is warm and welcoming. The pastors are great – whip-smart, with easy smiles and demeanor. They are both younger than me and have young children, so while I was there I found myself remembering the unique challenges that come with trying to balance all the demands of being a full-time pastor along with all the demands of being a full-time parent to little ones who need you so much. It’s beautiful and hard and precious.

Before we had our boys, I remember thinking parenthood would be a lot like regular life, just with these extra little people around. It was my job to feed them and clothe them and raise them, but it was their job to fit into my world, not me fit into their world. I didn’t realize, because there is no way you can realize until you go through it, how much children alter the world as you once knew it. Nothing was the same anymore. Going out to eat was no longer the same leisurely experience because it became a race to see if we could even get a few bites of our food eaten before one child or the other was in a meltdown. Going to movies was different because for a very long time the kiddos only want to see cartoons or superhero movies – gone were the romantic comedies, dramas, and suspense films. Having a conversation with one’s spouse was immensely different – rather than being able to talk to each other in peace and quiet at any hour of the day, instead we had to cram important conversations into the crevices of our days. There was hardly any room for each other because the children took up so much space and energy. During the worship service I found myself thinking about how quickly the years have passed and so much of early parenthood just felt like trying to keep my head above water. Did we do the best we could? Did we make the most of the time yet savor it as well? What will our boys remember from their childhood?

It was a welcome surprise that part of the worship today was a service for healing. Anyone could come up if they wanted and receive prayers for healing. I wondered if anyone would go forward as sometimes Lutherans can be terribly tentative about things like this – but most everyone in the congregation went forward to receive prayers and anointing. Before they began, one of the pastors said simply that all of us need healing in one way or another. He talked about how it is a flaw in our culture, and particularly in Christianity, that we feel like we need to put on a perfect front. It’s okay to need healing, it’s okay to admit that we hurt and would like someone to pray for us. He spoke those few simple words and a whole church full of people came forward one by one to receive prayers. It was healing for me, too. I’ve done healing services before but usually as something apart from Sunday morning. I’ve never before seen it done like it was done at this church today – and I loved it. I look forward to stealing that idea as soon as possible.

My youngest came with me to church this morning. He sang along loudly with the worship band. Then, we went out for lunch at a Chinese restaurant. On the way home, we saw the fish houses and ice skaters out on the lake. We sang along to classic rock and talked about making cookies this afternoon. It is an unusual Sunday, but a good one. A chance to see the world, worship, and my own life from a new perspective. Thanks be to God.

Sunday Morning

By No Doubt

Sappy pathetic little me
That was the girl I used to be
You had me on my knees

I’d trade you places any day
I’d never thought you could be that way
But you looked like me on Sunday

You came in with the breeze
On Sunday morning
You sure have changed since yesterday
Without any warning
I thought I knew you
I thought I knew you
I thought I knew you well, so well

You’re trying my shoes on for a change
They look so good but fit so strange
Out of fashion, so I can complain

You came in with the breeze
On Sunday morning
You sure have changed since yesterday
Without any warning
I thought I knew you
I thought I knew you
I thought I knew you well, so well

I know who I am, but who are you?
You’re not looking like you used to
You’re on the other side of the mirror
So nothing’s looking quite as clear
Thank you for turning on the lights
Thank you, now you’re the parasite
I didn’t think you had it in you
And now you’re looking like I used to!

You came in with the breeze
On Sunday morning
You sure have changed since yesterday
Without any warning
And you want me badly
Because you cannot have me
I thought I knew you
But I’ve got a new view
I thought I knew you well, oh well

On Sunday morning
And I don’t want it
Sunday morning
I thought I knew you
Sunday morning
Oh you want me badly
Can have it
Sunday morning
Sunday morning
Sunday morning

 

Beautiful Day

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

Helga sat in her wheelchair in her room at the nursing home.  This was where she liked to sit in the afternoons after lunch – by her window that overlooked the mountains.   She had been living in this same room for nearly five years.

She hadn’t been excited to move in Sunny Gardens but she knew when the stroke happened that there weren’t going to be many other options for her.  Her son, Ben, and his partner had offered to move her out to Seattle and she could stay with them but she knew that they were busy and she didn’t care to be a reason for any additional stress in their lives.  Besides, he barely had time to visit her – how could she expect him to take care of her?

So she stayed in Colorado.  She lived there all her life and she wanted to die under the same shadow of the mountains that had watched over the comings and goings of her life all these years.  Her son came out to help arrange her move into the nursing home.  Sunny Gardens Living Center was in the neighborhood her home was in – on the same street she knew so well from each decade of her adult life.

She had walked with her husband, Martin, here on this quiet avenue in the evenings when they were young and courting.  This was the street where they had ridden on bicycles with their son.  The street where she taught Ben to drive a stick shift and where the scar on the aspen tree in front of their house remained from when he ran into it with their old Dodge.  The street where she and Martin stood holding hands as they watched Ben drive away to his first year at college.  Then years later her eyes frantically searched up and down that street as she looked out the window – waiting for the ambulance to come when Martin collapsed in the living room.  She knew he was gone as soon as he fell. Not a sound.  Certainly no parting words.  Just like that and their journey together of 45 years was over.

It was a hard time – but Helga had done pretty well weathering the years since he died.  She tended to her house and her garden.  She met her friends for coffee and had been active at her church and volunteered at the library.  She visited Ben in Seattle quite a few times and went on a cruise with some cousins.  She enjoyed the golden years – even if she spent them without her Martin.

But in the months and years since her stroke there had been a lot of time to sit here in this wheelchair and look out this window.  Honestly, there was little else she was able to do anymore.  Her eyesight was too poor for the card games that many other residents played each day.  Her hearing was now not good enough to appreciate the singers or pianists that came in to perform.  Her body too frail to even think about getting up to walk around or even get herself in and out of this wheelchair.

She had visitors now and then – her pastor stopped by earlier today and one of her son’s best friends made it a point to come by once a week.  Her son wrote her letters.  But she was used to most of her days being very quiet now – filled with nurses and doctor visits, some meals, some naps, this wheelchair and this window.

Helga knew that if someone saw her sitting here each afternoon by this window they might think she was sad.  The nursing home chaplain, a young man seemingly always coming around trying to get the residents to bare their soul to him seemed to think so.”  He’d come in her room with a sorrowful expression and say, “Helga, how ARE you today?”  Helga thought to herself that if she did have something to share she was quite certain it wasn’t going to be with this young fellow.  He wore tennis shoes for pete’s sake.  She couldn’t take a pastor seriously if he wore tennis shoes and that was that.  She knew she wasn’t being reasonable but she figured that after nine-plus decades on this earth she could be unreasonable if she wanted to be.

She sighed.  Well, she knew she couldn’t blame the young chaplain.  When she was younger she might have assumed the same thing if she had seen herself sitting here alone each day.  “Poor old lady,” she would have thought.

But the truth was that Helga was fine mostly.  Happy even, she thought.  It surprised her to think about it.  But here it was, the truth.  Sure, there were seemingly innumerable things that time had taken away but even on the most difficult days, Helga didn’t despair.

She was peaceful and pretty good – because a strange contentment washed over her each afternoon when she spent that time by those windows.  A strange contentment that she was thankful to have known every day since the stroke.

She couldn’t explain it and she didn’t care to.  All she knew was that when she stared out the window at the mountains she loved, every beautiful memory from her long life played in front of her eyes like a slide show.  Memories that maybe hadn’t even seemed so precious when she was living them – but now she could see them in all their vivid color and magnificence.  Now with the passage of time, and with her ancient eyes, she could finally see how beautiful it had all been. Today was no different because as she sat there, the images began.

She saw Martin, young and strong, sitting with her on the front porch of her parents’ house.

She saw them struggling to pay their bills when they were young, but laughing and being happy together regardless of their simple meals and meager vacations.

She could see herself huge and pregnant, waddling her way into a shop downtown to pick out some things for the baby’s nursery.

She saw Ben playing with blocks on the kitchen floor and crying for her attention as she prepared supper.  Oh how tired she had been those years when he was young!

She saw her best friend Miriam across a table from her at their favorite café, talking endlessly over her coffee and camel lights.

She saw all their neighbors gathered together for Fourth of July barbecue in the park.

A million lovely memories played through her mind each day.  And if it was quiet enough and the sun was shining on the peaks just so, sometimes she could still feel how she used to feel when Martin smiled at her, or how the breeze felt in her hair when it was still long and blond, and how Ben’s voice sounded when he was a toddler.   Sometimes she almost felt as though she was living it again.  And she was certain – beyond certain – that even though she might forget many things, she would never forget these important things.

On this side of life there were certainly things she would not experience again.  Her body would never be young again, so many things had changed and could not be healed – and yet there was a solace, a comfort, a peace that washed over her so completely when she sat in this place.

She whispered to herself, “I lift my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come?”  “I lift my eyes to the hills…”

Helga was smiling when the nurse came in to help her into bed for her afternoon nap.  The young nurse, Ashley, had been having a long day, which wasn’t helped by the fact that her newborn had kept her up most of the night before and she had bickered with her husband on the phone over her lunch hour.  Helga didn’t hear Ashley come in – and Ashley paused as she approached Helga sitting in the sunshine, her eyes seemingly fixed on something outside, and the purest smile on her face.

She touched Helga’s shoulder gently but could still feel her bones underneath the layer of blouse and sweater she wore.  Helga looked up at her as her smile faded a bit.  Ashley could tell that she had roused Helga out of a dream of some sort – a dream that she wasn’t quite ready to leave.

“Are you ready for your nap?” Ashley asked.  Helga said, “sure, sweetheart.  Thank you.”  And Ashley began to move the wheelchair away from the window and over to the bed.

“What were you thinking about when I came in?” Ashley asked.   She gently helped Helga shift from the chair to the bed.

Helga grimaced as she gingerly maneuvered onto the bed.  “Ah,” she said.  “I was just thinking about how beautiful it is.”

“The mountains?”  Ashley asked.

“Life,” said Helga in her thin voice.  As Ashley plumped the pillow quickly before Helga laid down her head upon it fully.  “Life is so beautiful.”

The smile had returned to her face as she said it.  Ashley moved the wheelchair back to its’ spot, picked up Helga’s lunch tray, and by the time she glanced back at Helga, she was asleep.

Ashley went over to the window, not sure what she was looking for – but wanting to see whatever it was that Helga had seen.  But she saw what she expected to see – same old Pikes Peak in the distance, some cars in the parking lot, too much traffic on the street below, the weather too hot, some litter on the sidewalk.

She sighed as she left the room and muttered to herself, “beautiful, huh?  Poor old lady.”

But Helga slept peacefully.  Her sleep full of dreams.  Dreams of a beautiful life here and one that was yet to come.  Healing dreams that were a gift from God and able to mend so much that nothing else possibly could.

Beautiful Day
by U2
The heart is a bloom
Shoots up through the stony ground
There’s no room
No space to rent in this town
You’re out of luck
And the reason that you had to care
The traffic is stuck
And you’re not moving anywhere
You thought you’d found a friend
To take you out of this place
Someone you could lend a hand
In return for grace
It’s a beautiful day
Sky falls, you feel like
It’s a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away
You’re on the road
But you’ve got no destination
You’re in the mud
In the maze of her imagination
You love this town
Even if that doesn’t ring true
You’ve been all over
And it’s been all over you
It’s a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away
It’s a beautiful day
Touch me
Take me to that other place
Teach me
I know I’m not a hopeless case
See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the Bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
And see the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors came out
It was a beautiful day
Don’t let it get away
Beautiful day
Touch me
Take me to that other place
Reach me
I know I’m not a hopeless case
What you don’t have you don’t need it now
What you don’t know you can feel it somehow
What you don’t have you don’t need it now
Don’t need it now
Was a beautiful day

 

Strong Enough

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

We’re always letting go of something.

Life is a constant process of letting go.

Children let go of their youth bit by bit until one day you are teaching them to drive.

Over the course of our days we let go of many relationships, some more easily and graciously than others.

We let go of ideas of who we thought we might become and live into who we are – this can be both humbling and exhilarating.

We let go of pastimes that no longer serve us as we realize life is precious and short and why hold on to doing certain things if it is just because society or tradition expects it of us.

We let go of perfectionism if we realize that our creativity and output can be immensely greater if we don’t treat every word, every creation as if it is precious beyond measure. Let it go and let it affect the world.  Sop revising.

Sometimes I think learning to let go is one of the greatest lessons of life and I wonder why it can be so hard to do.

I used to have a pair of kick-ass black leather boots with equally kick-ass high, chunky heels. I loved those boots – they made every outfit have just the tiniest bit of edge to it. I might be a mild-mannered pastor, but I felt like those boots proved I wasn’t too mild-mannered. I wore them often. The only negative thing was that they absolutely KILLED my feet. They were so painful I wanted to cry – but they looked SO good. I wore them on Sundays at the church where I had three services every Sunday morning. I even wore them on Christmas eve when we had FIVE services…until the Christmases of 2005 and 2006 came along when I was pregnant with my boys and my feet were swollen and didn’t fit in my kick-ass boots. I wore comfortable shoes then, and I realized that the world still went round and round, I still did all the same things, and still had meaningful interactions with other people, I just did it all without wanting to lop off my feet because they were throbbing with pain.

It’s hard to resist having comfortable feet once you allow yourself to be comfortable. When we moved away from Colorado, I left behind almost all my high heels. Letting them go wasn’t hard by the time I did it. I felt like I had evolved. Before, when I would see awesome heels, I thought they looked so good, but now when I see them on anyone I think they look like pain. I remember being so angry that my feel swelled during pregnancy, forcing me into those comfortable shoes – but in the long run, I was grateful.

We don’t always let go because we choose it in the first place. Sometimes it is thrust upon us and then we can look back upon it all and decide the blessings and the sadnesses in it.

While I used to see letting go as a difficult thing that I would not choose, as the years go by, I veer toward it more often. It feels good to make the journey lighter – letting go of possessions, letting go of a fussy hairstyle, letting go of a rigid make-up routine, letting go of always doing some process the same way. In fact, I have found that oftentimes if I am paying attention, my life cries out to me to let go and be willing to be different, affected, less encumbered. These days, when I am feeling particularly tired or stressed, the buzzing in the back of my brain getting louder than usual, I usually pause and ask myself what it is that needs me to loosen my grip upon it. The answer doesn’t come immediately, but if I gently keep asking myself, eventually the answer rises to the top of my thoughts.

Do you need to let go of something or someone? If the time is right for letting go, even if you are afraid, there will be a sense of lightness, freedom, and exhilaration to the thought of it. Listen to your heart and your smarts,  be gentle and brave.

Strong Enough

By Cher

I don’t need your sympathy
There’s nothing you can say or do for me
And I don’t want a miracle
You’ll never change for no one

I hear your reasons why
Where did you sleep last night?
And was she worth it was she worth it?

‘Cause I’m strong enough
To live without you
Strong enough and I quit crying
Long enough now I’m strong enough
To know you gotta go

There’s no more to say
So save your breath
And then walk away
No matter what I hear you say
I’m strong enough to know you gotta go

So you feel misunderstood
Baby, have I got news for you
On being used, I could write the book
You don’t want to hear about it

I’ve been losing sleep
You’ve been going cheap
She ain’t worth half of me it’s true
I’m telling you

Now I’m strong enough to live without you
Strong enough and I quite crying
Long enough now I’m strong enough
To know you’ve gotta go

Come hell or waters high
You’ll never see me cry
This is our last goodbye, it’s true

I’m telling you
That I’m strong enough to live without you
Strong enough and I quite crying
Long enough now I’m strong enough
To know you gotta go

There’s no more to say
So save your breath
And you walk away
No matter what I hear you say
I’m strong enough to know you’ve gotta go

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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]

Hurt

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Depression is no fun. It slinks in on a perfectly lovely day and hovers over everything, putting a slightly minor tune over the notes of each hour.

I’ve learned over the years how to take care of myself in the midst of recurring depression. I know to be gentle with myself, to do my best to eat well and keep on exercising. I speak to myself in a mothering way, gently reminding me that even though I might feel like burying my face in junk food or watching TV all day, I will likely feel better if I get up and move and stay busy.

I read a book many years ago called, “Care of the Soul”, in which the author, Thomas Moore, talked about how these times when we feel unhappy or ‘down’ have real value and rather than trying to usher them away, it is better to see what insight they might offer us. For example, if you are feeling bad and you don’t know why, don’t punish yourself by thinking, “I really ought to feel happier. Why am I being so ridiculous!? Cheer up, self!”  Instead, consider that perhaps you are needing some time alone or some time to be quiet. When we feel down, we naturally tend to be quieter and more lost in thought and perhaps that is what you need. Take time for yourself and remember that just as the earth goes through seasons, so do we.  Not every day is going to be a sunny summer day. There have to be the gray, rainy days, too.

When I keep this perspective that feeling down is a natural part of life rather than the sign that I’m doing something wrong, I’ve found that the dark times don’t get quite so dark.

Sometimes I think being a mother helps, too. I need to stay healthy and take care of myself so that I’m able to remain present and functioning for my children. I can’t afford to be a drama queen like I sometimes was in college or my twenties or even my early thirties. The world won’t wait for me while I sit on the porch and smoke a thousand cigarettes in a cloud of doom. So, instead, I look for ways to draw glimmers of joy back and lift the depression as soon as possible.

I realize as I write this that there are levels of depression – and actual clinical depression can’t just be lifted with some simple steps. It often takes therapy and/or medication. If you are feeling persistent, ongoing depression, please get help from a medical professional.  And, for the rest of this reflection, I will switch to the term, ‘sadness’ to refer to what I am addressing here.

Here are the best ways I have found to combat sadness:

  1. Work on a task: cooking, baking, creating anything. Getting the mind going and focusing on something else is quite helpful.
  2. Watch a movie. I love movies and they can be a blessed reprieve from thoughts that are taking me on a downward spiral.
  3. Spend time with my children. Doing anything with my kids helps me find laughter again.
  4. Go for a walk! Fresh air and a change in scenery is best, but a treadmill will do.
  5. Pet a cat.
  6. Or a dog.
  7. Take care of some small chore or errand you have been putting off: organize your drawers, organize the spices, clean out the refrigerator, take some items to Goodwill – completing something that needs to be done gives a sense of accomplishment and that combats the helplessness that sometimes comes with random sad days.
  8. Usually when I write, I am able to figure out why I am sad and that understanding brings a sense of peace.
  9. I find that often my writing takes on the shape of prayer when I am sad.
  10. Call a friend or go for a walk with a friend. If I am feeling like talking, spending time with a safe, trusted friend is great therapy.
  11. Or isolate myself for a bit if I need to and not feel guilty about that. For an introvert, time alone can be very healing and helpful.
  12. A nap or going to bed early has great curative properties. Most of us walk around tired too much of the time. If you are feeling ‘off’ and you just aren’t sure why, a nap could be a great place to start.

It might be comforting, as well, to remember that most people go through times when they feel sad for reasons they can’t quite explain. It’s part of being human. If today is a sad day for you, I pray you feel better soon. Until then…listen to some Johnny Cash – cuz that can only help.

Hurt

Recorded by NIN and Johnny Cash

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar’s chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here

What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way