on tap for 2020: rhythm

Posted: January 1, 2020 in Uncategorized

And now…(drumroll)…bring on 2020!  Here’s what I see from my current vantage point.

My Word for 2020

Back in 2014, I got my first “word for the year” quite unexpectedly.  Friends who were on our church’s leadership team had been challenged to ask God about a word for their year, and when they had tried to challenge me to do the same over supper one night, I had just laughed.  I wasn’t on the leadership team, I noted, and that was JUST FINE WITH ME.  It meant I didn’t have to do leadership things.

Rereading some notes from back then, I see I wrote that I heard God laughing as I shot down the idea…and shortly thereafter God did indeed give me a word for that year:  SPEAK OUT.  Then I was given “opportunity” after “opportunity” to do the same, to the point where I kind of felt like 2014 was the year God spent a bunch of time smacking me in the back of the head to get the words I was withholding to pop out.

Oh, it was good.  But it was not EASY.  And then afterward I could see that I’d been changed for the better.

2015 brought TWO words:  DISCIPLINE and INTENTION.  At the end of the year I was able to look back and see the fingerprints of both words on my life.

2016’s word was REST and good golly, did I ever need it.

2017’s word was PRESENT, as in being present in the here and now, and not drawn continually into distraction and future-think or what-if think. That was important as I coped with election results from November 2016; though I’d been through plenty of elections that ended in ways I didn’t prefer, that one felt (and continues to feel) starkly different.

I heard no word in 2018.  Was it not there, or was I not listening?  No idea.  I hardly wrote at all that year, so I can’t pick through the evidence and backtrack to determine a possible answer.

2019’s word was ORDER and for sure I see how some of the pieces of that fell together.  While I spent the first ten months of the year kind of maxed out, overwhelmed, running behind, and a bit desperate about when – or IF – things might finally slow down, sticking to order and doing the usual “put your head down and keep moving forward” got me to the last two months, where I regained an equilibrium I had not experienced since the fall of 2018.

I got the 2020 word several weeks ago (almost immediately after that equilibrium returned) and guys, I AM EXCITED.  I mean, it doesn’t SOUND exciting, but maybe as I spell out the particulars that I see, you’ll catch it.  This year’s word is RHYTHM.

52 Snow Days

Our church leadership team has been reading a book together called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality…subtitled “It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature.”  It has led to powerful discussions and some good soul-searching; I’m not all the way through it but I already know that I RECOMMEND IT for everyone.  We did my very favorite chapter thus far awhile back; it included discussion about Sabbath.

I’ve been in church all my life and I can’t remember ever NOT knowing about Sabbath.  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  I can’t remember it ever being a thing that called out to me.  It sounded like a “should,” and one I just am not destined to achieve.  Considering it, I’ve always pictured old-timey people being rigid on Sundays about not doing work, but also about not having fun either.  Just basically sitting around being holy in stiff church clothes, trying to earn God’s approval somehow by doing so.

It didn’t interest me.

Marrying G gave me a different look at the Sabbath; because he is Jewish, he is very serious about it.  The Jewish Shabat is on Saturday; when he’s off work on Saturdays, that’s when he takes it.  If he has to work on Saturday, he takes it on the weekday he gets off work.  He rests, but not in stiff clothes or projected holy piousness.  He relaxes, he reads, he enjoys his favorite foods.  He rides his bike in good weather.  He listens to music and watches his favorite dorky shows.  He mostly tries to stay off of social media.  What I have seen is:  he ENJOYS it.  And I suspect that part of the reason he can go so hard the rest of the week is how fully he changes pace on his Shabat.

You’d think I’d be drawn into that, but I have not been.  At this point in my life I am more driven than a younger me imagined I would ever be.  A day off is for doing big projects in the house or yard; my average day off ends with me in a lot of physical pain from having pushed so hard…but also satisfied at the feeling of achievement at “gettin’ it done.”  I have had to really work hard on myself (sometimes unsuccessfully) to not press G into service when I’m on a Saturday project.  I’ve done the work, because I so deeply respect this thing about him, even as I have not much genuinely hungered to match it myself.

Then came this book.  The author made the most compelling argument for Sabbath that I’ve ever heard!  He hearkened back to snow days.  Who doesn’t love a snow day?  I mean, I don’t get them anymore – we live a mile from work and can literally walk there if the roads aren’t good enough for driving.  But back when they were a thing, they were the best thing in the world!  A day set aside from the usual routines.  A day of fun, rest, joy.  A day of relishing life.  My parents are exceedingly hard workers, but even my mom always respected the snow day.  She didn’t use those to demand that we kids do big household projects.  She let us revel in them.  Dude.  I LOVE SNOW DAYS.

The author pointed out this:  God wants to give us the gift of 52 SNOW DAYS each year.  I can’t even type this without getting excited.  It literally speeds up my pulse and respiration.  52 SNOW DAYS EACH YEAR!!  People.  That is one extravagant gift!  I WANT THAT GIFT!  I mean, at this point I don’t even remember how to chill for an entire day (reference my recent not-feeling-well Saturday when I resolved both to rest and also to deep clean my living room, and the fact that I did a hustle-hard-for-3-hours compromise rather than choosing one or the other) and honestly it’s likely gonna be a bit of an awkward battle as I relearn…but I want to get there.

The author rightly points out that taking one full 24-hour period off each week takes planning, if you don’t want to just kind of fall into disarray.  Saturday (and it does have to be Saturday for me – Sunday just won’t work at all) has been my “catching up” day when I do all the things I didn’t get done during the week and I do the prework to lighten my load in the coming work week.  If Saturday can’t be for catching up, then some things have to change.

It’s not impossible, though.  I’ve been really prayerfully examining all of that.  For instance, one Saturday in November or December, I spent two full hours opening mail I hadn’t opened and sorting it, along with sorting all kinds of papers I had piled up around the house.  I produced an entire wastebasket of recycling that G had to take out, as it was too heavy for me to carry.  Then a week or two later, I spent two more full hours on a Saturday filing the stuff I had sorted and putting it away, or dealing with the issues on the pages so that I could toss them out.  If I had handled each piece of mail or other documents just once, dealing with them in the moment, it would have been mere seconds per item for the most part, barely impacting any day at all…and it wouldn’t have piled up into four hours of really-not-fun work.

There’s a lot of that for me – things I toss aside to deal with later, things I toss in a pile rather than putting them away right now, and then they are twice or more as much work when I finally get to them.  I think I can eliminate A LOT of what would be Saturday projects by just refusing to let my procrastinating self have her ridiculous ways.

I’ve added a layer of accountability with another person for the coming year, starting today, wherein we will check in to basically make sure we’re doing that.  We’ve got a checklist because that’s kind of my way, and because my procrastinating self will refuse to see what needs done if it’s not spelled out, at least for awhile.

This, together with some good self-coaching on Saturdays and definitely being prayerful about it, will hopefully help me push hard toward 52 “snow days” in 2020.  I know how life goes and I don’t suppose it will be 52.  But the best way to get at least close to that total is to aim hard at the whole thing.

People Priority

I am a very productive, highly task-oriented person.  I mean, I wasn’t always.  I used to be good at chilling and also at silence, meditation, etc.  Somewhere along the line I pushed myself so hard and so consistently that I seem to have lost that.  A place I really noticed it was when I lived at Jesus People USA (JPUSA).  There we were, living in intentional community.  I had a (volunteer) job that only took up like 6.5 hours of any given weekday.  I shared a room with a roommate, so there was almost no housework and definitely no yardwork.  We dined communally, so there was no shopping, no meal planning or meal prep, no cleanup other than when it was my turn to do dishes or mop floors or whatever, and that was not very often.  I didn’t belong to any outside organizations and JPUSA is not about creating meetings and other things to do – it’s about following God and embracing community, and it’s amazing.  In other words, there was plenty of room to BE and not only DO.

What I noticed, though, was how task-oriented I still was.  I’d come home from my volunteer job at the shelter just down the street, and there would be people hanging out in the dining room chatting – people I liked.  People I wanted to know more.  People I enjoyed talking with.

But did I just plop down with a mug of hot tea or coffee and talk?  No.  I was Karen-on-a-mission.  I needed to go up to room to put my coat and bag away and to do my end of the day futzing around.  It was all stuff that didn’t matter.  I lost count of how many times I got up to my room and realized that I’d just once again walked by an opportunity to embrace the very fellowship that was my reason for moving there.  I’d been so much about “doing” that I’d just, in my own robotic way, bypassed relationship opportunities.  I’d like to say I did better over time, but I was only there nine months and no, I did NOT do better.

So darn task oriented.

I’m still that person.  Most days when G and I talk about our days, I triumph at what I GOT DONE, ticking off a list of chores, documents, etc.  This does not impress me, when I stand back and really examine it.  The tasks aren’t what matters – the people are.

So part of my RHYTHM in 2020 is to ease myself away from my obsession with task completion and intentionally spend more time with the people I love.

My daughter and her family just moved.  They were 30 minutes from us, now they are 2 hours and 15 minutes from us.  The grandkids are growing up with all the speed that children do, and I WILL NOT MISS THEIR CHILDHOOD.  So I’ve been doing the preliminary work, in the last quarter of 2019, to clear the way for regular weekend-long visits to where they are now.  It will mean I’ll show up a bit less for some of my task-oriented stuff.

My son and his wife live three hours away from us, and we just don’t see them enough.  Three hours is not so far, but the visits are few and far between because it’s not a reasonable day trip.  I’ve made a plan (and confirmed it with them) for meeting in the middle at least monthly.  We work hard, they work hard, and life has had its fun with keeping us from spending time with them.  No more.  That changes this year.  I can’t get back the years that I’ve let slip by, but I can change the rhythm going forward.

My parents live 45 minutes from us and we have too often gone a month or more without seeing them.  Once upon a time I’d have at least picked up the phone, but apparently I am now allergic to the phone or something (good golly, do you hate talking on the phone as much as I do?)  Ditto for my sister and her family.  I made some progress on that last year with some scheduled meeting-for-meals, but it wasn’t enough.  We don’t get to keep our parents forever; I’d rather see them now than be sorry later.  I will push hard against what keeps me from them in the coming year.  Maybe the Sabbath will help with that, since I am not putting any prohibition on “time with people” for my 52 snow days.

My brother and his genuinely lovely significant other (who would be someone I’d want to hang out with on the regular, if it were possible) live across the country.  Financial limitations are there, so there’s only so much I can do about seeing them and the kids/grandkids from that part of the family.  But I can be more intentional in my remote contact, at least.

And there are a whole host of other friends-and-loved-ones that I don’t see enough, don’t talk to enough, don’t spend enough time with.  I want to push more on that and less on the little surge of triumph I feel at getting things done.


There are other things for 2020, of course.  Aggressively paying down debt and working on savings.  Some house and yard projects.  Some stuff at work I want to stretch into, including a week in Portland this summer to do some training that I’m so excited about, I can’t even maintain a non-crazy conversation pitch when I get to talking about it.  Some church related stuff.  I have those in my mind, but…I’m choosing to keep the list-of-aims short this year, as doing what falls under my RHYTHM focus (52 snow days and the people priority) will require all the things from my other words from other years – speaking out, discipline, intention, rest, being present, and order.  The other stuff is just details.

And finally:  no, I’m not marking down food, weight, or fitness goals.  Perhaps if I get a proper rhythm in place, I’ll hear something from God that will direct me.  Perhaps I’ll resolve some internal battle or be delivered from some infernal lie.  I don’t know.  But this is not the place for that.  Not this year.


So BRING ON 2020.  I am wildly excited about it!

here’s to the 2010s

Posted: December 31, 2019 in Uncategorized

I saw a video today from my pastor, summarizing his 2010s (it was cool), and my  mind immediately went there:  I MUST DO A LOOK AT THE DECADE AS WELL!  Then tomorrow I can have all my “here comes 2020” fun.  Here we go!

Lots of Addresses – at the opening of 2010 I was unemployed for the only time in my adult life, having been laid off from my job at a Christian domestic violence shelter due to budget problems there.  Between my part-time job (oh yeah, I was still working – just not full time!) and my unemployment checks that were really nice-sized based on the fact that I’d worked 2 full-time jobs for a good chunk of the previous year, I was doing fine.  I was staying busy and able to pay my bills and yeah, looking for work, but not in a big kerfuffle about it.

The list of moves over the decade goes like this:

In January 2010, I was hired at Friendship Manor.  Within a few months I moved from my duplex in Aledo, Illinois to a cute little apartment in Rock Island, Illinois, just a mile from work.  In the fall of that year, I found a way out of my lease and moved in with some friends just a few blocks away for a few week, in a transition to following following my dream to live and serve at Jesus People USA (JPUSA) in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago.  On August 11, 2011, I followed God’s leading (very much against what I had planned and wanted to do, but utterly at peace because God was leading) to return to the Quad Cities and Friendship Manor – I lived at the Manor itself until March 2012, when I moved into a fantastic corner apartment in a building in Davenport, Iowa that had been a hotel in its heyday.  Some time in the next year (I don’t remember the exact month) I moved back in with those friends I had lived with right before JPUSA, as part of my effort to reduce expenses so I could pay down debt and get my financial ducks in a row.  I got married in August 2013, but my husband Gary and I elected to remain with those friends until the spring of 2014, when my need to have my own kitchen and a place for my kids to stay the night drove us to rent a place of our own, just a few blocks from those friends.  And then in August of 2016, we became homeowners, buying a house just a couple of blocks from the place we’d been renting.

I count that as 9 address changes inside a single decade.  We’re hoping the home we bought is our final address.  I say hoping because of course if God leads a different way, ever…well then, all bets are off.

Body Journey – I came into 2010 in the midst of a struggle about my weight – oh, let’s face it – a lifetime struggle.  I had a blog called “naked dieting” where I was tracking all the things – calories, exercise, weight, size, feelings, blah blah blah.  In re-reading the 2010 blogs tonight, I discovered something I have zero memory of – apparently our then-Bible-study group decided to form a weight loss/food accountability group.  I was tasked with naming it, and 2010 me wrote there about my great pride in having the worst attitude in the group.  When I was appointed to name the group, I chose:  Christians Overcoming Weight Slavery.  Yes…COWS.  I am not kidding!

I took up bicycling that year, and took my bike with me to Chicago when I moved.  Thereafter began an incredible journey of “letting God teach me to love my body” that had the best results I’ve ever, ever had where my relationship with my body is concerned.  I’ll be going back and re-reading that journey in the coming days, as I suspect old Karen has some things to say to today Karen on that front.

2012 included more than a thousand miles on my bike and a bunch of running too – that was right before arthritis kicked in and changed all the rules for the moving of this body.  Somehow in the midst of all that running and biking, I was miraculously healed of my phobia of heights.

Meanwhile, arthritis arriving in 2013 did a hard derail on the “letting God teach me to love my body”…one I’ve still not recovered from.  I did manage to run the Bix in both 2012 and 2013, and then my running journey ended shortly thereafter.  I am grateful beyond words that I got to have that experience of the 1000+ bike miles and all the running.  It was AMAZING.

Along the way I’ve done an extended elimination diet in 2015 that taught me a lot about my body, and did a juicing jag for awhile after that.  I’ve gone off of sugar a couple of different times, and discovered that when I’m not eating sugar, my entire relationship with food is a different deal altogether.  I did a special diet (the most restrictive one ever!) in 2018 to heal my gastric reflux and get off of/stay off of medication for it – lost a bunch of weight yet again, and found most or all of it after.  And last year I tried intermittent fasting for awhile, determined that it was easy and made me feel fantastic and multiplied my energy exponentially and was key in healing my gastric reflux…and then I quit that too.

I’ve walked for exercise and done all manner of YouTube video-led exercising and worked out with the Wii and used an exercise ball and elastic bands and hand weights and a kettlebell.  I’ve stayed in the battle, though I haven’t always fought well.

Here at the end of the decade I’m in a different place.  I want to be more fit so I can feel better and move better, but I’m over the “lose weight to look better” thing and I’m semi-hostile to listening to others go on about it as well…so much so that I mostly had to work on not getting salty during the gastric reflux diet when people heaped praise on me for “looking so great” when I was not TRYING to lose weight, I was just trying to not feel like I was having a heart attack 24/7.  At this point I just want the world to get over my weight…people are kind and don’t say much at this point, but one of my items of dread, should weight start to come off me again, is that people are going to want to talk about it again…and I don’t.  I’m just pressing into being at peace with who I am and continuing to make healthier choices.

And I don’t want one more word of diet advice.

On a non-fitness/health related note, in 2016 I gave myself for my 50th birthday:  a tattoo to make my melanoma surgery scar a much less unlovely thing.  I am so glad I got it, and also:  it took three hours, and felt like sliding down a gravel road directly on my arm continuously for the last two hours of that, and it is 100% for sure my ONLY tattoo, ever.

Mr. Right Appears on the Scene and Falls into My Clutches Forever – at the opening of the decade I was single and bummed about it.  Later that year at JPUSA, I fell into overwhelming-but-secret-infatuation with a super hot guy there, but followed the rules and didn’t say a word to him in the nine months I was there.  One of the hard parts of leaving JPUSA was walking away from the hope I had that we’d one day be an item.  In 2012 one of my best friends blabbed to him about how I felt, and by August 2013 he had chased me down, moved to Rock Island, and married me.  He is better than I asked or dared to hope for in more ways than I can count, and my loving joke to him is that if he ever tries to leave me, I will hunt him down like a dog in the street.  Happily, he’s not looking for the exit door.  He’s a delightful best friend, a thoughtful roommate, a person of faith who inspires me and humbles me, leaving me wonder if I’ll EVER grow up to be as cool as him.  He’s a superstar grandpa and a reliable coworker and I still can’t believe I landed someone so amazing – almost 7 years into the marriage, I still ask God regularly how that could be.  All of that and he makes me laugh literally every single day.

Finally Home – I’ve been a bit of a wanderer for my whole adult life.  Perpetual change on all fronts, wandering from one “next thing” to another.  These past few years, though, I feel like I’ve finally found home.  Gary and I shocked ourselves (and others) by growing up and becoming homeowners.  We are settled into a church that fits me in too many ways to count here.  I’m learning the advantages and pleasures of being at a job for nearly ten years – I OWN THAT JOB and have been shaping it at least as much as it’s been shaping me, for awhile now, thanks in large part to a boss who has grown me into the kind of person who CAN own it, and do so unapologetically.  I’m in my 7th year volunteering with Royal Family KIDS, a movement that aims to intervene in the cycles of neglect, abuse, and abandonment in the foster care system, and there too I am very much at home, fully lodged, in for the duration, and having fun finding ways to do it better every time.

I guess I’m kind of settled in.  And…I love it.

The Kids – It’s been a pretty neat decade, where my kids are concerned.  I came into 2010 with a fairly new son-in-law (just 5 months into being  married to my daughter) and this decade has brought two beautiful grandkids from that household.  My son was still dating various girls who for some unknowable reason generally tended to hate me back in 2010; this decade has gifted me with an amazing daughter-in-law who is good to my son and loves me back as I love her.  My son had a wild journey early in the decade, including at one point literally living “in a van down by the river;” since then he has pressed in and done some pretty great things.

Earlier this year, pondering how my kids have come out despite a whole lot of my getting it wrong along the way on the parenting front, I was overcome with joy.  They each live out the values I hoped to impart to them in their own different ways.  They work hard and give their best.  They question and don’t just swallow what they’re told.  They buck against conformity and being ordinary.  They place high value on the people in their households.  They try to make the world better.  They keep on learning.  They laugh and they speak the language of friendly sarcasm quite fluently.  They walk in integrity and they don’t take themselves too seriously.

It’s amazing, really, how well kids can come out even when parents aren’t as great as they think they are.  THANK GOD.

Also:  when my kids were little, I felt sorry for the parents of adults, as I thought the fun part of parenting was over for them.  The 2010s reinforced for me what I had begun learning in the previous decade:  having adult children is every bit as cool as having babies or toddlers or teens.  IT IS AWESOME.  I love relating to my kids more as equals.  They pushed me to grow when they were kids, and that’s even more true in their adulthood.  It’s very, very good.

Writer – one of the things I did while pondering this blog was scan back over the the blogs I had written in this decade.  There were 766 of them on my WordPress site alone, plus another 416 on the naked dieting site.  Somewhere (right now I can’t remember where) I blogged the first 100 days of my life at JPUSA, mostly to help some of my loved ones rest at ease, as they feared I had joined a cult and given away my freedom and possibly my sanity all in one fell swoop.  I need to find those blogs again, as I’d love to re-read them.  Maybe I did them on Facebook.  In 2013 I wrote every single day of the year, successfully keeping my resolution to do so and ensuring I would never make such a promise again.

Scanning over the titles and reading just a few bits and pieces was hard – I want to re-read it all, yo!  I see it all and I remember…I’m a pretty decent writer, when I hone my skills (though I do almost no editing on my blogs, which always comes back to bite me when I re-read later, but I’d rather ship than dither, so this is how it goes).  I’ve fallen away from most non-work-related writing since I got married; Gary came in and filled the solitary spaces that I had for so long filled with wordcraft.  Looking through it all makes me a little homesick for writing for pleasure, and I’m wondering if I’ll make any sort of resolution tomorrow on that front as I peer forward into 2020.  My boss tells me regularly after I compose one thing or another at work, “You should be a writer!”  I chuckle at him and point out that I kind of AM….a decent part of what I do at work includes the craft of writing…for which I am paid.  But yeah…maybe I want to push back into that more than I’ve done since getting married.


So there’s that.  Roughly 2300 words on what is my thousand-and-somethingth blog this decade about life as it is.

So long, 2010s.




It’s that time of year again – time to do the work of sucking the last bit of marrow from the bones of this year before surging forward into the next.  To be honest, it’s hard this year for me to stop and do this part first – I’m just SO EXCITED about some of my 2020 things!  But I hate to toss a year out with some goodie still left in it.

Last night we had our second annual “praying in the new year” retreat at my church, so I got to do some early work on thinking this through there.  Basically we had three full hours to look both backward and forward prayerfully, thankfully, and with an open spirit.  It’s not enough…but it’s a good start.

The Gifts

While some years I look back over giant changes and big, memorable events, this was more a year of routine.  I thought maybe I’d forgotten some things, but I spent some time with my planner this afternoon, re-reading every square from 2019, and nope…there were just no “great big things.”

The nice part about considering the year’s gifts, then, was that they are almost exclusively time-with-people oriented.

Probably biggest was the thing that DIDN’T happen:  my husband G didn’t get seriously hurt in his spectacular mosh pit incident that ended with 15 stitches in his head in January.  We were about 5 minutes into a Flatfoot 56 show when G, sprinting in the “circle pit,” got some kind of body check that sent him sliding across the floor and head-first into a pole.  It was a lot of blood and the venue folks were quite traumatized, but we chuckled our way through the whole thing and it wasn’t until he pulled the bloody towel off his head in the emergency room that I realized how close we had come to our whole lives changing.  People can die from head injuries.  He could’ve come out paralyzed, or just “not right in the head.”  There was some serious processing of the near miss, laced through-and-through with gratitude, and he’s now officially retired from the mosh pit with a scar that healed so beautifully it’s almost undetectable.  There is nothing I can say, really, to quantify my gratitude for my amazing husband, whole and intact and still at my side, fully himself.

Other gifts are mostly moments or hours.

The joy of watching the grandkids literally jump up and down for joy in the doorway as they peered out to see our car pulling up.

The satisfying work and companionship of canning salsa with my daughter.

Building a new trellis and garden box with my kids on Mother’s Day weekend.

Meals and conversations with my parents.

A new intentionality in getting together regularly with my sister.

Family text messages with my brother, who lives across the country.

Working hard to acknowledge birthdays of loved ones for a change- something I’ve always been a spectacular failure on – and getting it right more than I missed it.

Our friends the Shaws coming to stay with us for a few days, making our home even more “home” for us in their presence.

Coffee (or not) and conversation with a few of my girlfriends in a semi-regular scheduled way.

Felafel, baba ganoush, and prolonged, passionate political diatribe sharing with my son and his wife.

Unexpected phone calls with my son-in-law.

Three different “children of my heart” resurfacing in my life after prolonged absences.

Laughter, tears, and real talk around the table with my church leadership friends.

Standing in office doorways talking about real stuff with coworkers who are deeply trusted friends.

Making new friends while serving in a new group that came together to work toward good things for Rock Island’s 11th street corridor.

Connecting with like-minded people of faith at Audiofeed Music Festival, and feeling the rush of joy that there are other oddballs like me.

And so much more – I can’t touch on it all.

This pleases me greatly.  EVERY YEAR I end up with regrets about not spending enough time with people, about letting the busyness of life run the details too much, about the guilt of feeling like it’s never enough.  And honestly I DO still have some of that – it turned up on the pages of what I wrote last night – how much better I want to do on this front, and how short I fall.

But looking back:  this was a year of progress.  Yeah, I stayed awfully busy but also:  I got out my planner and scheduled the time with folks a lot more than I have done previously – and then followed through.  I feel good about that, and I want to press into it some more in the coming year.

There are some work things that went very well too, and I’m awfully glad about them…but they pale in comparison to the things listed above.

The Challenges

Every year has its challenges.  I remember a year where I had a tension headache that lasted for something like several uninterrupted months.  There have been multiple years where I was pretty sure I had cried most every day (not always BAD tears, but it’s a little fatiguing to live on the edge of that much emotion, even when much of it is good.)  I had two full years of exhaustion that I couldn’t get help on awhile back.  2018 was the year of the gastric reflux crisis.  Some years are hard.

Considering all of that, I look at 2019 and I am grateful.  For sure I have a mobility challenge, from arthritis in both feet that has been especially bad for a few months to arthritis in a knee that plagues me if I’m on my feet for awhile to a combination pinched nerve/tennis elbow/golfer’s elbow that left me unable to pick up even the remote control without crying for awhile there.  But along the way there have been solutions – an amazing holistic nurse dude that I call the “magic doctor” for what he could do to that elbow, and more recently the discovery that heated insoles make a real difference for my feet.  Sure, I grouse at God a bit about this “wear and tear” thing, but overall I’m intensely aware that it could really be so much worse.  So I’m able to focus on the joy of the solutions and not get bitter, and that’s a pretty big deal.

The other challenge that I started to write down was our finances.  We spent 2019 aggressively paying down medical debt from the whole gastric reflux war, and we have some other homeowner-related debt we’re working on, and just generally I’m not satisfied with where we are on our short-term and long-term savings.  BUT.  Before I got too far in measuring that an obstacle, I was reminded:  OH, BUT THE PROGRESS.  Yeah, we’re squeezed a bit and I have to pay attention.  But honestly – we’ve got everyday regular bill-paying kind of down to a science now, almost fully automatic…and if you had asked me five years ago if I might one day come to the place where the bills are paid mostly before they reach me, so that I mostly just get “paid up” statements…well, I’d have laughed at you.  We still have room to improve, but compared to the past, there’s no reason for negativity.  And I got a promotion at work that’s kicking in for 2020, so I’m about to have more to work with for knocking down debt.  That’s exciting.

The Growth

I look back over 2019 and I see marked growth.

I took ownership on some things at work on a whole new level, and I (successfully) advocated for myself in ways that I’m still kind of surprised by.

I grew up a bit more, where managing finances is concerned.

I stretched in some neat ways related to my church stuff.

I came to a place of a bit more peace on the battle with my weight.

Growing’s what we’re supposed to do, right?  If we’re not growing, we may well be regressing…or at best stagnating.  There’s tremendous joy in growth, even where it’s expensive.


I wrote more in my little notebook last night, but not all things are for the entire world to read.

I’m ready for 2020.  BRING IT.






There are people who seem to have an innate “safety radar” that they don’t have to work at – they just look at situations and see what’s safe (or not) in the mix.  I have generally not been one of those people; I’ve lost count over the years of the number of times I’ve had to learn the hard way about the safety pitfalls for myself and others.

So back in 2010 when I first started working where I do now, the Safety Committee meetings were my least favorite thing.  My role in the committee felt minor – create an agenda with my boss directing that process and send it out ahead, and take notes to create minutes and send out after.  Still, the meetings overwhelmed me and I often wished I could produce a good reason to be excused.

Rarely does life go the way I expect it will; one of the many evidences of this is the fact that 2019 me owns the Safety Committee process and is continually picking up momentum on that front.  We are a team and for sure I don’t do all or even most of the work, but I have kind of grabbed hold and made it mine over the years…and have been surprised to find myself interested, challenged, and satisfied in the midst.

As part of that role, I attend all manner of meetings and trainings throughout the year – imagine how important that is for someone who isn’t intuitively oriented to safety!  This past couple of weeks and culminating with graduation yesterday, I’ve been taking a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) course.  This enables me to be part of a team that can be called out by Emergency Management Agency officials to help during emergencies and disasters, not as an official “emergency responder” but as their support.  That’s not really the main reason I took the course, though…I did so partly to solidify relationships with some key emergency management officials who might be helpful to my organization when the going gets rough, but mostly so I can simply be a little more useful to my community when things go sideways.

Because I did licensed daycare in my home for more than a decade, I’ve had CPR and First Aid classes over and over again, which I think helped prepare me for much of the course.  A lot of the stuff was somewhat familiar.

What was  hardest for me was learning the process of triage.

Triage is the quick evaluation you do when you arrive on the scene to figure out who needs help and how much help they need.  As we practiced we heard about scenarios that local teams had been to that involved maybe dozens of bodies, both living and dead, and all the chaos of the precipitating incident.  Just thinking about it stressed me out and made me doubt my ability to serve on the CERT.  When you triage, you DON’T treat people.  You spend 30 seconds maximum with each person.

You’re looking to see…are they breathing?  And if not, can simply realigning their head and neck get them breathing?  (Not CPR – just moving their head.)  You get 2 tries, and then you move on.  Also, if they are breathing, are they breathing way too fast?

You’re scanning to see if they are bleeding, and if so, how much – spurting, flowing, oozing?

You’re measuring their capillary refill rate (press your fingernail and then see how fast it turns back from white to your natural color.  That’s capillary refill rate.)

You’re rapidly assessing their mental state – are they conscious?  Disoriented?  Can they follow basic commands?

You have 30 seconds for each person to assess and tag them in one of four categories:  green (fine, or walking wounded), yellow (need some kind of treatment, but delaying it won’t kill them), red (need immediate treatment to stay alive), and black (dead).

You don’t stop and solve their problems, during triage.  You are literally just doing an assessment and marking them by color, for quick identification.  Afterward, maybe emergency responders are coming to get busy, and your tags will show them where to start.  Or if you get done triaging and no one is there, then at least you know who needs your attention first.

As a “helper” type personality (hello, enneagram 2), triage is kind of torture.  Even in a simulation for the final exam, knowing the actors were just fine, it was hard to assess, mark, and keep moving.  Everything in me cried out to stop and solve the problem for THIS ONE before looking for more.  The guy who’s not breathing – can’t I stop and try CPR?  The lady stuck under 450 pounds on her legs, who’s not gonna die but is in pain and terrified – can’t I stop and help her out of there?  Triage says no.  Triage says assess the entire situation first, rapidly but completely.

So I’m doing the mental work now, while I’m not in an emergency or disaster, to help my little helper self not lose her sh*t in the middle of the mess, should I be called upon to use what I’ve learned.  While the instructors did a good job of saying over and over that the reason for doing it this way is to ensure doing the most good for the highest number of people possible, my little mind needs to pick that up and play with it for awhile to make it real.

This morning I realized that what I have to do is remember to care about the people I can’t yet see.  The person in front of me, I can see.  So they feel like the whole world.  But if I’m in a room with dozens of wounded and potentially dying people, there could be others further down the line who are even worse off, even more urgently in need of help.  And they’re not gonna get that help if I let them die because I’m distracted with what’s in front of me in this moment, who I maybe can’t save at all, or who maybe is in no danger of dying but is LOUD in their pain and fear.

So in the end, I don’t have to smash the helper in me.  Doing triage is not as cold-hearted as it seems at first blush.  It’s that lovely lady compassion with her brains still intact…and that’s something of worth.  Something that the “well and whole” enneagram 2 in me can see, even if the “still in her sickness” codependent can be blind to, without intentionality.

I’m still processing.  (A better blogger would no doubt wait until there’s something more profound to say!)  I’ll be curious to see what me a little further down the road makes of what me today thought, looking back.




In the midst of speaking about the power of our thoughts in church this morning (“as a man thinketh…”) our pastor mentioned one of the names of God.  “Jehovah Rapha” is a name that’s about healing…he noted it means “to knit together,” and went on to remind us that a bone that has been broken is strongest where it has been knit back together.

This took me instantly to remembering the skin graft part of my melanoma surgery.  A huge patch of skin was removed from my upper thigh at the time to create a graft for the hole that had been cut out of my arm to remove a 1-inch-deep melanoma.

The site of the melanoma surgery was not really painful at all – it was frightening to look at, but it didn’t hurt.  The site of the skin donation on my leg, on the other hand…good golly.  There was this gauzy type material that was pressed into the area where the skin had been removed, and I was told in no uncertain terms not to disturb it.  Don’t touch it, and definitely don’t pull on it…even if it’s only hanging on by the tiniest of threads.

What I experienced in that space on my leg nearly drove me mad.  The pain was overwhelming much of the time, and then at certain times of the day (generally when I’d lie down at night and be less distracted) it would start to itch.  I don’t mean like “I wish I could scratch that.”  I mean like 1,000 fire ants crawling around underneath my skin, biting and crawling and crawling and biting.  I would lie in bed and sob, clutching my covers to help my hands remember not to touch the area, and fighting off panic with all my might.

On my first checkup after the surgery, I brought this concern to my doctor.  He hadn’t warned me there would be so much pain. Was something wrong?  He patiently explained that this pain was the process of my skin regrowing (“knitting together” as mentioned above) and there was nothing to do but get through it.

It got worse – A LOT worse – before it got better.  Sometimes I felt like I was gonna pass out from it.  Often I WISHED I would pass out so I could escape it.

That’s what emotional healing can be like too.  That level of pain.  It’s an easy analogy for me to get,  I just look back at the process of my divorce, and think how often I felt like I wasn’t going to survive the wave of emotions another day.  I remember going through my 5th step (of the 12 steps) and how sometimes I couldn’t stop crying, even at my desk at work…how it seemed like more than I could do to get up out of bed a whole lot of mornings because of the weight of the process pressing down on me across the two months or so it took me to work through that step.  I remember the looming loneliness that kind of suffocated me sometimes in the year after I moved back out of intentional community and into “normal” life (whatever THAT is).

Emotional healing can be excruciating to attain.  Some dodge the process and lose the reward of that healing.  As for me, I’ve experienced it enough to be willing to muddle through the misery of the rough passages, counting on each one to carry me through to some new amazing bit of growth or more expansive freedom.  Thus far it has paid off every time without exception.

It’s expensive, but it’s worth it.



Spiritual Gifts.  I’ve been thinking about them more than usual lately, as I worked to prepare the message I got to give in church this morning.

Years ago when I took my first spiritual gifts inventory I was about 3 or 4 years into my “serious walk”…that is, the time after my faith started to ACTUALLY AFFECT my daily choices, words and thoughts.  I was not surprised when teaching was far and above the highest ranked gift on my list.  There were 2 more distant second-ranked gifts, pretty much tied on scoring, which were encouragement and prophecy, and then the rest of the options were scored much lower.

All of that made me start thinking more about my words, measuring what I said and not just popping off whatever crossed through my brain, since MAYBE people were taking me more seriously than I thought (a terrifying prospect indeed, in the heaviness of responsibility and accountability that came with it.)

Five-ish years later, after my whole life had been turned utterly upside down and basically every single thing changed, I took another spiritual gifts inventory.  Teaching was still way at the top of the list, with no close contenders.  Second place, though, was one that hadn’t even registered before that – hospitality .  Which made sense to me, since God had opened up my heart in a way that had led me to open up my home again and again, made joyous and filled with purpose as I did.  All the other gifts were way lower on the scoring line.

I can’t recall having taken any further spiritual inventories until last week, when I was polishing my message and just wondering where I stand now.  I found a 108-question inventory and was stunned to find:  teaching did NOT measure as number one.

The top of the list was Mercy.

Very close (1 point) behind that was Serving.

Very close (1 point) behind THAT was Sheperding.

And then tied for 4th place, also close behind those 3 (by 2 points), were Teaching and Administration.

And everything else on the field was WAY lower than any of those.

Guys, I don’t even REMEMBER what ranked fourth on the previous quizzes, so it’s weird to have teaching fall so far down on the list.  Processing it made me realize how much I had taken on “teacher” as part of my identity and maybe gotten kinda prideful about it.  So probably that unsettling information was well-timed and good for me.

But Mercy…yeah.  I’ll buy that.  By now that “total life change” gig has happened to me so many times over, causing me to really *see* myself in all of my glorious imperfection…that it has beaten most of the tendency to condemn others right out of me.

Mercy means my default is to not look so hard at WHAT you did, but at WHY you did it…and almost always, I can understand the reason, even if I wouldn’t choose the same.

Mercy means the chances run way past “second” and into high numbers.

Mercy means messy…means driving others around me slightly nuts with my willingness to go the extra mile instead of cutting people off.

The website I used this for this inventory said these things about Mercy, in part:

  • “You enter into the grief or happiness of others…feel WITH others, not just for others.”  Yup…poor G gets pummeled by the force of my giant emotions for/with others washing over me way too often…
  • “…you are willing to deal with and minister to people who have needs that most people feel very uncomfortable working with.”  Yup…I kind of PREFER that ministry to working with more “acceptable” people…
  • “In your burden to comfort others, your heart goes out to the poor, the aged, the ill, the underprivileged, and so on.”  Yup…the source of so many rants and so much rage, so many prayers, so many long sleepless passages of nights…

There’s a ton more info…but yeah.  It rings true to where I live at this point in the journey.  Bleeding hearted softie whose rages are pretty much ALWAYS about someone being treated unkindly or unjustly, and who relentlessly hunts for ways to be part of the solution, not just a helpless onlooker.

It’s all really interesting stuff.  The point of today’s message at church was two-fold:

  1. It’s ONLY the Holy Spirit that give us spiritual gifts.
  2. We are given these gifts mostly more maybe even ONLY for the benefit of others.

With that double-whammy truth, there’s really no reason to get puffed up with pride on any of it.  My gifts didn’t come FROM me, and they are not FOR me.  Basically…I’m a steward of a good thing, and I gotta assume I’m gonna answer one day for how I managed it.

And then part 3 of my message was basically about how the bearers of each gift need to respect, honor and celebrate the different gifts of others…not criticize and second-guess.  Looking at today’s church at large, we are failing on that so often.  We can do better.

So…what are your gifts?  I’d love to hear about them.  I could talk about this forever, but I’m pretty sure I’m hitting the limit on number of words most of y’all will read so…I’ll sign off here.

monday evening gardener

Posted: August 6, 2019 in Uncategorized

over dinner we huddled in hushed tones

reciting the details – 2 mass shootings in less than a day

fear and philosophy, politics and religion, problems but no answers

at least none we can all agree on


my family rocked and writhed, stunned at her loss

it was just a hysterectomy – who expects not to survive that?

just a kid is how i think of her age – how can she be gone?

her daughter’s birthday now forever marked by her death


we phoned him at the jail after dinner

resurfaced at last, he spoke in rushed, exultant junkie tones

describing in detail his needle technique just before the cops picked him up

signing off way too soon with i love you, i love you so much


i retreat to my garden at sunset, leaving my phone inside on the counter

water the soil with my tears, releasing the details to One who carries it all

my hands tear out the old plants, making room for the new


karen buchanan