My Overpriced Coffee Date with a Dead Renaissance Scholar (AKA: Just Another Day in Basel, Switzerland)

I was one of those weird children who was obsessed things no one else bothers to know ever even existed. 

By the time I was in high school, I knew more about dead medieval scholars than most adults twice my age. And I had a bit of a literary crush who was, shall we say, twice rendered unavailable:  

First, he had been dead almost five hundred years by the time I was born.  

And second, even had he managed to beat Ponce de Leon to the Fountian of Youth, he was a dedicated monk of the Catholic Church.  

Yeah, talk about love from a distance. 

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Desiderius Erasmus was born in Rotterdam, Holland, in 1469. But he managed to expire all the way over in Switzerland in 1536. Which means he lay at rest just a few hours’ bus ride south from me when I was staying in Karlsruhe, Germany, on the French and Swiss borders at New Year 2018.  

You might not be familiar with the name Erasmus. He was a great humanist and scholar of the Northern Renaissance, which doesn’t get quite as much press as its Southern counterpart in Italy. I guess the Italian were just flashier. Or better at 16th century marketing? Either way, when we think “Renaissance” we think Da Vinci and friends, not Erasmus.  

To be a “humanist” in Erasmus’ day was not necessarily to believe man is the center of the world, as is often claimed today. Back then, being a humanist meant being interested in the humanities—comprising subjects like languages, literatures, and philosophies.  He was also outspoken in his beliefs that the Catholic Church definitely needed reform. And although he did not feel kindly toward the Protestant Reformation or the Anabaptists—the spiritual lineage in which I was brought up almost five hundred years later—his work did indeed inform it. 

Especially a little book called In Praise of Folly, which criticized the abuses of the Catholic Church through sharp and witty satire. 

That’s where I got on the Erasmus train. Somehow, at age 16, I got ahold of Erasmus’s In Praise of Folly and read it. And loved it. It was amazing to laugh behind my hands at the sardonic humor of someone who had lived so many centuries before me. That book made an impact on me.  

You might say Erasmus and I, well, had a moment.  

We bonded.  

And so it happened that on a damp, cold winter’s day in early January 2018, I decided to renew that bond, though it had been many years now since Erasmus and I had our moment.

Somehow I found out that though Dutch by birth, Erasmus had chanced to expire in Basel, Switzerland, which was south of my current location in Karlsruhe, Germany. So right after the new year I boarded FlixBus—that beloved cheap transportation of college students all over Europe—and took the three-hour ride south in search of his grave. 

I fell in love with Basel at first sight. Sure, early January wasn’t the most flattering time to visit this city, through which the Rhine river continues to wind after exiting Catholic southern Germany. But still there was something charming about brightly-colored houses all shuttered up against the cold. And the warmth of the light streaming from the open shops made all the difference. 

Every shop window felt like a welcoming pair of arms ready to enfold me in a warm embrace.

The price of goods was less welcoming, I have to admit. When I arrived at the train station (where the bus debarked), I desperately needed a cup of coffee and a doughnut. But the privilege of such a small treat, which would have cost just a couple euros back in Germany, cost more than the equivalent of USD $10 in Swiss Francs.  

Well, for a girl traveling on a budget that was like my biggest expenditure in at least a week other than groceries. But I bit the bullet and enjoyed every minute of it.  

At least I can say I had a snack in one of the world’s most expensive cities.  

On my way to the Basel cathedral to pay my respects to Erasmus, I got sidetracked by the Basel Town Hall. This marvel of Swiss architecture boasted a riot of color and design more intense than anything I had seen outside of my travels in Nepal.

It almost didn’t look European, it was so … undignified. And yet the sight of it delighted me. A feast for the eyes. And proof once again that you never know what sort of surprises you’ll encounter. 

I took time to wander all around the enclosed inner courtyard, where scenes of justice from Swiss history played out in colorful murals and frescoes. The Christmas tree was a nice touch, too. 

Well, all this took some time—and then I remembered why I had actually come: to pay respects to my childhood literary crush, who was (supposedly) lying at rest beneath the floor of Basel Cathedral.

Leaving the city center, I wound my way out toward the bluffs above the Rhine River. At some points the path was so steep I wasn’t quite sure I could climb the rain-slackened cobblestones in my low-tread boots. But I managed to make it up.  

Finally, around 1 o’clock in the afternoon, I sighted my destination: the amazing Basel Cathedral. (Also known as Basel Minster.) It turns out this remarkable building is also the resting place of quite a few other notable medieval people—mostly patrons who gave for the cathedral’s construction.

Fun fact: The structure itself took almost 500 years to build, with a *minor setback* in the 1300s when the structure was almost completely leveled by an earthquake. Can you imagine building something which you never get to see completed in your lifetime?

Coming from such an instant-gratification age, I am not sure how anyone back then had the patience for these multi-century construction projects.  

The inside of Basel Minster was just as awe-inspiring as the outside. It was as if I could  feel those generations of laborers, toiling in summer heat and winter’s chill, their murmurs punctuated by the chink chink of chisels and the moan of the pulleys as each stone block was pulled up and set into place. Everywhere in Europe the old church walls resonate with all the lives lived inside them. Even, of course, as modern church attendance continues to dwindle in all these countries. 

The sanctuary of Basel Minster was so huge, it took me almost an hour (or more than an hour?) to wind my way through it, squinting at the gravestones. The diffuse dimness of afternoon clouds, pregnant with rain, was the only real light in the place.   

And there were so many gravestones. So, so many.  

Yet none of them seemed to be Erasmus. 

For more than an hour I searched for my literary beloved, but to no avail. I wondered if I had misread about his burial in Basel Cathedral—or if perhaps the author of the article had been misinformed as well. Plus the clock was ticking. My FlixBus home to Karlsruhe would be leaving in about two hours. And I still had to walk back through the old town all the way to the train station. 

Finally, I chanced to find a map of all the graves. Turns out dear Erasmus was hiding behind a pillar—in a not-so-fancy grave as many of the others, like the one in the photo above! 

I back-tracked to a modest side-sanctuary set off a bit from the grandeur of the main nave. And sure enough, that’s where I found him.  

Eighteen years after I first “met” Erasmus in the pages of Moriae Ecomium, we finally met face-to-face, 5000 miles away. Talk about a long-distance romance! 

That winter I spent in Europe was one of the roughest of my life: full of uncertainty, lack of direction and a lot of grief. But there were up moments. Like that day in Basel, Switzerland, where I found my dear Erasmus at last.

Books matter. Even when centuries pass from the time they were written. Standing there in Basel Minster, I felt like not a single year had passed at all, and that Erasmus and I were just old friends who had catching up to do.

I caught up with him, for once. And I’m glad I did. Though another five hundred years may pass before we see each other again …

A Short Tour of Reykjavik Street Art

There were a lot of things no one told me about visiting Reykjavik in December, which I did in 2017. Although in fairness to the everyone implied in “no one,” I never really asked them. I just went

Take the city’s muted tones, for example. The whole urbanscape deserves to be picked up and dropped inside some sort of Art Museum to European Modernity—or at least, that’s how I felt of the washed-out greys, blues and browns that seem to make up the winter Icelandic palette. When you can see it, of course. Many days you’re lucky to get an hour of daylight out of the four or so that are possible at that time of the year.  

Sunwashed Tuscany in September, it most definitely was not. However, the city did offer some charms I had not foreseen. Like its amazing plethora of street art. Worthy of a museum on its own, to be sure. Though wouldn’t putting street art in a museum sort of undercut the definition of “street art?”

But I digress

One might be tempted to assume that Reykjavik street art follows the typical patterns as its counterparts in the U.S.—words hastily scrawled on the sides of buildings. Stencils scattered across concrete pavement, and the like. But nothing could be further from the truth. 

Take this gorgeous Van Gogh-esque home facade, for example. Who could possibly mind coming home every day to this cheerful exterior? Even if it means living in a city where the average December temperature is 3 degrees Celsius, and 10 AM is liable to be as pitch-black this time of year as 10 PM?  

Every where I looked, there was something whimsical to see.  

Dragons, for example. There be dragons in Reykjavik. Lots of ‘em. Of course serpents and dragons figure prominently into Norse mythology, so I’m sure there’s some connection. But I’m not sure what these dragons represent, specifically. 

They could be something like Níðhöggr, the serpent that nibbles at the base of the world-tree, apparently causing parts of it to rot. Or, they could refer to the dragon that Sigurd slayed in the popular Nordic epic. Or one of how many others. 

The artist wasn’t really around to ask.  

Sometimes, though, Reykjavik dragons like to catch you off guard. … Like, when you come around the corner, least expecting to see them ….

Oh wow, it’s a big one! 

Some places have a yellow brick road. And some of them … have a multicolored serpent brick road. 

It might feel like Oz here in Reykjavik, but it sure doesn’t look like it.  

Somehow, monochromatic winter wonderland of Reykjavik was a match for the “blah” I felt in my soul at that time. I was off on a “big” European adventure with no money to my name. I could barely afford to eat in the city, let alone take in any of the interiors of the museums or other places a tourist might normally visit.

Yet here I was, wandering the streets counting my krona for every cup of hot chocolate, and still I was treated to so much amazing art that it was like having a whole museum at my disposal.

There’s something poetic about that, to be sure.

All in all, I found the street art of Reykjavik a welcome and refreshing break from the winter landscape that offered little in the way of visual pleasure. For brave folks who have survived in this amazing country for so many thousands of winters, this artistic expression must offer a chance for laughter, joy, and beauty.

No matter where we live, do we not seek to make it beautiful? Reykjavik reminded me that no matter what the landscape of our lives, it is possible to create beautiful from what we have on hand. 

No excuses. No questions. No hesitation. Even in the “winter” seasons of our lives, even in our own Decembers, we can paint the walls with brilliant color. And all sorts of pictures, straight out of our imaginations. 

If the artists of Reykjavik can do it, I can too. So can you.  

Where the Map Ends, God Is There

Sometimes I wake up in the Arabian Desert, 7,000 miles from the home I once knew, and I don’t really know how I got here. 

Knowing is a tricky thing. On the one hand, it gives you a sense of certainty: to look at the map of your life and chart every point along the way. “This is how I got from here to there.”

On the other hand, knowing anything at all reminds you of how much you still don’t know. Especially when the points on your map seem to keep wandering off the edges, where there’s no landmark in sight. “Well, I got to here, but then the path disappeared, and somehow I wound up reappearing again over there.”

This blog is a chronicle of wandering off those edges.

There’s so much I still don’t know about how I landed in the United Arab Emirates in 2018. But a few things I do remember. I can see them, vaguely in the distance, back on the comforting white square of a life I used to inhabit, more commonly known as “the map.”

I know it all started when my husband of seven years walked in the door one April morning and said the four words I had feared all of my life: “I want a divorce.” It started when, a month later, I said “goodbye” to the home I loved and dragged my remaining possessions and two terrified cats six streets over to a one-room apartment. It started when the gavel slammed and the judge handed me divorce papers just six months after that. 

It started when I built—and destroyed—a business. It started when I sold everything I had left, dumped the rest in the trash and put just enough to survive in a suitcase and left to travel. It started when I showed up in Charlotte, North Carolina, for no particular reason. It started when I roamed over Europe last winter with barely enough money for food and train tickets.

It started when I went back to the U.S., sobbed my way over 2/3 of it while driving a postage stamp-sized Fiat, and almost died in a Nebraska blizzard. Which was not *quite* as bad as trying out a few post-divorce relationships and learning how much emotional healing I actually had left to do.

Yes, there were a lot of starts in the last two and a half years. A lot of starts, and not many finishes. 

Yet somehow, the Arabian Desert does feel like the end of a road. (For now.)

In less than two weeks, it will be two years from the day that judge in Milwaukee County slammed the gavel and signed those divorce papers. Honestly, I don’t even remember the woman I was back then. Mostly because I lost her in some bizarre cycle of operating system upgrades so rapid, most tech startups would be put to shame.

And then there was the whole “moving to the Middle East” idea … Yeah, that idea. I can blame it on God because it was His idea. I can also blame it on my bizarre idea to try out a Christian online dating site — which was intended to surface men in a 200 square mile radius of my house, and somehow landed me in a relationship with a guy from Dubai. 

And no, that relationship did not work out. Note to self: I’d never recommend online dating across continents or crash-landing in the Gulf without a plan.

Or maybe that was the plan. Just not mine.

Yeah, it’s just a thing that happens, I guess. Sometimes you just wake up in a new desert, with a new job and a new church and new friends and a new status as an “expat.” And you don’t know how you got there. Except that you do. And it’s a lot to process all at once. 

So maybe the point isn’t to “process”—to track the journey on the map, point by point—but rather simply to accept that you’ve gone off the edges. Because where the map ends is where most of life happens, anyway. 

God is much bigger than the map itself. Bigger even than its border or the empty space on all four sides.

He knew about the man who was going to hit the “eject button” on a fledgling marriage and the house that would be sold, the apartment that was too small for one woman and two rambunctious cats. He knew that the woman didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to expand to a twelve-person business as rapidly as she did. And that selling everything was a much better plan—even if it looked insane at the time. 

God knew that unexpected Christmas checks would buy groceries and train tickets in Europe. He knew most of Germany would be closed in December—so the woman would be forced to sit with her grief and really let it go, instead of drowning it in endless museum visits and Christmas markets. He knew her Fiat would make it through two mountain ranges, a blizzard and a hail storm without a scrap of damage, and be sold on a Thursday in August for no particular reason except that He said to sell it. That day. Without delay.

And when all was said and done, when that woman got on that last plane in Chicago, He knew what would be waiting for her in the United Arab Emirates: a whole new life. 

It’s a good thing He didn’t tell the hardworking housewife-entrepreneur-artist of 2.5 years ago (AKA… me!), that she was actually destined for a life abroad. Okay well, actually, He had told her that years ago. But she had bailed on the plan. Several times, in fact. She had re-charted the map to make it, well, safer.

And then … somehow … despite her best efforts, she ended up going where the map ends, anyway. Because where the map ends, is where she was always meant to be all along.

Where the map ends, God is there. 

I’m learning here in the Arabian desert that where God is, is always the best place to be. Even if you’re not entirely sure what happens next. Or why the signs are in Arabic and a plane ticket to your old country is really, really expensive.

If God is with you, the rest is just details anyway.

Knowing would spoil the adventure.

Guacamole With a Side of Masala: Adventures in Fusion Cuisine

When I arrived in the United Arab Emirates, people back in the U.S. were asking me quite frequently, “What are you eating?” For the most part, my answers were pretty routine. 

Rice. Curry. Fruit and Yogurt. Samosa. Rice. Curry. Fruit and Yogurt. Samosa. Rice. Curry … 

Okay, you get the idea.  

But there were some stand-out experiences. Or rather, stand-out explorations, because that’s exactly what they were: me trying things at home, with the help of my first airbnb host and first friend in Dubai, D, the world’s next Michelin-starred chef masquerading as an aviation engineer.

Our best experiment? Guacamole with masala, quinoa chips and some sort beverage that mixes milk, roof awzwah (a flower-and-honey sweetener popular in India and Pakistan), and basil seeds.   

Yeah, I know. It’s enough to make my head dizzy too.  

Because I have prior guacamole experience, Chef D allowed me to spearhead this part of the meal. But I have to admit, he was the one who had the idea to turn the two halves of the avocado into boats. Not to mention garnishing it with cilantro. 

Finally, at long last some Mexican food in the middle of the Arabian desert! 

I had promised I would buy an avocado and fix guacamole during my stay, so he could try it. But at every grocery store I went to, the avocados were green! “Why would I waste money on a green avocado that might never get ripe?” I said to myself. I kept hoping to find nicely blackened ones, but I never did.

Then today D brought a green avocado—and when I cut it open, I found it was perfectly ripe.

“They’re from Kenya,” he told me, laughing. “You want them to be really, really green. What other color would you want them to be?”

I shared how Haas avocados from the U.S. actually go dark brown or almost black when they’re really ripe. We had a good chuckle at my expense—and then (to my glee) he got his own come-uppance. 

I had told D that guacamole (at least, as I make it, anyway) requires a lime.

But when he handed me a bag, the small, round fruits inside were yellow.

”We need a lime,” I said. “Not a lemon. Limes are green.”

His eyes got wide. “Why would anyone want to buy a green lemon?”

Lemons. Avocados.

Apparently sometimes you really do want them both green. ..

And yes, I wanted my “green lemons” a lot. So I did what any red-blooded Michellin-starred chef’s assistant would do: I interrupted the regularly scheduled guacamole programming, threw on some UAE approved clothes over my yoga gear, and ran to the grocery store for a lime and tortilla chips. 

The lime, I found. The tortilla chips, well, I had to stretch my imagination and buy a bag of garlic-and-tomato flavored quinoa chips.  

When I returned, D mixed basil seeds—which give a boba-like “pop” to any beverage and are popular here for their refreshing flavor—with milk and the sticky red Roof Awzah for our drink. 

Finally, we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Quite literally. D seemed to appreciate the flavor, but something was missing.  

“I know what it needs,” he said, after careful consideration. 

D returned from the kitchen with a box of chat masala—a spice mix with cumin, coriander, mango powder, red pepper, and other refreshing spices, often added to fruit and salads in India. “Everything tastes better with chat masala, he explained. 

Indian guacamole? Well why not, I thought. 

We both dumped the chat masala all over our guacamole. And yes, reader, it did actually taste better. Not to mention more than a bit more Indian, too! D and I speculated what might happen if we added green chili, next time. And a bit of garlic …

Everything about this place is a mixed-up wonder, to be sure.  Ripe avocados are green. Lemons, too, can be found in green varieties. 😉 One requires chat masala to make a proper guacamole. And your new favorite breakfast beverage just might include basil seeds. 

Why should everything remain as it was, stuffed into narrow pre-defined categories that constrict creativity? When cultures mingle, creativity abounds.

Fusion is a beautiful adventure. And rather delicious, too.   

A Tale of Two Sunsets … and Two Seasons of Life

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Think things won’t change?

Give God a year and see what happens.

I love a lot of things about the new home God has sent me in Dubai. But perhaps the thing I love most, besides the people He has placed in my life, are the sunsets. Last night, I got to enjoy this amazing edition (above) with a friend as we strolled around a local market perched on the edge of the Arabian Gulf. There’s no filter on this photo, other than the little “enhancement” button my iPhone has.

But as awesome as this sunset was, as it happened, it wasn’t the only sunset I saw today. Facebook also reminded me of a memory and sent me another sunset photo—of the one I saw exactly one year ago to the day, in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Could those two sunsets be any more different? Ah, now there’s the story.

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Dream Trip? Um yeah, no ….

Going to Iceland may sound exotic, not to mention the extreme opposite from a sunset in the Middle East!! For me it was definitely a bucket-list dream—but I wouldn’t have picked to go in the nadir of the year: those cold, dark, seemingly-“dead” weeks before the winter solstice. I also wouldn’t have picked to do it with about $40 USD in the bank. This translates to about 5,000 Icelandic krona.

If you know anything about Iceland, you know it’s expensive to do anything there, from taking a taxi to eating lunch. Five thousand krona might get you one meal. Maybe two if you shop deals hard for, like, two hours in advance of each meal. (Who has time for that, yo?) I don’t know, it might even cost you 5,000 krona to eat at McDonald’s. Not that I did … but my point is: it’s freaky expensive to survive.

Frankly, when I arrived and saw what I was really dealing with price-wise, I wasn’t sure I was going to survive at all.

I had money set aside for this trip. Not a lot, but definitely more than $40 USD. And then … as always seemed to happen during this “Nothing” phase of my life … the money had to get reallocated for other purposes. Last-minute financial crises always seemed to hit when I was about to take a trip I had felt led to schedule in the first-place.

Iceland was no exception.

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Last Ray of Hope (or So It Seemed)

I remember that sunset well. December 2 2017. I was pounding the cobblestone pavement of old-town Reykjavik, peeking in windows and snapping photos of the adorable cats and dogs that seemed to grow three extra layers of fur against the biting Atlantic wind. I wasn’t going in many places, because what’s the point when you don’t have money to spend? Stepping inside a restaurant  to get warm and read the menu gets really awkward after awhile when you don’t ask for a table!

There’s only about three hours of sun in Reykjavik any given day at that time of year, and since the rest of my stay in Iceland was totally cloudy, it’s a good thing I snapped this photo before the sun went down that day. Right at the top of the hill in front of Reykjavik Cathedral, the national church known for its distinctive bell tower (among other architectural features).

I couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful than that last ray of light amid the grimness.

After I took the photo, I remember deciding to blow 2000 of my non-existent krona on a bowl of lamb stew—the absolute rock-bottom cheapest local food I could find—so I could at least say I had eaten a “traditional local meal” whilst on the island. I walked around for a few more hours before heading back to the silent, empty women’s dormitory of the hostel where I rented a bed. More a hostel for ghosts, it would seem. I never saw another human soul there the whole time I stayed.

The north wind whistled around that traditionally-built wooden house. And even though I knew it had been built generations ago to withstand exactly this kind of weather, I still shuddered every time I heard a board creak.

It was as if the wind intended to splinter not only the house, but what was left of my life.

End of One Life, Beginning of the Next

That sunset has stuck in my mind ever since. Mostly because it reminded me that there was still light, still hope. That even though my life seemed completely out of control, traveling to Europe alone simply because God said to, with no money and no plan, at the ugliest/darkest/most depressing time of year … well, even in the middle of that mental and emotional landscape (which happened to feel as barren as Iceland!), there was still a sun behind the clouds.

Fast-forward 365 days, I was sitting on the pier at a market in Dubai, eating a beautiful meal with a friend whom I didn’t even know last year. There was food in my belly, cash in my wallet, and even a bank card with more where that came from, if I should happen to need it. I was enjoying a holiday from an amazing job, wearing a new dress I’d picked out myself, and was carrying a card in my purse that entitled me to resident benefits and services from the UAE, a country I never even once thought of while I was penny-pinching my way through Europe.

And then there was that sunset, the one I posted at the top of this post. One of the most breathtaking sunsets I have ever seen in my life, right there over my head, God’s banner of love painted in watercolors across the sky.

I couldn’t help noticing that everything about it was extravagant: the scope, the size, the layers, the intensity of color. All of it was triple or quadruple (maybe more!) of those same features in the Icelandic sunset.

Between Dec 2 2017 and Dec 2 2018, it’s like someone took the saturation tool in Photoshop and jacked it up to maximum.

My life, too, feels like it’s been jacked up since that now long-ago day.

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Change is the Only Constant

There’s no greater lie than the one we all like to tell ourselves when we’re most in distress: “Things will never change. Because in the walk of faith, I’ve noticed, change is the only constant. Sometimes, as in the tale of two sunsets, you just gotta wait 365 days to really see the full effect.

If I could go back to that girl I was last year, floundering in life, questioning why she couldn’t seem to settle down, and why nothing was working out, and why she was traveling in Europe when she just wanted to be home with people she loved … except that the more she chased home, the more it seemed to evade her … I would hug her and tell her it’s going to be okay.

Yeah, even when you’ve landed in a country where it’s 20 degrees Fahrenheit in December and there’s 20 hours of darkness every single day.

Seasons come, yes. But they also go. There’s no guarantee that next year’s sunset on December 2nd will be anything like this year’s. If you’re smart (and you know how God works), you know better than to say, “Nothing’s ever gonna change” out loud. Or in your heart. Or even in your deepest, darkest thoughts.

Because words have power. Expectations are the fence we try to build around what God can or will do next. You have no idea what’s coming next in your life, even if it seems as bleak and dead as a frozen island in the middle of the North Atlantic.

So don’t build a box for God that you don’t want to live in.

For every dead twig, salt-soaked rock and gust of killing wind I felt in Iceland last year on this same day …. I’ve been repaid a hundred-fold in flowering trees, warm Gulf waves between my toes and endless sunshine. Not to mention amazing friends who feel like family, a steady income and the prospect of once more trading my suitcase for an address.

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Are you really ready for your big shift?

Honestly, I’m kind of glad no one told me about the Dec 2 2018 sunset back on Dec 2 2017. Because no matter how much they would have tried to encourage me with it, I wouldn’t have been ready to believe it was possible, or even receive it into my life.

Maybe you’re not ready, either, for what God wants to send you in the way of prosperity, love, community, ministry and purpose by this time next year.  Maybe He knows it’s gonna take a WHOLE year of wandering to prepare you for your blessing.

Don’t fight how He chooses to work—even if He sends you on what seems like a fool’s errand.

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One year later, at a market on the Arabian Gulf!

What if I had to be in Iceland last year at this time, and snap that one precious sunset photo, because He knew it was the only way I would fully appreciate and worship Him for the shifts in my life?

That’s probably not the only reason … but even if it were, the “fool’s errand” is starting to look quite a bit less foolish.

Waiting for your big shift? In the meantime, trust the process. Watch the sunsets. Guard your heart, your mind and your words against thinking change will never happen. Thank God in advance that you’ll be seeing next year’s edition from a whole different vantage point.

Oh yeah … and don’t forget to take a lot of photos. You never know when God might use Facebook memories to help you remember!

Want to reach out? I love to get mail! Send me a note:

Dancing in the Footsteps of St. Hildegard, Part 1

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Names matter.

I’ve always loved asking people about their names, and what they mean. People, too, often ask me where the name for this blog–“That Fiery Dance”–came from.

For me, “That Fiery Dance” has many meanings. And I’m sure it may have some totally different for you.

First, for me it’s a nod to freedom. (Because what do I do when I’m totally free in body, mind and spirit? I dance!) It’s also a nod to the Holy Spirit. (Listening and following His Voice is a dance all its own.)

But mostly, it’s a nod to the woman and the prophet whose memory has inspired my own journey over the past few years: St. Hildegard of Bingen. Here’s her whole quote:

“I will tell you a secret about that divine light, about creative fire.
The more you nourish it in your heart, the more it radiates out from you.
The more you release it through your words, your deeds, of wisdom, of
loving compassion, the brighter the flame burns … and in that fiery dance,
you will find that you are, as I myself discovered, no longer aware of your years.”
St. Hildegard of Bingen

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Freedom transforms us.

It causes barriers to fall away. It lifts off our masks. It gives us the courage to get up off the sidelines and dance under all the lights where everyone can see us–and we don’t care anymore what they think.

Freedom gives us the courage to go after the dreams God has put in our hearts. To own our gifts. To stand up and let His power flow through us however He wills it to… and not to fear the outcome.

Above all, the freedom of God takes away the weight of years–literally–from our hearts, minds and bodies. It provides us a continual wellspring of Living Water within that renews and refreshes us.

No matter how dry the desert she dwells in, a truly Free Woman is young in spirit, and spry enough to dance, because she drinks from the water of eternal life.

St. Hildegard is, to me, the picture of that kind of Freedom.

Almost a year ago, I got to walk in her footsteps.

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I first learned about St. Hildegard’s life when I was researching medieval convents for a writing project about five years ago.

Even though she was born almost 900 years before me, I resonated immediately with her isolated upbringing, her love of books and learning, and the creative determination that defines her story.

In a time when more men than women made headlines, St. Hildegard became an advisor to kings and the pope, a preacher who toured Europe, the first recorded female to found a spiritual community for women in Europe and an icon of her generation.

Armed with the courage that marked her 70-some years, Hildegard became one of the first practitioners of modern medicine, a gifted herbalist who contributed treatments for women’s sexuality and health issues, a dietitian who saw the relationship between food and health in an era when many did not make that connection–and a composer whose music is still performed today.

She was also a prophet, theologian and writer who recorded original visions from God that are still not entirely understood today. And she became the spiritual mother of several convents full of women. Together, these women defied the church’s tradition for nuns to dress in plain habits and ugly veils  by donning red dresses, letting their hair down and decking themselves with pearls–because, as Hildegard insisted, they were the bride of Christ, and ought to look like it.

Along the way, Hildegard escaped being buried alive in an anchorite’s cell and almost losing her life because of her prophetic gifts. When she left that cell, after almost thirty years trapped inside it, she never looked back. Instead of letting her long confinement break her, she made it a stepping-stone to full freedom.

She also felt extremely misunderstood and, for long periods of her life, was shut away from most of society.

I was enchanted with Hildegard’s story right away. While I could not relate to her many achievements, I aspired to them. But I could connect with her experience of feeling isolated and misunderstood in my creative gifts. At that time in my life, God had not yet begun to speak to me. But as I read books about her and watched Vision, a recent German film based on St. Hildegard’s life, I wrestled with whether or not I thought this strange but magnetic woman really could have heard from God.

Foreshadowing doesn’t just happen in stories; it happens in real life. I believe God used these experiences, bumping up against St. Hildegard’s amazing story, to prepare me for the beginning of my own.

After my divorce, when God began speaking directly into my day-to-day life, St. Hildegard’s experiences didn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.  And One day, He spoke to me about her directly. When I was in Italy in September 2017, God told me to go to Germany that December, after the solstice, and retrace St. Hildegard’s steps through her home town.

And so it was, December 26, 2017, I found myself both homeless and penniless, riding a train from Frankfurt, Germany, to tiny Bingen am Rhein, Hildegard’s hometown.

I had just enough money for the hotel and food for the next three days. The German countryside was blurred with endless sheets of rain, and my soul felt just as grey. Here was the nadir of the year. I had been in Germany for almost four soul-crushing weeks. I was struggling with horrible digestive issues, not to mention a heart-wrenching lack of purpose. I had never felt less ready to make such a pilgrimage.

Though I had dreamed of visiting St. Hildegard for years, I never wanted to do it under such duress. Here I was fulfilling a life dream of following her footsteps, which had been a direct command from the Voice of God Himself. And yet I felt so beaten down. So unsure of what my own future held.

When the train pulled in to Bingen, I dragged my little red suitcase and a bag of food the 1/4 mile walk to the hotel I had booked. I remember having hot tea, prunes and a bath for my digestive condition, and going straight to bed.

I should have been excited about what was going to happen the next day. Yet I was feeling so unwell, I could hardly even think about it.

But then morning came: Wednesday, December 27, 2017.

I woke up to find that my digestive issue had been miraculously healed during the night. And I remembered one of those large facts in life that one tends to forget when they come associated with so much pain: December 27th, 2017, was also my 9th wedding anniversary.

Or would have been, anyway, had I not been divorced exactly 14 months to the day prior.

I laid there, listening to the rain on the hotel roof, remembering the hopeful young girl who had donned her wedding dress–still not entirely sure she wanted to be married, but putting on a brave face and doing what had to be done. A thousand thoughts and feelings flooded through my body at that recollection. And at all that had happened since.

Seven-and-a-half years of a life that had been aborted without warning. The roller-coaster ride that came after, including the first time of hearing God’s voice. Hildegard’s writings had carried me through that maelstrom of personal reinvention.

In many ways, I felt that, like Hildegard, I had found the key to my own cell and stepped out of it, as I began to hear the Voice of God and follow it.

And that obedience had led me here: broke, alone and empty-handed, to the womb of earth that had birthed my spiritual.

In that moment, I heard God say to me, “It’s your wedding day once again.”

I knew instantly that I had come to another kind of wedding: not the wedding of myself to someone else, but my own wedding to the vision He had given me. Coming to visit Hildegard wasn’t just another act of obedience. It was the beginning of a whole new life.

This date, which had been loaded with so much sorrow, was now reborn. December 27th will forever be “the day I visited Hildegard,” and I intend to celebrate it as such each year. Because why allow our past and our pain dictate what a day means?

Encouraged, I tramped across the rain-soaked cobblestones of Bingen, trying to imagine what it was like to be here in Hildegard’s day. Of course the town was much smaller then. And there was no railroad, nor any ferry across the Rhine River to Rudesheim, a town that also existed in Hildegard’s day, and is now dominated by a hilltop abbey of which she was abbess for many years.

I started my visit by stopping in at the permanent Hildegard installation at the Bingen City Museum, where I was able to see many artefacts I had only ever seen photos of: original paintings from Hildegard’s visions, letters she wrote to various kings and the Holy Roman Emperor, mockups of the now-destroyed monastery and various abbeys where she lived, and other documents.

Perhaps what I admire most about St. Hildegard was her willingness to be exactly who God had told her to be and speak exactly what God had told her to speak. This was her true freedom. Even as I read letter after letter where she delivered His words to popes and kings as honestly as possible … I was in awe of the authority she moved in.

“Even in a world that’s being shipwrecked, remain brave and strong,” Hildegard wrote. For many years, she herself gave testimony that fear had bound her and kept her caged in that tiny cell. But when she decided to let go of fear, she stepped into her voice and her power.

In her willingness to be exactly whom God made her, and be completely transparent about it, she made an impact that is still felt 900 years later.

In late morning, I walked up the side of a steep hill, through “downtown” Bingen, to the famous St. Rochus Chapel where a shrine stands to Hildegard’s memory.

Along the way I walked through a “garden of saints”–statues representing all of Jesus’ disciples, the Apostle Paul and others–and found my way through a muddy forest to the chapel road.

The door to St. Rochus was open, but no one was there. I stepped into a dank, chill medieval stone sanctuary, where a row of benches and a locked set of iron bars separated me from the priceless relics in the church itself. The famous icon of St. Hildegard was lit by single lightbulb on a timer; I had to keep flicking the switch to get a good look at her from afar, behind the bars that separated us.

But I was okay with the distance and the darkness, mostly. It gave me time to sit in silence, to contemplate all that had passed in the previous years and what coming to this place really meant. I felt pricked in my conscience that God was saying something me here, in this place.

Something, perhaps, about coming out of hiding myself.

Though I had not been locked up in a stone cell like Hildegard was for many early years of her life, I had been locked up in more invisible prisons than I could count. I had found the key when I had begun to find my voice, and (more importantly) the voice of God within me. But there was still a part of me that was silent and hiding.

Sitting here in the darkness, with St. Hildegard on the other side of the bars, I came face to face with that. I knew I wanted to be free to dance again–maybe for the first time in my life–and like St. Hildegard, help free other women to dance themselves.

After leaving St. Rochus, I visited the nearby nunnery, where I enjoyed a lunch cooked by the nuns from Hildegard’s original recipe, complete with wine from grapes grown on the property.

Side note: I’m in love with Dornfelder wines now, but I’ve never been able to find them in the U.S. (And good luck finding any particular kind of wine in Dubai.)

As I enjoyed this meal, I thought about St. Hildegard’s work as a healer. I myself had seen first-hand how my body had reacted to the tremendous sadness and stress I underwent during my divorce. I had enjoyed good health up to that point but found myself at the . mercy of terrible digestive issues that continued up to this day.

Every aspect of the meal I was eat was designed to heal the body. Though St. Hildegard had incomplete medical information, and not all of her medieval ideas were medically factual, she had indeed made a lot of sound conclusions. And she understood the root cause of such issues: the connection between mind, spirit and body.

What happens in the body affects the mind and the heart. And Hildegard had not been afraid to treat them together.

I have seen in my own journey how working with these three elements together brought me incredible freedom. And I want to pass that freedom on.

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As I completed my first day in Bingen, I felt that same tug in my heart that had drawn me to the city in the first place from more than 5000 miles away.

It was the tug to step into a life bigger, more courageous and more authentic than anything I had previously lived.

And just as it had begun for St Hildegard with owning her voice, her gifts and the visions God had given her … I knew it would begin there for me. This blog is the beginning of that journey. It has now been almost a year since I walked with St. Hildegard in Bingen … and God has brought me to settle in a new country and given me an entirely new life.

But have I truly stepped into my voice and my gifts? Have I really acknowledged who I am, and owned it to the whole world, regardless of what anyone thinks?

That’s a level of transparency hardly any of us reach. But this transparency is exactly the reason Hildegard’s life shines so brightly almost 900 years later.

Today, I resonate with St. Hildegard’s story more than ever. I understand now that my first attraction to her story was really God’s way of drawing me deeper toward my own calling. Like her, I hear from Him. Like her, I write down what He says–though I often am too afraid to share it. When people ask me for advice, I tell them exactly what I heard God saying to me about their situation.

I have stories to write, visions to paint, dreams to turn into dance. Not everything I have to say will be popular, or even appreciated. And I hope my life can shine brightly for some other woman who needs hope that God can transform her.

You can’t make an impact when you are sitting in silence behind prison bars. And I can’t make an impact while I’m silent, either.

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Like St. Hildegard, I found the key to my prison, and it’s time I leave it behind–and don’t look back.

The last almost three years were my first lessons in what it’s like to live without prison walls and without limits. What remains now is for me to pick up my pen, open my mouth, step into the work God has given me as His daughter and His prophet.

Because it is not in silence that we reclaim our lives. It is only in transparency can the light radiate out from us. It is only in the midst of THAT FIERY DANCE with God’s Holy Spirit and with the life that He has given us do we find that we are no longer aware of our years.

I’ve told you parts of the story but I haven’t told you the whole story. That begins here, today, in this space dedicated to speaking freely.

“I will tell you a secret about that divine light, about creative fire,” St. Hildegard once wrote. “The more you nourish it in your heart, the more it radiates out from you. The more you release it through your words, your deeds, of wisdom, of  loving compassion, the brighter the flame burns … and in that fiery dance, you will find that you are, as I myself discovered, no longer aware of your years.”  

May this blog be my sacrifice of praise and my platform of transparency.

It’s time to dance.

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