That Time Spring Hit the Colorado Rockies (And My Life)

I didn’t plan on spending five or six weeks of my spring 2018 in the mountains of Colorado. Not that I’m complaining, mind you: spring in Colorado is gorgeous. Witnessings the transformation into spring is even more of a marvel. But it wasn’t on my plan. (Hello, that’s why I call myself a “recovering control freak.” Because sometimes the control thing still peeks out. 

Anyway, when I arrived in Colorado it didn’t look much like spring at all. In fact as late as April 20th, winter was still in full effect. Consider this photo from my first weekend in Colorado Springs, where I stayed with longtime friends on the Air Force Academy base: 

Yeah, not much spring to be seen there. I despaired that God had brought me out of monochromatically gray Milwaukee, only to drop me into another monochromatic winter landscape. Everyone had been telling me how beautiful the sun would be. How plentiful the wild flowers. Yet I still couldn’t see it, even though May 1st was just around the corner. 

This lingering winter seemed to be a metaphor for my own life. I had believed God for breakthrough: a serious shift in my circumstances that would allow me to quit traveling from place to place and go back home to Milwaukee to settle. I loved traveling, yes. The Holy Spirit had told me to ‘take no money, take no luggage, and go into whatever house will receive you.’ And I had obeyed. 

But I was tired now. Sick of endless weeks on the road with no real purpose or activities to shape my day. Sick of always looking to the horizon for something—anything—to happen. Sick (if we’re being honest) of praying and seeing … absolutely nothing.  

I started taking my friends’ dog, Buddy, for twice daily walks. Every day I kept my eyes peeled for the famous Colorado wildflowers, even while I prayed to Heaven for a glimpse of a single petal pushing above ground in my own life. 

For awhile, it continued to look like this: sunny, but barren. The weather warmed. And yet nothing pushed above the soil.

By the time I left for Milwaukee to lay hold of the place God had given me there, the slopes of the Rockies were carpeted with God’s most beautiful flowers.  

It took a lot longer than I would have wished, yes. But the season of flowering did come in God’s time. 

Be patient through the late springs snows, and continue to watch daily for the first signs of color amid the grass. Your time of breakthrough will come if you do not grow weary. 

I believe the real test of our faith is not what happens in seasons of victory and activity, but what we do in seasons of silence and barrenness.

Those six weeks of silence, during which I saw almost no flowers pop up on those daily walks, was one of the longest and hardest I have endured. My patience and stamina were nearly at an end. I napped a lot—because there was little else to do.

Still no flowers. Anywhere.

And yet, somehow in the absence of the physical evidence I craved, Spring came. During that time I really re-committed my life to do exactly what God wanted. I heard the call to begin speaking His Name and His Word more intentionally in my relationships. Things that had been “out of order” in my life got placed back into order—none of which would have been possible had I been distracted by other things. 

God even sent me a few rainbows and beautiful sunsets to encourage me that His promises were true, and in the acceptable time, He would shift my circumstances.

There’s a funny thing about praying for God’s “acceptable time,” just as it says in Psalm 69. God’s acceptable time is very rarely ours. His time for flowering often does not match ours. We are impatient. He has infinite patience. We want to run ahead though we can only see in the moment. He sees what’s coming, and acts accordingly.

In God’s acceptable time, breakthrough did come. I got a huge tax refund—several months late—that enabled me to return to Milwaukee and pay the avalanche of bills that were coming due in June. I let go of the last of my old life and got on board with God’s program.  

And yes, the wildflowers did come out. By the time Buddy and I finished our daily routine of walks, the hills were abloom with Colorado’s finest. 

By the time I left for Milwaukee to lay hold of the place God had given me there, the slopes of the Rockies were carpeted with God’s most beautiful flowers.  

It took a lot longer than I would have wished, yes. But the season of flowering did come in God’s time. 

Be patient through the late springs snows, and continue to watch daily for the first signs of color amid the grass. Your time of breakthrough will come if you do not grow weary. 

Weightless Warrior: On Fencing Well at 30,000 Feet

NOTE: The following is a featured post from 2016 which first appeared on my former creative blog, Scrappy Storyteller. I’m sharing this as a way of embracing my past creative self and sharing ideas she had that, well, still matter today. Enjoy!


“Be fully present. Feel your heart. And engage the next moment without an agenda.” – Pema Chödrön, Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change

I’ve always considered myself an armchair fencer.

My well-loved collection of fencing manuals attest to my ongoing interest in martial history. Then there’s my multi-year, still-unfulfilled intention to take an actual historical fencing class. At least, this year I started yoga again, so I can at least get back in shape for this new level of martial commitment.

One might say my interest in fencing to date has been mostly intellectual. After all, reading a manual does not make one an actual fencer. Book knowledge alone will not win a bout. Nor does intending to take a class replace for actually taking one.

Until now, I’ve been okay with that.

Let’s face it: the armchair version of combat is pretty safe. The armchair is grounded on terra firma. My backside is flat on that seat. The stakes are low, the danger nonexistent. While it’s quite entertaining to speculate how I might parry a blow or wrestle an opponent to the ground, I do not really have to do these things.

I do not actually have to dance with Death.

In fencing, there’s a fine line between fighting and dancing. An even finer line between dancing and falling flat on your face (with a sword in your back). As long as I’m tied to the armchair, I don’t have to risk much of anything. 

It’s combat, without the very thing that makes combat so exhilarating: risk. 

Recently, I’ve realized that my approach to fencing is rather indicative of my general approach to life.

While some might call me a risk-taker, and I do have a history of unconventional choices, I know deep down that I manage my level of risk pretty heavily. I only take on projects I feel have a decent chance of succeeding, according to whatever standard I’ve set up. I don’t step out very often without a lot of pre-consideration. And whatever else I do, I make sure I’ve got good old terra firma underneath my feet. 

But that was before I read Pema Chödrön’s disarmingly bold little book Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change. Chodron recasts the traditional Buddhist Three Commitments—known as the Warrior Tradition—for a modern audience.

In practical terms, she argues that uncertainty is actually the only certainty in human existence. The suffering we experience is tied to our resistance to that uncertainty, not to the uncertainty itself. She renames uncertainty as groundlessness, and invites us to welcome this sense of constant shift as a welcome sign we are truly alive.

 Tallhoffer’s fechbuch is one of my favorites. Don’t these two chaps look like they’re fighting in a groundless space?

“Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet,” Chödrön writes, “to realize our dream of constant okayness . . .”

I love this mental picture of groundlessness. For me in my current stage of life, groundless often feels not just like shifting ground, but like no ground at all. When things are uncertain in my life, I feel like I’m a fencer levitating en garde at 30,000 feet. All I can feel, see and sense is the sheer lack of anything between me and the pinprick landscape below.

This, Chodron says, is exactly how things should be. And exactly how we resist them being.

She goes on to argue that groundlessness is our best training for the Warrior Tradition: the place where we really learn to live with courage, radical openness to all beings, and love that always says, “yes” to what life sends our way. In other words, for those fencing-inclined among us who are series about enlightenment, groundlessness is the perfect place to fight.

But what the heck does it really mean to fight well at 30,000 feet?

I don’t have a manual for that in my collection.

While I’m no guru on the subject, I have a few theories. To me, under these circumstances, fighting well means learning to walk on air and love the feeling. It means living each day as if you’re dancing through the clouds, knowing every lunge or pivot could break the nothingness you balance on and send you plunging to your death. 

To me, fighting well at 30,00 feet means parrying with your own mortality—and enjoy the thrill.

We can choose to see this as terrifying, or we (like Kate Winslet in Titanic) can spread our arms wide and welcome the wind.

“If we can get in touch with the sensation as sensation and open ourselves to it without labeling it good or bad,” Chodron writes, “then even when we feel the urge to draw back, we can stay present and move forward into the feeling.”

The remedy, in other words, is to stop resisting the discomfort of life at 30,000 feet. To stop looking down, and to start sitting with our anxiety, erasing the thousand storylines our brain wants to concoct about why it is “good” and “bad,” in that moment. 

The remedy, then, is to simply be.

Like warriors, we must train ourselves to fight well in any circumstances. Instead of running from the pain of uncertainty, we actually advance into those wispy clouds, blades lifted confidently, feeling the fact that we have absolutely no ground under our feet, delighting in it, and moving forward anyway.

The problem, then, is never our anxiety about uncertainty. It’s the fact that we think there’s something wrong with anxiety.

“But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it,”Chödrön says, “when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature . . .”

She promises a sense of rest and peace, of exhilaration even, that come with cultivating this practice of acceptance.

All this sounds wonderful enough between the pages of a book, of course. But what happens when life throws you a few curveballs, as it did to me just days long after I determined to start practicing my 30K-foot fencing skills? 

I can’t say as I was thrilled to see huge challenges loom up in my face. But I was not surprised, either. This sort of thing always happens after you decide to try on a new way of being. Some of the challenges, predictably, were tied to recent life situations that are still very painful for me.

 Yes, occasionally women did get in on the fencing action in late medieval society.

In that space, huge old fears loom large despite one’s own best efforts. It’s far easier to panic than keep a clear head.

But this time, instead of resisting the panic twisting in my chest, I decided to dance with it. I shut my eyes for 90 seconds and just sat with the feelings in compassion. No judgement. No sweeping it under the emotional rug. No suppressing it. (Which, by the way, only makes the panic worse.) 

I erased my mind of stories about whether these events were good, or bad, or anything at all, and just felt the sensation of groundlessness moving through my body.

And that’s exactly what it did: move through.

To my surprise, each time the panic evaporated, after about 90 seconds of focused concentration, I was able to release it completely and feel calm again. Occasionally, I was even able to get to what Chödrön calls “blue sky”—the place where you can see beyond fear-based storylines completely to consider how the anxiety-inducing event might actually open up new horizons.

Most of all, I felt a curious tickling in my chest: an urge to throw back my head and laugh out loud in sheer joy at the insanity of it all. After all, if you’re going to dance with chaos, you’ve got be able to laugh. 

When I did manage to truly laugh out loud, I felt a rush of freedom and a sense of exhilaration I don’t think I’ve ever felt in my life. I flung open my arms and said, “Bring me whatcha got, world. Bring me the biggest brand of crazy you have. ’Cause this time, we’re going to dance.”

I cannot remember the last time I genuinely laughed in the face of my own uncertainty and pain. Not a laugh of derision, spite or anger . . . but a true laugh of joy that this beautiful, crazy groundlessness means I am no longer asleep. 

I am fully awake now. And to be awake, to me, means so much more than to be “not asleep.” It means to be alive.

In those precious moments, I knew everything would be okay. Because to laugh with joy, and welcome with open arms,the opponent you fear most, nothing to stand on, is the truest form of fighting well. It also the path to freedom.

At 30,000 feet, there may not be much ground. There’s no armchair to keep me safe, and we’re fencing on a landscape of clouds.

It’s all blue sky up here.

7 Things That Happen When You Get Emotionally Free of your Past

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Sometimes, on the healing journey, it can feel impossible to believe that you will ever be free of what happened to you. You’re a goal-oriented woman, and you love to have a target to aim your arrows toward, or a finish line to run for. But when it comes to your emotions and healing from your past, that target, that line, always seems to move.

Some days are okay. Some days are terrible. You’ve been told it will “get better,” but what does that even look like? How will you KNOW when you’ve reached a place of freedom?

At one level, freedom is a lifelong event, and it’s entirely personal. Each day, we can make choices that take us closer to God and closer to total surrender and joy in Him, which will naturally break off the bonds that have held us back. That exact path may look different for each woman, of course. But the process is the same.

However at another level, I can testify from my own experience: you WILL know, that you know, that you know, when you become emotionally free. You WILL start waking up each day with the significant conviction that you are no longer moved by what happened to you: that your life is blank slate now, not a museum to the past.

Believe me, it’s the best feeling in the world.

“But wait,” you say. “I feel like a one-woman triage unit every day of the week, and that still doesn’t give me a lot of help.”

I totally understand. I did too, when I first started this process. Here are seven (concrete) things that you can also expect to happen when you break away from the pain of the past and allow yourself to be totally renewed. If you haven’t experienced these, don’t feel bad. Rejoice that this is what you can look forward to, and keep walking forward on your healing process.

1) You have no desire anymore to talk about “what happened.”

The biggest hallmark of emotional bondage is the fact that your pain will always come spilling out of your mouth—not matter how hard you try “not to talk about it.” Ask your girlfriends; if they are honest women, they will tell you if every coffee or wine date devolves into your personal trauma session. When I was in the worst of my pain, I instinctively looked anywhere I could to get relief. (Anywhere, that is, except to God!)

Stopping yourself from speaking when you are dying inside is not what I’m talking about. When you are in the midst of your pain, you must speak about it long and freely to whomever will listen. But the MARK of having received full healing is when your past wounds no longer define your present reality.

When you get to the place where you are truly no longer moved by what happened to you, and you rest in total peace that God has transformed your pain for good, you won’t even remember to talk about it. People will bring it up, and you’ll be thinking, “Wait, what? Oh right, that thing …” You might even be startled when people bring it up, because your former pain no holds you in a vice-grip deep in your soul.

Please note: I am not referring to activism on behalf of abuse victims, giving your personal testimony, or other types of important “speaking out;” I am referring to the obsessive need to share your pain with others in order to somehow get healing “from” their attention. The attention can’t heal you; only God can!

2) When you think of the people who wronged you, you feel only compassion.

Yes, what happened to you was terrible. Perhaps it was a collection of “somethings” that happened and there’s a parade of perpetrators a mile long: at home, at church, at school, in the community, etc. You may struggle to believe it will ever be possible not to feel the rage and grief that rise up every time their name or face flashes before your mind. But believe me, beautiful woman, it is.

You will know God has healed you emotionally when you can remember these people in your life or walk past something that triggers their memory and yet feel nothing but compassion for them—because you recognize that their own tremendous pain drove them to what they inflicted on you.

3) Your IBS, upset stomach, digestive issues and anxiety heal themselves.

Please keep in mind I am not a doctor and cannot give you medical advice. However, I can offer the laywoman’s observations: in my own life, and those of other women I watch heal emotionally from the darkest, most painful events you can think of, I have witnessed physical symptoms completely break off of those women as they reach healing.

In my own life, when I was in the worst of my emotional pain and disempowerment, I struggled with stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, digestive issues and unstoppable anxiety. As I submitted to the healing process by opening up to God’s love, taking control of my thought patterns, shifting my diet, incorporating gentle yoga, praying daily, etc. I began to notice a drastic reduction in symptoms. Ultimately, this resulted in several miraculous healing experiences. Today, I am symptom-free … without the aid of doctors, surgery or expensive drugs.

4) You naturally stop self-medicating with TV, greasy food, social media or shopping.

Many women tell me they admire my choice to eat meat-light and wish they could do the same—but they say they can’t keep themselves from “cheating” with junk food. If staying consistent with healthier eating choices, managing your spending, limiting your TV and social media time is hard … then you can mark it down, you are still in emotional bondage.

Each of these “indulgences” is perfectly okay and enjoyable in moderation but can quickly become an excuse to get our good feelings from somewhere other than God and ourselves. Needing anything outside of ourselves, exactly who God made us to be, to feel good is by definition a form of bondage.

When you are emotionally free, you won’t “need” these things any more and/or can enjoy them in moderation. Or choose to give them up altogether and not feel deprived at all.

5) You reclaim “painful places” and create new memories in them.

How did I know I had fully healed from the pain of my divorce? When I sat for two hours in the very same coffee shop where I had my last private conversation with my ex-husband … and didn’t even remember that event for about two hours of sitting there. I was SO in the moment, enjoying my work, the coffee and the space, that I did not even recall that my marriage had essentially dissolved in that space. This was not an act of disrespect to my marriage or that conversation; it was a marker that I had finally move on to create new memories in that space.

That is what it truly means to reclaim a space for your own after trauma has marked it. When I came back to my hometown, Milwaukee, after nine months of traveling, I felt that my emotional “set point” had been reset, because I could walk into places that preciously were emotionally loaded from my marriage and divorce, and feel totally free to “own” them again and make new memories that aren’t mixed up with what happened before.

6) Other people’s poor choices no longer affect your joy.

This is a fairly simple one, but wow is it powerful! When you become emotionally free, you reach a place where you realize that YOU are the only person you are responsible for. Yes, you can pray for others. You can seek to be a positive influence. You can give of yourself. But at the end of the day, you are the ONLY person you can truly change.

When you relax into that space where you are no longer responsible for everyone else’s well-being, you can truly release your emotional bondage and your attachment to the idea that other people need to change … which is nothing more than a distraction from how YOU need to change.

7) You feel genuinely happy for no reason.

I know, dear heart. I know it’s hard to imagine this when you are in so much pain right now. But the day will come when all those “weights” on your heart will come lifting off, and you will float down the street, truly in love with you life, no matter what is going on in your material, lived experience.

This will be possible because you will know, that you know, that you know, that your Redeemer lives, and that you are being held by the Everlasting Arms, in the grip of the Everlasting God who never faints or grows weary. The ancient yogis spoke of BLISS, and I believe this is it: the ability to dance your way through life, amid sunshine and rain, because what is happening inside you is no longer contingent upon what is happening outside.

Reading this list and feeling like you could never scale this impossible mountain of emotional healing? Wondering how to let go of the weights that are holding you back — so you can enjoy these seven signs of emotional freedom?

More on that another day.