What do princess markers, Rubik’s Cube and Banana Nut Muffins have to do with Lament?

I wanted to take a moment and say a genuine thank you. I have been posting now for about 4 months and it has become a favorite part of my week. I really enjoy WORDS. I love the process of conveying my thoughts, experiences and how they all fit together with my many life roles. I value authenticity and how that plays out in my professional, spiritual and sometimes, personal life. And I am so enjoying the connection, hearing how others identify, validate and share their own connections to these words. Mostly, I am amazed seeing how God is using words to bring joy, comfort and healing.

Thank you for reading, sharing and most of all, encouraging, it means so much to me. My greatest hope in all of my roles, but especially this new one (aspiring writer?) is to create space to normalize our collective, complex experiences, share how Jesus loves, some stories and professional connections. My hope is always, to be real, human, healthy in my words, awareness and sharing.

To be honest, I am choosing the authentic truth of not having every post be
positive, cheerful or even, inspiring. Sometimes, in all honesty, it
takes immense energy to keep a put-together mask in place, but I continue to trust that
Jesus will intervene.

To that end, these last two weeks… I am tired. From the time between my last “badass post” and now, life has been full! August has ramped up, leading to sporting and school events, ongoing needs that I WANT and love being present with and some that my heart breaks for. When I sat down to write, my heart felt stretched thin in my own lament for a few loved ones in my life, their health concerns, mental health, relationship conflict and even interpersonal conflict has made this week feel particularly trying.

Maybe you’ve been there before or are currently sitting in your own both/and between outrageous hope AND intense lament as well. Or maybe… feeling hope is good, but the idea of lamenting makes you uncomfortable, sad or wanting to push the hardest of feelings anywhere but where someone may ask about them.

I get that. I am feeling some of that myself.

Lament, in my own understanding, is the dark night of the soul. It is the agony and ache that are too deep for words; the one that nearly levels us with it’s weight, where all we can do is wail, howl and cry out with perhaps a sound only God himself can understand and soothe.

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” It may sound weird, but as you read that definition, notice your reaction, deep in your body. Does something stir when you see and hear lament? Just take a second…and a deep breath.

Do you feel anything related to emotional misery that you can still recall
it? Perhaps it is stored IN your body somewhere, a twinge, or a sharp, deep breath,
even as I suggest going back to the memory? Usually when I ask this in
counseling, I can physically see something, a pain so deep that non-verbal
communication gives away when someone is trying so hard to convince me
“they are fine,” in the midst of devastating pain.

Do you feel a time with emotional misery that you can still recall it? Perhaps it is stored IN your body somewhere, a twinge, or possibly a sharp, deep breath, even as I suggest going back to the memory. Usually when I ask this in counseling, I can physically see something, a pain so deep that non-verbal communication gives us away.

I get that too…

If you had a chance to read the last few blogs, I have shared a bit of my own story related to the loss of a dear friend whose life and death deeply impacted mine. It was through the tragedy of drunk-driving accident, his death and others, that I began to avoid, fear, learn, understand and finally allow myself the truth of what it means to lament. What was surprising to me is that I eventually came to cherish the lament. Cherish? Yes, I did, I said cherish. If you will, please keep reading.

Over my 26 year career, the normalcy, my level of ability, and comfort in talking about feelings is vastly different for me now than I was able to do back in my 20’s. In learning to allow for lament, I simply did not know the depth of my capacity to feel sorrow. I did not understand the ache inside me that often did not even have words. When I finally gave myself permission to feel, slogging through the holy work of sitting with anguish, I learned the importance of sifting in the ashes. I learned first-hand the only way THROUGH the hardest of emotions, the deepest losses and insecurities IS THROUGH. (Remember this line in Going on a Bear Hunt?) I began learning then that we will lament much over the course of a lifetime and we will also come through.

Often, it is not the big tragic, unreal events that teach us about lament. I believe we ALL lament in different ways, most of the time not even knowing that we are indeed, passionately expressing a deep sorrow.

Perhaps we begin around toddler-hood – the lament of sharing toys, sharing parents when a new sibling is brought into the mix, moving to new homes, cities, or enduring other changes. At this age, most of the lament is because we can’t always have what we want.

When my daughter was three, I took a brave (or crazy) trip to Target with she and her one year old brother. My sweet E was passionate, strong and already aware of her own desires. She was trying out “wandering,” so I told her we could pick out one thing from the dollar section; if she stayed with me the whole trip through Target, (without running off,) she could bring her thing home with us at the end of our shopping extravaganza. An extravaganza it was, just not in the way you might expect…

Two aisles before the check-outs, she darted down the dog treat aisle, then proceeded to giggle and run away from me. I was terrified of this very scenario as a mom with cerebral palsy, but on the good advice of a friend, I did not chase. I called, “Uh oh…” and slowly began walking up the main aisle with my son staring up at me from his seat in the cart, with big blue eyes.

My spirited girl came running and then raced ahead of me to put her princess markers on the belt. I was already coursing with adrenaline from her solo trip down the aisle, fear of not catching up with her and then her return. She began to climb on the side of the cart, fingers barely touching her coveted markers and my adrenaline spiked again. I felt the heat creep up my neck. Was I going to stay true to my stated boundary and NOT get the markers, risking a tantrum in a very busy Target or was I just going to give in to keep peace with her?

I KNEW that I had to follow-through otherwise I was giving the green light to run from me every single outing. I told her in my best empathetic voice, “I am so sad, we can’t get your markers. Do you remember our deal? You were going to walk with me the whole time and NOT run away and THEN we could get your markers. But if you run, then we CAN’T buy them.”

Her body went rigid, her eyes widened, then narrowed, then she shrieked her displeasure for the entire store to hear. I instantly began sweating as my items were already on the belt. Customers heads turned and her screams got louder. As I held the boundary and did not buy the markers, she laid down, pulled the cart and screamed, “I WANT MY PRINCESS MARKERS!” Her lament (and mine) were very real.

(Though not a huge, prevalent part of the story, I wanted to let you know that this was the only tantrum we had with our now almost 18 year old. The one tantrum, one boundary was enough to curtail her ideas of running away from me in the aisles. )

As we grow our laments morph and change: pet loss, divorce in the family; the lament when we are not chosen for a team, asked to prom or not accepted at the “dream college.” The agony of single-ness when we long to share our life with another, the guttural moan when we don’t see, understand or want to be on this path. Job competition, rejection, complicated fertility, health challenges, terminal diagnosis, even aging, can elicit a deep expression of anguish as perhaps memories, abilities, energy and relationships are changing without our permission.

I’ve had the privilege of speaking with little ones who deeply lament the loss of a pet, a favorite stuffed animal left on vacation or the friend who has moved away. I have sat with many who lament identity, starting over after divorce, loss, long illness or sending children to college. There are those who lament and battle with themselves to remain alive here on Earth. I have held space with many brave hearts who hour by hour lament the loss of one or many they love, deeply sobbing, “I wish it had been me, instead.” And some of the saints among us, who lament they cannot yet “go home to Jesus.” Lamenting is probably, in most our minds, connected with death.

“Lament, meaning a crying out of the soul, creates a pathway between the Already and the Not Yet.” -Aubrey Sampson

We are called to learn the anguished cry of lament. Lament is the cry of Martin Luther King Jr. from his kitchen table in Montgomery after hearing yet another death threat: “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. . . . But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now, I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. Now, I am afraid. . . . I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.” Taken from Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice.

For many, the hope for the Not Yet, is the rock to cling to, while in the center of crippling lament. For me, learning to cherish all I learned, came only after the losses that shook me to my foundation. (At the same time, sometimes having a hard time knowing I was actually still clinging to the rock that held me.) As the defenses I relied on in order to pretend I was be fine fell away, I could only surrender to the mess, or as Brene Brown says, (learned in her discussions with Navy Seals – EMBRACE THE SUCK.) Learning that the only way through, was through, gave me permission to examine every part, with curiosity and kindness instead of judging myself: anger, shock, change, agony, injustice and so many other feelings.

I often tell people that allowing for feelings is a bit like examining and manipulating a Rubik’s Cube. I can never solve them, but my son can, in mere minutes. I watch him get one color complete, then mess it up to get another color correct. He turns the cube, looks, changes something and looks again. He doesn’t however, get mad at the cube for being what it is. In the same way, getting mad at ourselves, whether in the lament, in the happiness, or any feeling in between is counter-productive. We can so much sooner help the hard feelings by caring for and crying out that anguish, keep the “Not Yet,” in view, while also allowing for and honoring all that has been lost.

If only it were that easy…

“Grief, after all, is part of love. Not to grieve, not to lament, is to slam the door on the same place in the innermost heart from which love itself comes.” – NT Wright.

Isn’t it so scary, sometimes, to feel the hardest feelings? But isn’t it harder to keep pushing the feelings and anguish down? Is the fear of feeling our own lament stronger than the lament itself? What if we could honor the feelings of lament themselves as part of our love story, the one about God, his love and the many we turn to heal when we become heartbroken this side of heaven? The love in that very story is how Jesus redeems and will keep redeeming every. single. lament.

You see, though I had known Jesus because of my parents faith since before I could remember, my own relationship with him had it’s own path; a cherished part of that path that was ultimately in the days, months and years following my friend’s death, because it was exactly there, that I met Jesus. He was exactly where I felt like I had nothing to offer except my shock, anger, resentment, authentic belief, even when I could not understand: in the heart of my lament.

Time after time in that year, God himself allowed for all those emotions, sustaining me in a rigorous MSW program, an internship at our local Hospice organization, blessing me with a support system in my parents, friends and colleagues that showed me the beauty in authentic lament. God graciously brought my husband and I together, almost exactly one year from my friend’s accident, and he offered a calling into counseling, specifically grief and trauma counseling.

In Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book “Lament For A Son,” he says that every lament is [ultimately] a love song. Lamenting is the other side of loving deeply and I’ve come to believe that you truly cannot have one without the other. It is a difficult and holy both/and.

The Psalmist gives the best example of both the lament, the love story and both/and in Psalm 13.

(for the director of music, a psalm of David).

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

If David, a man after God’s own heart, is allowed to lament (and had so many things to lament, many his own choices) and TRUST, then can we? There is also Jesus, lamenting in the Garden of Eden allowed to lament….AND trust. Can we?

There is hope, even in the lament. There is space for great anguish and trust, even in the fear that so often accompanies pain. And perhaps in time, there is room to see the love story in both.

I pray that you who are struggling to catch your breath because your lament is so heavy, are able to cry AND be comforted; that those who are experiencing joy can share it with grace and that we all can love one another like Jesus.


Psalm 13

PS I couldn’t not add this from my friend, Brene, from Her 2010 TEDxHouston talk on The Power of Vulnerability  “The problem is–and I learned this from the research–that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. (Laughter) I don’t want to feel these… You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.”

Both the hard, difficult, vulnerable and gratitude, joy and happy. And banana nut muffins. 🙂

Redefining what it means to be Badass.

I wonder if you’ve ever watched an event, a TV show, or a person when something about a particular feat that resonates within you. Somewhere deep inside you find yourself thinking, “that is simply, __________.”

You can fill in your own blank. I realize that for some, the word badass may not be the first word to come to mind. For me, 1) I live with teens, so the “normal” around here could be different than yours and 2) sometimes, there is a bit of streak inside me that loves to find the perfect word, the one that fits as an exclamation point, shout of joy or pain or just to emphasize a point that is a bit edgier; never names of God, just to clarify. Those hurt, a lot. But the ones to get my point across with a bit more hutzpah? Yes, sometimes I really like those.

Badass has become one of my very favorite descriptions because it fits so many situations. I’m not sure when I adopted it…it has come to bring a sparkle to my eye, a bit bigger smile, an earnest desire to share how I see a person or situation – with strength and fortitude that moves me.

One of my earliest memories was about 16 years ago…a dear friend’s daughter told me when she was 14 or 15 that she wanted to be a policewoman. My friend was cutting my hair as her daughter came in to say hi and told me her future plans. I motioned her to come closer to me and stated, “That is so badass.” Her eyes lit up and it fit her, that statement. For the next few years and probably still now, when I see this beautiful, spirited woman who DID INDEED become a policewoman and so much more, we smile and both recall the “badass” day fondly.

My nieces, who’ve both moved, braved hard things, have found their own identities, created adventures and show me a level of badassery from far away. They both continue to branch out with both their career, geographical pursuits, hobbies and beliefs while also advocating for mental health – INCREDIBLY badass.

Clients who show me hourly how they choose to brave by showing up, engage in care and compassion for self while processing past events, pain and the desire to change sometimes against insurmountable odds, are badass. The one this week, disclosing a long history of eating challenges, self-harm and difficult relationship dynamics, still pushing toward healthier? BADASS.

My husband and son, rebuilding a 1998 Jeep Wrangler, together learning endless new skills AND bonding for a lifetime? Badass.

My daughters, badass in many ways, but currently resonating with the new Barbie movie, pushing boundaries for girls and woman, self – love and empowerment, most definitely. Also, dads who show up, put egos aside, communicate and empower? This is an entirely different kind of badass!

Moms, in the postpartum fog of childbirth, then learning the intense pace of having a child in the NICU while healing? Badass.

Single parents, teen parents, all parents. ALL kids, especially those who hold on to self-worth when the odds are stacked against you. Grandparents who love unconditionally, chose to evolve and continue praying, always.

Those with chronic, life altering disease, cancer and so much more – the nuances are so layered and so are the levels of badassery…

Those choosing life, family and themselves day by day over the battles of addiction and their loved ones who choose, walk and forgive right beside them…do you see how many people and situations in which “badass” could just be the most encompassing description for the most resilient among us?

I could give you so many more examples that come to mind. For me this, is yet another truth, when I really sit back and ponder Jesus’s life, ministry and relentless perseverance of intimate relationship with each and every person. I certainly do not mean any offense, but when I think of Jesus, teaching, being, loving and pushing every single boundary, even death? Even more than Badass. SO MUCH MORE.

I know I could filter, use different language and “clean this up,” but that defeats the goal of being authentic for me. Badass is truly one of those perfect words for me, at least right now. It has taken me a long time to get here for myself. A lot of reframing, redefining, wrestling and finally acknowledging the badass parts inside myself. Maybe you will relate, cringe or see your own inner badass as well.

I began seeing Dr. Hotchkiss in 3rd grade to address some of my particular musculoskeletal nuances of cerebral palsy. I did not know the half. But I was the kid undergoing the appointments, bearing his watchful eyes as I walked, the distant, cold demeanor he had and the pain involved with surgery after surgery. I wasn’t SUPPOSED to understand it all, but certainly DID IT ALL – healing, wheelchairs, re-learning how to walk multiple times, even into adulthood.

My parents would not ever have called me “badass,” because that is just not who they are or the time I grew up in. Support, yes! Love, undoubtedly! But seeing that endurance as badass then? I don’t think the world knew that word as we know it now. I think (and maybe they will say I am wrong,) that life really was more about “doing” and getting through, rather than dwelling on or labeling. At least then. I think that has been part of the American way for a very long time. I’m not sure when it began to change, but I am certain that many kids (and adults) with CP who share their struggles and many victories on social media can surely called badass in so many ways. Though I grew up in an age where we didn’t know or use the word, doesn’t mean people were not badass. Quite the contrary….what joy it is to share my journey here, even the hard parts.

During the pandemic, my mom was sorting and gave me an huge plastic bin of old photos. I love photos and began to look through them with care, a slow pace that the pandemic taught me well. I didn’t have many photos of my youth around the times of those surgeries, instead, vivid memories that I could tell in great detail. When I came across a few pictures of me in the hospital, post-surgery or my early teen years recovering in a wheelchair, I did not know how to feel. Again, meaning no offense to my dear parents, we “got through” a lot of that, have some sweet and funny memories along with the pain, but they were not ever people who would dwell on the most difficult. My mom is so skilled with pivoting into happy when people are struggling, especially grandkids! My dad is not someone to dwell on emotions either. But as I looked at those few faded photos, I felt something new…I couldn’t even name it, YET.

My mom, with such good intent, wanted to get rid of those pictures, probably so difficult as a parent to see, let alone remember. But I couldn’t let her throw them out. I held them, looked, put them away, looked again and then could not look away.

I have no problem telling you that I, as a therapist, see a therapist. I believe every person walking this earth COULD benefit from a therapist. When you’re a therapist, in my opinion, it is imperative to do your own work. It was to her that I brought one of those pictures. I couldn’t put it away, but my heart was still raw by looking at it, for there were parts of me that were transported back to that wheelchair. A both/and that said, “talk with your trusted person about this one, something is stirring.”

She looked at the picture I handed her, after my conflicted feelings tumbled out of my mouth and maybe my eyes in the form of a few tears.

“What do you see?” She asked as a good therapist is known to do… (I answer questions with questions ALL the time too.) I described the pain I had been in, some of the trauma, then waited for her thoughts.

She smiled the gentle smile I’d become accustomed to and asked, “yes, those are about you in this picture, but what do you see?” She asked so gently. I simultaneously was frustrated and wanted to hug her for the care she exuded. (See the new T-shirts in the both/ and T-shirt store regarding the both/and we may feel with our therapists.) I know this on both sides, as a client AND a client therapist.

“I don’t know….” I stammered, hemming and hawing. I did not have the ability yet to be with that seventh-grade girl. I just know I couldn’t stop looking at her in those pictures.

“I see strength and courage,” she said softly; “how she persevered…” instantly, the tears filled my eyes and I could feel a cry rolling up from the depths of my body. Never had I EVER considered that those days were anything more than awful, terrifying and that I had not been brave enough….

Here in this sacred room where I had shared some of my deepest fears, shame, changes and hope, things were changing in this instant, as they had a many times before during my hour with my therapist. With the soft, caring tone she intentionally used and that achingly poignant question, she altered the view I had of that photo (in reality, that time in my life) and began to help me permanently change it.

I have become so proud of her.

A few weeks later, I sent her an email, telling her how badass that little girl was and “I just never knew it.” She applauded this perspective, agreed with me and asked me to think about other times “I was a badass.” Some big seeds, planted and watered.

I have played with the word, smiled about it, shamed myself for “being arrogant,” adamantly disagreed in my own mind and then tried to be kinder to myself. It took a lot of time, emotional tug-of-war and intentional self-compassion to begin caring about myself, seeing my own resiliency. But it wasn’t until I began riding a new recumbent around that same time, that I began to embrace and LOVE the idea of being a badass. Another perspective shift, this time from my husband and kids.

When I got my new bike, I was and felt much slower than my much younger kids. Still, the freedom and movement were new and beautiful gifts. I felt a bit sassy on that bike and battled through my negative self-talk to give permission for joy.

My husband began riding with me and as I gained strength, he started upgrading my bike. He turned my 7-speed cruising recumbent into a 21 speed as I got stronger. He surprised me that summer with a hidden, beautiful moniker. “Badass.” With every ride, his belief was right in front of me, on repeat. I smiled, grit my teeth, cried some days, but I could not NOT see his reminder to me. Every ride. Every single rotation of my left, then right leg. And with every ride, the reminder began to wash away any other belief I had about myself. I finally owned, “I AM BADASS.” My kids felt a little rebellious, excited and nervous, when we told them it was ok to say, (at least in this context, not at school!)

My husband is ridiculously smart, talented and knew this reminder was important.

I’ve been building that belief since. Some days, it is easier than others to hold on to that semi-new belief, while also believing the fire (and honestly the FUN) of those words. I LOVE, love, love the idea of being so able and strong, resilient and capable, not fragile. The truth of 2 COR 12:9 that says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It is a complex thing, to find your worth…

To believe in yourself, means overcoming the multitude of reasons we range from self-loathing to mean (rarely kind in our own minds, remember that 80% kinder to others than we are to ourselves statistic?). It requires a level of badassery all of its’ own. But the journey to both healthy self-esteem and the knowledge that we aren’t worthy and NEED Jesus Christ is a beautiful one. I believe with my whole self that we are worthy of both, freedom from the bondage of low self-esteem AND the delight of feeling badass.

My former pastor often shared this quote: The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” –  Rev. Tim Keller from The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

 Every day, I get to watch the transformation from shame, low self-esteem and self-loathing to redemption, belief, self-compassion and “loving yourself just like you love others.” (a paraphrase of Mark 12:31). I began to process that verse quite a while ago as I saw a trend of “putting others first ALWAYS (the emphasis from MANY clients over the span of this career.) My hope is that the perspective of this verse including caring for ourselves AS WELL, allows us to love and care about each other and ourselves in the best manner.  Most of the time it is hard for any of us to argue when we flip it, but all too often, I think we focus on others and let the as yourselves slip by the way side.

In my minds eye, I imagine The Father, Son and Holy Spirit each and all, enjoying how we are created, loving our dependence on God and the fulfillment that knows WITHOUT GOD, we are lost. Once again, please forgive me if it offends, but the very act of loving and trusting, trying to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23,) is not without some brave hutzpah of its own!

To witness the sheer weight, agony and chains of self-doubt lift, replaced with a spark, a firework and incredible strength of seeing ourselves with even a small bit of how God himself made in us is life-changing and beautiful for me as a therapist, even if someone does not know or ascribe to who God is.

The very small comparison for me personally, is the joy I feel when I watch my kids feeling so strong and ready when they compete in various sports or perform, prepare for a test or follow the call of Jesus. When they flash me a “Mom, I am ready and I am badass,” smile, I know, that no matter any outcome, they are feeling exactly right in how God made them and HE is WITH them.

Badass indeed!

A few weeks ago, two dear friends took me out for dinner. It was pure joy, the laughter, the support and the pizza pinwheels. They shared a smile and as I was trying to figure out why, one handed me a colorful little box. “Just because we love you.” I opened the box and found the perfect gift: A cursive, dainty, badass necklace! It is full of beautiful reminders, to the care of sisters and the grace of God that says, “we see you and will remind you even if you forget.” They are WITH me….

A perfect gift. 💗

So, here’s the question…

Is badass a word that means something to you? If it is that particular word or maybe another, who or what makes you feel strong, capable and ready to take on the world? That is what badass is to me. It is feeling both strong, brave and capable and if you believe in Jesus, holding the truth that you are lost without him.

I believe with all my heart, mind and strength that God is within us, before us and behind, always for us. What amazing reasons to embrace our strength and if it feels right to you, your own inner badass. There is infinite room for growth, humility and pointing back to God and his goodness. Remembering where true strength comes from and holding our own worth and strength, that to me, is absolutely breathtaking.

I am thankful for it all – parents who are badass in their own way, who love and give and care tremendously; medical professionals who are skilled beyond what I can comprehend, possess the badassery of holding change in their very hands; each and every person who inspires me, (far too many to name), the journey and those who walk it with us, everything learned and gained even on the hardest days. Most of all, I am thankful to my Savior who models fearless, unwavering passion and pursuit without EVER giving up on any of us.

Whatever words embody your strength, capability and tenacity, I pray you see and feel his love, always. I pray that you are surrounded by those who make you feel badass and remind you when you can’t see it for yourself.


II Cor 12:9

PS: On my ankle is my first tattoo, a small Jesus fish with II Cor 12:9 arched around it. I deliberately placed the reminder of God’s sufficient grace in my weakness about ½ inch away from a surgery scar. I think even before I knew it, I was working out what it means to be badass. It is one of my most beautiful reminders. I hope you look for and find your reminders as well, as often as you can.

“You have solid steel I-Beams, Stace.”

“Mom, they are going to demolish that building soon.” My son told me as we drove through town.

“Yeah?” We were talking about the former municipal power plant building, much of which was already demolished.

“Yes, they are getting the explosives set on the beams. The I-beams are the only thing left.”

My brain raced back to the sweetest of memories as I glanced at the big building.

“You have solid steel I-beams, Stace.”

Do I? Is he talking about me?

I held the phone, tears in my eyes and a hopeful breath caught in my throat. My friend and mentor, Jim, had offered a defining word of encouragement that would shape my journey from age 29 on…

I suppose to really explain the importance and beauty in those words, I have to go backwards before I go forward. This is often something I explain to clients in the beginning of counseling (and remind often during counseling).

It was the first day of my sophomore second semester at Hope College. The pressure to declare my major was looming larger each day and it was nerve-wracking to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I had moved back into Gilmore Hall a few days before; it was snowy and cold, which matched my feelings of overwhelmed and lost. Initially, I wanted to be an English major, writing was always my favorite part of classes. I kept getting asked what kind of career that would give me and I honestly did not know….

 I had explored so many different career and major options but for a multitude of reasons, none seemed to fit. I could not settle on any of them.  My dad always encouraged, “have a job that you love going to, you will spend a lot of time there.” Both he and my mom had careers they loved and it set a strong example for me. They both worked so hard, lots of long hours as a physical therapist and a nurse (and her side hustle as an antique dealer.) At dinner, they always had good antidotes about their days, from his inspiring patients and the bartering and re-selling antiques to also the sweet (or funny) parts of her day as a nurse in a pediatrician’s office.

They have both lived what it means to love the career you choose and are given as a calling.

That pressure, to find my path, was mounting and the more worried I got, the more confused I became as well.

That January morning, I trudged through the snow on campus, cursing Michigan for this snow. It seemed to match the feeling in my body (what I would later learn is fight, flight or freeze). I was panicking about my future; it was cold and my anxiety was spiking. Trying to pay in class was going to AWESOME. I’m not even sure I remembered which class I was trudging to…

It didn’t help that my class that morning was located in Graves Hall, a building on campus that was old and original to when and how it was built. In other words, outdated, dark and seemed to have a musty, dusty smell to match. (Kind of similar to the fabricated smell of the Haunted Mansion, just not near as fun to be in.) No offense to my Alma Mater, by the way. Simply the way I experienced it, 30 years ago. Graves has since been renovated!

There was a bigger room in Graves, where student life usually showed semi-new releases for students on weekends. It had old fold-down seats with velvet cushions, once decadent and now aged.

I settled in, pushing down the adrenaline that came from walking in the snow and fear of icy sidewalks on the way to class and pushed my ever-present, “what am I doing with my life?” fear even further down.

“Hi there, so glad you are all here.”

I looked up and saw a warm, familiar smile. Jim (Dr. P on campus), was both a neighbor of my family AND a former fraternity brother of my dad. Even when I ran into him near home, he was always kind, happy and genuine in his “good to see you.” I could feel my heart, body and anxiety settle a bit, just in his greeting. I had also forgotten that he taught this “Intro to Social Work” class.

He began describing both the goals of the class and the history of social work. For the life of me, I wish I could remember the next few sentences, but I cannot. All I know is that it was in those few sentences, God made himself and my path abundantly clear. I think it was something like, “If you have a heart for caring for people, listening and helping problem solve, this is the path for you.”

I sat riveted on Jim’s passion for this field, the joy and humor in his voice, suddenly feeling the pressure dissipate.

I often ask friends and clients how they KNOW when God is guiding them. “When have you known without a SINGLE doubt, this is the path God has for you?”

Usually the answer is, “I don’t know, I just know.” For some who might not know Jesus, perhaps this is your conscience or a gut feeling. For others, this could be related to having an intimate relationship with Jesus, being guided by the Holy Spirt.

For me, this moment was without doubt, one of the places I did and still return to if I am struggling to make a decision or have difficulty deciphering “next steps.” I cannot tell you how or why, but I know with absolute certainty that I heard Jesus gently whispering next to me, “THIS is the path for you. THIS is exactly where I want you.” That fear that had been mounting since my junior year in high school, quickly began exciting my body, like a balloon that suddenly begins to leak and lose air. It was replaced just that quickly with a sort of scary excitement as Jim described the many areas in which a social work degree could be used in a career.

I realize that this paragraph might sounds like a nice story or argument to trust Jesus but it is all my truth. I know that deciphering God’s will is not that easy all the time, but for me, even when it is not entirely clear, it is more than enough….

I declared my social work major a few weeks later and the path since has been not always easy, but always completely RIGHT. I often tell clients, “The right thing is rarely the easy thing.”

About 3 weeks later, on Saturday, January 23, 1993, I awoke to a knock on our dorm room door. A family friend stood there and I was so confused. I loved her, but could not for the life of me, figure out what she was doing in my dorm hallway, knocking on the door, on a snowy Saturday morning.

“Stacy, I am so sorry, your grandma died this morning.”

My Gram’s death and all it taught me is certainly a post for the future. But
I’ll leave it here for today just knowing that I was one person before I answered that door and another entirely after dear Ardys uttered those words.

The following days and weeks were some of the most confusing, life-changing and difficult I had up to that point in my life. And God absolutely began shaping me in those very days to become a therapist specializing in grief and loss.

I moved in a fog, feeling so heartbroken and disorientated that I did not know which end was up. I sat in my writing class and my professor asked if I was alright. I was anything but…I couldn’t stop crying, aching or simply feeling shocked.

One day, not even really knowing how or why, I found myself wandering toward Jim’s office. He welcomed me into the sunny space that was filled floor to ceiling with books. Heavenly. There was a path to his chair and one other comfy chair that I gratefully sunk into, then noticed being surrounded by piles of papers; I spied a notorious “blue exam booklet” (Did other colleges besides Hope use those?) on top of a pile here, manila folders there. I instantly felt welcomed and safe, even though I truthfully felt like a complete wreck.

I don’t know what I said (again), or what he said, other than the fact that he reassured me that I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t going to flunk out of college, and that I would, indeed, someday stop crying. It was all going to be ok, somehow. I could believe him a tiny bit, a miniscule beam of light in that dark season of my soul.

Jim was an absolute anchor in the storm and I experienced the care of Jesus many, many times over in the course of our friendship. I visited him many times that semester, as well as many the following two years. I did indeed graduate with my BSW. We stayed in touch during my first job. 5 years later I applied and got accepted into grad school and as God led me closer and closer to becoming a therapist. He was affirming in my professional skills, as well as becoming a trusted role model for my own internal struggles. Which was why, when the bottom fell out of my life again, the week after I started graduate school, he was amongst the first phone calls I made.

Someone dear to me was killed violently and tragically as he drove home from his job as an EMT in the middle of the night. The driver, her passenger (her sister) and my friend were all killed instantly as the girls were both many times over the legal drinking limit.

In this, another, life-changing moment, my foundation shook and crumbled. I had family support, friends who did their very best to understand and yet, I was floundering, triggered once again. I often tell clients,  Grief brings up grief.

 One of my favorite analogies comes from Disney’s original animated version of The Little Mermaid (1989). Do you remember how Ursula grows gigantic quickly and begins stirring up the sea with King Triton’s glowing Trident? The old shipwrecks begin to resurface from the ocean’s floor. I often tell people that “Big Ursula “can feel like our present grief and all the “shipwrecks” can be past grief experiences that resurface in connection with the new, present grief. While the analogy is my own, if it weren’t for Jim, I would not have been able to move through both of those searing losses and have an understanding to draw on when counseling in the future. He spent many hours listening, normalizing and teaching me about grief, it’s affects, the need for self-care and affirming my ability to work through it, WHILE going to graduate school.

It was Jim, who with the wisdom of a dad, said to me one night on the phone, “You have solid steel I-beams, Stace. You are so strong in your desire to understand, work through and be healthy.”

That is how I felt about myself, that I wanted to understand, to find my way through this scary forest (many forests for all of us) and come out with better understanding, peace and the ability to help others because I had people who helped me.

In his kind affirmation, he praised WHO I was, HOW I was and gave me much-needed belief in myself.

I remember vividly, sitting on the floor, tears streaming as he uttered that life-changing-truth to me. I can feel how I wanted to rise to that, to see it for myself. I can feel the gift of being known by this mentor and friend and I am ever thankful.

I wonder who it is for you, that speaks absolute acceptance and life into you. Who is your person, who sees you as you want to be, who accepts who you are now, but cheers you on to who you will become?

I know we don’t have just one….there are many who add to our lives, each has their place. But don’t we all have a couple who come into our lives, help us see our own strength and change us for the good?

Mr. Rogers, in his acceptance of a Lifetime Achievement award, said (in part) to an audience of Hollywood elite:

Oh, it’s a beautiful night in this neighborhood.

So many people have helped me to come to this night. Some of you are here. Some are far away. Some are even in heaven.

All of us have special ones who have loved us into being.

Would you just take along with me 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are — those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life?

Ten seconds of silence.

I’ll watch the time.

[silence observed]

Whomever you’ve been thinking about — how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made.

Jim is still the dearest of friends and mentors. We don’t talk often, but when we do, we pick up just where we left off. We share photos and details of life in the present and he without fail, he encourages me. The blessing of being known is without compare.

He is but one who has shaped me and been an important part of the tapestry of this life, both personal and professional. He is an important one for me in this 28-year career, one who I still draw from today in my work and value.

I pray that you too, have many, who come to mind who have believed in and loved you. It is one of my biggest hopes and prayers, that we can feel and give that care and love to ourselves and others. If you have a “Jim,” or Neen, Tom, Jill, Rick or Susan, whoever it is that speaks love and affirmation in your life, today is good day to tell them. You never know if today is the day that your encouragement will bless your person in return.

I pray we can all claim our own “I beams,” or the truth others help us to see about ourselves. That is so much of the journey. Be proud and even a little excited at what it has taken for you to keep going on your journey. It is nothing short of miraculous.

To that end, if you look in the shirt shop, you will find an option to support kidney disease awareness. I have a dear acquaintance who shows me daily what it means to be born with a steel I beam. I made the “I would go anywhere as long as its not dialysis” in her honor. All proceeds from the sale of this shirt will be donated at the end of December.

 God is good, all the time. Thank you, Jesus, for each and every one of the people you place on our journey to show us how you love. I am profoundly grateful.


Phil 1:3-5