Re-Unchurched

It took a year, but I finally made the decision to attend church online.

It doesn’t take the place of in-person worship, I firmly believe community is everything as a Christian, but here I am, an unvaccinated recluse who took too many infectious disease courses in college. I broke.

I find comfort in the past, so it wasn’t a stretch that I began watching the church service where I attended in college.

The church was on its deathbed last time I was there a few years ago, but the Lord breathed new life in it; now it’s a very family orientated church with a full sanctuary on Sunday mornings (no masks and no social distancing, but I digress). Gone are the days of college ministry and the college students taking up the pews. It’s not the same – nonetheless, I tuned in.

Their service was about what I expected. They’re a bit counter-cultural to the evangelical machine, which made me smile (free meals! no bootstrap mentality!). And then at some points, it’s a bit sticky sweet. Whoa, easy on the Christianese platitudes! Yet the preaching is solid, meaningful, and biblical.

And then it hit me.

The nostalgia evaporated as the service went on. As much as my heart rested there and if I returned to the city in a post-pandemic world, I’d re-join this church. They’d have no idea what to do with me as a childless woman in a nuclear family focused paradigm, but I think we would be good for each other.

But that’s just the thing.

I’m not there. I’m here, literally a thousand miles away. I haven’t been a resident there in seventeen years. They don’t know me. I don’t know them. I don’t carry the same theology I did at 22. I expected to be comforted by transporting myself to something I used to know, but it caused an uncomfortable feeling, like listening to a familiar hymn played on a very out of tune piano: I recognize the song, but the key is way off from where it should be.

I don’t belong with them either.

The pre-teen girl I remember back then is now a married mother of three. They knew me only as Sim, yet I go by Simonne now.

My current church here is too unsafe for my pandemic brain, so I haven’t attended worship, hence reaching out to this past church via WiFi. I’m still going to “attend” services online with this church, I just need to keep it in perspective.

And then, through the grapevine, I heard an apartment needed to be cleaned. A family living in their car for months on end secured non-govenernmental housing through a local non-profit. The last residents moved out and the apartment was a disaster, the director said, it needed a deep clean before this new family moved in. I volunteered to clean it. I did my best with my limited time and supplies I brought, but I left the apartment in better shape that I found it. I hope the new residents find rest for their bodies and souls in this place. I’m told they’re Christians, too.

I paused in cleaning and daydreamed out the the window into the neighborhood. Where I’m standing used to be a den of debauchery – prostitution and drugs were synonymous with this place. And now it’s a beacon of hope to a family who’s only known hardship.

I want that Jesus that makes things new: He who removes the rot and gives tools to get the filth out of kitchen counters and vacuums out the carbon flakes in the stove. I want the Jesus who rebukes the rich. I want the Jesus who meets with the wrong people and loves them. I want the Jesus who shows love and kindness to everyone – even those who mocked Him.

While my college town is far away, I’m doing my best to find ways to serve Him where I am planted, in this beautiful seascape of a town.

I encourage you to tend to the needs of your immediate community as an act of worship, even if your online church is in another time zone.

When Inspiration Struck

I was barely fifteen the first time it happened. It came out of seemingly no where, but it hit me so hard I couldn’t do anything else until I got the words on paper. I liken this to throwing up – I didn’t get a choice. It was happening and it was happening now.

It still happens to me.

It was the inspiration to write. The words and sentences were congealing in my head, like an epic poem as I walked into my World History class, almost disorientated by all the words. I opened my notebook and let the words flow out through my pen. The words were streaming faster than I could write, my cursive barely legible, except to me. I intuitively put an asterisks by words to look up in a thesaurus later – a practice I still use in pre-writing and first drafts. The words were coming too fast to stop and edit. I spent the full forty-ish minutes of class pouring out the lines of poetry.

Once all the words were safely on paper, they were a bit tangled, but at least I could calmly edit them now, with the torrent ceasing. Once inked, I felt relieved, calm, and satisfied. I can only describe it as an afterglow.

Naturally, it was about a boy. He was unlike anyone I had ever met before; we were carved out of the same stone. I had successfully located another outsider, an old soul trapped in a teenage body with eyes that radiated a cyan light.

Our attraction in the romantic sense was short lived, all things considered, yet it would reverberate in the years to come. The undisclosed moments we shared were proof that locks don’t keep our kind out and we both had the uncanny ability to disappear into thin air unnoticed. It was great for making out. We took on personas like Christine Daeé and The Phantom with the Opera House all to ourselves.

This muse and I lost contact over the years. I wish I could have gotten his take on these days of so long ago. All that remains are some blurred memories and this poem, edited 25 years after it was penned.

The poem I wrote is as follows:*

My World of Darkness, Covered in Light
The raining of the soft seasonal drought has cast its shadows again
The dimness unknown to the naked eye
Only a controlled vision in the snow
White as the clouds on a rainy day
Or so was thought

Has the deep unseen wind started blowing?
Only the sands of time will tell

Deep within the blackness
Of the light of day
Has the rain stopped?
Once the rain flooded the meadow
Does it move away?
A season of complete dryness
Time has repeated itself once more through the heavens

Running like a child throughout the fields of a serene setting
Running without end
Running without purpose
Smiling at the sun that shown up above
All seems peaceful
Even the lone tree, standing tall
Roaming over the plains
Avoiding the darkness
Baptized in the light of the nighttime
The sun still shines on this world of darkness, covered in light
How long will it last?
Only the waves of time will tell

The path has brightened the silver lakes on the land
Silver lakes of mercury
Churning away at the crisp air
Living on the highest mountain
In the lowest valley
Crawling on the flooded land
Searching for water
Dying a wonderful death
In a world of darkness, covered in light

The abyss of togetherness gushing out from under the sea
Crossing back out from the sun
On the side of the ocean floor
Wondering and wandering under a quiet starless sky
To the gentle beat of his heart
Like the waves of a summer storm
A calm gust of wind
Connected by the straits of separate seas
To sail the land once more

The light and the darkness merge into one
As the leaves scatter about
Like the night chases the day
In a continuous circle
A circuit without end
Knowing nothing of what lie ahead

Crying out into the opaqueness of the midnight
And the moon cannot hear
For it is too far away
Bolting from nothing, going no where
Looking up to the sky
Delirious with confusion
The comfort of the land is more than can be endured
Uncertainty hangs in the air
Like a foggy morning in this world of mine
A world of darkness, covered in light

* Yes I am aware some of the rhetorical devices do not make sense and the trail this poem goes down is more of a deer path than a groomed one. But such is the life of a teenager in love.

Walking the Walk

In high school, I wasn’t allowed to have a car. My parents were on a tight budget with no room for extras, so adding another vehicle to the mix wasn’t a possibility. I didn’t get my license until 16 and a half, and while I was on my parents’ insurance as a driver, I could drive their cars, only with explicit permission. I wasn’t allowed to work during the school year, so I couldn’t have paid for the car myself.

Basically, I only drove myself to church on Sundays (family did not attend my church) and occasionally to see friends.

But I didn’t care.

As a non-drinking, non-partying, non-smoking, non-sneaking out Christian virgin in a strict and chaotic household, the avenues to assert my independence as a teenager were few, but I made use of them: my fingernails were painted stupid bright colors (like construction crew orange) and I walked everywhere. My hometown had no taxis or bus system: if you didn’t have a car, you needed a bike or a good pair of shoes.

It was about a mile from my doorstep to my high school and I walked, rain or shine or blizzard. It took me a whole 15 minutes to get ready in the morning – which included a shower – so in the winter my hair would often freeze. I remember once for a play, I carried two paint full paint cans the entire mile for a set painting session after school, a decision I regretted a city block into the walk, but didn’t have time to turn back. The first day of my senior year was a downpour – I walked – and I was soaked from the knees down the entire day. That sucked. My mom would have gladly driven me, but I wanted to do something on my own, I hated being kept under their thumb. I have always had an independent streak something fierce.

Walking has always been a part of my life, more so than a vehicle, and I think it’s part of the reason my heart is always pulled towards Europe and its pedestrian friendly walkable cities. In America, especially in my neck of Suburbia, everything was built around the car. I used to walk to a grocery store at my old job during lunch – it was 800 yards away – and I routinely had other co-workers ask if I needed a ride! This would happen only in America.

If I were to take this new gig – a management position of all things – it is only 1.5 miles from my house. And if I cut through the neighborhoods, I can walk there in about 25 minutes on foot. I’ve already tested this hypothesis. “You wouldn’t actually walk to work, would you?” my skeptical husband said when I told him of my plan. I would walk on most days when the weather cooperates. I wouldn’t be as extreme as I was in high school – after all, I would be in leadership and sloshing around with wet shoes and socks doesn’t exude professionalism, so on cold or wet days I would drive.

I must admit, the thought of walking to work is certainly a perk. A whole hour of quiet solitude or podcasts or phone calls to friends and family. Us introverts dream about these things!

I’m still debating if I should take this job. Since working in a hardware store in high school, I’ve always managed to talk myself out of going for the promotion. I do great work as a grunt. I have leadership skills and training, I’ve only chosen to keep them on the shelf all these years because I believe there’s always someone better for the gig than myself. I’ve often defaulted to people with a degree lower than my own or even less experience because I figure they know better than me. My fear of being wrong and hurting a patient keeps me up at night.

I can’t figure out if it’s a confidence thing or if it’s really just who I am. My IQ levels out as average, yet I have 15+ years of experience in this field in multiple settings, both in large and micro enterprises.

I know the management team I would be under and they love me. I’m 99% sure if I go for this gig, I’ll get it.

Maybe this is the way to go? Even if it’s just for the mentorship. But am I ready? I’m nearly 40 but still feel 24.

In the meantime, more prayer. I’m going to reach out to a contact after this week to get more information. And I have a book about management for this particular field.

Walking the walk? I might.

Christmas, 2005

Christmas 2005 hit me like a ton of bricks. I would have to work overnight Christmas Eve to Christmas Day and I would be alone. There was no boyfriend and no prospects. All my friends had their own families. My own family was three hours away.

I tried to cheer myself up by saying this is how it’s going to be if I stick with this career path. People need healthcare on Christmas too. I’d gotten quite used to the lifestyle of being single and alone, so why would Christmas be any different?

Instead of wallowing in this reality, I ran in the other direction. I bought a tree at WalMart with all the fixings: garland, ornaments (the more unique, the better), and an angel to go on top. I slowly turned my one bedroom apartment into a winter wonderland.

It really helped ease the anxiety of being alone.

The icing on the cake came from my friend Deborah: her and her husband were spending their first Christmas as a married couple in Chicago with his family. On Christmas Eve afternoon, just as I was getting out of bed for my third shift job, she called to say she was bringing me dinner. “It’s nothing fancy, but we want to celebrate Christmas with you.” My heart nearly exploded with joy.

This couple drove 30 minutes in the opposite direction of their destination to make sure I had a merry Christmas. Fifteen years later, thinking about it still warms my heart.

Deborah and her husband showed up with a Hot ‘N Ready pizza and some dessert creation from Little Caesars and a two liter of Mountain Dew. For us recent college grads, this was living the high life. We sat on the floor of my living room, eating pizza, laughing, and talking. An hour later they left, a big drive ahead of them and I had to get ready for work.

And yet, this simple act of merely showing up, changed the whole trajectory of my Christmas.

I encourage you to reach out to singles, widowed – anyone who might be facing a Christmas alone or through pain. A simple act that says, “I see you” – even if it looks like a humble Little Caesars Pizza – can make all the difference in the world.

Merry Christmas, y’all. May y’all reflect the light that came into this world on that fateful Christmas Day two thousand years ago.

The Road to Wilmington, North Carolina (Part 3): To the Sea!

Long story short, they offered me a position and I accepted.

My new employer was even picking up the tab for a moving company to move my life nearly 900 miles south. When the movers took out my couch, they sheepish asked if the things found under it were mine: a strapless bra, about €0.70, and a remote I had lost months earlier. That summed up my last few years of Illinois: support, foreign travel, and control.

I left Coles County the first week in February of 2006 for Louisville and spent the night on the floor of a good friend’s college dorm room. I was on the road as soon as it was light out, driving as far as I could. I paid about twelve dollars in tolls once I hit West Virginia: I made a mental note to have more cash on me for the return trip.

It was in that moment it hit me: there was no return trip. The gravity of uprooting my life suddenly hit with full force, as the adventure gave way to reality.

About eight hours in, I started to get very tired and ended up spending the night in Winston-Salem, NC. I stayed in a hotel right off the interstate, not my best choice, as I believe drug deals were going down in the hallway outside my room. I arrived in Wilmington the next day, around lunch time. I had a one bedroom apartment lined up but hadn’t actually seen it in real life. I hope it looked as good as the pictures did.

Outside of the ugly chocolate brown carpet, it was absolutely perfect.

I had finally arrived.

All I had with me was what could fit in my car – the moving van would arrive a week later – so unpacking was a quick endeavor. I had a full two weeks before I had to report to the hospital for my training shifts, which felt like an eternity, but I had plenty of time to relax and adventure through my new home in the Cape Fear region.

The next morning just after sunrise, I was out by Johnny Mercer’s pier in Wrightsville Beach, a hop, skip, and a jump from my new apartment. I brought a Bible and a journal; having my quiet time by the ocean sounded like a perfect beginning to this new era of me.

And so, my friendship with the Atlantic began.

The Road to Wilmington, North Carolina (Part 2): Futures Revealed

I rolled up to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in my rented 2006 SUV and was in awe of what I was seeing. I’d never seen a hospital that had a facade of a five star hotel. Before I got out of the car, I laid my head on the steering wheel and prayed: “Lord, if this is where you want me to be, make it obvious. I would love to have a husband here, perhaps he is here, perhaps not. In any case, I want to be in Your Will. Come what may. Amen.”

My future boss met me at the door and we sat in her office for the interview. She explained the job, in addition to tidbits like the windows were rated to a Category 4 hurricane and Category 5 was an automatic evacuation protocol. It was clear I wasn’t in Illinois anymore. And then, as in all interviews in my field, we went on a tour.

As she introduced me to all the departments, I noted that everyone was smiling. Everyone seemed to smile here in the south. And then she introduced me another new employee who was training, but would eventually be on my shift. I couldn’t remember what his name was, probably because I was distracted by his gorgeous blue eyes; he was really cute. Little did I know, I had just met my husband.

With the interview over, my mom and I decided to explore for the remainder of the afternoon. We walked downtown along the Riverwalk. We drove to Wrightsville Beach – the third time I had seen the ocean in my lifetime – despite the clouds and spitting rain. We got the place wired by driving to Kure Beach (We had pronounced it “Cure” which was wrong, it’s “Cure-ee”) and walked out on the pier. My mom snapped a picture of me. The butterfly effect again: I didn’t know my favorite surfing spot was just over my right shoulder.

We also stopped to tour some apartments as well – none were winners.

We returned to the hotel to freshen up, and decided we wanted to go to good seafood restaurant. We were leaving for the frozen tundra of home first thing in the morning, thought we might as well live it up our last night in Wilmington.

And that’s when the culture shock set in.

We stopped at the front desk and asked the lady about a seafood restaurant recommendation. “I know just the place,” she said, but she couldn’t remember the name or where it was exactly. She yelled to the back and another woman showed up. “Oh, that’s Hironymous, up on Market Street.” Another employee showed up and between the three of them, found a printed map and drew directions in detail. Up north, this kind of customer service was unheard of. “Wow, they are really friendly here,” said my mom who had never experienced the south either. I had yet to learn this was typical southern hospitality.

The food was delicious, we dined like kings that night.


When we touched down in Indiana, it was 8F at noon. My car, having sat three days in this arctic parking lot, open to the wind, decided it didn’t want to start on the first or third try. Finally, once I convinced the engine to turn over, and we sat awhile to warm up.

“I’m taking that job,” I said as my teeth were chattering.

The Road to Wilmington, North Carolina (Part 1): The Beginning of a New Life

“Welcome to Wilmington, North Carolina, current time is 4:35. We appreciate you flying with us and if Wilmington is your final destination, welcome home.”

The words made me smile. If all went well, Wilmington was going to be my new home.

Fifteen years ago, scratching out a living in a corn desert of Central Illinois, I decided I needed a change. I was single, no kids, and hungry for adventure. What on earth was I doing in this desolate region? A summer trip to Paris inspired me to leave Illinois for literally greener pastures, somewhere with less snow and zero subzero temperatures. My feeling was if I was going to spend the rest of my life alone (as I suck at long term relationships), I wanted to do it in a beautiful place and live life well. I had nightmares about turning 30 in my current location, doing exactly the same things I was doing now at 24.

I saw an ad for a hospital system in Wilmington, North Carolina and narrowed my search there. Wilmington also had city qualities like a local Target, a quaint downtown, and most importantly, an ocean. I applied, got a phone interview (which seemed to go well), and then a call for a face-to-face interview. They were going to fly me to Wilmington, put me up in a hotel, and give me a rental car. I figured if nothing else, this was an adventure.

I asked my mom to come down and I booked her on a parallel flight and hotel room. If I was going to move here, I needed a more experienced set of eyes, since stars were quickly clouding my vision.

It was the middle of December, where temperatures were in the single digits in Illinois, but this tropical paradise boasted 55F. I even brought flip-flops with me, but I quickly regretted that. I couldn’t get over the greenery. My mom was stunned that pansies were still blooming, as everything had turned brown two months ago at home. Winter here was a gentle one that tugged at my soul.

We got lost, as Martin Luther King Drive is really confusing and these were the days before GPS. Tired and hungry, I now cringe at the fact that we stopped at Chili’s on College Road for dinner that night. Wilmington has such amazing eating establishments, this should have been against the law. We made it to the hotel – The Hampton Inn on 17th Street – and settled into our respective hotel rooms for an early night: I had two interviews the next day: one with HR, one with my future boss.

As I was parsing through the Bible that night in bed, James 1:6 stood out to me:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

James 1:6, NIV

I wasn’t 100% sure what it meant, but the words “who doubts is like a wave of the sea” kept rolling around in my head.

I remember staring out my hotel room window, gazing north on 17th Street and thought, “Yeah, I could do this. I could live here.”

My doubts were quickly fading.

Home for the Holidays

Like everything else in 2020, the holidays this year are also different. They arrive followed by my socially distanced summer and stressed out spring of unknowns. As the pirates of North Carolina were fond of saying, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” And the punches keep on coming.

My biggest Christmas family tradition is with my husband’s family: we celebrate something called Happy Merry Thanksmus. It’s on a random weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas and we celebrate all three holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

Thanksgiving is done by having a big dinner. Sometimes its ham, a roast, or a turkey – but there are plenty of sides, a stupid amount of desserts, and one usually can’t move very well afterward.

Then, we drink and play games for the New Year’s part. We broke my SIL’s dining room table one year playing Spoons. It’s currently held together by a zip tie.

The last day is Christmas: we get to open presents from each other and watch movies.

We also attend a sporting event of either soccer or basketball, depending on which niece or nephew is playing. Basically, it’s a great weekend of wonderful memories and always a good time. It’s the soul food I crave. It’s held at the rural Virginian estate of my in-laws.

This year it got cancelled by default. My husband’s parents aren’t making the drive down from the great white north. We discussed going but ultimately decided not to because of COVID.

My own family is in Chicago – and everything is so bad in Illinois right now, I can’t imagine going there without a life and death situation.

Often times when the future seems unclear and scary, we look back. We humans tend to glorify the past and this Christmas is no different.

YouTube has Christmas specials from years gone by – Dean Martin in the late 1960’s, Donnie & Marie Osmond in the mid-1970’s, and John Denver in the late 1980’s. We started watching those, a wee bit of nostalgia to soften the blow of this uncharted Christmas season.

Dean Martin is obviously intoxicated during filming, but it seems almost endearing. I once opened a door for Donnie Osmond to exit up stage left, so it’s interesting seeing him in his heyday. I’ve gone nearly 40 years knowing only one John Denver song, but Christmas in Aspen sounds like an utopia in the current state of affairs.

My husband used to pull twelve hour shifts on Christmas, so I was often left alone, which hurt my soul, especially since we are so far away from family. I cured this by inviting friends and neighbors who had no where else to go for a Christmas morning brunch. I had everything from an egg bake casserole to cinnamon rolls to my famous Christmas Morning Winter Sangria (it tastes like yuletide). My one friend would stay until after dinner, as her family was overseas and had no where else to go either. We’d spend the day hanging out and sipping wine.

This year is so different. My friend moved out of state with her boyfriend and newborn. My husband’s new gig is closed on Christmas. I’m excited to do Christmas with him this year. There won’t be a crowd gathered around my table this year, though.

I’m still totally doing the Christmas Morning Sangria. You should too. I always add more brandy and triple sec, but that’s my style.

Slow Cooker Winter Sangria
1 bottle red wine (merlot)
1/2 cup pomegranate juice (100% juice)
1/4 cup brandy
1/8 cup triple sec
1/8 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 pear, chopped
1 Granny Smith (or any green) apple, chopped

Place everything in a slow cooker and mix well.

Keep on low for 2 hours and enjoy.

Add orange slices for garnish if desired.

from The Foodie Affair

A College Ghost Story

It began in my Communications class my first semester at Illinois State University. The group project was a panel discussion, where we had to argue both sides of an issue. Our group chose the existence of ghosts: did they exist or not? Our prof mentioned one of the librarians had seen the ghost of Ange Milner (pronounced Angie, short for Angeline) on campus and that might be a good source.

Ange Milner was a popular librarian in the early 1900’s at ISU, so celebrated that the current library – Milner Library – was named after her. They shut down classes when she died in 1928 so the student body could attend her funeral.

We shuffled over to the main desk at the library to get the scoop on the librarian’s experience. “Well, actually,” The Librarian said slowly. “I am going to go into the old stacks at Williams Hall, where she’s been seen, with a group on Halloween night. Would you like to come along?” We all agreed to be there.

At 9pm on Halloween night, I showed up outside Williams Hall. An older couple in their 50’s and The Librarian appeared, with no sign of my classmates, but I sort of expected that. My dorm floor was basically evacuated because everyone was dressed up and drinking at house parties. While we were waiting, The Librarian went upstairs to unlock the doors and check on things. The older couple was part of this tour: he was a Pastor/Medium (someone who could talk to spirits) and she was his wife. The Southern Baptist angel on my shoulder rolled her eyes and audibly sighed.

“Well, this looks like the group. Let’s go!” The Librarian lead the three of us up the stairs and through a large door.

The Librarian had a big flashlight, but it really wasn’t needed. The room spanned the length of the building and had large windows that overlooked Stevenson Hall and In Exchange. The street lights flooded the room with enough light to see, which was wall-to-wall with bookshelves. It was a very symmetrical room with a dividing aisle between them.

We sort of milled around at first, getting a feel for the surroundings and letting our eyes adjust to the dim room. And then The Librarian said, “Oh that wasn’t like that when I came up.” We all spun around and saw the filing cabinets were pulled nearly all the way out, some only half way. It was super creepy. My heart rate went up, but the Southern Baptist angel on my shoulder whispered, “She opened those for effect when she came up to check on things.” I agreed this was too circumstantial to use as evidence.

“Do you mind if I try to contact her?” Pastor/Medium asked.

“Sure, go ahead.” said The Librarian.

This ought to be good, I thought.

Pastor/Medium leaned against the wall by the windows and closed his eyes.

After a few moments of silence, his eyes flew open. “She’s here.”

“Where are you?” he called out. He started walking down the center aisle and we followed slowly behind. I felt like I was in a movie.

“Why are you here and not in the great beyond?” he asked. After a moment, he said, “She says she has work to do.”

The Pastor/Medium paused at one of the aisles, a few in from the windows. “Hello, Ange. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

We peered down the row, and sure enough, there was a white mist, ever so slightly opaque. The midst hung in their air, as if investigating the books on the shelf.

“Those are new books, Ange,” said The Librarian, as if she were talking to a student.

I would have rolled my eyes at the mist – it was a figment of my imagination – I came up here to see a ghost and now I’m seeing one – it was all about the power of suggestion and the lighting. The Southern Baptist angel on my shoulders nodded in agreement.

Except for two things.

One, I’ve never had a paranormal experience, I’ve never spoken in tongues, I’ve never had a vision, and I’ve never hallucinated. I’m a realist through and through, logic ruled all.

Two, the mist had a defined bottom. I could clearly see the hem of an A-line skirt with a small dainty floral pattern on it.

The others saw it too.

Most manifestations of an apparition appear and disappear quickly – this one did not. It floated in the air for quite some time. We just watched, in complete rapture.

Ever the scientist, I turned around and looked down the the other bookshelf aisle behind us. If I stared long enough, I should have been able to see the same “ghost” – as the lighting was the same in the symmetrical room. Nothing appeared. I turned back around, completely awestruck at what I was witnessing: there was a ghost there – or something was obviously there. I was seeing a real live ghost.

The Southern Baptist angel on my shoulder had left, too perturbed about what was happening to stick around for anything else.

Pastor/Medium spoke. “She would like us to leave now.”

“Well, if she wants us to leave, then we should go,” I said, probably too fast and an octave higher than my normal voice.

I was a little more than freaked out once we made it back outside.

I took off in run to my dorm. I needed to process what I just saw that went against everything I believed about the world.

The dorm was still a ghost town itself and I couldn’t handle being alone with all this stuff in my head. What if this spirit followed me!? So I took off in a full sprint to my friend’s dorm in Hamilton-Whitten (now demolished). He wasn’t in, his roommate said. He went to a friend’s house and wasn’t sure when he’d be back. I waited about a half hour before I left a note on his keyboard: CALL ME ASAP! I somehow managed to stay in my dorm room, my back up against the wall, too freaked out to sleep until well past midnight.

I’m a scientist and a Christian, so I should have been able to explain away my experience. It’s been twenty years and I’m still convinced of what I saw: a ghost. I’ve had other paranormal experiences since then – only audio, nothing as concrete as what I experienced in the old stacks of Williams Hall.

In the words of DC Talk, “Somethings just can’t be explained.”

Confidence

One of the things I’ve never had is confidence. I wilt easily. I have spent my life making sure I am out of other people’s way, whether that be a church or in traffic. My sweet boss from my last job managed to get it on every performance review: “You have no confidence in your work.” Yes, I know. I’m accustomed to being wrong and defaulting to someone with a louder voice, more experience – basically anyone but me.

There was a girl in my high school named Kristen who was the most confident person I had ever come across. Her dark hair resembled a squirrel’s nest, her teeth could have been a dental case study, and her figure would best be described as lumpy. She was, in a word, ugly. More so, she had a grating personality to go with it: loud, slightly obnoxious, and a really annoying laugh. I say this not as an insult, but to say none of this registered with her.

No one would have given her a second look. But in Kristen’s mind, she was a runway model. She walked – no, strutted – through the hallways of high school as if she was a tall leggy blond who had modeling agencies breaking down her door. The football players did their best at making fun of her, mostly by imitating the annoying laugh she had. To a less confident girl, it would be torture. But to Kristen, she saw it as flirting. She’d laugh and smile and say, “Oh stop, you’re so annoying!” while giggling, egging them on. The old saying of “all press is good press” summed up Kirsten’s outlook on life.

“They’re not flirting with you, they’re making fun of you,” I wanted to say, but never did. She acted like she could have her pick of any guy and simply chose none of them. She eventually got a boyfriend in another town and used this fact to remind all the popular guys she was off the market. The entire school knew about Kristen’s boyfriend because she managed to bring it up in every conversation.

Even the cheerleaders – who were beautiful creatures – did not possess an ounce of confidence Kristen had. Kristen did what she wanted when she wanted and yes, she said what she said. You can see yourself out if you didn’t recognize her awesomeness. Everyone threw obstacles at her and she just stepped right over them, laughing as she did so. No one defined Kristen but Kristen.

While I made high honor roll every semester, Kristen did not. Nonetheless, we worked the same job in high school. I remember struggling with a procedure on the computer, but Kristen picked it up right away and then explained it to me several times when I couldn’t get it, with her usual confidence, but never once talked down to me or rolled her eyes at my gross incompetence.

I wonder how she got her confidence. Was in inborn? Did life put her through a crucible and this was the refinement? Here I am, twenty some-odd years later, and despite all the life experience, do not have the confidence of teenaged Kristen.

I wonder what she’s doing now. I wonder if her confidence has grown over years or if life squashed it out of her?

Here, on the cusp of forty, I need more confidence in all areas of life. I live like I’m still in my twenties, yet I’m experiencing hot flashes regularly now. Social media reminds me to sit down and shut up because I have the wrong outlooks on all the hot button issues of the day.

A more confident me would channel Kristen, but I am so darn sensitive to everything, my instinct is to get out of the way and camouflage into the background.

But then again, maybe that’s where the Lord intended me to be: out on the periphery like the desert mothers of the early church.

In permaculture, the margins are the key to everything: it’s where the most diversity comes out and is the reason the interior does so well.

As I continue to build up the soil in my garden, I hope to build more confidence in myself, even if it’s only above a whisper, to stand tall and step out of the shadow and into the sun.