The Third – три

A glass of wine convinced me to find the loves of my past, which is something I’ve never done. Without much thought, I held my breath and plunged my head beneath the watery surface of the past.


The third one was probably the most difficult for me. I wanted nothing to do with him ever again and said so the last time we saw each other, several lifetimes ago. His page was locked down, so his public posts were old and few. Nonetheless, I scrolled. He’s married with kids. His wife’s smile could power a house for days. The few pictures strewn about showed an incredibly happy couple. I was pleased to see that big stupid grin of his, I knew it spoke of his genuine happiness.

Despite being the stereotypical family man from his musings on social media, he looks exactly the same as he did all those years ago, which surprised me. The lines around his eyes are a little deeper, but outside of that small detail, it would be difficult to tell if they were from the distant past or recent. Even his body hasn’t aged, he is still very much that tall lanky kid from the absolute worst city in Illinois. He’s in his late thirties now, but he might as well have been in his late teens. His handsomeness hasn’t changed either, those daring eyes like the sea were the same ones that I fell in love with when I was young and impetuous. I found myself smiling at his picture. Despite the destruction he wrought in my life, I’m glad he is happy. I hope he and his family found Jesus, too, that would be the real icing on the cake.

His kids, for lack of a better term, are cute. They have his facial expressions and the professional pictures of his family in a park looked like an advertising shoot to sell anything to middle America. I hope those pictures reflect his true story, and not just for the camera.

I didn’t recognize the company he works for, so I googled them and was still confused as to what he actually does. A mutual friend of ours had always been very close with him, and I didn’t know they were the combined family vacations type of close. I’m glad they’re still in touch and support each other.

I always hope I will run into him randomly in a restaurant in my travels, where I see him but he won’t see me. If I did, I would secretly pay for his meal, write an anonymous note referencing Final Fantasy VIII, and send over a round of lemon drops. It would be my calling card, a throwback to an era where chastity and sobriety went out the window because of him.

Maybe he’d know it was me. Maybe he wouldn’t. But it would make him smile.

The Second – два

A glass of wine convinced me to find the loves of my past, which is something I’ve never done. Without much thought, I held my breath and plunged my head beneath the watery surface of the past.


We stopped speaking to each other years ago. I’ll always wish our last exchange was mended, but he made it clear he did not want to maintain any semblance of friendship.

We dated for a year or so. As much as I was in love with him, perhaps in the deep recesses of my mind, I knew we were very different people who wanted very different things; married life would not have suited us.

I was living a few hours away when he called. We met up for dinner once a year to catch up, as we truly stayed friends after our romance ended. His work was having an event nearby and he wanted to know if he could crash at my apartment overnight. As a third shift worker, it was perfect: he had the apartment to himself all night while I was at work.

He came over and I got him set up on the couch. His stout athletic body had not changed from high school. He was a strong Christian, single, and I trusted him explicitly. It was comforting to enjoy his presence again. When I returned home after work, he had already folded all the blankets, showered, and eaten. He didn’t have to leave for another couple of hours, so we spent the morning chatting. With all my relationship baggage, here he was, shining the light of Christ on my world. His grounded stance and daily walks with the Lord dazzled me. He reminded me there were good men out there, as I kept forgetting.

And then, we kissed.

It was only kissing. Clothes stayed on, hands didn’t stray, and it was like I was in high school again.

And then he had to leave for his work event.

I was on Cloud 9 for the rest of the day. I knew it was just a kiss and there was nothing more to it. The beauty of him reminding me that all was not lost had a lasting effect on me. I can’t describe how much his visit soothed my aching spirit.

I got an email from him.

It was long. Very long. Oh no, I thought, thinking he wanted to restart our romantic bond.

But, as usual, I was wrong.

The entire letter consisted of him begging for my forgiveness. He felt that kissing me objectified me, as we kissed without context. He knew things could have gone much further than they did (I would never have let that happen, he was still a virgin) and that frightened him. I felt so deflated, that a kiss flung him into such a state. We kissed throughout high school, it wasn’t like this was new territory for us. I quickly typed out my reply, assuring him he had the opposite effect on me. I did not feel objectified in any way; I thoroughly enjoyed our kiss and that I would never let my passions – or his – allow us to do something we would regret. I emphasized how much his visit encouraged me. I sent his letter and my response to my friend, who was in seminary at the time, to get her take on them and she agreed he was overreacting.

And that was it. My subsequent emails were unanswered and we haven’t spoken since.

Nearly two decades have passed.

He wasn’t hard to find. He was the type that would still be in the same rural town, just like his ancestors. Interstates made him uncomfortable, as he preferred roads without lines.

Surprisingly, he had a social media page. He didn’t post often, but I did find pictures of his family. He has six kids – the oldest looks like they are in middle school, the youngest is an infant – and he lives in the middle of nowhere. Of course, I would expect nothing less. I would not be a bit surprised to find if he was a fundamentalist homeschooling Christian, but I couldn’t deduce that from what I found. His wife bears a striking resemblance to his mother, which I found a bit odd, but her homespun appearance still showed off her beauty. He aged quickly with a receding hairline and jowls. He looks much older than I do, even though I am older than him. He’s a large round man now, no longer the fit guy I remember. He’s not nearly as attractive as he was back in the day. His eyes still reflect the light and love of Christ and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is an excellent husband, father, and pillar of his church.

I have this sinking feeling he’d avoid me if we ran into each other again.

I’d still want to hear his story, if he was willing.

The First – один

A glass of wine convinced me to find the loves of my past, which is something I’ve never done. Without much thought, I held my breath and plunged my head beneath the watery surface of the past.


I went to social media. He had a professionally leaning page without any pictures of him or anything personal. Typical of him, really. My genealogical sleuthing prepped me for this. I scanned another timeline. He was still a staunch Republican, as he had touted Republican talking points since I met him. Interactions were minimal, as most of his posts concerned his current field and a few about the randomness of life and depression, which I knew he suffered from. Based on some observances, I believe he was being treated for it pharmaceutically – and also possibly suffered from Crohn’s Disease – but in those days I didn’t have the balls to inquire.

His current girlfriend looks like a model and not a day over twenty-five, but I didn’t look beyond that. I was already down the rabbit hole, I was not about to get myself caught up in a mole tunnel as well.

I really wanted to find a current picture of him. I hadn’t seen him since his twenties and he was a forty-something now. My searches came up empty. I wondered if he was still at the same company. I would know, I helped him prepare for the interview. I’m the reason he dressed sharp and walked in calm, cool, and collected. They hired him on the spot. He was made for this sort of gig. And after watching him search fruitlessly for so long, I knew this line of work would be salve to his soul.

I found the company had a social media account and started scrolling. I found a picture where his name appeared. Bingo, he was still there. I kept scrolling until I hit pay dirt. A full body picture of him standing at an event came into view.

I paused.

In my mind, he was still twenty, but in this picture, he was clearly not. It was him, alright, no questioning that. The big smile, the bright eyes, and the jawline hadn’t changed. His face, neck, and chest all expanded, as it tends to do to men in their forties. I expected him to be more muscular, but he wasn’t. He was in good shape, with a tight chest, but time had taken away the sleek sinewy body he used to press against mine. He hadn’t grayed yet and his hairline hadn’t moved. It was him, just slightly older.

He was still gorgeous.

I looked to see when the picture was taken. I checked my calendar – and sure enough – I was in the same city the same day that picture was taken. How strange. Perhaps we passed each other and never knew.

The picture couldn’t tell me anything about his personality or how he acts now. His cultural exceptionalism bled into his personal views back in the day, and I wondered if he had become tempered with age or grew into a giant asshole. It could have gone either way. I wonder if he has children.

I’d love to meet him over a beer sometime to catch up and get to know him as he is now, but without divine intervention, it is a pipe dream. I’m not even sure he would remember me or could recall me without rolling his eyes.

But man, I’d love to know what he is like now.

The Faith of a Mustard Seed

People are always shocked when I explain that I am an instantaneous gratification type or that I like hard core rock music. Apparently, it’s pretty off-brand for the persona I exhibit, which I think is hilarious. I get a kick out of surprising people. I don’t toe the party line either.

“Bigger is better” is a truth in Western culture and apparently was also in Jesus’s time, when he started talking about faith and mustard seeds, our brains automatically go to size. The mustard seed is tiny, but it grows quite a large bush.

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20

After spending time in the garden, I don’t believe Jesus was just talking about “the size” of the faith, per se. This particular translation from the ESV really made me think: faith like a grain of mustard seed.

What good is a little mustard seed sized bit of faith if it is not cared for?

The church of my youth loved to press on the “just have faith” as if it was designed for me in an instantaneous gratification exercise. They always preached that faith just happened. They never really addressed the struggling it can involve or that sometimes faith takes awhile to mature into a big robust plant with a 20ft spread.

In my experience, God usually works more like a slow cooker on low than an InstaPot, no matter how much the American Evangelical machine tries to tell me otherwise. My struggles have not been met with immediate miracle fixes. I think Jesus’s message about the mustard seed goes deeper than just the size of the seed.

A mustard seed does not grow into a large bush overnight. It takes about ten days for that little guy to germinate – and that’s if all the conditions are met with water and sun. It’s recommended to grow them in a greenhouse pot for the first three years before transplanting them outside. Mustard bushes, once established, are hardy plants that require minimal care, like a mature faith that has had years to grow. Even when fully mature, the bush does not like soggy soil and has a reputation for contracting a few fungal diseases. Like growing any plant, it takes time – an anathema to my default setting. It takes consistency with water, sun, and the occasional pruning, like the grapevine Jesus mentions in John 15.

Faith can start out microscopic and grow into something huge, just like the mustard seed becomes a bush. But that takes time. It takes care. Sometimes we take our mustard-sized seed of faith, throw it in the ground, water it for a day or so, then promptly forget about it. We don’t become intentional about caring for it.

Consistency in caring for plants and tending to my faith in Jesus go hand in hand. Faith and plants both grow – they are living things – but if not properly tended to, can die.

Like me with my not-safe-for-work hard rock playlists, there’s always more than meets the eye. And it makes me smile at how being in the garden can make one can plumb the depths of Jesus’s words through its lens.

Passing Through

I passed the first apartment we shared
I slowed down to see our old balcony
Two lifetimes ago
I barely remember the young bride
Fresh off the boat from the great white north
Who called that place home
Whatever happened to her?
Now it feels foreign, like it was all a dream

But things keep passing through this world

And then there’s hospice
The immense sadness seeps into its walls
A constant reminder that death is unfair
The process is unfair
The tsunami of emotion
Left wallowing in the unfillable hole it leaves in its wake
Is also unfair
An essay said our culture doesn’t acknowledge death for what it is:
A part of life
We view it as a complete failure of medical intervention
My medical training causes me to struggle with this
Nothing is spared from death
Even the hopes for the future dashed against the jagged rocks of reality

Death and grief come passing through in many forms

“I have some bad news,” he said. “She died and it was suicide”
It took awhile register
There wasn’t a dry eye when it was announced
We commiserated through tears
The fallout hit swiftly

And so, we sit in grief
It’s uncomfortable to us Americans
We pull ourselves up by the bootstraps
And manifest destiny our way through the wearying times
“Because Jesus, you guys!”
And somehow
We’re suppose to smile through our tears and give glory to God
Avoiding the uncomfortable bit that is processing our loss
Because it gets ugly
It is completely burdensome
Without any order
And logic? There is none
It Instagrams terribly
A direct hit to the happy, clappy Christendom we built here
Where they want to look past your pain because it is uncomfortable
It clashes with their happy, clappy way of life
As if being healthy, wealthy, and wise were fruits of the Spirit

But grieving is needed
So needed
To heal mind, body, and soul
In its own time
In its own way
In its own place

I grieved for two years
I did not know what I was experiencing was grief
Until a therapist told me that’s what it was

The scar tissue will form
Someday
In its own time

Grief, like death
Is just passing through
It is not the final say, yet it remains

But grieve
Grieve
Until your heart falls out
Your Father in Heaven will catch it with His loving hands.

2005 and What Follows

2005 was a major turning point in my life. A year out of college, I was still batting the same battles I was at school: Take #4 of getting back together with the college sweetheart failed spectacularly, yet I should have seen that one coming. My friend with benefits probably wasn’t going to magically show up with an orchestra and profess his undying love for me, but I held out hope. My anxiety and depression ruled over me, keeping me from enjoying and experiencing life. I was carving out a career in the middle of no where and I was miserable. I had a pretty good idea of who I was and what I wanted, yet I was still very much a work in progress. Sick of waiting for “the right time,” which never actually came, a mental breakdown in late 2004 spurred me on: 2005 was going to be different because I was going to make it different. The cycle was breaking now.

And it broke.

I began with getting back to God: despite my church attendance, I was really slacking in the spiritual department. I woke up early and had tea with sugar, a candle burning, and I read through the Bible; another thing I hadn’t done before. This rhythm became a daily event that helped center me and give me pause to reflect through the lens of Him.

I sought medical treatment for my anxiety and depression in the form of medication. I had a false start with some bad side effects but eventually found something that worked for me. I could finally heal.

I decided the college boyfriend wasn’t worth a 5th chance and cut him off entirely. A weekend at a fancy hotel was the epilogue of my friend with benefits. I decided if he wanted to call me and make this romance official, I was game. He didn’t call me and I didn’t call him for two months. He wasn’t interested in a real relationship with me.

I did date a guy I met on match.com and we were completely wrong for each other overall and there was only one thing positive about the relationship that’s too stupid and shallow to even write here, let alone build a partnership on. We lasted four months before he broke it off and I was completely okay with it.

I went to Europe with friends and while the trip was challenging, it gave me the courage to leave Illinois and I interviewed for a gig that eventually allowed me to move to North Carolina at the beginning of 2006.

It was a year of refining change that was desperately needed.

And with 2020 nearly here, I find myself in the same place.

The front has changed, but I’m fighting the same battles I was fighting in 2015 and I am tired, so very tired. Spiritually, I feel I need more rubber on the road; a technical writing church project will keep me busy around Christmas. And while I profess to follow Jesus, am I really living out His mission in my daily life? What would that look like? My husband and I keep hitting potholes and it’s apparent I need a wheel alignment, but I’m more interested in getting the road fixed, although my tires are wearing unevenly. Unlike 2005, I don’t have a clear path forward. I’m not sure how to adjust the sliders and knobs to get better sound quality; the mics feeding back have frayed my last nerve.

In addition to my contemplative prayer app, starting in December, I decided to read a book of the bible every month, and spend the entire month in that book. I want to savor verses. I want to read over passages that make me roll my eyes, shake my head, question, and really push through them. I want to use verses as a prayer, like a hard candy melting in my mouth.

I don’t know what 2020 and the decade ahead holds, but all I know is it can’t be a second verse to this song that’s been on repeat.

Adventing

Growing up Catholic, I hated Advent. I was an Ordinary Time kinda of girl and this Christmas stuff into January really annoyed me. When I joined a Southern Baptist church, they looked confused as they explained Advent was not in the Bible, it was a man-made event they didn’t acknowledge. They only hung the greenery at a Wednesday night service. I was elated: I had finally found my people.

Since coming over to the Protestant side, I hadn’t given Advent much thought, since I associate it with Catholicism. I attend a Methodist type worship now, and they casually celebrate Advent: acknowledged, but not a part of our service.

I’ve spent the past couple of years listening to devotionals on the Pray as You Go App, a Catholic outfit. Before each devotional, they announce where they are in the liturgical year; it’s how I knew I had stumbled into the first week of Advent, which meant Christmas was closer than I thought it was.

The more I read about Contemplative Prayer, the more I begin to understand the liturgical year as a rhythm. Just like the rhythms in gardening (pruning, planting, growing, conditioning soil), finding a rhythm in spiritual matters has become more important as I’ve gotten older in the faith.

I’m not sure how I would have survived the stressful seasons without praying The Offices – making room for prayer in morning, afternoon, evening, and night – just like the monks do.

Life has been heavy as of late and my spiritual life feels stale as we steam into the Christmas season. Pray as You Go has a beautiful Advent meditation retreat that emphasizes new beginnings, and it is like a salve to my soul. Each week, I’m tuning in with a silent house and the Christmas tree lights, basking in the glow of Scripture and examining my own thoughts while resting deeply in love of Christ.

After all these years, I’m embracing Advent.

If you’re interested, here’s a link to the series.

The introduction, which just tells you the nuts and bolts of the series, helps assist with how to use this time of prayer.

I hope this season of Advent transforms advent from a noun to a verb in your walk with Jesus.

Cardinal Directions

Stand by for tachycardia.

I was smiling as I merged onto the interstate, on my way to the crown jewel of the road trip. I didn’t need the GPS, this route was engraved in my brain long before the age of cellphones. This time, cornfields appeared scenic rather than adding to the dullness of the drive.

Naturally, I hit construction. I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel as I crept along and ended up turning on the GPS to see where I was. The markers I once had were lost to time. I was closer than I thought.

I would see him soon.

Cue for tachycardia.

He was my companion all those years I called McLean County home – good times, bad times, he was there through it all; he was the only thing that never waivered in those years of gross uncertainty. It had been ages since we reconnected. I even got a hotel room nearby so I could spend every moment possible with him.

And then I saw the sign: Bloomington-Normal Next 3 Interchanges.

Go for tachycardia!

Just like the old days, I could feel my pulse quicken with shallowed breathing. I instinctively turned off Exit 164, heading south towards campus. I made a left on Raab Road to the free parking lot there – an oasis in a town that would tow a car stopped at a red light. I saw him standing at the far end of the lot, looking as he always did. I wanted to burst I was so happy. He looked the same but with better signage; just like me. I jumped out of the car and glided into his embrace.

His name was Constitution Trail, a nineteenth century railroad track turned running trail.

I threw my headphones in and took off at full speed, heading north. I had to see my old silos. In my day, the trail went straight, as the steam locomotives once did. Now, there was a giant curve that rerouted the trail under I-55, along Linden Street, before it swung back west to the original trail.

I, too, have had my trail rerouted under the interstate. I don’t follow the same path that I used to either. I’ve blazed my own way, too.

I had no idea how I far I had gone, as too much adrenaline was pumping for me to care. The silos at Herrick, my old endpoint, had disappeared! In its place was a cellphone tower. This was peak 2019 for me. I noticed the trail extended past its previous end and I had no choice but to follow it. Where did it lead? I figured if I hit Hudson, I went too far. Spoiler alert: the trail ended in a cornfield. I-39 loomed off to my left with a backdrop of wind turbines that never used to be there. I didn’t recognize Ziebarth Road, but I should have, as that was part of the short cut to my internship. Like Constitution, I have also been extended from where I was 20 years ago. My silos have disappeared as well.

I barnstormed back south into Uptown Normal, the biggest change I encountered yet. Normal and I both got a roundabout. Traffic flows better and the greenspace reminded me of London. I, too, no longer have a four way stop. My life is much more organic and go with the flow than when I was raising the red and white banner. I’ve grown into my own.

I walked towards my old apartment, as a lump formed in my throat. I brushed a tear away as I turned around to head back to my car, quite a distance away. I needed to check into the hotel and clean myself up for dinner. It was a long slog back to the car.


The next morning, after my standing order at The Coffeehouse (toasted plain bagel and iced mocha), Constitution and I ran the south part of the trail. The excitement had faded into utter joy. I was in my element under the canopy of trees, a perfect summer day for a run – basking in the nostalgia and the beauty of the day. I wanted to bottle up that moment to relive it later. This part of the trail hadn’t changed a bit, it was as if I was a college senior again.

There are parts of me that are the same and will never change: my crazy sense of adventure is one of them.

I always turned around at Atwood Station, but I knew this time I was going further – I eventually hit the end of the trail and then off-roaded through a neighborhood on Bunn Drive before turning around just before I hit Veteran’s Parkway. I would have taken the spur along GE Road if I had another day. My hips were at their breaking point with nearly 20 miles under my feet in under 24 hours.

I’m not 22 anymore. The scenery of campus and my weary body were stark reminders that time had moved on. There’s only one person left from this era who knows my heart in real time. A couple of them will occasionally pop up in my inbox or text, but it has been awhile. I thought about reaching out to ones lost to time, but I didn’t want to submarine anyone – appearing out of no where without context.

I was hesitant to leave. Like parting lovers, I wanted just a few more hours, days, weeks with my Constitution. I would have grabbed lunch downtown Bloomington on my way south, but I couldn’t remember where anything was and the city center seemed stoic and uninviting. Before I knew it, BloNo was in my rearview mirror.


It warmed my heart so much to be back in McLean County. I’ve decided this will be a retreat – when I need a place to write, I’m coming here. The days of the birds are gone and they’re not coming back. Perhaps I can make another footprint here with words. My entire left atrium is dedicated to this place. Despite the distance, it is never far from me.

BloNo? I say BloYeah.

View with a Room

I basically knew what expect. I’ve done this before.

I’m always thrown off by the white noise machines, I forget they’re a part of this. I don’t use them in my daily life, so it’s always a bit jarring to my techie soul with the strong urge to adjust the volume slider and turn down the trim knob on a soundboard. But here, they’re welcomed.

I noticed the room was ordered, yet minimalistic when I walked in. Their decorating style was eclectic chic and it worked. The randomness was oddly calming. I couldn’t tell you what half the knick knacks were, their shapes too difficult to describe, yet their solid colors appeared to belong in the room. The large white oversized couch didn’t overwhelm the small room, but reminded me of my friend’s couch – the kind that you sink into, like a big hug. The corner room was lit by the sun with big floor to ceiling windows that reminded me of a boutique hotel I stayed at in Berlin. The room was surrounded by my two favorite trees: crepe myrtles and little gems – a dwarf version of the magnolia. A small secret garden of sorts, secluded by HIPPA and plants that don’t grow up north. A cup of tea and a good book would have been the icing on the cake, but that wasn’t on the menu today.

It was then I realized I saw this all in a dream awhile ago.

In some very rare instances, things I’ve dreamt have been played out on the stage of real life. It usually was about boys of the past and I can’t remember the last time this happened.

I’m where I’m suppose to be, I imagine.

11 September 2001, Revisited

Since the attacks, outside of its anniversary date, I hadn’t dwelled on it much. I didn’t arrive in New York City until 2014; this place was unfamiliar to me until then.

In a tradition I started, when a niece turns 16, we go on a trip together. When my niece Aimee said she wanted to go to NYC, I was completely on board. My historic and nerdy soul wanted to drag this poor jock to all the museums, but I let her choose what she wanted to do.

She wanted to hit all the main touristy places, which was fine. And then she added, “I want to go to the 9/11 Museum.”

The what? I did a double take.

She was in the womb when the towers fell. Why on earth would she want to see that when she had no experience with that dark, dark day? Then I realized that she had never lived in a pre-9/11 world. She didn’t know anything prior to that, like I had never known a world without microwave ovens. Her entire life was lived in this shadow of the falling towers.

She was insistent about it, and so we went.

It was the last stop on our trip, after a French breakfast in the financial district, we got in the long line. I had no idea what to expect.

It was like a tomb, because it was. Everyone talked in hushed voices, if they talked at all. Every so often you’d pass someone sobbing quietly. We walked down the staircase that so many survivors did. It looked like it was hit by a bomb. We paused at the blue memorial wall – behind it was the final resting place of the many victims and first responders. That was difficult to take in.

We sat in a room that projected pictures of people who died in the tragedy, with a bit of their life story. We sat there awhile, my niece completely spellbound – drawn in by these ordinary folks, caught up in history. It was personal.

We walked through the main exhibit, where it walks you through the day, phone calls played, news broadcasts, shows, what happened at all the specific times – it was that horrible day all over again. There was a walled off section where you could watch the more sensitive footage from that day. I’m an empath, already overwhelmed by the exhibit and my memories of the day, so I didn’t go. My niece went in and I didn’t stop her. She walked out of the alcove and gulped. “That was…. yeah…” her voice trailed off. She didn’t have to finish her sentence. I knew.

We left heavier than when we arrived. “That was really intense,” I said. “Yeah, it was,” she replied. I shared my story with her, what I was doing, where I was, how I felt. The whole train ride home carried the heaviness of our experience.

“I’m glad that’s the last thing we did,” I said. “I need time to process all that.”

“Me too,” she said.

Here I am, 18 years later, still processing it.