Drawing by Tarah Trueblood
A team from University of North Florida on alternative spring break in Washington, DC where they discovered common values through interfaith dialogue, met and served homeless people, and took action to end homelessness.
Poetic Response by Cathy Warner
Faith is the wheel
that travels the true road
you and I spin together.
Hands clasped, destinies linked
we grasp the future outstretched
and cradle the fresh-birthed self.
Imagination binds us in possibility
hope strewn like jewels under our feet
a benediction knit in joy.
Wide-eyed we circle the sun
and everywhere love
spills from our open mouths.
Tarah Trueblood has been instrumental in the journey I’ve taken as a writer since we met in the late 1990s. Back then I was new to writing and she was newly graduated from seminary. Tarah pastored the church I attended and we used every opportunity to explore art, writing, and other forms of creativity to enrich worship and community life.
In the years since, we’ve both moved and changed careers, yet, we carve out time to visit each other once or twice a year, and that time always includes art: from visiting museums and galleries and discussing what we see, to painting abstracts using doors as a canvas, to me reading stories, poems, and essays, sometimes finished, sometimes work in progress, and receiving thoughtful generous feedback.
When my book of poetry Burnt Offerings was accepted for publication, I knew it wouldn’t be complete without one of Tarah’s paintings on its cover. She happily agreed to paint something for me, and emailed jpg’s of her work to get an idea of what I’d like. When I saw Black Over Fire I knew I’d found my cover. You can see more of Tarah's art at Trueblood Art Studio.
Visiting Tarah’s home is always inspiring: every painting is one of her own, or by an artist she knows. I was basking in the beauty on all her walls during a visit last month when I received notification that two of my poems had been selected for interpretation by visual artists in West Puget Sound region’s annual Ars Poetica event which involves gallery displays of paintings, sculpture, mixed media, and other art made in response to poetry, which is then coupled with readings throughout Kitsap County.
I shared the good news with Tarah, and out popped a thought: Wouldn’t it be fun if she and I responded to each other’s work similarly? I began snapping photos of her paintings when she pulled out a tube with drawings from her most recent art class.
She hadn’t named #HopeLooksLike yet, but I remembered seeing the photo from the trip on the UNF Interfaith Center Facebook page, and being struck by the unusual angle. The photo had been in color and one of several posted during the week, and here it was, so much bigger than a photo box on Facebook, and though it was stripped of color, the personalities of the students and their joy was even more evident in tonal shading.
Most exciting to me was that my dear friend had spent weeks drawing these figures—college students she had mentored—honoring their experience by bringing them to life on paper. Here's what she has to say about the experience:
I decided to make #HopeLooksLike as the final project in my Drawing II class at University of North Florida (UNF) where I am employed as the Director of the Interfaith Center. Because I am eligible for tuition credit as a UNF employee, I enrolled in the Bachelor of Fine Art program as a post-baccalaureate. I have enjoyed painting abstract works of art for years but have never received any formal education or training.
The goal was simply to develop my painting skills. I was terrified of taking the two drawing courses required by the program because, well, I was convinced that I could not draw. I didn’t want to be demoralized in a classroom full of traditional college-age students—who were all, undoubtedly, “real” artists. However to my astonishment and complete delight, I discovered that I can draw.
So I have put away my paints—at least for now.
I learned two amazing things about drawing. First, learning to draw is really about learning to see—not so much about the mechanical ability to manipulate your hand. Everyone sees things differently and every student in my drawing classes produced a different drawing of the exact same subject—every time. We saw the subjects differently and drew them differently.
The second amazing thing I learned about drawing is that it opens up the world of storytelling in ways that abstract art can’t—and stories are what people remember.
For our Final Project in Drawing II we were instructed to “demonstrate all that you have learned this semester by drawing anything you want.” For me, the assignment translated into this question: what story did I most want to tell about my five years at UNF?
#HopeLooksLike is THAT story.
The drawing is based on a photograph taken during an alternative spring break trip to Washington, D.C. where my role, as the faculty/staff advisor, was to facilitate group reflection at the end of each day. Some days were spent learning about homelessness: the systemic causes of homelessness; how homeless people are stereotyped and mistreated; how easy it is to fall off the economic ladder; and why it so difficult to get back on. Other days we served and met homeless people: ordinary folks who told us the very ordinary circumstances that led to their homelessness.
We realized it could happen to anyone—to us. Our hearts went out to them and we wept—with them and for them—and for our communities because we still allow people to go homeless.
A special bond develops among people who share transformational experiences like we did in 2015 on our “UNF Ospreys in Action” interfaith, alternative spring break, community service trip focused on ending homelessness. Working together like we did in those D.C. communities we can end homelessness—soon.
A few days ago, after writing home improvement articles for my local newspaper, I went to bed my brain still firing with creative juice. When I closed my eyes part of Tarah’s drawing came to my mind: the hands— outstretched from individuality to unity, from the many, one.
The image reminded me of the spokes of a wheel, and how wheels have revolutionized human life. And with the image came these words: Faith is the wheel / that travels the true road / you and I spin together.
College is (or should be) a transformational time and the language I chose celebrates these young adults bravely delving deep into their values and identities while engaging with the wider world. It’s exciting to see joy and intentionality mirrored in the faces of these future leaders. #HopeLooksLike this indeed.
I was in sunny Florida last week visiting a dear friend who told me about the vision she and her sister have for their retirement. It involves living in opposite sides of a duplex with doors that open to a shared bar and dining room, so they can entertain in style.
Back in my twenties I had a vision of owning a cat farm in California's picturesque Capay Valley. My farm would feature a barn with long walls of windows and perched-sized sills for lounging, built over a stream for fresh running drinking water, with cat toys dangling from the ceiling. Along with the feline paradise, I was going to run a quesadilla restaurant, where you could order pretty much anything between two tortillas: peanut butter and jelly, ham and cheese, tuna and mayo...
I never seriously pursued my ideas, but thinking about them in my young adulthood when the future seemed uncertain made me happy. I could picture the barn and the dozens of contented cats; I imagined my tiny restaurant and customers enjoying my quesadillas. A mind's-eye paradise.
I don't know if my dear friend and her sister will find themselves side-by-side sipping cocktails in a dozen years, but it's fun to imagine it so. And imagining it so, my own ideas took flight: what will we tail-end Baby Boomers be drinking when we turn 70? Could we combine our desire for adult beverages with our remedies for aging and illness?
And so my list of baby boomer cocktails was born. I imagine most of these drinks will taste terrible; but they're good for a laugh, and we know what they say about laughter and medicine...
Cheers (and let me know if you're brave enough to try any of my concoctions)!
TROUBLED TAVERN BABY BOOMER MIXED DRINKS
•Goodness Grapecious: red wine & liquid resveratrol
•The Creaky Mule: vodka, ginger-ale & lemon-lime liquid glucosamine
•Getting Jiggy: gin & liquid glucosamine, any flavor
•The Bonesaver: Bourbon & liquid calcium
•The Aging Russian: Kahlua & Ensure
•Go Irish: Bailey’s Irish Cream & Milk of Magnesia
•Think Pink: Campari & Pepto Bismol
•Loose Goose: Gray Goose vodka & Orange flavored liquid fiber
•Russian Blockade: Vodka, Kahlua & Immodium
•Cosmopolitan Curmudgeon: Vodka, triple sec & cranberry Joint Juice
•Hot Snotty Toddy: rum, honey & lemon-lime Theraflu
•Hot Ailing Wassail: apple cider, brandy & cherry cough syrup
•New Year’s Knock out: Champagne & Alka Seltzer
I spent four years working in food service, from the ages of sixteen to twenty.
Working at McDonald's in high school I experienced structure, discipline, and teamwork, and was rewarded with regular opportunities for pay raises and increasing responsibility in the two years I worked there. I didn't always like my managers, but they kept all of us well informed of policies, procedures, promotional campaigns, and our schedules.
My experience at VIP's in college, was opposite in the extreme. I was often called into work when I hadn't been scheduled. When I protested about not being paid for the extra hour I worked when the clocks were turned back, the manager shrugged, and said I'd make up for it when we turned them forward six months later.
During graveyard shifts, the restaurant was left without a manager on duty from midnight to 5 a.m., which left me alone up front, at age nineteen and twenty, every Friday and Saturday to deal with a restaurant full of drunks when the bars closed. Each time a customer took advantage of me during those hours, saying that he was going to get his wallet from the car and driving away, or adding a bug to his meal and demanding it free, the morning manager would look at my tickets from the night, yell at me for not following policies I didn't know existed, and dock my paycheck.
The same managers daily would comment on my likeness to Sandy Duncan, invite me into the walk-in refrigerator, or to their apartment after work—sexual harassment before I knew the term. Is it any wonder the chain folded years ago?
During my food service years I lived in a single parent household with an income below poverty level, and received Federal and State financial aid to attend a public university. I would not have been able to attend college without those grants, and I hope this access to higher education for deserving disadvantaged students is not dismantled by the current Federal administration.
Thankfully I found a job on campus and I quit the horrible waitress job midway through my studies.
But there are many people for whom food service jobs are a main source of support for a family. I worked with a few of them back then. Standing on your feet all day. Being treated badly by hangry customers. Taking orders from your bosses. All for minimum wage—plus tips if you're "lucky" enough to wait tables. It's not easy.
Today, my husband and I are small business owners with three full-time employees. In the construction industry, where employees are often hired for a day or week and paid under the table, we make sure our employees work every day. We pay a living wage, contribute to our employees' health care costs, and offer holiday, overtime, and vacation pay.
We do this because it is the right thing to do. We do this at the expense of our own financial comfort. It's a decision we believe will pay off in the long run, because integrity should be at least as important as profit, because character (or mission or vision in a larger setting) should figure prominently in any business plan.
I write this because many of us are mired in fear and worry about the ethics and character of those being chosen to lead our national government. We are marching and signing petitions and making calls to legislators, and wondering if, or how, to make an impact. I have felt that powerlessness and frustration almost daily. And yet, there are reasons to hope, and I believe we need to share the stories of hopefulness as widely and vigorously, as we do our call to arms.
We all have personal power. We all make choices each day where we can see the positive impact of our actions. Those choices might seem small in the face of the enormity of the challenges that face us on all levels of life, but that doesn't diminish their importance.
I'm fortunate to live in the state of Washington, a state where citizens voted to increase the minimum wage substantially in the last election. That vote, a small choice for each individual, made dramatic results. I know that the large wage increase that took place in January is causing some businesses to struggle because this increase wasn't in their budget, and I am hopeful that they will find ways to absorb those costs.
As for me, I'm not a food service employee anymore, subject to the whims of management.
I am a small business owner, an employer, and no matter what sort of erosion or destruction of workers' rights is on the horizon at the Federal level (which I will do my part to oppose), there is no legislation that can prevent my husband and I as business owners from paying a living wage and offering benefits to our employees.
No stripping of laws or regulations can prevent any of us from doing the right thing in any arena. So, let's all find "our right thing" and do it.
Last night I ordered a copy of the Constitution from Amazon and had it shipped to the White House.
I sent the Constitution to Trump because since the election, and particularly this first week in office, I have been responding to email after email and post after post from organizations I support decrying one despicable executive action after another. I’ve been signing petitions and sending letters and worrying about what might happen.
And my worry has been justified, and I certainly wish it wasn’t. I wish he’d been blustering and not intent on carrying out every extreme campaign promise.
I was directed to a site last night and asked to “personalize” the form letter about the immigration ban. It was filled with all sorts of arguments, facts, and statistics aimed at a reasonable person whose mind might be changed by such arguments. And I know this president absolutely does not care about reasonable arguments or the voice of anyone who does not support him.
He imagines support where it does not exist: A landslide popular vote The largest inaugural crowds ever.
(I do know people who voted for him; I’m related to several of them, and I can tell you the particular reason they pulled the lever. It wasn’t a blanket endorsement of hate. The reasons were being a lifelong Republican, and being against legalized abortion.
None of the people I know who voted for this man wanted him to do all the things he said he would. They were betting against it. They bet wrong. Though, for the sake of our relationships, these are things we don’t talk about.)
I looked at this long letter with its numbers and facts, and toyed with personalizing the letter by simply ranting and raving that he was destroying democracy, that this isn’t a regime, and he cannot act like a dictator with impunity, and then I realized that my rant wasn’t likely to be read by anyone either.
So, I decided to send a copy of the Constitution, words that aren’t mine or from human rights lawyers, but words he swore to protect and defend with his hand on a Bible when he took the oath of office little more than a week ago.
I had a brief image in my mind of a UPS driver pulling up to the White House gate with a truck full of Constitutions for Trump. And it made me laugh for one brief moment. I have absolutely no illusion that sending the Constitution will do one speck of good. It won’t make it to his desk. It may never even be delivered.
You could call it an empty symbolic gesture.
But, for a brief moment I took an action that I thought of on my own. I felt a flicker of hope as I took a tiny bit of power back into my civic life—I acted rather than reacted. Reacting is what I’ve been doing for months; reacting to every awful thing in the national news that floods my inbox and Facebook posts demanding me to take action now, demanding that Trump and his agenda of hatred be stopped.
Still I cried in the late hours and was unable to sleep without medication last night, something that has become all too common since the election as I grieve and worry over my country.
I grew up feeling helpless and powerless over my own life with a revolving door of parents, and in college over the Cold War and nuclear threat. Those feelings are back in full force.
I know that I cannot save our country. I am not that powerful. Alone. And most of my days are spent alone, thoughts swirling around this predicament.
In some ways, I am not much different than the major demographic that supported this candidate—older, isolated, knocked out of work by the recession. People whose daily interactions with others are limited, and whose perceptions of reality narrow. I know what it is to feel frightened and fragile, by change and the world outside my own experience.
I’ve had to face those tendencies in myself. And I’ve learned, reluctantly, not to believe everything I think.
But I have only been able to do so by faith. And the political climate has contributed to, if not precipitated, a dark night of my soul. I know God exists, but the usual ways I experience that presence have deserted me for now.
This is a time when it would be of great benefit to see God at work in ways that lifted the dark veil, to strengthen my faith, so I can live aligned with my beliefs. Though Jesus exhorted us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, I am not able to pray for this president.
I wish instead for his impeachment and removal from office, the failure of all his endeavors, the loss of all his wealth. And so I sit with my own sin, my own bent toward hate, my failure to live the gospel in the smallest of ways.
Just a week ago I marched with 50 others in a small town gathered to say no to hate. It was the first time I’ve felt more than a glimmer of hope in this rampant fear that clings to me.
I am an introvert, so joining the small crowd was awkward, not energizing, but I knew it was necessary to stand with others. When I saw images of friends at their own marches, and photos of thousands around the world I was thankful to feel that I wasn’t alone in the desire for kindness and compassion to guide our civic life.
And then with each stroke of the president’s pen this week, I felt plunged back into the nightmare.
I stand in awe of those empowered by driving miles to meetings or calling politicians day. I am not one of them. There are days when I cannot bear to make a phone call or leave the house, under the best of circumstances, and this has been true my entire life.
It doesn’t mean I’m not informed, or that I don’t care, or that I’m lazy. Like others who’ve been betrayed by those in power (in whatever form that manifested), I’m ultra-sensitive to suffering. I don’t need to know every fact, every detail to be convinced of danger. I feel it bodily.
When I feel threatened, out-of-control, I want to vanish.
With this current slew of threats, the despair that lurks inside me is poised to feast on fear and urgency. Despair would like to paralyze me and prevent me from taking any action at all.
Despair would like to win. I won’t let it.
Each of us must fight however we’re able, and none of us should judge the rightness or worthiness or quantity of another’s efforts, to question whether they are expedient or effective.
We have no idea what each action costs a person.
When I am quiet enough to quell my feelings of powerlessness, when I am still enough for truth, I know that the very act of acting at all moves us imperceptibly away from the brink and toward the greater good.
What we should be “demanding” now is to treat one another with gentleness and encouragement, so that we can act from love and compassion, not fear and despair.
So celebrate each pussy hat knit, each petition signed, each visit by a Christian to a mosque, each person at an airport bearing witness, each donation to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, each song and video and meme that finds a sliver of humor in this absurdity, and each copy of the Constitution ordered from Amazon.
The president should receive his copy Wednesday.
I’ve been thinking the past few days of a word to frame the new year, an intention to guide me through 2017. It’s a practice I was introduced to just as the calendar flipped to 2016, thanks to my friend, Laurie. And just like last year, I find once again, that rather than contemplating a dictionary full of possibilities, a word introduced itself to me, pulled up a chair in my imagination, and invited me into a conversation.
Or rather fear less.
And wow, do I ever need that word, that concept to draw near, to enter into my psyche and my behavior, to abide in me.
It has felt to me that fear and fearmongering have been the words and experience for much of 2016. I have scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed and spiraled into depression and tears at the articles so many friends post, the sheer volume and repetition of bad news, an avalanche of information and opinion that’s left me too often feeling helpless and hopeless.
My email is full of doomsday appeals. And with each dire prediction of destruction, each instance of hate played out, each threat of political suicide, I remember all too clearly the fatalism and futility I couldn’t shake at the height of the Cold War. Fear spurred me then into action, but action arising from fear did not bring me peace, doing “the right thing” did not stem my worry, joining organizations and volunteering did little to quell my anxiety.
It was only love that broke through the frozen shell fear had constructed around my heart and self, sealing me off from happiness and hope. And that love, when it came to me, was nothing I could see, or touch, or prove. It didn’t come from pleasing others, mastery of facts, activism, or political correctness.
It was a gift. That love came from beyond me, not because I deserved it, but because it had always been there for the asking—for me, for everyone—simply waiting to be discovered and welcomed.
Fear fights for compliance. It uses force, pits us against one another, feeds off our insecurities, and amplifies our anxieties. Fear is the playground bully, the dictator, and the parts of ourselves that believe lies. Fear wants us to stay small and play safe. Fear wants us to resist change and growth, it goads us into believing we can cling to or re-create an edenic life that never really existed anywhere except in our own fantasys fueled by fear’s glossy literature of lies.
I know this because for most of my life I’ve been intimate with fear. I’ve been its daughter, its girlfriend, its champion, its wife, its captive, its prey. Fear has ruled my thoughts and actions; run like a wild dog at my side, snarling and nosing me away from my flock, until I run alongside it, conveniently forgetting the truth of the One who shepherds me always toward wholeness, even on the rocky path.
The Word I want to follow has faced fear and death and remains faithful not by avoidance, or by destruction, but by accompaniment, by walking alongside distress through the darkness, acknowledging fear, but not succumbing to it, and clinging to words that bring life.
I need more of hope’s words, and less of fear’s. I’ve removed the Facebook app from my phone and limited my email campaigns. (I don’t need to know every detail to know we are indeed in trouble.) I look for others to inspire me and to ground me, so that I can act out of love, out of faith, and out of hope, so that I can see fear without being hypnotized by it.
I turn to poet Jan Richardson and her book The Cure for Sorrow:
…how still your fear becomes
as it loosens its grip,
perhaps never quite leaving you,
but calmly turning…
I listen to the songs of Carrie Newcomer, who assures me that “You Can Do This Hard Thing” and that “There’s Help in Hard Times.” I sing the songs of Taize that remind me: “The Lord is my light / my light and salvation / in God I trust.”
I celebrate the abundance in my own life. My word for 2016 was “Success” and it manifested in many ways, including my first real estate deal, buying a waterfront home that my husband and I will live in while renovating.
I take photos of the amazing scenery and wildlife around me, and share beauty with my friends on Facebook. To commemorate the culmination of 5 years in Washington, I put together a 25-minute slideshow of my favorite (mostly) nature photos.
I won’t become fear-free, or fearless this year (or any year for that matter) but I can fear less and trust more; fear less and love more; fear less and sing more; fear less and open my life to more. 2017 asks this of me. What is it asking of you?
My daughter voted in her first presidential election yesterday. She called late last night, a few minutes after I'd turned off the election returns and dragged myself to bed, feeling as though I might vomit.
"Are you watching this train wreck?" she asked. She'd spent hours watching her hopes for a woman president crumble, and the DOW drop, worried that the economy will crash again, and that she'd lose the job she'd just started after graduating from college.
"I can see voting Republican," she said, "for the policies, but he's a terrible human being."
I have a visceral response to yelling, to finger-pointing, to name calling. I know what it is to be sexually harassed by a boss, to be unable to speak out, and not believed when you do. When I see our President elect, I see a bully and a predator. I see someone I would cross the street to avoid, who sets all the alarm bells in my head ringing.
I know too, that no one comes to politics as a saint; that there are issues of ego and saving face and compromise and questionable decisions and character flaws and impossible choices.
But what do you say to your child when your country has chosen a bully and predator to lead it?
I did what mothers do: I set aside my own fears and anxiety and comforted her. I told her I didn't understand why Trump was winning, and that even though he was winning, I didn't believe that the majority of Americans think it's okay to name call and bully and label people as if they are objects and have no worth. I told her I didn't think the majority of Americans want to build a wall along the Mexican border, or that the majority of Americans want every Muslim deported, or that the majority of Americans believe it's okay for a man to grab a woman's body, or that the majority of Americans living through record droughts and record breaking storms think that climate change is a hoax.
I told her this wasn't a landslide victory and it wasn't a mandate, and that our country is built on a system of checks and balances designed to prevent the rise of a tyrant or dictator, preventing any one house from having absolute power. I told her I hoped that by electing someone so extreme an opportunity has risen for legislators to return to an era of compromise that bridges party lines. I told her that yes, such a time existed (Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neil), that my husband and I had seen it in action when we were college students.
She wanted to know if President Trump really could repeal the EPA on Day 1. I said no. I told her that many people will oppose the erosion of environmental protection, and that people have always spoken up for injustice and will continue to do so.
We were on the phone for over an hour, and I don't remember everything I said before we hung up at 3 a.m. her time.
But I did tell her I would pray for Donald Trump, and that I would pray for our country. I know for many people, that sounds like platitudes, and like nothing more than wasted breath. But, for me it means, that I'm not going to give into fear and anger.
I'm not signing the petitions flooding my inbox this morning, urging me to refuse to accept the results of the election, and to demand that Senate Democrats filibuster every Republican bill that comes before the Senate. I have faith in One who taught the opposite of an eye-for-an-eye.
Healing does not come from entrenchment, and forward progress doesn't arise from fear.
So, I am praying that everything I told my daughter is true. That those who've chosen different parties and different candidates can be reconciled to one another, that we can behave with decency and civility to those who share differing views. That we do not wish to demean and dehumanize others, and that we will not allow our future president to do so with impunity.
It may not be easy, or expedient, but I choose to be part of the mending we so desperately need. Here is my prayer to that end.
Prayer for Our President-Elect and Ourselves
We lift today this man our nation has chosen to lead us,
this president elected to represent all Americans--
rich and poor, young and old, the myriad ethnicities,
traditions, identities, languages, and faiths that constitute
“us” and our country from the smallest towns to the largest cities.
We have selected this man to speak for all
to be the voice of the United States in our communities
in our states, in this nation, in international affairs,
in this one world that is our home.
For our President-elect we pray for wisdom and compassion
that he will indeed promote the greater good,
that he will be guided in his public and private actions
by a moral code of integrity and compassion
that he will strive always
for right relationships between people
for stewardship of the Earth
and for justice that places in the forefront
the needs of the hungry, poor, sick, and oppressed,
those who cannot advocate for themselves.
May our future president become worthy
of the power we have placed in his hands,
and may we as citizens do all in our power
to act in the best interests of our nation
to set the welfare of our future generations above
our own self-interest.
We give thanks for the government
our founders framed that provides
for the peaceful transition of power
and the absence of absolute power,
and yet our democracy is ill
in need of healing from the polarizing division
that has consumed us,
not only in this long season of campaigning
not only between political parties,
not only in the daily decisions of those who govern
but in our daily interactions with each other.
Today, for many, is one of hope for a brighter tomorrow
Today, for many others, sparks anxiety and fear.
Our one nation indivisible is deeply divided.
Let us not sweep our distress quickly aside
but rather let us look straight on
at our country’s shameful wounds
and at our own darkest thoughts--
for only by seeing our shadows clearly
can we diminish their power over us.
Grant us the courage to listen deeply
to hear another’s truth with civility and compassion.
As citizens, friends and neighbors,
let us engage in the difficult work
Keep us always in prayer and in goodwill
for one another,
for the success of our new president,
and those who dedicate their lives to service.
A couple I know and love bought their first home today, and I had the privilege of serving as their real estate broker.
Escrow was set to close tomorrow, so when I picked up the voicemail from the title company this afternoon, I worried it might be a last minute delay. Instead, a chirpy voice told me the transaction was recorded and complete.
And what did I do, upon receiving the news? I cried.
Maybe it’s a new broker thing.
This is only my second transaction. I was the buyer the first time around, and when I picked up the keys to our new house, a dilapidated waterfront home, that was now my husband’s and mine to transform, an entire flock of North American pelicans floated offshore, glimmering white as they fished.
I cried then, too.
For most of us, buying a house is a big deal. It’s HUGE. And huge things deserve big emotion, right?
Even more so when the first home you buy is your retirement home—the case for my buyers. I am so thrilled for them to have a home of their own, and grateful to have assisted in this dream come true, that I’m spilling over.
And yes, in real estate, our clients are “my buyers” and “my sellers” not “the buyers” and “the sellers.” It’s not out of a proprietary claim (back off other brokers, these are my people), or maternal instinct, (where would the buyers be without my protection?), but out of relationship. There’s a bond that forms with those who companion us through important moments in our lives, whether or not the relationship continues beyond that event.
Granted, I’ve known these buyers long before I was their broker. I’ve known them for 35 years, and for those 35 years they’ve been renting the same house—a place they’ve made their own, as much as you can when you rent. They always hoped to buy the house someday (that’s how my parents bought the house I grew up in). But when their landlord died recently and the house sold to someone else before my loved ones could even present an offer, the possibility vanished.
That’s when they took the leap and decided to look for a house 800 miles from the city they’ve made a life in all these years. And the house they bought—they’ve yet to set foot in it! “They must really trust you,” the listing broker said when I explained that my buyers were relying on our FaceTime tour and videos I shot on my phone.
Yes, these loved ones trust me, but they trust themselves—they listened to the intuition they had about this particular house, a house that called to them out of scores of other listings. It was my job to help them gather information about the property and the neighborhood though inspection and title reports and County records so they could add “the facts” into their discernment process.
Then, when they decided to make an offer, it was my job to navigate the paperwork and timelines on their behalf.
“It’s your decision,” is a mantra I’ve come to know well from Jennie Wetter, the broker who has represented Kevin and me in 8 transactions (and is now the broker I work for). Twice we were the sellers. Twice we were successful buyers. Twice we were outbid. Twice we walked away when legal issues with the sellers (one a short sale, one a bank) weren’t resolved after months under contract.
In every instance we felt 100% listened to and advocated for by Jennie. Her ethic of dedication and professionalism, no matter the outcome, is something I took to heart.
I came to real estate circuitously, and as one of several occupations I juggle—writer and home renovator being the other two. Once I was licensed I began to realize that I had a wealth of personal experience as both a homebuyer and seller that could benefit clients—clients, who for nearly a year were theoretical.
And then something shifted in September. Soon after I began scouting properties for my out-of-state loved ones, I was contacted by one, two, three, and now four, friends and relatives; all of them exploring home ownership in this region, most of them are first time buyers.
When I pastored a church and when I lead writing workshops my intention was and is to create an environment for the spirit to enter and for creativity to flourish. It was never about me, or about satisfying my ego. I strive to respond to what I perceive as the needs of those in attendance.
In leading worship and writing workshops my job is to “hold space” for others, to take care of all the details (lighting, temperature, handouts, instructions, etc.), to follow the energy and go “off script” when necessary, so that participants are freed to dip below the surface of everyday responsibilities and demands, to become still and listen to that “still small voice” and tend to deep work of the soul.
My role as a real estate broker is much the same: to attend to the details so that my future buyers (and sellers) feel safe and supported to do the important work of envisioning a life for themselves in a particular home (or letting go of one that’s sheltered them).
It’s humbling to be asked to serve as a guide, a privilege to accept this responsibility.
Lives are changed, and not only do I get to witness the process, I get to facilitate it!
What sort of crazy awesome gift is that?
The sort that brings tears, quite literally, to my eyes.
That’s what I’d like to pen
a lively literate alliteration
of the current situation,
an artful arrangement of insults
carefully crafted curses
silky as Shakespearean sleeves and sharp
Barded barbs beaded between banter
laid like lane lines restriping our route
on the interstate to the unthinkable.
To protect my fellow citizens
I turn to traffic engineer tendering
flashing neon arrows and orange cones.
I litter the landscape with impact attenuators
and Do Not Enter spikes designed to puncture
all the hot air from the pompous windbag
hovering vulture-like over my country
delivering a daily deluge of blowhard barrage,
threatening to flatten us like road-kill
devour us like carrion.
All around the prophets intone
and we must atone, retreat, repent,
reverse our trajectory at warp speed
and flap furiously away from the furnace
like the proverbial bats out of hell.
Contrary to popular opinion,
ostriches do not bury their heads
in the sand, they dig instead
safe nests for their offspring.
And likewise, echolocation
does not simply serve to avoid obstacles
but penetrates our very bodies
with waves that vibrate the truth
not in our ears, but straight
through our jaws
We teeter on the liminal edge
of has been and yet to come
our ballast and balance
nothing more than a ballot
and a ballpoint pen
poised to close the chasm
the pen’s nib its spider thread
of thin black ink
becomes the tightrope
on which we will step
boldly, I hope, boldy I pray
into our future
I prayed in the hospital chapel with my prayer partner Tuesday afternoon, and was sleeping on her couch overnight (cat-sitting), when I had a dream that filled me with truth just before I woke.
In my dream, I was milling with a city-sized crowd doing nothing in particular, when a newly cast shadow fell over the sky, and we all looked up. High in the air, there appeared to float a human-sized moth, dressed in black. The moth began to flap its black wings, and with each beat, a cloud of gray emitted, cloaking the sky until the light was completely eclipsed.
Soon all of us on the ground scattered to hide. I crawled inside a small cave carved into a hillside. Through a tiny gap in the rocks at ground level, I stared out as my world emptied of people and then disappeared below a thick black shroud.
Terrified, we waited for worse. Time passed and all was still. Though not alone in the cave, I was alone in my decision to come out from hiding. I worked my way from the cave and stood by myself on a lawn. Then I raised my arms, lifted my chin, and levitated into the opaque sky. As I travelled up into the blackness, the darkness around the world slowly cleared, and soon I began to fly in earnest, arcing and sweeping across the brilliant blue sky dotted with wispy white clouds, becoming a spectacle is noticeable as the moth.
But the moth was nowhere to be found. When the sky opened completely, I swooped back toward the cave and touched down on solid ground. People I knew and loved gathered round.
“I didn’t know you could fly like that,” they said, still frightened and shivering.
Neither did I,” I said, “though I’ve been practicing.”
Then I took off again, in search of a place I was certain was out there—a place where others, like me, were defying the darkness.
It wasn’t flying, exactly, that I’d been practicing—it was stepping out into the unknown. The unknown, that for me, used to be synonymous with danger. For decades, I lived trapped under the cloak of fear, believing life was always going to get worse, believing that shrinking small and keeping still would save me. Though, in truth, I finally realized, hiding suffocated me. So I began practicing a different way of being in the world.
In my dream I flew straight through fear because fear could no longer scare me into immobility—it no longer had the power to keep me hidden, hunkering down in misperceived safety, waiting for trouble to pass.
Flying is stepping forward, rising to meet risk, learning to hover and dive, through trouble and joy. Flying is allowing ourselves to surrender our masks and egos, permitting ourselves to be seen in all our imperfect glory. Flying is kicking the self-imposed shackles from our ankles, and leaning closer to love. It is living inside the blackness while simultaneously punching through it; it’s combating bleakness that threatens to undo us.
When I flew, my soul was soaring, my spirit was twirling, and I tasted the presence of the divine. I woke with a heart full of conviction, hope, and this knowledge bone deep—fear never leads to freedom.
I say it again. Fear never leads to freedom.
In this nocturnal visitation, the taste of freedom fills me, and such is my prayer:
O holy winged one,
teach us all to fly in waking life,
your will be done on earth,
as it is in your dreams for us.
An incredible sight met me two weeks ago when I stepped onto the porch of our newest fixer upper just after taking possession: 40 huge white birds floating together just offshore, first in a tight group, and then forming a long line. (This is photo of them.)
I knew they weren’t seagulls, even from a distance they looked big. I pulled out the binoculars and saw what appeared to be pelicans, though I’d never seen white ones before, just the brown ones that swoop into the water to scoop up food.
As I watched, I could hear them beating their wings against the water, and see them dipping their necks down into the water, taking turns it seemed. I only had my phone for photos, so I snapped a few but couldn’t zoom in much.
I did a quick Google search (hooray for smart phones) for “White Pelican,” found a photo that looked like what I saw, and sure enough, I’d stumbled onto a flock of North American pelicans.
The beauty of this miracle—that something I’d never seen before was in full view and that I could see these birds from the porch and nearly every room of my new house simply overwhelmed me, and I couldn’t help but cry out of thanksgiving—the generosity of creation and the creator, on display without even having to seek it out, just appearing there for me (and anyone else who happened to be looking) to witness and celebrate.
I was, and am, filled with gratitude. My husband and I have risked so much over the past five years; we’ve let go, and let go, and we keep letting go—of home and the proximity of long-time friends and beloved family, of places that are familiar, of jobs and roles and expectations, and our desire to control situations.
We continue to let go of our will and insistence on life working out a certain way, for ourselves and those we love, and to lay down the burden of carrying the great need we see in the wider world. There are moments when it feels selfish not to rush in, not to “do everything we can” when trouble arises. It is in my nature and my husband’s to fix and save and make everything okay (which makes us perfect home renovators).
In allowing events to unfold without insisting on directing their outcome, we allow the possibility for God to work in ways we couldn’t even imagine, and we learn to trust that a power much bigger than anything we can muster abides with each of us in our suffering, as well as in our celebration.
The work of letting go is so difficult, and sometimes feels constant, and yet, it has freed us to receive incredible gifts, like the vision of this flock of pelicans (which I have not seen again). The only thing I’ve done to deserve this abundance is simply to pay attention. It’s easy to see the beauty when I live in the watery wonder of Puget Sound. Yet, paying attention to beauty is a practice that can be cultivated anywhere.
Later that night, I read more about North American Pelicans, and discovered they live in community and fish cooperatively from the water (not diving like brown pelicans), taking turns feeding. Some birds beat their wings against the water, while others catch the fish that are stirred up, and vice versa, which is what I had witnessed.
It turns out that our new fixer upper is close to the mouth of the Skokomish River as it meets the Hood Canal, so it’s an estuary environment, which accounts for the appearance of these pelicans that are usually found in fresh water, and are not particularly common in Western Washington.
The symbolism of the North American pelican has much to do with cooperation and community—they help each other and live as though there’s enough for everyone. When need surrounds us, how hopeful and powerful it is for us to think and act like pelicans—embodying those qualities that recognize our interconnectedness and the realness of abundance.
Three months ago my husband signed a contract for a waterfront fixer upper on behalf of our business. We were supposed to take possession at the end of May, then mid-June, then the end of June, then mid-July, then the end of July, then early August…you can see where this is going.
It was an incredible home, huge, and with huge potential, and we had great plans for it. But it was bank-owned, and the bank didn’t check that it had clear title before they listed it. We waited for the mortgage liens to be removed and for escrow to go through, for as long as we could. We have 3 fulltime employees that we need to pay, and we need to have work for them, which means a project house, which these days has been our own home.
To hedge our bets, we looked at another waterfront possibility in need of much TLC. That was the last Saturday in July. Two days later, our offer (the first I’ve written myself) was chosen in a multiple bid situation. So long Fox Island project house. Hello, Hood Canal house. It’s a project house, that’s for sure—but it won’t just be an investment that we sell when finished—it will be our next home!
We weren’t thinking of moving. We love where we live now: our fixer-upper that’s beginning to shine, our neighborhood, the view, the convenient access to contractor essentials like Costco and Home Depot, the literary community I’ve connected with. But one look at the amazing views of the Olympic Mountains, the proximity of the house to the water, the garage and basement that have room for all our tools and equipment, the floating dock with sunning seals, and both my husband and I thought--
We want to live here!
It didn’t seem practical—an hour to our current home and the Gig Harbor area where we’ve begun to do repair work for homebuyers and sellers.
And yet, the location on the Hood Canal in the town of Union, though well off the beaten path, is stunning. I took out the kayak to get a view from the water, and within minutes spotted five bald eagles soaring over the neighborhood, and seals eyeing me in the Canal.
The house was built in 1927, remodeled in 1965 and has been a vacation home, so the kitchen cabinets, sinks and showers, carpet and vinyl floors, though very old and out of style, have been gently worn, and are in good shape. (No animal pee on the carpets, unlike every other home we’ve lived in in Washington!) But the repair list is extensive: replace a failed septic system, hookup a well for water, demo lots of concrete that’s funneling water straight to the foundation, rotting the sill plate and leaking into the (moldy) basement.
But why let a few little things stand in the way?
The listing broker is great to work with, and the house should be ours in mid-September. We’ll spend the fall making it watertight and habitable before the rain comes— which averages 90 inches a year! We’ll continue to live in and finish our current house, which we will put on the market next May (owning a primary residence for 2 years avoids capital gains tax).
Here’s to another move—right to the water’s edge!
My husband and I have both loved watching the water from the three homes we’ve live in, as well as our project house, since we moved to Washington. (If he can see the shoreline, he can predict tide levels within a few inches!) Since we arrived in the Pacific Northwest, it’s been one of those “someday dreams” to live in a waterfront house; a dream I never really thought we could afford.
The condition of the house and the rural community of Union population 1,700 (20 minute drive to the nearest supermarket; 45 minutes to Home Depot) have converged to make that dream affordable, and a reality now—while we’re able bodied enough to do the repairs!
Quick, easy, unexpected, it feels like grace to me. I am so grateful for this gift, and for the openness to change and fluidity that my husband and I invite and embrace as we create a vision of life together—“this or something better”—that took root in us five years ago.
I'm not a food writer, and though cooking is certainly the Do-It-Yourself activity nearly everyone practices, I know that when I read recipe blogs online, I often skip straight to the ingredients, so here's my recipe for gluten-free granola, followed by the story behind it, in case you're interested.
Nut and Seedy Gluten-Free Granola
Preheat oven to 275 degrees
Mix these dry ingredients in a large bowl:
2 cups gluten-free oats (I use Bob's Red Mill)
1 cup sliced almonds (I buy Mariani's brand pre-sliced from Costco)
1/4 cup hemp seeds (I buy Manitoba Harvest from Costco)
1/4 cup chia seeds (I buy Nature's Path from Costco)
1/4 cup ground flax seed (I buy Premium Gold from Costco)
Stir these wet ingredients in a measuring cup and microwave until warm and runny,
about 20 seconds.
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbs cooking oil
1 tsp vanilla
Slowly stir wet mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients to coat well.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment or foil and spread out the granola mixture.
Bake at 275 degrees for 45 minutes, removing pan to stir halfway through.
Granola will be golden brown and loose and flaky rather than clusters when done.
Let cool in pan. Store in covered container, refrigerate for longevity.
I've been eating gluten-free for at least a dozen years now, not to be trendy, but because I'm intolerant. It was tough at first, since ours is a wheaty world: toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, pasta and pizza and dinner rolls, cookies and cakes for dessert. When I was first diagnosed as gluten intolerant, I eliminated wheat, barley, oats, along with eggs, soy, and other troublesome (for me) foods. It was a difficult adjustment, and on occasion in that first year, I'd eat a small piece of birthday cake at a party every now and then, because I felt deprived. But after feeling the instant distress a few times—abdominal pain and bloating, migraines, canker sores—I began to look at pastries and other baked goods, not with longing as I had, but as poison.
In those first years, I spent lots of money and time buying obscure flours, leavening ingredients, and egg replacers—like garbanzo and tapioca flour and xantham gum—that were available only at pricey health foods stores, trying to bake my own bread using the Gluten-Free Gourmet's recipes. My results were brick-like loaves with nearly burnt crusts and gluey insides, which pretty much mimicked the rice bread bricks available at my local market.
Commercial gluten-free baked goods have come a long way since, and I can find tasty breads, baked treats, and pastas at any market. Which is wonderful, but which also means there are a lot more carbs in my diet now that bread, spaghetti and the occasional brownie are no longer poison.
Since I don't eat eggs, breakfast is the most troubling meal of the day for me. For years I ate Trader Joe's frozen wheat-free waffles with tea and o.j. for breakfast. I added in a chicken-apple sausage 5 years ago, when my husband and I began to eat lower-carb for health reasons.
And then, a year and a half ago, I began waking at 6 a.m. to leave the house by 7 a.m., where after an hour drive to our project house, I put in 8 hours of physical work. I was starving by 9 a.m.—for some strange reason, the earlier I wake up each day, the hungrier I am throughout the day. I started drinking protein powder and eating nuts on my morning break, but I needed a better breakfast. And I do mean a single breakfast. I'm an 8:30 a.m. morning person, not a 6 a.m. morning person, so I needed to know exactly what I was going to eat each morning.
Enter plain Greek yogurt, low-carb protein powerhouse—which by itself makes me gag. So I doctored it up; thinning it with unsweetened almond milk, and mixing in some Chex brand gluten-free granola and some blueberries. Once our project house was finished, and my mornings have been more leisurely, I've added chia seeds, sliced almonds, and hemp seeds to the mix, as well as dried cherries if I don't have fresh berries.
It all seemed to be going great, though both a visiting friend and my daughter home from college commented on how long it took me to assemble my morning ingredients, which was anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour depending on how distracted I got with feeding cats, boiling tea kettle, unloading the dishwasher, etc. Yes, I could've mixed all the ingredients and popped them in a Tupperware, but I knew the tiny seeds would fall the the bottom, and the oats and Chex would stay at the top, so each day I scooped yogurt into a bowl, stirred in almond milk to my desired consistency, sprinkled the chia seeds, then hemp, then the sliced almonds, then the granola, then the berries, then stirred it up and ate.
Chex gluten-free granola has disappeared from my local grocery stores (though found it on Amazon for double the price, I didn't buy it) and the clerks say the warehouse is out of stock. No one seems to know if it's discontinued or just a temporary setback. Either way, without a few oats, my breakfast the past two weeks has been simply too seedy.
So, I reluctantly made my own gluten-free granola this morning. I was reluctant to try it, given my bad luck with baking, and having never made granola before. I did some Internet research, and cobbled together my own recipe using some guidelines from Bon Appetit and this recipe from Keep it Kind. It was easy and quick to assemble (not any longer than my daily breakfast routine). It smelled great while baking, and it turned out tasty. The result is a loose flaky granola, not clusters, but it's perfect for my breakfast concoction.
Welcome to the new me, or to the new and improved cathywarner.com at any rate!
I'm happy to have found a new web host in Weebly that makes it easy to corral all my creative efforts on one web site: my list of publications, book, photo haikus, and blog, in addition to my services as a writer, editor, home renovator, and realtor.
I won't miss my old website, the themes were worn and tired, and difficult to personalize with any pizazz. When your own website feels sad and tired, it's time to shell out some money for a fresh start.
So, here's to starting over with a look and content that is, I hope, both professional and personable. I had fun on the design, and my wish is that the images and writing you find here will spark your imagination and inspire you to use your own unique and creative gifts to bring about "This or Something Better" in your own life and with those you are called to serve.
I have years of posts on "This or Something Better" and "Holy Ink" on the blogspot platform, and I plan to leave both sites up as archives, so feel free to jump over there anytime.
Wishing you all good things, like a glass of wine, dark chocolate, and a great conversation with a good friend!
I am a writer who, in December 2011, fortified by a new MFA, empty nest, and changes in my husband's employment, relocated from my native California to Washington state to see what would unfold next.