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10.14.17

I don’t know what it’s like to lose a home (yet)… But I do know the sensation of having the ground under your feet suddenly fall away, leaving you with a life you hardly recognize. I’m sending this out to you, my friends who have lost so much in this week’s inferno.

***

 A house without love is not a home.

 Love without a home is still love.

So now you will take that love and start over, with ordeal-weary bodies and the strongest of pulls toward rest, solace, and simple affection. If you gather in one room together and begin with these, you will have a foundation.

You can’t even imagine it; but still, you can begin it. So make your rooms anew.

Capture moments circled close around food and a table. Any table.

Let laughter bounce off the walls—even new walls—and make music.

And although you’re used to making your own way, allow the big and small kindnesses of others to sit deep in your heart. This is God with skin on.

We will all be hungry for a friendly hello from someone we meet on the street: some tender, small kindness gently delivered from a person whose tank feels full enough in that moment to someone who is running on fumes, run dry from all of the trauma.

And so, in this way, you will build your community, your home, your house of love. Moment by moment… right alongside each other…breathing together. Exhaling the pain, inhaling the beauty wherever you find it.

***

Prayerfully,

Carrie

 

 

 

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Cia

 

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4.30.17

I want to be Cia. Well, sort of… I don’t think I want the blonde, Dutch Boy wig-gone-astray look. But as I prepared for a weekend retreat with a group of women who were unfamiliar to me, I found myself craving the anonymity that disguise would afford.

I had asked my friend, Karen, to please not share my story with the group because I just wanted to be “one of the girls,” as opposed to “the one with the dramatic, tragic past.” I guess I’d rather people get to know me as a person before they start to see me through that lens. To take on that identity and wear it like a cloak would be so constraining. Where would the room be for dancing? For wild laughter? For simple play?

And so, it did feel so wonderfully “normal” to be hanging out at the tables as we all worked away at our projects, listening in to snippets of conversation, sharing crafty tips with each other, eating together, laughing a lot. I felt myself “fitting in” with this group in a way I haven’t for several years.

So I’m happy I chose not to bring up that over-the-top part of my life, because–for just one weekend–it left me free to begin relationships in a more balanced way, beginning with who I am, as opposed to what I’ve been through.

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Treasure

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September 3, 2017

I was so accustomed to holding it that I barely had to think about it anymore. But I must have gotten distracted for a moment, because it slipped from my hands, and now it has sunk far below me.

The water is getting colder as, panicked, I dive…dive… deeper and deeper…kicking as hard as I can.

Below me, I catch a glimpse of its smooth, gold, still-shining surface now and then. But every time I think I will finally be able to lay hold of it and set my desperation aside, it disappears again. It seems like it must have been only a few days since I lost it, but now my mind is becoming muddled. Maybe it’s really been years. All I know is the longing…

The pressure is building in my chest as my weak legs kick even more frantically. I have to reach it. My greatest treasure lies in that box. (How have I survived even a day without it?)

But then, my body betrays me. It has a different agenda. As small bubbles start to escape from my blowfish cheeks and pursed lips, I look above me to see the light trying to find me in these frigid depths. And now my body is rising, my cruel legs kicking below me–compelled toward light and air, toward life.

I break the surface, gasping and choking as my burning lungs vacuum in all the oxygen they can hold. Then, floating on my back, waiting for my heart to slow and my lungs to trust me again, I open my clenched eyes to the beauty of the cloudless, cerulean blue sky above and weep.

So this is how it will be. For every day I spend up here, living my life, my treasure will sink a little deeper so that eventually it will be absolutely lost to me. Because, in order to fully embrace the gift of this life, I need to stop seeking out the love that lies locked in that golden chest. I have to rest in knowing that it really did exist for decades: the complex, resonant love of a husband and wife. It did exist–and it will continue– because love is eternal. Thank God.

 

Voyeur

10.28.17

I had prepared myself to see it (or so I thought). Now that the road was opened, post-fire, I could take the more convenient route from home to my office in Santa Rosa. Over the past couple of weeks, I’d heard the stark litany of familiar landmarks that burned: the schools, historic buildings, even sprawling neighborhoods. And now, my imagination was working overtime–trying to piece together an image of what I would encounter.

On this first trip through the burn zone, I was struck more by what was left after the fire had its way with these homes and businesses than what was gone. As I approached what had once been a lovely, unpretentious, neighborhood, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I could see the redwoods and pines that gave it its charm had gone over to the “dark side”. They stood black and gnarled, stripped of any minty-green softness, presiding over charred homes like sinister sentinels.

I wanted to look away; but then curiosity kept me scanning the destruction. Could that be a dryer? A car? A gate? Flat, ashen ground was studded with mangled doors and appliances in all their naked shame. Crumbling brick facades and fireplaces hinted at the simple homes that did humble duty here, holding the lives of these families.

No sooner would I let my eyes settle long enough on an object to figure out what it had been, than guilt would swiftly slap my gawking face and redirect my eyes to the road. Had I no shame? I was looking right into someone’s living room. A voyeur. I could only imagine how invasive it must feel for the owners of those properties, knowing the parade of slow-moving cars could see right into the wounded guts of their living rooms and kitchens. In a strange twist, “home” would now be the place where (instead of privacy and relaxed familiarity), they would feel most vulnerable and exposed  One more violation.

I read an angry Facebook post by a fire victim who was beyond frustrated with people pulling out cell phones to video her decimated neighborhood as they slowly cruised by. I can imagine that might feel like being filmed by passing motorists as I lay bleeding on the side of the road next to my mangled car. I would be needing immediate help much more than expressions of shock and pity, and then real support for the long haul as I recovered from my injuries.

So that’s what I want to be to these survivors: a source of genuine love and support, as well as part of the net of community here to circle around and give them hands-on help for as long as they need it.

These are the gifts that were quietly given to me throughout the endless search process that followed Steve’s very dramatic, public death. From my position it was very clear who was “gawking” and who was around because they genuinely wanted to ease my crushing burden. It was their steady, determined prayers and presence in my life that allowed me to survive the unimaginable and move through layer upon layer of healing, finally finding myself able to come full circle and pour all I’ve received into someone else’s numb and shaken existence. Such a privilege to come alongside another human being as they take those first steps in learning to coax beauty from ashes.

Beauty

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10.21.17

This morning a friend of mine dropped by to pick up the equipment I bought to sift through rocks and dirt as we searched for Steve’s remains. He would be using it to look for valuables and mementos amidst the rubble of his incinerated home.

As he stepped out of his car and looked around at my suburban street, with tidy homes and ample trees colored with the tint of early fall, he inhaled sharply, looking for a moment as if some invisible force had suddenly stripped his lungs of oxygen. Here, standing in the middle of my simple street, he was surrounded by such tangible reminders of his neighborhood–now reduced to a moonscape of ash and twisted metal.

The loss of a home and loss of a loved one are both deaths of a sort… I do remember well those early days of myopic numbness and overwhelm following Steve’s disappearance. It was so hard to see past the cavernous gaping hole that dominated my life.

But then a shift began to take place deep within me. I started having a sense that God was trying to get my attention. There was something important I needed to hear. Everything I was already focusing on seemed so vital–how could I take my focus away for even one moment?

But when I did stop long enough to listen–really listen–I sensed he was saying this: “Even though this is so overwhelmingly painful and everything looks black to you, I want you to know that light and beauty do still exist. Look for them. Stop and drink them in wherever you find them. You’ll find sustenance there. You’ll find me there.”

And so I began to open my eyes and look for beauty amidst the chaos. (This was grudgingly at first, I’ll admit. I was like an angry toddler, eyes squeezed shut, resisting the urgings of his parents to open them.) I didn’t expect to see much in my darkened world.

But bit by bit, my eyes and heart became trained to notice the little things: the warmth of my mother’s hand as she held mine, the crimson to persimmon to gold hues of an autumn leaf merging together into a miniature masterpiece, the comfort of an open-hearted, generous hug offered with no words, but saying so much. Like oxygen to my gasping spirit, these are the things that sustained me. It was learning to savor the beauty that appeared right alongside the pain.

So if you (like so many in my community) are walking through your own season of piercing shock and loss, I want to encourage you to open your weary eyes and heart, look around, and see if you can glimpse even the smallest flash of beauty…the steady reminders that a good God still exists in your charred world.

 

Rain

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10.18.17

Over the past twelve days wildfires have indiscriminately ripped through Northern California’s wine country, burning over 179,000 acres, destroying almost 7,000 structures and (the darkest statistic of all) killing at least 42 people. 

***

I’m sure there are many windows flung open in my hometown tonight. The humble, pattering raindrops probably wonder what all the fuss is about. Little do they know the sweet sense of blessing they carry: the gift of moist, clean air for the first time in twelve days, a fresh breeze to evict some of the smoke trapped in our homes and lungs, and relief that all of those toiling fire crews will get at least a bit of a break.

Firefighters came from around the world to attack this greedy monster that consumed so much yet never seemed satiated. Someone had to stop this inferno, and these determined men and women did. I don’t think I will ever fully grasp how any human being can choose to run toward flames while everyone else flees. I am in awe of this strong fiber that runs through their core.

So this rain seems to be marking an end and a beginning: an end to this surreal and at times terrifying twelve days, and the beginning of our recovery, as ordeal-weary, grateful souls stand side by side, holding each other up, holding hope together.

***

There are no words for how thankful we are to all of those who have risked and sacrificed so much for us.

 

 

 

Obsession

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I pulled down the box, blowing off a small cloud of dust collecting there over the last three years.

I’ve been through Steve’s clothes (with my sister’s help), Steve’s tools (with my friends’ help), but I was facing this cupboard–Steve’s cupboard–on my own.

I think I’m the only one who knew about Steve’s private obsession. He admired functional, efficient design, and so was always looking for the perfect “man purse”: some way to transport small necessities that were too bulky for his pockets. Everything was black: outdoor gear style small bags he could attach to his belt, a fanny pack, and about six different leather cell phone holders (one dating back as far as his old flip phone!).

But as I was pulling them out to get a better look (and, to be honest, count them), I saw some paper with primary color polka dots hiding in the bottom of the box. It was a folded piece of scrapbook paper with blue stickers on the front spelling out the name he most loved to hear, “Papa.”

When I opened it up I was transported back to a scene at our kitchen table, with six-year-old Ellie’s eager fingers working so hard to place stickers precisely where she wanted them. She was putting her everything into this birthday card describing and illustrating her favorite things to do with her dad: camping, snow play, hiking, etc… She placed the stickers as she dictated her sincere expressions of appreciation and adoration. I think, “I love you because you are nice to me” is my favorite. He must have cherished that card.

And tucked there inside its pages was a collection of other mementos; a hand-made, red doily Valentine’s Day card my mom had given him and another from me; his draft registration card was there showing his young, none-too-happy face in profile, like a mug shot; and photos of me, beginning with my senior picture and continuing through about five different hairstyles over the first few years of our marriage.

Several of Steve’s friends have used the word “cherished” to describe how Steve felt about Ellie and me. So this small box held reminders of those things and people he held most dear: his family and his freedom. Oh–and sleek, efficient, black cases.

While his love for me was sure and steady, I am still honored to see I made it into this box, along with his other “obsessions.”