I Am Racist

For six weeks this summer a group of us on Wednesday night, at the invitation of our mutual friend, Ana, zoomed together and discussed, So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo. Our last night together, one member, Jess, told us her greatest takeaway, “After reading this book I’ve come to one conclusion,” enter a pause like a seasoned actor, “I’m racist.” After a collective hesitation, (or was it a gasp?), all of us half-raised our hands or nodded as if trying on this confession for the first time. Upon hearing the appreciation of our fearless leader, Ana, who proclaimed, “My job is finished.” We tried it on with more vigor and acceptance using our voices, “Yes! I’m a racist” think popcorn prayer style, until if felt just right. I’m grateful for Jess and her confession because her vulnerability helped me accept my own brokenness and here in this place, I found great relief replacing a unconscious guilt that I hadn’t been fully aware of nor did I want since my fellow Black friends and influencers let me know guilt does nothing to change a system that’s begun with genocide and slavery.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t find relief that I’m a racist. In fact, I’m deeply burdened by this reality and hope I won’t lose friends over my brokenness. But what’s become the most figural in this confession is that I do indeed need the Holy Spirit, along with friends, revealing to me all the ways this is true. My confession has paradoxically lightened my personal burden of sin at the same time it’s created a need for redeeming what I’ve been a part of breaking. Here’s how our psyche is created, when I don’t take responsibility for a problem, I will find thousands of ways to make it someone else’s or blame those most impacted by it.

The thing is, it’s humanly impossible for me, for us, not to be racist according to our neurobiology. (This declaration does not give us permission to do nothing about it.) We are all created with a mechanism in our brains that determines a me versus them simplification and as a result, we as a nation and more specifically, our collective mainstream, White Christian theology has created a great divide of believer and non-believer. If science can’t convince you – division is part of Jesus’ and Paul’s message – “No Jew or Gentile” – Jesus claimed the power and status found in the Kingdom of God in direct opposition of human ideas of power and status. We are asked to do likewise – eliminate our “us-ness” with self-awareness which can then turn into confession followed up with a dependency on the Holy Spirit. I think Father Boyle right-sizes the way to look at healing. He says, “You don’t go to the margins to bring the marginalized into the fold. Rather you go to the margins (those suffering under oppression) to join them…and stand in awe over what the poor [suffering/traumatized, etc.] have had to bear rather than criticizing them over how they are carrying it.” Here’s what I’ve found, when I put my own racism front and center, I lose tone policing. I lose judgment over how the protests should or shouldn’t be done or how rightful rage should or shouldn’t be expressed. I lose the temptation to make someone else or a community all bad and myself — all good (or in the right).

As John Lewis so observantly stated, “We all live in the same house.” The house of God is supposed to be one that is a light in darkness, a love that has no bounds, a transformation that can only come from a relational God yet this is not what the American church looks like. There has been a long history of looking after it’s own interests, hating certain people groups, discounting other religions, and putting their own suffering above others (like the hostility toward Christianity which has been a direct result of it’s failure to protect equality for all). Yet in scripture, Jesus didn’t humanize and protect people AFTER they believed in his gospel. Jesus humanized and protected regardless of their belief in Him. In fact in the last day of his life, as He lay tortured and beaten, He proclaimed in Luke’s gospel, “‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”

I’m learning. If I could redo a conversation a couple months ago it would say, “You’re right,” when my Black neighbor said, “Well the good of these protests is that maybe you can be more aware of what’s going on.” Instead, I tried to reassure him I’ve been trying to do things like writing letters to local officials.

In part, I’m publicly declaring my own racism because I found acceptance from both Black and Brown friends alike who have given me forgiveness while they’ve shown me their wounds that I played a part in afflicting. I’m grateful that in their own way, they have made those proclamations, “Father forgive her for she doesn’t know what she’s doing” and continued their friendship with me, knowing my racism will never be healed, the consequences can only be lessened.

So I end with how I began – I’m a racist and I’m so sorry. I want to do better (I realize my lack of better has cost lives, not only physical, but also immaterial where Black and Brown trauma has robbed someone of a thriving and full existence). I genuinely want you to thrive and not be burdened by racism. May my confession give permission to others, just like Jess’s confession did for me, to own your racism so that you can heal a very broken nation that was founded on genocide, slavery and equality for White Male property owners. More importantly, may your confession bring with it a spiritual healing both individually and collectively. I have a vision that someday our National Day of Prayer will offer equality for all religions because at Jesus’ table, he welcomed everyone, especially the oppressed and marginalized.

All photos taken in southern Utah at a photography workshop with Stephen Matera, (@stephen_matera) whose photography work continues to bless me and provide a momentary respite from my urban living.

Trauma’s Impact on You, Now!

These are unprecedented times – being a part of a global pandemic that’s in our country and if you’re like me, in my hometown.  For myself, I’m not sleeping well and when I do, I’m having vivid dreams around the themes of not getting help, not being able to help, or someone getting sick.  It doesn’t take a dream interpreter to know there’s anxiety about covid-19.  I’m not sure where this newsletter finds you.  Maybe you too aren’t sleeping well.  Maybe you’re in a place of grief as you’ve had to close your business or lay off workers who need immediate income.  Maybe you’re anxious as you wait for a someone close to you to beat covid-19, wondering which statistic they’ll become – recovered or dead.  Maybe you’re overwhelmed with the new hat of homeschool teacher with your children home while you also work from home.  Maybe you’ve never felt more isolated because video connection isn’t replacing the real need for face-to-face contact and touch. Conversely, maybe you’ve found a deep calm that’s evaded you for years due to the lifestyle pace you’ve kept -either by choice or to avoid consequences (such as being fired, losing contracts, etc.).  Maybe you’re attending online church after being disconnected from a faith community.  Regardless of your situation, I hope this article helps you navigate your internal processes.

Many trauma experts suggest we are all in a collective trauma due to the global impact of covid-19.  The experience of trauma will vary depending on how many people are sick around you.  It felt very distant until a good friend got it and then my son’s classmate’s mom was hospitalized with it.  Suddenly, the virus felt very invasive.  My ability to manage my anxiety took effort.  (Thankfully one recovered and the other, recovering.) Regardless of your current situation with covid-19, past traumas are most likely being triggered.  In Bessel Van der Kolk’s book, “The Body Keeps Score,” he scientifically argues the body is the first organizer of our human experience and it remembers events that threaten our physical safety and mental health.  What this means for covid-19, is that our past trauma responses, whether they be a shock trauma (i.e. life threatening, often called big “T” trauma) or pervasive, developmental trauma (called little “t” trauma), these types of traumas are going to show up in our bodies.  In my past, I’ve experienced both little and big “t” traumas so it makes sense that my sleep cycle is impacted and even though I meditate daily and practice being grounded in order to be present – it’s not enough in this collective trauma.  So it’s doubly important to realize when my proverbial mental driver’s seat is my negativity bias – the mechanism in my brain which focuses more importance to “threatening/negative” information than connecting/positive information.  All of us are hard-wired with a negativity bias – it’s there to help us survive.

Southwestern Utah

I want to name several negativity biases prevalent with covid-19.  These come in the form of fears: fear of physical harm (getting sick) manifesting itself two ways – noticing every change in one’s body and/or feeling threatened when in the physical presence of someone even while socially distancing; fear of getting someone else sick; fear of the future (i.e. economy, death, occupation, etc.); fear of taking action (ex.  going to grocery store), fear of not taking action (ex. not going to the store), fear of knowing (ex. not looking up information about covid-19), and fear of not knowing (ex. looking up covid-19 information).  It’s easy to identify how anxiety spirals happen during covid-19 because doing one thing (getting food at the store to stay healthy) can provoke an opposing fear (getting infected).  

Triggered trauma also makes us more susceptible to well-researched cognitive biases such as feeling more secure with recalled or previously seen information, even if it’s unimportant to this situation and actually mentally block a person from gathering new, important information.  Another way of thinking about it, is a person operating intuitively rather than checking their intuition for accuracy.  For example,  this cognitive bias creates a calming effect when using your familiar household cleaner when anxiety is needed to investigate whether it’s effective against covid-19.  

When trauma, negativity and cognitive biases can be driving our cognitive processes, it’s important to be grounded, connected and self-aware.  Regarding health, it’s important to accurately appraise the physiological signals in our bodies and neither underestimate nor overestimate our susceptibility to infections.  Such an appraisal needs cognitive open-mindedness that might only be found by “buying time” until our mind is calmer and able to notice the whole bodily picture.  Buying time might be going for a walk while engaging all five senses, noticing the four corners of your feet while walking without your mind wandering, dancing, not taking your temperature every hour but instead require yourself to wait three hours because your heart races every temperature reading, meditation, or any distraction requiring a pause from your physiological assessment until you are fully present.  

In terms of connection, two unhelpful dynamics can occur with trauma triggers. First, a survival/ self-sufficiency mode that makes it unable to see others around you as being capable of meeting your needs or containing your anxiety.  In other words, you project onto others an overwhelm and anxiety making it impossible for them to meet your relational needs so you isolate and don’t ask.  The second dynamic – you become everyone’s helper by projecting onto them that you need to meet their needs because no one else can do it.  This is equally dangerous because it leaves you disconnected and alone in the paradoxical “alone together” dynamic.  

We are created to need others.  All of us.  Interpersonal relationships are part of being human.  Jesus modeled his need of others, especially in the Garden of Gethsemane when the disciples had fallen asleep while he prayed.  He addressed them, “hey, I need you.  Stop falling asleep” (my paraphrase).  Listen to the story you’re telling yourself about needing connection during this time.  Is trauma in the driver’s seat along with your negativity bias?  How can you reach out for connection?  How are you allowing others to bear your burdens through conversation?  For me, weekly zoom calls with friends are my lifeline for navigating the very real stress present today.

Remember, hope and grounding are found in two things: 1) believing in a God who never leaves nor forsakes you even in the face of tragedy and loss, including death and 2) knowing you’re not alone because you have a life team as your relational safety net. 

This post was first published for GrowthSkills, April 2020. Pictures were taken two years ago today on a photography workshop shoot with Stephen Matera in Southern Utah.

A Seat at the Table

Pantheon, Rome

I wrote parts of this post two years ago after visiting Rome and having a profound spiritual experience. For matters I didn’t fully understand other than it felt too vulnerable, I never posted it. Last week I picked it back up to include the present stirrings in my heart around the church’s broad response to Covid-19, which ranges from suing states (ex. here in California), continuing to ignore social distancing mandates by gathering (just google that one), or conversely, actually following the Biblical scripture which very specifically says to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1-2) and encouraging their congregations to do the same. But, I hadn’t pushed the publish button because if I’m honest, I’ve been too angry at the first two responses of Christians so my words felt similar to Jesus’s communication after throwing over the tables when the Pharisees misused the temple for their own monetary gains, which doesn’t capture what I’ve wanted to invite – which is loving your neighbor. This approach shifted after attending yesterday’s online church which affirmed to me the calling of my heart. To paraphrase the words of Pastor Daniel Long, “what if during this pandemic we are being called into love – more deeply loving the world and our neighbor.” And then both he and our good friend, Steve Porter, quoted a favorite poem, “Pry Me off Dead Center” by Ted Loder in different recorded parts of the session without knowing it. And, as if that wasn’t confirmation enough that I needed to move forward and publish this post, my mentor, Beth Brokaw, who was always, and I mean always, telling me to blog more, spoke to me from heaven as we ended the service with “Bless the Lord,” her life theme song after she navigated a stage four breast cancer diagnosis before dying six years ago this June. So here it goes…

Rome was the last place on earth I, or anyone else who really knows me, would’ve expected me to feel at home. We arrived via train from Florence (which we loved – who doesn’t?) mid afternoon without having much of an idea where to go. Like any unprepared American, we made our way through the thick zig zagging crowds to the desk with the universal ? mark in orange, or maybe red, at the main platform and in our broken Italian, asked if anyone spoke English. Not really though with perseverance on all our parts, we got answers. As we turned to leave, the gentlemen came around the desk and proceeded to tell us all the ways we needed to protect our 10-year-old blonde, blue-eyed son from kidnappers on the subways/buses. He play-acted – moving our bodies this way and that to show us exactly what we needed to do – keep ourselves between the door and our son. He apologized while delivering the information but stated in his broken English, “You need to know this. Keep him safe.” I hadn’t realized how unsafe I felt until my body, taking now a deep breath, relaxed because he’d offered me information that equipped me to actually keep my son safe. I was a stranger. Him – a generous man offering his time and knowledge.

When in Rome…Draw

And so we were ushered in to Rome. Over the next two days, God showed up in unlikely ways – two unexpected meetings on two different days with our daughter with whom we’d had no contact with her or her choir tour and randomly saw her – not once but twice. Unexplainable and probability of it happening randomly – infinite, especially given it was St. Peter’s Day – the second largest visitation weekend of the year in Rome. But that’s a story for another day.

Unexpected Visit at Catacombs Outside the City Walls

The spirituality in Rome is indescribable to someone who really doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I was only there for four days but my tour guides and their knowledge of history and their way of being with others, along with their commitment to leave no proverbial footprint on the earth was inspiring. There wasn’t an ounce of impatience over “those tourists” though the crowds were thick. I felt joy from them over getting to educate about their heritage. Rome has survived whether rich or poor. It felt to me there wasn’t a division between believing and unbelieving, religious or pagan. Maybe it was the awe felt by the places of worship like the Vatican, the Pantheon, and other less known churches. It was more about my own experience of being in the place Paul walked and if I’d been alone in different parts of the city I would’ve wept – for the persecution of Christians, for the poverty over centuries, for the broken humanity that’s lived in this very ancient city, for Paul’s journey in Rome, for the early church and their acts of obedience, for many things that seemed to be so deeply grounded here and couldn’t be ignored. For example, when I looked at the Colosseum, I couldn’t ignore that Christians and other victims were killed by the thousands for entertainment. And the ancient awe of a city with real centuries of roots, left me both wordless and sickened because we’ve robbed our Native Americans from such an experience of the land our colonists took from them. Centuries of life between them and their land before our European take-over – destroyed by our ideas of progress. I’d say they’re waiting for the richness to arrive again. And if God is a lover of anyone, it’s the poor. My longing is that they may once again have a seat at the table in America, while I’m alive to witness it.

But I digress – Rome. Other highlights: gelato – in a cone, wine at any meal, “everyone’s welcome here” embodied throughout in the people. While eating near the Vatican, my husband mentioned his grandmother’s family is from Naples. Given his Italian looks I imagine his words were believable because the chef, the actual chef, delivered to us a free dish shouting as Italians do, for your Italian grandmother! Of course, not everything was roses – we had rude taxi drivers who pretended not to know where major museums were because it was a short ride or eye rolls from locals when we failed to weigh food properly. But I’ve learned to hold complexity -to not be disgusted by the utter beauty of the Vatican because of the very real abuse, that’s destroyed lives and continues to do so, in the Catholic Church. To know it’s complicated -not the abuse, there’s nothing complicated about that but to know its a broken system with broken humans running it and it also does an incredible job feeding the hungry, taking care of the widow, supporting those forgotten – there are approximately 8,000 homeless in Rome compared to LA County’s 15,000. Adriana, on of our tour guides, went into great details about the ways the Catholic Church supports Italians who cannot support themselves. Proof once again, that humanity needs God, needs his sanctifying power while at the same time needing real people.

If we doubt our need to hold complexity, we only need to read about John the Baptist who does nothing but serve God, even leaping in Elizabeth’s womb when a pregnant Mary was close, his death comes in the form of a ridiculous beheading – that’s some serious complexity. Yet, here in America I find many messages are far from complex – oversimplifying the work of Satan or sin without confronting individuals’s lack of sanctification or poor character in their lives. Further, church leadership (please read elders, deacons, etc. not simply the pastor) lack discipling members or confronting their own brokenness over issues such as simplifying sexuality and ignoring the massive pornography problems as well as the bashing of people with same sex attraction. Where is the love of our neighbor there? How can the church be like a light on a hill when it’s full of judgment and divisiveness. The us/ them mentality runs deep, even among denominations.

But my experience in Rome was a “everyone’s welcome. Come to the table.” Every person had a seat. I’m sure I’m romanticizing my experience but the friendliness of the people was remarkable. They embodied Jesus’s – “come as you are!” “Here – we love where you’re family’s from let us bless you!” “You have no shoes – come in anyways!” I didn’t experience an underbelly of pride, which can give from a superior place and dismiss anything the receiver has to give. In Rome, I never felt I needed to be more Italian than I was – which is zero percent. I haven’t an ounce of Italian in me and I speak it horribly, but enthusiastically to the embarrassment of my children. Yet, not once did I feel unwelcome or as if I couldn’t contribute to a story or an experience. (the trick – gesture bigger and talk even louder.) It reminded me of the prostitute wiping Jesus’ feet with her perfume and while his host wanted to whisk her away, he received her – he embraced what she gave him and commented to Simon about what a gift it was to receive. I think we can read his words, “you are forgiven” with a superior tone but what if he, like the Italians, gave forgiveness like the free dish from a place of receiving her love (us offering our heritage) and offering her his love through forgiveness. What if there was an equality relationally in the giver and the receiver as they move interchangeably in the beautiful act of washing feet.

With covid-19 devastating the world but especially Italy, I weep for them and their current circumstances. I pray for their people, knowing they have deep wells of resilience. I pray for us here in the US, too. That we would find a way back to the Last Supper – where Jesus loved and commanded us to love one another. A time where there was a seat at the table regardless of race, class, sexual preference or occupation. May we find something we’ve lost as a community – not only the love for our neighbor but also the need for our neighbor. God did not create us to live apart from our community – it wasn’t what he modeled in Christ incarnate nor in the early church. Rather, we can find our answers to our dependence on God through the material, recognizing He can show up in as an ass, a burning bush, or a prostitute. May we who have been invited to love as He has loved us, make a seat for everyone. Though to be clear – in the time of covid-19 this means sending money to food banks, delivering a meal to a neighbor using sanitation precautions, giving gift cards, or ordering food from local restaurants – whatever is needed to make sure everyone has a seat at the proverbial table.

May we have ears to hear, eyes to see, and courage to see our own ability to host a table or come sit the table – you being simply you. Finally, I trust that someone needs to read this – whoever you are – God sees you.

To Beth – I hear you. Your legacy lives on. And now, I’ll push the publish button. To Rome – I’ll be back and I’m bringing friends.

Christianity and Covid-19

These are unprecedented times. Two weeks ago, I received the news that a dear friend in her 60s almost positively had the virus according to her doctor. We waited with prayers hourly that she would make it until day 10 without hospitalization. Gratefully, she started feeling better around day 12. However, very soon after that, a classmate of my son’s mother was hospitalized with the covid-19 virus. Gratefully, she was released yesterday. The next day we heard from my sister-in-law who had been tested and was awaiting results due to horrible symptoms. As we were waiting for results, a high school friend posted she most likely had symptoms but couldn’t get tested and is navigating extreme pain – please pray. Luckily, results for my sister-in-law came back negative by late afternoon. All this, and I live outside of an epicenter thus far.

Then there is the news out of Florida and Georgia – and even in my city – of churches, in the name of Jesus continuing to congregate and praise God, together on Sunday mornings. As a fellow follower of Jesus, I struggle (and in the name of holding complexity I will use the word struggle rather than anything more divisive) to understand how it is faith rather than a shallow understanding of scripture that has anything to do with their actions of congregating during a pandemic.

We know that covid-19 can be deadly and have long term health consequences. We know that Thursday 1,000 people died in the U.S. What gets less press but has definitely been said, is the long journey of recovery for those who have been hospitalized, which in my area is a large number of the confirmed cases since only those whose medical treatment is dictated by the diagnosis as well as first responders or health care professionals are getting tested. See here – https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/04/03/coronavirus-survivors-recovery/?fbclid=IwAR25i20GzblA_0bvrfslI0O7X3BbvdZKefwwO-l74CtduxuNzvFX0KuXMwQ. We also know that large groups and congregating is an almost foolproof way of spreading the virus. It is spreading for days before people develop symptoms. Of the asymptomatic people who test positive 75% of them will develop symptoms within 2 weeks (WHO press brief 4/2/20). One cannot tell who has it and who doesn’t early on. The anecdotal research coming out of Seattle now believes the spread of their epicenter outbreak was largely by asymptomatic people. See here- https://www.medpagetoday.com/infectiousdisease/covid19/85657?fbclid=IwAR2d85IRaIW_szOk-AWQUWGJuGFJreGwvMI5qjDeud0rFUQ6XTnF1zZI4cg. This is not an older person disease in terms of lasting consequences – 40% of all hospitalized by Wednesday were under 55 and 20% were between 20 and 44. From the CDC, 1 in 5 deaths are middle-aged.

To be completely transparent, I hold an undergraduate minor in Biblical Studies and completed graduate courses in Biblical Studies as a part of my doctoral clinical psychology program at Biola University. I do not have a M.Div. or a Master’s degree in theology. However, I’ve been studying scripture since my teens. From the words of Jesus, the most important commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself. How is congregating to praise God showing love to your neighbor? This is the neighbor who you might kill because in a moment of helpfulness you unknowingly transmit the disease when you offer to get her groceries and she unknowingly forgets to wash them off before bringing them into her home. Especially, and I emphasize especially, if you don’t recognize your own humanity and see yourself as invulnerable to getting the virus.

The last time I checked, no Christian here on earth is God. No Christian is without a humanly body and therefore embodies the same vulnerabilities of every human being which includes sickness, mental fallibilities, and perceptual truths – not absolute truths which are for God alone. Even when I search the scripture for validations for this type of careless and reckless behavior I come up with none. Mary and Joseph chose not to return to Nazareth out of protection for Jesus. They GAVE UP EVERYTHING for awhile for Jesus’ protection and went to Egypt. His disciples all had very hard lives according to historical accounts -God didn’t spare them from injustice even though they were his friends. I look to the Old Testament and even there the best example I see is that even King David, the man declared after God’s own heart, hid in the hills when his sons were trying to kill and dethrone him. Did he lack faith to hide? Did he lack faith to not boldly taunt his sons by praising God outwardly in the open boasting, “Here I am sons come and get me.” He did no such thing. Instead, he lamented. He cried out the injustices to God. He cried out for relief. Ought not this be our “faith response” in a time such as this? Isn’t this how we show our faith while loving our neighbor?

I have a list I’ve started of people and communities I pray for each day – M. Chris’s Mom, Bri, New York City, New Jersey, Seattle, Chicago, Long Beach, LA County, Robin, K – my list keeps getting longer as more people reach out for support after discovering sickness has entered their lungs. I cry out to God for mercy and help. I lament – all the athletes who have been training for years whose season has been wiped out, performers who can’t perform, unemployed – all those now wondering where their food, car expenses, etc. will come from. Shouldn’t we be raising our voices in solidarity that we will sacrifice gathering in groups for the betterment of our neighbor because we serve a God who has created all creatures in His image -whatever their beliefs (or not), whatever their sexual attraction, whatever their socioeconomic status? All around the world His generosity is made known by His people. To have the belief that congregating is standing in the face of Satan, is to have an extremely small view of God. Please – you’re only human. Isn’t it about time that all the congregations of the world sacrifice for our neighbor so that we might show love. Staying home, knowing you are vulnerable to the virus and could be an asymptomatic carrier is living a life right-sided – acknowledging you are only human and God -master of the universe isn’t some narcissistic being who needs masses gathered in his name. After all, he came, incarnate to this earth as an infant born in a manager to a family with humble means. Stay home, Christian, and let your faith shine through actions which protect those who are vulnerable, which is all of us.

Florence, Italy

May you join me in the practice of prayer, lament and praise (online) for His Kingdom to come and His will be done. May we be right-sized as humble servants rather than boldly proclaiming praise by congregating together in person to a God who hasn’t taken away sickness nor death from this world.

2019 Reflections

What did you do in 2019 that you had never done before?

I had the privilege to tour Capital Records, which is something I won at a silent auction. It was a real treat as they aren’t open to the public so it was a priceless experience. What made it even more special is two of my nieces of the band, Let Flo Go, were with us. Who knows maybe one day they will be recording there.

We also went to the Rose Bowl and the Rose Parade for the first time, compliments of Aunt Michelle. It was an early morning but what a fabulous experience!

Ohio State Marching Band

I physically hadn’t ever done tubing behind a boat. There definitely is some skill involved when your driver is trying to dump you. haha. Loved it.

Did you keep your New Year’s Resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I didn’t make New Year’s Resolutions. As I stated last yer, I’ve been setting monthly goals and visions, which are connected to some larger vision. I’m held accountable by my business group, Thrive, so I can stay on target. I’ve definitely discovered accountability is the best way for me to live my life as intentionally as I desire. I usually have a word for the year or season – last year was meditate, contemplate (which is a bit more active), be present and Routines, which transformed into the idea of ease. This year I’ve transitioned to ENGAGE. I’ll have more reflections on this at a later time.

My 2019-20 Thrive Group minus Jessie

Did anyone close to you give birth?

No.

Did anyone close to you die?

Two dear friends died from different cancers — my friend, Gina Mammano Vander Kam, who was a dear soul who epitomized loving others and engaging the world as a soul who cares very little about the material world. The world was a better place with Gina in it. She truly noticed the unnoticeable and brought them her light until they were strong enough to shine their own. Honestly, I’ve had so many thoughts about her since her death but simply haven’t been able to put them into words. When she moved to my home state of Washington, she and her husband, Rick, visited me and my family on the other side of the mountains. She wrote a poem for me when my son died.

For Kimber

He lives,
in the gorgeous memory of floating the eternal sea of your womb,
the sweet pulse of heart and amniotic
bathing him
in a world of blanketed wonder;
oh, how he loved
being inside
this place you created- this temple of
sacred community
carved out
of soul and sabbath;
a waiting room
of love and maternal commitment
before entering

the holy of Holies.

with tears and all of my love, dear friend, Gina

My other friend who died was, Liz Hill. She was someone I grew up with, along with her husband. We occasionally saw when we were both in our hometown together – which was about once a decade but we’d get bits and pieces of each other’s lives through her in-laws and Mom who kept in touch with my mom. She was also someone who made the earth a better place. Her memorial service brought many of our hometown people together in a place far from home. She know she is deeply missed by her family.

What countries or new places did you visit?

I visited a couple new places this year — Truckee and Mammoth, California. Both fed my soul with great clean mountain air and lots of nature to be enjoyed.

Mammoth Lakes — Hot Creek Geologic Site
Rainbow Falls

And, I finally got to stop outside of Las Vegas to see this art installation – Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains.

What would you like to have in 2020 that you lacked in 2019?

Finishing!!! I really, really want to finish editing my book – which I’m 1/3 done with these final edits before sending it to an agent to see if I can get it published or making the decision to self-publish. I also want to finish navigating two offices and sharing space – I will move into my own space sometime this year. Also, I have a mail/paper problem. I want to finish having this problem. haha. I used to have an email problem but I’ve found a routine that works so now I’m going to tackle this endless paper problem.

What dates from 2019 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

July 4th – celebrating the fourth with my college roommate and maid of honor type friend, Shannon, and her family at her Mom and Larrie’s cabin in Oregon – a place they’ve so graciously hosted us a number of times…the last visit we’d spent 10 minutes wondering if my son, who was hiding under the couch and three at the time, had drowned – to say those were the worst 10 minutes of my life would be an understatement. So, it was absolutely magical to revisit this place once again with everyone up to speed with swimming skills and to see the picture wall that is a trip down memory lane way before husband or kids.

Charcuterie 4th of July Style
Frank chillin’ before really chillin’ on the lake
Larrie’s amazing cooking
Reunited

December 18th – Donald Trump’s Impeachment…the why? I’m interested in political process so I listened every morning and afternoon to as much as I could of the interviewing procedure.

December 23rd – the day I officially took over, along with my three brothers, managing my family’s business property. The why needs to remain private but I will say – it’s been amazing to collaborate with my brothers now as adults.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I finished writing the first complete draft of my book!! Now it’s the editing phase – the hard work of layering as well as trying to get every sentence just right. Word count still needs to come down about 25,000 words.

Also, I cleaned out my closet! Gave away three bags of shoes and about five bags of clothes! It had been a while – about five years to be exact. And since August I have a clean floor and shelf. Yay – my “make sure the closet stays clean” routines are working.

What was your biggest failure?

My bedroom console continues to be a mess…ugh! The piles magically appear overnight. I swear there is an elf delivering them every time I go to sleep. A visual is necessary but embarrassing. But there’s hope – I never thought my closet would get thoroughly cleaned.

A reflection of my priorities…someday

Did you suffer illness or injury?

I discovered I had lead poisoning (don’t know where I got it) along with a couple other metals – mercury, aluminum to name two. I went to chelation once and twice a week for about six months and feel much, much better. I also seem to have resolved the chronic pain in my hip. It comes back occasionally but it’s been about five years of constant pain so I’m grateful that is no longer the situation.

What’s the best thing you bought?

Experiences – I finished my year long intensive program in Santa Fe with Natalie Goldberg and Rob Wilder where I flew every season from July 2018 to May 2019. I also finished a three series training that focused on moving trauma out of the body through touch. The healing I’ve received in my own body have been game changers. So grateful.

Where did most of your money go?

I still live in LA – obvious answer, mortgage.

What did you get really excited about?

My daughter, Eden, and I started a video series to raise adolescent mental health awareness. It’s been an absolute joy to spend time with her in this capacity. We are still working to get our stride but it’s been a win for me to play with the content and plan together. You can find us on Instagram @drkimberandeden or we post them on YouTube.com on the Del Valle Relational Institute channel.

What song will always remind you of 2019?

My Attic by Pink. I continue to uncover all the ways I’m guarded and keep myself from really being known – all in the name of relational safety.

Compared to this time last year, are you:

—happier or sadder?

Happier – My community of friends is amazing. How could I not be happier with them in my life?

— thinner or fatter?

Slightly thinner but still need to work on my blood sugar metabolism. I’m so grateful for the health progress I made. I feel so much better than I have in years – gained bone mass, lost fat, gained muscle and have much better liver readings. However, not much progress has been made around insulin stubbornness so hoping to start taking glucose levels and taking after dinner walks will help.

— richer or poorer?

Richer. I do what I love and am grateful to get paid for it.

What do you wish you’d done more of?

Played more games and have more dinners with friends. Working one night a week as well as parenting a teenager and tween has taken a toll on the amount of dinner guests sitting at our table since our weekdays so are busy and we get home late. But I’m hoping to do more hosting in 2020.

What do you wish you’d done less of?

Gathering information -though most of it has been very good. In 2020 I’m cutting back on trainings (after January (wink wink) when I’m attending a four day workshop with a dear friend)

How did you spend Christmas?

I spent Christmas in my hometown with my family, parents and brother’s families and my uncle Rhys. We were all there!!! It was amazing with good food, games, and lots of love. All the siblings had some lively conversations about politics and climate change but in the end we were all speaking with each other – silently wondering how the others could be so idiotic…until of course a good game of pinnacle started and then all was forgotten but counting trump, not the Presidential kind.

What was your favorite TV program?

We loved watching The Watchmen. This is not a show for everyone. It’s gritty but oh so very, very good. We had the tremendous privilege to watch some of the episodes with our friend, Jeff Jensen, who is a huge Watchman nerd and writer/influencer on the show. We’re just glad it made him some money and are looking forward his birthday gifts to each and every one of us who turn 50 this year – which I don’t have permission to say if that includes him or not.

What were your favorite books of the year?

My favorite non-fiction book was King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild. I was blown away by this historical record of the events in the Congo. It’s one of many books about abuses of power and privilege that I’ve intentionally read this year. Reading these types of books has surprisingly resulted in more personal compassion about slights I receive due to my privilege and celebrations of people who hold positions of influence and don’t try to “be more white/more silent/blend in, etc.” The country girl in me has often longed for a slower paced, less urban (shall I dare confess a more homogenous) community and for the first time ever, I’m deeply grateful and long for the diversity surrounding me, integrating into my life, and influencing the type of person I’m becoming. Books can indeed be powerful and character shaping. I also fell in love with Build Yourself a Boat, a book of poetry by Camonghne Felix. Wow. Just Wow. My top fiction book is an oldie – Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. The honesty and rawness in the writing moved me. Oh how I wish that I could write a favorite book was Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes, who I love and adore and know the world is a better place with her in it. BUT I’m going to have to say that next year because I’m only a third through and it would be cheating to say it is my favorite without finishing that last page. What I can say is – I’m so proud of her for this brave and vulnerable piece of work. (If you’re reading this Nikki — I’m that lame friend who pre-ordered your book and then its been collecting dust until Christmas vacation and my only excuse is I have read significantly less these last two months trying to edit my darn manuscript.)

What was your favorite music from this year?

Every year this question brings momentary depression because I’m simply not hip and indie. Instead, what’s on my playlist is pretty mainstream EXCEPT for my amazingly talented nieces @letflogo! Favorites from them — Polka dots and Stripes and Boogie Man. So I had Lewis Capaldi’s album along with James Arthur’s on repeat. I absolutely loved Ed Sheeran’s Collaboration Album – it was probably my favorite album. I saw some very fun concerts — Pink where we were sitting near her daughters and husband, Celine Dion, Hootie and the Blowfish, Lauren Daigle, Mumford and Sons, O.A.R. and American Authors to name a few.

Pink
Celine
Lauren
Hootie!

What was your favorite film of the year?

My favorite film of the year was Home Alone – snuggled with my eleven year old son who never snuggles with me anymore and my husband. The mutual laughter we shared made it my hands down favorite.

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

My birthday passed quietly this year as I believe I worked. However, my husband asked a number of people close to me to name qualities about me and made them into bookmarks. Then – for my own celebration, I flew to Albuquerque early (I was going to Santa Fe anyway to my writing intensive…) and saw Lauren Daigle and Ahi in concert. I was supposed to get there several hours before the concert, have a VIP experience since my tickets were 1/3 of the cost as LA tickets and check in to my hotel. None of it happened as my plane was delayed – so I jumped on another plane to Phoenix that looked more promising than the direct LA flight and made it – carry on luggage and all to my concert. I’d left my checked luggage with my original flight since they couldn’t transfer it so I retrieved it at the airport after the concert. What I remember most was the support of a number of friends as I tried not to spiral into disappointment and stress about arriving to even see the concert AND asking them if they would accept me even though I would need to walk in front of a whole lot of people with my two coats, luggage and purse. I’m sure in my younger years I would have been too embarrassed to go with my “baggage” so I would have checked in to my hotel first. But I LOVED the first act who had already started when I arrived coming straight from the airport so I was grateful for growth and less care about what others think about me.

A poor angle of showing you my “stuff” by my seat…

What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Getting out of LA in the fall. It was so so hot this fall and I love the changing of the leaves and the crisp air, I sometimes feel seasonally “deflated” in LA during the supposedly colder months. A way I help myself live here is try to go on a work trip somewhere cold — New York, Santa Fe to name a few of my past trips. It helps me navigate the lack of seasons in LA.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2019?

More of the same…comfort and color is usually my way.

What kept you sane?

My friends and community. Seriously. They are my emotional pillars.

Here’s some of them…

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2019. 

My thoughts are tiny compared to the wonders of the universe. What important things can I possibly know apart from what I can observe and hear? How large my world has become as I’ve talked less and listened more.

What new habit are you developing to decrease your environmental footprint?

Single use plastics — we are trying to eliminate using them. So far we’ve eliminated straws and utensils. Now we want to do better at bringing to go containers with us. This Christmas we all brought empty water bottles so we could fill them in the airport.

I hope your year has begun beautifully! Please forgive my grammar/spelling errors as this time around sleep is more important than rereading and since my week is packed with two more dinners of 15-20 people with one completed two days ago. I’m practicing “good enough.”

Blessings to you all. xo Kimber

A Shooting Star – My Oldest Turns 17

It’s difficult for me to consider the swift ways of two years before my daughter graduates high school and everything in our household changes to a new normal without her. She’s a delight to have around.

I am a better person being a mother and wife. I never knew how “wanting it my own way” I was before kids. My character needed to be shaped and expanded around caring for another who was fully dependent. This wasn’t easy for me and with my second child I really started losing my mind, mostly in all things involving patience. But parenting my daughter for four years before her brother came around, I rediscovered my inner child who had gotten lost along the way to growing up, delighted in a being who thrived under such relishing, which was a joy to witness and found love in the look that said, “You’re my person.” And I wanted it to be so – ecstatic that it was. It’s been a journey, one with thankfully, little regret. (Mainly because I bought a small farm called “therapy” for ten years twice a week before I had children.)

Tea Parties
Stuffie Activities
Note Book Title

With all the positive, it didn’t shift my need for down time and quiet reflection. I wrote this short poem(?) in reflection of some of those days as a mother of young children when they need you and I didn’t want to be needed. And oh how they need you and during these seasons there is very little space for you.

I have loved sitting on the toilet in silence better than having one more stuffie’s tea party with Raven, Siamese Kitty and my daughter who will be a day older tomorrow.

She’s Got the Look

Having a teenager who now drives has oriented me to the fleeting passage of time. The ten plus hours of driving in the car together each week has been replaced by more time for myself to do what? Work, workout, or take a nap is usually slotted now. All of which I would give up to discover what music she’s now listening to because there are no more playlist take overs on our drive. And of course I could ask, but how boring compared to the experiencing. It’s like talking about a rock climbing route instead of scaling it. There also isn’t the spontaneous venting about school boredom (who actually LIKES school? Please.) or explaining the labs completed in Forensic Science. Of course we still talk. We have meals together but there is very little lingering with rowing, homework, and friendships interfering with family time.

I have loved driving you to Long Beach High School* better than the Taylor Swift concert which covered your voice.

Time is like a shooting star blazing across the sky – one moment there and the next, gone.

Be alert and watching or it will pass you by.

Happy 17th Birthday, one of my people.

(I know a few weeks late to you who this is directly written for but hey I momentarily lived in denial and thought maybe if I didn’t post about it it never happened. :-)). Here’s to me no longer living in denial.

Smiles before Screams… Dark Harbor Lurks

*name changed

With Weariness

The current wave of human shortcomings and character flaws found in the news these last couple months have left me pummeled like the time I was on Oahu at some beach innocently talking to my friend when a wave came from behind and threw me into the sand. I was scratched for days by the grit left in hard to reach places, undetected until a long hike or bike ride.

Amazon fires, binary positions about climate change, and the US military strike killing innocent farmers in Afghanistan. And then this week – Moreno Valley. Oh that smiling face. I do not know him but he could be mine. He might some day be mine. The lives of these middle school children, let me repeat – children, forever changed. One’s breath to never breathe again except through another body (organ donation) and at least two 13 year olds whose families I imagine are devastated (at least that would be the appropriate response) for the sin of their son’s fists and what these boys will live with for the rest of their lives.

The hate and greed in the world today is nothing new. In fact, one doesn’t need to look too deep into history to realize the atrocities human beings can do to one another. Think Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, King Leopold in the Congo, Hitler, Cecil Rhodes in South Africa, Cortes in modern day Mexico, Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson to name a few that come to mind. Over the last eighteen months I’ve read some the excellent books that drive home these aspects of the human condition. Non-fiction accounts: Evicted by Matthew Desmond; King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild; When A Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin; Born A Crime by Trevor Noah; Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File by John Edgar Wideman. Fiction accounts: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly; Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd and the classic by Wilma Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop, which touches on the ugly cost to Native American’s of pioneering settlements. There are obviously many more but these are the ones that have been in my hands recently.

Oh how we need to be transformed by something greater than ourselves.

When my heart cries out, sometimes putting pen to paper helps reorient me back to the realities of this world. The following was inspired this week by St. Teresa of Avila “bookmark” prayer.

Let human being’s decisions disturb you.

Let your heart cry out from injustices.

With people, your heart will break again and again.

God alone is unchanging, perfect.

With Him, unity and communion with the earth and all people is possible.

Whoever has God is complete.

God alone avenges the weak and helpless.

–Kimber Del Valle

Perfectionism and Photography

In the Dolomites near Ortisei, Italy

These last few weeks have been a mental killer as perfectionism has made it’s way into my proverbial driver’s seat more often then I’d like to experience. It got me thinking about what activities or elements I haven’t ruined with perfectionism. What I landed on interestingly enough is photography, which really has the potential to be a perfectionistic feast but for whatever reason hasn’t been engaged like that for me.

So I got to thinking – why not? As far as I can tell, it was all about perspective and expectations on myself. This more “laid back and emotional freedom” is called “Type B” mentality by some authors (see Daniel Pink’s Drive) whereas I have lived predominantly in a “Type A” mentality until my mid-30’s and it’s been difficult to completely replace, especially when I’m trying new things or exploring.

In the Dolomites

At one time I loved my perfectionism because it drove me to succeed and finish many milestones (doctorate, licensing, walking 39 miles, etc.). However, I realize that perfectionism comes with a joy robbing harsh judge and though I’m not coming from a binary perspective of believing this well-developed quality isn’t good, it’s much more complicated than naming it bad. Perfectionism can be both good and helpful as well as mentally taxing and stressful. What I’m trying to learn is how to approach life with high standards that aren’t paralyzing or joy killers but also stretch and grow me so that the standards themselves become an opportunity for me to learn something about myself. (I HAVE NOT found this balance with writing my book, which is why it hasn’t appeared yet – ugh! the perfectionism there can be paralyzing but that’s for a post on another day.).

Siena, Italy

Recently, I had the opportunity to wrestle with my perfectionism as I explored new territory and skills professionally. My autopilot categories are great and not good, which essentially as binary as winner and loser. Not the creative, exploratory mental playground I want to live in. I do not want to live in fear of underperforming and have been struck by how regularly this can happen to me. It got me thinking about areas of my life where perfectionism hasn’t shown up to spoil my exploration or invoke shame of being a beginner. What’s became clear is my journey with photography has been the most enjoyable learning and “crafting my skill” experience I’ve ever had. So I decided to invite you along this analytic and artistic journey to help me name and uncover the possible antidotes to my perfectionism around exploration and “the unfamiliar.”

Capturing a Moment Fly Fishing with My Dad
Piazza Navona, Rome

Like many good things in my life, my children were a catalyst to improving pictures – after all, who wants “just okay” photos of adorable children! Interestingly enough, this desire to improve didn’t bring with it a fear of shame or self-doubt about my abilities. There was no question in my mind that I was never going to be a professional photographer so I needn’t aspire to be one. Posture number for for getting perfectionism out of the driver’s set – expertise not expected or needed. “I’m good enough” was simply that, “good enough” which gave me space to explore and play without needing a professional photograph result.

Oak Creek in Sedona, AZ

My starting point as a photographer:

Theme – ignorance is freedom for I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Eden and her Cousins — Centered
because of course the subject is supposed to be centered, right!?!

The above represents how I thought every picture should look – centered. Then, I attended a short photography workshop at a mother’s group and learned about composition and thinking about the picture in thirds. I started there – vertical and horizontal thirds but kept pointing and clicking whatever struck me – I absolutely refused to judge each picture by this new framework BUT I did began getting some pictures like this –


I practiced this for many years before adding anything. Posture two for drowning out perfectionism – allow the “unfamiliar” the time and space it needs to become familiar – without rushing it.

Still Working with the Third Concept

Besides buying a digital SLR camera, in 2011, I attended a one night beginning photography class by my good friend and professional photographer, Dane Sanders. I walked away with two different concepts that would later become internalized. Regarding composition – look at the lighting. Notice different aspects of the light in terms of light and dark/ shadow as potential friend. And in terms of the camera, I moved off the auto setting to “scene” setting. I did began playing with all the individual settings (like aperture and shutter speed) but I didn’t use them enough to integrate ANY of that knowledge and felt fine about all of it -after all, I’m a hobby photographer. No need to stress – just play around with switching up the scenes and notice new lighting consideration. Posture three for getting perfectionism out of the driver’s seat – accept your limitations and enjoy your abilities.

The following pictures were taken within two months of the workshop:

Jelly Fish Babies, Oregon Coast
Tiffany Lake, WA
Tiffany Lake, WA
“Not great” pictures like this one are part of photography but by learning some techniques I began trying shots that seemed interesting. In the editing process, my critiquing mindset (noticing what worked and didn’t work) would be turned on, which helped me become a better hobby photographer the next time I shot and could help me make adjustments to get something like this looking “great.”
Sometimes there’s just plain good luck with the subject matter…

As I’ve honed my craft as a photographer, it has unearthed a playfulness and curiosity about the visual world around me. I love playing with lighting, composition, angles with not one care about mistakes or getting it wrong. It’s the process that’s soul giving rather than the outcome and pride of a job well done that’s feeding my soul. Sure it feels good to nail a shot but it’s like the cherry on top – not the primary “dish.” The focus on process rather than outcome is the fourth antidote to my perfectionism.

Pasadena with my iPhone

Then last April, I took a photography workshop with National Geographic Photographer, Stephen Matera, and my learning and play factor took off. (Read about the trip here – Seizing the Moment, Part 2)

Utah

I learned about “golden hours” – catching sunrise and sunsets.

Golden Hour Light
Other side of Wood as Pictured Above – Mid-day Lighting
Sunrise – 5:30 am – Val Gardena, Italy
Sunset on Val Gardena from Ortisei

I learned about white balance adjustments which can have a significant impact around color. See below:

This…
Then this…notice color difference
Watching a professional like Steve at the workshop, I got a taste of the artistic eye, skill and persistence it can take to get a great shot. This particular shot took 188 photos to get the lightening strike and even at that I felt extremely lucky to get it.

I learned about editing in photoshop or Lightroom. Due to the skyline, this picture shown above was much darker unedited. However, using Lightroom helped me bring a bit more perspective to this spectacular wood carving up on the top of a mountain in the Dolomites.

In terms of composition, Steve really helped me “extend” my lines because I was cutting things off or not giving them “space to breathe.

Playing with Lines
More Lines and Layers

As I think as evidenced in the pictures taken post-workshop, getting instruction from Steve really changed my ability level on multiple accounts. Since we were together for several days it was so much easier to internalize the techniques and knowledge being taught because I then had to remember the next day what I’d learned from the day before. What’s exciting to me as a perfectionist is that it didn’t turn me in to an outcome driven/ best shot photographer. Instead it gave me more tools to play with, which I’ve done with none of the perfectionistic thinking I’m so used to experiencing inside of me. It gives me hope that I might be able to decrease my self-torture around other artistic and creative endeavors like in my professional work. In this spirit, I’d name the last antidote for perfectionism is getting feedback by a grace-filled expert so that grace and generous spirit around performance can be internalized.

I love following good photographers on Instagram because it helps me keep an eye out for potential shots and helps me get an idea of why certain photographs are pleasing to my eye. Also, it’s encouraged me to be ready for pictures like the examples shown below.

This set of pictures was captured by shooting a snake as it came off the water near us while we were fishing on shore. I began shooting it for fun, trying to catch a shot that was interesting – like this one with its tongue out.

Having my sights on it, set me up to capture this food grab that was buried on the lakeshore sand.

Notice Now the Body Expansion

Some reflections for your own process: What keeps you from being playfully creative? Do you have a creative outlet that captures your artistic side? Does perfectionism rob you of enjoyment or even getting started with a creative hobby? How might you navigate it?

Thank you for coming on this journey with me. It’s a blessing to be able to share.

Camping – Community Style

Convict Lake

2019 marks the13th year of our group of friends camping together. We’ve been to Patrick’s Point, Big Sur, Salt Point, Morro Bay, Huntington Lake, Union Reservoir, Running Springs, Dark Canyon and a few others scattered in there. This year about 40 people joined us at Mammoth Lakes, including three new families, as every year we have a different combination of people who can join us. Our philosophy – the more people, the better conversations, the crazier the campfire stories, the more chances to be able to outrun individuals in the occasion of a bear attack while hiking, and the higher possibility of being able to enjoy a campground game. Another benefit – we love new talent. This year, magical margaritas from the closet bartender and newcomer “campee,” Aimee Churchill, were a celebrated addition.

Panorama Dome

As much fun as we have – hiking, playing games, making S’mores, and whatever creative endeavor comes up, we have significant people who are no longer camping and we miss them. We’ve had two cancer deaths in our community. This is the second year without Danielle, the fifth without Amy. Danielle loved the Sierras, a legacy passed on from her father who frequented often during D’s life. We camped here in honor of her though when it went on the camping list back in 2017, I had imagined camping with her, not in honor of her. But her body couldn’t beat back the aggressive breast cancer in her body and she lived only six days in 2018, about 14 months from her diagnosis.

Lakeside activities included mainly skipping rocks and warming on the rocks since fish weren’t biting from shore

Her spirit was alive to us though deeply missed by us all, robbing us all of pure enjoyment because we had the certainty that this isn’t the way it should be. D should have been there as Matteo, her son, blew out his birthday candles – 11 years old and when the rest of the family took him to Starbucks (benefits of camping close to town) for his favorite drink, a hot chocolate and he demanded a Venti rather than the usual tall size. We could all rightly declare this isn’t the way it ought to be – this unending longing for her presence that will be unfulfilled this side of heaven.

There are many things to miss about D but what was unique between her and I was the hike and event planning. She was my comrade and took full responsibility to investigate hikes and local attractions along with me. She would’ve walked with Mary and me to the Welcome Center to discuss hiking options. She would’ve been with us when we sought shelter in an empty bear box due to a downpour, hail included, dumped on us as we made our way back to camp. True confession (which feels shameful to this country girl who prides herself on having an internal GPS) our trip back to camp wasn’t exactly a direct route because we turned left instead of going straight so we ended up on the wrong camping loop – and the country girl in me was determined to “find our way” going across country rather than backtracking down the road from which we came.

Bear Boxing It
The Scene at the Foot of the Bear Box Once Wave One of the Storm Passed

The other person missed, Amy, was always a willing camper but she needed her amenities. She would’ve been the first person to have crafts and activities for the kids, a role Laura filled this year with markers, paint (which was used as make-up by the younger girls painting the older girls’ face) and white paper. Amy would’ve color coordinated our table cloths and possibly rented a RV for her family so she could sleep – an important activity to her and one not done best on her blow up mattress and sleeping bag. She might have had the latest padded camping chairs, especially the rockers found at REI. And she definitely would’ve brought cloth napkins (possibly ones she’d made) with napkin holders to set the ambiance for dinner.

Running Springs – 2007: Our First Community Camping Trip
The Summer Following Amy’s First Brain Cancer Treatment and Surgery

Present time, an event I think Danielle spearheaded from heaven was our junior ranger program. She always found the local programs and would get us special group presentations so I swear she was in the planning of our Devil’s Postpile Monument hike because we got off the shuttle and without even knowing it, picked the stop that had the ranger station and the booklet for all the kids. I was a miserable substitute because I didn’t actively engage with the displays of stuffed animals (via taxidermy) inside the forest station. Instead, my competitive state of mind kicked in as I saw forty people in the next shuttle bus start filing off, so I grabbed my backpack and began walking down the trail, yelling behind me, “I’ll see you at Devil’s postpile.” I’m certain Danielle, in her calm and collected way, would’ve rounded up the kids to look at the objects and thought absolutely nothing about the hikers getting ahead of us while we listened to the presentations. Later, she would’ve also loved the clever answers and interpretations from our group as the kids filled out the booklet — placing dog’s paws on a page for signatures of fellow hikers or circling phones and televisions as hiking necessities while asking, “will we get a badge with these type of answers?”

Our Junior Ranger Adventure — Devil’s Postpile
Naturally Formed Stones
Rainbow Falls – In Devil’s Postpile Monument

My mind can picture both D and Amy with us at different junctions. I know Amy would’ve been so proud of her almost-six-year-old son, Nathan’s, completing a 3.5 miles hike with the last mile a doozy – all uphill. D would’ve meandered, enjoying the present moment of being together and in nature, and would’ve taken turns with her husband, Mynor, with their dog, Juneau.

Juneau, the Dog

What I’ve learned about death is it’s honoring to family members to share grief, stories, and longings to let the family know they aren’t alone in their longings and sorrow. So we talked about D and how she would’ve loved taking the kids fishing or going on walks with the dogs and eating the edible cookie dough from the Schat’s bakery in Bishop. We also wondered how Amy would’ve felt about the wind and what she’d even think about camping now that two of her kids are old enough to drive. As a community we make an effort not to hide our feelings, having learned that there is comfort and goodness in sharing our grief. For certain, it doesn’t take away the longing for the other but it somehow makes it less lonely in the ache of the hurt.


The cliff notes of what camping with this community means to me. I have learned most of what I know about doing life well from these people. A number of them I’ve known since my early twenties, more than half my life. They’ve loved me when I had more rough edges. They’ve loved me through my own devastating loss of a our middle child in 2006. They’ve loved me when I haven’t loved my husband, who they like, well. They’ve loved me so I can be brave and take risks. They’ve filled the gaps when my children needed a second mother, a ride, a safe place and I couldn’t be there due to my work. I’m grateful to know them and their children – even the ones I’m just getting to know.

Ice Warm Water
Can you see the goosebumps?
Hanging at Convict Lake

At the end of the day, what I love about communing in the woods as campers, is that for five days out of the year, I live communally -sharing meals, washing dishes, listening to snores or night talkers. And it’s here in this ordinary life where I know I never want to live permanently with these people the best of life is found in the mundane and the ordinary – the conversations around the water spigot, on the hiking trail or at the brewery (because when your walking-close to the local brewery it would be sinful NOT to go).

Mammoth Brewery Company: Huddled by the Heater – Dancing
Warmth First. Style – Irrelevant in the Mountains

What is reconfirmed year after year around the campfire is that one doesn’t need to travel around the world to find extraordinary beauty. It’s usually at our fingertips when we are in the company of those we enjoy and take delight in.

Upper Falls at Twin Lakes
Hot Creek Geo Site
Boiling, Bubbling Water

Bye, Mammoth! Until ski season when you just may see us again.

Poetry in the Rain

Fishing on a mountain lake without a single soul is always second best to fishing on a mountain lake with my family, even if that family sometimes skips rocks (a fishing kill joy), yells across the lake, or brags relentlessly. In my childhood home world, fishing with a non-family member is annoying (no one else is supposed to be here!) and fishing with several groups is unheard of where we go – unless of course we’re fishing in the North Cascade lakes or streams off highway 20 which I consider an absolute highway for hikers and fishers alike. The only time in the last couple decades I’ve been solo on those lakes is when I’ve snowshoed into them before the trails were officially open.

Rainy Lake – 2012

Turns out – when you have a father who is an avid hiker/backpacker, you can pretty much go where the crowds are thin. When you add poor weather (50 degrees and rain) to the mix it pretty much guarantees you’ll have the lake to yourself. Name of lake you’ll need to discover on your own. That’s part of the beauty of exploration and adventure – curiosity and a good map leading you into the wild Pacific Northwest is all that’s required.

Today we decided catch and release was on the menu as we weren’t so daring to cook up a meal besides Cup ‘o Noodles in the rain.

The fishermen got down to business….

While the fishermen were discussing things like whose fish was bigger, what flies were working, who was catching any and where, Eden and I decided to fish ourselves, only with words. The conversation may or may not have included words like, “UUMMM – that’s dumb. Is that the best you can come up with? Really?” It also included promises to pay for future therapy while encouraging creativity to be less concrete than the “gray sky.” For the osprey in the tree next to us, it likely sounded more like a conversation one expects at a bar after a few drinks – plenty of laughter in between sentences like, “I can’t believe you said that. I’ll be scarred for life.” “You’ll be fine. No truth, no gain.” It may have been followed with shoves on the arm or not, like two girlfriends vying for the one barstool – only in our situation, it was the positioning on the garbage bag beneath us laid out like a picnic blanket. In spite of ourselves, the inspiration was plentiful – laced with God’s magic.

Mountain

Specifics unseen in it’s shadow

Rain-soaked soil, the grave of a fawn

Colorless trees, flamed a decade ago, line up like forgotten dominos

Clouds, slate-colored, cover the sun,

dropping pieces of gray, drop by drop

I walk one foot in front of the other

down, then up, sometimes over, other times under

In the shadow, I’m hard to notice

— In collaboration : E & K

Our Scene

Raindrops at the tempo of 1 1/2 beats

Trees naked from the fire of 2009, stand together unashamed

Tripod -170,000 acres burned

Lines cast of the non-movie type

Two sets of trees and mountains

One real, one moves in the wind

Crackling behind us – manmade,

Mosquitos dive bomb

Fish eat, a safe distance from shore

1/2 beat tempo, slapping of hand on body parts –

Blood, usually one’s own, leftover

Boredom of the non-city type

Orchestra of the senses

— In collaboration: E & K

Rain Ain’t Stopping this Crew
Cameraman Missing in Photo, Bears in Role of Photographer – Unavailable

All ended well. No melting of bodies – Oz style, nor extreme coldness to our bones. Just a well-lived summer day, adventuring in the conditions provided for us. May you find yourself an adventure soon – preferably with good company.