In the Air

planeIf we can believe tree rings, the plaque says that the giant redwood, from which this cross section was taken, germinated in AD 528, a thoroughly unremarkable year, according to Wikipedia, except for marking the birthday of this rather remarkable tree.

The relic slab is standing on its side along the way to my terminal, as if it rolled from Scotia, California, to the second floor of the Cincinnati airport (CVG)—a traveler like me, but stranded in the middle of a station connecting people from all points of the globe. I’m not sure why it’s here, except perhaps to remind us.

The circles start at the center where a pebble of time dropped onto the wood. Extending outward, century by century, the ripples run together, less individual years and more the tree’s sum of life. Shown here in polished wood are generations, millions of lives building civilizations, decimating foreign lands, facing new frontiers, warring among themselves, working together in peace, falling beneath division, rising to new heights together—cycles as round as the rings on this tree.


Over the revving engines, I can barely hear the flight attendant’s safety speech. But I’m sure she will say, “Be sure to secure your oxygen mask before helping children or other passengers with theirs.” I remember this instruction from previous flights because it remarkably reconciles everything mean and noble in our society.

“Save yourself,” says the narcissist.

“Save others,” says the saint.

“Save yourself so you can save others,” says the flight attendant.


We’re rising. The sky, it seems, has no history, more or less the same from age to age. Though my ETA in Orlando is 2 p.m., for now, I am a woman without a past, without a future—suspended in a timeless space.

When houses become game pieces, and the blood returns to my knuckles, the pilot takes us higher.

The Big Sky theory assumes that the sky is so large that no two planes could collide. Have you looked out a plane window at 40,000 feet and seen another aircraft? Ever spotted anything but the wispy sea and your reflection on the thin layers of plastic? Ever gazed into the somber vastness of the heavens, forgetting the earth and all that therein is?

Now we can see nothing through a haze of vapors. There is nothing above me but more clouds, beneath me no earth, around me no landmarks. Nowhere to land and nothing to do but fall.

Is this what the Creator saw when He divided the waters from the sky, holding the planet of swirled vapor like a marble in his hand? I am here before Adam, before Eve, before the first breath of life—in the beginning with cosmic silence throbbing in my ears while God decides what’s next.


In a moment, I’m launched through time, millennia streaking by my window, brought back to this plane cabin to be with the company God chose to keep.

The baby four rows behind me cries. The man in front of me coughs. The woman beside me yawns. Two pilots I’ve never seen set us back on earth, heaving a sigh of relief.

Together we rose in the air, together we’ll land, together we’ll disembark and breathe.

I had almost forgotten.


How much did the redwood give in its life, year by year taking in carbon dioxide, giving out oxygen. Taking and giving. Taking to give.

This is life, to breathe and give breath.

The circles remind me, I am not alone.

. . . . . . . . .

Previously published in Borrowed Solace journal v. 2.



Letting Others Hold Up Our Hands

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Guest post by Richelle Allen

My mother claims that as a small child my most oft-used phrase was, “I do it myself.” I refused to accept help from anyone. I was determined to feed myself, dress myself, brush my own teeth. In other words, I was a toddler with something to prove.

This relentless independent streak only intensified as I grew older. When I was six, I began riding the school bus. Before walking us to the bus stop that first morning, much to my chagrin, my mother admonished my older brother to watch out for me. I was the baby of the family, and he had several years of bus-riding experience. She told him it was his job to protect me. That afternoon when we got home, my mother was waiting, and my brother couldn’t wait to complain about my behavior on the bus that morning.

I may as well have placed a kick-me sign on his back.

According to him, I climbed the steps, planted my feet, put my hands on my first- grade hips, and announced to the entire bus that if anyone wanted to mess with my brother, they would have to get through me first. I may as well have placed a kick-me sign on his back. He was mortified. I was triumphant. And my mother was certain at that point that I was quite capable of looking out for myself.

And so it went—through school years and college, through married life and motherhood, my feet planted, hands on hips. I would take care of myself and all who belonged to me.

In 2003 my husband’s National Guard unit deployed, driving out of town in a flurry of yellow ribbons. Hubby left knowing I would have the support of the community, but inwardly, my feet were planted. After all, it was only supposed to be a six-month deployment, and I could handle anything, including our two teenagers, for six months.

He was right. The town did rally around us. I would come home to find a basket of fresh vegetables or homemade pies on my front porch. Church members offered to cut my grass, to take my son to the racetrack, or to buy us dinner. Our phone rang constantly with people asking what we needed or if we wanted to go out or come over. I won’t lie. At first, it was nice. I didn’t have to feel guilty about not cooking. However, as their goodwill continued to pour over us, I began to doubt myself. Did they think I couldn’t handle things? I began to feel like the town’s favorite charity case and that did not sit well with me.

As their goodwill continued, I began to doubt myself.

But one day Hubby’s unit was no longer in Kuwait. They were in places like Fallujah and Ramadi, places like Al-Asad and Baghdadi. They were involved in heavy fighting, and I slept with the television on at night, listening for any mention of the 122nd Engineering Battalion. Families were notified that the unit’s orders had been extended and the Army would keep them as long as the Army needed them, and still the vegetables appeared on the porch, and the telephone continued to ring, and I was overwhelmed.

Then I was asked to speak in church one Sunday. As I was preparing my remarks, I came across the story of Moses and the defeat of Amalek in the Bible. In this story, Joshua selected men to go out and fight while Moses positioned himself on a hilltop to watch.

“And so it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword” (Exodus 17: 11–13 NASB).

As I read this passage, I was struck by two life-changing truths. One, if Moses, the man God had chosen to lead His people out of Egypt, could accept help, then so could I. Accepting help didn’t mean I was weak or incapable. It means that I am human.

Second, maybe this was about more than Moses needing help. Maybe it was about Aaron and Hur needing to have a part in the battle. And maybe my little South Carolina town was my Aaron and Hur. And just maybe this was about my community needing to play a role in my battles every bit as much as it was about me needing to accept help.

. . . . . . . . .

RichelleRichelle Allen is a graduate of Wofford College and holds an MFA from Converse College (where we shared classes and mentors and stress). She and her husband live at Sanctuary Farms in Spartanburg SC, where they tend their garden, goats, and grandchildren. When she grows up, she wants to be a blogger for Mother Earth News.







Resisting the Rest: A Lesson from the Thin Blue Line Family


When my brother Uriah finished state trooper academy last July, my family’s worries began. At his graduation party, my dad looked across the room at Uriah, a wiry bean pole, and shook his head. “I just wish he was bigger.”

On the day of Uriah’s graduation, my coworker, Kelli, whose husband is a police officer, texted me, “Welcome to the Thin Blue Line family!”

“Welcome to the Thin Blue Line family!”

I’m new to this family, but I already understand that it means each time you hear a siren at night and see the blue lights swirling along the interstate, you crane your head to look for a familiar face. Each time you see two police cars at the same traffic stop, you feel relieved that they have backup. Each time you see on the news that an officer has been shot in your area, you feel your stomach clinch until you hear the name. In some ways, at least how I see it so far, being a member of the Thin Blue Line family is equal parts dread and pride.

Those in law enforcement are under close scrutiny right now. To many people trapped in a simple, binary mindset, cops are either all good or all bad, heroes or villains.

You hear the worst on the news, and sometimes the worst is pretty bad. There are trigger-happy cops who shoot yoga instructors and people at traffic stops, and there are power-tripping maniacs who threaten to take children from the backseat of a homeschool mom’s minivan because she was going five miles over the speed limit. But most officers want just two things: to keep peace and to make it home safe at night. This is what my brother wants. 

For all you hear about the police on the news or social media, negative or positive, you probably don’t hear the stories that my brother recounts around the Sunday dinner table, of the violence and obscenities, verbal abuse on his family from those with drugs in their systems, guns under their seats, and wild looks in their eyes as they resist arrest. Stories about livid people going 100 mph who try to talk their way out of getting points because they just “can’t afford to lose their license.” Stories of cleaning up the body parts of a drunk who stepped out in traffic. Stories of late-night highway assistance and early morning arrests. Stories of situations that might have been fatal had just one detail been different.

“How do you do it?” I asked Kelli after hearing my brother’s chilling stories for the first time. “How have you done it for so many years?”

“You just learn to let a lot of things go.”

“You just learn to let him go in God’s hands. You learn to keep things right between you, because you know when he leaves on his shift, he might not come home. You just learn to let a lot of things go.” Her eyes told me that it hadn’t been an easy lesson to learn.

Uriah usually patrols at night, spending shifts on the highways and roads. But a few months ago his job had him serving as honorary pall bearer for fellow officer Trooper Daniel Rebman, who was killed when someone hit his patrol car as he ran radar by the highway.

After Trooper Rebman’s death and and after I opened my news browser recently to the headline “4 South Carolina Cops Shot in the Night,” I wished more than ever that Uriah had chosen a field other than law enforcement. Subconsciously, I guess, I’m resisting the harsh reality of the profession’s peril.

But it’s a futile wish for merely a perceived alternate reality in which he’d be safe in a different profession. I never worried about him when he worked as a butcher at our local grocery store or when he ran electric lines at the airport or when he worked for the city water company. 

You probably don’t worry about your loved one on each shift either. Teachers going to class, store managers keeping aisles orderly, office workers shuffling papers, factory workers punching the clock. It’s true that most jobs are not innately dangerous—except that no one is completely safe from the hazards of an unstable world and the million deadly factors we can’t see or control.

We must resist being arrested by emotion and stress and petty things.

In that way, we’re really not that different, the Thin Blue Line family and yours. Our loved ones are always one moment away from being taken, our lives one phone call away from changing. 

We can’t afford to evade this devastating truth by complacently trusting in a misplaced assurance that our loved one will return at day’s end. We don’t have the luxury to let small things come between us, to let a fight fester during a work shift or a tiff linger one day longer. 

The Thin Blue Line family has taught me about knowing what you have and how quickly it can be taken. And though the fear and dread can drain us from shift to shift, we must resist being arrested by emotion and stress and petty things, and instead focus on staying free and lucid to live in each uncertain moment. 

When we surrender to reality and place our loved ones—and our fears—in God’s hands, we can gratefully embrace what time we have and face whatever comes with courage.

And we can resist the rest.

. . . . . . . .

For more about life in the Thin Blue Line family, read this lovely post by Katrina Eichner, “What It’s Like Being a Police Wife.”  Should clear up any questions you have.

How This Unathletic, Chunky Girl Took Home Gold from the Olympics


When Laura said she wanted to watch the Winter Olympics, I didn’t eagerly give up my evening of writing and reading. I had never really watched the Olympics because, quite frankly, I have zero interest in sports and the athletic ability of a spoon (of which my physique will testify.)

But as we watched such odd events as half pipe, curling, and luge along with familiar categories like ice skating and bobsledding, I realized that—who knew?—the principles of Olympic triumphs and efforts translate universally, even to the unathletic, chunky, stay-at-home-and-read sort like me!

Check out these gold principles I carried away from the Olympics.

1. Be satisfied with running—even without results.

I was only halfway listening on February 11 when Chris Mazdzer gave an interview after his silver medal win for men’s luge. To tell the truth, I think luge is a goofy word and a goofy sport. But he said something that really resonated with me.

“[This win was] 16 years in the making. I’ve had a rough last two years. And it just shows, don’t ever give up. Whenever you’re at your lowest, you can keep fighting it.”

The sportscaster asked, “How were you able to stay so relaxed and have so much fun and still lay down those four strong runs?”

I had to go through those runs to be comfortable with who I am without results.

“Honestly, it’s all in the mentality. I was so comfortable with who I am,” Chris continued, grinning. “I had to go through those runs to be comfortable with who I am without results. So basically as a human I’m comfortable with where I am. I know what I can do, and I know what I can give to the world.”

It’s not hard to translate that to my writing pursuits—and whatever your pursuits may be. Keep going through the runs, even if you aren’t seeing results. Someday it will pay off.

2. What really matters is your performance, not your award. 

On the final night of figure skating, after Evgenia Medvedeva’s

Evgeniaperformance, sportscaster Terry Gannon said, “I don’t know if we watched gold, but we watched greatness.”

A lot of people wouldn’t believe that gold and greatness are mutually exclusive. It goes against all we believe to think that anything but first place is acceptable, let alone great. But sometimes the beauty of the performance, the act of an athlete giving her all, is more majestic than a perfect program.

One of the greatest female ski racers in Olympic history, Lindsey Vonn, sure knows that’s true. At 33 her body has already said “Enough!” to the one thing that she loves most. At this, her last Olympics, she took home the bronze for downhill skiing. In a post-race interview, Mike Tirico asked how she would describe her Olympic career.

She only paused for two beats before saying, “I’d say I was an Olympic champion, but I was someone who embodied the Olympic spirit more so than how many medals I got. . . . Of course we’re all athletes, we’re competitors. We all want to win and that’s a given, but at the same time . . . you can really show kids what it’s like to be a true sportsman, a true champion. Not just because you’re a winner, but because of how you conduct yourself.”

Mikaela Shiffrin, another American skier, said something similar, even after losing one of her runs. “I’m not lying when I tell you: It’s not about the medals, it’s not about winning races, but it’s about how I feel on my skis.”

And though there’s something to be said for being a true competitor and not just a participant (I’m looking at you, Elizabeth Swaney), all you can do is your best—the medals are just some extra bling.

3. You Are Your Biggest Competitor

I asked Laura on the last night of the Olympics, “How do you think these Olympians keep from comparing themselves to others? How do they keep that from rattling them?”

It seems to be a consistent understanding among Olympians and successful people in general: you are your greatest competition, the person to beat.

US half pipe snowboarder Chloe Kim didn’t have to do her final run—she had already won gold. But she did it anyway, saying, “I knew if I went home with a gold medal knowing I could do better, I wouldn’t be very satisfied. . . I wanted to go bigger. That third run was for me to prove to myself that I did it so I could go home and be happy with myself.”

They do it to beat themselves.

Olympians say a lot of cliche things—things that are no less true for circulating on memes and magnets. Yet it seems less hackneyed coming from these folks, less like a crutch—because they live it out on the screen before us. And in this case they perform even when they know they have no hope of beating Shaun White or Mikaela Shiffron or Virtue and Moir. They do it to beat themselves.

4. Those moments might be just around the corner.

Laura was crying when the Hungarian pulled ahead in the short track speed skating event to win the country’s first gold medal in history–and first medal since they received silver in figure skating 38 years ago. She doesn’t have special connection with Hungary or anything. She just said, “I always cry when the underdog wins.”

norway2Another one of those moments happened to the first-time Olympian Norwegian skier, Simen Krueger, who fell in the first lap of the 30-kilometer cross-country skiathlon. But far from down and out, Krueger, in the rear, stood and gathered his strength to pass 63 other skiers and win gold (with apologies to the two Russian competitors whose chances he wiped out with him when he fell.)

The point is that neither of these guys were expecting to pull ahead, especially not after a catastrophic spill. But a come back or a pull ahead might be around the corner for us at anytime—we’ve just got to keep at it or pick ourselves up and give it our all.

5. Know how to recognize—and accept—moments of your own greatness.

After the US Women’s hockey team beat Canada (after


their four-year gold streak), one of the Canucks took off the silver medal faster than she could skate. It looked ungrateful, unsportsmanlike.

And then there is the puzzling case of Murai Nagusu, the American figure skater who was the first US woman (and only the third woman ever) to land a triple axel in her free skate program at the Olympics.

Among other bizarre things she mentioned in an interview, she said, “I thought of this as my audition for Dancing With the Stars. I would like to be on Dancing With the Stars because I am a star. . . . I made history here by landing the first triple axel for a U.S. lady at the Olympics, so I think that is a big deal.”

Though both of these ladies apologized later for their tasteless reactions, it didn’t remove the bitter taste left in our mouths by two athletes who couldn’t accept what they had earned or absorb the honor of where they were and hadn’t learned how to live in moments of their own greatness. After all, silver is nothing to cry over. And as for Murai who took a wrong turn somewhere on her way to reality television and wound up at the Olympics, well, she’s still young and can hopefully learn to reevaluate her priorities.

6. Admit your goals and don’t apologize for your ambition. 

shiffrin_flag1Mikaela Shiffrin didn’t want much from herself—just to win gold in every category—five to be exact. Or at least that’s what she hoped for this year. When she said as much at Sochi four years ago, people went crazy, calling her brash or overambitious.

So she backpedalled, blaming her extravagant proclamation on lack of sleep and youthful enthusiasm. But lately, she’s been rethinking her retractions.

She said, “If I leave any legacy behind, it’s just the idea, just the theory that you admit to your ambitions and you don’t let people tell you you’re wrong to have those ambitions. As long as you’re willing to work toward them—you can’t just expect it’s going to be given to you just because you had the dream. But if you’re willing to work toward them, then you have to admit to them first.”

7. Don’t Let Preconceived Boundaries Stop You

Alex and Maia Shibutani (affectionately known as the Shib Sibs) are a brother and sister shibsibsfigure skating team. If you’ve watched any amount of figure skating, you know that it can often border on the risqué—not the sort of scene appropriate for a sis and bro.

They said they’re frequently asked, “Can siblings really succeed in this sport? Should they? Aren’t they limited from the steamier showings of those who tend to climb the podium?”

But they’ve decided to cross boundaries and do things differently—and not just for themselves, but for the good of the sport.

Alex said, “If you’re sitting through an event full of ice dance teams and seeing the same story told over and over again, that’s not good for the growth of the sport. . . . Having a different point of view, which we naturally bring because we are coming from a different place, is something that we’ve embraced.”

Echoing that sentiment, US snowboarding gold winner Jamie Anderson said, “You have to do your own thing. If people are inspired, that’s awesome. If people want to judge [me], then that’s just not any of my business.”

Doing things differently is not easy, but it’s always worth proving that there’s more than one way to do things. And along the way, you just might inspire someone.

8. Learn how to be uncomfortable and enjoy it.

During the Olympics I saw my fill of people saying wedding vows to Big Macs and Diet Coke trying to convince me that it will make me feel good and Hershey prompting me to go for the gold . . . caramel bar. (Foods that Olympians don’t eat but are great for making sure us couch potatoes will never be Olympic contenders. By the way, if you want to see what Olympians actually eat, check out this article.)

I was, however, interested in two particular commercials. One was for Visa in which Mikaela Shiffrin soaks in a tub of ice while sipping a green smoothie and reading a book. I watched it over and over, fascinated by her seeming comfort in the frigid dip.

Another commercial for Comcast showed Olympians with sweat pouring down their bodies as they trained hard, struggling to make their elite physical feats look easy and effortless.

I’m not quite there yet—reveling in my discomfort.

Something I heard during the Olympic coverage tied these two behind-the-scenes snapshots together. In an interview before the much-anticipated 18-year-old US skater Nathan Chen’s first performance, his ballet coach said, “Nathan learned how to be uncomfortable and enjoy it.”

Not sure about you, but I’m not quite there yet—reveling in my discomfort, be it holding out a few more minutes on the treadmill or working on the 20th draft of an essay. But it’s a good reminder that no one ever got to the Olympics, or anywhere else noteworthy in life, without sweating and suffering. And even amateurs like you and me need to work on our endurance.

9. Always keep a grin on your face—in case you’re tossed into greatness.

Garfield2So stuffed animals were the thing this year, thrown to the contestants at the end of their programs. Can we all agree that one of the most inspiring moments of the Olympics was when Garfield showed up on the television screen with Evgenia Medvedeva and sat in her lap grinning even as the judges proclaimed Alina Zagitova the gold winner?

The tubby tabby looked proud of himself—probably pleased at how little effort he put in to being part of the Olympics. If some day life tosses you into greatness, just enjoy it.

. . . . . .

Now that they’re over, I find myself actually missing the games. I’m sleep deprived, I wrote nothing last week, and I feel fatter and lazier than ever. But I definitely carried away some golden inspiration and motivation.

So come 2020, if you need me, you’ll know where to find me—on the couch . . . with a snack . . . watching the Olympics.



15 Tips for Being As Addicted to Facebook Sales as My Mom Thinks I Am

yard saleMy mom is concerned that someday she will log onto Facebook and see my dachshund, Dudley, for sale. Though most days he’s in little danger of being sold to the first bidder, I am quite addicted to the idea of selling stuff on Facebook.

And why not? I’ve got extra stuff and I need extra money. (And I’m always trying to declutter my life. You can read my tips for that in “Cleaning House.”)

Truth be told, I’m pretty good at Facebook sales. We went to Disney World last year, bought a couch, and redecorated our living room with the money we’ve made.

Want to know how I do it? Check out my 15 practical tips for Facebook sale success.

1. Keep all your sale stuff together. I keep all my items in a tub in the closet—that way I have easy access when I make a sale. I also go through it periodically to Goodwill whatever hasn’t sold.

2. Take nice pictures. Last year when we wanted to put our couch on Facebook, I started snapping pictures. Laura grabbed a magazine and posed on the couch. Within 15 minutes we had about 10 offers and one confirmation. When the woman came to pay, she said, “You know what sold me on this couch? Having her sitting there. I could see that you were clean, well-dressed people and knew that it would be a good couch.” Make your stuff look good and people will buy it.

3. Use good search terms. When you are writing the description for Marketplace, think like a person who would be searching for your product. (Would you search for “wall hanging” or “decorations” or “picture”?) Also, give people suggestions for how to use things (“These letters would make a great decoration for a library corner or classroom.” Or “These Star Wars posters are great for decorating a media room or birthday party.”)

4. Sell to the person who is willing to meet you at your earliest convenience and for the best price. If you’ve asked $100 dollars for an item and the first person offers you $80, perhaps ask if they’d be willing to wait a few days to see if you could get the full offer, but promise to get back in touch with them. Don’t feel that you have to take the first offer—but also don’t get greedy. If someone offers you $3 for a $5 item, don’t hold off just for $2. (I should probably tell you too that, in my experience, if you make people wait for too long, they will either back out or never respond again unless it was an item they really wanted.)

5. Be honest. If you promised an item to one person, keep your word, even if a better offer comes (see Tip 4)—unless you feel comfortable asking that first person if they mind you going with the better offer.

6. Check the buyer’s profile. Before you agree to meet a person, check out their Facebook page. If you intend to go alone to meet someone, make sure you know what you’re getting into and don’t be afraid to postpone if you feel like your safety may be jeopardized. Or you could call a friend and keep them on the line until you’ve made the sale.

7. Settle on the price before you decide to meet. Otherwise they might wait until you meet to ask if you’ll take less. Get all the haggling out over Facebook so that you will know whether or not you want to wait for another offer before bothering to meet.

8. Have a regularly scheduled place to meet. I meet at the Party City up the road from my house—a well-lit, neutral place in the city. Some cities even have a designated safe-sale spot at police stations. Check out your area. Also, I avoid going to anyone’s house for safety (and convenience) reasons.

9. Always confirm with someone before going to the meeting place. I confirm the time with them when they ask for the product. I confirm several hours before the meeting time. And sometimes I will even confirm again an hour before. If they don’t respond, I don’t bother going. I’ve been left waiting too many times. If they are serious about buying, they will respond. Also ask what kind of car they will be driving and tell them yours.

10. Take change with you. About 75% of the time, people will want change.

11. Upsell. Take items that they also might like. I once posted a picture and a mirror that matched the picture. A woman was interested in the picture, but she hadn’t seen the mirror. So I took it along with me when we met, showed it to her, and she bought it.

12. Be patient. We had several Snoopy items on Facebook for a year before a Peanuts aficionado decided to buy all of it. You might also have to wait until a particular time of year; for instance if you posted dumbbells in June and they aren’t selling, stick them in a closet and repost them in January when people are making healthy resolutions.

13. Have junk—will travel. If you intend to travel to a familiar location, find some Facebook yard sale sites to post on or change your zip code in MarketPlace to that area. We once sold a box full of Madam Alexander dolls to a woman who was passing through Cincinnati on her way back home. And when I was headed to South Carolina for Christmas, I sold an exercise bike on a Greenville yard sale page. I had to haul the thing 400 miles, but it was worth it.

14. Be decent—even when they aren’t. Facebook sales have shown me the worst of human nature. I ask you, what kind of people make appointments and then don’t show up, tell you that they want an item and then never respond again, or are rude by telling you all the reasons you should sell to them and not the person you already sold to? Life fact: Many people are inconsiderate and rude. But also remember that life happens. People might ask you to change the time or meeting place at the last minute. Use your intuition as to whether this person is trying to take advantage of you. But also be willing to give a little—drive a little farther than usual or change the meeting time. (Check out the blessing I got when I went out of my way for a Facebook customer in “What Two Strangers Gave Me for My Birthday.”)

15. Don’t get too addicted. Mom might have a point: maybe I am addicted to making money. It has become a mindset. Anytime I see something free, I automatically take it with the thought to resell it. When you’re going through your things, keep in mind the ways that you might bless someone by giving something away instead of selling it.
Do you have any other tips? Let me know in the comments! 

Feast in Famine: Celebrating God’s Goodness in All Seasons


Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash

Guest Post by Steve Golden


“The MRI showed an advanced brain tumor. The doctor said time is of the essence, and wants to operate in the next two weeks.”


In March of 2017, during a visit to meet her newest granddaughter, my mom expressed annoyance about an issue she’d been having with her jaw. She attributed the stiffness and numbness around the left side of her mouth to a combination of an oral surgery many years earlier and a recent facial massage. By May, she couldn’t move the left side of her jaw at all, and her orthodontist discovered severe muscle atrophy. Her symptoms were worsening, so she called me—her son, the nursing student.

I quickly ran through assessment questions. Frequent migraines? Yes. Vision loss? Yes. One-sided facial numbness and paralysis? Yes. Hearing loss and balance issues? Yes.

As it turns out, I am neither magical nor all-powerful.

“Mom, you need to go to a doctor right away. You’ve either had a stroke, or you’re having a neurological issue.” That phrase, neurological issue, was sanitized code. I knew if I spoke the dreaded words brain tumor, I would be casting one of the Unforgivable Curses. I would speak into existence something that need not exist. As it turns out, I am neither magical nor all-powerful.


“The surgeon could only remove 40% of the tumor, and the lab is saying it’s not benign but it’s not fully malignant either. The doctor wants to start radiation ASAP.”


 Just over a year ago, I attended the funeral of a man I knew who’d fought a long battle with cancer. I had once worked with his wife and taught his daughters in my English and music classes. As he dealt with the disease, I watched his life from afar on social media. He wrote about the special care he had taken over many years to get to know each of his daughters, their likes and dislikes, and he utilized his remaining time on earth to create special memories tailored to each of them. His wife shared how diligently he romanced her from the beginning of their relationship to the very end. He used his illness as a springboard for declaring the goodness of God in his life, to urge others to make the most of their time. For him, every day was a celebration.

I found myself angry at God.

While that man’s life impacted me in ways I never imagined, when I received the news in July that Mom’s surgery had only been partially successful, I found myself angry at God. I was mad. All the theology of suffering I’d spent years carefully working out in my head meant nothing to me in that moment. My 40-something mom—one of the most significant figures in my life, who was just barely getting started on being a grandmother to my girls—should not be facing the prospect of an early death. I was also afraid. My dreams became filled with visions of loss: losing my wife, losing my children, losing my parents. I would wake up crying out in the night as I mourned the death of a loved one in a nightmare. For the first time in my life, I started taking an antidepressant. For the first time in a decade, I abandoned daily Bible reading and prayer.


“The tumor grew significantly since the surgery, and the radiation oncologist can see blood vessel growth. He’s increasing the radiation to treat the tumor like it’s malignant.”


During one of the more emotional conversations I had with Mom, she expressed the possibility that she might not go through with surgery or any treatment at all. Her oncologist told her the risks of adverse side effects were high, and that she would likely live with chronic pain, vision problems, and facial paralysis the rest of her life even with successful treatment. In my mind, there wasn’t a reality where my mom did not pursue the best treatment available and experience full healing or at least extra years. I’m in the healing arts; who doesn’t want to at least try the options?

Who doesn’t want to at least try the options?

That conversation led to a talk with my wife’s family, where I learned that her grandparents had chosen not to be treated for illnesses that eventually took their lives. Rather than deal with the complications from major surgeries and constant hospital visits to prolong their lives by a few years, they chose to make the most of the time they had left with their families. As I struggled in my emotionally stunted way to understand why God had allowed my mom to develop a brain tumor, those conversations kept coming back to me. Indeed, they eventually added to and transformed that careful theology of suffering I had. Sometimes, I realized, the best path forward is not utilizing every available option; sometimes, the best path forward means accepting your circumstances, embracing your family, and making much of the time.


“The Christian cultus [worship], unlike any other, is at once a sacrifice and a sacrament. In so far as the Christian cultus is a sacrifice held in the midst of the creation which is affirmed by this sacrifice of the God-man—every day is a feast day.”—Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture


By December, Mom had completed her course of radiation. In a surprising twist, even though the oncologist chose to treat the tumor as malignant, the lab downgraded the tumor to benign status. Because of her vision problems, she can’t drive and struggles to use electronics. But her illness drew my family closer together than we have been in years. Instead of our usual route of remaining silent for fear of embarrassment, we’ve started choosing to say what’s on our hearts, to focus on what matters. I’ve been challenged to spend less time on homework and more time communing with God, loving my wife, and getting to know my daughters. Mom isn’t out of the woods yet, but God is leading me out of the wilderness and back to Him.

Are we feasting on God’s grace in the famine?

In one of my favorite books, Josef Pieper, a German Catholic philosopher, writes that for the Christian, “every day is a feast day,” meaning that because of the finished work of Christ on the cross, we have no reason not to celebrate each and every day. It’s a sentiment I have held dear since the first time I read it, but it was never put more to the test in my life than over the last year.

Are we celebrating in the storm? Are we feasting on God’s grace in the famine? We should be. We need to be. I want to be.


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Steve Golden, a former English teacher and content editor, is now a nursing student and pharmacology tutor at Washburn University. He spends his spare time reading science fiction/fantasy novels, baking bread and pastries, and brewing beer. He lives with his beautiful wife and two daughters in Topeka, Kansas.

Cough Drops and Hot Chocolate: What Two Strangers Gave Me on My Birthday


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I wanted the bike out of my house.

Okay, it wasn’t a full-size bike—it was a table-top metal bike decoration. But since I had posted it on Facebook Marketplace months earlier, no one had asked about it—until my birthday.

I’ve sold many things on Facebook, and I’ve learned to set some ground rules: if your profile picture makes you look like a serial killer, I won’t meet you; if you’re rude to me in your messages, I won’t sell you my items; and even if you’re as polite as Mr. Rogers, I won’t deliver items to your house.

Even if you’re as polite as Mr. Rogers, I won’t deliver items to your house.

Usually when I tell people I don’t deliver, that’s the end of it. But the woman explained, “My husband and I have ben together 1 ur feb 2 because of a bike. Can you come to my place? My tires is all the way off it’s rim we should have coverage but we don’t have a spare it’s just one big mess.”

I would usually have said, “Sorry, no.” But I wanted the thing out of my house, so I agreed to drop by at 2:00.

At 1:00 she sent another message. “I know this is weird, by any chance can you buy cough drops?”

I’ve encountered many strange people and stories in my Facebook sales: a man who offered to trade me his push mower for a $120 camera I was selling; a woman who asked if I’d take $20 for a $100 exercise bike; a cross dresser who bought my dresser; the woman who cried when she picked up my box of Pillsbury doughboy items because their brother, who had recently died, had a Doughboy tattoo on his leg. But I never had anyone ask me to do them a personal favor.

I turned the text to Laura, my mouth hanging open. She shook her head. “I can’t even with people.”

Here’s a confession—you ready for it?

I share Bruce Banner’s secret as the Hulk: “I’m always angry”—or at least frustrated at people. (But I’m working on it.)


Conversely, I also have a hard time saying no when it’s within my power to help. So I sighed and texted, “What flavor do you like?”

An hour later, we pulled up to her apartment hauling the bike and mint cough drops. Sure enough, there was the SUV in the snow, one tire comically turned off its rim like something from an old Donald Duck cartoon. Laura and I looked at each other, surprised that her story had been true.

When the door opened, out walked an older lady in a red hat, leaning on a cane. I walked over to meet her and held out the bag of cough drops.

“Oh, honey, you don’t know how much this means.” She sliced open a roll of quarters with her fingernail and proceeded to count out the coins. “You’re a Christian, aren’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I knew it. Only a Christian would stop and get cough drops.”

“Only a Christian would stop and get cough drops.”

She told me further about her multiple sclerosis and her husband who is on oxygen. (Strangely enough, I never got her story about how they met because of a bike.) After a few minutes of chatting, I took my money and left.

Later that evening, as we were waiting for coffee to brew, considering the strangeness of the day, the knock on the door startled us. We had just moved to the apartment complex and knew none of our neighbors. Apprehensively, we opened the door to a young woman, her cheeks flushed with the cold.

“Hi.” She shifted from foot to foot. “Do you have any hot chocolate or somethin’? I’ve been sitting out here for like half an hour waiting on my sister and her boyfriend. They bought a mattress from some people upstairs, but it won’t fit in their car. So they went to get rope to tie it down and left me here to watch it.” She pointed behind her on the sidewalk. “It’s really cold.”

No kidding—below 10 degrees that night.

I thought the worst: maybe this was her ploy to get inside and kill us or rob us. I stammered for a few seconds, but I couldn’t say no to her running nose and shivering shoulders, so I swung wide the door.

Maybe this was her ploy to get inside and kill us or rob us.

We poured her a cup of coffee and learned that her name was Burgan. But we didn’t find out much more than that because her sister returned with the rope and she left.

In the closing hours of my birthday, I considered the risk of asking a stranger for cough drops and of knocking on a door for hot chocolate. I would have hacked myself into pneumonia or frozen to a popsicle before I’d relied on the kindness of a stranger.

But my birthday had brought me a gift—the gift to give not once but twice, and not because I was looking to give, but because these two women were brave enough to ask.

What kind of world would we live in if we weren’t afraid to ask strangers for favors?

There are plenty of people who expect help in this world and rely on it. But perhaps there is a shortage of people who will simply ask for it. I’m exhibit A; I detest relying on other people. When we recently moved, I was deeply grateful to the coworker who helped us, but I would have rather lugged every piece of furniture myself than count on someone else.

I assume the real reason is far more offensive.

At the surface of things, my disinclination to ask for help seems to be in my neighbors’ best interest. Sure, I don’t want to inconvenience them or be indebted to them. But I assume the real reason is far more offensive.

I distrust them. I distrust their kindness or even their decency to help without griping about it or judging me for my need or holding the favor in their memory to later call in.

I know I’m not alone. Where a simple “thank you” would have sufficed, I’ve more often heard, “I wouldn’t want you to do that” or “I wouldn’t ask you to do that” or “You shouldn’t have done that” or “I can’t let you do that.” We’ve been conditioned to think of welfare and charity as below us. So we resist help or favors. In most cases, our refusal is intended as a virtue. No societal leeches are we. We earn our own way, and we’re proud of it, thank you very much.

Marjean Holden said, “By asking for help, it’s not that you’re weak; . . .  it’s just allowing somebody else to give their gift.”

But after my birthday encounters, I have to ask myself, Is my self-sufficiency robbing others of the blessing of giving? Can I open my heart and trust my neighbor enough to be vulnerable? Can I, in some small way, help them become better people by allowing them to love me—their neighbor?

I want to be the person that you know you can call upon when you’re in a bind—and the person who isn’t afraid to call upon you when I really need it.

Thank you in advance.