What Is Saving Your Life Right Now?

My friend posted a blog, after reading another blog, and that blogger had read a book, and the author of that book had been asked to speak on what was saving her life right then. Today* a bunch of people and synchronized blogs are answering this question: What is saving your life right now?

*When I say Today what I really mean is three weeks ago. But three weeks ago I was in such a despairing place, I could not come up with a list of things that were saving my life.  I could only come up with a list of things I wished were saving my life. Yes, I realize this kind of defeats the entire purpose of the exercise.

So, as all the life-savers rushed passed me on the internets, optimistic and enlightened, I sat on the sidelines chicken-scratching a bunch of things that were absolutely not saving my life right then (picture McKayla is NOT impressed) and feeling angry I couldn’t find optimism and gratitude- my two best things! You will lose all respect when you see my list. It’s bad.

Things I Wished Were Saving My Life Three Weeks Ago:

Food. Loads of goat cheese. On chicken. Wrapped in bacon. On bread. With oil. Small plates as far as the eye can see. If these things were happening right now, my life would be saved. Instead, due to the need for restraint (calories, waistline, cash, time) we are on a meal plan. Five meals per week, 20 ingredients or less, all organic, under 600 calories. Blast that meal plan! The inability to go out to eat for every meal and order anything I want is killing me. Salads in jars are killing me. For a person who communicates via food and weather patterns, who would rather ingest a tiny amount of taste-bud-bursting goodness than loads of mediocre anything; for a foodie, I wish amazing food was saving my life right now.

Hawaii. I wish Hawaii was saving my life right now.

Riches. Yes, I know how hard it is for a rich person to get to heaven, and that we’re not supposed to store up treasures and all that. I get it. But seriously, I could go for some cold hard cash. I would (you might have gathered) go out to eat every single meal and buy a personal trainer to work most of it off, and then a med spa to take care of the rest. I would go to two movies this weekend, and I’d have an outdoor living space with a plush couch, and tomorrow, I’d quit my job and vacation in Cuba for a month. I’d buy land in Belize, adopt some kids, and eat some more food without consequence. I would also go hiking in CO, visit all my friends in NOLA, and then go to Nepal. Yes. I wish those things were saving my life right now.

I wish single digit sizes were saving my life right now. My life would be saved if at the end of the day I could catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and think, Yep. Instead, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and gnash my teeth.

I wish God’s voice in human form and his face in human flesh sitting across from me were saving my life right now. I would ask him a direct question and get a direct answer. He would also likely buy my coffee, I think. He would tell me exactly how to pray. He would say, Yes, you have enough faith to do this one thing. Or, He would say, No, you’re not really believing believing. He might reveal that I’m praying in safe ways that leave wiggle room for God not to answer prayers, in case these things are Not His Will, instead of praying expectantly. He would let me know once and for all if expectant prayer is entitlement or faith.

I wish some kind of everything-fits-perfectly feeling was saving my life right now. Instead- well, just read this. She says it perfectly. J and I have a case of the wanderlust. If some kind of Holy Passion presented and everything suddenly fit, my life would be saved.

I wish God’s breath into a mess of cells and tissue was saving my life right now. It’s not all I want in life. It’s not even something I wanted until a year ago. It’s not the only thing I think about. But if it happened, my life would be a little bit saved.


Three weeks later, thanks to things that are actually saving my life, I am able to identify some things that are saving my life. Funny how that works.

What Is Saving Your Life Right Now?

My aunt is saving my life right now. On the prayer thing, she said: When you prayed that prayer the very first time– the unanswered one, the one in which I don’t know if I have enough faith- God heard it. It has already been answered. You just don’t know how or when or in what form this thing will appear. But God heard it, it’s been answered, and you are free to move forward.

Limes and La Croix are saving my life by being all refreshing and tart, and caffeine free, sugar free and sweetener free. This combo tricks my taste buds into thinking I’m having some kind of dirty carbonated beverage. Really, it’s just soda water with some limes.

My little community of women are saving my life right now. Kim’s words: These women are teeming with so much life. Giving me so much life. Saving me on days when I couldn’t find hope with a floodlight. Saving me by letting me point out hope when it’s their turn to misplace it. Saving me with plans for a weekend away, just our despair, and our hope, and margaritas as big as our heads.

A new friend who came over for a long walk is saving my life right now.

A friendly neighbor who stops by more often than not is saving my life right now.

My writing group is saving my life right now.

My job is saving my life right now. Three or four weeks ago, after the worst worst MD visit, I really wanted to cancel all my appointments the following day to give myself time and space to recoup, emotionally. Being a therapist is for the birds on days when you need a therapist. But it was too late, and I am reliable. So I went to work and resolved to be 100% present. For 8 whole hours, I did not think about myself even one time. I came home lighter, and my life was a little bit saved that day.

My husband is saving my life right now. His insight and care. His partnership. The way he ushers me up to the roof to watch shooting stars on a blanket. The way he could never write an ungrateful I wish list, because he’s got that much perspective. His humor and kindness save my life every single hour.

Our blooming flowers that were dead a month ago are saving my life right now. The way these flowers, planted on almost the exact weekend we began our journey through unparenthood, have become reflective of my insides- bright and cheery, withered, dead, sprouting, full-bloom, wilted, thirsty, drowning, blooming… endless, the stages, and totally dependent on things they’re not in charge of.

Church is saving my life right now. Each time I show up, the question bouncing back and forth between J and I all week is answered. It’s not Jesus in the flesh, but I’m learning more about the Spirit. The Spirit is saving my life right now.

Our pet electronic vacuum is saving my life right now. Purchased before the Hartman recession hit, in a fit of crumb-despising-fed-upness, to which most people respond with a broom and dustpan, we feed this pet/child/swiffer thingy scraps from our dinner table and speak to it as though it has a heart and soul. Don’t tell anyone.


August and Everything

August is this creepy little month that sneaks up behind me while I’m laughing and oblivious in July and says, Hey. Buck up. A lot of things are about to change, and it’s going to be hard for a minute, and very cold, but there’s coffee, at least, and fireplaces, and when it’s over, you’ll be okay.

Last fall, I packed up my comfy little 400 sq. foot apartment and said goodbye to New Orleans. I cried through 3 Gulf states, thought I didn’t know why at the time, and said goodbye to Jeff. Three weeks later, I was knee-deep in grapefruit-o-lanterns and Belizean 8-year-olds.

Two falls ago, I stuffed SJP and Sprinky into the Rendezvous and drove to New Orleans, threw my things into a supply closet, got evacuated for Gustav during orientation, and came back 3 weeks later a total stranger, still. A month after that I was dressed like a Ninja fighting pirates on Jackson Square. With friends.

Three falls ago I was meeting my French uncle at a train station in Marseilles. I don’t speak French. He doesn’t speak English. I hadn’t seen him in ten years. Three falls ago, Katie died.

Four falls ago, I got rejected to 14 grad schools. For writing. Which ruined my whole plan. Tale spin.

Five falls ago, I was driving a 24-foot diesel truck, on fire, from Austin to Beaumont and living out of a 50-degree medication closet. Red Cross. Katrina.

Eleven falls ago, my aunt died.  In a car accident. Just like that.

So here I am, in fall. In that strange quiet sunlight, with those twirly little yellow leaves, a ten minute drive from family, in a cozy home, with the most kind and loving husband, three little nieces, jobs we are blessed to have, access to pumpkin spice lattes- and I feel panicky. Even when I’m happy, I’m anxious.  And even sometimes, sad.

I think August is really saying: Hey. Your aunt died.
She would have been 50 last week.
And further still, August is really really saying: life is out of control.
I’ve never been able to dissociate fall from that feeling.

But it’s only a season.
N.N. says it better than me:

And even when the trees have just surrendered
To the harvest time
Forfeiting their leaves in late September
And sending us inside
Still I notice You when change begins
And I am braced for colder winds
I will offer thanks for what has been and what’s to come
You are autumn

And everything in time and under heaven
Finally falls asleep
Wrapped in blankets white, all creation
Shivers underneath
And still I notice you
When branches crack
And in my breath on frosted glass
Even now in death, You open doors for life to enter
You are winter

And everything that’s new has bravely surfaced
Teaching us to breathe
What was frozen through is newly purposed
Turning all things green
So it is with You
And how You make me new
With every season’s change
And so it will be
As You are re-creating me
Summer, autumn, winter, spring

N. Nordeman

Katie B.

This is strange, I know. But I have been thinking about Katie lately, and can’t NOT mention it… Also, I think things are cyclical, and most of the time we realize things internally before we process them mentally. Almost one year ago exactly, after bawling my eyes out over not getting accepted to UNLV, after plans for moving to California fell through, Lisa and I had our first conversation about me and Belize.

What a year.

There are moments here, in Santa Familia, when I am the happiest I have ever been in my whole life, almost like I was born half Belizean and raised with an invisible compass pointing me here.In those moments, I look around and think: how did I get here? How did I cross the bridge from—well, maybe I should go to Belize—to actually quitting my job and moving here?

It had always only been a threat. Like, when I got so fed up with life or work in Fort Wayne, I’d say, I should just move to another country. My mom has friends in Belize, you know. I could work in the schools, paint, teach—whatever they need.

But then I would get wrapped up in things like Taco Bell and Grey’s Anatomy and the GAP and would totally discard the stirring until the next time I felt bored or useless or unmotivated or overspent.

I only knew one girl personally, my age, who had actually picked up and moved to a developing country. Katie in Haiti. The tagline on her Myspace was: My heart belongs in Haiti. I always wished my heart belonged anywhere besides the Target dollar spot.

I have done lots of short-term missions trips—built churches, visited orphans, constructed wheelchair ramps for disabled seniors; I did a three-week stint with the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina and loved it—but I could never figure out how to cross the bridge from vacation pay to unpaid leave to actually quitting my job and starting a new life. I didn’t even know how to take the first step. And the not knowing scared me into complacency.

Whenever Katie came in town, I would sigh and say, I wish I could do that in Belize. And she would say, “You could.” Then I’d shrug and keep eating my Molten Chocolate or Cookie Monster thinking I could never make it in Belize without hot flowing chocolate at my fingertips.

A week later, she’d go back to Haiti, and I’d go back to entry-level social work (which I loved, by the way) but I paid attention to her updates and support letters, and I began emailing little questions like: But what did you do with your car? What kind of phone plan do you have? Do you live with a family or on your own? How do I defer my school loans?

Those easy little questions and answers nudged me to a logistically comfortable place. It was always important to me to have a plan.

The great news is, a couple years earlier I had been run over by a semi.

In the hospital, the nurse looked at me and said, “God must have something really important planned for your life.” And though I was humbled and inclined to roll my eyes and insist it was just coincidence (I do believe my greatest fear sometimes is that God actually does believe I am valuable and capable of something very important), I nodded and whole-heartedly believed her.

Then I thought I should probably get on with things—figure out how to do something important and extraordinary with the life I’d been lent. So I explored a bunch of crazy interests I’d always wanted to pursue. (You can never know where God might use you, okay? It could have been in the theater classes at IPFW or at The Paul Mitchell School in San Diego, or in an MFA program in creative writing. Who’s to say? The important thing is I looked.)

And, actually, that 14th rejection letter from UNLV last February led to my first consideration for Belize Team 14—almost one year ago, exactly. The rest is history. I said goodbye to the MFA and Paul Mitchell school, put myself on spending freeze, and used the summer to prepare.

I remember how amazing my last day of work felt in September. Remember the crispy white Anne Taylor pants story? I could feel it in my bones—something great was ahead. Something important.  And it HAS been, both great and important.

In October, right after my first trip to Belize, Katie died in her sleep. In Haiti.

It was a terrible shock, and heartbreaking for all of us. I felt like I had just burst into the room excited with my brand new Belize, thinking it could be friends with her Haiti, and she was gone.
Not to mention the fact that she was gone.
It was just hard to understand.

So hard, in fact, I flew home in the middle of a six-week trip to Germany, ready and prepared to never leave Fort Wayne again—to skip Belize, defer grad school, hang on the couch with Sprinky for life.

But sometime later, I wrote this:

The miracle, I have realized—the exception, not the rule—is that we are alive. That our skin comes together and holds everything in. That our blood flows and our hearts beat. That we breathe in and out and are given a certain number of days to complete a certain task in the world, and that we think somehow all of this is our doing. That our lives belong to us. We are created, and we exist so long as our creator continues to breath life into our frail, fragile, pile of bones and skin and muscle. Each time we breathe in and out, we are experiencing a tremendous, fantastic, unbelievable miracle.

When I am here, I feel like God’s finger is on my pulse. I feel him breathing life and purpose into me.My heart belongs here, in Belize. And I can’t tell that to Katie, but God knows, and all he has to do while I am riding in the back of a pick-up truck with a bunch of Belizean kids sucking limes, is nudge her and say, “Look, Kate.You helped plant this seed.Well done.”