the next chapter from my memoir: 33 changed everything.

nature and me
canton home
the view from my front porch.

my husband closed the door behind him and i was standing in our, in my, home… alone.

it was the beginning of august in 2007, and it was as if the slate had been wiped completely clean. i was almost 33 years old and i felt brand new. perhaps i felt a little bit of fear, but mostly, i felt free. not free because my marriage was now over, but free because of what that symbolized.

i was me. only me. and all the dreams that i had dreamed, whatever they were, now seemed more possible than ever.

what had happened to me was that i had gotten to know myself. i had allowed myself to listen to my inner voice, to feel my own soul, to put away all of the thoughts and pressures of others’ expectations and just listen. i felt more me than i had ever felt before. ever.

now, what was i to do with my life? how was i going to go about making dreams come true? i most definitely would move from the small town in the mountains in north carolina where i had been living. and, if i could make it happen, i would move to denmark. after 12 years, perhaps my chance had come. i suppose i could have felt overwhelmed and confused, but i felt more calm than ever before.

on my first night alone, and for many nights thereafter for the next 4 months, i poured myself a glass of red wine, sat on my little front porch, stared into the starry night sky, and just let myself be me.

the next morning, i woke early, make a pot of coffee and snuggled into a big, round chair on my back porch to read, write, meditate, and pray. i repeated this morning ritual faithfully for the next year. almost every single day. i used these mornings to fill myself with inspiration and then to reflect on what i had read, what i had done, and where i was headed.  i wrote and wrote and wrote. i dreamed. i planned. i processed everything. my soul was my counselor. my guide.

max patch

i also headed back to work after the summer of 2007 with all it’s adventures and transformations.

i worked full time as a minister in a united methodist church. it was my seventh year there, surrounded by inspiring, amazing, mountain people from all walks of life. i loved my job. i loved my co-worker. i loved the youth. i had built strong, important relationships with some wonderful, inspiring people. i had created a position that allowed me to use my gifts & passions at the time.

but, how long would i remain there? that question rolled around in my mind daily. i began to realize that, as painful as it would be and as ridiculous & careless it may seem to others, it was time for me to move on.

central umc canton

at the same time i was working full-time, i was also beginning my final semester of seminary, my final four months of preparing to receive my master’s degree. the last few months of soaking up the information, knowledge, and spiritual development that was part of the process of becoming me in my professional role. however, throughout my entire seminary journey, i knew that it was not really a preparation for a job, but a preparation of who i am called to be… as an authentic, whole person, living out her dreams and using her gifts. seminary actually never was, for me, a professional endeavor, but a personal, spiritual one.

i recall the last assignment i had that semester. my final project was to write my spiritual autobiography. a look at my past, my present, and my future. what an appropriate assignment for this particular time in my life, i felt, as i began my life anew. i looked forward to getting my journey down on paper, in black and white.

but, we were also told that we would share our autobiographies with each other, and then take a day to discuss each person’s journey as a group. i was nervous. really nervous. i knew exactly who i was, who i felt i needed to be, but i did not know the answer to that age old question, “what are you going to do?” – an integral part of the last part of the assignment… to cast a vision for what we felt called to do after seminary, how and where we would work.

for me, that question was irrelevant. i had cast aside all pressure to answer that question in my life, after i had slowly come to understand that it is not about what i do, but about who i am. and if, and when, i am faithful to who i am, what i do will come directly from that.

nature and me

with that the guiding belief in this new life i was embarking on, i decided to mark myself. literally. i had a vine tattooed onto my right wrist as a reminder and a celebration of the knowledge that all i need to do is simply be. to simply stay connected to my soul, to the divine that is within. my job is to be. and just as a branch bears fruit simply because it connected to a vine, so will i bear fruit in my life, if i am connected to that which is true, light, love, and peace within me. my soul will lead me where i need to be. and what will i do? i will only focus on being me. and in being me, i will become someone who can be used wherever she is.

i wrote my spiritual autobiography for my seminary class. i illustrated with words the journey i had been on thus far, and the dreams i had for the future. and i did not list any plans. i did not say where i wanted to work, how i wanted to live out my ministry, like my classmates did. there were no specifics when it came to my future. there was only a certainly in my present, and the plan to seek to be true to myself, trusting that the details would come.

of course i was terrified at how my classmates and my professor would respond. but, it was a beautiful moment, filled acceptance and support, as they congratulated me on finding a level of peace within myself that some of them had not yet discovered.

me!

oh yes, the fall of 2007 changed me.

i was now legally separated from my husband. i was preparing to leave the church where i had been working for the past 7 years. and i was completing the last leg of my spiritual journey in seminary. it was a peaceful, slow, thoughtful, and inspiring four months. i felt safe. calm. hope. alive. peace.

it was during this time that i died to my old self. the final death came around my 33rd birthday in september. i sat one morning and literally said goodbye to my old way of life, to the old me. and yet, i appreciated all that the old me had given me. without those previous 33 years, would i have never celebrated the beginning of this new journey in life. though i let some things go, i held onto myself, because i had actually discovered that which had been within me all along.

and i was born again. life began again. i breathed deeper. laughed harder. sat in silence longer. wrote more. listened more intensely. communed with nature. lived more fully.

i had no idea what would come. but, come what may, all would be well.

*all photos taken in the fall of 2007

i’m rested and i’m ready.

finnish sunset

it’s been a long time. too long.

i have neglected my “from death to peace” story for many reasons. lack of time, lack of inspiration, the holidays, etc. well, perhaps it’s actually lack of priorities. but, i am back now (yay!) & ready to pick up where i last left off…saying goodbye to an amazing woman i met in sweden about six years ago. you can read about that here. and you can read all of the previous “chapters” here.

i began writing this post (the story part which is below) this morning. about halfway through, as i was listening to music while i wrote, my ears suddenly tuned in to the lyrics of the song that was playing for some reason. and here’s what i heard:

“i’m rested and i’m ready”

“wow. those lyrics are perfect for what i am writing right now”, i thought. so, i clicked over to my spotify playlist to see the name of the song. i knew it was the avett brothers, because i was listening to their latest album – a favorite of mine. and do you know what the title of the song i saw was?

february seven.

and my heart fluttered inside of me. hundreds of butterflies danced. my breathing immediately became short & fast. and i knew that this was one of those moments. one of those moments when the whole universe comes to me. when everything lines up, and i get a glimpse of what is true, of what is meant to be. a glimpse i see not with my eyes, but feel with my soul. the best way to describe it is to simply say i knew. i just knew. love. truth. my self. my soul. everything connected. everything made sense, even if i wasn’t thinking of any particular words or thoughts. i just felt. whole. complete. alive.

you see, today, as i write all of this, it IS february seven.

and i realized, that i was blessed with this feeling right now, as i was writing about experiencing that feeling six years ago. it was a sort of deja vu, but not. you’ll know what i am talking about as you read the chapter below… just know this. it was an amazing moment. and how i felt then, is exactly how i felt again right now. amazing.

and now… the next part of the story.

******************************************************************************************************************************

it all began to sink in and make sense.

as i traveled with my group of teenagers throughout scandinavia and a few of the baltic countries for 3 more weeks, i had a chance to reflect. everything began to make sense. i knew exactly what i needed to do. i knew from deep down in my soul, way deep down, that now was the time.

there were no magical signs, just an every-growing sense of peace, calm, and excitement. from somewhere i had perhaps never felt before, i felt a fire burning from within. i felt my true self.

after leaving sweden, my group headed across the sea to finland, and found ourselves deep in the finnish forest. all that was there were trees and a lake. it was gorgeous. and peaceful. and exactly what we all needed. traveling from city to city, country to country, meeting so many people all along the way, was quite intense. on top of that, i could feel something shifting inside of me. i needed some liz time.

there were no other people at the finnish camp during our stay, except for one or two finnish friends who served as out hosts. perfect. we spent our days doing chores, walking, singing, laughing, talking, writing, sauna-ing, and just being. it was a very peaceful, restful time in the middle of our 5 week tour. i remember sitting on the bank of the lake, staring at the water and the trees surrounding me. i remember thinking to myself, “whenever i need to re-focus, to have a moment of peace & quiet to myself, to feel inspired, then i will remember this moment.” the air was so crisp and clear. the sun was so warm. everything was vibrant. i felt like i was at the center of the earth. or the center of everything. in some ways, i think i was.

lake in finland

i was at the center of my being.

one morning, or afternoon, or evening, i don’t remember what time of day it was. it doesn’t really matter. i took a fairly long walk into the woods alone. i noticed everything that i passed. a little puddle of muddy water on the rocky trail. a bright yellow & orange flower, which i am sure was just a weed, but it was beautiful anyway. the road ahead of me which turned, leading deeper into the woods. the bright blue sky and the puffy white clouds. the dark green trees standing tall & proudly around me. the birds chirping and singing. little black bugs scurrying near my feet.

i walked on; well, meandered on is more like it. i took my time, soaking up everything with all of my senses. i thought about my life, of course. and, as i gazed at the path ahead of me, leading off into the woods, i knew that it was teaching me something about my life. that unknown path, that road less taken, was the road that was calling to me. again. i knew it was time.

path in the woods

from now on, i would be walking a new path. a path that was more real and more true. an unknown, frightening path. but, one that was also exciting and life-giving. i had met something in me that until then was completely unknown, or undiscovered.

from here on out, my life would not be the same. the journey i had been walking my whole life, every moment, every person, every experience, led me to this lake in the middle of finland. at least it felt like that. and looking back now, i can say that perhaps that was true.

our long days under the finnish sunshine came to an end, and it was time to leave this place which had become my sanctuary, like emerging from the center of a labyrinth.

if you know anything about labyrinths, then you know that they are ancient symbols for the journey of life, used in some religions. for years, i had been drawn to the idea of the labyrinth. i had even journeyed on a few myself, mimicking the journey inward and then out again.

a labyrinth is a circular pattern, usually on the floor or the ground. it is a path that winds back and forth, seemingly leading nowhere. but, if you faithfully continue, then you will suddenly find yourself in the center, not really sure how you arrived there. the journey into the labyrinth is symbolic of our journey into our selves, to our true selves, to god. the center is a place of calm, reflection, mystery, beauty, truth, and peace. but, after pausing in the center for a while, you must walk the same path out again. it’s impossible to just stay in the center forever. the way out involves criss-crossing, wandering, and winding the path backwards. it symbolizes our journey back out into the world. from a place of reflection and understanding, out into the world… transformed and ready to live life more faithfully and more fully.

labyrinth

as we rode on trains and buses for the rest of our trip through northern europe, i kept thinking about the labyrinth. and i realized that i had been living my own labrythinian journey. the lake in finland was my physical center of the labyrinth. everything before had been my journey inward. and from now on, everything else would be my journey back out again. yes, this entire trip, at this point in my life, was a real labyrinth experience. i began my journey inward when i began traveling through denmark & sweden. i entered the center, for a time of reflection and transformation, in finland. and i journeyed outward again while visiting estonia and latvia, allowing all that i had learned, all that i had experienced and now understood, sink into me. preparing me for what was to come. preparing me for the world again, and my new place in it.

once again a trip to scandinavia changed my life. i knew, as i did 12 years earlier, that there was something more to come. i knew that there was an unknown path ahead of me, and it was time to stop being scared of it, but to embrace it. for on that path, is where i will discover my true passion. on that path, i will follow my bliss.

finnish sunset

now, i knew the truth. my marriage of 9 years was over. and as soon as i walked into my home in the mountains of north carolina upon returning, i told my husband i wanted a divorce. i told him we both needed it. it had been a long time coming, and it was time to be honest with ourselves.

and with that, he packed a bag and left.

and i began a year of living alone, announcing to everyone at work and in my life that i was preparing to move to europe.

I went on the search for something true.
I was almost there when I found you.
Sooner then my fate was wrote
A perfect blade it slit my throat
And beads of lust released into the air.
When I awoke you were standing there.

I was on the mend when I fell through.
The sky around was anything but blue.
I found as I regained my feet
A wound across my memory
That no amount of stitches would repair.
But I awoke and you were standing there.

There’s no fortune at the end of the road that has no end.
There’s no returning to the spoils
Once you’ve spoiled the thought of them.
There’s no falling back asleep
Once you’ve wakened from the dream
Now I’m rested and I’m ready,
I’m rested and I’m ready to begin.
I’m ready to begin.

I went on the search for something real.
Traded what I know for how I feel.
But the ceiling and the walls collapsed
Upon the darkness I was trapped
And as the last of breath was drawn from me
The light broke in and brought me to my feet.

There’s no fortune at the end of the road that has no end.
There’s no returning to the spoils
Once you’ve spoiled the thought of them.
There’s no falling back asleep
Once you’ve wakened from the dream.
Now I’m rested and I’m ready
I’m rested and I’m ready
Yeah I’m rested and I’m ready
I’m rested and I’m ready
Yeah I’m rested and I’m ready
I’m rested and I’m ready
To begin
I’m ready to begin

~ the avett brothers

peace on your journey.

someone special in sweden.

our boat docked at the harbor, we disembarked, and were greeted by new, smiling, swedish faces and a cold, chilly swedish summer rain. everything happened more quickly than i could process it. we crammed ourselves & our luggage into the backseats of a couple of cars and were whisked off to someone’s home for a bbq.

our hosts here in gothenburg were all girls, or young women. some of them had been on the caravan the summer before. what that means is that they traveled to north carolina with others from denmark, norway, estonia, finland, & lativa, where they traveled and were hosted by americans, as we were doing this year in scandinavia. this exchange between united methodist churches in north carolina and scandinavia began in the 1950s. so it has been a long-standing tradition bringing people together for many, many years. once a “caravaner”, always a “caravaner”, i always say. and whenever you meet a fellow “caravaner” there is an instant and very strong connection.

after an intense 20 minute drive through the city of gothenburg, all of us drooling on the windows as we passed one european building or structure after another, we arrived in a suburban neighborhood. here, we were going to have dinner and just chill with our new hosts, since we’d been traveling all day. other than that, we had no idea what lay ahead – as it always was from day to day. that was part of the charm and the amazingness of this experience…. it required a willingness to face whatever came, flexibility, and an  adventurous spirit.

all of these young, swedish women seemed so kind, funny, & exciting. but there was one that actually took my breath away. when we walked outside to the back patio area, where the grill was, this one woman was quietly working to prepare the vegetables for the bbq. she greeted us quietly and sweetly, and i remember noting that she made me feel warm. she made me feel welcome, without even doing anything. there was something inside me that wanted to get to know her. i was intrigued, though i didn’t think much about it.

dinner was full of chit chat and getting to know each other, adjusting to the thought that we were now in sweden, and had left the first part of our journey behind in denmark. we would be together with some of these swedish women for a week, so it was time to shift gears and discover who they were. with full bellies and feeling a little bit more at ease in our new surroundings, we went inside to swap stories and  life experiences. some time passed, and the swedish chicks decided that we’d spend a little time singing. this beautiful blonde who intrigued me, sat down at the piano and began playing and singing. like an angel. i was mesmerized, drawn in by the softness of her voice. and the lyrics of the song… they filled me with emotion and peace.

shepherd of my soul. i give you full control. wherever you may lead, i will follow.i have made a choice, to listen to your voice, wherever you may lead, i will go.

the lyrics haunted me. her voice soothed me. i knew, in that moment, that i was doing the right thing. that i was here, on this trip for a reason. that the decision i was making to end my marriage & seek to find my soul, was right. that to abandon it all, to face all uncertainties and fears, to step out of the boat, was exactly what i was supposed to do. this woman was a messenger for me.

the days in sweden rolled on, and i found myself spending more time with this intriguing, beautiful, sweet woman… lina. since we were both leaders ( i, the leader of the american youth, and she, the leader of the swedish hosts), we had a lot to talk about. practical things. what we were going to do next, where we would go, how we were all feeling. but, it wasn’t all practical. not at all. lina and i laughed. hysterically. a lot. when we played games, we found ourselves near each other. hugging on each other. teasing each other. flirting without knowing we were flirting. we just clicked. we just fit. perfectly. something inside me felt so comfortable, at ease, and like this person just got me. i wasn’t attracted to her, and yet i was. it’s so hard to explain…

it felt as if this person knew me, even if i’d just met her. and i knew that she was something special. someone special in this world.

me & lina. june 2007.

the week came to a close, and lina & a few others took us to the harbor in stockholm. we were there to board a ferry for an overnight trip to helsinki, finland. after a week of laughing, joking, sharing, and just being together, i felt panicky as i approached the big boat which was going to sail me away from sweden.

this was a typical feeling when leaving each & every place we visited, because we always met such wonderful, hospitable people who took care of us and shared their lives with us. the goodbyes were heart-wrenching. especially because there was always a connection that was established and you had know idea if you’d ever see any of the people again or not. so, you said goodbye and just assumed you’d never meet again.

this feeling of never seeing lina again filled me with anxiety as i stood in line to board the ferry. i just couldn’t leave this special friend i had found. and we both acknowledged that it was a special friendship, even using those exact words. we had swapped email addresses on the train on the way to stockholm, so at least we had that. nevertheless, the time had come.

i lifted my backpack onto my shoulders, hugged lina tightly, made a little frown, made sure all of my youth were in front of me, slowly walked behind them, turned back one more time toward lina, waved, and said goodbye.

goodbye, sweden. goodbye, lina.

(click on the “from death to peace” category link just below to catch up & read the previous “chapters” of my story.)