~ notes from an uncommon journey ~

A New Car and a New Friend

So my car essentially died earlier this month. I say "essentially" because, while it could have been repaired, all of the needed repairs together would've cost me almost $7,000. And yeeeah, I'm not putting that kind of money into a 13-year-old car. As much as I loved that car.

The hard part about this wasn't just that it was unexpected. Or that I initially had no idea how I'd afford a new car. The hard part was also that my old car, a 2001 Honda Accord, was more than "just a car" to me. Ron and I were in that car the first time he said "I love you" to me. And while I didn't think about that every time I was in it, when I realized I might be saying goodbye to it, that was one of the first things that came to mind.

When special things happen in a place, that place takes on greater significance. It becomes part of your memories about the occasion. And you can ask anyone who has grieved the loss of a loved one; they'll tell you that certain places can trigger memories related to that person.

So when I was waiting at the dealership, Roush Honda in Westerville, Ohio, to find out what was wrong with it, and I was talking to two employees, Ericka and Bill, about my situation, I said that I had an emotional connection to that car. The reply was something like, "I'm not surprised; a lot of people do." I decided to tell them what it was. But when I went to say it, I hesitated a bit, and my expression must have changed...Ericka asked, "Was there a death?" And when I said what it was, Ericka said that "When there's a death, you can just tell." She then shared with me a loss that she is grieving, and Bill shared one that he is grieving as well.

I don't always know when it's appropriate to share this part of my story. I am keenly aware that frankly, not everyone wants to hear it or can handle it, really. But this time, I'm so glad I did, because I could share empathy with Ericka and Bill, something that would not have happened if I hadn't shared.

Well, as I mentioned, the news about the Accord was not good. It was time for a new car. And at first I didn't know what I was going to do. In addition to the financial concern, I honestly hate car shopping. But three fortunate things happened: 1) I figured out some adjustments I can make so I can afford a car payment, 2) Roush gave me a deal that will work with my budget, and 3) I had Ericka helping me through the process.

Ericka Smiley is Roush's Loyalty Exchange Coordinator. I had gotten my Accord from Roush, and she was there to help ensure that I bought from them again. She set me up with my salesman, Dave McCamon. Dave's easygoing and pleasant to work with, and I certainly have no complaints. But Ericka is the real hero of this story; she made it easier in so many ways, including staying with me the entire time that Dave and I talked about what kind of car I wanted and what kind of deal we could do. She participated in the conversation, but even if she hadn't, I was grateful for her presence. Also, she offered to let me use one of their rental cars for free while I was figuring out what I wanted to do...which was not only an awesome customer service move but also saved me a lot of money.

But what took this from a great car buying experience into the realm of a new friendship was this: The night I picked up the new car, a beautiful blue 2015 Civic, right after I signed the paperwork, Ericka gave me this:

The key is the original one; the "H" emblem and the "EX" came from the car itself.

Of course, the tears came instantly. We had bonded over our losses, but I certainly had not expected something like this.

It's pretty damn awesome when doing business turns into friendship.

Ericka: You Rock!

Me and Ericka—and my sweet new ride!

"You'll Have to Tell This Without Crying"

On many weekends, I listen to one of the local NPR stations' Saturday afternoon lineup, including The Moth Radio Hour. According to its website, "The Moth is an acclaimed not-for-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling." At their events, ordinary people get up in front of an audience and tell a story about their lives.

One thing I often wonder as I listen to The Moth stories is whether I could ever tell my story there. (Telling my story—not just of my loss but also of how it has changed me—and, hopefully, inspiring others—is one of the ways I've figured I could bring good out of it. Whether I'd every truly try to tell it there is arguable, but it's something I sometimes think idly about while listening.)

The thing is: most of The Moth's stories are not only interesting but also funny. And every time I think about telling my story there, I realize, "But there's not a lot of 'funny' in my story." I mean, it might be some measure of inspiring, but...the man I was in love with and believed I'd marry and spend the rest of my life with died. And there just really isn't anything funny about that. (Maybe I just suck at finding the "funny" within it? I don't know. Two widows that I know are each working on a memoir; somehow they've found humor along the way, and they're writing about it. Kelley Lynn, a comedian, writer, actor, and performer, is working on her book, My Husband is Not a Rainbow. And author, speaker, and advocate Hyla Molander is working on Drop Dead Life: A Pregnant Widow's Heartfelt And Often Comic Memoir About Death, Birth, And Rebirth. I really have no idea how they do it.)

Anyway, one Saturday a while back, my assumption that my story would never be funny enough for The Moth started to change when I heard a replay of the story told by comedian Anthony Griffith. He told about how, at the very same time, he was both working toward (and getting) stand-up appearances on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson and dealing with the cancer that had returned to his 2-year-old daughter's body. He had to come up with a lot of "funny" during the time when he also had to provide home care for his daughter, watch cancer wreak havoc with her body, and somehow be strong for her. Tragically, she eventually passed away.

Anthony Griffith. (source)
As he tells the story, appropriately called The Best of Times, The Worst of Times (you can listen to it there), he gets choked up many times, sometimes sobs a bit, and has to pause multiple times to compose himself enough to keep going.

I listened with rapt attention. Wow, a Moth story that is not only not funny but also one in which the teller is actually crying? I guess The Moth has room for more kinds of stories than I had thought!

But after the story ended, one of the producers said that when she and the other producers were initially talking with Griffith about his sharing this story, she had told him, "You'll have to tell this without crying."

I could hardly believe my ears. They expected a bereaved father to talk about his late daughter and the cancer that took her life—and shed no tears at all?!?

Why are we so afraid of tears in our society? Why are they so often seen as a sign of weakness? Why are they seen as something to be avoided, sometimes at all costs?

The things is...tears are simply a sign of emotions that already exist; they are the body's way of expressing those emotions, of getting them out, of providing release. So—when we say to someone, "Don't cry," we're really telling them, "Don't show me your emotion. Don't be that raw, that real, that vulnerable with me." I realize that most of the time, what someone saying that probably means is, "I care about you and don't want you to be sad." But I don't think that's the message that tends to be received.

Did you know that crying is literally healing? Scientists have discovered that there are 3 kinds of tears: continuous (which keep our eyes lubricated and healthy), reflex (that happen when an irritant gets in them, like smoke, dust, or onion fumes), and emotional. And they've discovered that emotional tears contain stress hormones and other toxins, which means we're flushing them out of our bodies when we cry. They've also discovered that "crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and 'feel-good' hormones."1

I think it's high time we start making room for tears. That we start letting ourselves and those we care about be human and express whatever we and they need to express.

And it's high time we learned how to respond well when someone does so (see the video below). That we learn how to hold the space for them.

I can't help but think that the world would be a better place if we did.


1Source: Judith Orloff, M.D. The Health Benefits of Tears. Accessed October 13, 2014.

10 Things in 10 Years

September 4 was the 10th anniversary of Ron's death. Earlier this year, for International Widows Day (held annually on June 23), Soaring Spirits International asked members of its community to submit a story of something they'd accomplished post-loss that they were proud of or had never thought they'd do. And on that day, Soaring Spirits periodically shared these stories on its Facebook page as a way to celebrate widows' amazing spirits and to inspire others.

My first thought on hearing about this (and the only one for quite a while) was, "I haven't done ANYthing yet that I didn't think I'd do!" Only after pondering for a while did I realize a couple of things that did, in fact, fit that description. And in the meantime, I've thought of several other things that do as well. Why didn't I think of any of these things right off the bat? I think it's because my list of "want to's" in life is so long, and I haven't had the energy to do so many of them, that that's the first thing I think when I encounter this question. I guess in the future I'll just have to try to remember the following list. And now, without further ado, here are 10 things I've done in 10 years that, if you'd told me right after Ron's death that I'd do them, I'd never have believed you:
  1. Survive.
    Seriously, when the person you love most in the world dies, you think you're going to die, too. At least you want to. And you have to decide, moment by moment until you can do it hour by hour until you can do it day by day, that you're not going to join your beloved on the other side. Even though the only thing you wanted and still want is to be with that person. Thanks for my not doing that go in largest part to the grief support resources I discovered early on: a grief support website (no longer in existence) with a 24/7 chat room—a life saver!—and no less than 3 separate in-person support groups. For online support now, I go to Facebook groups and Widowed Village (which also has a 24/7 chat room).
  2. Date again.
    After Ron died, my thinking was: I've already had the love of my life; why would I want to do that or try for that again? What I didn't know yet was: that was just the grief talking. About 9 months after Ron's death, I met Tim....and sensed a connection with him from our very first conversation. Within a couple weeks, we were dating. I think it took that experience to show me, as nothing else probably could have, that I did in fact want to and could love again. He and I didn't last, and I haven't yet found a truly long-term relationship, but at least I know it's a possibility.
  3. At Camp Widow West 2013 (source).
    Shirt from the American Widow Project.
    Call myself a widow.
    When he died, Ron was my "boyfriend." We'd just started dating officially a couple months before. But I realized pretty quickly that "boyfriend" didn't begin to cover what he meant to me. "Dating" wasn't nearly sufficient. I began to call him my fiancé because we had talked so much about getting married; we had agreed in our hearts that we were headed for it. I truly believed that I would marry him someday. Even more than all that, though, the thing that most gave me permission to call myself "widow" was the essay The Widow's Gates by Kim Go. It opened my eyes to the historically-wider meaning of the word "widow" and more importantly, validated my unique journey. I can never thank Kim, herself a widow who was wedded, enough for writing that piece.
  4. All of us at my first Camp Widow. Can you see me? (source)
    Find and join an inclusive community through something called Camp WidowI can't remember exactly how I first heard about Camp Widow or its parent organization, Soaring Spirits (though I've racked my brain trying to!). But I'm so very glad I did. The thing that makes Soaring Spirits so meaningful to me is that anyone whose significant other died is welcome to participate in its programs—regardless of marital status, gender, age, or orientation. Of course, if it weren't so inclusive, I wouldn't be a part of it. I've been told time and again that I'm "not really a widow" because Ron and I weren't married. But that distinction doesn't matter at Soaring Spirits. The other thing that makes it so meaningful to me are the many friendships I've made through it, including some that I now hold dearest.

  5. Support other widows. If I didn't imagine calling myself a widow, I certainly couldn't have imagined supporting other widows. But in July 2010, I and one other UW started the Unwedded Widows Facebook page (for UWs and supporters), and a few years later, I added the Unwedded Widows group (for UWs only).

    In 2013, Soaring Spirits started their Regional Group program, which allows widowed people in the areas where there are groups to regularly hang out with others who "get it." And I volunteered to lead Soaring Spirits Central Ohio, which has been in existence since August of that year.

    I've gotten indications that these support avenues have been helpful for people, and I am so, so grateful that's the case.
    With some of the members of SSCO.

  6. Start 2 blogs.
    Of course, in 2004, I probably would've said, "What's a blog?" But about 5 years after Ron died, I started my other blog, Loving From the Inside Out—part of my attempt to bring good into the world out of his passing. There's still a lot more I want to do around that concept...and I'll certainly share about it when I do.
  7. With Bare Escentuals Executive Chairman Leslie Blodgett during
    her visit to our store in July, 2010 (source / credit: Photolosophys).
    Become a makeup artist.
    In June 2007, I was laid off from my full-time job as a technical communicator, the job I had when Ron died. And while being laid off was certainly no fun, if it hadn't been for that, I'd never have needed a second job to supplement the temping I was doing, and I'd never have applied at Bare Escentuals. I already used and loved the foundation and a few other products, and I thought it'd be cool to work there. And it was. But it was more than that. For the first time, I really learned how to apply makeup, something I'd never been taught growing up in a home where it was largely forbidden. And knowing how to skillfully apply makeup helped me feel more beautiful and helped me help others to do the same. And not incidentally, that job did even more for me: it provided a bright spot in my life. It helped me experience some much-needed cheerfulness and fun. It gave me something to look forward to, which I hadn't had in a long time. I will forever be grateful for my time at BE.
  8. Take long, solo car trips.
    In 2012, I wanted to go to Camp Widow East, but flying to Myrtle Beach (where East was held for the first 2 years) was so expensive, I knew I could rent a car and drive there for cheaper than the flight. And so I did, even though I couldn't find anyone to ride with me. And then in September 2013, I drove to New Jersey and back during a weekend so I could spend more time with my widowed peeps. As I've said before, it's certainly not the solo part that I love; I just don't let that part stop me. And I gained in confidence through doing it! Always a good thing.
  9. Become a LGBT ally.
    Having grown up Independent Fundamental Baptist, there was only "one" answer regarding all things LGBT, which of course was that all of it is wrong, period. I mean, it's clearly stated
    Card given to those who sign up to be allies to the Pride
    Partnership (employee group) at my company. This now
    hangs directly below my nameplate outside my cubicle.
    in the Bible, right? Well, thanks largely to my frequent readership of Rachel Held Evans' blog and other voices, I have come to have a very different opinion about that. Especially since many scholars believe that the passages that conservatives interpret as being anti-homosexuality are actually referring to pedophilia and similar forms of abuse. Also, this video was especially enlightening. But possibly the biggest thing that shifted my thinking? The simple question: When did I decide to be straight? Ohhh, right. I didn't. Plus: I don't care anymore how other people live. 'Long as they're not causing harm to self or others,...I couldn't care less. Anyway, I'm so grateful I've changed in this way. There are people in my life today who I've come to care a great deal about who wouldn't be, if I hadn't changed my mind and heart.
  10. Take up yoga.
    Well, yoga was another thing forbidden by the IFB. The conservative Christian "party line," as I've heard it, is that yoga comes out of Hinduism and is therefore evil and that you're a) worshiping Hindu gods when you assume certain poses and b) inviting demons into your body and life when you sound an "om." I've even heard that "om" is the name of a specific demon. (How anybody would even "know" that, I have no idea.) Well, I now find all of that to be patently ridiculous. Worshiping is an act of the will; it's not like you can accidentally worship something. And as for "om"? A very experienced yoga teacher, when I asked what the deal with "om" was, said that the word itself doesn't mean anything; sounding it is just a way to experience vibration in the belly, chest, and head. I started practicing in June of this year, and I've come to love going to class. I've begun to see inklings of a difference it is making in my life, and that is very cool.

  11.  And...a bonus one (since this one didn't occur until just after the 10-year mark passed): Have my own website. I don't remember when I first had the idea of having my own site, but it may've been because my old Internet service provider included some free website space with every account. I'd learned a little HTML in my work as a technical communicator, so I created one on that platform, but it was pretty rudimentary. It did, however, tell the story of Ron and me. Later, when I changed ISPs, that site went away. Then sometime within the last couple years, I discovered Wix, which allows people to create their own professional looking site without having to do any coding. And after a lot of thought and hard work, I finally have a site that I'm proud of and that once again tells my and Ron's story. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...conniewinch.com:

    So there you have it. Come to think of it,...I've done a lot! 

Letter to Heaven

September 4, 2014

Dear Ron,

Today it has been 10 years since you left this earth. When I first realized that it would be 10 years soon, that seemed impossible to believe. How could it possibly be 10 years since I saw this sweet face?

The first photo I ever saw of you.

But what I have realized is that in no way does that amount of time—or any amount of time—alter the fact that you and your love changed my life forever.

Little did I know, on a date I can't even pinpoint much less remember, when I joined a site called christiancafe.com, that I would encounter and eventually fall in love with the sweetest man I have ever known. Little did I know, when I went into the chat room. Little did I know, when we had our first private chat. When we started chatting outside of the site. When we started talking on the phone. As I drove to the meetup where we first laid eyes on each other. Through all the fun we had, alone and with the rest of the group, throughout that gathering.

I shall never forget that moment in my apartment when the thought that you'd be leaving the next morning brought tears unexpectedly to my eyes. I shall never forget that when I asked if you ever thought about us as more than friends, you said you'd been thinking about that for a long time. I shall never forget how we dreamed together about the future. When we officially became a couple. That time in the hot tub. The moments you first said "I love you" to me and when I first said it to you.

Thank you for loving me. You were such a bright spot in my life. Your love helped me see myself more as lovable. You proved to me that not all men are the same. You accepted me exactly as I was and weren't put off by the knowledge of what was in my past. You called me your beautiful lady and other names too special to share.

I'm also so very grateful that I got to be the one to love you to the very end of your life. To love you in a way that I suspect you might not have been loved before. To love you from the inside out. I'm so glad I got to the point where I could say to you—and really mean it—that the weight didn't matter to me. I knew and cared about you, the real you, the person inside. And when you said you were trying to lose weight for my sake, because "I'd want you to be proud of the man you'd married," well, that melted my heart. And of course it broke my heart that we never got to fulfill that dream.

But you are a part of me. You will always be a part of me. No amount of time will ever change that fact.

As I'm certain you know, I've faced opposition for calling myself your widow, for continuing to speak of and honor you as I have throughout the years. But no one else was in that relationship besides me and you. I'm the only one left on the planet who knows what it was really like between us. And because I know how we were, because I know what we'd planned, because love is worth honoring, and because grief does not just go away: I will always honor you and our love. I will continue to identify as widowed and will support other widows as long as I live.

You are one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I can never thank you enough for coming into my life, for being your sweet self, and for loving me.

I loved you then, I love you now, I will love you forever.


In Loving Memory: Stephen "Steve" Kersten: May 24, 1965–July 5, 2014

Dear Steve,

I wrote the above and then have stared at the blank rest of the page many times, because I hardly know where to begin.

It was my good fortune to work with you for seven years. And when I think of all the colleagues I've had over the years, you are definitely in the favorites category. Early in my time at the company, we were in different departments, and our interaction was relatively limited. But I remember even from that time that you were unfailingly helpful and of good humor. During your "unscheduled break" from the company, you gave of your time and knowledge to help me understand tasks that then fell to me, which was certainly above and beyond the call of duty. I remember how excited I was when I learned you were returning and would be joining our department. And I even got to sit across the aisle from you for quite a while after that. We shared many good conversations and much laughter, not to mention a shared love of Celine. You added so much enthusiasm, passion, knowledge, and fun into our days.

And when my Ron died, you were an understanding presence in the workplace, something that is rarer than I even understood at first. While I wouldn't wish firsthand knowledge of real grief on anyone, I was grateful to have someone nearby who got it.

I regret that I didn't keep in touch after I myself left the company, and that therefore, I didn't get to tell you about the changes in me that have happened since then. But I believe that you know about them now, as I believe that spirits who pass to the other side of the veil can hear when we speak to them (which is why I speak to you now and of you in the present tense). I hope that you are proud of and grateful for the ways in which my mind and heart have changed.

And now I'd like to say a few words to those who love you most—your partner, your family, and your dearest friends: The thing is: there are no words. There are no words adequate to encapsulate this experience. There are no words that make this better. Words may be powerful, but they are not that powerful. All I can say that I hope can serve as a tiny candle lit in the darkest of dark rooms is this: Love never dies. It is my hope that the love you had and have for him and he for you will sustain you in the days to come. Long live love.

Steve, you enriched my life and the lives of everyone who knew you. I will always be grateful for that, and I will never, ever forget you.

In Defense of a Little Social Media

So there's this video that made the Internet rounds last week. Ironically as you'll see, I wouldn't know about it without social media, as I saw it posted on Facebook several times early last week.

It's a spoken word performance by a young man named Gary Turk, with accompanying scenes, all about how we should all stop paying so much attention to...social media. It has been viewed over 35 million times on YouTube.

The video could be summed up with this statement: "This media we call social is anything but, when we open our computers and it's our doors we shut."

And he's right, of course. Many of us are way too glued to our devices, reading things other people have typed, viewing pictures other people have posted—and not spending time with those people. Typing out things about our lives—and not calling or hanging out with anyone.

And do I do this too? Yes, yes I do. (I even have multiple Twitter accounts, for crying out loud.) Oh, and he pegged me with that girl sitting on her bed. I do that daily, for far too many hours.

But here's the thing: Social media has often been a lifeline for me. On too many nights and weekends to count, when I didn't have the wherewithal to do much else, social media allowed me to feel connected, at least in some small way, to hundreds of people I might never have kept up with otherwise.

Just some of the people I'm grateful to have discovered
through social media. L to R, top: David Haward,
Rachel Held Evans; bottom: Addie Zierman, Jim Palmer.
And—it has broadened my horizons in amazing ways. Without it I might never have discovered some voices that have been welcome influences on my thinking. People like:
And those are just some that come to mind right away. There are many more.

Some of the specific examples Turk uses of the ills of social media also just aren't true across the board. For example, he says that "...we all share our best bits but leave out the emotion" and "We edit and exaggerate, crave adulation. We pretend not to notice the social isolation. We put our words into order until our lives our glistening. We don't even know if anyone is listening."

I'm sure there are many people who share only the good things in their lives. People who are (consciously or unconsciously) crafting a "happy, shiny" persona on social media, probably, at least in part, because of our culture's obsession with avoiding or suppressing "negative" experiences and emotions. Well, I am not one of those people. I don't post every sad thought or emotion, but I don't eliminate my experiences with and emotions related to depression, loss, and grief—among other things—from my social media postings. Why? Because that edited version of me would not be real. Far from it. And I would rather deal with my own and others' reality—even the sad realities—than live in a world where everyone is fake.

And for me, nothing could be further from the truth than,"We pretend not to notice the social isolation." You can bet I notice when I don't have the energy to go out and be with people and when I go home to an empty apartment every single day. And again, I don't pretend otherwise.

Toward the end of the video, starting with where he says, "Be there in the moment, as she gives you the look that you remember forever as the time love overtook," there's a montage of a guy spending time with his girlfriend, getting engaged, starting a family, seeing kids grow, becoming a grandparent, and holding the hand of and kissing his elderly wife before her heart's final beat. And the implication seems to be: Disconnect from social media, and you'll have romance, family, and a long life. Well I've got news for him: nothing guarantees those things happening. Being more present may make them more likely and if they do happen, more successful, but it can't make them happen.

I've left for last what may be the single best benefit of social media in my life: through it, I and thousands of others who've lost the one we intended to spend the rest of our lives with have been able to find community and support. The very thing Turk says is driving us all apart has actually facilitated the coming together of these people to bond—incredibly—over shared experience and to help each other know that we are not alone. That knowledge and that bond can be life changing.

The Soaring Spirits community—hope personified.

So...here's to a little social media. How 'bout we just incorporate a little balance into our use of it?

Oh—and then there's this:

Just sayin'.

2013: A Year in Review

One of my favorites of the shots I took in 2013.

At the end of 2012, I talked about the good things I'd accomplished that year. This post will be more about the significant things that happened during 2013, whether they were good or...not so. The year was...rather eventful, on both sides.

Starting even before 2013 and lasting through April was uncertainty about whether I'd be retaining my job. My company was converting a bunch of contract positions (one of which I was in), but each contractor had to apply and interview for their own job. Fortunately, I was hired as a full-time employee in April.

In January I started dating. If you know me and are shocked to hear this, it's because we didn't tell a lot of people. There were some legitimate reasons for that, not the least of which is that we met at work (and at first were even in the same department) and didn't want it to be a big deal there. The relationship held real long-term promise...I thought...until May, when I was dumped (by Facebook message, 3 days before my birthday).

After that happened, I realized that here I am, 44 years old, and I've never been in a significant relationship where the official dating portion lasted any longer than about 6 months. A fact that frankly kicks my ass. You can bet this is a subject I'll be bringing up in therapy, which I intend to start again this year.

Also happening during the first few months of the year was a health scare that I won't detail. Suffice it to say I feared I might have breast cancer. Turned out it was just a scare, but gawd, was that stressful.

February brought the devastating news that my doctor, Dr. Joseph "Doc Joe" Franz, had passed away. He was more than a doctor to me; he was like family. I still miss him and always will.

In April and June I enjoyed Camp Widow East and West.

The photo on the right represents a bit of a triumph for me. I'd gotten that gorgeous dress—the first time I'd worn a fancy dress to a Camp Widow banquet. (The other times I wore either a casual dress or a fancy top—one of which you see in the photo on the left—with dressy pants.) Anyway, I worried that this dress would accentuate certain parts of myself that I didn't exactly what to highlight. So I'd brought a black wrap to wear with it. But when I was otherwise ready to go to the banquet, I thought...forget it. I'm just going to go in this dress. And own it. And that's what I did.

I mean, this is the body I have. And it ain't all bad. And—maybe it'd be good if I loved it a little more. But, having said all that...I've seen other pictures of myself from that night (the ones where I forgot to suck in my gut, if I'm being perfectly honest with you), and...I can't help it: I don't like some of what I see. Clearly, I still struggle with this body image thing, and one moment of "owning it" doesn't change that. I mean: how do you love your body and still wish you could change parts of it at the same time? But—I digress...a topic for another time.

Also at Camp Widow West, I gave free makeup applications for the banquet to 2 people whose names we drew out of a hat. And I bought this necklace, personalized with Ron's initials:
The Classic Initial necklace
by Urban Sparrow Designs.
In July I became a Regional Group Leader for Soaring Spirits International and created Soaring Spirits Central Ohio, which provides local community to widowed people through regular social events.

Some of the members of SSCO

In August I joined my other siblings in traveling to Minnesota to help our sister Becky celebrate her (milestone) birthday. Without a doubt the best moment was when she opened her gift from us—a new laptop!

In September, on the anniversary of Ron's passing, I hosted a virtual event in his honor. On Facebook and Widowed Village I asked my widowed friends to share the story of how their life was changed by having their loved one in it, along with a photo of the two of them. I was simply blown away by all of the amazing stories. If you want to be moved and inspired, click on the picture below (and scroll down past the event description). Long Live Love.

Later that month, on a Friday night after work, I drove to New Jersey to attend a weekend-long widowed gathering hosted by my friend Arnie (on the left, below). I had a bit of an adventure in that I didn't find his street until around 2AM and couldn't find his house at all, so I got a hotel room for that night. But overall the weekend was a blast, and I'm glad I went. There's nothing like the bond between widowed people, and I try to experience it as often as I'm able to.

Arnie and his mom, Marion, who are both widowed
My friend Kelley Lynn and I at Arnie's
In October I met Rachel Held Evans, a Christian author and blogger that I've admired for a long time. She spoke at a church in Louisville, KY, which is the closest she's been since I became a fan, so I drove there to hear her speak and meet her. (Apparently, long, solo car trips are what I do now. 'Course I don't do them because I love the "solo" part but because I want to do whatever it is, and I'm not letting the solo part stop me. And—it's nice to know..."I can do this!") After I tweeted her links to the pictures I'd taken and to my post about meeting her (above), she retweed it, and that post quickly became my most-read post of all time—by a factor of at least 4. Amazing. The following Sunday, in her Sunday Superlatives post, she mentioned having met me, included a link to my post and this picture.

December brought another sad loss. My uncle, Wayne Price, passed from this life, claimed by the cancer he suffered for nearly a year. Wayne was one of the kindest, most accepting, and most caring men I've ever known. He will surely be missed.

So there you have it—my 2013: some things I hope never happen again but also some things I'm glad happened. Here's hoping for an even better 2014.

* * *

My favorite books I read during the year:
My most popular posts of the year:
  1. Rachel Held Evans and Me
  2. "I Want to Live"
  3. Books That Made a Difference:
    When We Were on Fire
  4. Camp Widow East 2013: The Same and Yet So Different
  5. The Mighty Warrior Who Advises the King
  6. R.I.P. Joseph "Doc Joe" Franz,
    June 17, 1952 - January 22, 2013

Evolving in Monkey Town, Part 1: On Slants and Evolution

"I would like to beg of you, dear friend, as well as I can,
to have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart.
Try to love the questions themselves,
like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language.
Do not now look for the answers.
They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them.
It is a question of experiencing everything.
At present you need to live the question.
Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it,
find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day." 
-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet1

* * *

Note: This post is part of my occasional series Books That Made a Difference.

As I've said before, I don't remember exactly when or how I first discovered Rachel Held Evans. And I don't remember how I first heard about her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town. I just know that at the time, I didn't really know what it was about; I'd just heard about it and was intrigued. Maybe I'd caught wind of some controversy around it? Seems likely. Anyway, it's fair to say I bought it mostly out of curiousity. By then I was quite familiar with Rachel through her blog and just really loved how she espoused what I'll call a different kind of Christianity. By which I mean a (very) different kind  from the kind I inherited.

And as it turns out, that's what the book is about—that different kind of Christianity and how Rachel transitioned to it...as the back cover says, "from certainty, through doubt, to faith...." I could talk here about how, for me growing up, practically everything was about certainty—it is fundamentalism's core; certainty and faith were the same thing. But...I would be getting ahead of myself.

The book's title is a takeoff from the fact that Rachel's town, Dayton, TN, was the site of the famous Scopes "monkey trial" of 1925.

This book has been so eye-opening for me, I knew I had to write about it. So in this and in future posts I'll be sharing my thoughts on it.

* * * 

In the Preface, Rachel shares a series of things about herself to let the reader in on the "slant" she brings to Christian faith and the Bible. Which is great, because I think everyone brings their own slant, as much as many would like to claim otherwise. Some of them are amusing, like, "The Stuff White People Like blog is painfully representative of my lifestyle and habits" (page 13). Some are serious, like, "I'm judgmental of people I think are judgmental" (page 13) and this set: "I've been hurt by Christians" and "As a Christian, I've been hurtful" (page 14). I love that she included those last few, because they're real, honest, and humble. Who isn't at least somewhat judgmental? (Brené Brown says, "We all do it [judge others] and most of us do it all the time."2) And it can be really easy to talk about how you've been hurt, without acknowledging that you've dished it out too.

Near the end of the preface, Rachel says,
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm not exactly an impartial observer. My culture, my childhood, my gender, my prejudices, my hopes, my imagination, my virtues, and my vices—these things color my view of the world and infuse it with meaning. I've got baggage just like everyone else, and it's as much a part of my faith journey as the high peaks, the low valleys, and the long, lovely stretches of road that I wish could go on forever.

I'm a lot of things, but fair and balanced I am not. (page 14)
And again, I would say: who is?

My first real "Whoa" moment came with the title of the Introduction, "Why I Am an Evolutionist." At this point, I am not an evolutionist. But then again, origins is not one of the things I've specifically re-examined yet. Creationism (of the literal, 6-day variety) was pounded into me in my fundy upbringing and evangelical college. Of course. What else would a good Christian believe? A particular standout in my memory is a "Back to Genesis" seminar put on at my college by people from the Institute for Creation Research. At that time, Ken Ham was among them (he is now the Answers in Genesis guy). He had a whole session, which I believe was called "Creation Evangelism," where he posited that the entire Christian story is based on a literal interpretation of the events in Genesis. And that otherwise...the whole thing falls apart. And I bought that; I bought it hard.

Rachel relates that, like me, she was "...told that belief in evolutionary theory and belief in a personal, loving Creator are mutually exclusive, that if the Bible cannot be trusted to accurately explain the origins of life, it cannot be trusted for anything at all, and the Christian faith is lost" (page 16). And now...here she, an evangelical-raised (no less) Christian, is boldly declaring she's an evolutionist. What am I supposed to do with that? If Christianity and evolution are fundamentally incompatible, what of Christians who believe in evolution?

Honestly, I have no idea.  In any case, I'm no longer inclined to be judgmental (see what I did there?) toward people based on how they believe on this topic.

Now, to be fair, she seems to hold that position less strongly than the Introduction's title might lead us to believe. Witness this passage:
Monkeys make me nervous. Whenever I hear about chimpanzees solving math problems or Koko the Gorilla using sign language to order her breakfast, I feel inexplicably threatened by their humanlike qualities and intelligence.... I suppose my monkey-phobia has something to do with the sneaking suspicion that maybe the biologists are right after all. Maybe man and ape share a common ancestor, and that explains our eerie similarities. (pages 15 & 16)
I like that she admits that. I've had similar thoughts (though I was probably so disturbed by the implications, that I didn't even form them into actual words in my head). I mean, if we're not related to chimpanzees, for example, how come we share so much genetic material? Ponder that one for a while.

And then there's this one:
I'm still not sure what to make of evolution. Scientists have perfectly good evidence to support it, while theologians have good biblical and philosophical reasons to be wary of its implications.

However, I have a feeling that if Darwin turns out to be right, the Christian faith won't fall apart after all. (page 16)
And that is a conclusion I can live with.

As the Introduction continues, Rachel talks about why she believes that to be the case and about what kind of evolutionist she really is. But that is topic enough for its own post, so stay tuned for part 2.


1I owe the discovery of this quote to author (and incidentally a high school mate of mine) Elissa Elliott; I first saw it on her website. Elissa's book is Eve: A Novel, which is fantastic.
2Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't) (New York: Gotham Books, 2007), 38.
© A Road Less Traveled

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