Living In Tennessee

California Life, Faith, Living In Tennessee, Married Life

Pursuing Peace & Joy Inexpressible

I cannot count how many times I have settled down with my journal to pour out my frustrations and dashed dreams, and within a span of a few pages, find my writing shift into something like praise. It’s not because I’m holy or somehow divinely inspired. It’s because God shows up, time and time again, and speaks truth to my heart as I write. I recognize God’s voice by the sense of peace that comes along with it. It’s the sense that I am moving towards joy.

It was October 8, 2016 and our small business was slowly failing. The pressure of constantly meeting payroll, and rent for four commercial spaces, and the $10,000 metal print supply order that we had to place nearly every month, felt increasingly oppressive. I was homeschooling my two children and had a toddler. We were also residential landlords and land owners. The responsibilities were overwhelming.

A babysitter was coming so Rich and I could celebrate our wedding anniversary a day late. Neither of us felt like celebrating, but knew we should. We had limited funds, and decided on our favorite cheap date: a day in Yosemite Valley. We’d have the drive up to Yosemite and back to talk, and in between the drives we knew we could find someplace beautiful to wander.

That morning, I sat on the porch swing on our front porch with my Bible and told God I was sick of the stress of the business. I missed my sisters and extended family. I was tired of not having a church where our kids could learn and grow. I was exhausted from homeschooling, and the idea of continuing into high school felt overwhelming. I prayed an, “I’m at the end of myself, save us now!” kind of prayer…and then got ready to go to Yosemite.

We were exhausted and stressed driving up towards the valley, and as always, our conversation turned towards our business. Rich had ideas on how to downsize and streamline our services. We sat eating sandwiches, somewhat numb to the beautiful vista, and thought up new business plans.

We kept driving, and parked near El Capitan meadow. We walked east, and found ourselves in a part of the meadow where we’d never been, though we’d been walking in that area for 18 years. Suddenly Rich looked at me and said, “I think we’re supposed to sell our house. I think we need to sell our house and move back to our little blue house.”

I agreed. The cost of having a larger home was draining our pocketbook, and it seemed wise to downsize our living expenses so we could shore up our savings.

He continued, “We need to downsize because I think something big is about to happen.” 

My heartbeat picked up in excitement, and I felt like he was speaking truth I already knew, but hadn’t verbalized yet. “I agree!”

“I think God is going to move us. I think he’s going to move us to a city of some sort.”

I nodded, my spirit perking up like a dry plant drinking in fresh rain, as these words poured out of Rich’s mouth and into my ears.

“Suse, I think he’s going to move us to Nashville.”

Nashville? Rich had never been to Nashville. 

“I don’t know about Nashville, but I agree…I think God is about to do something. It’s like we’re on the cusp of a big change.”

October 8, 2016, the night we learned we were moving to Nashville. A candlelit dinner with a view of a pickup truck in the window sets the scene in Mariposa, California.

And just like that, the weight of the business; the worry; the angst that had plagued us for months lifted as God gave us a new vision, and a new dream. We spent the rest of the night feeling giddy and in love with each other, and with life. We had an amazing dinner at a little restaurant in a neighboring small town, wondering at what the future held, and for the first time in a long time, we felt a sense of freedom.

“And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” 1 Peter 1:7

It’s the rush of  inexpressible joy that keeps me coming back to Jesus, time and time again. That’s what we felt that day in Yosemite. 

And the time when we drove home after Rich’s cancer diagnosis, and stopped the car to look at the thousands of stars in the dark mountain sky and suddenly felt full of joy and peace, even though Rich was so sick and the prognosis wasn’t good.

And when our son was in the NICU after being intubated because he stopped breathing for unknown reasons, and Rich came into the hospital room with his face beaming because God had inexpressibly spoken to His heart and given him sudden peace and joy while sitting in the hospital courtyard.

Though I’ve experienced God’s peace in these trying times, one of my favorite places to find God’s joy is in the mundane moments. It’s so unexpected, and such evidence of His constant presence. I recently took walk by myself around our neighborhood. It was twilight and the sun had set. Bunnies were out collecting bites of flowers, and the robins were twittering. I began thinking about my friends far away. I was missing their faces, and praying for them, and my mood shifted from melancholy to being suddenly full of joy…joy inexpressible, as I walked in the middle of a typical suburban subdivision in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

These circumstances; this inexpressible and unexpected peace and joy, is living proof that God is present in all situations. He is constantly working good on our behalf, even when the circumstances are hard. Hard times cause us to lean on Him more fully, and to be more aware of Him and His voice…which refines us. The truth is that sometimes, to be rebuilt, things need to be torn down. Businesses close. Marriages fail. Relationships sever. But God is not done. He is still writing our stories.

“So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable even though tested by fire; may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:6’

I’m 3.5 years past that prayer on my porch swing. We never moved back into our little blue house, but God did move us to Nashville, where I have a fulfilling job working at a ministry. My kids are in excellent public schools. We found a church that has stretched us and grown us, with the teaching perfectly coming alongside us as we began to rebuild our lives. Rich is pursuing his dreams in new ways that are inspiring both of us. It’s a good new life.

Are things perfect? No. There is a lot that is hard about this time. It’s possible to see blessings as curses sometimes…which leads me back to my journal, so He can transform the feelings in my heart into joy inexpressible, once again.

 

Faith, Living In Tennessee, Mom Life, Work

A New Plan: Be Hope

“Where do you work?”

This simple question has a way of turning into a serious discussion, when you work for a nonprofit organization.

“I work for an organization that fights the sex trade in Cambodia,” the woman said to me.

Just like that, the small talk was over, because how do you say something trite like, “How interesting!” when you realize that someone is taking their very best talents and applying it to helping…truly helping…helpless people?

She told me American businessmen go to Cambodia to have sex with children. When the founder of her organization first went to Cambodia, a little boy ran up to the plane and tried to sell his sister for sex.

“The couple who founded the organization…they came back to America and knew they had to try to do SOMETHING, so she started our organization,” she told me in a calm, even voice. I could tell she had this conversation all of the time. That the story no longer shocked her because fighting the horrid reality was a part of her daily life.

A man joined our small circle, and I asked, “How about you? Where do you work?

“I work for a nonprofit that provides beds to orphans in Uganda.”

Orphans in Uganda.

I found my vocabulary to be limited, and my ability to share stories to be non-existent. So I just listened, and asked questions, and felt somehow like I had stepped onto foreign, holy ground…ground Christened with the time and talents of people who gave up pursuing monetary riches, for pursuing something profoundly deeper.

I didn’t expect this.

As far as I knew, my afternoon was going to be spent attending an HR conference on harassment, and how to protect your organization. It sounded like a dry meeting, and I was more excited about the Starbucks latte I bought on the way than attending the actual class.

I learned a few things from the class, but what I learned most came from listening to the other participants. Within the first five minutes, I felt something change in my heart…and as I walked out of the church where the meeting took place, I knew something had fundamentally shifted in my life focus.

For twenty years, I spent my time and talents growing a business. I was aggressively pursuing and living the dream my husband and I had set out to achieve…working for ourselves; traveling; having a solid income to provide for our family; being able to afford a house, a business and all of the things that go with it. We had built a life that provided us with a huge amount of control over our family and our time.

When that life faded away, I was left wondering what God’s next plan was for us; for me; for our children.

That day at the HR conference, I felt the solid confirmation that I was meant to be working in a Christian nonprofit. That God had put me in the exact place, for His exact purpose, in this exact time for a reason. I felt profoundly grateful to have a job where I am paid to help carry out His plans and His blessings for our community. Instead of investing my time and talents in growing riches, I want to lavishly invest it in helping people who cannot help themselves. I want to be hope, and light and an answer to someone’s prayer.

This road is not easy.

I don’t have control over my family the way I did before…which means I am learning how to trust God; that He loves my children even more than I do, and He has a unique plan for each of them, that is NOT ALL ABOUT ME, and my dreams for them…

As I drive to work each day in NASCAR traffic; or walk across the parking lot at work and look at the large storage silos of the concrete company across the street, I wonder HOW THE HECK DID I GET TO NASHVILLE, and WHY AM I HERE? I miss the mountains, the dramatic beauty and MY FRIENDS!

I always envisioned myself being at home with my kids while they were growing up…I honestly didn’t expect this plot twist, half way through parenthood…

But I also didn’t expect that half way through my life, my eyes would be opened to the world’s great need in such a dramatic and undeniable way. I feel like I have only seen the smallest glimpse of the amount of true need in this world, and it leaves me breathless. Truly, the harvest is great, but the workers are few.

Matthew 9:37-38 “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”

My plan is to be one of those workers, wherever God sends me.

 

Living In Tennessee, Work

Surprising Gifts That Came From Owning a Business

I used to say I didn’t have a single entrepreneurial bone in my body. I was brought into business ownership when I married Rich…a guy with extreme independence, unique talent and big dreams. I fought incapacitating anxiety as we bade our small-but-consistent paychecks goodbye to launch our first business.

I was 25 years old, starting a business with my (fairly) new husband, in a male-dominated industry, in a small California town where we essentially knew nobody. It was lonely, and scary, and I spent way too much time alone with my husband and three cats, creating websites for photographers using the early HTML builders that were available in the late 1990s.

We worked constantly, building websites and pursuing fine art photographic printmaking, steadily adding more and more well-known landscape photographers to our roster of clients. Within a year, we were moving the business out of our house, into a commercial space, hiring employees and taking out leases to buy expensive pieces of production equipment.

The risk, lack of certainty, and financial insecurity of early business ownership led me to Jesus pretty darned quickly. My reliance on God as my provider and counselor is the only thing that has kept my always-beckoning anxiety in check, every single day of my life ever since. It’s also the ONLY thing that gave me hope as our first business crumbled out of our hands in 2017.

As we closed down that business, I vowed I would never own another business. It was too uncertain…there was too much risk. We had taken the first half of our professional lives and devoted it to something that evaporated seemingly overnight.

I dreamt of having a job with a solid paycheck and benefits. A job where someone else could do the worrying about making payroll every two weeks, or buying the never-ending list of supplies a business requires. I wanted a job where I could just be an employee…and leave the tough decision making to someone else. So God led me to that job, and that’s what I’ve been pursing ever since. There is something amazing about not having to pay my own healthcare for the first time in 20 years…but working for someone else has shown me a few truths about myself, as well.

It turns out I have solid business instincts. After co-steering my business for 20 years, I instinctively know truths about business, stewarding employees and navigating challenging situations. When you live for two decades with professional challenges presenting themselves on a daily basis, you grow used to upheaval, reorganization and change. It turns out, not being fazed by this is actually a skill.

I’ve also recognized that dreaming up new ideas is a fundamental part of who I am now. A program or product isn’t working? People aren’t happy? We need to change something fundamental to the business? Let’s throw away, “How we’ve always done it,” and invent a new wheel. I’m discovering that NOT having a fear of change, and having a heart to tackle problems head-on, is a rare thing, indeed.

The last thing I told my husband I would NEVER do again, when we closed our business, was bookkeeping and payroll. It’s a never-ending job. If you leave it alone for a day or two, you are greeted by piles of work when you return. Imagine my surprise when the job God led me to in Nashville was the Accounting and HR manager of a Christian nonprofit, where I do bookkeeping and payroll. The amazing thing is that He’s given me a heart to ENJOY reworking and updating the ministry’s books to meet its growing needs. If you knew how truly burned out I was after closing our business, you would see that’s nothing short of a miracle.

I’ve discovered that being an employee for the first time in 20 years is both liberating and frustrating. In our business, my husband and I would often make large decisions together, then we would quickly implement those changes. In a nonprofit, you can’t make decisions independently… it just doesn’t work (plus, you would upset a lot of people). Learning to collaborate in a new way has been both challenging and rewarding, as I see my ideas refined by others…and vice versa.

The essential truth I’m learning from all of this is that each life experience truly does prepare you for the next. Life’s persistent details add up into new character traits like steadfastness, patience, self-control and trust in God…if you approach them with a heart ready to learn, grow, get broken and heal. It’s a cycle that builds something tough and strong…and though my business no longer exists after 20 years, I’m enjoying the fruit of it in new ways, as I pursue an entirely new path with the skills it gave me.

Living In Tennessee, Work

My Not-So-Stinky Commute

Many events stop traffic on my morning commute: Crossing guards in the school zone; Parents dropping off their kids; An occasional accident…But few things have been more memorable than the day a skunk stopped traffic on the corner of Old Fort and Veterans Parkways.

I was sitting patiently at the intersection, munching on my Cheerios and waiting for the impossibly long light to turn green. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a black-and-white animal, ambling down the road, completely oblivious to the lines of traffic directly in front of it. I had been waiting at the light for a good 30 seconds, and as I anticipated the light turning green, the skunk decided it was a fine time to prance in front of the lines of stopped traffic.

What do you do, when a skunk walks in front of you, and you are driving the lead car in a long line of traffic? Do you accelerate into it, hold your breath, and hope he decides not to spray you? Or do you sit and watch patiently, knowing that the cars behind you will begin laying into their horns with each passing second?

I glanced at the driver next to me, who was leaning over his steering wheel, staring at the road in disbelief, a smirk of a smile in the corner of his mouth. I caught his eye, wrinkled my eyebrows as if to say, “What do we do?” And he chuckled and shrugged his shoulders.

So we sat. And we watched the skunk make his merry way across the six lanes of traffic, back into the intersection, into oncoming traffic (oh no, oh no, oh no!!!!) and miraculously into a neighboring yard.

The skunk survived. The light turned green (amazingly, it didn’t turn green while we were watching the skunk…I told you it was a long light)…and we continued on to work.

That intersection has become one of my morning favorites…stopped at that light, I find myself next to business people, young moms, truck drivers, and other random characters, all a bit groggy, slurping their coffee and crunching on random breakfast bits. It’s an odd camaraderie; a place of daily life; and sometimes, like that morning, a place of unexpected grace…for the skunk, and for us.

Faith, Living In Tennessee

Learning To Embrace The Fall

A few months ago, I began attending the Mostly Mom’s Bible study at World Outreach Church. As I settled in that first day, I discovered the group was beginning a new study called,  Jonah: Navigating a Life Interrupted by Pricilla Schirer. It was uncanny timing…our lives had just been completely interrupted…and for the past six months we had been calling Tennessee our Nineveh. I sat there, stunned, as I realized this Bible study was EXACTLY WHERE I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE.

In October 2016, when Rich and I heard from God that we would be moving to Nashville, we thought it would take a few years. We weren’t quite sure how God was going to accomplish moving us, and our business, and liquidate the abundant life we created in California, so we could actually move to Tennessee. We had a few ideas of how it would all come together, and we figured we needed some time to discern if it was ACTUALLY GOD telling us to go.

We came up with a plan: We would sell our house; use the equity in our home to solidify some struggling aspects of our business; save money for a few years…then move our entire lives to Nashville…or something like that…maybe…

As the weeks went by, we prepared to sell our house, and the business went from a slow descent, to a rapid spiral, into serious debt. Month after month of losses add up quickly, when you are running a small business with a staff who needs paychecks every other week. The ship sunk suddenly and decisively. By March, it was clear that God wasn’t going to move our business, or even most of our belongings to Nashville…He was just going to move us. Very soon.

We entertained moving to other places we loved…Mammoth Lakes, California…Monterey, California…Cocoa Beach, Florida…even the small town where we grew up, Perrysburg, Ohio…but there was a mental block with every single place. The only door that seemed to be open in our minds and spirits was Nashville.

When Rich’s mom voiced the idea of moving to to her town for a little while, Rich said, “We can’t be like Jonah. When God told him to go to Nineveh and he didn’t, things didn’t go too well for him. We were told to go to Nashville, not Perrysburg. So that’s where we have to go.”

So that’s what we did.

Not long after the move, I found myself in this Bible study about navigating your life when there are interruptions…some big (like closing down your business and moving across the country); some small (like children interrupting while I’m trying to write an article). We all have plans and ideas and thoughts about how life is supposed to go. But God doesn’t work according to our plans and purposes. We aren’t God. Instead of seeing these events as “interruptions,” Shirer says we should work to see them as “Divine Interventions.” God Himself takes our life and puts something smack dab in the middle of it where we didn’t expect, so we can learn to lean on Him, follow Him, grow, and refocus on the work He created us to do.

But I still felt it wasn’t supposed to be this way.

I wondered if we heard God wrong, when we felt his leading during the last year of our business. Every step seemed like it might be the missing key that would unglue us from the business’s descent…but it didn’t. The business still died.

I felt a lot like Jonah at the end of his story. The Ninevites LISTENED TO JONAH, and repented. God had mercy on them and spared their city…but instead of being thankful, Jonah got mad at God, because it’s not what he wanted God to do.

“But to Jonah (God sparing the Ninevites) seemed wrong, and he became very angry” Jonah 4:1

These past months, I’ve had an undercurrent of anger, and an inkling of distrust echoing in my mind. How can I keep following God, if the outcome isn’t what I expected? How do I even know that I am hearing from God, and not making things up? Will He really follow through, and provide us with a way to make a living here, or are we just chasing a new dream that will also fall apart?

I love what God tells Jonah, in response to his outburst:

“The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Jonah knew first hand about God’s faithfulness and grace. The book of Jonah starts with Jonah not listening to God. He was thrown into a raging sea, and instead of drowning, a fish eats him, then spits him out three days later onto a beach…After that ordeal, Jonah FINALLY decided to listen to God, delivered the message God gave him to the Ninevites…the Ninevites LISTENED TO HIM…then Jonah was mad at God.

It’s so much like me.

The outcome for our business isn’t what I expected, but God has provided mightily in His own way for the Seiling family. We sold both of our houses; we sold our business brands; He provided the means to move across the country and rent a house in a nice neighborhood; He put our kids in a good school, and gave them peace as they transitioned from home school to public school. He gave us amazing and unexpected peace during the entire transition. Very few cross words were spoken between Rich and I…instead, we were given tremendous grace for each other as we lived out the difficulty of the past year. I’ve been given an excellent perspective on all that we had…and all that we really didn’t need. I’ve seen the homeless people on the street, and have a new understanding of how quickly homelessness can happen…it still could happen, truly, to any of us.

I have a new understanding about how it is by God’s grace alone that we all stand…and that same grace can provide us with deep peace when we fall…and WE WILL ALL FALL.

We think that falling is the worst thing that can happen to us, and do everything possible to prevent it. When a friend or acquaintance falls, we analyze what went wrong, and what choices we would make to spare ourselves from the same pain. But ultimately we all fall, and oftentimes completely unexpectedly. I am learning that what matters is how I react WHEN I fall. I can choose to become bitter, jaded and disgruntled…or see it as a path to learning a better way to live. I can choose to be mad at God, or lean into Him in a new way, realizing that His ways are not my ways, and sometimes things don’t make sense, because I don’t have the big picture. I’ve found that, choosing to trust leads directly to unexpected peace and contentment…and that’s a lot better than where anger leads me.

God didn’t answer my prayer to save our business, but He did honor a greater prayer; one I’ve prayed since I became a Christian shortly after launching our business: That our business would thrive as long as He wanted us to pursue it. For 18 years, the business flourished…then in the 19th year, God Himself shut the doors. We fell.

We fell out of the business, out of California, and into the next chapter God is writing for us…which includes an a fantastic Mom’s bible study group, here in Middle Tennessee.

Joy, Living In Tennessee

The Best Kind Of Inspiration? Fun!

After living in Yosemite National Park and the Sierra foothills for the past 20+ years, I’ve been spoiled by beautiful views and natural treasures. That’s why, when I recently took a walk around my neighborhood, I didn’t expect my subdivision with thousands of nearly identical houses to give me much joy. But it was a beautiful fall day, I wanted to be outside, and I didn’t feel like driving, so I ventured into my little piece of suburbia.

I didn’t find wildlife like turkeys or deer, but I found something else. I found people enjoying their lives on a Sunday afternoon; people so engaged in their pursuit of fun, that it left me a different type of contentment than I feel after walking in the wilderness.

There is something inspiring about watching a person immersed in whatever gives them joy. It doesn’t matter what it is: cooking a good meal; a dad playing with his child on a playground; a potter carefully carving intricate details on a cup; a photographer immersed in capturing autumn aspens…When someone is so lost in their fun, they forget about the world around them, it’s mesmerizing.

The first encounter on my walk came as a sound, not something I saw. It was the steady rumble of a skateboard, rolling down the middle of our busy street. I thought it must be a kid, and I glanced over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t on the sidewalk, and that I wasn’t some kind of target.

His shirt was stripped off, his bare chest long and lanky, and his shirt was dangling from the back of his stretchy athletic shorts. His head was bald, he had wrinkles around his eyes, and he was riding that skateboard for all it was worth. I cracked a smile because THIS GUY WAS MY AGE. This middle aged guy was riding a skateboard down the middle of the busy street with the same gusto I’d expect from a teenage kid.

I kept glancing back at him…I was going to give him a “way to go!” nod… a smile that said, “you are middle aged, but you’re rocking it!” I couldn’t catch his eye. This guy wasn’t even noticing me, though I was the only other person walking on the road.

His eyes were focused firmly ahead, and I watched him skate right past me, then proceed to do a series of tricks up and down the curbs. He was clearly having a lot of fun…the kind of fun where you forget about everything else in life, and are totally immersed in the moment. He didn’t seem worried about pulling any muscles or what falling on his wrist would do to his day job. He was out rocking that skateboard, no matter the consequence.

It made me want to go skiing, or snowboarding, or try surfing…walking suddenly seemed so bland…

My walk continued after Mr. Skateboard left my sight. I rounded the corner and saw a couple in their backyard, intent on a project. The husband was digging a large hole in the dirt, and the wife was standing, watching intently with her hands on her hips. I initially thought they were burying a pet (my imagination tends towards the morbid). Then I saw a pot next to them. They were planting a tree; A sweet little tree. Was it a memorial for something? An anniversary present? Or did they just want a tree that would eventually block the view of the road from the living room window? Whatever the reason, they were doing it with such intention and diligence, and with a sense of togetherness, that it inspired me. Their Sunday afternoon was about planting a tree. And now we all get to watch it grow.

I decided to cut through the school yard on my way home, and came across a young boy driving a go-cart around and around the parking lot, his dad watching with a big smile on the sidelines. On the other side of the school, 20 or so men were in their grungy workout clothes, playing a game of football. They looked sweaty and hot and happy. Sunday afternoon was a good time for them, it seemed. I imagined them all coordinating their schedules to meet at 1PM, after lunch and while the kids napped. A little “daddy escape” amongst the craziness of life.

As I continued my walk home, I thought about how having fun releases the spark in people that makes them come alive; how everyone has a different definition of “fun”; how, for many people, having fun stops being a priority at some point; and how life does its best to reduce fun to something of a luxury, instead of soul-level need.

Our brand of fun has changed a bit, living in Tennessee, versus the mountains in California. We’ve been exploring museums and parks and interesting stores and quaint downtowns. But we’ve also been out doing the same thing we’ve always done: exploring the forest, and the natural world around us, looking for hidden places (caves!) and pockets of beauty to be immersed in and refreshed by.

I walked home, and Rich and I loaded the kids in the car. We drove to the Stones River National Battlefield and hiked a back trail that was full of autumn leaves, and deer, and interpretive signs about the battle. Though we were 2000 miles away from Yosemite, something about it felt like hiking in our favorite national park. It smelled like the fresh scent of fall, the air was warm, we startled a deer in the forest, and the kids bounced and sang and we talked about the random things families discuss when wandering in a forest for an hour or two. As the sun began to set that Sunday afternoon, we found ourselves lost in time and transported to a place of joy. It was good for our souls.

Tell me now, what brings you joy? What things make you come alive? And, perhaps as important…how do you make the time in life to find fun?

Faith, Living In Tennessee

Pondering The Lives Beneath Our Feet

It was just past sunset as we drove a twisty road toward the interstate. An old church with a cemetery appeared along one bend, with a “point of historic interest” sign. We turned around a mile or so later, intrigued to see who might be buried on that old piece of land.

Our kids thought we were crazy, and they begged us not to stop…it was growing dark, and their imaginations filled with stories of ghosts, dead bodies and who knows what else might lurk in an old cemetery. We knew better…

Having grown up in Ohio, with family on the East Coast, exploring cemeteries was practically a family pastime when I was growing up. When I was a teenager, my grandmother took us to the family plot that housed the Cavanaughs, who immigrated to New York from Ireland in the 1840s.

The cemetery a mile from my house in Ohio interred soldiers from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and all of the wars of the 20th century.

In elementary school, I remember going to a cemetery with my class, finding an old grave whose letters had long since disappeared, rubbing a black crayon on newsprint, and watching the letters appear, telling me the name and dates of life of the person buried beneath me.

Cemeteries are sacred places where people are memorialized…they have stories, and history to discover…

We stopped the van, and bribed our kids with chocolate to disembark from the minivan and adventure out into the burial ground. Sure enough, there were dozens of stones of people who died over 100 years ago; the grave of at least one revolutionary soldier and his wife, appropriately marked “PATRIOT” on a separate, beautiful stone; and other graves of everyday citizens…most from the early part of the 20th century.

My kids talked about how it scared them, the idea of dead bodies beneath their feet. And, I agreed, it is a bit freaky…

But what intrigues me are the stories contained within a cemetery. The lines of stones that represent lives lived on this earth; some long, and some short. Each person was buried at a separate time, with a unique gathering of the people who loved, cherished, or at least tolerated them. Can you picture the gathering? Can you still sense the tears? The stones had their names; the dates they were born and died…and little else. Many stones were broken, or could not be read. Others were simply labeled “Mother” and “Father.”

Here we were…another Mother and Father, walking with their children, just as these people had over 100 years ago. What was the area like then? What tasks made up their daily lives? It’s hard to really know. Their stones are weathered into disrepair because the people who loved them, and remembered them, are also gone…

We wandered for a good 15 minutes before we loaded up again in our minivan and drove toward home.

In the end, my children weren’t scared by the cemetery at all, but were somehow comforted.

“You can live life, and not have to worry,” my older son said, before he loaded up into our van. I thought it was an interesting comment, considering the fact that few things remind you of your own mortality like visiting a cemetery. He continued, “Ultimately, we all end up dying, and we will be with Jesus, anyway. So, all the other stuff we don’t need to worry about.”

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten son, that however believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Yes. We know where we will be in the end, so the rest of life is just the details…the glorious details of living with each other, loving each other, and embracing this good life; this beautiful sunset; this quiet night in an old cemetery; and this gift of time together that God has so graciously provided.

Living In Tennessee

What I Love About Living Near Nashville, Tennessee

It’s been over three months since we arrived in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, about a half hour drive southeast of Nashville. We moved here with our three kids and all of our belongings, though my husband had never been here before, and I had only been here on two very brief visits. We weren’t exactly sure whether we were going to like living here, but knew God was calling us to move to this specific location. It was very much a leap of faith. Three months in, I can now say confidently that we like living in Middle Tennessee. A lot. Here is a list of ten things we are really enjoying about our new home, listed in no particular order:

1. Everything is green
It seems obvious that plants and trees would grow luxuriously in a city that receives an average of 50 inches of rain a year…but the overall color of GREEN everywhere you look is truly remarkable after living near the parched (12 inches of rain a year…) California Central Valley. The first month we lived here, I continually marveled at all of the shades of green that created the landscape. There were things growing EVERYWHERE: ivy dangling off branches, soybeans covering fields, corn towering over our heads, grass that grows, and grows, and grows…unlike California, where we’d weed whack once or twice, and be set for the year. I forgot how delightful green grass feels on my bare feet.

2. Nothing is dusty
Since there is so much rain, and so much green, the dirt stays where it’s supposed to…on the ground! I have encountered a bit of mud here in Tennessee, but not that parched dust that coats EVERYTHING in California. Taking my daughter horse riding was an entirely different experience, as she rode through green pastures compared to the bare patches of hardened dirt in California. Granted, it is a bit (a lot) more humid here…but at least it’s not dusty!

3. The sunsets
I gave up the mountain views when we left California, but I gained the eastern sunsets. The rolling hills of Tennessee, coupled with the salmon, pink, orange, yellow and blues of sunset, are truly something to behold. Add in clouds that vary from night to night, and it’s truly like watching a God sized canvas being painted in real time.

4. All the shopping I could want (except Costco) within ten minutes
In California, I had two shopping lists: my local grocery list, and my Fresno list. If I could wait to go to Fresno (an hour away) for most items, I would…if not, I’d spend at least 20% more buying groceries and household goods from the local grocery store. I usually had no time to go to Fresno, or I had to tack shopping onto trips to the doctor or orthodontist…so that meant it was really hard to shop for groceries, let alone clothing, shoes, and random things my family needed. I cannot tell you how much my life has changed, having shopping a mere 10 minutes (or less) from my house. Going to the store only takes a little bit of my time, instead of ALL DAY. I can zip over to Target, buy a few things, and go home. The hardest thing to get used to with this change is the feeling that I have to fit a month’s worth of shopping into a single trip to the store. I still feel a sense of panic of, “If I don’t remember what I’m supposed to buy today, then it’ll be another month before I can buy it,” each time I go to Walmart…then the panic fades away when I remember that I now live in Tennessee.

5. Having family nearby
It’s been over 25 years since my sister and I lived in the same town. In that span of time, she had four kids, I had three, and we developed very full lives of our own. It’s been wonderful to be nearby, and to have the opportunity to spend time with her and her kids (my nieces, nephews and now GREAT niece and nephew) and get to know them on a regular basis, instead of a “once every few years” kind of relationship. I mean…my son is enrolled in school with his cousin (my great-niece). Having cousins nearby is something we never imagined having for our kids…and now they are in the same preschool class, twice a week.

6. The schools
There are good schools here. Many, many schools that are growing and changing and being built all around us. In our small town in California, we homeschooled for a number of reasons. When we moved, we decided to look at all of the options that were suddenly available to us, and ended up enrolling our kids in the local middle school. My son is suddenly in band, there are clubs join, and hundreds of kids to meet. The school day itself is very structured, the teachers have extremely high expectations for the children, and the kids all (mostly) behave. Imagine that! As a bonus, the STEM magnet high school in our county is the #1 high school in Tennessee…and my kids have hopes of attending.

7. The manners
I thought my kids had good manners, until we moved to Tennessee. The number of times I heard “Yes ma’am” and “No sir” each day was a bit shocking at first…add to that the “my pleasure” from the workers at Chick-Fil-A, and I quickly realized we needed to step up our game.

8. The work ethic
You know you’ve been living in a retirement community for a long time, when you move to a place and are surprised to see your neighbors driving to work, first thing in the morning. The fast food restaurants, the stores and the gas stations are all full of workers who take pride in their jobs, and do them cheerfully and well. The overall attitude is that a job is considered to be a blessing, instead of a necessary evil…and it makes a true difference in the quality of service.

9. The history
Civil War history; revolutionary war history; history from when Tennessee was considered to be the frontier; Native American history; Nashville history; this place is steeped in history, and stories, and legends of yesteryear. It’s magical to my storyteller’s heart.

10. The opportunities
I was born in Flint, Michigan. I spent my teenage years in the rust belt near Toledo, Ohio. I went to college in the Appalachian foothills at Ohio University. I then moved to an extremely rural part of California, where the most secure jobs were those created by the state…firefighters, teachers, highway patrolmen. I have never lived someplace like Nashville. This place is exploding with growth…houses and new stores are popping up all over, even since I moved here three months ago. There are tens of thousands of companies, corporate headquarters, small businesses and creative professionals feeding into the local economy, and it’s reflected in the quality of the local parks (There are so many! They are so beautiful!), the smiles on people’s faces, and the cultural opportunities that are able to thrive here. This is a place that provides plenty of space to learn and grow, for a very, very long time…which is exactly what my family and I are beginning to do!

 

Faith, Living In Tennessee

Places That Matter

You would hardly notice they were there, unless someone told you. They could easily be mistaken for hills, or piles of rock leftover from some glacier an ice age ago. But there was a sense of form to the hills…some kind of plan…and on the summer solstice, the sun shone through the opening to this ancient ceremonial ground. They say it’s from 8000 years ago, and as I walk in this ancient place in this Eastern forest, on the edge of a Tennessee river, I consider what that life must’ve been like for them. I wonder who toiled to build these mounds made in a specific pattern of rock and dirt…mounds that stretch hundreds of yards, built without modern machinery, created by the sheer determination of man. Was it slave labor? Was it a work of passion? What group of people devoted their life’s work to building this ceremonial ground?

No one really knows.

I am in a place where people have walked for thousands of years, yet all I can see is this moment. The trees I see are second or third growth, leveled and cleared time and again in the space of time between me and them.

Later on that day we went to the Stone’s River Battlefield, and walked through Hell’s Half Acre, a piece of ground about the size of my backyard. This small slice of land served as the point of reckoning 160 years ago, and at the end, was soaked and saturated by confederate and union blood. The monument commemorating this hallowed field has stood watch since that battle, the first official Civil War memorial, erected by fellow soldiers lucky enough to live.

National Park Service photo by volunteer Buddy Secor

My little boy wandered through the tomb stones. He loves playing soldier, dressing up in military gear and pretending to be the bravest man standing. I explain to him that other brave men died…and their bodies rest beneath our feet…and these stones have their names so they would never be forgotten. He wants me to pick him up, because he suddenly realizes there are dead bodies in this place where we and the cannons still stand. Those dead bodies were once heroes, and indeed, still are.

The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. Psalm 103:15-16

This idea of “place” has been echoing in my head. Physical places latch onto our hearts, and somehow we define our lives by them.

I just moved to Tennessee from the place of my dreams near Yosemite National Park. The Sierra mountains were my home for half my life, and in the course of that time, I became intimately familiar with the intricacies of each season. The smells of autumn; the blazing sun of summer; the gauzy clouds of a winter storm.

When I came to Yosemite, I was a broken and tired 22-year-old, freshly out of college with dreams of being a writer. For a girl who grew up in the flatlands of Ohio, I felt like I was going to heaven. I became a student of the Sierra, hiking hundreds of miles of trails; learning the names of countless birds and wildflowers; studying the rocks beneath crystal streams of water that had been snow, just hours before it passed beneath my feet.

I wanted to make my mark on that place because it fundamentally made its mark on me. It changed me, showing me a place of peace and an imaginative landscape my brain never could have construed. I fell utterly and resolutely in love with Yosemite, and I held onto that affair more tightly than I should have. I discovered that, at a certain point, insatiable love does consume you.

I was frustrated to discover that Yosemite had tourists who beeped their horns in the parking lot beside my home; miles-long traffic jams; kids who chipped pieces off the Ponderosa Pines, making jigsaws of bark at its base; forest fires and camp fires that marred the view and filled the valley with unbreathable smoke. It was tremendously disappointing to realize my slice of heaven was just another place on earth…

That place of heartbreak led me to the truth: Yosemite wasn’t heaven. What I loved about Yosemite was its sense of grandeur. It was bigger than life, bigger than my dreams, and wider than my (very active) imaginations. But what drew me to Yosemite was deeper than its beauty. It called to something deep in my soul. And I realized, over time, that it was God who spoke to me through those rocks, showing me the beauty He could create…and if He could create something this amazing here on earth, imagine what Heaven itself will be like someday…

It was no person who led me to God, but God Himself, through the handiwork of those granite cliffs.

Psalm 19:1-6 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Photo by Rich Seiling

My love affair with Yosemite and the mountains that surrounded it lasted until October 8, 2016. My husband and I were walking and talking, trying to make sense of our lives, yet again, in El Capitan meadow. We’d hiked in that meadow hundreds of times, yet that day we managed to find a little area we had never explored. We marveled at the river rocks; the reflection of El Capitan in the water; the yellowing grasses in the Autumn light…when God revealed a new plan, in the midst of our conversation.

We were to sell our house. We were to move. This was the beginning of a big change…And, my husband thought that ultimately, we would be moving to Nashville. He had never been to Nashville.

The calling was like a declaration of truth coming from somewhere outside of us, yet from within our souls, and the news filled our severely burdened hearts with a sense of hope and joy that could only come from God. We were giddy, excited for something new…and just like that, the soul-level satisfaction I gleaned from exploring the Sierra dimmed to a small flicker. And this place I loved, this place I had left my family and friends to explore and immerse myself in…this place I called home for 22 years…I had no interest in exploring anymore.

It took nine months for God’s plan to unfold. We sold our two homes. Our previously successful business failed. Everything we owned and had acquired in California was liquidated or packed into a 28-foot moving truck and hauled to Tennessee.

Starting over. In a new place. With new rules, and new places to explore, like this Native American ceremonial mound, and this Civil War battlefield.

Maybe it’s losing the majority of our earthly possessions; maybe it’s the realization that what man spends 20 years building can be liquidated in the space of a few months…but the overriding impression I am living with lately is how truly fleeting life is; how our concept of a place exists only within our minds and our experiences there; how fire and floods and rockfalls and tornadoes can forever change the character of a place…and how a place is not something solid to build a life around. Not even a place made of solid rock, like Yosemite.

There are very few people whose names live in infamy…and those who are remembered, are notorious for small aspects of their lives. The concept of building a career, making a mark, gaining notoriety or celebrity is truly chasing after the wind. Only one thing this side of heaven will last, and that’s the feeling left on other people’s hearts.

Did you value them, or what they could do for you?

Did they feel loved by you, or overlooked?

Did they want to be in your presence, or were they afraid of you?

Were you kind, or curt?

Did you reflect your Creator well?

Were you critical or encouraging?

These are the characteristics that will be remembered from generation to generation…these are what shape the hearts of those yet to come. I’m not perfect at any of these, and in fact, I fail often. But I am trying, and I have been trying, and I will continue to try to make loving others my top priority.

My children will never know what it was like to look into the clear blue eyes of my grandmother. They will never know how the blue sapphire on her ring finger matched the blue veins of her hands, and how as a child, I’d study the map of her veins as she read me book after book. This person, my grandmother, someone they will never meet, shaped me, because she took time for me. She taught me about Jesus in words, and showed me His love when she’d reach down, hold my face and peck my cheek saying, “Hello, love! How are ya?”

These things we pass down…the words we speak…the love we create…this is what lives forever, in the hearts of our children, our grandchildren, and the generations yet to come. Love is a place, somewhere within us. And this place of love is the only thing that can change the world, one intentional moment at a time.

View More