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This is a photo that I took on Ellis Island, the portal through which almost all immigrants were processed as they came to America. It seems very hopeful to me, as the goal is in sight, but still: you have to cross an expanse of water to reach your final destination.

That has been my experience for the last three years; although this blog has been mostly silent, it’s been for good reason. I have finally reached the other side of a lifelong goal, which is writing, completing, and then pitching my own book!

My book is about vocational transitions and grieving (in short: vocational grieving), a process that most of us can relate to. It’s that awkward transition between a known country and an unknown one; that expanse between “the devil you know and the devil you don’t”; that chasm between what you had wished for and what you actually ended up with. About Walking a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes: An Introduction to Vocational Grieving, Recovery and Transition.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing 48 ordinary (and extraordinary!) American workers, some of which are immigrant university students. 48 distinct, unique portraits of people from diverse backgrounds: male or female, married or single or celibate clergy, ex-priests and university professors, stay at home parents and blue collar and white collar workers, small business owners and entrepreneurs; Christians, atheists, agnostics. Each describes their journey to their dream jobs (or good-enough jobs) and back again, in their own voices and reflecting their own values, describing their awkward transitions, their triumphs, their tribulations, and lessons learned.

This is, in many ways, my dream job. To give voice to those who have suffered in silence, who have sacrificed for their families and their dreams, who have learned things the hard way and sometimes, through tremendous suffering. To observe the quiet dignity and honor with which people handle transition stress, and how their support systems loved them into, through, and around these experiences.

Because none of us has done this alone! Not even me.

Kudos to my loving and supportive husband, my patient and understanding children, and every friend who believed in me and supported my craft. Creativity is the language of the spirit, and every person who bolstered me while I wrote this book: I will be forever grateful to you!


This. is Me.

Becky ziplining

This. is Me.

I ain’t necessarily skinny, or perfect, or predictable.

I have my flaws, and  Oh! they are many, and I can name them all.

I am a survivor of terrible things, but also a thriver –

I want new, different, and scary, all outside these walls.

I offer myself, unreservedly, to those who will care to listen,

Whether tiny, or medium, or tall tall tall.

My hero is Joan of Arc, because tho’ she did end on a burning stake,

She didn’t go quietly, or actually – at all.

Her energy was transformed to spirit and became legend and large,

And she forged a path and answered His call.

So when I am a ghost and my visage is faded from your view,

I want my legacy to be “CANNON BALLLLLLL!”




Are you a Lily Pad or a Frog?

IMG_0504Going through a personal trial reveals certain things.

Certainly, at the very least, it will reveal your own flaws, foibles, fears, and frustrations.  Your soft spots (and rust spots!) will be revealed, and there will be people in your life who will either support you (the lily pads), or jump away and make noise because they can’t handle what you are going through (the frogs).

One of the most painful things that I have come to realize, is that your own journey will reveal those who can handle your situation, and those who can’t “hang.”

So, you have decisions to make: will you be angry and lash out at those who are frogs, or will you instead take a deep breath and forgive, and let them continue to be self-centered and selfish people who took the easy route, instead of walking through pain with you?

I say decision(s) because you have to continue to breathe, forgive, and move on with your day when people disappoint you; when their selfishness and immaturity exempt them from being a support to you.  Because, you see, I love both: I love both lily pads AND frogs.  I’m not going to dump a person because they don’t want to hear about my fears for my children, my anxiety about medical tests or treatment, or how my faith in people has been shaken – and my faith in God strengthened! – by my experience.

Certain – unexpected – people have reached out to me with phone calls, cards or conversations, just to check in and see how I am doing, or if I need anything.  Those lily pads are a comfort, because they are a Soft Place to Land.  They are being Christ’s hands and feet to me in a time of personal discomfort and future uncertainty.  I am incredibly grateful for the time, energy, and vulnerability that lily pads show, because it takes a certain amount of effort and availability to extend yourself in an uncomfortable situation.  I pray for those people to receive the same support and love from me, and others, if they ever go through a big trial, challenge, or hiccup in their life journey.  May they be blessed, as they have blessed me!

And despite their warts, their jumpiness, their avoidance, or their denial, I love my frogs too.  Because I understand that not everyone can help me to carry my fear, my burden, my anxiety, and my future uncertainty.  I consider it a blessing that Jesus continues to show me examples of frogs in the Bible: Jonah, David, doubting Thomas, and the others.  Even Peter denied Christ three times, and he was (besides Mary) probably the closest person to Jesus!  So I love despite.

Maybe, sometime when I emotionally evolve a little more, I will learn to love because of, not despite, their frogginess.

May your day be blessed, no matter how choppy your water is!




       I feel that I don’t know enough about my family background. There are huge gaps in relational information, and that bothers me. If I ask my aunt, I’m sure she’d be happy to fill in the gaps with names, dates, etc. But that’s not the kind of background I mean: I am missing the conversations about family dynamics, secrets, emotional information, memories, family holidays, and personalities. I am a relational, experiential learner and so have a deep yearning to know my ancestors through the stories that my parents are reluctant to share with me.

     I am not really sure why that is, but I feel that I need to respect their desire to have good boundaries, to have the right not to share old or painful memories if that is what they so choose. So, so – I am at a loss. Do I ask my extended family (second cousins, aunts and uncles who have first-hand experiences and memories to offer), or do I leave it alone? What do I have to gain through by knowing? What do I have to lose?

     There is a Southern saying that is something like, “leave themselves to themselves.” It means leave the past in the past. Let the ghosts take care of their own.

     But I also believe in the juxtaposition of nature vs. nurture. When I see mannerisms in my children, is that inborn behavior? Or taught? Or a mixture of the two? Does it even matter? Should every mannerism or beneficial (or detrimental) attribute of myself, my husband, my children, be seen as a unique commentary of life experience and so be dealt with on a case-by-case basis?

     I really doubt that our family history is as scandalous (or as interesting) as that of the characters in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” But if I never ask, how will I know? And if I never ask, will this itch to know my ancestors’ histories, backgrounds and stories just go away? And if it is that interesting – or that scandalous – do I really WANT to know?

     Not knowing – and not pushing for the information – makes it feel as if our family just – BEGAN – the minute my parents got married. And with all four grandparents gone, maybe the secondhand stories of second cousins and aunts and uncles are better than nothing. My history has a centuries-long blank space where the stories should be. I’m pretty sure I’m not really okay with that. But not sure what I should do about it.

     What do YOU think?



Yesterday was pretty funky.  I got almost everything done that I had planned, arranged for a neighbor to pick up the girls at the bus stop, and was at my son’s cross country meet, fully intending to attend the senior rec party afterwards.  A storm was rolling in, and I suddenly got a wicked bad, tumory headache that came on so fast that my eyes were watering.  I had to leave as soon as he passed me, near the very end of the course.  I felt like I was in a Stephen King short story – you know, one of those ones that starts out so optimistically and then becomes ominous.  I went home, picked up the girls, curled up on our old armchair and just cried for awhile.

Yes, I am grateful.  I am grateful that I don’t have a cancerous tumor.  I am grateful that my husband and all four of my kids are very healthy.  I am so, so grateful that as hard as parenting multiple children can be, and as hard as marriage can be sometimes, that I still have them all.

But I am still pretty ticked off that I have plans that can get ruined last minute by something that is so completely out of my control at this point.

I am tired of waiting for the “next” MRI.  I am tired of grieving my (previously) healthy life.  I am tired of looking positive on days when my head feels like it could roll off of my shoulders.  I am frightened of scheduling radiation if my MRI at the beginning of December comes back with the same accelerated, unexpected tumor growth.  I am sick of seeing doctors.  I am annoyed that I can’t just have a saintly, “ah well” approach to my suffering.  I am upset that I can’t really multi-task anymore, and lose the ends of sentences while I am talking to my kids.  I am embarrassed when I mix up the names of objects – or for goodness’ sake, the names of my kids! – when I am looking at the thing that I am asking for or describing.  I am pretty pissed off that this Space Invader is in the very part of my brain that controls language comprehension.  Of course!  of course it is.

I am not normally an anxious person, but I have claustrophobic feelings about this tumor.  I have named her Valerie.  She is intrusive, obnoxious, nebby and often ruins my good times and my plans.  She makes me impatient (when I mix up words), and snippy (when I go to a room to do something, someone talks to me or a song comes on and distracts me, and BOOM!  I’ve lost what I was going to do).  She makes me frustrated (when I am writing and I mix up words – like just now, when I wrote “miss” instead of “mix”, when I thought “mix” the whole time).

I try not to let this situation control my life, ruin my good time, distract me from my real obligations, tasks, responsibilities, but it has become very difficult to separate my tumor moments from my Mommy moments.  My two youngest children haven’t been told (and we won’t tell them until I have to schedule radiation, so that they can be ignorant of everything until then and not be upset or think that I am going to die because of this, some kids always leap to the worse case scenario), and so I plug on, only talking about Valerie once a week to my husband, while in private.  I don’t identify myself as a tumor “victim,” but with how my writing and cognitive abilities have become moderately impaired, I can’t just ignore this.

This. is. happening.

So, I steal little opportunities to squeeze all the worry and poison from me before the kids get home from school, so that I can concentrate on Them and not Valerie.

I pray.  I meditate.  I write.  I listen to music that reminds me of positivity, like Matisyahu and Dave Matthews and Feist and Bjork and She & Him and Matt & Kim.  I blast music while I’m in the shower and sing at the top of my voice.  When I feel restless, I go out on the back porch or go walking.

I have learned how to say “no” to things that I can’t handle, and to say “yes” to new experiences.

I have learned to let go of unrealistic expectations for myself.

I enjoy the things and moments that might get clouded once I do radiation treatments, and the recovery afterwards.

I thank the Lord that I have health insurance, a patient husband, and kids that are willing to help out around the house when I feel overwhelmed.

I try to be grateful.


The Best Promise


     Recently I was talking with friends about what I consider to be the “worst day of my life.”  I was 19 years old and had gotten a call that morning about a very young relative who had been diagnosed with advanced leukemia; I was waiting for the results of a medical test, and THAT was haunting my moments; and I was in a car accident which scared me half to death, and my knee was throbbing from being slammed into the back of the seat in front of me.  I was reflecting on the day and was thinking, “O Lord, thank you for bringing me through it”, but I was also thinking, “O Lord, what a horrible day, I feel like I want to throw up!”

     And then I envisioned Joan of Arc.  Not the popular image of her (the one I also love!), armored to the hilt, sword unsheathed, rushing into battle – no, the Joan of Arc burning at the stake, at the age of 19.  Burned for heresy and for not renouncing her belief that she had heard the voice of God and the voices of saints, she was basically burned for the sake of fear.  An influential bishop took it upon himself to take her out in order to silence her.   He could not let her live and risk that she would influence the soldiers – and the common people – any longer. 

     Funny, how “poor me!” moments turn into “oh my” revelations about our (my) inherent self-centeredness.  And recognition of the promises made to us in scripture, that if we are faithful to our call to Live the Word, we will be redeemed by our Heavenly Father. The perfect scripture passage for this is in 1 Peter 5:6-11:

    “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you.

     Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares about you.

     Be sober, be watchful.

     Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

     Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.

     And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself

         restore, establish, and strengthen you.

     To Him be the dominion forever and ever.  Amen.”

     Isn’t that the best promise?  Not that you WON’T suffer, but that when you do, it will only be for a little while, and then you will be restored and strengthened.  Not that you will be spared from pain, but that God will be there to relieve you and take your suffering from you. 

     None of us is spared.  But let’s get some perspective; when you are having a hard time at work, think of Joan of Arc, burning at the stake for her faith in what she had been told by God.  When you are struggling with making ends meet, remember the Christians who are being persecuted and killed in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey – for their faith.  When you miss your bus to work, think of agonizing parents sitting in rooms up in Children’s Hospital, listening to beeping machines that are keeping pace with their child’s vital signs.  When your grown child makes the ten thousandth questionable decision and you are not sure that you can keep vigil – one more day – while they struggle and scrape to find their way in the world – remember that God Himself is with you, and He already knows what is going to happen, and that He has always held them in His hands –

     and that He is capable, beyond all human belief or speculation, of taking care of His own.


Movie Review: “Gimme Shelter”


     (“Gimme Shelter” is an indie movie that was released in 2013; it was on my list last year but I just never got around to it until I noticed it in my hometown Redbox kiosk…)

     Gimme Shelter is based on the true story of “Apple” (Agnes), a young girl who lives with June, her abusive, drug-addicted mother.  They live in a series of motels and run-down apartments; eventually Apple is taken by social services because of her mom’s ongoing issues.  She is then passed through ten or more foster homes (some good, some nightmarish) until her mom regains custody.  Apple runs away at the age of sixteen when she realizes things are only going to get worse, and that her mom’s decisions will eventually ruin any chance of Apple having a normal life; this is where the movie really takes off.

     As her only clue, Apple uses the letter she received from her biological father, Tom, to find him in New Jersey.  He is now a married, successful broker with two young children.  She just wants a place to stay until she gets on her feet and becomes independent, but when the stepmother deduces that Apple is newly pregnant, she persuades Tom to talk Apple into an abortion.  Apple leaves the clinic by the back door when she realizes that abortion is not her choice, but that she can’t go back to Tom’s house.  She goes back to her old neighborhood, ends up in a vehicle accident, and connects with a priest who is a chaplain at the hospital. 

     This priest introduces her to the director of a shelter for homeless and pregnant teens, which is where June eventually tracks her down.  Their violent confrontations eventually culminate in June being arrested, and Apple settles in to life at the shelter.  For the first time in her life, Apple experiences unconditional love and acceptance, and a family who will help her to forge a careful and successful path to adulthood.  Apple’s father Tom finds her through the social services system, but Apple decides to stay at the shelter, in the embrace of the only true family that she has ever known. 

     I was very skeptical of this movie; certain reviewers had raved about it, others had lampooned it.  I was impressed by the acting lineup (Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser, James Earl Jones), and I decided to go in with an open mind.  By the end of the movie, I was definitely won over.  This is not some saccharine, princess-happy-ending kind of movie; the grit and grime of homelessness and drug addiction – and their tolls – are not glamorized at all.  Apple is not a shimmery girl who rises above it all and pulls herself up by her boot straps, she is a flawed, angry girl who just wants two things: a safe place to stay, and the ability to make her own decisions.  She stubbornly pushes away anyone who wants to help her or get close to her, and that strength serves her when it comes time for her to start sticking up for herself. 

     One of the critiques of the movie is that it is “preachy.”  I didn’t sense that, but I suppose that it looks radical, stupid and reckless for a homeless 16-year-old to make these very large decisions for herself.  I suppose that if you had preferred for Apple to have an abortion and “get on with her life,” that opinion makes sense.  But as you watch the transformation in Apple as her pregnancy progresses, as she reaches out and learns how to cooperate with the other girls in the shelter, and accepts the love of people around her – you realize that taking control of her life and forging her own path BEGAN with the adult decision to keep her baby.  The baby gives her a sense of self, an identity, and creates a purpose that helps her to see her own self-worth. 

     I would rate this movie “two thumbs up” for giving a real, clear and stark peek into the life of a child of a drug addict, and no one is coddled or glossed-up for viewers: June, Tom, the shelter director, and Apple – none are made out to be the hero nor the villain of this film.  It is just:  life.