Thursday, November 2, 2017

Home

The little rose bush outside our window is piling with snow this Halloween afternoon. As I sit and watch the flakes slowly accumulate on the little pink petals I am struck with a sense of familiarity, a feeling of home. Not to this rosebush. I have only known it a few weeks and not intimately; I let the groundskeeper tend it on his weekly rounds. I am also not well-acquainted with this snow, seeing as it is the first time we have experienced a flurry in Topeka. It is the quiet, grey-skies-covered peace that is recognizable. And it has been a long time since our last meeting.



My mother gifted me a book before Ben and I moved here to Topeka, Kansas titled This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live. The author, Melody Warnick, compiles scientific research, poetic essays, and personal conversations to help craft an in-depth look at "Place Attachment". She believes (as do many of her sources) that a person can choose to fall in love with the place they live and suggests active steps a person or family can take to become better connected with their city. It is an interesting and worthwhile read, especially for a recent transplant looking to connect.

I don't think I have ever had a problem connecting with a place. I have moved a number of times in my adult life--my parents still live in the green house in Fresno where all three of us kids were raised--and have always quickly adapted. Every place I have lived has brought incredible community and natural beauty that is unique from anywhere else.

Some would say it is the people who make the place but I am starting to believe a different opinion. People may be the most recognizable (and arguably most important) aspect of a location and should absolutely be taken into consideration when talking of a place. But there are certain non-human elements that I associate with a particular home and, when I happen to run into them elsewhere, I am immediately transported.

The smell of damp, spongy earth on an overcast Scotts Valley morning.

The loud crunch from fallen acorns walking Crestline trails.

The almost-too-warm sunshine that brightly reflects off of Oakhurst snowfall.

The taste of Fresno peaches, just washed in Grandma's kitchen sink.

A place gets to own its flora and fauna, its rivers and fields, its skyscrapers and Walmarts more than it gets to own its people. All those sights and sounds and smells are the truest form of place. And we get to choose what we own as our home. (Not "own" in the sense of possession but "own" in the form of confession or agreement. We own our feelings of home.)

Which is why Topeka and I now know each other. I owned that grey-skies-covered peace in every place I have lived, every place that has allowed me to do life well there. That quiet gentle spot has been a constant in varying landscapes among different people. Even when it lasts only for a few seconds I can find that place and rest in it.



Our neighbors, the Bookers, walk past the window, wrapped in coats to brush snow off their windshield. The peace dissolves as I listen to kids playing in our shared green yard and wonder where the squirrel I saw chowing down on our birdseed this morning has hidden himself. I realize I should get ready for our trick-or-treaters (do they still go door-to-door in freezing temperatures?) and make sure Helen got the package UPS dropped on her front step.

It's nice to be home.




Thursday, October 5, 2017

Reflection

Last night I had a hard time falling asleep--which is a big deal for me. I tend to sleep well and (in this season) require ten solid hours of rest to function. So when I found myself awake an hour into my husband's rhythmic snoring I was a bit surprised. I could not shut off my brain with any force of prayer or willpower.

Round and Round and Round.
Thought after Thought after Thought.

Unlike my usual train of consciousness when I am trying to solve the world's issues, I was not thinking about the present or projecting into the future. Instead I spent all of my moments in reflection. Of this week. Of this season. Of this decade. A whole lifetime of experience found it's way to my head.

It was wonderful. And tiring.

As a slow mental processor it can be difficult to share my thoughts and reflections in a cohesive and timely manner. A sleepless night can be a gift to those of us who need quiet solitude to collect our emotions, questions, and colors. It gives us the chance to marinate and become richer, deeper versions of ourselves.

I invited memories to come, without any hope or need to make amends with myself. Free of the intention of piecing them together into a story. I just sat and let my mind bring forward what it felt like sharing.


Visiting our STARS (Seniors That Are Really Special) at Palm Village with the 3rd-4th grade Sunday School class. They shared talents from playing piano to telling stories. I doubled over every time Joshua began to laugh before he got to the punchline of his joke.


Listening to Mom's voice as she explained her breast cancer diagnosis over the phone. She talked me through steps moving forward, explained how it would all work out. I sat in the Subaru and audibly cried.


Staring out the car window at the mesas and cornfields that passed by as we drove across the country.


Laughing over Coffee Meets Bagel matches with Amber. It became our daily ritual in the hum of a busy summer season to look through the other person's potential suitors and try to guess who would be the best fit. We'd find a minute in the parking lot between camp activities to cast our votes.


Taking a moment to look over the sea of faces at our wedding. Jubilee was standing on her chair waving.


Sitting on the windy Capitola shore with Kevin.
Sitting on the windy Capitola shore without Kevin.


Singing Christmas songs led by our kids dressed as shepherds, angels, and barn animals. Nia hit every note perfectly. Nate surprised us all with a solo. Kendall, Mya, and Kinnedy delivered their lines with gusto and grace. I had both hands pressed over my heart as our congregation was led in "Hark the Herald Angels Sing".


Waking up in a sleeping bag our first morning in Topeka. I had no idea where I was... 



And sometimes I still have no idea where I am.

In the midst of transition and questions and fatigue I need these Spirit-gifted moments of reflection to better know myself. To better know others. To better know God. It is not a time to try to come to any sort of conclusion on those--to be able to give adjectives or make definitive cases for the people in our lives or the things we have experienced. No. Instead I think it is simply a time to be and to feel.

To know who is there with you.

There will come a time when I can reflect on these days, look back on now. The now of coffee with church ladies, snuggling with my husband, low blood pressure readings. The now where I am trying to figure out how to best spend my time without work responsibilities. The now of resting. The now of reflecting.

I'll enjoy that sleepless night.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Decisions, Decisions

I have a difficult time making decisions.

Not when it is an emergency situation, thankfully. I am a pro when it comes to quickly moving a group of children away from swarming bees or calling an ambulance for someone who has passed out or telling Ben that he is less than ten feet away from another vehicle.

My decision-making skills become less apparent when I am faced with, well, just about any other opportunity to choose. 

For the past twenty-nine years I have driven my father to the brink of insanity when he asks me to pick a restaurant for lunch. I think about the hundreds of options in the area (and narrow it down to the dozen that have good gluten-free low-sodium meals) then I sit with my choices for four or five minutes. Scratching my head, speaking menus out loud. In the end I always come to the same conclusion:

Anything sounds good.

This season presents me with some of the most difficult decisions I have had to make. Not because there are so many options or because it all sounds good. No. Not my usual pick and choose scenarios.

These are difficult because I know the best selection for each one. 

And I don't like where the best may lead.

---

I was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure last autumn and have made some significant changes to adjust to life with low energy, sore muscles, and fluid build-up. As I navigate this cardiac journey with my doctors and specialists, I choose options they present to me:

I choose to do research and talk to others in order to better understand my body. 
I choose to take daily medication to help with swelling and blood pressure. 
I choose to record my vitals and check-in with my medical team. 

But there is one choice that is incredibly difficult: The choice of employment.

The very first command I was given when I was diagnosed with heart issues in 2014 was to quit my job as a backpacking guide. My cardiologist said I would die on the trail if I continued. I had to call my boss from the doctor's office parking lot to tearfully inform him that my employment had ended. 

After we had figured out enough about my health to start feeling like myself again I was ready to get back to work. Which is what I have enjoyed the past few years as a substitute teacher, a Sunday School director, and a Children's Pastor. It is life-giving and healing and wonderful. 

But my doctors continue to pose the question of holding a job. They ask if it is necessary for me to work. Give me information about disability. Check in to see what physical and mental stresses come with my job description. 

Every time I opt to keep going.

For years I have chosen to devote my time and energy to students, to parents, to ministry. I teach, budget, discipline, train. I love well. I feel this is my God-given calling to work in ministry, to spend my employed hours working with people. This is my best choice.

This was my best choice.

---


Proverbs 16:9 says, "We can make our plans but the Lord determines our steps."

The plans I make and prayers I craft include a healthy heart, increased energy, the ability to do my pastoral job well. I fight and fight to try and make those things happen; to execute my plan. A few days ago, as I lay in bed trying to force my fatigued body to rise, I heard it:

You are fighting for the wrong things. 

I have been fighting and pushing my plan--as good as it is--without any consideration of other options. Without remembering that God will consider my plans and can offer a better selection. 

The children and families I walk with do an incredible job working alongside and supporting a fatigued fighter. I appreciate every step of growth and joy and heartache that comes with this role. I love these people with my whole oversized heart. And I now see that they will be blessed by someone whose plan lines up with the one I have made. They will be blessed by someone whose steps are leading right to them.

And so a choice has been made.
A painful, tear-filled, good choice.

I choose to leave my role as the Associate Pastor of North Fresno Church. 
I choose to allow my body and mind to rest and recover.
I choose to follow God into whatever big and beautiful and unexpected plans are best for me.

And I choose to do it well. 


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Grey and cloudy


It's Saturday again.
I think I lost most of Monday and Thursday.
Well, not lost. Sleep does not count for loss. Neither does laundry.
I guess I just made it back to this day without realizing time was moving forward quicker than I was.



My counselor recently asked me to set an alarm to help me re-center every day, give me a chance to live in the present and check in on my heart and mind. So when the music starts up from my purse or the table or when I am making a call, I stop what I am doing and take a few minutes to walk through my routine:
- Check my heart rate
- Take some deep breaths
- Do something with my hands (write, sculpt, color)
- Give a word to how I am feeling in that moment

These past few days I have had the same feeling. It feels like this:


As I grieve Kevin.
And worry about my health.
And cancel plans to be with people I love.
And try to find the energy to get out of bed and do what I am expected to do I feel like this.

Grey and cloudy.



On our weekly night hikes at Thousand Pines and Calvin Crest, we engaged our human ability of night vision. We would walk into the forest without any source of light (except the occasional bright moon) and our eyes would adjust so we could see. The cones in our eyes, the way we detect color, would lose their ability to respond to light while the rods would work overtime, helping us make out shapes and shadows. We could discern what was around us--in a sense we could see--but it was a world of grey.

As we approached camp and its lights (or, in some instances, when a kid fell down and we had to pull out a cell phone or flashlight to make sure they were ok) the ability to detect color came back. The world went back to normal.



Right now, in a time of sadness and frustration and fear, my world has gone to grey.

However, as I prepare for a life of night vision, a season of sitting alone on an isolated cloudy beach, there are glimpses of light.
From a husband who wakes up next to me and reminds me I am not in this alone.
From a family who shows up and tells me it is ok to have days where it is a struggle to function.
From a staff who gives me grace and surrounds me with prayer.
From friends who send flowers and texts to bring (literal) color to my day.

So I know that this season of grey will end.
Because Kevin would hate a world without color.
And Jesus would, too.



"There's a darkness upon me that's flooded in light
And I'm frightened by those who don't see it."
- The Avett Brothers

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Seasons

Everyone goes through different stages in life, takes on a dominant personality that influences your words and actions, your thoughts and feelings. I have been reflecting on some of my own distinct eras over the past fifteen years...

The 'Satan is a Punk' high school years. I was really into my Christian title and equally into all things music. I wore slangy Berean t-shirts and spent every Friday night at a show. My spirituality was just being defined as my own but I was heavily influenced by large-group gatherings that included 'winning' people for Jesus and 'taking back' culture. I was also heavily influenced by Emery and Anberlin. Thank God.



The Rosie the Riveter era. The years where I believed I could do anything! This was the season of finishing school, starting a career, traveling the world, trying new things, and befriending anyone who came across my path. I had discovered my God-given abilities and was using them to their fullest potential. Still, I struggled to define what I was most gifted in and most passionate about as I put my whole heart into everyone and everything I encountered.



The Outdoor Educator seasons. Times where walking, talking, and observing were a way of life. My work became my play as I spent hours on the trail with kids and coworkers alike. My soul dug a little deeper and I discovered the need to journal, sketch, and sing in the forest. I asked a lot of questions and was asked a lot of questions, many I still I have not found answers to. Jesus felt so close. Whenever I think of this time I smell dirt--rich, dark, loamy soil. My head still has not forgiven my heart for ending this stage of life so abruptly.



Over the past three years, it seems every season, every week, multiple times a day I am experiencing a different title: Broken Woman, Healing Heart, Grateful Daughter, Shepherd, Loved and Loving Wife. All of these times have been surrounded by a wonderful community of family and friends, some who have supported me through different stages. God has remained consistent though has been experienced differently in every era. I love that.

So what era would I say I am in now?

I have told Ben multiple times that I think he married a cat. Whenever he sits down I want to snuggle, I get cranky when I haven't been fed, and I sleep long hours. I am constantly cold and crave the sunshine. 

But I hope I am more than just that. 

I am in a season of loving and protecting the Least Of These in my community, including a host of amazing children. 
I am learning what my body needs and finding the difficult balance between work and rest.
I am prioritizing time with my family, my friends, and my incredible husband. 
I am growing in my knowledge and understanding of the world and finding the glimmers of Light to hold onto.
I am simultaneously weaker and more powerful now than I was before.

So I think this is my time to be a cat.
This is my Lioness era. 



Roar.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Energy

My husband made the discovery that my new initials, CHF, (Caitlin Holly Friesen) were the same initials written on my last doctor's note (Congestive Heart Failure).

It was worthy of a sucking-in-air-through-teeth cringe.

It was also worthy of a hug.



There is a part of me that still cannot comprehend that I have days like today. Days when I wake up and every ounce of me aches. Days when my heart feels like it is going to inflate itself so big it might pop. Days when I can't stand up without feeling like I am spinning.

I hate it.

My strive for positivity is overshadowed by reality. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.



This past Saturday (the gift of a ''Good Day") Ben and I had the privilege to enjoy sunshine and soccer played by some of the coolest kids we know. Our elementary-aged friends ran and kicked and laughed and fell. I honestly don't know if their teams won or lost; everyone was just happy to have the space to play. It made me so incredibly thankful that my kiddos have the energy to do what they love to do.

I feel like that is something I am missing in my life.

Don't get me wrong--my life is wonderful. I am surrounded by amazing people who love and support me (including my incredible husband--happy first month of marriage, My Love!). I have a life-giving role in a ministry I feel called to. I have a lovely home, reliable transportation, more than enough to eat and drink and wear and share.

But there are things I love to do that I can't find the energy for. Things that CHF doesn't seem to allow.

Like backpacking on Big Sur trails.
Dancing in my cowgirl boots.
Jogging on tree-lined roads.
Pretending I know how to surf.
Staying up past midnight.
Making it to all the events on my calendar.
Waking up and getting ready for work by the time the office opens.



My wonderful Mother--who knows a thing or two about finding energy in a physically-draining season--sent me a text with an Ephesians reference.

A prayer I immediately felt.

And it will remain my prayer for you and for me and for those of us who need power. Who need roots. Who need energy to do what we love to do.

May you experience the Love of Christ this week, my friends.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Vows

My apartment is a mess, half-emptied cardboard boxes stacked in the living room.
My e-mail messages are read but not-yet replied to.
My husband is asleep on the couch, hugging a pillow tightly to his chest.

And I am so glad.



Ben and I are recovering from our first week of being Mr. and Mrs. Friesen.

Last Sunday, we had an incredible celebration of marriage with many of our favorite people up at Sugar Pine Christian Camps. There were cupcakes and bubbles and pine trees and conversations. We went just a few miles up the road to Tenaya Lodge who extended an incredibly generous offer for two nights in a luxury suite--complete with whirlpool bathtub and two balconies. After a rejuvenating start to our week we landed back in Fresno and continued the process of turning our white-walled space into a more comfortable home. Organizing clothes, washing dishes, and carrying loads of our stuff across the parking lot was a therapeutic part of nesting. I went back to work and Ben cooked meals. We watched "Baby Animals in the Wild" on Netflix. We kissed and snuggled.

It was bliss.



As a duo of People Who Understand Real Life, Ben and I spoke long before this week about how life together would not always reflect easy and lovable thoughts or experiences. There would be times to come that would be challenging and tear-filled and frustrating. It would not always be blissful. That is why we decided that we should put time and energy into writing our commitments to each other and share them on our wedding day.



Ben and I are recovering from our first week of being Mr. and Mrs. Friesen.

Last Sunday, we asked our family and friends to run around like crazy people setting up food and decorations and taking pictures at Sugar Pine Christian Camps. My sister and I got devoured by [fleas? bed bugs?] which left itchy red welts for days. We went a few miles up the road to Tenaya Lodge and came home earlier than anticipated because we were not feeling well enough to hike in Yosemite. After a tiring start to our week we landed back in Fresno and spent hours moving stuff around and trying to find parking. I had to drop my online class and Ben made phone calls. We watched my heart rate and took a trip to Kaiser. We worried and I cried.

It was tough.



As the Man I Love snores on the sofa and I look over my discharge instructions from the E.R. I feel at peace. Honestly, I don't think I would change anything about this first week of our marriage. If we only kept the blissful moments, the moments of color and light that will stick with us forever, we would be missing so much. Because these are the times we wrote our vows for. We get to start living out our promises to each other now!

I choose you through sickness, through health. Through good times and bad. Through feeling ecstatic being in your presence and through times when we may disagree or even fight. I commit my love to you, to be loyal to you, to protect you, serve you, to partner with you in the journey God has laid out for us.



Cheers to a beautiful first week of loving and living out our commitment to each other.
Cheers to five thousand more.

Ben, thank you for being my Home and allowing me to be yours. I cannot express how grounded I feel doing life with you. Let's continue on in goodness, in health, and in God's perfect love.