The stories we tell

“Every story has to be discovered twice, first in the world and then in the author’s study.  One discovers a story the second time by constructing it.”

I love this quote by Tracy Kidder.  It reminds me that stories are floating/buried all around us.  We simply have to notice.  And then, once noticed, and by reflecting on it, do we give it meaning.

Kidder says the difference between events and stories is that events are transformed to story only through revelation – or someone’s learning something.  It’s kind of profound, isn’t it?  Like the difference between existing and living.  By assigning meaning and purpose, our existence transforms into truly living.

Maybe that’s why the older you get, the wiser you become.  Because you finally have enough time and distance to construct a story, instead of a sequence of events.  Hindsight allows you to extract lessons and see the common threads.  It gives shape and form to experiences.  It provides space for the story to sprout.

I was recently talking to a California-transplant about relocating to Bend.  Whenever people ask how long I’ve lived here and what brought me, I stumble around with vague answers, using words like “adventure,” “simplify,” and “no regrets.”

She, like most, nodded appropriately, pretending to understand.  I continued with a pitiful explanation of how I’m now divorced.  And how we both co-parent here.  How I’m really happy.  And an “isn’t life crazy?” comment.

I admitted that I have asked God on more than one occasion why I ended up here.  In Oregon.  A foreign land far from my roots and my family.

She interrupted, her blonde head tilted.  “Do you know the reason?… Did God tell you why he brought you here??”

Her question caught me off guard.  I never expected God to give me an answer.  I hesitated with a reply, “Ummm… No.  I don’t know.  I still don’t know.  Not yet, anyway.”

My response wasn’t satisfying.  I think she was hoping for a revelation.  A happily-ever-after.  Some meaning.  Or some meat.

But the truth is, I don’t know.  The older I get, the less I’m sure of.  The naive, idealistic Me wants to take the leap and believe God brought me here so I could have another chance at love.  That God orchestrated our meeting.  A right time, right place kind-of-thing.  But, the jaded and cynical Me remembers thinking that before.  And look what happened to that marriage.  I was left rewriting the story.  Constructing a different narrative.  Assigning an alternate ending.

The thing is, that’s what writers do, isn’t it?  They rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.  My story, your story, is still being written.  And while we can’t change the events, we can change the narrative surrounding them.

Perhaps stories exist on several levels.  In the moment.  In the memory of it.  And in the constructing of it.   Each time, getting stronger.  With more shape and color and weight.


Two hours of waiting. Two hours of watching.  And it was finally Duke’s turn to race.

His pinewood derby car – painted mustard yellow, cherry red, and plum purple was placed in lane four. “Ready? Set. GO!”  the overly-excited Boy Scout yelled.  The gate was dropped.  The cars rolled down.  The derby cars in lanes 1-3 were neck-to-neck.  Duke’s, a good two feet behind.  His face dejected.  Embarrassed and splotchy red.

This went on for three more races – each lane, and each time, Duke’s car came in dead last.

There was no way to sugarcoat it.  His failure was obvious to all.  Head down, he shuffled over to the sidelines to sit in my lap.  None of us saying what we were all feeling: complete disappointment.

But I knew something that he didn’t.  You see, even though his car was slow, he would still get a trophy.  Because only three boys raced cars in his age group, all three would place!  Redemption served on a silver platter.

The awards ceremony couldn’t come soon enough.  And by the time they called up the den leader for the Wolf Pack, I was ready.  Camera rolling.  Hope rising.

“In third place… Duke Hecker!!”  His eyes lifted.  His head held up.  We whooped.  Hollered.  Clapped and cheered.  And in those three seconds, his entire demeanor changed.  From failure to glory.  Sadness to joy.  And the thing is, the circumstances didn’t change. Only the frame around it.

It’s funny, isn’t it?  It’s like the difference between shopping at Neiman Marcus versus Walmart.  I can leave one store feeling incredibly insecure, and the other feeling like I’m winning at life.  I’m the same person.  Same appearance.  Different frame.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that for others?  This guy I’ve been seeing does that for me. I know there are a million other women who are smarter, prettier, and more talented.  But he makes me feel special.  Like I’m the only one.  And it’s incredibly disarming.  Like my bruised and broken heart is starting to heal and grow and trust again.  All it took was a little reframing.

Now, I’m not promoting the art of denying, minimalizing, or giving-a-false-sense-of-confidence.  We’re not doing anyone any favors by reframing unhealthy, abusive, or harmful behaviors.  No, I’m in the business of reframing brokenness with hope.  We have the power to reshape others’ perspectives simply by offering a new frame.  And that’s the most valuable gift we can offer.

As soon as we got home, Duke reorganized his bookshelf.  He placed his trophy right on top.  Front and center.  It’s not so much the relic – plastic, hollow, and cheap.  It’s what it stands for: the day he felt like he was somebody special.

I smiled because I know the feeling.  And it feels really, really good.

Strong Enough

I wasn’t super excited about the idea.  I had visions of kids falling through the ice, screaming.  Panicking.  Like the scene from It’s a Wonderful Life – except with more terror.  More tragedy.

But my dad convinced us that it was safe.  That the ice was thick enough.  Not to worry.

At first we tiptoed out.  Cautious and hesitant.  The older kids, those with ice skating experience, braved away from the edges.  They glided straight towards the deepest part of the pond – away from the safety of solid land and out of eyesight and earshot.

The younger kids half shuffled, half skated.  Falling a lot, laughing even more.  Once I realized that the ice was indeed strong enough, I felt my shoulders relax and the tension diffuse.  And in that moment, I couldn’t believe our luck.  To have a white Christmas and temperatures cold enough to freeze the pond… This never happened! Especially with all of us together.  It was both magical and serene.  Dynamic and yet simple.

It wasn’t long until my dad brilliantly decided to test the ice some more – this time driving the golf cart over the cold, glassy surface.  And despite the echoing pops and disturbing crunches, the ice held.  It was strong enough.  Honestly, I was shocked.  I thought for sure it would cave.  Buckle.  Give in.  But it didn’t.  And the only way to test it was by trying it.

There’s this section in the book The Meaning of Marriage where Timothy Keller uses the analogy of an old bridge to understand relationships.  He asks you to imagine this bridge with tiny hairline fractures that can’t be seen by the naked eye.  Then, a semi-truck drives over the bridge.  What happens?  The weight of the truck opens the structural defects.  “Suddenly, you can see where all the flaws are.  The truck didn’t create the weaknesses, it revealed them.”

Relationships do that, don’t they?  They reveal the defects like past hurts, open wounds, and unwashed baggage.  In this season of dating, the closer I get to someone, the more messy it becomes.  Part of me wants to stay on land.  The risk is too high.  The outcome unknown.  But, then what?  Where does safety get you?

Instead, I’ve eased out, testing the thickness of it.  Thoughts swirling… will this work?  Can it hold me?  Is it possible to escape unscathed??  And the answer is undoubtedly no.  It’s not if, but when.  Because, I will get hurt.  I will have bruises and heartbreaks.  Dashed expectations and disappointments.

But at the end of the day, I honestly believe that it’s worth it. Because when the relationship is strong enough – when it can withstand the pressure and pain of life – it transforms into something stable and smooth and transcendent.

It’s rare, I’m finding.  Equal parts delicate and durable.

And the only way to know, is by risking my way out.  Testing the surface.  And hoping it will hold.


We hadn’t gotten the cards out for a while. Maybe because life had been on cruise control and Drama was sleeping in the backseat.

Duke sifted through them first.  These “I think, I feel, I am” cards have statements/drawings on them.  Some good.  Some bad.  But all real.

Then, he asked me to pick the cards that described how I felt.  This was a strange role reversal, but okay.

I waded into the cards trying to pick out the thoughts and feelings that described me at that very moment.  Duke looked over my shoulder at the few I picked out.  “I have dreams.”  ”I feel determined.”  But then he stopped.  Worried, he read, “I feel lost” and with sadness/scarcity in his eyes, he asked, “Why do you feel lost?”

I tried to explain that I wasn’t actually lost – I just feel lost because I don’t know where my life is going.

Instantly, Eloise jumped into the conversation, equally worried.  “Are we not going to be in Bend?? Are we moving? What do you mean, you don’t know?…”

Guys. Don’t worry. We’re not going anywhere.”  This was spiraling faster than their excessive toothpaste application.  What mess had I created from trying to be f*ing honest?! Sheesh.

I backpedaled in an attempt to reassure them.  And because they’re kids and incredibly resilient, the moment moved on.

But the conversation lingered with me for days afterwards.  Do other 30-somethings feel this way?  Or does everyone actually have five/ten/twenty year plans AND follow through with them?

It’s like those life insurance commercials that look so shiny, but make you feel like crap, because you think everyone else is prepared.  They seem to have it all together.  Except you.  And the fear is what the insurance company is betting on.

Because fear is a very real feeling.

Which brings us back to feeling lost.  Not knowing what the future holds is a scary, scary thought.  Not knowing where the road leads or what dangers lie ahead is extremely unnerving.  The unknown.  The unpredictability.  The mystery.  It’s no wonder magic 8 balls are so popular!  We just want an answer.

And yet, there is something about being lost that makes you incredibly aware.  Heightened senses.  Physically and spiritually attuned.  Which makes me wonder, what if feeling lost is the very place where God meets us?  What if it’s only then, that we can fully trust him?

Maybe, just maybe, feeling lost is exactly where I’m supposed to be. Taking one step at a time.  Trusting in the now.  Not (very) anxious about the future.

Joy discovered. (AKA living in Bend)

You know what the best cure for a grumbling, whining, complaining-about-the-cold-kind-of-attitude is?  Look for the good.  Start there.  And slowly, slowly, you’ll notice that things start to look better.  The sun shines a little brighter.  You discover beauty buried beneath.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu says it this way, “As we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard.  We have heartbreak without being broken.”

So, in the spirit of giving thanks, here are some of my favorite things about Bend.

1.  Fresh snow.  It’s like powdered sugar.  Or frosting.  I love the way the neighborhood transforms into a giant gingerbread village.

2.  Ocean rolls + coffee.  I never knew what cardamom was until I moved here.  And now, I’m kind of (cough) addicted.

3. Downtown Bend.  If I was film scouting for small town America, I would choose Downtown Bend.  It is equal parts charming and sophisticated.


4.  Crystal Peaks Ranch.  A non-profit that rescues horses AND mentors kids?  Yes, please.  This place makes my heart happy.


5.  Paulina Lake.  It’s hard to choose just one favorite summer spot, but Paulina Lake is at the top of my list.  Serenity found.  Sigh…


6.  The top of Pilot Butte.  With 360 degree views of the city, you can’t visit Bend without visiting this landmark.  Just remember to share the road… and a sense of humor.


7.  Artwork around town.  With art hanging in alleys and sculptures standing in roundabouts, Bend knows how to marry city with creativity.  Happily ever after.


8.  Drake Park.  Snuggling up to Mirror Pond, Drake Park is an oasis among, well, paradise.  It makes you want to whistle.  Or sing.  And when the leaves change in the fall, everyone stops to take notice.


9.  Old Mill.  The Cascade Mountains create a dramatic backdrop to the smokestacks that once belonged to rival lumber mills.  It’s a nod to the past and a reminder of our history.


10.  ________________________.  To be determined.  And because I always want to leave room for one more.

Real vs. Romanticized

On the surface, it was perfect.  The way the sunlight filtered through the willow trees.  The weathered wood barn with it’s matching John Deere tractor.  The robins chirping above the breeze and the sweeping views of the Ochoco Moutains.  It was exactly like I imagined.  No, more.  Because it was real.  Like stepping through the veil between reality and fantasy.  It was what I wanted a ranch to look like.

He (being the rancher) took us on a tour of the property.  We scaled the ladder in the hay barn and giggled at how insanely high up we were.  We learned the art of shit-kicking (an actual thing you do when you walk the land).  And we loaded into his old farm truck in search of the bison herd.

When we finally spotted a few of them among the juniper trees, we drove off-road, rolling slowly up to them.  Windows down, camera out.  The kids were just a tiny-bit nervous.  (Actually, they were about-to-poop-their-pants nervous.)  He warned us that when threatened, they’ll charge.  And reaching speeds of 30mph, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of their aggression.

Once the safari tour was over, we headed back to the farmhouse.  I sighed saying how peaceful and beautiful and idyllic it all was.  He laughed.  “Everyone says that.  They have this romanticized version of life on a ranch.  But, once you live it, you realize that it’s nothing like you imagined.  It’s hard work.  Extremely hard work.”  He paused.  “And it’s even harder to make a living from it.”

I can imagine that too.  Kind of.  This “simple life” means waking up at 4:30 AM.  Working in snow and sleet.  Manual labor and back-breaking work.  Isolation and loneliness.  It means little margins and lots of bills.  It’s not exactly the Hollywood-version of life on a ranch.

And what a good reminder.  You see, things are rarely what we imagine them to be.  Lately, I find myself thinking that married life would be SO much easier than single life.  I long for someone to share an inside joke with.  Or a road trip.  To share life and parenting and dessert with.  But, I’m glossing over the reality of marriage.  It’s hard work.  Extremely hard work.

Just last week, I met with a friend who is in the valley of her marriage.  She lamented over the distance between her and her husband.  How she wants out.  How he doesn’t understand/appreciate/get her.  How unhappy it all is.  And what a good reminder – that this desire I have is not the answer.  That happiness is not found once a ring is.  That the ideal life is exactly that: an ideal, “a conception of something in its perfection.”

I think it’s okay to long for something.  To wish and hope.  That simply means you’re human.  But, I don’t think it’s okay to put all your hope into that something.  Or someone.  Because once the concept becomes real, the sparkle rubs off.  The work becomes real.   

And then you realize, life is still life.

And life is still hard.

Married or single.  City or ranch.  Young or old.

It’s beautifully, exhaustingly hard.

Mixed Emotions

I didn’t get the memo.  I must have missed that day in “Halloween for Adults” class, because as soon as I walked in, I realized I was the only girl who was dressed.  (And by dressed, I literally mean clothed.)  It was like the scene from Legally Blonde where Reese Witherspoon shows up in a skimpy playboy bunny costume and everyone stares.  Except this time, it was reversed.  I was the only one not wearing a skimpy costume.  And no one was looking.

What was my costume, you ask?  Oh, Amelia Earhart.  Because nothing says sexy quite like a liberated feminist who dresses like a man!  Not only was I wearing pants AND a jacket – but the little bit of skin that was showing was covered.  With a scarf.  Oh, and I had goggles.  Not exactly pilot goggles.  They were more of the steampunk, cheap variety.

On the dance floor, the tall Sriracha bottle asked me what I was.

“Amelia Earhart!” I emphatically said, while pointing to my lapel wings.  Never mind that they were Alaska Airlines.  And plastic.

“Oh… I thought maybe that’s who you were,” he smiled.

“Yeah,” I awkwardly paused trying to figure out how to continue the conversation.  “I’m dead.”

“I know,” he turned.

Sheesh.  I’m DEAD?!!  Obviously.  And, so is the conversation.  What was I doing??  I felt completely out of place.  I was surrounded by married couples and selfie-snapping minors.  Almost everyone was with someone.  Even Eeyore and Pooh were making out in the corner.  I tried to push down the middle-school-sized-insecurity and dance.  Just me and my scarf.  Getting down on the dance floor.

It’s a strange season of life that I’m in.  On the one hand, there is an incredible sense of freedom and fun.  I’m doing things I’ve never done before.  I’m collecting material and memories with friends.

But, there’s also a gnawing sense of loneliness.  Living in a world which puts love on a pedestal, I am very aware of my singleness.  Of being the odd one out.

My therapist explained that it’s like having two scoops of emotions.  You feel one thing, and another thing at the same time.  Together.  Some things, or actually most things, are not an “either/or”, but “and.”  I’m realizing that you can be fulfilled and lonely.  Busy and bored.  Free and fumbling.  Awkward and confident.

And maybe that’s what makes life so complex.  The grayness, the “andness,” is what makes it all so interesting.

The next day, my friend asked if I had a good time at the Halloween party.  I loved it!  And I hated it.  I had fun and I felt foolish.

But, I’m finally okay with both.


We stood there.  Watching the conveyor belt go round and round.  The two pieces of luggage left were not ours.  They were the dejected bags no one had claimed.  And after five minutes, or maybe fifty, we shuffled over to the ticket counter and with a fake sense of hope and forced smile, I said, “Hi.  Ourluggagedidn’tmakeit.”

“Why not?” the airline rep joked.

It was not funny.  Surprises like this never are.  They throw you off balance.  Interrupt the rhythm.  Frustrate and annoy.

That’s the thing about traveling.  You are at the mercy of everything and everyone around you.  You trust the pilots.  The weather.  The safety features and mechanics.  But, inevitably something comes up.  Something changes.  Life happens.  Surprise!

And the longer you live, and the more you travel, the more stories you collect.  The more missed flights, the crazier where-did-this-person-come-from? passengers, the more bumps, more turbulence, more everything.

This past weekend, my entire family trekked to Orlando for my granddad’s 90th birthday.  What started as two (my nana and granddad), has now turned into forty plus.  The branches of the family tree getting bigger, more twisted.   Some grafted.  Some broken.  But all connected.

And I was talking to my uncle about life now, with a severed branch.  I told him how hard relationships are at this age – since we all, me included, have more baggage.  More hurts.  More life experiences.  He soberly responded, “Imagine what it’s like at 60!  It’s even harder at my age.”

The thing is, I can imagine.  A few weeks into this dating game, and I feel the overwhelming urge to go back inside the terminal.  To sit and watch the planes take off from the safety of the airport.  It’s nothing like I expected, perhaps because I didn’t know what to expect.

I knew that I was broken, with a long maintenance record and refurbished parts/heart, but I hadn’t counted on everyone else to have the same.  Every. single. one.  We’re all rusty and worn.  Anyone at this age has seen a lot of places, met a lot of people, and had a lot of heartache.  It’s expected.  Traveling will do that to a person.

But, traveling also provides some great stories.  Some unexpected surprises.  Like the time I found myself walking into a proposal tunnel at Redmond airport.  Half of the strangers looked at me with bated breath wondering if I was “the one.”  (Spoiler alert:  I wasn’t.  Instead, I grabbed an extra sign, joined the tunnel, and watched the sweetest marriage proposal between two people I didn’t know.)

Which means, at the end of the day, I can’t let a few unfortunate experiences keep me from traveling.  Yes, losing your luggage is frustrating.  Extremely so.  But, now I know to reframe my expectations.  Hope for the best.  Prepare for the worst.  Collect some great material along the way.

And leave time, plenty of time, for the journey.


I am not a cook.  Or chef.  I don’t like the whole reckless/mess about it.  It feels like a science fair project where you don’t know the outcome.  You have a hypothesis.  Test it.  Analyze the results.  But, my results usually end in Meh.  Or better yet, comments from my kids like, “Well, it’s interesting.”  (Insert sympathetic look here.)

So, I decided to take a class.  I figured it couldn’t hurt.  And if I left with one solid dish that I could make for friends/company, it would be worth it.

The class?  The Perfect Ramen Bowl.  It was my initiation into a world both intense and foreign.  Exhausting and time-consuming.  We rolled the dough.  Braised the pork belly.  Pressed the noodles.  Pickled the daikon.  Soft-boiled the eggs.  Simmered the broth.  Chopped.  Cleaned.  Stood.  Watched.  Then, finally FINALLY ate.

The cooking world is a lot like the dating world.  It is time-consuming and foreign.  A world I don’t feel comfortable in.

I went into it thinking I could control it.  Thinking I could keep things clean and organized.  Follow the recipe.  If this, then that.

But, like cooking, it’s messy.  There are emotions involved.  Expectations.  I’m having a hard time trusting it.

I wonder if it’s worth it.  The time.  The effort.  Maybe because I know too much.  When you’re young, you’re not aware of the costs.  The hidden dangers.  But, once you’ve been burned, you’re rigid around the oven.  You’re cautious with the knife.  You don’t want to get hurt again.  And sometimes you wonder if it’s safer to stay out of the kitchen altogether.

Eloise off-handedly said, “Maybe you’ll be single the rest of your life.  And have nine cats!”  Who knows?  Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Then again, there was nothing compared to the ramen bowl.  It was pretty perfect.  Sure, it took time.  A lot of time.  Attention.  Work.

But it was worth it.  (I think.)


I remember standing in front of the eggs.  A year ago.  Helpless.  I stood there staring at the options on aisle three, completely overwhelmed.  It was my first time grocery shopping for me.  Just me – and I had no idea what kind of eggs to buy.  EGGS.  I didn’t know whether to buy organic or cage-free.  Brown or white.  Jumbo or generic.

It was an existential crisis.

What do I like?  What can I afford?  What tastes the best?  What feels the healthiest?  Heck, WHO AM I??

I’m pretty sure the constipated retiree next to me had a passing, worried thought – seeing me frozen in front of the egg cartons.  As he should have.  Because making decisions is what life is all about.  Our choices profoundly shape us.  For the good, bad, and ugly.

Lately, I’ve been getting some practice in making decisions.  On a whim, er, in a moment of pity/impulsiveness, I decided to sign up for online dating.  And let me fill you in on a little secret… online dating is like Narnia.  It is this secret world hidden from reality that is both magical and strange.  Heavier on the strange side, ahem.

Suddenly, I started receiving messages from total strangers asking personal questions about my thoughts on love and intimacy and relocation.  It is equal parts flattering and creepy.  But the thing is, I’m learning how to choose.

I’ve having to back away from the needy ones.  Not answer the old/odd ones.  Slow down communication between the unrealistic and this-doesn’t-feel-good ones.  (And a side note: false advertising.  A profile pic from ten years and fifty pounds ago is not being real.  Please.)  And for someone who is a pleaser and an accommodator, it feels very unnatural to say no.  And yet… so good!

In all this, I’m getting to practice saying a lot of no’s, because I have a stronger yes.   And that yes is me.

Which brings us back to the eggs.  After a while of trying all the options out there, I finally settled on the ones I like.  I chose.  It took some time and experimenting.  In the process, I had to say no to the familiar brands.  The expensive/unrealistic ones.  But, had I not tried, I wouldn’t have known.

Which is pretty close to dating.

Or maybe, exactly the same.