Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Let yourself be silently drawn by
the strange pull of what you really love.
It will not lead you astray.

Megan inspired this entry through her recent post. Tammy would often (and still does) tell me where she saw God in her life and it sometimes confused me. . . these events often seemed like luck or coincidence to me. But those who believe in God or comforting energy or the divine or whatever you believe it to be would say they are instances of witnessing grace from another in your life. Here are the instances in my life that keep me believing.

1: My dad's mother died during my senior year of college. There were many complicated family relationship circumstances that surrounded the time leading up to and after her death, that cast a long, dark shadow on this time, especially for my dad. Part of it is because my grandmother was not a kind person over multiple periods of her life. By moving through the dying process, she revealed her kindness. I was away at college during most of this time, only hearing updates from my mom mostly. I had planned weeks in advance to be home the weekend she ended up dying. Mom, dad and I visited her on Saturday and she passed on Sunday. Her death truly showed me how dying is so much about those still living. Up until this point in my life, I never saw my dad cry. But when he came home on Sunday afternoon, told mom and I, and walked past us to the living room, through her tears my mom told me to go to him. So I did. And he sobbed in my arms. We cried together for what felt like an eternity, not saying a word.

2: A few months after this, I graduated. Like all commencement ceremonies, it was long, full of inspirational words and reflective moments. I'm sure we all felt at least a bit like I did: apprehensive and excited about the next stage in our lives. Sixteen years of existing as students made for a complex transition; all year I felt I was walking in two worlds, childhood and adulthood. It rained on and off during the ceremony, but in true UMM style, the weather didn't stop us from celebrating outside. Also in unpretentious Morris style, maintenance staff handed out trash bags for guests to wear or sit on. As I walked down the mall to my seat, I saw my mom, wearing a trash bag, scurrying between people, taking pictures of me. I was somewhat embarrassed and annoyed by her, even through my hangover from the night before. But she was excited and happy, and that's how she showed it. During the ceremony our Chancellor (who was also transitioning, to retirement) asked the graduates to turn and clap in appreciation for our family and friends who supported us during this experience. I only remember seeing my dad, who was smiling the brightest smile I've ever seen from him. He was watching the first person in his family graduate from college. As we received our diplomas, Chancey Dave gave each of us a piece of wood flooring from a gym that would be torn down that summer and replaced by a new science building. I have it on a shelf in my closet, and look at it every day. Dave wrote the same message on over 300 blocks of wood. They read, "A piece of UMM, with my good wishes. Dave Johnson 12 June 1998."

3: In 2001, Tammy was living and working at Slide Ranch, north of San Francisco on the ocean in Marin. I made plans in the spring to visit her in September. Between that time, my world and our world sort of fell apart, at least I perceived it that way. My close junior/senior high group of friends splintered in two in August, and then 9/11 happened. I flew out to Slide Ranch on 9/21. I remember feeling more and more calm as the plane ascended into the air. And that feeling of calm grew each day I was at Slide. We slept outside, fairly close to the ocean each night. I learned to milk a goat. We did yoga on the beach. We hiked through Muir Woods to see the redwoods. We ate wonderful, wholesome food. I started being quiet with my thoughts here. The beauty of that place and time continues to take my breath away. It is still my most treasured vacation. This was a turning point in my life, when I started to really notice, every so often, grace around me.

4: The following May I was in a serious car accident. My car was totaled, and I injured my knew enough to deal with healing it for many months after. There was probably a 10 second span of time, maybe longer, that I thought I would die/was dying during the accident. As they say, moments of my life flashed rapidly in my mind and I saw a bright, white light. That was scary. But the time that followed were scarier. It was like that intense brightness dimmed the rest of what I saw around me in the months after. I eventually saw a therapist for a while and remember telling her I was grateful to be alive, but that I didn't know how to live anymore. I can't remember a specific event that pulled me out of what I was experiencing. Perhaps it was through the grace of time passing, and talking it through with someone new.

5: This story continues to unfold. I've stopped trying to figure out when it will be all told, and believe, it will be known as my life. I have a male friend from college, who I've known for over 15 years. Our lives intersect in mysterious ways. Most of the time by chance, sometimes by our will, but all of it is through grace. I believe our relationship can best be described the way Richard describes soul mates in Eat, Pray, Love (it's not society's standard description of soul mates, and I won't go through the description here). Suffice it to say, this relationship has confused and distracted me for many years. In 2007, I decided to tell him how I felt, and that I wondered often if our friendship was pointing toward something more. I searched for courage for quite a while to stand in my truth with him. And all that has been spoken between us since has been full of grace. He didn't feel the same about me, and expressed that to me in his own gentle way. Both of us could have very easily decided my admission created too much awkwardness to continue our friendship and stopped communicating with each other. But that hasn't happened either. Our honesty with each other moved me to a new place. Maybe it did for him too, I'm not really sure. That place for me was realizing I needed to let go of ideas I had long held about my life. Some I should have let go of before 2007, like that I would be a social worker and married by the time I was 28. And that by now I'd be living in a house with a husband and a dog, not alone in a condo. That I would marry a guy I met in college. That I would be having children in my early 30s. Slowly over the past two years I've allowed grace to help me let go of these ideas that aren't my reality. Grace has helped me develop gratitude for the beauty that is real in my life.

6: Slide Ranch led me to Clare's Well. And Clare's Well reminds me of wonderful places in my life: Slide, Morris, a friend's family cabin in Wisconsin, Dodge Nature Center (my favorite neighborhood spot), and the resort my family went to when I was young. My first visit was in 2003, for one night. I had briefly experienced living in community at Slide, so that aspect was not too unknown for me. I didn't quite know what to think of spending time with nuns, however. What would they be wearing? Would I be out of place not doing the sign of the cross? Would I have to talk about being Methodist? Turns out I didn't need to worry about any of these things. Sisters Carol, Aggie, Paula and Jan are so loving, humorous, and real. They wear Patty Wettlerling for Congress T-shirts and write Mark Kennedy letters about ending the war in the Middle East. They go to the State Fair. They ride pack mules for miles in Nicaragua to travel to mission sites. They are all in their late 60s/early 70s and take care of a farm, grounds, cabins, and guests. They create the most peaceful and grace-filled environment at Clare's Well. I feel like it's my mission to tell as many people about this wonderful place to relax, smile and appreciate our beautiful world. This year I'm staying five nights.

7: My trip to Ireland. I've traveled several places alone for vacations - as a way to prove to myself that a could, and to go on adventures even when there aren't people able to travel with me. Now, I'm sort of past traveling alone. I thought my next adventure should be experienced with people I didn't previously know. I expected grace in the beauty and spiritualness of Ireland. I was overwhelmed by the grace I found among strangers, who became my traveling companions. Over 10 days, we cared enough for each other to make our trip as great for each other as possible. I now have new friends across the world. And a few of us are already planning another trip together.



  1. What a great post Jill! I learned SO much about you and really enjoyed reading about your experiences of Grace. Beautiful!

  2. Ha ha ha - I was just going to write pretty much the same exact thing Melissa did! I love this post - a beautiful expression of where you've seen God at work in your life - through places, people, experiences, trauma, love and peace. I pray that God continues to move in wonderous ways throughout your life!