Empty Vessel

A fine teacup is filled simultaneously by a pitcher of sweet tea and a steaming kettle of water.

Little porcelain cup tries to catch every drop, but it fills her quickly, runs over her gilded brim, and eventually evaporates, leaving brown scales on her smooth surface.

She waits in place patiently to be filled once more. Next time she will catch the tea and the water. She will do her job flawlessly. After what feels like an eternity, she loses hope. Her edges and surfaces gather dust until her intricately painted roses are dulled and obscured.

She looks up at the larger vessels. Instead of a pitcher and kettle she finds a pencil drawing of a pitcher and a kettle in their place.

Her wish to be washed and filled drives her to madness.

She nearly abandons her desires altogether.

In a moment of light she is lifted and cradled. Two gentle hands wrap around her delicate sides. Two lips press into her gilded rim and she is ecstatic.

She is not, in fact, a little china cup. She is the woman holding the cup. She is the pitcher, the kettle, the cup, and the hands that hold them. She is the table on which they sit and the person writing these words.

Why I'm Publishing a Memoir

Once my beautiful pure-hearted grandmother told me that she never thought her story was worth anything. Having left her Old Mennonite community as a young bride, she raised 9 children and lost her husband early on. She scraped by as a seamstress and babysitter, held together a family of wildly passionate, stubborn children, and mostly, she did this with her mere presence.

She was formidable and quiet, the epitome of grit, yet she couldn’t look at me when I told her that her story was inspiring. After a few moments, her red-rimmed eyes betrayed her. She said, “I never thought it was worth telling.”

All at once, I was heartbroken and shocked. I was angry for her and for all the women born into her oppressive circumstances, which was roughly Every Female Ever. I was also thankful that I lived in an age where I knew my value as a woman. I was only 24 at the time, headstrong, a wee bit arrogant, and not afraid to ask uncomfortable questions.

I could not have known that my life at that moment was resting on the head of a pin. In the few short years that followed I would be married, have children, and contemplate suicide . . . again. My self-assured swagger would disappear and I would tumble down a different path.

For my grandmother, for my mother, for my daughter, and for Me - I must write my story, against the advice of all the voices in my head that say it’s not important enough or too shameful to be shared. The afternoon I sat with my grandma asking her difficult questions taught me that a story can change a person’s life. The telling of it, the hearing it, the measuring of it against your own story, in turn, can color your decisions forever after.

I’m turning out my pockets, my purse, my brain full of tangly thoughts, and my heart full of hopes and wishes so that others can know their stories are worth telling, too.

Why I'm Not Saved

Vulnerability is a much-used term. I love the term. I love the idea, but instead of writing about vulnerability in a removed philosophical way, I'm going to be vulnerable and share my guts with you today.

I was raised Evangelical, but we didn’t call it that. We called it, “Have you been saved?” Not Saved, or Born Again, or even Christian. It was always a question posed to an outsider. When they denied your help in guiding them into the flock, you shook your head and felt that much better about yourself. You were then even “more chosen.”

Since you’d been taught that only a designated number of people (144,000) would be allowed into Heaven, you might have even felt relieved. Statistically, you didn’t actually want other people to be saved and take a spot from another person you already knew and loved.

No one wants their neighbor to burn in a Lake of Fire for eternity, but if he’s taking your best bud’s spot, then, you know.

At a certain age, my view of geography and time began to expand. This caused to me to wonder how it was that a good number of God’s chosen few were going to be plucked from a small town in Tennessee in the 1980s. I would shake off the doubt and just be grateful I was born into it.

Of course, as a person grows older she accumulates more mistakes. Oops, I lied about cheating on the multiplication quiz in 3rd grade.  Oops, I didn’t actually speak in tongues. I just wanted to look cool in front of the congregation. Oops, I have a whole album full of Michael Jackson stickers, but no one will ever find it under my pile Amy Grant cassettes.

I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time, but I was starting to feel as though the scales were tipping. Maybe I wasn’t actually Saved anymore. Since one did not ask questions in general as a child, or in the South, or in the Church (triple whammy), I silently worried that my parents and the rest of my family would be looking down at me during the Rapture Tsk, Tsk, tsking at me as I was raked into the hot coals of Hell. 

In the years that followed, I suspected that I had never actually been Saved at all, so I poured some vodka and wild behavior on it. Then I heaped some shame on top for good measure. Miraculously, I calmed down, fell in love with teaching, got married and had kids. There was still a telltale heart beating under the floorboards, though. It was reminding me that maybe I would still pay for my sins for eternity.

Yet when I looked at each of my children's brand new faces, I knew in my heart that they didn't need saving. They were already just as they should be and nothing they would ever do would change that. It is a truth shared by the universe with every mother, should they choose to hear it. My role was to grow them and not get in the way of the perfection that they already were.

It took me several more years to apply this reasoning to myself. 

The day I realized I never needed saving in the first place was joyous. I was still accountable for poor choices and responsible for being my best self, but there was no select group denying me entrance to their version of eternal bliss.

I am already happy. Now. 

To Be List

Every once in a while I sit down with my life's "to do list" and a cup of coffee to scratch out some items, add new ones, and prioritize old ones. I already found Michael, made a few new human beings, forgave myself for a heap of old mistakes, and wrote a couple of books. 

As I'm approaching my fortieth birthday, I felt like I needed to take another look at the list. Also, one of the ways I fight chronic depression is by asking, "What's next?" and setting little goals to get there.

I flipped through all the worn pages and recalled the mental space I lived in when I wrote each of them. Looking at all the entries with fresh eyes, I realized this was more of a To Be List. Some of the common themes were:

Be Present

Be Grateful

Be Compassionate with Myself

Be a Light

And then the COOLEST thing happened. I checked off all the items and there was nothing to add. 

Don't get me wrong. I have a million things I still want to try. It's just that since my old stories and other people's hang-ups and expectations no longer weigh me down. I thought: I have accepted myself as-is. I'm happy right now. 

I don't need a list to tell me how to be anymore. I am pretty clear on my who and my why at this point. Now it's a question of what I want to with it.

Put more simply, I trust life. I trust myself to act out of compassion and my own truth without having to think too hard about it. Love is my default.


In my mind’s eye a long winding marble staircase appeared. I smiled as I slid my hand along the railing and ascended to the rotunda where our highest selves would meet.

I had been to this place before in meditation. Once I had met with my brother from the other side of the veil. And another time I met with my sister so we could help each other heal.

Normally someone else would be guiding me through this imagery. I had been on enough of these journeys and my wound was fresh enough that I needed to do this now, alone.

I would be meeting my mother’s spirit. She had not passed away but was so ill that she didn’t know who I was anymore.

I stepped into the circle and saw her clothed in white translucent robes, hands clasped behind her, looking out the window into the infinite light and peace.

I ran to her and hugged her. When she hugged me I felt the presence of Heavenly Parents wrapping us both in a embrace to remind us of their constant love and protection. We were wholly loved and didn’t need to fear.

I forgot that instantly though, as we tend to do. My mother and I sat on the white marble benches and I leaned forward eager to have answers, to have peace. I thought  I'd never see her eyes so clear and bright again.

“Mom, why is this happening?”

She smiled as she took my hands and said, "My work is different now. It is silent. We can’t grasp the vastness or importance of our lives in this existence.”

“I'm so afraid that you're scared and confused - that you’ll never be happy again. This seems awful and pointless. It’s hard to accept that this is who you are now.”

“Don’t be angry, Rachel. Even without perfect knowledge and understanding, you can still trust life and walk in joy.”

I hadn't even realized I was angry at God until she spoke the words. I exhaled deeply, "Thank you, Mom."

The warmth she radiated expanded ten-fold until her boundless love lit upon the peace and gratitude in my heart.

I added, “Thank you for taking on this life. Thank you for giving me life and watching me grow up.”

She left me with one request: “Love me now with acceptance and ferocious pride. Take care of your body. Guard your heart and that precious light inside you.”

And with that I found myself winding back down the stairs hearing my mother’s voice singing her wish for me:

I pressed my clasped hands to my forehead and bowed to the ground as my heart began to stitch itself back together.