Tag Archives | virtue

Paint Away The Pain: On Hard Times and Creating Art

whimsical whimsy owl squirrel mouse fox mooseElune and I are discussing artwork and the creative process. She asks me: “Have you ever used art to paint your way out of your hardest times in life or your inner struggles?”

This past year, I addressed some painful issues: depression, financial insecurity, old wounds, and disillusionment with church leadership. These topics probably seem even heavier when juxtaposed against the lighthearted and fanciful style of my artwork. How does my life experience inform my artwork? How can someone who thinks about such dark things create such whimsical pieces?

I’m not sure I have an answer. (more…)

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Depression, Suicide and Hope: My Redemption Story

jeans with ripped kneesI need to tell you about the time I tried to kill myself.

I spent my early twenties at Harding University. When I tell you that my school is a legalistic Christian school, this is what I mean: not only are there strict rules about modesty, one day I was stopped by a teacher in chapel and told to change because my jeans had ripped knees; girls and boys are in separate dorms, at opposite ends of campus, and have strict curfews; girls are required to pass a weekly cleaning inspection; not only is alcohol consumption forbidden for all students and staff, but if a student is merely seen holding a can of beer for someone else, they will be expelled. I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the picture: I was in a controlling environment.

When I think back to my emotional state at that time, I imagine myself cowering in the corner of a room, huddled with my head between my knees, with sticky black paint poured over my back, dripping down my head, pooling at my feet.

I was 22 years old when I overdosed on pills and was rushed to the hospital. I used to be afraid all the time that I would die by suicide. It hurt so much to be alive, and some days I just couldn’t bear it. I spent the entire ride to the hospital terrified that I had tried to commit suicide. (more…)

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Do Not Despair

Joy is a complicated thing.

Matt walks in the door after a long day. I tell him how I have felt sick all day, how Phoebe fought her nap for two hours, how all of the dishes are dirty, how it’s beans and rice for dinner because I was too exhausted to prepare anything more elaborate. With compassion, he hugs me and says, “I’m sorry it’s been a bad day.” And it hits me: it HASN’T been a bad day. A difficult day? Yes. But a good one; a fulfilling one; a purposeful one. A day filled with love and blessings.

Weeping Sunshine

How are we to be JOYFUL when we are called to pass through DIFFICULT TIMES? I’m not even talking about the bombing in Boston or the shooting in Newtown, although those tragedies apply. I’m talking about your everyday life, your everyday grief, the griefs you carry with you that you cannot seem to shake. I have these types of griefs, and I believe we all do: money troubles, aches and pains, illness, injury, people we have lost, relationships that have withered, divorce, death, miscarriage, the yawning pain of absence.

Close up 1

Being Joyful is less about being happy, per se, and more about Being OK whether or not I’m happy. Knowing that my world will not fall apart in the face of despair, this is what gives me hope and strength and tenacity. I do not speak these words as someone who has never felt pain. This I have seen time and again: wherever there is disaster and death and chaos, life and love and hope spring back in it wake. Love is victorious. Good is victorious. The flowers pop up each spring. Babies are born. Wounds heal. Rainbows paint the sky.

Loving someone means you open your heart and make yourself vulnerable. Even the most loving relationship has its hurts. But that’s ok. Because loving someone was never supposed to be about symbiosis, but about paying it forward. Love is not about keeping track of how even a relationship is. Love is about being poured out, being ok with the mystery of emptiness, and being amazed when God fills you up again.

This, I believe, is the mystery of Faith. This is the act of surrendering my idols and worshipping God. I don’t need to be healthy. I don’t need to know where my food or clothing or shelter will come from. I don’t need to be with my child. I don’t need rest. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I don’t wallow in my sufferings, because suffering tenderizes me: it opens me up to feel the suffering of others and teaches me how to love compassionately.

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My hope for you is not that you will never suffer, but that you will suffer well.

My hope for you is not that you will never feel pain, but that when pain finds you, you will allow yourself to feel it, and then let it pass; and when the echoes of that pain find you: let them fill you, take a breath, and then empty yourself all over again.

My hope for you is that, when you find joy, you dance and hug and sing and laugh. Pour yourself out, over and over, like a jar of clay. For we feel like sinew and bone, but we are dust-to-dust in the blink of an eye. And recognizing the slice of eternity we are called to steward within our hearts might just be the key to turning our Grief into Joy.

I leave you with this poem by Mary Oliver…

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Blog post by Erin

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Weeks 25 & 26 – Resolutions

wishesThe funny thing about resolutions is that we never keep them. It’s a game we play with ourselves…a sick game where we come up with some unobtainable idea of the perfect “self” that we wish defined us. Resolutions remind us of our shortcomings, our failures, and our faults. And, when we invariably fail at our resolutions, it just reminds us of how pathetic, weak and imperfect humanity can be. (Why am I talking about humanity???) Truly, it reminds us of the weaknesses in ourselves, but in a depressing, shameful way.

I have no interest in a path that leads to self-loathing. Screw resolutions.

Ah…but then there is the path that few complete: the ones that keep their resolutions. Do they truly become better people? Or do they just gain the self-obtained right to think their better than other people? I have no interest in a path that leads to self-righteousness, either. Even if resolutions are able to be kept by some, I still say: screw resolutions!

We have to come to accept certain things about our lives. We are imperfect. We cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and fix our lives. Sometimes things that are broken stay broken. Sometimes things that hurt never heal. Sometimes weight is never lost. Youth flies out the window like a summer breeze. Death happens every day.

Once you can accept that life isn’t always a walk in the park, you can move on and appreciate what live has to offer. I think that being REAL and LIVING and WARM BLOODED with people is—hands down—more important than appearing perfect. The truth in life is that we all have flaws and we all offend each other, but none of us can pull it alone. We are a community. I believe God is at the heart of that community, and he brings us together to find meaning and comfort in Him.

Now for the practical application: if you’re thinking of making a resolution to eat locally this year, don’t! Don’t do it! Eat locally when you feel like it. Enjoy local produce, meats and cheeses. Get to know your local farmer and create a relationship with him. Let yourself become convicted that supporting local farmers is a good thing to do. But, if you can’t find your own love for eating locally, then stop. You don’t need to support local agriculture in order to save your soul. Root vegetables are not the indulgences of the 21st century. Food feeds the body; the soul is fed elsewhere.

Local sustainable food is good, but self-righteous localvores are idiots. Don’t become one of them. Be empathetic to others; share your food, and your good cheer; promote community and the local economy; however, don’t think that doing any of this will make up for other hurts or flaws in your life, because it won’t. The best it can do is mask them.  Don’t hide behind a resolution. Face your life for what it is, and feed each part of your being in the way that it needs to be fed.

By ekwetzel

csa winter december food organicWEEK 25 (There is a 1 week winter break for the last week of the year, and no CSA food)
(Top Row)
(Middle Row)
Delicata Squash
(Bottom Row)
Rainbow Chard

*Photo by Molly Morris

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Week 24 – Cups Full of Cheer

molly morris mug hobbitI guess you could have a lot of convictions. I guess you could walk through life with a lot of specific expectations. “The man I marry will be tall, interested in physics, and he will floss.” “I will leave early for work and get there on time.” “I will invest in certain portfolios and receive a certain kind of return on them.”

The thing is, life is unpredictable.

What if the perfect man for you has rotten teeth? What if your car breaks down on the road, or you get an urgent call from your sister who needs help with something? What if the stock market crashes and you lose everything you have invested?

We like lists. We like certainty. We like predictability. Life likes to defy us.

For example, consider the farm. A farmer can prepare her fields well, tend to them properly, and harvest appropriately; however, if the summer is too wet, or there is a killer frost in the Spring, the nature of her harvest changes drastically. At Terry’s Berries, we never know what food we will get when we sign up for a seasonal share of the yield. But we sign up anyways. We commit and pre-pay. Each week when we go to pick up our goodies, it is a new surprise. And we eat whatever bounty finds us.

You can’t go through life making decisions about your future and setting them in stone. What you can do, is decide what kind of attitude you want to have about your life. This is not a conciliatory move. This does not mean you let life run you over, only to say, “’It’s all good; I’ve got my Prozak.” No. What I mean is this: you decide to live a life of joy, then as situations arise – you fall in love; your sister needs you; your life savings are wiped out – you respond to them in a way that defends the way you want to live. Live from the heart out. Live rooted in soul.

Mr. Wetzel and I respect local food, we appreciate fresh food, and we prefer organic and natural farming methods. It is because these values, as well as others, that we make the commitment to eat from our local farms, creameries and butcher shops whenever possible.

We choose to have joy about our food, our finances and our life in general. Joy doesn’t happen by accident. You can’t nuke up a microwavable dish of joy. It’s something you have to cultivate, like a garden. It’s something you have to be attentive to. And, if you defend the joy in your life, it will fill you up.

You are the cup. Be filled up with cheer.

By ekwetzel

*Photo of girl holding mug, courtesy of Molly Morris.

csa food winter tacoma brussels sproutsWEEK 24
(Top row)
Delicata Squash
(Middle row)
Brussels Sprouts
Purple Onion
Garlic head
(Bottom row)
2 Leeks
Purple Kale

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Week 23 – The Sparrows and the Lilies

To be honest, I don’t want to write a blog post this week.  I’m not sorry I made the commitment to local food or to writing about it. The food is just not inspirational right now. We buy food from a farm. We’re convicted it’s healthy, good for local economy, good for the environment, cost effective, and a slew of other things. But this is not a week of revelations and insights about our wonderful CSA yummies.  This is a week where we’re not poets, philosophers or activists. We’re simply eaters, and the food is just our food.

This post isn’t about perseverance. It isn’t about finding a bright side. It isn’t about BS-ing my way into writing meaningfulness.  We like our food, but we haven’t been thinking about it much lately. It’s part of our habit, part of our routine. We don’t take it for granted, and we don’t expect it to be more than it is. In its silent, humble status of being, our potatoes are potatoes, our apples are apples, and our leeks are leeks.  We don’t need them to impress us. We’re happy with them just the way they are.

Do you know what I have been thinking about this week? My own identity. We’re 23 weeks pregnant this week, and I’m starting to really show. Everything is in flux: my wardrobe, my appetite, my sleeping schedule…even my work schedule and income are changing. Being pregnant is disarming. You lose a lot of self-control and self-reliance, and it’s easy to freak out over how insecure and “not yourself” it can make you feel. I have found the truest way to remain true to myself, to my family and to Christ is to allow the people who love me to help me and care for me.

Which got me thinking about the lilies and the sparrows. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus addresses our tendency to worry (Matthew 6:25-34). He uses the birds and the flowers as examples, explaining that they don’t worry about caring for their needs; God cares for them day in and day out.

This is what I was thinking about: if a sparrow doesn’t care for its own needs, what’s the point of being a sparrow? Well…to be a songbird and sing.  And, if a lily doesn’t care for its own needs, what’s the point of being a lily? To be a flower and look pretty. To BE a lily. Therefore, if the point of my existence is not to take care of myself, it leaves me asking: what’s the point of being me? If I can’t take care of myself, if I can’t find my identity in my independence and self-reliance, then how do I find identity? How do I find meaning? What’s my purpose?

And it struck me: I’m supposed to be me. To be real. To be honest. To exist fully and openly.

I think we can use self-reliance as a shield to keep us from opening our hearts to other people, and I think that’s a sad way to live. Think about the CSA where we get our food: CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. We are all part of a community, whether or not we realize it. We all need support from each other, whether or not we are willing to give it. Real food cannot exist without real people.

You don’t have to spend your life having mountaintop experiences in order to be real or feel real. Potatoes are just potatoes, sparrows are just sparrows, and I am just me.  But to be true to myself, to be real with you, I believe I am called to fill myself up with the songs of my souls, and then open the beak of my heart and let my being pour out. That, to me, is worshipful living. That is the foundation for community.  That is how to find true identity.

I don’t typically like to write deeply autobiographical posts, but this is what I have for you this week. If I were to write about anything else, I wouldn’t be true to myself or to you. Being real takes courage.  Being real leaves you open to the wind. But, being real is the only way to truly find the songs of your heart.

By ekwetzel

csa food organic washingtonWEEK 23
(Top Row)
2 Squash: 1 Delicata and 1 Kubota
2 Leeks
(Middle Row)
Frozen Raspberries
2 Onions
4 Carrots
(Bottom Row)

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Week 20 – Gratitude

thanksgiving turkey carvingYou can go through life greedy, discontent, and always looking for the next thing that holds promise to satisfy your wants and needs. You can grumble and complain about how terrible you have it, and how unfair your lot is. Or, you can appreciate the blessings in your life.

Gratitude is a spiritual discipline. It’s in anyone’s nature to want, crave and covet. But, learning gratitude opens up your heart and your soul to appreciate whatever you have, no matter how little it may be, and to let your life be filled with thanksgiving instead of wishful thinking.  Gratitude is an attitude; it starts in the heart, and permeates the rest of your life. It doesn’t matter how much you have or what it is that you have. There is always something to be grateful for.

Thanksgiving is a holiday about appreciating our blessings: food, family and fellowship.  Food is always a key feature in holiday meals, but for Thanksgiving it takes on a unique role: the Pilgrims were thankful because they were not going to starve. It was the food that the Native Americans brought to them that created the bond of community between them.

We rarely worry about starvation these days in America, and as we allow our food systems to get more and more industrialized, we lose touch with the people that grow and pick the sustenance of our lives. When you combine agriculture with community, you create a relationship and an environment of gratitude; when you take the community out of the equation, the eater is merely a consumer, detached from the land and often critical of the fruits before him.

No matter where you get your food, I encourage you to pursue a spirit of gratitude and a community around your food.

I’m thankful for dinners at the table after a long day of work and chores, and the conversations my husband and I have there.
I’m thankful that the food I eat from the farm is going to grow a healthy little baby in my womb.
I’m thankful for the long apple season in Washington, and the delicious apples that we eat throughout the winter when summer fruit seems but a dream.
I’m thankful for websites like allrecipes.com that help me figure out how to cook the weird and wonderful foods I get from the farm.
I’m thankful for how easy, versatile and delicious potatoes can be.
I’m thankful for whoever invented pies, because they are delicious and one of the best parts of Thanksgiving dinner.
Finally, I’m thankful that farms exist, even in this super-industrialized world, and that people can remain real and grounded, even in an urban area.

My wish for all of you is that you find community around your food, and that you find your own gratitude.

* Thanksgiving photo courtesy of Stephen Proctor.

By ekwetzel

csa veggies root localvoreWEEK 20

(Starting from the bottom left and going clockwise)
2 Leeks
2 Kohlrabi
I forgot the name of this root vegetable! Oops!
Head of Garlic
2 Delicata Squash
2 Carrots
Purple potatoes
2 Beets
Greens, I believe this is a type of bok choi
Bowl of Broccoli
(In the middle)
2 Pears
Sweet Pie Pumpkin
5 Apples

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Week 14 – Real People

When I get sick, the only things I can stomach are Ritz crackers, ginger ale and sherbet.  That’s right. I don’t eat organic crackers, raw ginger and sugar-free sorbet.  The goods I can eat without feeling queasy are three processed foods.

I’ve wondered if there is something special about these foods that makes me able to eat them when all else fails.  Is it because they are simple foods that are easy to digest?  Is there some magic ingredient that calms my otherwise repulsed stomach?  Or, am I able to eat these foods because of tradition?  I remember drinking ginger ale and eating Ritz crackers when I was home sick from Elementary school.  In fact, the only time we ever bough ginger ale, it seemed, was when someone was sick.  That’s the same for the Wetzels today; we only buy ginger ale when there’s a cold keeping someone home.

Frankly, I don’t care if the food literally helps me, or if it’s just placebo food.  As long as I believe I can eat it, and it tastes good enough to not make me nauseous, I will continue to patronize these three culinary standbys throughout the years.

As I learned more about industrial food in the past few years and became disgusted with some of the grievous practices of big corporations, especially big meat corporations, I was faced with a dilemma: I knew I could never purchase food the same way, but I also knew I could never super-impose my convictions onto others.  I knew I could never be that person who would refuse to eat the main course as a guest “because the chickens never saw the sun” or “because those vegetables were shipped halfway across the world, polluting the environment.”  It’s always been more important to me to be open and humble with people.  Real food is important, but real people are more important.

So what do you do?

It’s important in life to remember that we all have foods (like Ritz crackers) that we keep around, even if they aren’t the most “real foods” available.  What we have to keep in mind is that we can eat better, and eating better is better for us, but purifying our food choices will never purify our souls.  We are people. We live with people. And we will eat a myriad of things that each other may not approve of.

My advice? When you pay for the food you eat, eat the best you can.  Be generous with your food, as well as your thoughts and feelings about the food you choose to eat.  Be open to listening to other people’s thoughts and feelings about their own food; you will learn more about the real people in your life that way.

And, when you’re sick, try the Ritz cracker / ginger ale / sherbet combo. I swear. It’s magic.

By ekwetzel

(Clockwise, from the eggs)
6 Corn on the Cob
2 Beets
6 Pluots
Red Onion
2 Jalapeño Peppers (one green & one red)
6 Red Potatoes
Broccoli (with the greens)
Unidentified greens (I forgot to ask!)
Romaine Lettuce
(In the middle)
2 Eggplants (see the one with the silly looking “nose”!?)
Pumpkin Peppers
4 Tomatoes
Head of Garlic

*Many thanks to Stephen Proctor for help taking the photo this week.  (I really need to figure out which moving box my camera is packed in…or go buy a new one!)

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Week 6 – Say grace. Eat well.

People who always have something to complain about annoy the crap out of me.  The reason they are continually annoyed at life is not because they have a particularly annoying life, but because they are encountering their lives through a faulty paradigm.  Sometimes I wish I could transfer telepathic understanding to them: “The root of the problem is not all of your problems, but you.”

I’m not talking about people who have bad days.  Everyone has bad days.  I’m talking about people who always have bad days.  I think part of the faulty paradigm is an expectation for a “perfect” reality that no real person ever experiences on a consistent basis.  This “perfect” reality is by nature intangible, unobtainable, unchangeable.  In lay man’s terms, these are the “grass is always greener on the other side” folks.

If you expect reality to conform to an idea that it can never aspire to, you will always see life fall short and be depressed about the life that is dealt you.  If you expect life to be what it is, however, you can come to appreciate it for what it truly is: an ever-changing, ever maturing, vibrant, vivacious and cosmic thing that we are blessed enough to be part of and privy to. Here are a few truths about life:

(1) Things are “born” in some fashion.  “Planted” suffices for, well, the plants.
(2) Things mature and change, according to the seasons.  These seasons could refer to Autumn and Spring, adolescence and middle age, or business and serenity.
(3) Things come and go. Nothing is ever present all the time.
(4) Things die. Sometimes things are simply not around anymore.
(5) Things come back.  Plants, and people, have offspring. There is also hope for a new creation where we will be resurrected.

So, what does this have to do with food?

People who complain about their food annoy the crap out of me.  Food is good! It is delicious! Is it perfect? No. Does it have to look perfect? No. Sometimes the food that is the best for you looks weird or is prepared in an odd fashion.  If you are eating real food but still finding things to complain about, the problem is not the food, but your expectations of the food.

Food is dynamic and alive. It grows, matures and dies. It comes in and out of season. If you don’t understand these fundamental things about the nature of food, you don’t really understand how food is supposed to work. “Real Food” acts like food in all these ways. In order for food to go against this vibrant, dynamic nature, it has to be altered, and much is lost in the process.

Case in point: the twinkie. Where does it come from? Don’t want to know. There never is a “twinkie season.” It never matures, dies or goes stale, like real food would.  It also lacks the taste, nutrition and earthiness of real food. What does the twinkie have going for it? Great advertising which promotes a feeling about twinkies that leads the eater to expect a sort of fulfillment beyond the natural purveyances of food. But I’m left wondering: where’s the cream filling?

Think about food commercials. They aren’t really selling food most of the time. They’re selling an experience, a brand or an identity.

Real food is silent. Real food is just food. But, somehow, there is something entirely more spiritual about real food. I think this is it: if you are able to see food for what it is supposed to be—raw, earthy, fragile, bold—then you can let it remain its tangible, silent self, and move on to understand things about your own nature and how you fit in with the world. If, however, you are chasing something through your food consumption that you can never obtain, you are stuck in a hamster wheel, and you will never learn or gain anything but frustration and discontent.

Here are some principles towards a better food paradigm:
(1) If it can’t go bad, it was never good in the first place.
(2) If it is claiming to do something for you other than feed you, get a reality check.
(3) Eat what’s in season. It will taste better.
(4) There is more variety in food tastes than “sweet,” “salty,” and “greasy.”
(5) If you don’t want to eat it slowly and savor it, you don’t want to eat it. Period.
(6) Expect the unexpected. And expect to change.
(7) There is always something to be thankful for. Say grace. Eat well.

(Clockwise, from bottom left)
3 Beets
3 Onions
Season’s 1st Celery!
Summer Squash
Season’s 1st Peaches!
Season’s 1st Cucumber (It’s really hard to see in the shadow)
Napa Cabbage
Carrots & Purple Potatoes in the bowl
Eggs (again, the farm has new hens, and they are laying smaller eggs this week, so we received 18 eggs instead of the normal dozen)

By ekwetzel

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