How To Be Here

My wife and I bought our first home in the winter of 2019.  Immediately, we began a harrowing journey to remodel our 1960s home.  We had no plan and a woefully inadequate budget, but we also had a lot of moxie and sweat to give.

At first, it was thrilling to be finally working on our house after dreaming about it for 16 years.  Many conversations would start with, “What if over here we did this…”  Then one of us might say, “Oh, I like that!  And what about…and if we are going to do that, we better do this first.”  Quickly, the size and scope of the project ballooned.  A few cosmetics changes to make the house livable turned into a complete gut job.  Before long, the entire house felt like a FEMA disaster zone.  Entire walls were removed and replaced with beams and posts. Drywall torn down.  Flooring pulled up.  Old electrical and plumbing ripped out.  A bathroom completely removed.  It turned into a chaotic mess almost overnight. 

And that is when we moved into the basement.

Everything that comes to mind when you hear ‘basement’ is spot on.  Dark.  The dank smell from 40 year old carpet.  Wood paneling.  Spiders.  Cold concrete walls.  The loud droning of a old furnace about to die, which did by the way.  We used seven space heaters strategically placed to keep warm that winter.  That same week the furnace died, so did the fridge. 

For the next six months little felt familiar and nothing felt like home.  The “kitchen” area was a plastic folding table with two portable electric burners.  A set of storage shelves became the pantry with all the canned goods, produce, dishes and utensils on it.  Because everything was out in the open, meal time required us to first wash off the construction dust that had settled that day.  Our three boys slept in one dungeon-like bedroom with mattresses on the floor.  The work hours were long and brutal often ending late in the night.  What we thought would be a few weeks turned into months of full-blown disillusionment. Eighteen months later, our house is much more livable, but we are still miles from the finish line. 

We own a house, but now we really see what it means to be homeowners.  Now we know that “sweat equity” is gratifying, but it is also physically and emotionally grinding.  Now we know that to create beauty from something old and broken down meant we had to learn how to live with some chaos and uncertainty. 

There is a lot of chaos and uncertainty in the air, isn’t there?  Everywhere you look there seems to be the unsettling mess of a full-scale remodel, and by all accounts we’re not even out of the demolition phase of this thing.  This is a marathon of uncertainty.  The rising number of Coronavirus cases and deaths, the unrest against racial inequity, a global financial crisis, and the pandemic of confusing and divisive leadership highlight a sharp truth about life’s most difficult trials: there are no shortcuts through this wilderness.  The only way out is through.  This is a journey measured in steps.  And we each have to learn how to be here – in this day – as we continue on this unknown path.

How do we be here, with all the difficulty that comes with these trials?  How do we keep putting one foot in front of the other when so many feel weary and worn thin?  How do we stay hopeful when it seems like everything is barely holding together?

In the weeks ahead, I want to explore these questions and offer a few thoughts and ideas on how to be here.  I hope they offer some encouragement and help you plant your feet on the ground to keep moving forward, one day at a time.  

Here’s the first though about how to be here:

Remember, you’ve been here before.   

If I had the opportunity to ask you, “what stories most shaped you?”  I’d probably hear about moving to a new town as a kid, the loss of a loved one, a traumatic event, losing your job, starting a business, failing in business, getting married, getting divorcing, having kids, or life after launching kids.  In the middle of these stories just after the plot thickened you didn’t know up from down.  Everything felt off and unsettling.  Messed up.  You were stressed out, likely anxious and fearful.  You didn’t know what to do next.  You did your best to cope.  Some of those ways were not healthy.  Some were.  Often, you just wanted to go back to how things were.  Life was in a state of disorder, and you had to do the slow, gradual work to make some sense out of it.  Wanted or not, these moments were highly disruptive and hard for you.    

Weren’t these stories also revealing?  Didn’t they show you a great deal about the makeup of your character – what was there already and what you sensed lacking?  Didn’t they ask you to grow up some and face your demons?  Didn’t they force you to put a fresh grip on questions like, “What do I really want for my life?”  Didn’t you see how some things matter very much to you now and some things just don’t?  And then, didn’t you have to make a few leaps of faith, these partially blind choices where you take the best step forward with what you know at the time?  Didn’t those moments call upon your courage?  Or, put another way, didn’t you have to put some legs on your fear?  If they are stories that shaped you most, I’ll bet they held deep learning and discovery. I bet over time you gained more self-awareness and confidence, I bet your courage grew, and you felt alive.  I also bet that who you became and what was discovered because of that story in your life would have remained hidden, perhaps forever, without that trial.

These times in life go by the name liminal space.

The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word limens, which literally means, “threshold”.  A liminal space then is the time between the old familiar story and the new one.  It is a transitional space of intense uncertainty.  They are undefined, confusing and uncomfortable days, just like the ones we are living through right now.  It is the waiting and not knowing, the deep encounter with uncertainty, that makes these moments terrible and often unbearable.

It’s easy to look at a long, difficult trial as something to bear since many days are simply a fight for survival.  But that’s rarely the whole story, is it?  The stories you just recalled tell us that.  If we are fortunate enough the most formative stories wake us up to the life we have and are deeply transformative in shaping us into better human beings.  And by better I mean more grateful, less fearful, more joyful, more loving of our neighbor, more creative, more comfortable in our own skin, more kind to others in their skin, more purposeful, more service-minded and justice-oriented, more present here and now in this day that we’ve each been given. 

So, you are still here.  Another day.  Five months into a pandemic and a world gripped by uncertainty and unrest, most days feel like this thing is barely hanging on by a thread.  But remember, you’ve been here before.  Of course, just like the rest of us, you’ve never had to paddle through these dark waters.  And just like the rest of us, you’d rather be on the other side of the storm.  That’s miles away.  We are here.  And you are no stranger to pulling at the oars in a stormy seas.  Navigating uncertainty in life is a given for all of us.  Who you become and how you respond to the uncertainty is entirely up to you.  Looking back at your life will catalogue this quite well. 

Liminal spaces are hard to tolerate, especially when they stretch on for months and years.  Remember though, an incredible story could be up ahead that you might get the chance to tell someday.  Much of that gets determined by how you show up and simply be in this day.  By learning what it means to be here. 

Remind yourself often that you are in a liminal space, and that you are not a novice traveler.  You have experiences to draw upon that speak to your resilience.  For today, remember that you are this magnificent and mysterious human being who can not only make it through hard thing, but can also become more alive and more human along the way. 


  • Think back over the last five months. Make a list of all the challenges and problems you have had to solve for. Many of these I assume you thought you’d never have to figure out! As you review the list, what does it teach you about your resilience?
  • What have you been hard on yourself about lately? Write down what it sounds like in your thoughts. After each thought, consider this: what kind words or acts of care do I most need that these thoughts are preventing?

The Gift of Simple Pleasures

As I look back on the last month of social distancing and “Stay-at-home”, I realize this COVID-19 pandemic hits in waves—not only the “curve” we’re rightly obsessed with “flattening”—but powerful, unpredictable emotional waves.

The first few weeks the waves were coming so fast, there was hardly time to get back on my feet. Directives changed daily. “Functional” meant I still had the ability to react to new information, follow new rules and get through each day in survival mode (vs total paralysis).  Shock, disbelief, and numbness are a mercy and got us through those early days. Now we’re a few more weeks into this and the reality continues to set in. You and I and our world is not going back to “normal.” “Normal” as we knew it has ended, but we certainly aren’t on the other side of this yet.

How long until we’re living in the new normal? We don’t know. We’re suspended in a liminal space. The good news is, having already navigated several weeks, we’re a little more steady amidst the waves, and we have a little more margin to respond vs simply react: we’ve recovered a little space to ponder our choices, and a little will and energy to execute. We have choices about how we’re going to navigate this space.

I like to cook, and especially to bake. Even more specifically, bake yeast breads. Early in this pandemic I thought to myself, I’ll just make sure I have a good supply of flour and I’ll be set with a highly rewarding way to “kill time.” I very quickly discovered, that next to toilet paper and hand sanitizer, flour was about the most difficult thing to find.  Anywhere. Including online. One day in desperation I googled two words: flour + Washington. Up popped a flour mill about an hour north of Seattle and miraculously, they had one kind of whole wheat flour still available. I was able to order this flour (25# minimum!) and got a message I would be contacted when it is “ready for pick up.” What does that mean?…wasn’t the flour sitting somewhere in a bag if it’s available to order? To make a long story short, a couple days after my online order—and a short road-trip—I had 50# of 100% whole wheat flour that had been fresh ground just for me!

I was so psyched to bake with this flour—and it did not disappoint! This little adventure got me thinking about several things about navigating life in this unprecedented global liminal space:

It’s good to take a break from the intensity.

It’s good to get a change of scenery.

It’s good to enjoy a hobby and simple pleasures.

At the same time, I begin to ask myself if making and eating “comfort food” in this season is a healthy, self-soothing activity…or is it a medication for the grief and anxiety the COVID-19 pandemic is leaving in its path? Honestly, it’s a little of both for me.  And that’s fine.  I’m not beating myself up about it.  Though I am noting if my daily step count and weekly workout routine are roughly keeping pace with my baking. J

The important thing is to recognize the gift in the COVID-19 pandemic – that is the gift of the opportunity to grow. Grow in the direction of health: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual. Grow in resilience. Grow in character. Grow in hope. I need the comfort of small mercies and simple pleasures AND I need to lean in, toward choices and activities that will result in growth. Growth is the opportunity and gift of every liminal space.

Name it. Feel it. Move it.

COVID-19 Liminal Space tip of the week:

“When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. . . . Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling.”1  And your body will continue to produce the feeling, even if you think you’ve successfully buried it. You only buried it alive and it will find a way out.

A few weeks ago we were plunged into a global “liminal space” – that intensely uncomfortable space between an ending (of our normal life as we knew it) and a new beginning (yet to be revealed and we don’t know the timeline).  We are all presently suspended in a “terrible cloud of unknowing” as Richard Rohr calls it.  

We don’t know when we’ll get relief from the circumstances we are stuck in, but we can still experience movement. A small, immediate, opportunity for movement is to simply keep our feelings moving. Don’t resist or suppress the feelings the COVID-19 pandemic is prompting in you, instead consciously name and feel them, as immediately and as often as you can and let them pass through. You will actually feel—in your body—emotional space freed up; you will gain capacity to keep going.  

Exercise: What is your primary fear right now? Put it into words, and share it with someone who will graciously listen without offering advice or attempt to “fix” it. Doing this will rob that fear of much of its power and turn its volume way down.  In your body, you will physically feel a big exhale, and an unexpected peace. I have been doing this daily – I hope you’ll give it a try!

1Full article here: That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief
by Scott Berinato

These Uncertain Times

My three boys and their cards for our next-door neighbor, Ellen.

A month ago, the kids were in school, we were shaking hands and had no awareness of social distance.  Words like pandemic and global recession weren’t on my radar.  Coronavirus was this far away thing on the news.  

Last week, my next-door neighbor died from the virus.  His name was Alan.  I didn’t know Alan really.  We’ve only lived as neighbors for not even a year.  The busyness of life kept the relationship to neighborly waves and hellos.  One evening last summer I remember sitting with my family in the backyard around a fire.  From time to time, we’d hear Alan’s hearty laugh as he watched a rerun of the show Frasier.  We smiled and chuckled with one another as Alan unknowingly shared a simple pleasure of his with us all.  

This week his wife, Ellen, grieves alone in the silence of her home while under self-quarantine.  She was with him at the hospital just before he died.  I can only imagine the precious words shared between one another after 50 years of life together. 

We’ve been sheltering in place for over a week now.  Sometimes all I feel is disbelief.  I think, is this really happening?  Did Alan really die?  Is the couple walking their dog outside my window really going through this too? 

Sometimes I don’t feel anything at all. 

And every day I feel this foreboding sense of vulnerability –a low-grade mix of fear, worry, dread and panic.  I especially feel it when watching the news.  Less when I don’t.

Sometimes I feel sad over so much that has been lost, like my youngest son’s remaining year of kindergarten.  Such a beautiful, mystical year of his education, now likely over. 

Sometimes I just keep my head down and stay busy.  Work.  Get something done.  Stay productive.  And it feels good.

Often, I feel worn down and exhausted.  I struggle to peel myself out of bed or off the couch to go to bed. 

Sometimes all I want to do is watch an episode (or four) of Seal Team.  Such a good show.  They know how to work a problem while under fire. 

Sometimes I start sentences with, “You know what we need to do?  We need to…”  And I feel certain and clear about my next steps. 

Often though, I am confused.  And I start sentences like that because I don’t know what to do, and I don’t want to show it. 

Everyday I worry about money.  Every day. 

Sometimes I pray randomly, “Come, Lord Jesus.  Come.”

A few times this week, I opened the fridge and stood there looking for something good to shove in my mouth.  Preferably chocolatey.  Then I shut it without grabbing anything because what I want is not there.  I then do it again…12 minutes later with the same result. 

Sometimes I feel on edge and cranky.  I say things that are unkind to people I love.

Sometimes I like home school, and I catch myself wondering, maybe this would be better for us as a family.  Maybe this is a profound moment to reset our lives

Sometimes home school sucks.  And I’m like, W.T.F.

Sometimes I do stuff that is so simple, pleasurable and feels revolutionary, like take a walk.  During and for a time after my walk I feel better.

Everyday I feel mostly relieved that I’m not on social media.  And everyday I feel like I’m missing out on the latest.

Sometimes I do stuff I’ve never done before, like a workout video on YouTube.  (Check out Heather Roberston’s channel.  She almost put me into cardiac arrest yesterday.) 

And sometimes I feel restful and calm, enjoying this chance to be at home with my family.  It feels like this surprising gift to connect and feel safe, together. 

And sometimes that peace is interrupted because I remember the Why.  Or, my kids are bickering over who gets to play their video game next. 

These uncertain times are many things.  And that’s okay.  Let them be.  Let them happen.  What we are all going through is so disorienting.  So unknown.  And with great uncertainty comes many varied and jumbled thoughts and feelings, and they seem feel like conflicting experiences.  But they are not.  It’s all normal.  All true.

And it’s all heading somewhere. 

Right now, so much is ending and being let go of.  And there is still this foreboding unknown ahead: we don’t know how bad the suffering will get.  And at the same moment, something is being reordered.  Though we are feeling the sting of discomfort, we are awake.  And we are beginning to do things like reassessing what matters now, and potentially reprioritizing our choices and commitments. 

Suffering and Discomfort.  Pleasure and Possibility.  Both are true.  Both ready to teach us if we will listen.

Don’t rush to concretize anything.  That’s not the phase we are in.  Most of us are in triage mode, doing what we have to do with what we have available to us, for that day.  Take comfort in the fact that we are in the midst of an ancient rhythm of life called transition.  It always begins with disorder.  It always brings a reordering.  And those that stay attentive during transition become better humans.  More alive.  Less fearful.  More generous.  More courageous. 

So simply notice.  Again, stay awake.  Write things down that are true, both what’s hard and what’s good.  My family is doing this by writing things down on big poster-sized sticky notes.  Why?  Because we don’t want to forget.  Humans forget easily.  It’s all at the surface now, so pay attention.

The Parable of the Trapeze

I often reference the metaphor of trapezing when navigating through a major life transition. I’ve made it a living metaphor, having personal experience with what it’s like to leap from a platform 30 feet up in the air and feel my body hurtling toward another set of hands that I’m told are going to catch me.

“Legs off!” The instructor yells. What a terrifying and thrilling invitation.

Trapeze is quite an apt metaphor for transition, don’t you think? We are between “what was” and “what is yet to be.” It is a time in life when we feel the need to apprehend a future, but transition invites us to pause and hang out for awhile in the not knowing. The invitation calls us to discern – to “distinguish between things” – learning, I believe, what it means to live courageously whole and undivided lives. But that takes some time. It’s a natural process in life that doesn’t do well under demanding and rushed conditions.

Each of us gets to decide what to do in that space; it is a choice to say ‘no’ to the invitation. It saddens me greatly when I see a person say no or “not now.” And it inspires me deeply to see a brave soul let go and reach for a new story of wholeness, especially in a world where the choice to do so isn’t easy. Parker Palmer writes, “We are cursed with the blessing of consciousness and choice, a two-edged sword that both divides us and can help us become whole. But choosing wholeness, which sounds like a good thing, turns out to be risky business, making us vulnerable in ways we would prefer to avoid.”

The choice to transition is risky business, for sure. But the riskier choice is to cling desperately to the old bar, afraid to let your legs slip off. We just weren’t meant to live in small ways. Below I share with you the Parable of the Trapeze by Danaan Parry. As you stare down the space of “in-between” in your life, may you accept it’s thrilling and terrifying invitation to pursue a more wholehearted life.

Turning the Fear Transformation into the Transformation of Fear

By Danaan Parry

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life.

I know most of the right questions and even some of the answers.

But every once in a while as I’m merrily (or even not-so-merrily) swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It’s empty and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart of hearts I know that, for me to grow, I must release my grip on this present, well-known bar and move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to let go of my old bar completely before I grab the new one. But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar and, for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar.

Each time, I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it. I am each time afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between bars. I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. So, for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.”

It’s called “transition.” I have come to believe that this transition is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “no-thing,” a noplace between places. Sure, the old trapeze bar was real, and that new one coming toward me, I hope that’s real, too. But the void in between? Is that just a scary, confusing, disorienting nowhere that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible?

NO! What a wasted opportunity that would be. I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void where the real change, the real growth, occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.article continues after advertisement

We cannot discover new oceans unless we have the courage to lose sight of the shore. – Anonymous     

So, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to “hang out” in the transition between trapezes. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we just may learn how to fly. 

From the book Warriors of the Heart by Danaan Parry. 

On Rest, Work and Burnout

Do you ever have those weeks—or series of weeks—in which one by one, things pile up: frustrations, to-do lists, exhausting work days, injuries, cancelled plans, etc., and then you’re just walking along in this fog of fatigue and realize you’ve hit your limit. If you’re lucky, you recognize this is happening and take steps to combat it before you reach burnout. But oftentimes, I’ve found, I have to get pretty tripped up before I’m willing to address that slow and steady progression toward burnout.

This time, it seems, my intuition was ahead of the curve; or rather, my intuition is often ahead of the curve—it’s my mind that seems to (over)confidently ignore the wisdom of my body. And so I get to enjoy a day off today, planned a month ago, simply for the purpose of rest. And, here I am wondering as I often do what it is that would feel restful on a day like today. I thought it would look like getting out of the city to ski on a day when most have to show up to the workplace. It’s beautifully sunny out and couldn’t be a more fitting bluebird day out on the mountain. And anyone who knows me knows that rest (to me) is NOT doing nothing. But after two failed attempts at plans to ski with friends, it seems the invitation to a different sort of rest is being offered.

I’ve been in the midst of a season of discernment and impending transition for the past several months. The months have been full: full of good, hard work and exploration, full of challenge, full of promise, and most definitely, full of frustration at the length of time it is taking to make change. Within the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a series of brief conversations that have in mere moments offered light in this darkness of waiting and uncertainty. A patient, a roommate’s friend, and a dear friend of mine have all offered validation of the difficulty that discernment and waiting hold. And by waiting I do not mean sitting idly by as I am already adept at doing; I mean active participation in the process of change. I mean listening—and deeply—to the life that is stirring within and without. I mean choosing to take those steps I’ve resisted for a hundred and one reasons. I mean choosing, also, to wait until that life in me has had the time and nourishment it needs before becoming visible in the world. Waiting is hard.

Rest, also, is hard. When that to-do list continues to grow. When you are nowhere near where you thought you would be at this moment in time. When your mind or body or both just don’t seem to know how to slow down that ever-present need to just keep moving… or else.

After hitting a wall this past week, I’m pondering a different way forward. A way that involves letting go of this need to be “working” or “on” at all times in order to speed up this process and get on with my life, to have an actual answer to that question that my patient and I so deeply loathe: “So have you figured out what you’re going to do yet?”

My transition coach/counselor adamantly believes that there is much to learn in the midst of seasons of transition. And, the answer to that one question that brought me to him, I am so slowly learning, is not the one and only question worthy of the investment of my time and money. Rather, learning how to navigate the changing of seasons, learning when and how to rest, learning what play looks like, learning how to be with others (and myself) in ways that honor desire and need—these are some of the elements that contribute to a life that is rich with meaning and joy.

And so I am able to hit pause today and venture outdoors to practice a different way of being in the world. I’ll hop on a ferry and travel across the Sound to one of the many marvelous islands in Seattle’s backyard. Alone with my bike, I’ll wander the forested roads thankful for the chance to slow down and take in the abundant goodness that surrounds us, a goodness not dependent upon any sense of worthiness whatsoever, but rather on a sheer willingness to turn, notice, and give thanks for simply being here.

Being Found by Mollie Taylor


Did you ever think that the ache in your gut
Could one day transform into such a treasure as this:
The way your heart has come alive,
Been given a voice—and space and reverence,
The way your words which spring from this aching heart
Find resonance and meaning in the hearts and lives of others.

This is the radical hope of renewal:
That in the face of all the beauty and pain,
You choose, finally, not to run but to turn
And face the presence of every other aching heart
Longing to be seen, longing to be known,
Longing most of all to be held in the fierce grip of love.

Do you want to keep running? 
Go ahead—for there is a well-worn path
And it carries its graces, too…

But know there is no place—no place
Like the arms that long to hold you,
The eyes that will see you
As you’ve never before been seen—
As though within your face is held
The very face of God. 


If you enjoyed this poem by Mollie Taylor, you can find more of her brilliant courage here.

Barn raising: thoughts on going through change with the help of others.

In the summer of 1983, a tornado cut its way through rolling hills of Holmes County, Ohio.  It only took twenty minutes to gouge 15 acres of land, destroying a forest of magnificent, 100-year-old hard woods.  Trees weren’t the only casualty that day.  Four Amish barns were also leveled.  As though the tornado had been given a mandate to destroy them, these four magnificent pieces of Amish craftsmanship were turned into nothing more than kindling.  For the Amish farmer, or any farmer for that matter, this would have been devastating.  To lose a barn means also losing  the livestock, hay, grain and equipment they housed.

What happened next was astonishing.  Gene Lodgson, a local farmer and writer in Upper Sandusky, Ohio had this to say about what happened after the tornado:

…what followed in the wake of the tornado during the next three weeks was just as awesome as the wind itself. In that time—three weeks—the forest devastation was sawed into lumber and transformed into four big new barns. No massive effort of bulldozers, cranes, semi-trucks, or the National Guard was involved. The surrounding Amish community rolled up its sleeves, hitched up its horses and did it all. Nor were the barns the quick-fix modern structures of sheet metal hung on posts stuck in the ground. They were massive three-story affairs of post-and-beam framing, held together with hundreds of hand-hewn mortises and tenons.

The Amish farmer who was the recipient of this new barn smiled. The structure, complete with donated hay, grain, and animals to replace all that was destroyed by the storm, cost him “about thirty thousand dollars, out-of-pocket money”–most of that funded by his Amish Church’s own internal insurance arrangement. “We give each other our labor,” he said. “That’s our way. In the giving, nothing is lost, though, and much is gained.  We enjoy barn raising.  So many come to work that no one has to work very hard.  And we get in a good visit.

I can just hear it.  As beams are being raised and joined, the conversations are

So, where were you when the tornado hit?
Hey, did you hear Jacob and Beth are expecting again?
(Ishmael – More nails!)
So, what do you think crop yields will be like this year?

This is so wonderfully weird.  Something terrible happens to one and many gather for a bit of work and a visit.


How does this happen?  How does a farmer who just saw his barn reduced to scrap seem to be at ease about the whole thing?

The answer is they relentless participate with one another in creating a future.  There is this covenant among them that sounds something like, “When your barn is leveled, I will drop everything to help you rebuild.”  Even before the tornado finished its work he knew his neighbors had his back.  His life may have been threatened, but not his livelihood.  He knew no matter the damage, rebuilding would be a group effort.  And he knew this not because it was written down somewhere in some book on Amish life (though I’m sure it is somewhere) but because he had seen this lived out since infancy.       

If you’re Amish barn raising is mandatory.  Young and old, women and men – everyone rolls up their sleeves to help in some way.  Though all you see in the video above are the men hard at work during a one-day barn raising, there are dozens of women and children present.  Everyone has a task to do.  Whether it’s feeding mouths or pulling nails out of old boards to be reused, or serving as the job site gopher – everyone participates.  And to this farmer’s point, no one is utterly depleted by day’s end, for it’s not on the shoulders of a few, but everyone.

At the end of the day, a farmer get a barn.  But really, he gets something better: a future.

There is this verse in Jeremiah that Christians love to quote: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Many are confused by this verse when unwanted change happens in their life.  All kinds of unhelpful beliefs tend to seep in.  Seven years ago, I feel off a roof and shattered my ankle.  This event sent shockwaves through every aspect of life for me and my family.  On several occasions, I heard people say to me, “Boy, God sure is trying to get your attention.”  I remember thinking, Really?  And he’s not yours?  You think God needed to give me a hip-check off a roof to do that?  Why do we so easily assume that God is authoring “tornadoes” in our lives?  What if it’s just a powerful wind that destroyed a barn, or a wild fire that burned a neighborhood, or a tormented young man who ended the lives of 17?  What if instead, God’s trying to do his best work in all us by embedding the learning and transformation we most seek for ourselves in the very acts that build a better future?

What the Amish understand is that tornadoes happen.  But futures don’t.  Those get made – one bulky beam at a time, which are best lifted by many hands.  They know that it’s in the many hands lifting that beam where the mystery of their faith and love for one another is realized.  They know that the best plans to become better humans – that being more loving, creative and courageous – don’t get rolled out for us like blueprints.  God doesn’t drop a future in our laps.  God invites us again and again into an experience, a relationship of participation with him and one another, to co-create something better.  Given that each of us are creatures charged with the responsibility and freedom to create meaningful lives, it would seem to take away from that truth if we weren’t invited to participate in being that for our futures.  You don’t sit and passively wait with hope for a future you wish you had.  You help create it.  What a gift, really, to not be robbed of that opportunity to participate in future building.

Imagine how a community like the one in the video above feels at the end of that day.

Community through Transition

Let’s say Amos, another Amish farmer, wakes up one morning to his barn engulfed in flames.  Scratch that.  Instead, let’s say the story is about abundance, not hardship.  Amos is skilled in the art of organic fertilizers and his crop yields for the last several years have been extraordinary.  Seeing the need for more storage space, he decides it’s time to build another barn.  But Amos does not want to inconvenience his Amish brothers and sisters for help.  He decides that they’re all too busy with their own work and families.  So, he shares nothing of the need.  In secret, he hires outside contractors to build a new barn without anyone in his community knowing.  Instead, Amos keeps it to himself acting as though everything is normal at monthly meetings and social gatherings.

How would the community respond to Amos when they find out?  What it would not be is congratulatory slap on the back followed by an, “At a boy, Amos!  Well done!”  They would be in confused.  Shocked.  Devastated.  Angry.  And, I think, quite hurt.  Why? Because somewhere along the way Amos forgot that a barn raising isn’t for him; it’s a visceral reminder to everyone that no matter what characterizes the season – calamity or abundance – a life is best lived in relationships that relentlessly participate with one another.

In my work with those going through a significant life transition, I often ask them to put together a coalition – a community of mentors, friends and colleagues who will help them see and tell the truth, identify and follow clues, provide encouragement and accountability, show up and really help, etc.  Hands down, the number one response I get from clients after introducing this idea of inviting others to participate in this way – and I’m not even talking about relentlessly, just occasionally – is,

I’m hesitant to ask.
I don’t want to inconvenience them.
They have their own problems.
They are so busy.

I live in a region where if you feel stuck, aimless or in any kind of pain the only real option is to hire a pro (e.g. a therapist, coach, pastor, spiritual director, etc.).  Commiserate with those who love you, but don’t ask them for help.  That’s what professionals are for.  Which, at times, hiring a pro is good and necessary.  Certain locked doors need the help of an experienced key maker.  I think what many of us are needing though is a barn-raising, an experience within a set of consistent and persistent relationships that roll up their sleeves and build a future together – during times of calamity or abundance.

We love the narrative of rugged individualism, the freedom to help ourselves out, choose our own way, and make a future.  There is a gift in that freedom of choice.  But somewhere along the way that gift gets perverted when we believe that’s something to be achieved without help.  No one person’s future is really self-made.  To be viewed as such is in my experience more a statement about what kind of person he or she has become in relationship to themselves and to those around them, and less about what they’ve accomplished.


The Amish have this strange and wonderful word to describe an activity that combines the following three things: the celebration of community, hard work, and common goals.  Any practice that satisfy these conditions are called “frolics”. For them, a barn raising is the most prolific frolic.

To feel everything from stuck and lost to progress and growth, are ordinary things; it’s what comes with being human.  Wanted or not, seasons of change come and go.  Some bring good.  Others a lot of difficult.  And many seasons serve up both.  These turbulent experiences aren’t to be avoid at all costs or moved through as quickly as possible.  Since they are going to happen, what if they could become that “transformational experience” to be engaged and frolicked through together?  Navigating through turbulent times isn’t something we need to fix or correct.  It’s something we need to engage and anticipate just what will happen.  The tornadoes and “high yield crops” are not the problem to be solved.  But learning to frolic during transition – engaging community in hard work and common goals – is the solution.  A good frolic best honors the challenging season by going into the loss, pulling out the beams, and building a desire future.

Given the times we live in with turbulence and uncertainty felt at almost every level of society, there lies a profound opportunity to build a better future.  Imagine how this kind of relentless participation changes a person’s heart and faith.  No, not the guy who got the barn.  Who wouldn’t be engorged with gratitude if you’re that guy?  The harder and more rewarding thing for us to connect with is how this kind of participation transforms the heart of everyone helping raise the barn.

When we choose to go through a life transition without the help of others, we steal away from those around us the profound joy of building up a future – real acts of hope, faith and love in the world.  To frolic through them reminds us of how we were created to be in the world: in relationship with one another, always connected, through all seasons.  For all seasons, wanted or not, hold valuable lessons to teach us about what it means to be human.  And hopefully along the way, get in a good visit.

For 2018, Dig Deep and Keep Promises, Not Resolutions

So many friends and colleagues I’ve spoken with have a common sentiment as they look back on 2017 – “I’m so tired.” It appears for many, this past year took a toll. When I look back on my year, by all accounts I should be cheering. But I, too, feel a weariness. Some of the exhaustion is like the thrill of crossing a finish line after a marathon. But some is because my soul is fatigued from the heartaches of “real life,” and the continued glimpse of humanity at its worst that 2017 offered.

By any standard, I should (and do) feel immense gratitude and pride for what 2017 wrought. Professionally, I completed my 75th article for Forbes and Harvard Business Review. I did two TEDx talks, one Authors at Google Talk, and one HBR live. I was a guest on more than 60 podcasts. I worked with some amazing clients who inspired me as we watched their organizations transform.  And I spent my days working alongside some of the finest consultants on the planet. Personally, I got to take an amazing long vacation with my wife and two dear friends. I got to volunteer extensively with an organization I am passionate about. I helped a dear friend complete ground breaking research on a pernicious affliction. And I lost 30 pounds.

And still, I’m very tired. Because in between all of that, the rest of life happened. I lost several friends too early in life to cancer. My older brother passed away unexpectedly. Both of my kids got very ill, and they live thousands of miles from me where they are in college. As a world, we faced unprecedented natural disasters that have left countless without homes, livelihoods, and care. Almost as if routine news, we saw headlines of leaders commit horrific abuses of power to exploit and harm others. And we continued to watch our nation further divide across political, social, and economic lines.

A few weeks “in between years” is hardly enough time to rejuvenate one’s mind, body, and soul. But it’s a start, and we all try and do it. For 2018, I’ve decided that rather than making “resolutions,” I want to make promises. To myself, and to others.  I don’t want to be another statistic among the near 80% who make and break “resolutions” weeks after the New Year begins. Resolutions are something we intellectually decide on our own. Promises feel more sacred. And most importantly, they involve others. As kids, “pinky swears” were the most inviolate of commitments. You’d never think of breaking one once made. That’s the kind of promise I’m talking about. If I learned anything in 2017, it’s that having others on the journey may well be the most important thing we need to learn in life. To participate in the journey of others’, and to invite them to participate in ours. With a pinky swear.

Maybe like me, you feel like you went all out in 2017 but instead of momentum, you feel weary going into 2018. If so, see if some of these promises might help you shift perspectives, and think differently about digging deep to gear up for the year ahead.

I promise to take honest stock. The first principle of being reflective is being self-honest. 2017 was great and it was painful. In some cases, it was painful because it was great. I don’t naturally like to hold two paradoxical truths. I tend to focus on one or the other – either how great things are, or how challenging things are. But if I can learn to hold both truths at the same time, I will be more honest about what 2017 was and wasn’t, and I can honestly grieve what cost me, and celebrate what delighted me.

I promise not to confuse “not yet” with “not enough.” One of my worst habits is that I dismiss progress when it’s just that, and not more. I confuse milestones and goals, and disregard one for not being the other. So when all of the above professional accomplishments didn’t add up to the ultimate goal for which I began them, I felt discouraged. Inadequate. Resentful of others further down their path than I. I refused to allow them to be enough. And while I know this to be extraordinarily unhealthy, it’s always been my weakness. But I am learning to distinguish “not yet” from “not enough.” I know life, professionally and personally, is a marathon. The mile markers along the way give us our bearings and indicate progress. They are to be celebrated, not dismissed. I am realizing that an inability to celebrate the “in between” now and not yet not only makes me bitter, but constrains me from being able to celebrate the in between of others too. So in 2018, I will honor each milestone with joy and gratitude. I will learn to anticipate with wonder, the next milestones, and even the ultimate goals that they indicate I am that much closer to.

I promise to keep my love affair with help going. I hired a coach two years ago, and we’re beginning our third year of work together. When I look back at all I have learned, I feel giddy. At the end of many of the podcasts I was on, when asked what piece of advice I would offer, I answered with, “Get help.” Honestly, help from others is one of life’s greatest gifts. Why on earth would we EVER want to undertake difficult things alone? Yet, we all do. We fear being a burden. We don’t want to feel weak or unqualified. We don’t like feeling vulnerable or looking incompetent. We don’t want to admit we need others. (Oddly, we’re perfectly ok being helpers to others, expecting them to admit they need us). Whatever remnants of that faulty thinking I had are almost gone! Help is my love language. I can’t get enough of it now, and in 2018, I intend to find ways to get more! If you have one ounce of resistance to others joining you in places you need help, PLEASE get past it. I promise you won’t regret it. You can’t truly appreciate the honor of being needed by others until you embrace your need for others as well.

I promise to be formed by the crucibles. My first TEDx talk was in early November. It was “the talk I was born to give” according to dear friends. It was on a topic near and dear to my heart – power. My thoughts were formed by my book built upon ten years of research data. And the event was in my home town of Seattle. The day before, I flew in from Connecticut from my brother’s funeral. The dissonance was unbearable. Saying goodbye to my big brother, and the next day, walking into the coveted red circle to tell the world my ideas. As I walked on stage, I looked up, fighting back tears, and thought of my brother. And on the way to the red circle, all I could think of was the faces of so many friends and family who’d carried me that week, many of whom were in the audience. Inside, I knew digging deep to “show up” for this was forming me. Refining me like fire does dross. Though I still have no idea how. I was keenly aware that suffering does yield strength, empathy, wisdom, and resilience, and reveals supplies of strength we didn’t know we had (especially when we allow others to help). We can’t prevent life’s cruel parts from invading. But we can let them form us into better human beings, which in turn allows us to care for those suffering even more than us.

I promise to reach back and give to others earlier on their journey. When I look at the many people who reached back from further up ahead to offer me practical advice and support, encouragement and kindness, I’m astounded. So when I look back and see others earlier on their journeys, at places I was not that long ago, it makes me eager to offer them what was so generously offered to me. Thought leaders who lent me their voices. Friends who gave me time and compassionate ears. Family who cheered me on. Wise guides who gave me sage ideas. One of the best ways to truly savor the milestones of “in between” (#2 above) is to look back and offer the same to those coming behind me. If we all do the same in 2018, we truly will make the world stronger, together.

I promise to rest and play. I rediscovered the beauty of sleep this year. (As an aside, whoever said we need less sleep as we get older was an idiot). I took my physical and emotional health more seriously this year. I promise to keep playing (to keep these 30 pounds off – which we all know is harder than losing them in the first place!). I promise to play racquetball with my friend more. I promise to take longer weekends away with my wife. I promise to keep making better choices about food. And I promise to keep exercising regularly and not get complacent. (I’ve already gotten clothes a size smaller, so I have no choice). It’s so cliché, but we only get one body and if we don’t take care of it, it has ways of “giving us feedback” later in life. I’m praying “50 is the new 30” is really true. I’m going to act like it is until I learn otherwise.

I promise to remain grateful for the privilege. Down the hall from my office is a conference room and kitchen where I get my morning coffee. I have a collection of coffee mugs from all of the world, and from numerous special moments with people I love and regard. Each morning, when I pick which mug to use, I hold it in remembrance of the person it represents to me, remembering joyfully the moment it symbolizes, grateful for who they are to me and the parts of life we’ve shared. It’s my (some might say corny) way of reminding myself of everything above – that others in my life have shaped my journey, and that I need to remain grateful for the privilege (including the really hard parts) of being on the journey. Beginning my day with a reminder that my story is part of a much bigger, grander story keeps me grounded, and in 2018, will surely help me keep my promises.

However your story has unfolded in 2017, my hope is that you can make a few promises to yourself, and those that matter most; that the chapters about to be revealed can be full of all of life – the not yet, the milestones, the crucibles, and the wonder of others loving and cheering you on, helping you keep your pinky swear.

Liminal Space Fundraiser Breakfast – September 2017

On Thursday, September 28, we hosted over 42 guests at our annual fundraiser breakfast at The PIER Learning Center.  It was an incredible morning of great food, mimosas, and inspiring client stories of transformation during some of life’s most turbulent life transitions.

That morning, our Liminal Space partners helped raise nearly $30,000 to continue our work in the coming year!  As we close out 2017 soon we are incredibly grateful for those who continue to believe in our mission and who desire to expand our work in the world.  Thank you!

A special thanks to all our volunteers who helped pull of this special event.  We truly couldn’t continue to serve our clients and guide journeys of transformation without you!


Ellen Kilcup served as our cellist for the morning.

The space was completely full and beautiful for the morning. Every seat filled!

Jessie Owen, one of our Liminal Space client speakers.

The highlight of the time was simply listening to clients, past and present, speak about their work during a major life transition.

Amy Li, Liminal Space alumni speaker

Bary Morgan, Liminal Space alumni speaker

Jon DeWaal, our Executive Director speaking about the importance of community and relentless participation with one another during transition.

Ron Carucci, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, sharing about the future of Liminal Space and our work to transform how the world views these formative times in life.






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