Saturday, March 12, 2016

A New Story

I’m obsessed with stories.

When I say I’m a writer, it has less to do with my occupation and more to do with how I process reality. Everything that happens in my brain— thoughts, feelings, emotions, experiences, memories— have to be processed through the spoken or written word, or I can’t make any sense of them. I have to keep up with the narrative of my life, or else I find myself very confused.

Recently, I’ve finally put into words an idea that has shaped my life for the past several years, although I didn’t recognize it then: I need an interesting story to tell.

I have no desire to be the protagonist in a novel (which entails suffering, struggle, and drama), but I like having one overarching theme to my life, one that I can point at and say, “That. That is what I’ve been doing lately. This is my story.”

My first big “story” began when I was 19, working four part-time jobs and teaching 72 students. With basically no free time, I realized that I didn’t like the crazy-busy story I was writing for myself. Once I finished out the semester, I quit three of my jobs and booked a ticket to Bellingham, Washington for my first solo trip. From the moment I stepped on the plane, I was hooked. (On a side note, if you are young and single, please consider at least one big travel adventure. Even if you go alone. Especially if you go alone! Trust me, you won’t regret it.)

After that first trip, I spent almost a third of my life on the road, hopping from experience to experience. “Travel” became my new story. It was an exciting story, one that everyone wanted to hear about. My blog got much more interesting, and every conversation with an acquaintance had a natural topic. People always asked me, “Where are you going next?” and I always had an answer: “I’m going to Washington to volunteer on an organic farm!” “I’m going to Florida to work at a youth hostel!” “I’m headed out west to couchsurf around without any clear plan!” 

One of our first conversations, after the band spent
the night at a rest stop in the Salt Flats of Utah
Then one day, people asked me, “Where are you going next?” and I answered, “I’m going on tour with a band!” without any idea of how this trip would change my life.

On a sweltering day in late June, I left for Cornerstone Music Festival for the beginning of a month-long tour with Insomniac Folklore. Some of the band members were my friends, and at Cornerstone we met up with some of the other band members I had never met, including a drop-dead gorgeous but very shy roadie/juggler named Zach. He had luscious curly hair, and he walked fast. I was smitten.

We all headed to Portland, Oregon together, stopping at states along the way and playing everywhere from dive bars to church fellowship halls. After an intense two weeks, Zach and I said goodbye and I continued on with the band, leaving Zach behind at his home in Portland. 

I decided that I shouldn’t expect to ever see him again. Zach decided he was going to marry me. 

When I got a letter in the mail from a certain Zach Strader, I was floored. And I began to realize that my story was never going to be the same again.

Less than a year and a half later, we were married. (We don’t like to dawdle.) And although I had still taken one last big trip while we were engaged, a six-week solo trek across Europe, I realized that that phase of my life was over. Despite how amazing Europe was, Zach wasn’t there, and if Zach wasn’t there, I didn’t want to be either. My story had changed.

However, I hardly had time to mourn the end of this era, because a new story immediately popped up: Zach’s dream to complete a five-month backpacking trip along the Pacific Crest Trail. I was swept up in the dream, and the rest is history. (A very, very lengthy history. It took a long time to write.)

After the trail was a difficult year of transition, which I survived mostly by ignoring it and focusing on my previous story instead: transcribing my notes, fleshing out my journal entries, organizing my photos, posting everything on my blog. As Zach and I slept in my parents’ spare bedroom and searched for a house to buy, I kept myself sane by posting to my blog each day.

At last, we signed the lease for an adorable house on the northern edge of town, three blocks from my beloved Missouri River and within walking distance of everything I needed. We thanked God for the opportunity to buy a house, and I happily settled in, mildly nesting and trying to get everything in order. 

At this point, I began to get really excited, because I knew exactly what the next story would be. Next, I would have a baby! We had finished our hike, we had bought our house, and now, as the plot dictated, we would have a child to complete the scene.

That hasn’t happened. 

For the past year, I’ve been stuck on a monthly treadmill of hope and despair, feeling lost and meaningless. I’ve been striving toward a story that I have no power to tell. After months of this (and not realizing I was doing it until I finally sat myself down and tried to explain it in words), I snapped out of it and began to search for the next story, even though I had no idea where to look. 

I followed rabbit trails, relentlessly pursuing anything that caught my interest. During the gray winter months, I’ve been trekking to the library and returning with huge armloads of books, blading through them, chasing the threads that catch my eye and stir that same sense of wonder and excitement that I used to feel when planning my next trip. As I devoured pile of books on various topics, I began to pick common themes out of what attracted me. I began to amass knowledge and learn what made me excited. Bit by bit, piece by piece, I’m coming to realize what my new story is.

My new story is Home.

Despite the aggravations of being a home owner, I have consistently been very grateful to own a house. I am queen of my own little domain. I own a piece of earth, and I can cultivate and nurture it in any way that I see fit. I am no longer a traveler; I’m am a homemaker.

This vision is something far more expansive than doing dishes and folding laundry (although both those tasks, if supplemented with music by The Who, are actually quite enjoyable). It’s a vision of a lifestyle that is as self-sufficient as possible, with little waste and much abundance. It’s a vision of community, of roots in earth, of slow-bearing fruit. It’s a row of glass jars in the fridge full of homegrown snap peas. It’s a future full of apple trees and hazelnuts and quail eggs and solar collectors and enough watermelon to share with everyone at Bible study. It’s the beauty of a red-bellied woodpecker perched awkwardly on the bird feeder. It’s homegrown tomatoes eaten sun-warmed straight off the vine. It’s a vision of parties and potlucks and open doors for travelers. It’s a dream of sitting on the front porch in the sun, snacking on nasturtium blossoms and blowing soap bubbles into the breeze. It’s a vision of sourdough boles and fine aged mead and balls of fresh mozzarella, homemade in our little kitchen. It’s bare feet in the dewey grass while I water my carrots, it’s a compost pile turning eggshells into black earth, it’s a daily walk through the woods that brings to my attention every hue and shimmer of my beautiful Missouri River.

This is my vision, my story. It’s not as flashy as a trip out west or a hike across the country, but it is every bit as meaningful. I’m grateful for the years I had to wander and explore this amazing earth, and now I’m grateful for the chance to plant my new story in the rich black river-soil of my little corner of the planet.



  1. I was like you in that I worked seasonal jobs for the park service and moved every six months. For years. People "lived vicariously" through my adventures. Sometime around late thirties I realized I didn't want to dig fireline or clear trails when I was 80 and I better get my but in gear about saving for retirement. My point is that the transition was a pretty rough one. I felt like I was heading to an ordinary life. I still feel nostalgic, but I guess I believe there can be little stories that add up to a bigger one. And you are never just one story. The challenge at least for me is not to look back wistfully thinking all the richness is over, that instead of flying in a floatplane I sit at a computer all day. I enjoy your blog, I hope you keep writing it.

    1. Sounds like you had some incredible adventures! I love what you said, though— "You are never just one story." It's a good reminder to all of us, but especially to me as I explore this new path in my life. There is beauty in everything, and I should never close my eyes to a new opportunity, whatever it might look like.